We Need More Space

Above – A Manila Jeepney

Please Help

We have reached the space maximum for our current plan and will not be able to add more than one or two more posts without upgrading our plan or moving to a new host. This has been a hobby and we have really enjoyed sharing our travels and tips but do not want this to become a major investment. We would really like to hear what others do and what providers we should investigate.

Please Contact us:

Intent2Travel@gmx.com

And let us know your experiences.

What We Have Done

Web Site – We passed our one year anniversary just a couple of weeks ago using the free hosting at WordPress.com. We bought a couple of domain names so our total initial out of pocket was under $25 (with another $25 to renew the domains last month). In the beginning I would reduce the size of photographs to web specifications to save space but stopped after a few months. It seemed I had plenty of space and I realized that there were visual issues with the reduced size pictures (I now see that this is the main reason we now out of space).

I have learned a lot about the WordPress platform over this year including work arounds to get features of plugins that aren’t allowed under our WordPress plan. The learning curve has been steep at times and I am not looking forward to starting from scratch.

Other Sites – We have set up other social media sites primarily to help promote the blog and have managed to pull it all together with four strongly related names. We are on Pinterest and twitter with the name Intent2Travel and facebook with the name Intend2Travel.

Email – Our emails are all with GMX for a number of reasons. First they are free, they also do not cause all the security issues when traveling internationally that happen with Apple, Gmail, Outlook… Doing this also allow us to maintain these addresses even if we change domains.

Potential Problems

The Intentional Traveler site currently uses over 600 internal links mainly for indexes,  that will ALL have to be redirected with a change in address (this may be unavoidable regardless of what we decide). We also have over a thousand incoming links from shared and other social media sites that would also have to be edited (this may also be unavoidable regardless of what we decide).

I am also concerned about continuity with followers and subscribers both on the site and also with the other social sites? In looking into WordPress it seems that I can set up a redirect using a plugin but the only way I can use these plugins is to buy an upgrade  which doesn’t make financial sense.

What We Have Looked At So Far

WordPress – If we have to upgrade it doesn’t seem to make sense to pay for a service that still doesn’t allow services that we would really like to have. Some plugins are an important issue and WordPress currently would be $300 a year which doesn’t make financial sense to us.

Bluehost -This host offers a lot of what we want for less than $50 year right now. We set up a free 30 day trial with Bluehost since they use the WordPress engine and we exported and imported our site (have not published as yet). While all the posts and categories and menus seemed to have imported, about 20% of the photos are missing. Also headers, widgets and directories are missing so it will require hours of work to get ready to publish.

Again – Please Help we could really use some advice on this
Intent2Travel@gmx.com
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Cruising Communications (Another Wrinkle)

The complexity of trying to stay in touch with home while taking a cruise never seems to get better. In the last few years we tend to take longer cruises and a lot of “back-to-back” cruises where we stay on a ship for a second cruise. Normally taking shorter cruises of up to a week wouldn’t be difficult not having contact, but being on a ship for a month requires a specific plan.

EXPENSIVE CALLING – First thing to understand is “ship-to-shore” calls are very expensive. Using the ships telephones can cost over $5.00 per minute and most cell phone service isn’t a lot cheaper (usually around $3.00 a minute). The only exception is if you have an AT&T account which is the only U.S. based company that offers cruise packages.

We had a system that worked pretty well up until a few months ago. We would focus most of our communications on using text messages with e-mail for more in-depth needs. Incoming text was 5¢ or free and outgoing was 25 or 50¢ and e-mail was manageable under an inexpensive shipboard wifi plan.

On our last long cruise things went sideways. Maybe because we had switched to newer iPhones or ?? but we stopped being able to exchange texts with several people. We were on Verizon at the time and contacting their technical support didn’t seem to help (we got a number of different stories – none of which helped).

WHAT WENT WRONG – It seems that Apple doesn’t play well with others and they decided, starting with the iPhone 5 to focus on their own messaging system, iMessage and avoid SMS (normal cellular text – Small Message System) protocols. If you are using phone service inside the U.S. and have a good data plan this works fine. Unfortunately iMessage uses data exclusively and has a protocol just for iPhone to iPhone.

The problem on the cruise ships is that “data” is normally not available or extremely expensive. In our case we still had iMessage turned on and our texts just weren’t being sent (mainly to other iPhones). The same thing was happening with incoming texts and there was no warning from the phone that messages could not be sent without data.

If you have an iPhone pay attention to the balloon color. Blue indicates that the text is iMessage iPhone to iPhone. Green is messages from other phones.

A SOLUTION? – After we got back we talked more with technical support, did some internet research and tested texting back and forth with several people. While there are still some issues with settings and texting with non-Apple phones there is an answer.

THE IPHONE SOLUTION – First go to Settings, find Messages app and open it. The first option is iMessage – turn it off. Make sure MMS Messaging is turned on. Now your iPhone should switch protocol to SMS which means the messages travel over cellular networks and will work on the cruise ships.

There can still be issues sending and receiving SMS with another iPhone if they have iMessage turned on (but not always). If it is important have them switch iMessage off and make sure their MMS Messaging is turned on.

This all sounds simple but consider that Verizon’s web site still indicates that your iPhone is not compatible with shipboard texting.

Cell Service at Sea (Update)

Another Thought on Cruise Ship Phone Calls

We are getting ready for an extended trip, which will include a trans-Atlantic cruise and are going thru our check lists. Reviewing our communications options is high on the list involving several decisions we usually need to make.

Our primary cell service is with Verizon. With them we can choose between a 30 day package called “International Travel 100 (minutes) Talk” for $40 or “TravelPass” which costs $10 a day, only when used*, for basically unlimited calls and text and uses our data allotment. Normally we go with the Travel 100 with back-up on my OneSimCard phone. If a situation arises we can have Verizon switch us over to TravelPass during the trip.

In the last couple of years Cruise ship communications has been the biggest problem. AT&T controls this business and without having an AT&T account and buying a “cruise package”, most calls average $2.50+ per minute. As a general policy we try and restrict communications to text (incoming is free and sent messages are 25¢) and email.

We have now realized that we have some additional options. We use MagicJack for our home phone service. We’ve used this service for over six years. When we started this service we transferred our home number to the MagicJack service and since that time we have moved twice and it has allowed us to keep our number wherever we move. We also have friends that travel with a MagicJack and if they have internet they can make calls from their laptops.

Now MagicJack has a mobile App. You can use it with a cell phone, a pad or a laptop and make calls using WiFi. You can also take calls that are made to your home number while traveling (on a cell phone you can also do this thru cellular service).

We have now loaded the app on a pad we take with us and will try it out and report when we get back.

After talking with OneSimCard they suggested we take a look at their VOIP app on the phone using their sim card and call using WiFi.

These could represent serious savings. WiFi service on cruise ships has been getting faster and cheaper over the past few years while cellular service cost has been going up. Many people are now buying internet packages when they cruise and in our case, because of our frequent cruising status, we get a large allotment at no charge.

We loaded these apps and have made a few no cost test calls using our home WiFi and everything worked fine. This still needs to be tested on the cruise ship and we’ll let you know in June when we’re back.

Ways to Save Money on Booking a Cruise

Getting the best deal on booking a cruise is a process very much like getting the best fare on a flight. Like all businesses, cruise lines want to get the most for every cabin and, like the airlines at the moment of departure, anything unsold has no future value. Economists call these items non-fungible, meaning they cannot be exchanged in the future. We’ve booked more than fifty cruises over the years and have discovered a few truths in this process. We have also discovered a few tricks that help us save money and reduce the outlay of deposit amounts.

Start By Researching Fares in the Market You’re Interested In

Like the cost of everything, cruise prices vary based on market conditions. Prices vary by the cruise line, the itinerary, the time of year and the cruise’s popularity.

Just like hotels and restaurants, cruise lines are generally priced by their expected level of service and their intended clientele. Carnival, an economy line, is structured to appeal to a younger group looking to party. Royal Caribbean, a mid-range price point, focuses on young families while Celebrity, a higher priced choice, focuses on an older demographic with higher expectations in service. Taking a quick look at a number of similar cruises will quickly give you an idea how this pricing element works.

An owners suite on RCL

Some itineraries are more popular than others and pricing reflects this difference. Alaska can be more expensive than the Caribbean and trans-Atlantic cruises are usually much less expensive than European cruises.

Finally, the time of year has a huge effect on pricing. The easiest example is Caribbean cruise prices in August compared with October. While summer is usually off-season in the Caribbean it is also school break time. By October the kids are back in school and demand has dropped accordingly and so have the fares.

Look at Add-On Expenses You’re Likely to Use

In addition to the cabin rate, you should also consider onboard expenses you are likely to incur. Included services vary by cruise lines and frequent cruiser status. In addition, most cruise lines are now offering onboard packages that can include laundry, internet, sodas, fancy coffees and bar drinks. Another major onboard expense is booking tours.

Make sure you understand what things are included in a cruise and if not what they are likely to cost you specifically. For example, some cruises include drinks while others may cost $500.00 or more for a drink package. Making this price comparison may actually justify the expense of an upgrade.

Decide What You Want in a Cabin

Picking a cabin category isn’t as straight forward as you would think. Most people assume that an inside cabin is the choice for saving money and, often it is, but not always. More and more the cruise lines are offering free add-ons as a sales promotion. These can include prepaid gratuities, drink packages and onboard credits. Sometimes incentives include one and at times all three. Often, inside cabins do not qualify for these free add-ons and that can have a big impact on the overall cost of the cruise.

At the time we make a reservation, this is a major consideration. When these promotions are being offered, an ocean view or veranda cabin can be less expensive than an inside cabin. There have also been cruises where an inside cabin costs more to book. We believe this happens when we book early and the cruise ship is trying to keep these cabins in reserve.

When we select a cruise we often let the itinerary dictate which cabin we want. Long ago we decided that we have no problem with inside cabins. On most cruises we actually spend very little time in our cabin so upgrading means little. On one cruise we were upgraded to an owner’s suite and while spacious and beautiful, it really seemed a waste of space and certainly would not be worth it to us if we had to pay full price. On a trans-Atlantic, an inside cabin is fine with us but, in Alaska, getting a veranda cabin usually is a must. Often it is all about the view.

Food, food,and more food

Book Early

Many times the best prices are available when a cruise is first announced. After the initial listing the cruise company can discover the cruise is getting a good response and the simple rule of supply and demand allows them to increase fares. Also, unlike airline tickets, the cruise line may allow you to take advantage of price reductions right up to the final payment date which is generally 90 days prior to sailing. That policy usually includes reduced fares, upgrading the cabin or taking advantage of free add-ons.

There are also situations where the opposite strategy can produce big savings. That is last minute booking, usually only a few days or weeks before sailing. Faced with empty cabins and no revenue, many cruise lines will offer super last-minute discounts. This is partly because the cabin fare is only part of the potential revenue from a passenger. Casinos, drink sales and tour fees add up to big money. We generally do not use this option in our planning but will take advantage of last minute cruises if the price is too good to pass up.

Always Book Onboard

The likelihood of a passenger returning to the same cruise line is actually very high and with frequent cruiser programs the likelihood is even greater. Most ships have a future booking office onboard and to get you to commit they offer additional incentives. These may include greatly reduced deposits and special add-ons. Since you can take advantage of price changes or switch cruises up to 90 days before the cruise and also get your deposit refunded if you cancel, this is a great opportunity*.

Watch and Take Advantage of Incentives

Even after you have confirmed a reservation and put down a deposit you can take advantage of special incentives. If you are a member of a buying group (Groupon, AAA, AARP), or an online travel service (Expedia, PriceLine) that sends you emails of special offers, get in the habit of reviewing these on a regular basis. If you see a good offer, see if you can add it to your reservation. Most times these offers are not exclusive regardless of what the agency says.

After You Book Keep Watching the Fares

As likely as fares are to go up, price reductions also happen but you can’t take advantage of them if you don’t know about them. Get in the habit of checking the prices on cruises you have already booked looking for opportunities to save or upgrade.

Work with a Good Travel Agent

There may not be such a thing as a free lunch, but travel agents are actually free (at least to you) when booking a cruise. We strongly recommend getting to know a good travel agent and getting in the habit of booking everything through them. They actually will appreciate the business and most consider it their job to help you manage saving money. They are also much more effective at dealing with the cruise lines when getting fares reduced or adding on incentives. Your way to contact the cruise line is to call an inside agent but the travel agent has a marketing representative that they routinely deal with and have less difficulty negotiating changes.

Also, if your agent is affiliated with one of the growing super agencies, they can offer you specials provided by their agency in addition to the cruise line. Often their agency has booked a popular cruise as a group package and they can add you to the group and get you an additional discount or onboard credit. At times they also offer their own promotional specials like a free tour or an additional onboard credit.

The best way to connect with a good agent is to ask friends or fellow travelers for their recommendation and ask questions about their experience.

In closing, we have an observation about advertised offers. We get emails from a number of travel agencies and they are constantly screaming about their exclusive special deals from this or that cruise line. Usually they are not exclusive deals and often they are cleverly misrepresenting a price structure. “Cruises from $499.00 with a $700.00 onboard credit” sound familiar? It may be true that an inside cabin can be booked for $499.00 but it is not eligible for any onboard credit; the $700.00 credit is only for suites. We have rarely found a unique offer but often these are a clue that there are price reductions happening.


*Unfortunately, in the last year, a number of cruise companies have started adopting a policy of non-refundable deposits and this changes the process some. Currently, Celebrity is offering lower fares for non-refundable deposits so this is going to cause some rethinking of how we address some booking in the future.

 

 

Repositioning Cruises, Another Side of Cruising

 

Carnaval ship leaves the Port of Miami
Holland America in the Panama Canal

A repositioning cruise traditionally is when a cruise company needs to move ships from one seasonal location to another. Winter is cruising season in the Caribbean while Europe is a Summer market. For that reason dozens of cruise ships head out across the Atlantic every Spring. These Atlantic crossing occur  twice a year and are by-far the most common repositioning cruises. There are also other repositioning cruises including Fall Alaska cruises taking ships back to the Caribbean and out across the Pacific. Another opportunity is a late Summer reposition movement down to South America and back in the Spring.

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In the past, many of these cruises have been tremendous  bargains. A number of years ago these 12 to 15 night cruises could be had for four or five hundred dollars per passenger but probably not any longer. At times those repositioning cruise could even be less expensive than airfare. The down side was that you would have seven to nine straight days at sea. The up side was that the ships provided the same entertainment, the same great cuisine and the same attentive service. Additionally most of these cruises also provided a port call or two at each end of the cruise.

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Lately, as cruising gets more popular and more people become frequent cruisers the ships have less trouble filling these cruise cabins and the pricing has regularly adjusted upward as a result. Even so, these cruises are still a very good value considering the length of the cruise.

Five cruise ships docked in Nassau

To decide if these cruises are for you, consider a number of questions about what particularly appeals to you about cruising. In our case we really like the port visits and getting an introduction to exotic locations but we also enjoy the down time provided by “sea days”. We actually look forward to opportunities to catch up on our reading and each of us will go thru a number of books on a crossing. We also appreciate the time to organize our writing and photography. In our case we usually find it easy to stay busy but we know people that claim they would go crazy being stuck on a ship for a week or more.

Royal Caribbean at anchor Grand Cayman
Royal Caribbean New Zealand

In addition to the good value these cruises offer some cruise lines have added additional programs for passengers. They range from painting classes to lectures on varied topics. We’ve listened to lectures from a former director of the Kennedy Space Center, an archaeologist discuss their digs in the Eastern Mediterranean and a young lady talking about her adventures solo-sailing across the Atlantic.

So, the next time you start looking at cruise destinations you might consider a repositioning cruise as a good options.

Beating The Jones Act

Our One-Time Getting Around The Jones Act

For a refresher on the Jones Act see Cruising and the Jones Act Here.

Back in 2016 we booked a back-to-back set of cruises with Celebrity. The first cruise was an Alaska cruise starting in Seattle and finishing in Vancouver. The second cruise continued on from Vancouver and finished in Honolulu. It took a little while but Celebrity came back and said we could not book this as it violated the Jones Act.

Cruising Alaska
Victoria, Canada

After reviewing the itineraries we realized that the Alaska cruise stopped in Victoria, Canada the day before arriving in Vancouver. We went back to Celebrity and asked that if we disembarked the ship in Victoria could we overnight there and rejoin the ship the next day in Vancouver therefore avoiding the Jones Act?

Vancouver, Canada

Asking a large organization with many layers of management to do something that hadn’t been considered before is usually a daunting task and this was no exception. Celebrity said they would look into it. Later when asked again Celebrity said they would look into it. Somewhat later when asked Celebrity said maybe it would be possible and they would get back to us. Following up on that hopeful news we were told probably not. Later we enlisted the help of our travel agent who got higher up the chain of command. The response she got was that they didn’t see why not but would look into it. A couple of months later Celebrity got back and said it was okay with them but that they needed to get permission from the Canadian Immigration.

Finally everything was cleared for us to stay on this back-to-back. We asked if we could just leave our things in the stateroom when we got off in Victoria? The response was – don’t ask and we won’t tell.

One interesting thing was that when we got off the ship in Victoria we were joined by eight other couples with some doing just what we were. Celebrity now has a process for accommodating cruisers wanting to do this back-toback.

Canada Place, Vancouver

Everything on this trip went very well. The one issue was a lack of planning on our part. We knew that a ferry went from Victoria to Vancouver at a nominal price but we failed to look up the actual terminal locations. It seems that the Vancouver Island terminal is a good distance outside of Victoria and the ferry docks a long way from Canada Place (the cruise ship dock) in Vancouver. Fortunately we found a bus service (The BC Connector) that left from only four blocks from our Victoria hotel, went onto the ferry and than delivered us right to Canada Place all for a reasonable fare.

Honolulu

 

 

 

Cell Phone Roaming On Cruise Ships

An Update

We try very hard to keep control of our cellular voice, data and text costs along with wifi access costs while traveling. One specific area where costs can easily spin out of control is cellular roaming while on a cruise.

Over the past few years AT&T has become a virtual cell service monopoly on cruise ships thru their subsidiary, Wireless Maritime Services, also known as Cellular At Sea. Until a couple of years ago most cell providers offered a discount travel package if you were going on a cruise. No more, and one has to question what is going on. At this writing the only provider still offering a discount package while cruising is AT&T. Wonder why? Without a cruise option most cell providers are now billing about $2.50 per minute when you use Cellular At Sea.

As mentioned in another post, I have an international phone with a sim card from One Sim Card. Our usual plan is to generally not use cell voice service while at sea and only use One Sim Card when we are in a port and have access to land based cellular service. That raises the question regarding how and when the cruise ships shut down their Cellular At Sea service in favor of land based service and when do the switch back on?

This January we took a Caribbean trip visiting a few islands. At the end of island hopping we booked our return to the mainlandon Celebrity Summit that was sailing from San Juan to Ft. Lauderdale. While in Puerto Rico, St. Croix and St. Thomas we used our Verizon phones and when on other islands we used the One Sim Card service. On the cruise back to the U.S. our last stop was supposed to be Nassau, Bahamas and that is where things went wrong.

On the Nassau morning, strong winds kept the ship from getting into port so we spent some time just sitting off shore. I needed to make some calls and I was getting five bars on service from Bahamas Telecommunications Company. A few minutes later while still near Nassau my phone switched from BTC to WMS or Wireless Maritime Services which is another name for AT&T’s Cellular At Sea without my noticing it. One ten minute call cost us $25 instead of the $2.50 that would have been billed thru One Sim Card.

After figuring out what happened I contacted Celebrity and asked about their policy regarding switching on cellular service. The person I spoke with was very helpful and spent a fair amount of time researching their policy. What she concluded was, that despite a stated policy regarding American ports, there doesn’t seem to be a specific set of rules. That may be because the ships have to deal with a lot of jurisdictions and countries. In this case I think they were too quick to switch service on.

My advice at this point is to keep an eye on your phone as to what service you are using while on a cruise shipand if any of the following show up – get off the phone.

  • Cellular At Sea
  • WMS
  • WTN
  • 901-18
  •  NOR-18

These are all network names associated with Cellular At Sea.