Travel: How to get the best VALUE

My company is Pilkington Travels, LLC, and I would be honored to help you plan any trip, large or small, so that you get the best value and have the best experience. Feel free to contact me using form below, visit my website, find me on Facebook, and follow me on Instagram.

We all want a great deal, and I understand that! I am very thrifty in many aspects of my life so that I can afford to travel. I don’t really like the expression, “you get what you pay for.” Sometimes you pay for a little and get a lot, or sometimes you pay for a lot and get little. It isn’t necessarily black & white, especially with travel.

Here are a few ways I think you can guarantee the best value for your time and budget!

  1. Use a travel advisor! Travel is PERSONAL, and our job is to help you get the best value and be sure you have an itinerary that is customized just for you. A good travel advisor has partnerships around the world to ensure that you are getting what you want. We also have access to special pricing and special amenities that add extra value to your vacation. As a Virtuoso advisor, I have access to highly vetted partners to ensure that you get exactly what you pay for. You also have an advocate from start to finish to help things go smoothly, make wise choices, and help if anything doesn’t go smoothly. If you haven’t used a travel advisor, or if you are afraid of paying more for your travels, I really suggest you give it a try!
  2. Try an ocean cruise! Before I went on my first cruise, I was very skeptical and had no idea whether I would love or hate the 7 days on board. By day 7, I wanted to LIVE on a ship. It was the most carefree, fun vacation I had ever had. Since meals, accommodations, and transportation are part of the trip, there are no worries. You wake up when you like, eat when you like, etc, and you get to explore several interesting, new ports. Cruises have a bit of a reputation for nickel & diming you, but with the assistance of a travel advisor who knows how that works, you will be sure to enjoy the value of a cruise! By the way, most of my experience is with Norwegian Cruise Lines, and I love them. I can help you find the best fit for you!
  3. Try a river cruise! Enough with the cruise talk! No, never! I have to separate the ocean cruising from river cruising because they are a totally different ballgame. River cruises are a bit more expensive, but probably not as much as you might think. Of course, you still have the meals, accommodations, and transportation that are part of the cruise, but other things are included as well. River cruises usually include 1 free shore excursion per port, and they include wine & beer at meals. Although you have to fly to Europe, they also often offer free or discounted flights. They are also a smaller and more intimate experience. I am particularly a fan of AmaWaterways, but Viking, Uniworld, and Avalon Waterways, among others, are wonderful. Booking through a Virtuoso agent gets you even greater value!
  4. Try a tour. I’m sure this makes some people cringe and gives you visions of being on a charter bus with 60 people. Ick! This isn’t necessarily true. There are a number of providers that offer small group tours and groups various sizes, even private tours. Your travel advisor knows the reputable companies! If you are traveling solo (solo but not alone), or if you like to meet people when you travel, this can be a great way to go. Also, the added value of a tour is that you probably have a guide, all of the planning is built in, and the cost is probably reasonable since it has been negotiated by the tour operator.
  5. Choose your destination wisely. This may seem obvious, but some places are more expensive than others. Norway is amazingly beautiful, but it is quite expensive. Locations even vary in price. For example, the Dominican Republic is a great value right now because of the bad press. If you’re afraid of dying, you really should fearing that. This article, along with others, discusses how the deaths were unrelated, as well as how the media created too much hype about them. Also, Mexico is a relatively inexpensive place to visit, but it’s no less wonderful! Again, your travel advisor can help you find the location that gives you the best value!

P.S. I forgot to mention all-inclusive resorts, but they can also be a great value. In this post, I compare all-inclusive with cruises.

I would love to hear from you!

UPDATE Sing at Sea 2020: Singing & Wellness Cruise

I am a travel advisor and voice teacher with almost 20 years of teaching experience (bio at the end of this post), so I am combining my passions into one fun and exciting opportunity!

SING AT SEA!

Come and commune, relax and revive, on land and at sea where your wellness will thrive!

If you enjoy singing, want to be a better singer, or think you can’t sing and want to try it out in a safe environment, then this cruise is for you! If you enjoy travel, then this cruise is for you! If you love food, fun, and community, then this cruise is for you! Contact me below.

Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady, June 7-12, 2020

  • Fly to MIA (on your own, or I can arrange)
  • Cruise leaves from Miami
  • Pre-cruise hotel optional (and highly recommended). If you do this, we will have a pre-cruise dinner to get acquainted and get the party started! (I can bundle flight & hotel)
  • Embark on a 5-day cruise to Costa Maya, Mexico and Virgin’s FABULOUS “Ibiza Inspired” exclusive beach club in Bimini, The Bahamas
  • Enjoy all of the amenities of a brand new cruise ship, including meals, entertainment, and accommodations.
  • Participate in daily singing and wellness activities, including private lessons
  • Fly home a happier, healthier person because of the experience of singing, travel, wellness, and community.

The Itinerary:

  • Day 1 Miami – Departs at 07:00 PM, Depart 2 hrs before
  • Day 2 Sailing
  • Day 3 Costa Maya – 09:00 AM, local time
  • Day 4 Sailing
  • Day 5 The Beach Club At Bimini – 09:00 AM, local time
  • Day 6 Miami – Arrives at 06:30 AM
Scarlet Lady!

Since I am starting this small, anywhere from 3-10 participants will be ideal. Each participant will have private voice lessons, group classes, and discussions over dinner. No matter what, I will ensure that there is plenty of time for FUN!

The estimated cost for participants should be $2000 or less (plus flight), depending on the cabin chosen. Non-participants may join you in your cabin for a reduced rate. Also, Scarlet Lady has solo cabins, which means that solo travelers don’t have to pay double!

Please contact me with your interest and availability, and I will answer any questions you might have.

Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady Beach Club at Bimini
Jonathan Pilkington’s recent solo engagements include Verdi’s Requiem, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Haydn’s Creation, Handel’s Israel in Egypt, Mozart’s Requiem, Handel’s Messiah, and Orff’s Carmina Burana. He sang the tenor solo in New York premiere of Mendelson’s Humboldt Cantata and was the tenor soloist for Elliott Carter’s The Defense of Corinth with the National Chorale at Avery Fisher Hall. He was a guest soloist at the 2014 Bassi Brugnatelli International Conducting and Singing Symposium in Robbiate, Italy. Additional performances include concerts with Lyric Intermezzo in Augusta, GA, a recital appearance at Reinhardt University, and solo recitals at Piedmont College and Winthrop University. In early 2017, he completed a tour of concerts with Karen Sigers, piano, featuring the songs of Samuel Barber, including a performance at Spivey Hall in Atlanta. In October 2018, he toured California to promote an album of songs with classical guitar, including transcriptions of Schubert’s Winterreise. Pilkington has performed many major choral works with the New York Philharmonic, American Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and others, and has been guest lecturer in vocal pedagogy for University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, the Sautee Chorale, and St. Bartholomew’s Church in Atlanta. With degrees from Shorter College (B.M.), Westminster Choir College (M.M.), and the University of Georgia (D.MA.), Pilkington, formerly Assistant Professor of Music at Piedmont College, now teaches at The Lovett School, United Music Studios, Perimeter College-Georgia State University, and The Galloway School, in addition to his own private voice studio. As a dedicated voice teacher, he has participated in the highly selective NATS Intern Program and competed further training at the LoVetri Institute for Somatic Voicework™ at Baldwin Wallace University, and he serves as the NATS District Governor for Georgia. He also serves as a staff singer at First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta.

Cruise vs All-Inclusive: The Pilkington Perspective

 

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!

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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.

Resort Beachfront palm trees
View from my room

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.

 

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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.

Mexican Fiesta show at El Dorado
Mexican Fiesta show at El Dorado

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.

Golf Cart ride at all inclusive resort
Golf Cart Ride

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.

Yoga class at El Dorado Royale
Yoga class at El Dorado Royale

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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