Tag Archives: Caribbean

A Short Poesia Cruise

I know I haven’t blogged in a long time. I have to admit I’ve concentrated most of my online time to twitter and facebook. One reason is that I prefer to blog about my personal experiences, and I simply didn’t travel much last year.

However, a couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to take a short 2-day cruise aboard MSC Poesia. If you’re saying “Aboard what?”, you’re probably not alone. When you think of cruises, MSC Cruises is definitely not the first cruise line that comes to mind. They are an Italian cruise line, mostly focused on the European market. In fact, out of their 11 ships, only MSC Poesia is deployed in this continent. It sails to the Caribbean and the Northeast and Canada (during the Fall).

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that we traveled on a travel agent incentive rate. In fact, they had a promotion on this sailing, where we cruised for free (paying taxes only) if we sold another cabin in the sailing. My parents were visiting Florida, so the 5 of us decided to go.

I had heard a lot of mixed reviews on MSC, so I wanted to see for myself. I have to say some of the comments I heard were accurate, a lot were not.

The first thing you notice when you board the ship is that it’s very elegantly furnished. The ship offers most of the basic amenities a modern ship provides, including a gym, spa, children areas, and a variety of restaurants and bars. You will also notice that since the ship caters to an international audience, announcements are made in several languages. I counted English, Spanish, Italian, German, and French. Fortunately, they don’t seem to make as many announcements as in other cruise lines.

We were assigned a balcony cabin on deck 9. The cabin was comfortable and nicely decorated. The floor to ceiling mirror made it seem even bigger. Ours was a triple, with a sofa bed for the same person (although we used a crib instead). We saw other balcony cabins that were only doubles and were smaller.

The two most common complaints I’ve heard of MSC are about food and service. Here, I have to give them mixed reviews as well. Service throughout the ship was very good, except for the housekeeping department. The crib that we requested, and were told was going to be delivered by 4:00 pm, didn’t arrive until 9:00 pm. More importantly, we needed some help on the first night (courtesy of what was probably a stomach virus our toddler caught ), and it took a while to find someone willing to help. One person said he needed to “talk with the chief”, while another said his shift was over and to find someone else. This was the only sour point, though. I talked to several waiter and bartenders that were very happy. One has been cruising with MSC for over 10 years.

When it comes to food, I know that’s one thing that usually breaks or makes the cruise. MSC has the typical cruise set up. A buffet-style restaurant open throughout the day, a couple of set-time dining venues, and a couple of premium restaurants (including a sushi bar, which we unfortunately could not try).

My biggest disappointment was with the buffet restaurant. The food is laid out cafeteria style, where you have to line up and go through the entire display to choose what you want. This made for very long lines, having to stand for over 20 minutes for breakfast or lunch. By the time you got your table, some of the food was already cold. The quality of the food was good, though, with some dishes being very good (in particular the eggplant Parmigiana!). One other complaint is that this restaurant did not serve more than a very limited menu after 8:30 pm.

Now to the main restaurants, where we had dinner both nights. MSC offers 3 menus every night: A set of favorites available every night (steak, salmon, etc.), and “American menu”, and an Italian menu. The Italian menu highlights the cuisine of a specific region each night. We enjoyed dishes from Tuscany the first night and from Piedmont on the second one. I found the food between good and very good, but generally under seasoned (nothing a little salt couldn’t fix). One area which positively surprised as was the desserts. We tried 3 each night, and they were all very good (from a lemoncello soaked cake to cheesecake and tiramisu).

One more area that got mixed reviews from us was the entertainment shows. Both shows were a mixture of dancing and acrobatics. The dancing was invariable mediocre; the acrobatics were breathtaking (you have to questions the sanity of anyone on the receiving end of a knife thrower on a moving ship).

Other than the shows, there was live music and entertainment throughout the ship. One thing I did not see is as many programed day time activities, as I’ve seen on other lines (although this may have been because we didn’t have any days at sea).

All in all, I wouldn’t hesitate to sell MSC cruises to the right client, under the right conditions (itinerary, pricing, etc.). However, I find they will need to improve in some areas if they want to compete with the likes of Celebrity and Princess.


Advertisements

Cruises Offer More Dining Options

main_dining_hero

Celebrity Cruises just announced the introduction of Celebrity Select Dining. This new option allows passengers to dine in the ship’s main restaurant, but not have a preassigned dining time, as is the traditional dinner schedule. Instead, guests can select to dine at any time between 6:00 and 9:30 pm., and even make reservations online up to 4 days before the cruise.

The program is being rolled out sequentially to all Celebrity ships (except for Celebrity Xpedition), starting with the Equinox on the September 26th sailing. It will be completed by February. Reservations will be on a first come, first served basis, and for passengers who elect to participate, gratuities will be automatically charged to the on board account.

It used to be that cruise lines offered 2 set times to dine in the main restaurants. You chose between early and late dining, and were stuck with that choice for the duration of the cruise. If you wanted to have dinner at a different time, you had to go to one of the alternate restaurants. In the last few years, however, starting with Norwegian Cruise Lines, the option to have dinner in the main restaurant (or one of them, at least), has been introduced by several lines. The following is a summary of the offerings:

  • Norwegian Cruise Lines: They were the pioneers of the flexible options with their Freestyle Dining. You’ve surely seen the commercials; do whatever you want, whenever you want. Norwegian has done away with the set dining times altogether, and bases dining service on offering different menus in different restaurants. Their newer ships, like the Jewel and the Gem, have even been designed with the Freestyle philosophy in mind. NCL ships offer smaller restaurants, with up to 13 different restaurants on board.
  • Carnival: The Fun Ships don’t currently offer a flexible option. It’s either early, late, or one of the other restaurants.
  • Royal Caribbean: Their “My Time” dining allows passengers to have dinner at any time in the main restaurants. It’s very similar to Celebrity’s Select Dining, which is likely based on My Time. In addition, Royal Caribbean offers “Family My Time” dining. This program is targeted to families with younger children. Appetizers are served immediately, and the children’s dinner is finished in 40 minutes.  They are then taken to evening activities with Adventure Ocean counselors, while the adults continue the meal at a more leisurely pace.
  • Princess Cruises: Their anytime dining allows passengers to dine at the main restaurant between 5:30 and 10:00 pm. Some ships have dedicated Anytime Dining restaurants, separate from the traditional dining restaurants, but providing the same menu and service.
  • Holland America: Provides an open schedule in its main dining room, as part of their As You Wish Dining program.
  • Cunard: Guests can dine any time between 7 and 9 pm, but some restaurants offer either early or late dining only.

Any way you look at it, dining is one of the prime attractions of a cruise, and a very important part of the cruising experience for most passengers. If you’ve been on a cruise, you understand why. If you have not, I invite you to experience it. Just contact us and we’ll plan the perfect cruise for you.

Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171

Valuable as Sand

You usually don’t think of sand as a valuable commodity. However, when your livelihood depends on it, things change. Such is the case for beach destinations like Cancun and the Riviera Maya (the area immediately South of Cancun).  The Quintana Roo State Government and Tourism Secretariat has announced plans to restore beach fronts in the Cancun, Riviera Maya, and Cozumel areas. This is needed because the last few hurricanes that hit the area eroded the beach to the point that some hotels no longer have a beach, or it becomes impossible to use in high tide.

Retaining Wall at the Playacar Palace

Retaining Wall at the Playacar Palace

I saw this last year when we visited the area. Our hotel, the Playacar Palace, in Playa del Carmen, was almost perfect in every way, except for the beach. At its biggest point, the beach was maybe 30 ft wide and 6 ft deep. You could certainly take the steps down from the pool area for a dip in the ocean, but lounging was definitely out of the question. Ironically, the same is true for the Beach Palace Cancun. When we visited, you couldn’t even go down to the ocean because of the high tide.

View of the Beach Palace Cancun Pool Area and Beach

View of the Beach Palace Cancun Pool Area and Beach

Not all hotels suffer from this, though. I took the following picture at the beautiful Sun Palace, also in Cancun.

Beach at the Sun Palace in Cancun

To remedy the situation, the government will add sand to widen Cancun’s beach to 44 ft. wide, Playa del Carmen’s to 33 ft. wide, and Cozumel’s to 22 ft. The project meets established environmental protection norms, while the responsible entity has pledged to make sure environmental measures are respected and the local fauna and environment protected. For this reason as well, sand will only be extracted from certain areas and only between six and seven percent of sandbanks will be touched. Work will begin in the Riviera Maya’s Playa del Carmen this month, where 2.5 miles of dunes affecting the beachfronts of local hotels and condominiums will be filled in. Sept. 13 to 15 are when a 875-yard coastal sandbank will be created. Similar work in Cancun will extend from Sept. 30 to November.

The fact that the government is taking hands in the matter is a good thing. The alternative is for hotels to do it on their own, such as the Gran Caribe Real complex was trying to do. They got caught and their beach was cordoned off. Apparently, the hotel was pumping sand from the sea floor onto the beach, and had also built an illegal breakwater to prevent erosion. According to authorities, the hotel owners had refused previous requests to destroy the breakwater. The result was some very angry clients, who went to Cancun and couldn’t use the hotel’s beach, even though reports say they reopened the beach a couple of days later.

Cancun and the Riviera Maya, as well as Cozumel, continue to be some of the most popular beach destinations for American tourists, mainly because they offer beautiful beaches and additional activities for every age group. If you’re considering a beach vacation, please let me know and I’ll help you find the best resort for what you need. Most resorts, including Palace Resorts, have great offers, like free stays for kids 17 and under.

Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171

Couples Opens Couples Tower Isle

Couples Resorts, one of the premier lodging companies in Jamaica, has announced the reopening of Couples Ocho Rios, now renamed Couples Tower Isle.

Couples Tower Isle

The resort, which was unveiled back in April, and is now officially open, underwent a $30 million renovation, which resulted in enhancements such as:

  • Ocean-view suites with zero edge walk-in showers
  • Renovations to the main lobby, piano bar, and 3 restaurants
  • A new wedding gazebo
  • A new vegetable and juice bar, and a pool grill
  • Upgraded the pool, gym, spa, and game room

Couples, as the name states, is directed to couples and romantic vacations, honeymoons, destination weddings, etc. Each Couples property includes bold design elements and local inspiration to create a laid-back natural setting infused with an authentic Caribbean spirit. For over 30 years, Couples has delighted guests with outstanding service, exceptional dining and unparalleled value-added experiences.

Couples Resorts

Their resorts are on the smaller side of the scale, and are more boutique-style unique resorts than the usual cookie cutter hotels you may have seen.

Couples offers not only some of the best All Inclusive resorts in Jamaica, but is also at the forefront of ecological responsibility. The resorts use eco-friendly paint and encourage guests to conserve energy. Among their achievements are:

  • 100% environment friendly cleaning products
  • Freon-free air conditioning units
  • Use of low energy light bulbs (90%)
  • 85% of the products used to prepare the food is obtained from local growers and farmers

The best thing is they achieve all this without sacrificing on customer experience and on the quality of the product they offer. All the clients I’ve sent to their resorts have come back happy, wanting to go back.

Couples Fall in Love

If you’re thinking about an intimate Caribbean vacation, I encourage you to look at what Couples has to offer. Through the end of the month, they are offering a very special “Fall in Love” promotion, with up to 50% savings and $500 credits. If you’d like to get more details, please contact us.

Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171

Free Soda on a Cruise?

Most people know a cruise is far from All Inclusive. Even though your meals and even most of the entertainment is included, there’s now more “opportunities” to spend money aboard: specialty restaurants, specialty coffee, gambling, spinning, ice cream, and of course, drinks.

One item that hits families especially hard sometimes is sodas. This sometimes surprises first time cruises, who expect alcoholic drinks not to be included, but don’t know they’ll have to charge their Cokes to the onboard account. Most cruise lines offer All You Can Drink Soda Cards on the first day of the cruise. For a fee that starts at about $30 for a 7-day cruise, you get a special cup and a sticker on your cruise card that allows you to get unlimited sodas at any of the restaurants or bars aboard the ship.

Now USA Today is reporting that Norwegian Cruise Lines has teamed with Pepsi to offer free sodas aboard NCL cruises booked before October 15th, and sailing through 2010. The promotion applies to sailings 7-days or longer for up to 2 people per cabin.

Norwegian Gem

Norwegian Gem

What’s the catch? This is a promotional rate, not a product, so it has to be booked when you reserve the cruise, not when you board the ship. It’s not combinable with other special rates, so don’t assume you’re getting the best deal. Other rates may be low enough that it’s not worth it to get the free Pepsi. Also, since the promotion is limited to 2 people per cabin, families with children sailing in triple or quad cabins may not get the full advantage of the promotion.

If you’d like to take advantage of Norwegian’s offer, such as this Transatlantic cruise, this 14-day Southern Caribbean cruise, which visits ports you usually don’t get to from Miami, or this extended Mexican Riviera cruise, please let us know. We’ll look for the best option and let you know what your best bet is.

Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171

Repositioning Cruises

If you’re looking for very good deals for a cruise, you’ll often be told to look for a repositioning cruise. So, what is a repositioning cruise? As the cruising seasons change, cruise lines need to relocate (or reposition) their ships where demand is stronger and where they can command better prices. Other factors that play into moving ships around like this are weather patterns (like the Atlantic/Caribbean hurricane season) and the need to provide repeat cruisers with new itineraries in different regions or ports.

The two most common types of repositioning cruises are:

  1. Transatlantic cruises: Ships leave the Caribbean for Europe in the Spring and return from the Old World in the Fall. This also coincides with the hurricane season for the Caribbean routes, and this is when cruise lines keep the fewest ships in the area (most likely for financial reasons than climatic ones, though).
  2. Transcanal cruises: Cruise lines often advertise Panama Canal cruises of around 10 days leaving and coming back to Florida. In reality, these sailings enter the canal, reach Gatun Lake, turn around, and come back to Florida. However, as the Alaska sailing season begins in May, and again when it ends in September and October, ships make a full transit of the canal as they move from one coast to the other.

Other repositioning cruises are made when ships come back from South America to the Caribbean, from Alaska or the West Coast to Asia or Australia, etc.

So, how good are the deals for these cruises? Sometimes they’re really good. Back in April, I have clients who traveled on Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas from Fort Lauderdale to the UK, and paid $700 per person for a 13-day cruise, and sailed on Balcony cabins! Granted, this was an extremely good deal, but not really unheard of. This one for Celebrity Century’s trip back in November comes close.

The main drawback of repositioning cruises is usually the airfare. By definition, you need to purchase one-way tickets, which especially for international flights, tend to be expensive. However, I just came across one offer from Royal Caribbean that solves this problem. They are moving the Enchantment of the Seas from Fort Lauderdale and Colon, Panama. They have also chartered flights to return passengers back to Miami. This allows them to offer much better prices and lock the air fares as well:

RCCL Enchantment Repositioning

As you can see in the flier above, prices for this 8 day sailing start at $749 per person, including the flight back! This is less than $100 per person per night, for a cruise that goes all the way South to Cartagena, and includes the flight back to Miami. It’s really pricing that you don’t see very often. Of course, the also offer cruise only pricing for those who want to stay in Panama longer, or who want to fly back directly.

If you would like to know more about repositioning cruises, or want to look into booking this sailing of the Enchantment, please let me know.
Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171

Time to Go Back to Mexico?

It seems that the swine flu scare is subsuding, just a few weeks after it made the front pages.  On May 15th, the CDC removed its recommendation to avoid traveling to Mexico.

On the cruise front, Royal Caribbean is resuming visits to Mexican ports of call on sailings starting on May 24th. Carnival has also announced that it will resume its stops in Mexico once their already modified itineraries run their course. In fact, I’ve already started to receive requests for short cruises to the Western Caribbean, which stop in Cozumel, such as this one. Mexican Riviera sailings will also be restored.

Even if cruise lines were affected economically by the epidemic, they were still able to operate and most guests elected to sail the modified itinerary. Hotels and resorts didn’t fare as well. Some chains, like Iberostar and Occidental, were forced to close some of their hotels, with the effect that has on the company and its employees.  Guests in the affected hotels were upgraded to the more upscale resorts that remained open.

Guests may not return as quickly as people would hope, so companies are enticing tourists to come back with discount and even assurances. Occidental Resorts is offering free nights, starting with every second night free at the Occidental Grand Xcaret and  the Grand Cozumel, all the way to every 4th night free at the luxurious Royal Hideaway.

Free Nights from Occidental Resorts

Free Nights from Occidental Resorts

AMResorts' Flu Free Vacations

AMResorts, owner of the Dreams, Secrets, and Zoetry brands, announced a Flu Free Guarantee. If a guest contracts Influenza A – H1N1 while staying at one of their resorts, their next three vacations will be free of charge. In order to qualify, the guest must have reserved their stay between May 8, 2009 and June 30, 2009 for travel taking place between May 8, 2009 and December 20, 2009 (see the website for more details).
More offers are available from other companies, so if you want to hear about them and plan your next trip, let us know.

Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171