Get Away From The Norm On Nile Cruise Holidays

Everyday life will eventually start to get anyone into a rut. There is a cure to the malaise of a typical routine people tend to find themselves in. The cure is to get far away from home and have some real fun. A whole planet of fun and adventure are waiting for those who want it badly enough. The best way to find an adventure is with Nile cruise holidays.

A holiday is also known as a vacation to some. No matter what it is called, a holiday is a great way to relieve stress and get that hop back into a persons step. It can be tricky finding the right way of spending this quality time. Planning will help to make the expense match the fun.

The destination is what it is all about in vacationing. Often times the farther one goes the better the adventure. A new setting helps create a different way of thinking. Breaking the habits of a repetitive life can improve health and happiness in one go. Ancient lands with culture and intrigue hold the best of old an new.

Finding a great location is a big step, but after the place has been selected the mode of travel starts to become a major issue. Everyone wants to have a good time without giving up life’s conveniences. The key to having it all and getting from one place to another is in taking a cruise. Everything the modern world can offer without having to drive or search all day for it.

Traveling on the oceans and seas is not only relaxing, but it is also a great deal of fun. Comfort is king, but activities are what keep each day on the water fresh and exciting. Culture will also flow from every possible pit stop. Old world history and beauty with a taste of everything on the ancient river is hard to beat.

When the time comes to finally take that big vacation, be sure to go somewhere that leaves an impression. See the lands that time has never forgotten and bring home some new stories. A voyage into the past with the pleasures of the world of today is the tops in travel. Make a Nile cruise a top choice when planning the next great holiday.

6 Secrets the Travel Industry Does not Want You to Know About Cruise Travel Deals

Cruise travel is a fantastic way to explore the world and you may find yourself a cruise enthusiast after your first taste of the luxury. But there are a few details that do not show up in the brochures that most first-timers on a cruise travel deal have to learn the hard way. Here is a list of those dirty little secrets that you need to know to make sure that you enjoy your cruise and do not overspend your budget.

You Get What You Pay For

1) Yes, it's trite, but in the case of cruise travel deals it is especially true. One sneaky way to get people onboard is to offer low-priced come-on fares that seem too good to be true. Well, often that is the case. Generally speaking, fares that are higher tend to include more. The flip side is that the so-called cruise travel deals may offer a low price fare, but then nickel and dime you to death so that you have not saved anything at all.

2) Hidden costs and onboard charges are where the cruise lines make a big chunk of their revenue, so travelers must be aware of what is included and what is not. Below are some examples of the "ala carte" payment system common to many cruise travel deals:

3) Anything you buy onboard will be at least 25% more expensive than you would expect to pay on land. A $ 6 bottle of suntan lotion will likely run $ 10 or even more. So whether it's impulse buying in the gift shop or grabbing items that your husband forgot to pack, expect it to be overpriced. You are a captive audience and can not go down the street to another store if prices are too high. The list of items in this category is long but things like alcohol, lattes, hair cuts, sodas, dry cleaning, toothpaste, suntan lotion, swimsuits, etc are on the short list.

In addition, every cruise makes it very easy for you to spend via charges to your room tab. There is not the emotional moment of pain when you ask yourself, "do I really need this?" like you might if you had to pull out your credit card first.

4) Also expect a few cleverly hidden charges before you ever get onboard the cruise ship. Unexpected fees that were not clearly spelled out in the advertised cruise travel deals can include port taxes, fuel surcharges, and mandatory tips.

5) In addition, the cruise line or vendor will try to sell you on package airfare, airport transfers, and "luggage service" that can be had at a better price elsewhere. At this point your $ 400 cruise travel deal is starting to approach $ 1500 and you have not even left home yet.

6) The heavily advertised cruise travel deals are often for the least desirable accommodations onboard. Expect rooms near the noisy engine, inside with no windows, at either end of boat where it gets rough, and even below sea level. Check before you book, so you at least know what you're getting. It does not hurt to inquire about what a more desirable room would cost – you may be pleasantly surprised.

Take an hour and do a little research before you book your next cruise travel deal. You will not regret that small time investment. Make sure you know exactly what is included, what will cost extra, and when and how each cost is assessed. It's a lot easier to save in advance than it is to try to pay off an unexpected $ 2000 credit card bill after your trip for the cruise travel deals you saw advertised at just $ 349 per person. Or was that a cruise travel "steal"?

How to Get Married on a Cruise

Why not save time and money by combining your wedding with your honeymoon on a romantic cruise? A wedding that takes place on your cruise can be a beautiful way to start a journey together as a couple. However, it’s not quite as easy as it looks in the movies. You will need time to arrange a wedding and it is best to start at least a couple of months before your cruise leaves.

In reality, most couples don’t get married at sea, or on the actual cruise ship. In order to do this, you need to find a cruise line that has a wedding department and someone (often the captain) to perform a legal ceremony. Not all captains have the legal right to marry couples, so check this ahead of time if your heart is set on an ocean bound ceremony.

For most couples, getting married just before you leave the port or at another port of call along the way is a great compromise that can be done on any cruise line. There are a few things you’ll need to put in place ahead of time… often the cruise line will help you out with this. For example, you will need to decide where you will have the wedding ceremony performed, since most cruises have more than one stop.

In order to get married in a foreign port of call, you will need to have the right paperwork. Some states actually allow you to use their marriage license abroad, so make sure you check this ahead of time. Otherwise, you will need to find out what paperwork is required for the port of your choice. This will be reviewed upon arrival in the port, even if you plan to marry aboard the ship.

Other options for cruise ship marriages include tying the knot on the beach or at a local church. This will require additional arrangements, but if you really want a wedding to remember, it can really be worth the extra effort. Getting married in a foreign country may require other specifics like placing a notice in the local newspaper, before you are allowed to have a formal ceremony. This can take time, so make sure you are aware of all regulations and requirements ahead of time and if you won’t be able to complete them in time, pick another location for your cruise wedding.

One thing is for sure, you can’t just throw together a last minute cruise ship wedding. You will need time to plan it, particularly if you want to invite friends and family, since the paperwork doesn’t happen overnight. Different countries have different rules as to who can be married and what is required. Also, keep in mind that if you are married aboard a cruise ship, your wedding license may be issued by the ship’s mother country of origin or registration, which is usually outside the US. You will want to ensure that this is acceptable in your home country, otherwise it will be necessary to conduct another wedding once you return.

Having your wedding on a cruise can be a wonderful experience, if you have prepared correctly. Enjoy a romantic wedding aboard the ship or on a beach and then continue with your honeymoon… that part is already taken care of! Just remember that you need to take time to plan everything out, just like with any other wedding arrangements. Set it up ahead of time and enjoy!

What Is the Best Time to Go on a Cruise to Mexico and Hawaii?

Los Angeles is a major cruise departure port in the United States, owing to its position facing the Pacific Ocean. LA is a gateway to the world, because cruises from Los Angeles can go anywhere in the globe through the Pacific Ocean. One of the top destinations in LA cruises is Mexico and Hawaii, which are popular escapes to paradise.

How Much are Cruises?

There are many cruise liners to choose from especially if you are looking for cheap discounted trips. Peak seasons in travel greatly affect the prices of cruises going to Hawaii and Mexico. The savings you could have for a discounted cruise can be as much as $500 per person. The cruises from Los Angeles that go to Hawaii cost up to $1400 per head for a 15-night voyage. On the other hand, cruises to Mexico cost $400 to $900 for a seven-day trip.

Celebrity Cruises offer one of the cheapest cruises from Los Angeles going to the islands of Hawaii, the lowest rates costing $1350 per head for a two-week cruise. However, all rates from cruise ships displayed online are subject to change without further notice. There are no deadlines for bookings, but the rates become more expensive as you book nearer to the departure date of the cruise. To get cheap deals with cruises from Los Angeles, you have to plan and book the cruise at least four months before your actual trip. This way, you get the limited discounted offers that are sold on a first come first served basis. Tickets are also usually cheaper for both destinations in September and mid-December because of the smaller number of tourists.

Hawaii or Mexico?

Both places are top destinations when it comes to cruises. Cruises to Mexico are best from October to May. The summer weather from June to September are too humid. On the other hand, Hawaii is best to be visited during the dry season which is from April to October. Peak season for travel to Hawaii is also experienced during the winter months is the US; cruise liners are usually full of families with children during these months. Arrange your trip three weeks before or after Christmas, when the crowd is usually thinner than usual.

Online travel sites are one of the best ways to get cheap and quick reservations for cruises going to Hawaii, Mexico, and even the Panama Canal. They will allow you to compare different cruises from Los Angeles, as well as choose the best dates for your vacation.

Choosing a Cruise Ship – You Can Get the Best Room on the Best Ship and Have a Fabulous Vacation

Choosing a cruise ship is not an easy decision. On the one hand you have to weigh the cost of the excursion. On the other hand you have to think about whether the vacation will be worth the money you paid. After all, what good is finding a cruise deal for $200 when it’s full of loud obnoxious guests looking for a party when you’re looking for relaxation?

The first thing you need to do before you decide on a cruise is think about what you want out of the trip. There are different locations that tailor themselves more to fun in the sun. There are others that cater to seeing the sights. There are still others that combine trips to several different locations or countries.

Next, you need to decide the time of year you’re able to go on a cruise. Keep in mind that if you go during prime time you need to be prepared to pay more money. If you can go during the off season you can save a lot of money. Still, there is no sense in taking a cruise on the cheap if you’re not going to get a lot out of the trip.

After you choose the time of year you have to set your budget. Luckily, cruises can be a lot less expensive than going on a trip on land. Everything that you need is generally included in the cost. These all inclusive cruise packages can save you a lot of money.

Traveling is one of the best ways you can spend your time and money. Choosing a cruise is a great option because they’re so much fun and can be your own version of paradise. Don’t forget to plan ahead and decide exactly what you want because that will save you a lot of frustration in the long run.

No Egypt Vacations Are Complete Without a Nile Cruise

A Nile cruise is an essential part of any Egypt luxury vacation, and so important, in fact, that the cruise should comprise the entire vacation. Egypt is nothing without the Nile, and the ancient Egyptians even had a god devoted only to the Nile: Hapi.

Until the Aswan high dam was completed in July, 1970, the Egyptians depended on the annual ‘inundation’ for the water to irrigate their fields and provide them with the vital crops needed for survival in a country that was all desert other than the occasional oasis, and the fertile land each side of the Nile. The inundation occurred from June to September and came from summer floods in the highlands of Ethiopia. The Nile would break its banks and flood, leaving behind a rich dark silt essential for agriculture.

The inundation was a sign that Hapi had come, and the ancient Egyptians were very happy to see Hapi (sorry!). During the inundation the farmers had nothing to do, and in order to avoid paying taxes when they had no income they would work for the pharaohs by building pyramids: they were not built by slaves as popularly believed.

The whole of Egypt’s civilization was developed along the Nile, and a good Nile cruise should enable you to get a perspective on how the ancient Egyptians lived, in addition to how today’s population of this part of Egypt still rely on this vast river – the longest in the world, greater even than the mighty Amazon.

You should start at Cairo, not only the capital city of Egypt, but also one of the most populated in the world. This was not the important city it now is in the ancient days, but is a magnet for Egyptologists from all over the world. The pyramids of Giza are close by, and this is the permanent site of the Tutankhamun exhibition. However, there is more to modern Cairo than just ancient Egypt, and five thousand years of culture can be seen and visited here, including the great Mohammed Mosque and the Citadel of Sala Al-Din, commonly known as Saladin. The citadel dates from the time of the crusades, when Europe fought the Muslims to reclaim Jerusalem and the Holy Land for the Christians.

As mentioned above, Cairo was not the capital of ancient Egypt – that was Memphis, and not the Memphis that you know. This Memphis beat a different tune, and ruled the world as the Egyptians knew it for almost 600 years. You must visit the Saqqara, where the royals were laid to rest for the last time throughout the eras of the ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman periods. The Egyptian Pharonic dynasties lasted much longer than either of these other two, largely due to its means of succession although the Egyptians were not without their scheming and murdering for power.

‘Must visits’ are the Great Pyramids at Giza and the Sphinx lying beside them, and also St. Sergius church where Jesus and his parents stayed after leaving Jerusalem. The you should head off for Luxor(ancient Thebes) where the pharaohs stayed during the winter months. Try to book into the Winter Palace Hotel, and check up on the guest book. Here you will find Howard Carter, who discovered Tutenkhamun’s tomb, Agatha Christie while she was researching ‘Death on the Nile’, Henry Kissinger, Sir Winston Churchill, King Farouk, George Clemenceau and many, many more.

No Egyptian vacations are complete without a visit to the Valley of the Kings, just over the river from Luxor, or Thebes as the pharaohs knew it. It was here that the kings and nobles of the 18th through 20th dynasties were buried, from the 16th to the 11th centuries BC; a thousand years after the pyramids were built. The most famous temple here is the Temple of Karnak, built over many generations and that must be visited during your Nile cruise. The same is true of the Temple of the Goddess Hathor at Luxor. Hathor was depicted with a cow’s head, and was the goddess of family love, pleasure and beauty, sometimes associated with the Greek Aphrodite.

There are many, many more places to visit and sights to see on a Nile cruise, and most Egypt vacations will likely be unable to show you them all. The Aswan High Dam, which stopped the inundations and allowed more regular irrigation, is one of them. Abu Simbel is another, where two temples were physically moved to avoid flooding when the dam was built, one of these being erected by Rameses II.

Without a doubt, Egypt vacations that include a Nile cruise rank right up there with the best vacations possible. You are visiting the longest river on earth, and one that a whole civilization depended upon for its survival for thousands of years. Not only that, but a civilization that was greater than the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations combined, although it has not been given the credit it deserves.

Tips for Scoring The Best Cruise Deals

A wealthy friend decided to take a one-month vacation with Seabourn Cruises and knew the ship, itinerary, departure date and stateroom she wanted. She decided to conduct an experiment in cruise bargain hunting by calling three travel agents and, after relaying the specifics of her desired voyage, advised each agent that whoeverave her the best price would get her business. She saved thousands of dollars.

The travel agent who won her business did it by rebating. If there is one dirty word in the cruise industry it's rebating, which means an agent kicks back part of his or her commission (generally 15% of the cruise fare) to pass along a lower fare.

After 15 years of writing about the cruise industry I still do not see why rebating is bad – do not real estate agents and car salesmen do the same thing? Is not this just basic competition? Still, several cruise lines will not let any travel agent rebate cruise fares, including Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Sea Cruises and, to a large part, Norwegian Cruise Line.

The remaining cruise lines do allow rebating, but will not permit travel agents to advertise or promote a lower price to the public. You have to ask.

This means that if your sights are set on a Princess, Holland America, Cunard, Oceania, Carnival and Seabourn cruise, it's worth your time to ask travel agents if he / she can come up with a lower price than the one you're first quoted.

Of course your chances are better in some cruising regions. Right now, sales of Caribbean, Mexico, Baltic, South America and Western Europe cruises are soft. Here, here you stand a better chance of getting a lower price than on Alaska and Greek Island cruises, which are selling much better this year.

It's all about supply and demand. And timing. For example, traditionally suites and balcony cabins sell out first. But now that a bad economy is upon us and there's overcapacity in the Caribbean, Mexico and some areas of Europe, you still may get a better deal on the highest-priced categories. So ask. The only think a travel agent can say is "sorry, this is the price."

WHEN NOT TO SHOP AROUND: When you have a wonderful travel agent you trust implicitely, who has steered you towards good deals in the past. To save $ 100 or so is not worth it.

One caveat. Travel agents can only rebate the price of a cruise. There are fixed costs, like port charges, taxes, fuel surcharges and airfare that are never negotiable.

Make This Cruise Ship Vacation The Best One You’ve Ever Had

The term “cruise preparation” probably brings to mind finding your swimsuit and buying film and memory cards for your cameras. But there are a few key things you can do before your cruise that can really boost your enjoyment. First, make sure you have a valid passport. Next, book your spa and shore excursions on-line. Lastly, assess your credit and cash situation to make sure you aren’t caught off guard during your dream cruise. These may seem like small things, but they can add up to a cruise disaster if you don’t take care of them.

If your cruise takes you outside the borders of the US, you should renew or get a passport as soon as possible. The new rules require a valid passport to come back into the country from Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean. If you’ve traveled a lot, you want to make sure you have blank pages in your passport and check the expiration date. A perfect cruise can be ruined if you find your passport expired during your trip. Those who don’t yet have a passport should pay the extra money for faster processing in order to get it as soon as possible before your trip. Make a bunch of copies of your passport before the trip. They will come in handy if yours is lost or stolen. It’s a great idea to put one in your suitcase and give one to someone back home.

A month or so before your cruise you’ll receive your cruise documents. These contain vital details about the amenities on your ship, shore excursions and all the activities available. You can probably make your reservations through the cruise line’s web site. Those who wait until they get on board to do this will find long lines and inconvenient appointment times. If you book ahead you can start enjoying your cruise knowing that your spa appointment was not booked during dinner.

A cruise is a great way to honor a honeymoon, birthday, anniversary or other special event. Check with your cruise line to see what kinds of special packages and indulgences they can arrange. But make sure you do this well in advance to give their staff time to make all the necessary arrangements. If you wait until you get on board to arrange a special cake, you’ll probably be disappointed.

One of the most important things you can do before your special cruise is assess the amount of credit you have access to. If you need to pay down your balance, open another card, or just move your finances around you’ll want plenty of time to make these kinds of preparations. Like most hotels and resorts, upon check in your cruise line will place a hold on your card to cover incidentals during your stay. You can expect a hold ranging anywhere from $50-$200 per day. A quick call will confirm your cruise line’s policy. If your trip itinerary includes a stay at a hotel or rental car there will be multiple holds on your cards during your vacation. It may take a while before all these holds get worked out to reflect your actual charges. This could mean that your card gets declined in the interim, which you want to avoid during your trip.

You’ll want to make sure you take some cash on your cruise as well. Your credit card will get a good workout, but there are still times you’ll need cash. Traveler’s checks are not taken as much as they used to because of the high rate of fraud. And don’t expect your cruise line to cash a personal check. Most ships have ATMs but you’ll pay a good sized fee and they have been known to run empty. You’ll be very glad you have some hard cash to make purchases from street vendors and smaller merchants at your ports of call. Also, a cash tip is a great way to show your appreciation for all the great service you get from your cruise ship staff. Packing some cash is an easy way to avoid inconvenience on your dream vacation.

Even a chaotic person can get organized for a cruise vacation. Just a little bit of planning can ensure that you arrive at your ship ready to delight in all aspects of your cruise vacation Make sure your passport is current, reserve your shore excursions and spa appointments ahead of time, and size up your credit and cash needs. These are little steps that will help make sure you are able to relax and truly enjoy your cruise. Make sure you don’t forget your film and swimsuit!

Cruise Ships 2007 – The Best of the Best

If you like the largest of everything, then the new Royal Caribbean international cruise ship is for you! The Liberty of the Seas will be the second in the Freedom family of ships. And when she begins her duties in June, she will be the newest and largest cruise ship in the world. Among the amenities that will be included on this magnificent beauty will be the surf simulator; the wet and wild H2O Zone aqua park; whirlpools cantilevered112 feet above the ocean; an ice skating rink; a boxing ring; and a fabulous Presidential Family Suite which can sleep up to 14 people!

Norwegian Cruise Line is slated to introduce their newest addition in October. The Norwegian Gem will offer amenities similar to her sister ship, Norwegian Pearl like the industry's second onboard bowling alley. This addition keeps Norwegian on target to have the youngest fleet in the industry by 2010.

Carnival Cruise Lines is adding more fun to their Fun Ships line. This Spring, the Carnival Freedom will sail the company's Grand Mediterranean and Greek Isles itinerary – new for the cruise line. This cruise ship will have a 12 'high by 22 foot wide LED screen – the Carnival Seaside Theater – to show movies, sporting events and concerts. This exciting Fun-Ship feature is located on the Lido Deck.

Cunard Line continues to provide the classy elegance we are accredited to seeing from them. Scheduled for a December entry into service is the new Queen Victoria. She will sport a floating museum of Cunard memorabilia; a two-story library with more than 6,000 titles; and private viewing boxes in the Royal Court Theater.

Princess Cruises is coming on scene with two new-builds this year. The Emerald Princess is slated for a May debut and will be the lines' first ship to begin by cruising from Rome. She will sport the 300 square foot LED screen dubbed 'Movies Under The Stars'. The smaller and more intimate Royal Princess will cruise Europe and South America.

You really MUST check out the cruise ships for 2007. Elegance and fantastic amenities take a big leap to a new level! It really is a case of the best getting better.

And by best, I mean the best in vacationing. Where else can you be treated like a queen or king, stay in luxurious comfort and wake up in a new city, island or country every day? … But back to the new ships.

Cruising the Caribbean

My wife and I just returned from a western Caribbean cruise. We landed in three ports. Following are details of our trip including information about the ship and the ports.

Getting There

We traveled Vancouver – Toronto-Miami via Air Canada. This part of the trip was uneventful and went smoothly. The only potential glitch was a US immigration officer that seemed to want to pick a fight. When we didn’t respond to his taunts and innuendos he stopped his attempts to engage us and grunted us on.

We stayed at the Airport Hilton. Getting there was the part of the trip that was most poorly organized. We seemed to wait forever in the airport for the Greyhound bus that was to pick us. The Carnival crew that was orchestrating the transfer didn’t seem to be anymore knowledgeable as to what was happening than we were.

Our experience at the Hilton was pleasant. We found the people to be helpful. I did speak with one other person whose experience was different. His luggage had not made it through and so he asked the hotel staff for a toothbrush and toiletries. He reports that they were annoyed with his request and were rude to him. He experiences a lot of pain from cancer so he may have been overly sensitive to the responses. We did not see any rudeness or annoyance.

Since we had a few hours before bedtime, we took a taxi out to South Beach and enjoyed the night. The prices there are certainly inflated but we enjoyed ourselves.

The Ship

Our cruise was with Carnival cruise lines and we were on the Carnival Victory. We left port at 4 PM and spent the next day at sea. Some things became prominent in my mind that day:

(1) This cruise was a party cruise. Entertainment and drinking were the keys. Drinks were pushed on every part of the ship except in the cabin areas. The entertainment was designed to keep people from getting bored and there was entertainment for all ages and likes. There was a karaoke lounge, a lounge with 60’s music, a piano lounge, casino with entertainment, lounge with classical music, a disco, outdoor stage with a live band, bingo, trivia games, shows at night with singers, dancers and comedians, dance lessons provided by the cruise director, video games room for the youth, teen disco, gambling contests, singing contests in the karaoke lounge and dancing on the open deck. There were swimming pools and jazzuci tubs. And there was a lot of sun tanning!!!

Although drinks were pushed, there was not a lot obvious drunkenness or obnoxious behavior. Only once did I see ships officers breakup a situation and that was a fully clothed sex simulation on the open deck. Alcohol was, I believe, a factor.

(2) The ship consisted of many obvious profit centers. I already mentioned the drink pushing. On the price of each drink was added a 15% gratuity so there was incentive for the staff to sell as much as possible. Other profit centers included the casino, bingos, the spa and gift stores. It became obvious that the shore excursions sold on ship provided a kick back to Carnival and these were pushed hard. Also, the Carnival endorsed shops at the ports of call provide a source of revenue for Carnival. Passengers are encouraged to swipe their ship card in these stores. A jewelry store in one of the ports confirmed for me that he pays to Carnival a fee for every passenger that buys from him. Photography appears to be a big profit center. There are photographers are every place and they are in your face a lot. They begin before you even board the ship. Processing takes hours and then the photos are up for display. The photos are not cheap but a lot are sold in the name of memories.

(3) Staff. The staff on the ship are truly international. I remember people from Philippines, Indonesia, Romania, Canada, United States, China and other countries that are now escaping my memory.

(4) Gratuities. Gratuities are added on at two times. The first is 10 dollars per day per passenger added directly to your account. The bulk of this is for cabin staff but some is for dining room servers and a small portion is for miscellaneous and assistants. There was confusion as to whether or not this gratuity constituted the full salary for the cabin staff. We had been told by staff that this was the case – that if the gratuity was not paid there would be no salary. Other people seemed to have different information. So we are not certain about that. The second gratuity is on the drinks as previously mentioned. There is an expectation that passengers will tip the dining room servers and cabin staff as well – but this is not required.

The time on the ship does not need to be expensive if you don’t drink a lot or spend in the gift shops or the other profit centers.

All in all, the time on the ship was fun and relaxing. My wife enjoyed the karaoke (of course, she always does) and was chosen to sing Madonna at the last night entertainment in the main entertainment center.

One interesting outcome of the cruise for us was that we each lost any aches and pains that we previously had. That has caused us to re-evaluate our plans for the future.

We visited three ports of call; each with its own personality and features.

Costa Maya, Mexico

The first noticeable feature of this area as our ship came into dock was the stretching flat coastline with sandy beaches. Behind the coastline was lush green vegetation. The second noticeable feature was a manmade cement encampment that housed commercial establishments. Beer was $9USD per bottle!!! There were conflicting reports as to whether this was constructed by the cruise lines or by the local government. We received both conflicting reports. It did house the shops recommended by the cruise line. It also was fenced off with security guards at the gates. We were advised by people we me in the community outside this area that the local people were not allowed in unless they were going to work.

We did not book a tour on the ship, as was recommended. The tours were heavily pushed on the basis of safety and not being left behind if a tour got back late. The ship would leave without you if you were late and not on a ship booked tour.

We went outside the walls and rented a golf cart for $55USD for the day. Golf carts are allowed to drive on the “streets” and roadways. Four people were allowed per golf cart – otherwise, there was a hefty fine if stopped by the police.

We then spent a wonderful day driving the area. We stopped at different beach areas where Americans and Europeans had purchased the land and build a home and bar. By far, the best was The Women’s Center with Susie. Susie made the best margaritas of anyplace in the world and the company was relaxed and fun. As we were leaving her place, our golf cart broke down. Susie quickly telephoned the owners who came out and replaced the cart.

On the way back to the ship, we saw a young alligator on the road. He was small – maybe two feet long. We stopped and then a local came by and picked him up. We then got to hold him before he was taken to water. That was an exciting experience.

There was a commercial flea market in the town. Prices are very negotiable and most of the items seem genuine. This area has an assortment of setups from one table stands to kiosks to bars and food outlets to massage setups. The merchants were openly inviting but not aggressive.I would buy from here before I would buy from the commercial encampment promoted by the cruise line.

I believe we had much more fun doing our own tour than did the people who paid much more money on the ship. Those who went on prearranged go-carts did not go any place we didn’t go. There were a few people who traveled some of the way we did but most stayed in the commercial encampment or on ship.

Georgetown, Grand Cayman

The second port of call on the cruise was Grand Cayman Islands. So as not to damage the coral reefs, the ships do not dock. They anchor off shore and smaller boats (holding 200 to 300 passengers) transfer the passengers to the island. We arrived on the island shortly after 7 AM so there was little to do except walk around and window shop. Again, we did not book a ship excursion but took our chances on finding excursions once we arrived. Again, we were very happy we did it that way. We hooked up with a private tour. Richard owned the taxi that took us to the boat which he also owned. His wife was doing the marketing onshore and Otis was his employee who took the passengers to Stingray City.

There were 10 people on the little speed boat which passed all the large tour boats on the way. Otis was a real “water rat” and in the water with us feeding the stingrays, showing us how to hold then, putting them on our backs and setting up picture taking scenarios. He was an absolute delight. As I glanced at the large tour boats, I saw a lot of bored people. A few of them actually came to join our group and partake in the fun. There was no boredom in our group. After Stingray City, we stopped at the reef for snorkeling. All the necessary equipment was on board the boat. Again Otis had food to draw in the colorful fish. On the way back, Otis detoured to show us homes of famous people (Bill Gates, Sylvester Stalone) – the ship tours did not do this. He also stopped to look at the lizards and even tried to catch one. This trip was well worth one half the price we would have paid for a ship-sponsored excursion.

One benefit of Georgetown was a store that provided free telephone service (5 minutes per person) and free internet service (15 minutes per person). We were able to call our children back in Canada and make sure everything was all right.

Things are expensive in Georgetown. We did very little shopping but did check out the stores. We had two less than happy experiences in Georgetown. The first was that I left my hat at the dock after arriving back from Stingray City. It was a special hat my daughter had given me and I had become quite attached to it. Both Richard and Otis looked for it after being called but it was not to be found. I grieved its loss for the rest of the trip. The second slightly unpleasant experience was in a restaurant where my wife didn’t receive her food order and the server became rather snotty about it.

Grand Cayman is a wonderful place and we both look forward to returning. Our memories are so wonderful (except for my hat!!!)

Ocho Rios, Jamaica

Our third port of call was Ocho Rios. Again we arrived at 7 AM before any stores opened. And again, we did not book a ship-sponsored excursion.

The merchants, taxi drivers, street vendors – anybody trying to do any business at all – are very pushy. They are aggressive and push to the very edge to try to sell to you. At times the situations can be uncomfortable as the aggressive selling borders on intimidation.

Poverty is everywhere and it is understandable that the people wish to get money when the possibility exists.

After walking around for a while we were approached by a taxi driver that we felt comfortable with. Cedric drove us around for two hours and showed us sights that other passengers did not get to see. He talked about the people, the country, politics, schooling, vegetation and so on. He was a taxi driver who became a very knowledgeable tour guide. At the end of our tour, Cedric took us to a store where we could buy the gifts we wanted to take home and introduced us to the clerk. I was suspicious that this was just another way of him getting more money but at the end of the day after we had checked all the other stores, this one gave us the best prices.

We saw two different markets – one was a commercial flea marker selling trinkets, crafts, t-shirts and the like. This appeared oriented towards the tourists and I saw no locals in there. The second one sold fruits, vegetables and some trinkets. This was for the locals and there were no tourists in there – except us. This was the one time that we let our guard down and approached a potentially dangerous situation. We could have kidnapped or worse and no one would have known.

The one suggestion I have, if you go to Ocho Rios, is to be willing to say “no thanks” a lot and to say it firmly.

This cruise was fun and relaxing. We would recommend it to everybody.