When traveling, some people like to go to a companies that offer tours, whether they are small groups or large groups. These tours often have a specific purpose or theme, such as “Spanish Wine Tour” or “Classical Music in Vienna,” and the group will have a set itinerary, which probably also allows for a certain amount of free time. These can be great, and I encourage you to check out my host agency, Travelex International, which offers several wonderful music, food, and wine themed tours each year.
Of course, another “easy” way to travel is going on a cruise. The convenience of a cruise is that you unpack once, and your accommodations, food, and transportation are taken care of for the entire week. Over the course of a 7-day cruise, you’ll visit anywhere from 3-5 different ports. The ports may be different cities within the same country, different islands in the Caribbean (or Greece, or Hawaii), or each day might take you to a different country. This can be very fun and exciting. You leave the ship in the morning, explore the port town, maybe take an excursion, and you return back to the ship in the evening for dinner, entertainment, dancing, etc.
However, this isn’t for everyone. Many people would prefer to fly to one location, stay there for a week, be immersed in the culture, get to know people around town, and live like a local. In the travel industry, this person is known is a FIT. So what is that? A FIT is a Fully Independent Traveler. While a FIT may travel solo, that isn’t necessarily what it means. A FIT can be a solo traveler, a couple, a family, or a group. A FIT doesn’t like to be tied down to a set itinerary each day. A FIT may take part in tours as part of their trip, but they will select tours that specifically interest them and provide a better experience than they would have on their own.
In my opinion, a FIT trip can range from a quick, weekend getaway to an extended European tour. It may seem that a FIT can make all of the arrangements themselves, and they can. However, since everyone is busy these days, and there is so much information available on the internet, it is a great idea to use a travel advisor. The travel advisor’s business is to know the best places to go for information, to have a network of contacts who can help when they don’t know all of the answers, and to help the traveler get the biggest “bang for their buck.” Travel advisors have access to resources that other people do not have, and through consortiums and other resources, they can often provide special perks and incentives. There is great VALUE in using a travel advisor!
The FIT need not worry that they will lose control of their plans. A great travel advisor will be there throughout the entire process to get to know the client, provide options, and adjust hotels, flights, etc. to fit the client’s needs. For some people, though, the convenience might be the most valuable thing.
I feel that part of my job is to educate people about the benefits of using a travel advisor, because we can really be a valuable resource. I absolutely love this work and am excited every time I get to plan any amount of travel for someone. They say that the anticipation of travel is almost as beneficial to our well-being as the travel itself, and I am grateful to experience this over and over again with my clients. If you have not considered using a travel advisor in the past, I would encourage you to try it. Maybe start small, the next time you need a hotel reservation, or start big, with the trip of your lifetime!
This is a brief one! I am highlighting 5 products that have been useful in my recent travels. Feel free to contact me below or visit my website!
When the handle broke on my old carryon, I did an Amazon search and found that they are now selling their own line of luggage. I love the way this suitcase looks and the way it rolls. The orange also stands out if you have to check it. I hope you’ll choose a different color, though, so our bags don’t get confused! 🙂
These Keens are SO comfortable for walking! I bought them for those occasions when you need to wear closed toed shoes but don’t want to wear shoes or socks.
I wanted a functional, inexpensive backpack, and this one is working out very well for me. It’s not too large and bulky, but it holds what I need it to hold!
A Kindle is probably an obvious travel accessory, but I haven’t always had one. I love this one because it can either be lit or not. If you’re reading in a well lit place, you can turn off the light, or you can turn it on as dim or as bright as you want it!
These luggage tags are great! When you go on a cruise, you can always print out your luggage tags before the cruise, so you print them, cut them out, fold them, and stuff them in these tags. They have a very tough zip-lock seal at the top, so your tag is safe from any water or rough treatment.
This post is inspired by my recent visit to El Dorado Royale in Cancun, Mexico. It was my first visit to an all-inclusive resort. I discuss check-in, the property, entertainment, meal times and food, as well as entertainment and activities. Hopefully this helps, and feel free to reach out if I can help you decide what is best for you!
It is no secret, I love going on cruises, whether is a 3-day cruise or a 15-day cruise. I first started going on cruises when, as a single college professor, I was looking for somewhere to travel solo during spring break. I was able to afford a decent trip, but all of the “deals” I found required a single supplement (the fine print would say something like “$250 supplement for solo travelers”), or I would have to pay double. With a lot of internet research, I found out about Norwegian Cruise Line’s studio cabins, which are specifically for the solo cabins. I decided on the NCL Epic, which was one of the first ships to offer the studios. They also have the “Studio Lounge,” which hosts a daily solo meet-up. This is not a match making thing. It is simply to encourage people to mingle, make friends, and go to dinner and events together.
I had no idea whether or not I would love or hate the cruise, whether I would be bored, whether I would make friends, or what would happen. On the first night, I went to the solo gathering and ended up having dinner with three people who became my friends for the rest of the cruise. We had a fantastic time. There is a general understanding among solo travelers that there is no pressure to hang out. Solo time is respected, but if you want to interact, there is a place for you. At the end of the 7-day cruise, I didn’t want to leave. It was the most fun, relaxing vacation I had ever had. That was in 2015, and I have been on eight other NCL cruises since then, as well as one on Holland America and another with Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line. Even my worst cruise wasn’t bad, and I’ve always enjoyed it.
Now that I am a travel advisor, I feel a bit of a need to experience different locations and ways of traveling. As I travel, I try to see the big picture, but I also see myself as an advocate for the solo traveler. In the past year, I was unusually aware of several friends going on vacation in Cancun, so when I found myself with a few free days at the end of the summer, I decided on a quick visit to El Dorado Royale. Since they offered a rate for one person, that seemed like a good sign.
I flew direct from Atlanta to Cancun and then took the shuttle (paid for with my reservation) from Cancun airport to the resort. From the start, everyone was very friendly. However, check-in was annoying and lengthy. All I cared about was lunch since it was 2:00 EST and I hadn’t eaten. I was told that my room was not ready, but I was able to enjoy the property, eat lunch, etc, and return at 3:00 CST for my room. I had learned from cruises to pack my swimsuit in my backpack so that when my suitcase is taken, I can change. I did not realize that the same would apply here, so I was stuck in the clothes that I had flown in.
I was directed to a restaurant overlooking the ocean and had a nice, light lunch. I then checked out some of the property before going back to the lobby to see if my room was ready. It wasn’t, so I walked around some more and returned at 3:00. It still wan’t ready, and I showed obvious disappointment. About 30 seconds later, a bellman came and told me that we were going to go to my room, and hopefully it would be ready when we arrived. As we arrived, they were putting the finishing touches on the room, so that was fine! For comparison, a cruise is similar in this way. An announcement is made giving an estimate of when cabins will be ready, and then a final announcement is made when they are ready. I appreciate that on a cruise, there is no need to keep checking, unless you choose to do that. Next time at a resort, I will be prepared with a change of clothes!
The property was beautiful and well maintained. The pools were plentiful, with bars and restaurants scattered about conveniently. Of course, this was a beachfront property, but I didn’t see a lot of people in the ocean or on the beach. Also, my room, which was described as a “beachfront suite,” was not really beachfront. I had a view of palm trees and had to duck and squint through the branches to see the beach or the ocean. That was a bit of a disappointment.
At mealtimes on an NCL cruise, you arrive at the restaurant and are asked for your keycard, and they will ask how many. If you are dining alone, there is no issue made of it. I should mention that sometimes you will be asked if you would like to be seated with other people, and on certain days, that could be nice. At El Dorado Royale, when I showed up at a restaurant alone, I was usually asked if I would like a table for two. I would look around awkwardly at the otherwise empty lobby and say, “No. I am only one person.” This was so annoying to me, and when I provided feedback about it, their response was that since it is adults only, they are trained to assume that people are in couples. Ugh, that is an old-fashioned, unhelpful response! While I don’t mind dining alone anywhere, it is best if dining alone is treated as a non-issue, as it is on cruises.
Speaking of mealtime, I should discuss food. I chose El Dorado Royale because they advertise their “Gourmet Inclusive Experience.” Based on reviews I read, my expectations were cautiously optimistic, and I was pleasantly surprised. On my first night, I went to the Fuentes Culinary Theatre, which is basically a cooking show. It was fun, and the food was interesting and delicious. Also, after googling the wines offered in the wine pairings, I decided to pay for the pairings. While I didn’t necessarily feel that the wines were perfect pairings for the courses, I enjoyed all of the wines offered. Another outstanding meal was a lunch at the Asian restaurant, Kampai. The Korean beef was delicious. Also, the steak dinner I had at Santa Fe was delicious! Although it can vary in quality, I always enjoy most of my cruise food as well, so in the food category, cruise vs resort are quite even.
At the resort, there would be a few entertainment options each evening. There was a guitarist who sang some songs by one of the bars/restaurants, and there were different shows each night. I would say that the entertainment was good enough. On a cruise, the same is true. The shows are on a grander scale, though. On a cruise, though, you will find musical acts throughout the ship at any time during the day. At the pool, music will vary throughout the day from a DJ to different live bands, and inside the ship, there will be different small acts scattered about at different times. At the resort, you would only find recorded music at the pools during the day. I found that different pools had different music, though, and I liked the chill “house” music that was played at the pool by the Health Bar that served smoothies, salads, etc.
On a cruise, you can walk for miles going from one thing to another. If you have trouble walking, you either walk less, or you take a motorized scooter with you. You also have the option of stairs or elevator to go up or down. At a resort, the property is very spread out, and you can also do a ton of walking. However, at this resort, there were golf carts everywhere ready to shuttle people about. It is just like taking a taxi, and you tell them where you want to go. To get to some restaurants would be a 20 minute walk, or a quick ride on a golf cart. I generally prefer walking, but at the same time, when you choose to walk at the resort, you arrive sweaty. There is no escaping the heat! On a cruise, when you walk, you can escape the heat by going inside.
I suppose some people like a change of scenery, and some people like to be at the same place for a while. If you are at a resort, you are just at the resort, unless you pay a lot of money to leave the resort. You have to arrange for a taxi and go through security as you come and go, and the taxis are not cheap. I visited a different resort that I chose because it was nearby, and the taxi was $20 each way! There were a lot of British people at this resort, and some told me that they were there for two weeks. If that’s what they like, that’s fine, but I was ready for something different after 3 days. Of course, on a cruise, you either have a sea day or a port day. Sea days are fun for enjoying the ship, but after one or two, you are ready for a port day, and then you end up on a different island, usually in a different country. That is fun and fascinating to me! I have heard of people who fear feeling stir-crazy or claustrophobic on a ship, but I actually felt more that way at a resort.
Finally, as far as activities, there were some good ones offered at the resort throughout the day. I did the 8am yoga class each day, and they were fantastic. Other things, such as cooking classes, water polo, bike ride, and rifle shooting were all available and free of charge. There was a weekly schedule posted, and it appeared that the schedule would remain the same for the season. On a cruise, there are also many different activities on board, such as language classes, fitness classes, dancing classes, and game shows. Most are free, but some have an extra charge. I feel like there is typically a greater variety of activities on a cruise, but I was pleasantly surprised by the variety offered at the resort.
To sum it all up, each type of vacation has its own set of pros and cons. For me the cruise wins, especially Norwegian Cruise Line, because of how solo travelers are treated. Maybe other resorts are geared toward the solo traveler (I need to find them), but it seems that couples are generally happier at a resort. I enjoy seeing a new place each day but having the comfort of my cruise cabin; however, I understand that some people like to stay put and do nothing but drink cocktails by the pool all day. Another important thing is that I love on a cruise is getting up to see the sunrise and then seeing it set in the evening. At this particular resort, I found that near impossible. Maybe I could have seen the sunrise on the beach, but the sunset was behind the trees. I will try other resorts in the future, but the cruise has my heart for the overall experience!
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Pilkington Travels, LLC is my company name, and I am an independent affiliate of Travelex International. That is a mouthful, but it is all important! Travelex International, established in 1992, is a Virtuoso® member travel agency that advises travelers in personalized leisure travel, custom group travel & corporate travel. As a Virtuoso® member, one of the top 1% of travel agencies worldwide, we provide custom itineraries for our distinctive clientele to the seven continents of the world and throughout the United States.
As a travel advisor, I now know that my first job is to educate people about what a travel advisor does and the value of using one. Here are five things that stand out to me!
“Travel Advisor” is now the correct term. A great travel advisor, along with their own expertise, has an extensive, international network and support system to guide their clients through the process of planning travel. This includes selecting the best flights, hotels, experiences, and even restaurant recommendations, as well as support along the way. The old travel agent might have been a person to book airfare & hotels, but our industry has evolved to meet (and exceed) the needs of 21st Century clients!
Travel Advisors should be paid for their time and expertise. If you want the best accountant, you pay them for their services, even if you are getting a tax return. While a travel advisor may charge a fee, the overall trip cost will be very similar, if not lower, than booking independently, but the VALUE of having the support of an advisor is priceless. A travel advisor will be there for you if anything goes wrong. For example, if I book air through my agency, Travelex International, and your flight is canceled, we can deal with the airline for you, often before the general public knows about it!
A Virtuoso travel advisor, which I am, elevates every trip. We know how to get the best value for your time and money, and, thanks to our global connections, we can VIP you at hotels, on cruise lines, on tours, and more. All of our suppliers are vetted to ensure that they offer a high level of quality and service.
As a travel advisor, it is an honor to help clients wisely use their hard-earned money and leisure time. Americans, in particular, are often criticized for not traveling internationally. However, when someone has only two weeks out of the year to vacation, they stay close to home. That is fine! However, I hope to educate clients that it might be possible, and more gratifying, to do more with your time, while staying in your budget. If you choose to go to the same resort you’ve always enjoyed, maybe there are extra perks available through an advisor!
You might find an excellent deal from one of the popular travel sites, and those actually can be fine. However, you don’t have the one-on-one support of a travel advisor who can make sure you have a good flight (minimal connections, good seat, etc), choose a hotel that meets your desires, and support you from beginning to end with personalized trip specifically for you! We can also get you perks that you can’t get on your own or on the internet.
Over the past year, I have transitioned from being a full time college professor to being a freelance voice teacher, singer, and travel advisor with Travelex International. Summer is a scary time for an educator since income is reduced, but I’ve become pretty good at saving thanks to my budgeting app that I mention later. While I might be a bit crazy to book an Alaska cruise with a somewhat uncertain future, I knew that everything would work out (without going into debt)!
I usually cruise with Norwegian Cruise Line because they have studio cabins, which are intended for solo travelers. In case you didn’t know, solo travelers usually have to pay for 2 people, and that’s really annoying! NCL’s studio cabins are great. They are 100 square feet, but they’re so well designed that it’s comfortable enough. Even if they were not so well designed, I have no interest in spending time in my cabin, except to sleep and shower!
One of my favorite features about the studio cabins on NCL Bliss is the “virtual balcony”. It might sound cheesy, but it is a the screen to the right of the bed, and it shows you what is happening on the outside of the ship. The regular interior cabins don’t have that, so this is a nice little perk. You can also always turn the television (to the left of the bed) to “a view from the bridge” which shows what the captain sees in front of the ship. Another fun feature of staying in a studio is the Studio Lounge, which is sort of a living room and gathering place for solo travelers.
The “studio host” will have daily meeting at around 5:00 to organize activities, dinners, etc for those who want do things with other people. I have made some really fun friends this way, and I am still in touch with them. My FAVORITE thing in the Studio Lounge is the coffee machine. It is an automatic espresso machine that grinds fresh beans and brews espressos, lattes, and cappuccinos for free. This may not sound like a big deal, but if you want espresso elsewhere on the ship, you have to pay for it. This machine made my mornings so much better!
In searching for an Alaska cruise, I considered NCL Joy, Bliss, and Jewel. Jewel was actually the least expensive cruise, but it was a one-way cruise. While that is actually appealing, it complicates getting flights. If the cruise leaves from Seward, AK, you fly to Anchorage and make your way to Seward, which is over 2 hours away. That is fine, but it would be best to have one or two days to enjoy the area before the cruise. I didn’t have that option on this trip. Then you disembark in Victoria, B.C. and have to fly home from there. I decided that round trip from Seattle was a better option for me.
That left me to choose between Bliss & Joy. I sailed on Bliss in May of 2018 and had an amazing experience. I also got to know a lot of the staff and wanted to see some familiar faces. Joy was originally designed for the Asian market but was reworked for US sailings. While it would have been fun to sail on a different ship, I chose Bliss.
I use YNAB (You Need A Budget), which really has changed my financial life. It is a budgeting app that works a bit differently. You place money into categories as you make it, so every dollar has a job. Travel is a priority, so this has allowed me to make it a priority while paying my other bills!
That is the How & Why of my Alaska cruise. I will soon publish a post about the actual cruise, which was wonderful!
People who have never gone a cruise often think they wouldn’t like it, and I think the reasons are because of misconceptions about cruising. Before I went on my first cruise, I probably had the same ideas: smoky casinos, fat Americans gorging themselves at the buffet, hairy chest contests, and a lack of cultural experiences.
Well, these ideas aren’t completely inaccurate. In fact, they are still part of cruises; however, cruise ships, even mid-sized ones, are large enough to get away and do your own thing. For example, the hairy chest competition usually happens at the main pool deck, along with the “Cha Cha Slide,” “The Wobble,” and “The Cupid Shuffle.” There is usually a quiet zone with a smaller pool and a hot tub, and it this area, there is either no music or relaxing, ambient music. You still have sunshine in this area, as well as a place to cool off from the sunshine.
As for the casino, they usually are smoky, so I avoid them at all costs. You don’t have to walk through it. Even if the theatre is next to the casino, you can usually access it from a deck above or below. I am on the Norwegian Dawn right now, and I still haven’t seen the casino! (Update: I walked through it once. This is a great shop if you prefer to avoid the smoke!) A wonderful development seems to be trending, which is having a casino that is smoke-free and possibly a smaller, enclosed casino for smoking. This is true on Norwegian Bliss, and I am sure on other ships as well.
Regarding dining, many people probably don’t know that there are so many options on ships now. In addition to the buffet, there is at least one main dining room, in addition to numerous specialty restaurants. The specialty restaurants usually specialize in a certain cuisine, such as Italian, Mexican, Steakhouse, Brazilian, BBQ, etc. Celebrity chefs also partner with cruise lines and create restaurants. The buffet is still there, and there are people who eat every meal at the buffet. I usually lunch at the buffet upon boarding, and then I relax by the pool for a few hours. After that, I either try the main dining room or specialty restaurants for other meals. I also go to the buffet for breakfast since I am an early riser, and it is generally the earliest option. I fix a plate and take it to my room, which is how I like to start my morning.
It is true that if you want to really have an immersive cultural experience, you need to spend more than one day in a location. That is usually not what you get on a cruise, except ships that sail to Cuba often stay overnight, cruises to Bermuda often stay several days, and I believe a cruise to St. Petersburg, Russia is likely to stay overnight.
Why should we think a Caribbean island is unworthy of our time? Even a day in Nassau, Bahamas can provide a taste of Bahamian culture. Just walk around the town, get a bit off the beaten path, and ask a local where to have lunch. On one trip, I witnessed a political event (a peaceful one) outside the government building and had a lunch at a very local cafe (Sunshine’s Deli). I have more stories where that came from.
So you think Caribbean culture isn’t worthy of your time? Well, European cruises are a great option. A 7-day Mediterranean cruise can be an amazing value. I see them as low as $500 sometimes (not including flights). You can visit areas of Italy, Spain, and France in 7 days. This can include days in Rome, Florence, Pisa, Napoli, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Cannes, and Marseilles. You can cruise to Russia, Greek Isles, British Isles, Iceland, Norway, etc! If you are anything like me, this will give you a taste of places, so you can put them on a list of future destinations where you will spend more time.
I have used a cruise as an affordable mode of transportation & accommodations. Once I took a cruise from Southampton, England to Hamburg, Germany. This took me to a part of England I had never been, as well as a part of Germany I had never been. I stayed a night on the Isle of Wight before the cruise and had lots of time to explore Southampton and the Isle of Wight before the cruise. I then spent two or three days in Hamburg, which was wonderful. I got to see a concert at the Elbfilharmonie, which is their amazing new concert hall!
This is my hard sell for cruising. If you like to experience different cultures, you can do that. If you want to stay in your bubble of American culture, you can do that as well. In the best of ways, cruises are like the NYC Subway, because people from all over come together for a journey. Some people sleep in fancier cabins, but there is something egalitarian about a cruise, and it has taught me to be more open minded, and more importantly, less judgmental. I think you should try it. There’s something for everyone!
P.S.: If you are a gym addict, cruise ships usually have pretty nice gyms and offer a number of group exercise classes, in addition to personal trainer sessions.
They say this is the age of the gig economy. Many people drive for Uber or Lyft in their spare time, while others sell lipstick and skin care products. None of this felt right for me. I toyed around with the idea of becoming a health coach, which is a relatively new field, but training for that is pretty expensive. I became friends with a travel agent on a 15-day cruise almost a year ago, and the idea of becoming a travel agent sparked a real interest in me. If I had unlimited funds and didn’t have a cat, I think I could easily travel half of the year. I LOVE home, but traveling is so important to me.
Why would I need a side hustle? Well, even as a full time college professor, I taught extra lessons, took singing gigs, and rented out part of my home on Airbnb. It wasn’t totally out of need that I did this. Extra work kept me busy doing things I enjoy, and it allowed a cushion for my income so that I could travel. This is my last semester teaching at Piedmont College, and I have a good amount of work lined up to keep me busy teaching. However, there is time in the morning or between lessons when I could make money to supplement my income. I started to bug my travel agent friend from the cruise a bit more, and all of a sudden, I was signed up to join her agency, Cherished Memories Travel Co, LLC!
Fortunately, there is no overhead required to start, so I can try it out for a while and see if it works for me. I need clients, though! Most people travel at least once a year, but many people don’t understand why a person would use a travel agent these days. I didn’t either until I started saving a lot of money by using a travel agent. You might get a preferred rate, but it seems more common that you pay the same and get extra perks that you would not get on your own. For example, with a cruise, you often get to choose 1 or 2 perks from a list of 4 or 5, such as shore excursions, free drinks, specialty dining, or free wifi. By booking through an agent, you might get 2 perks instead of 1. This can be a value of several hundred dollars. In a hotel, you might get an upgraded room or other perks.
I am writing this for shameless self promotion but also in the spirit that it might inspire someone to take the leap into a side hustle, whether it is to have extra spending money or fill a gap where extra income is needed.
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