What’s exciting in travel today? If you are reading this, thank you! My aim in this post is to inform you of different things I can provide as a travel advisor. Usually, these are locations and/or services that I have encountered in the past week. For today, I am featuring a company in Central America, a hotel in Nicaragua, and a few cruises that I think you should consider.First, my network is global, so no matter where you need to plan a trip, I have someone who can help me to find the best of what is there. This week, I worked with Namu Travel Group, which specializes in Central America. They quickly helped me to put together a beautiful itinerary for a client who was interested in Nicaragua.
In the process, I got to know Morgan’s Rock Ecolodge. Here’s the dreamy description from their website: “Each three-sided Ocean View bungalow is perched on a cliff 30-100 feet over the private beach and cove, just across a 50 yard jungle suspension bridge. Set into the treetops, each bungalow accommodates up to four people.”
Finally, I want to make you aware of a few cruises. I am so excited to go on my first river cruise on AmaWaterway‘s new ship, AmaMagna. This ship is twice the width of other river cruises and has itineraries on the Danube. There is still space on my cruise, and of course they have many other cruises all over Europe.
If you want to stay on this side of the Atlantic, The Norwegian Escape has a fun itinerary from Miami, with two ports in Mexico, one in Belize, and one in Honduras. Harvest Caye is their newest private island, which is beautiful! Prices start less than $900 per person (including taxes and beverages) for this 7-day cruise!
One more! I have to keep mentioning Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady. I am so excited about this ship and cruiseline. This is the cruise for people over 18 who think they don’t like cruises. There’s no buffet, all dining is included, and the ship is smaller than other typical cruise ships. They all include a day at their private beach club on the island of Bimini, and the entertainment will be amazing! Cruises officially begin April 1, but they have 2 preview mini-cruises just before that. Prices begin at around $1000 per person for 3-5 night cruises. I HIGHLY recommend jumping on this one! It’s going to be hot!
As always, please let me know if you need help with any travel. I would be happy to help!
Want a free trip? Book a group with your favorite travel advisor! Cruise lines, in particular love groups, and there are very nice rewards available for booking a group! In general, the group leader can travel for free, and everyone in the group gets extra perks, sometimes including discounted fare.
The good thing with a cruise is that you can see members of your group as much or as little as you like! Technically, you’re only a group because you’re booked together. You’re not forced to do anything together while traveling.
A group of complete strangers
Corporate Incentive Trips
On & on & on….
Here are a few examples of how groups work with the cruise lines I love best:
1 free (tour conductor) for every 9 passengers
1 free cabin for every 9 cabins (double occupancy)
Unlimited tour conductors
$250-500 discount per person
Group Amenity Program (added perks)
Additional perks because I’m a Virtuoso Advisor!
Norwegian Cruise Line
10 berths (people)=1 TC (tour conductor credit)
TC can be used by the group leader or divided among the group
5%-10% discount, based on cabin category
Added amenities/perks (choose from open bar, specialty dining, onboard credit, cocktail party, etc.)
10 cabins minimum for a group (called “Circles”)
Sailor Loot (onboard credit) for everyone (double Sailor Loot if you book before December 31!)
Circle Chest: Earn Circle Voyage Credit, based on a percentage of cabin fares, to be used however you like!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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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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.