Focus On Fun Travel

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Smart Phone Cruising

     I have been a Smart Phone user with Verizon now for about 2 years.  Last year I held in my hand a Blackberry Storm when we set sail for Europe on a transatlantic cruise on the Crown Princess.  Before leaving, I called Verizon to explore my options.  What was offered was an unlimited data plan that would cover me while on the ship and in Italy, Spain, France, and Great Britain (Gibraltar).  For $25 for the month, I thought that was an awesome addition.  And it was!  Other than some initial problems after setting sail, I was able to stay connected.  This was for internet and email only, not voice calls.  Voice calls reverted to $2.50 per minute while on the ship.  Texts were $.05 to receive and $.50 to send.

     Now, a year later and now holding an Android, I find that Verizon has thrown out that unlimited plan, and replaced it with a plan that has limited possibilities while in port, and NO options while on the ship. NONE! Nada! ZIPPO!

     So, If you are considering a cruise and want to stay connected, plan and budget accordingly.  Here are Verizon's rates for while you are in port in Mexico and most places in the Caribbean:

$30/mo for 25MB of data transmitted/received
$100/mo for 75MB of data transmitted/received
While you are on the ship, be prepared for $20.48/MB of data transmitted/received.  This also applies if you do not sign up for a plan.

     I know what you are thinking, what constitutes a "MB" (Megabyte).  That is tricky and virtually impossible to predict (Remember...anything that follows "Virtual" is a Lie).  Emails with text only would be measured in KB (Kilobyte), and you can go a long way with 25MB.  If they have an attachment or pictures, those will quicky take up your allotted MB amounts.  If you use your web browser, you will again start eating it up.  Youtube?  Forget about it!

     You can turn off the data portion, and keep your phone for emergency phone calls, which can be very reasonable compared to some cruise ships.  At $2.49/min, that is a bargain compared to as much as $6/min for using the ship board phones.  Watch out for those text messages though.  Remember that you will be charged international roaming rates of $.05 to receive and $.50 to send.  Cheap way to quickly communicate, but can quickly add up if you have automatic text alerts from facebook, twitter, or the Amber Alert system.

     Important!!!  Before you leave, make sure you contact your cellular provider to alert them you are traveling out of the country.  Most of the time, you will need to update your device.  Talk to them about global plans available to you.  Remember to make sure they include the cruise ship if possible in what ever plan you can choose from, along with the countries you are visiting.  Don't forget to remove the plan when it is appropriate.

We Are Here For You

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

XM3 Challenge - San Juan, Puerto Rico

RCCL Grandeur of the Seas - San Juan
     May 15 is fast approaching, and Zija distributors will be gathering to board the Serenade of the Seas in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  When we were last in San Juan, Nov 2009, we were surprised at the heat and humidity, but found many wonders in this beautiful Territory of the United States.  From a world renouned Bioluminescent Bay to Rain forests at El Yunque, Cock fights to shopping.  There is definitely something for everyone here in the north east end of the Caribbean Sea.

     When you arrive at the airport, getting to old San Juan is easy as getting a cab.  For $19 (Plus Tip), you can fill up the taxi and have them take you to the Pan American Pier, where you can drop off your luggage to be loaded on the ship.  The ship won't start boarding until 2pm.  If you arrive well before that, either take a long stroll  (About 1 1/2 miles) around the bay to Old San Juan, or take a taxi over to that side.  Near old pier 4, you can pick up one of the free trolley's that will take you on a certain route around Old San Juan.

     Here are some other things you can do and see around Old San Juan:

Citadel on the Fort Wall
 El Morro (Castillo San Felipe del Morro) is a U.S. National Historic Site, managed by the US Park Service, and easily accessible from the port area in Old San Juan.  Open everyday from 9am to 6pm, you will have time to see this historic site, but you may wish you had more time.

I love to try the local cuisine.  Puerto Rico has hosted a few of the favorite Travel Channel types, like Andrew Zimmern (Bizarre Foods) and Adam Richman (Man vs. Food).  But I am not a 5 star restaurant guy.  I like the smaller less well known places.  I recently found out about a place located on Calle Sol, from a blogger who always goes there when he is in San Juan.  So for lunch on Sunday, you'll find me at El Jibarito, 280 Calle Sol.

Raices Fountain
      For me, I had to take a stroll along Paseo de la Princesa.  Here you will find a piece of art work that celebrates the diversity of Puerto Rico, The RaĆ­ces Fountain of Old San Juan.  The fountain was not on when we were there, but I look forward to seeing and feeling the cool water spray.  Nearby, you can walk to the Gate of Old San Juan or visit the outdoor shopping area.  If you are feeling energetic or have lots of time, you can follow the Paseo all the way to El Morro.

     The architecture here is historical, just like many of the statues and monuments.  You will enjoy the beauty of it all.  The ship leaves at 8:30.  Make sure you are on board no later than 7pm.  There will be plenty of fun before and during the sail away party.

We Are Here For You

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Into The Wild Blue Yonder - Air Travel

     I have to admit that I am very disgruntled in air travel these days.  No longer is flying an exciting event.  My mother still will dress up to fly by air, even though security now requires you to remove almost everything.  Gone are the meals, replaced by at best, peanuts, or;  present your credit card and you can get a TV dinner warmed up.  Now, there is so much talk about paying to use the lavatory or even to sit down...seriously!

     What really discourages me, and everyone else who now finds air travel almost as necessary as breathing air, is the volitility of airfare.  Fares really make no sense to me.  I understand that oil prices have a great deal to do with the cost of flying people here and there.  But why does it cost me more money to fly from Salt Lake City to Ft. Lauderdale, than it does from San Francisco to Paris?  Thousands fly to both locations every week, from all over the U.S., so popularity cannot have everything to do with it.  Supply and Demand?

     So now, we are relegated to checking every search engine available on the net, along with subscribing to each airlines daily and weekly travels ads, just to hopefully save $100 on a fare that will cost me $1,400.  But if that is what we have to do, then we do it.  If we don't, then we fall victim to the whims of the airlines raising and lowering their fare, when just one of them makes a move.

     So, I rant about the airlines.  But I will admit an appreciation for one carrier that, for many years, and it continues today, to break the rules and buck the trends.  They buy their fuel by strategically using the futures market, thus stabilizing their cost of Jet A.  Many think they are an airline to be avoided, so people don't feel like cattle going to market.  I for one think they are genious!  No baggage fees. Fares that are more consistant.  A fun experience when flying with them.  I speak of Southwest Airlines.  And with their merger with AirTran in the second quarter expected, they will no longer be fenced in to the U.S. border.  Those who want to enjoy the warm sunny beaches of the Caribbean and Mexico, they will go there. Woo Hoo!

     But until they go worldwide, here are a couple tricks I learned a couple years ago.  This info has recently been published in the USAToday, so the airlines will probably find a way to squash it.

  • Begin your searches on a Monday.  Make note of the fares you find.  Then, start watching the fares on Tuesday.  Usually, at 3pm eastern on Tuesday, any great deals will show up on the booking engines available to you on the internet. 
  • If you can, start pricing at least 30 days in advance and try to travel in the middle of the week to get the lowest fare.  If you buy within 2 weeks of the travel, expect to pay a much higher price.
  • I like to get airfares from 3 different sites to insure I am not being taken advantage of by one site.
  • Make sure to add in (Manually...I know...what a pain) baggage fees, so that you get an apples to apples comparison on what it'll cost you.  Be aware that some airlines are even talking about starting to charge you to carry on baggage. OH BROTHER!!!
  • If you have a lot of airline miles with Delta, but United is $20 cheaper, I would still take Delta, because the addional miles to my account are worth something too.
     You might ask, what options do we have to air travel?  Do you say, "We have no choice!"?  If you need to get there (1,000 miles) by tomorrow, then you really have no choice.  Star Trek transporters are not here yet.  If you have extra time, consider Rail travel.  Or drive a car.  Considering that I used to be able to get from Phoenix to Atlanta in 4 hours on Eastern Airlines, today, it will take me 9 hours, because I have to change planes in Minneapolis.  How Lame!!!

     If you are traveling overseas.  Here is what I suggest.  Give youselves 3 weeks.  Take a cruise ship to get there and back.  It is relaxing getting there.  You change time zones once a day, instead of 7 of them in one day (No jet lag).  You are not cramped in an 18" seat for 10 hours, where you will need copious amounts of petrolium jelly to get yourself out.  Instead, you sleep in a comfortable bed and eat daily meals made for the next King of England.

     I encourage all to start coming up with alternative modes of transportation domestically, other than train, plane, and automobile.  I have seen amazing plans to bring back balloon travel.  Luxury travel.  I would be happy to travel from Denver to Atlanta, at 90 miles per hour, where I could enjoy the same luxuries as cruise ship travel.  A meal, A bed, An incredible view, and be able to walk around and enjoy myself all the way there.

     What are your ideas?

The Dining room at the back of the Holland America Amsterdam - Glacier Bay Alaska

We Are Here For You

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Excitement for Cruising comes in Waves

     Anyone who knows me, know that I am passionate about cruising.  But nothing flames my passion more, for this excellent way to travel, than announcements of new ships.  Today, Princess Cruises announced the beginning of construction for their "Next Generation" ship, which will be appropriately named Royal Princess.

     Many got very excited anticipating the first sailing of Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas, which, because of its size, has had many nicknames applied to it.  It is a beautiful ship, but moving from a 3,600 passenger vessel to over 5,000 can create some logistical challenges.  RCCL continues to improve and make this and Allure of the Seas destinations unto themselves.  But this new Royal Princess, with it's beautiful sleek lines and amazing innovations will improve upon what the Love Boat has always succeeded in delivering, an incredible and romantic escape.

     Take a look at the information on the Royal Princess link above and see pictures on Flikr.  Also see the sneek peak video on  One of the innovations that excites me more than a zipline is the Sky Walk. A glass floored walkway suspended over the ocean from the top deck.  Movies under the Stars will have an even bigger screen.  In fact, a lot of things will be bigger...The Sanctuary, The Piazza, The fresh water pools.  Excited yet?

     I have always wanted to be part of a maiden voyage.  I believe this one will be it!  May 2013.  Since construction is in Italy, I would guess we will see a maiden voyage in Europe.  Who wants to go?  Let us know.  Follow us on Facebook and we'll include you in the invite.

We Are Here For You

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Cruising and the Motion of the Ship

     A good friend this week has asked me to help her plan a vacation to Italy for her 50th birthday.  I think that is an awesome place to go for a milestone celebration.  I know she does not like to fly, so I asked her if she would be interested in cruising there instead of flying there.  She told me she gets extreme motion sickness, so getting it overwith in 8 hours would be preferential.

     I had never considered this aspect that keeps people from cruising.  The perception that cruise ships constantly sway back and forth and side to side would keep even one who does fine in the air and in a car from boarding, especially if they were going to be on board for 8 days straight.

     When Barbi and I boarded our very first cruise, Norwegian Cruise Lines, in Miami 2000, we truely did not know what to expect.  We were attending a meeting in a room at the very front of the ship, that had windows looking forward.  When we left the shelter of the harbor and entered the Atlantic, the front of the ship almost immediately started to rise and lower.  It wasn't that we felt it, as much as we saw it.  But because of being fascinated by the sight, we soon found ourselves feeling queezie!

     There is an aspect of being on a ship that all sailors and seasoned cruisers will tell you about.  It is "Getting your sea legs."  On that first cruise, we were able to tough it out knowing we would be in Nassau the next morning.  Interestingly, as I now look back on that trip, the day after Nassau, we were not able to get off the ship at NCL's private Island because the seas were too rough, so we circled out in the Atlantic for the day.  I remember not feeling sick at all. Ahh. Sea Legs.

     Our 2nd cruise, on the Grand Princess in 2007, we came prepared with motion sickness medicine.  This would be a 7 day cruise, with the whole first day at sea, crossing the Gulf of Mexico.  As we left Galveston, we were out on deck watching the scenery pass by, knowing there would be no troubles since we took our little pills.  Two hours later, we were falling asleep.  The next day, again after taking the pills, we could hardly concentrate on what was at the buffet, we were so drowsy.  We at length determined this really sucked, and gave up on the pills to give it a go.  What motion?  This is awesome.

     There are 2 things at play here that I want to share. 
  1. The first is the Sea Legs I mentioned before.  In all the cruises we have taken since, the first day has always been the only time motion has bothered us.  On subsequent days, we continue to notice it, but our bodies quickly adapt to the movement, and we move with the ship. We are the ship. The ship and us are one!  When we get off the ship, we continue to sway, even though the land under us does not.  This can be freaky and interesting at the same time.
  2. Ship Design.  I have never been able to confirm this, but I strongly believe it had a lot to do with the differences between Norwegian 2000 and Princess 2007.  The Grand Princess has Wings!  Really!  They are really called stabilizers.  When the ship encounters swells that the captain determines is causing too much movement in the ship, he deploys the stabilizers.  These wings extend from the ship, giving the appearance of wings under the water, greatly reducing the movement of the ship side to side and up and down.
     Should you give cruising a try, but are worried about motion sickness, come prepared. Whether you take an over the counter pill, have your Dr. prescribe a patch, or you use pressure wrist bands, you always want to insure your vacation will be an enjoyable one.  I would also say, once you feel comfortable, try it without any of these items.  I believe you will find your sea legs quickly and you will begin to laugh as you try to walk down the hallway, but you cannot do it walking a straight line.  There is a cruise ship joke about that.  The drunk man can walk straighter than one who is not drunk.

Carnival Splendor Heading for Mexico

We Are Here For You

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Buzzing About Family Vacations

     I was reminded today from a friend that time together as a family is what everyone remembers throughout their lives.  Think about the gifts you have received for your birthday, Christmas, Bar Mitzvah, Kwaanza.  Now, compare that with the family vacations that stick out in your mind.  What makes you smile the most?  What is your favorite memory?

Pier 39 San Francisco
     At dinner tonight, I quizzed 2 of my kids about Christmas, then asked about our trip to Northern California last year.  Though amazing to me that they remembered Christmas, they had more enthusiasm and more to say about the trip..Alcatraz, The Giant Redwoods, The Condo, the Pool.  I know you are having your own mental pictures right now. 

     Every year, we attend a festival in a small town in Utah, and the kids always look forward to going as a family.  Even though thee is not a whole host of things to do, I believe it is simply going and being together.  My 9 year old told me tonight that our cruise to Mexico was the funnest trip so far.

Washington Coast

Great Wolf Lodge Grand Mound Wa

Fish Lake Utah

Bryce Canyon Utah

Puerto Vallarta Mexico
      So here is a challenge.  Start making memories with your loved ones.  Small overnighters to longer vacations.  In the region around you to overseas.  Challenge everyone involved, to be involved and contribute.  You'll teach your kids many things and share the wonders of the world.