Cruising is like a box of chocolates


forrest gump I was recently dealing with a customer who called me regarding a Canada and New England cruise. He contacted me and as always I got back to him very quickly because I know just how hard it is to get good availability on this type of cruise, especially just 6 months prior to the anticipated departure date.

That’s when I thought about a quote from Forrest Gump. His famous saying of “Mama always said, life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get” is just like booking travel.

Stick with me here with the chocolate analogy and cruises. You can go to any grocery store any day of the year and buy a box of chocolates. There is always plenty to choose from, just like Caribbean cruises. If your grocery store runs out of one box of chocolates, then there is always another box sitting right next to it. Again just like a Caribbean cruise, if the one ship and date you want is too expensive or sold out then there is always another comparable cruise to choose from, or you can go a week earlier or later. It’s your choice, no big (3)

Now let’s take a box of Valentine’s Day chocolates dressed up in a pretty heart-shaped box with a bow on it. These special chocolates are seasonal and are not available year round; they are only available for a very limited time.  For the people who plan ahead your grocery store has a large selection for you to choose from. They have small boxes, big boxes, inexpensive chocolates, and gourmet chocolates. Some boxes have limited flavors and others have a multitude of flavors. All these choices are yours when they are first put onto the shelf a few weeks prior to Valentine’s Day, if you are proactive. Now as Valentine’s Day approaches your choices start to diminish because others have beat you to the shelf. And if you wait for the last minute you will either have to choose from something bigger or smaller than you really wanted, or you might be left with something cheaper or more expensive than you really wanted. And then there is a very good chance that you might not get anything at all.

And once Valentine’s Day is over you have missed out. You’re too late and now you have to wait for next year. The question is, next year are you going to wait again and be left with limited options, or are you going to plan ahead and get what you want this time?

These seasonal cruises are the same way. Caribbean cruises are offered every single week of the year, but the Canada/New England (fall foliage) cruises for example are only available for a very short period between mid-September and mid-October. And since many of these cruises are 10-14 days in duration each ship might only offer 3 voyages in an entire season. Typically, if you are looking to book one of these cruises within 6 months of departure and you want a specific type of cabin and you’re not flexible on dates then you are probably too late and most likely will not get what you want. Even if you book 9 months in advance your selection will already be limited. These types of seasonal cruises should be booked at least a year in advance.

Other seasonal destinations that you should book well in advance are Australia/New Zealand, Asia, South America, the Baltic, British Isles, and Alaska.

On top of that there could be other outside reasons why these cruises could sell out way in advance. Take this year for example. Due to some turmoil in Europe the European cruise occupancy is weak. A lot of people are avoiding Europe and are instead going to Hawaii, Alaska, the Caribbean or Canada/New England. So this year these destinations are hugely popular. Availability is down, prices are up, demand is high, and many dates are already sold out.

So not only is life “like a box of chocolates”, but so are booking cruises. Plan ahead, and increase your chances of getting what you want.

download (4)By The Cruise Butler

Steve Rice


Disney Cruise Lines – Cheap or value, which is it?

By Steve Rice; The Cruise Butler

Disney Cruise Line – Cheap or value, which is it.

First off, I did not spend a lot of time looking up a bunch of pretty pictures to add to this blog. It doesn’t need it. If you spend the time to read my entire blog, you will learn the value of a Disney cruise.

Being in this business I hear the term “cheap” and “value” being thrown around as much as your luggage at the airport. Unfortunately, many people think it means the same thing…. Wrong!!!!! Just because something is cheap DOESN’T make it your best value. I have news for you, if the thousands of people who fill Disney ships on a weekly basis went purely on price all those ships would be empty every week. Yet, thousands of people on weekly basis flock to fill their ships, not based on price, but based on value. And I will tell you upfront that Disney is not cheap, but they consistently rank in the top 3 of customer satisfaction of all cruise lines, even with the real high end cruise lines. So if you want to go on Disney expect to dig deeper into your pockets, but then expect to receive more from your vacation in the end. This is where that word value will come into play. If you want the cheapest Caribbean cruise give me a call and I will get it for you, but Disney will not be one of the choices I offer you.

Disney is the only major mass market cruise line out there that has nice sized boiled shrimp on the buffet during embarkation day. Most of the cruise lines can’t afford to put an expensive item like that on the buffet, but Disney does. Disney also doesn’t charge you $2-$3 for a soda or up to $70 a week per person for a soda card. It’s all included in the price of the cruise.

For the Disney fans who are not particularly fans of small children well don’t worry, Disney caters to you too. Each ship has a magnificent adult only restaurant. While it does have a small cover charge it is well worth it. Many cruise lines only have one lounge open at night for adults. Well Disney has a whole section of the ship just for the adults at night. You can go listen to a singer, see a magician, comedian, or go to a piano bar or a sports bar. It’s an adult oasis with no kids allowed. I was on another ship from a different cruise line recently and had a horrible experience at the pool. They had 2 pools. Both were classified as family pools. One pool had over 50 people in it standing around drinking beer. It was too crowded to swim. Then the other pool had a bunch of rowdy kids jumping, screaming and splashing. Disney has it figured out with a pool for kids, a pool for families and one for the adults. So the adults have an oasis to themselves during the day time and night time.

Cabins. Since so many families travel on Disney they have well thought out cabins. Unless you get the “cheapest” cabin on the ship you will have a very spacious cabin with 1-1/2 bathrooms. Again, this is a huge “value” when you have 4 people trying to get washed up, showered and dressed for dinner.

Even the sail away of a Disney cruise is unique. Unlike the typical loud ship horn on all other cruise lines, the Disney ship has a horn but it is programmed to several different Disney songs. “When you wish upon a star” seems to be very popular as I have probably heard that one the most.

When I was on the ship they had a very loud and festive party one evening with all the characters and families by the main pool. However, towards the front of the ship away from the noise they had a duet playing music under the stars with adults dancing and sipping on different assortments of brandy’s and cognac’s.

There are plenty of opportunities to mingle with the characters. And while there might be a line to get an autograph from a character it’s nothing like the lines at the Disney Parks.

Most cruise line have a small section of the ship dedicated to kids. Well Disney has half of an entire deck devoted to the kid’s program. And the programs are pretty remarkable. When I was on the ship when my kids were much younger they got to make flubber, the elastic material similar to Silly Putty from the popular Disney movie at that time. Another value (there’s that pesky word again) is that the kids program will issue you a complimentary beeper so you can leave the ship while your kids are having fun in the kids center. If your child should get hurt, or get sick, or just needs you very badly the ship will page you. And for the adults they will issue you phones so that you can communicate with your other family and friends on the ship.

Most ships these days have gone away from having a movie theater on board. Instead they have movies on the tv in your cabin. I don’t care what you say it’s always fun to get some popcorn (which Disney offers free of charge by the way) and enjoy a movie in a real theater. If you are lucky enough to be on a Disney ship when a brand new Disney movie is released, you will get to see it on the ship. I recently had come clients on a Disney ship when Star Wars came out. My folks got to see it on the big screen on the ship on the same night that it came out in your home town. Guess what, the movies are included too. All the other cruise lines have older movies on board.

Dining – Once again Disney offers a unique experience. They have you and your table mates along with your same waiter rotate restaurants every night. So on a 3-night cruise you will have dinner in different restaurants each night. On a 7-night cruise you will do 2 rotations and won’t eat in the same restaurant more than twice.

The Disney difference. Did you know that Disney is the only cruise line in the world that has the right to do fireworks at sea? They also have a very popular pirate night on the ship as well where the passengers are encouraged to bring their best pirate costumes.

For those of you planning to do half the week at Disney World and the other half of the week on the ship Disney has even made that easy for you too. Once you arrive at the hotel in Disney World they will check you in and issue you keys for both the hotel at the resort and for the ship. Again this is a “value” because it saves you lots of time. When you arrive to the ship you don’t have to wait in long lines to check-in. You just walk onto the ship using the same key card that they gave you at the resort. How much easier can they make it for you!

So, if all you are looking for is a cheap cruise then I won’t even waste my time or yours giving you prices on a Disney cruise. However, if all these items I mentioned hold a “value” to you and you are willing to pay more for that “value” then give me a call. You won’t be disappointed.


Steve Rice has been a professional travel counselor selling travel dreams for 20 years. He has been on over 70 cruises on many different ships all around the world.

He is certified by CLIA (Cruise Lines International Assn.) as an Elite Cruise Counselor (one of the few in the country) and a Luxury Cruise Specialist.

He has received numerous industry awards, has achieved “Specialist” certifications to many destinations and has received the “Circle of Excellence” award from his parent company each and every year.

Steve Rice





Top 10 FREE things to see and do in Paris

Presented by The Cruise Butler

Top 10 Free Things to See & Do in Paris.

A holiday in Paris doesn’t have to cost a lot. In fact, if you do a little bit of research you’ll be able to see much of the City of Lights for free! To save you some time we compiled a list of our top 10 free things to see and do in Paris. From visiting free museums to discovering the Eiffel Tower up close without paying a dime, we’ve got you covered!

1. Discover Free Museums in Paris

Picture of the Louvre Museum in ParisYou can visit the Louvre and other museums in Paris for free every 1st Sunday of the month

Fancy seeing the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay for free? You can visit all major museums in Paris for free on the 1st Sunday of each month! Understandably it can get quite crowded in the most popular museums of Paris on this day, so try to go early in the morning or late in the afternoon. You can also choose to visit one of the slightly less famous (but still absolutely fantastic) museums in Paris such as the Musée des Arts et Métiers or Musée Rodin.

Are you a citizen of the European Union and under 25 years old? We have good news for you! You can visit all the museums in Paris free of charge. This applies to all major and small museums and even big attractions such as the Palace of Versailles. Do remember to bring proof of documentation such as a passport or identification card or you’ll have to pay!

Not from the EU or older than 25? There are still several museums in Paris that are free to the public. For instance, the beautiful Petit Palais next to the Champs Elysées has a wonderful permanent collection of fine arts that is always free to visit. The Maison de Victor Hugo in the famous Place des Vosges also doesn’t charge an entrance fee. These are just two examples of the many free museums in Paris. Check out Free Admission in Paris Museums for the whole list of museums that are free to visit.

2. Explore Paris’ Parks

Paris is home to many gorgeous parks that are absolutely free to visit. In the city center of Paris you have the beautiful Jardin des Tuileries, Jardin du Luxembourg and Jardin des Plantes. There are also several sprawling green parks in the outer arrondissements, such as the Parc des Buttes Chaumont, Parc de Belleville, Parc Andre Citroen, and Parc de la Villette. You can even visit the Versailles Gardens for free off-season.

3. Take the Funicular in Montmartre

Image of the funicular of Montmartre and the Sacre CoeurThe funicular of Montmartre can take you up to the Sacre Coeur for free if you’ve got a charged metro card

Although technically this funicular railway charges an entrance fee, you can ride for free when you’ve got a charged metro card. The funicular runs between the foot and the summit of Montmartre, and is a great way to discover this Bohemian neighborhood. If you haven’t got a daily, weekly or monthly metro card you can also choose to climb up the hill through the park that runs up to the Sacre Coeur. From the steps of the church you’ll get amazing free panoramic views of Paris.

To find out more about the area, check out our video tour of Montmartre.

4. Visit the Churches & Cathedrals of Paris

You’ll find many beautiful churches and cathedrals throughout the city of Paris, and most of these are free to visit. The popular Notre Dame Cathedral on the Ile de la Cité and the Sacre Coeur in Montmartre do not charge entrance fees.

There are also many historic churches in Paris displaying ingenious architecture and striking stained-glass windows. You’ll find that when you walk around the arrondissements of Paris you’ll bump into amazing churches when you least expect it!

5. Visit the Bibliothèque Nationale de France

Picture of the National Library of France in ParisOne of the book-shaped towers of the National Library of France in Paris

The National Library of France, better known as the BNF, is an amazing modern building located in the 13th arrondissement of Paris. Built in 1996, the library is made up of four large glass and chrome towers shaped as books. These towers hold the library’s permanent collection of over 14 million books. In between the towers is a central garden with beautiful old pine trees. The library is completely free to visit, and whether you come for the architecture or to peruse the historical books of the permanent collection, the BNF is sure to make for an intriguing visit.

6. See Paris’ Most Famous Monuments For Free

Image of the Arc de Triomphe in ParisThe Arc de Triomphe near the Champs Elysées in Paris

Like the museums of Paris, you can visit Paris’ most famous monuments for free on the 1st Sunday of every month. Do note that this only applies off-season between November 1st and March 31st. Among the monuments you can visit for free are the Arc de Triomphe, Chateau de Vincennes, the Panthéon and the Conciergerie. For more information about the Arc de Triomphe, see Visit the Arc the Triomphe. You can also climb the towers of the Notre Dame Cathedral for free. Be aware that the entrance for the tower visit is located outside the Cathedral on the left side of the façade. The Cathedral itself is always free to visit.

7. Discover the Arènes de Lutèce

The Arènes de Lutèce is a Roman amphitheater, and one of the most important remains of the Gallo-Roman area of Paris. Built around the 1st century AD, the amphitheater consisted of a sunken arena with a stage and surrounding terraces that could fit up to 17,000 viewers. The amphitheater was used for both theater performances and combat. Today you can visit what remains of the amphitheater for free in a small park called the Place Emile Male close to the Jardin des Plantes in the Latin Quarter.

8. Watch the Eiffel Tower Light Up at Night

You don’t have to pay a fee to see the Eiffel Tower at its most beautiful. Every night the Eiffel Tower sparkles for five minutes each hour after sunset (until 2am). It’s absolutely beautiful to see the tower light up the sky, and the closer you are the better you’ll be able to see the individual lights flicker on and off like tiny diamonds. You’ll get some of the best views of the Eiffel Tower at the Champ de Mars, which is free to enter. You can even pack a picnic at home to bring to the park and have dinner beneath the sparkling Eiffel Tower!

We have many vacation rental apartments available in Paris that come with fully equipped kitchens, which makes it easy to prepare your own dinner picnic basket. And if you can’t get enough of the Eiffel Tower, consider staying in an apartment like this 1-bedroom apartment in Invalides that has spectacular views of the Eiffel Tower!

9. Pay a Visit to Cimetière du Père-Lachaise

Picture of the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise Tombs at the Père-Lachaise Cemetery

The Cimetière du Père-Lachaise is Paris’ most famous graveyard, and a hauntingly beautiful peaceful park in the middle of the busy city. The huge graveyard is free to visit, but at most of its entrances you can opt to buy a map of the graveyard for a small fee. This is recommendable if you want to visit a particular grave, as it can be quite difficult to find even the famous graves of Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde and Edith Piaf. Visit the cemetery on a sunny day and stroll up and down the cobblestone streets beneath leafy trees. The elaborate tombs are quite a sight to behold.

10. Attend a Free Fashion Show at the Famous Galeries Lafayette

Paris’ famous department store Galeries Lafayette is a must-see for any lover of fashion. The department store features many designer brands and has a beautiful domed ceiling made of glass. Every Friday at 3 pm you can attend a fashion show on the 7th floor of the Galeries Lafayette. The show is completely free to attend, though seats must be reserved ahead of time. You can reserve a spot by sending an email to Also be sure to pay a visit to the neighboring department store Printemps after your visit to Galeries Lafayette. The top floor of Printemps has an amazing rooftop terrace that’s also free to visit and has 360-degree panoramic views of Paris!

We hope you’ve enjoyed this list of our top 10 free things to see and do in Paris! What’s your favorite free place in Paris?

Regent Seven Seas Navigator review

Regent Seven Seas Navigator Review – April 2014


This spring I had the opportunity to sail on the Regent Seven Seas Navigator. Our cruise was for 10 days and we sailed from Miami. We sailed to the Bahamas, spent 3 days in Bermuda, a day in Charleston, a day in Port Canaveral, and then back to Miami.


Regent Seven Seas Cruise Line is an ultra-deluxe, luxury cruise line. There are three ships in their fleet with a brand new ship currently being built. There is no other cruise line out there offering as many inclusions as Regent does. You won’t find any pre-cooked banquet quality meals on Regent since everything is cooked to order. Wine, beer, cocktails, sodas, bottled water, gratuities, a daily restocked fridge in your suite, specialty dining room experiences, shore excursions, and airfare to the ship are all included. If you book an upscale category they will even include a FREE 1-night hotel stay prior to the cruise and many times will offer huge discounts on business class airfare. The ship was very elegant and there were never any major crowds to deal with. All of crew was very friendly and accommodating. You couldn’t ask for anything more.


The Navigator accommodates just  490 pampered guests. When we arrived to the pier there were several folks checking in the arriving guests so the wait time was very minimal. Within 15 minutes we went from the cab to our suite on the ship. This is one of the major benefits of being on a ship with fewer passengers.


Compass Rose Restaurant – This is the main dining room on the ship. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are all served in this beautiful dining room.  All the food is very delicious and nav_compassrose_smbeautifully presented. Breakfast is pretty typical with some great traditional selections such as Eggs Benedict, eggs to order, fresh pastries and other selections such as fresh poached figs, fresh fruits, berries, melons, gravlax, kippers and much more. Each morning we had a choice of fresh squeezed orange juice and grapefruit juice.

Lunch and dinner was also wonderful with some old time favorites and daily new creations from the Chef. It’s very important to note that unlike ships which hold 2,000-5,000 people all the food is cooked to order on Regent. This means that your steak and lobster tail will not be cooked until you order it.

One of the other great things about Regent is that if you really like a menu item a lot and you want to try it again on a different day all you have to do is give them  a one day notice and they will make it for you.

Full bar service is always included in the dining room. So if you are in the mood for a mimosa, a glass of wine, a beer, or a cocktail it’s all there for you.

Prime 7– This is the upscale steakhouse on the ship. All passengers are allowed to pre-


reserve one dinner reservation prior to boarding the ship. You may visit the Maitre’d once on board to see if he can get you in for an additional evening if you like.  The food was extra amazing in this restaurant. I had the Surf and Turf with filet mignon and Béarnaise sauce with Alaskan king crab legs.

My wife just ordered the Alaska King Crab legs. They offered to serve it in the shell or out of the shell. The stack of crab legs was enormous.  The dining room experience and the food were so good that many folks just like us ate there twice during our cruise.

La Veranda – This is the more casual restaurant on board. During breakfast and lunch they offer a very nice buffet spread. Once again full bar service is available.

For dinner La Veranda transforms into a great Italian restaurant, Sette Mari. Reservations are not required and it is first come, first serve. Dinner starts off with a nice selection of hot and cold appetizers, salads and soups all served buffet style. Then a menu with a wide array of Italian main courses is offered by your waiter. Regional red and white wines along with a full bar service is all offered during dinner.

The Poolside Grille – Each morning they served a very nice continental breakfast with a selection of hot and cold items. During lunch the standard items such as hamburgers, hot dogs, hot sandwiches and grilled fish were served. One day they served an incredible Kobe beef kabob that was amazing.

In-Suite Dining – Regent is one of the few cruise lines which will allow you to order anything off the main dining room menu for room service. One afternoon we ordered a gourmet cheese plate with two jumbo shrimp cocktails and a bottle of wine, just because we could. They served it to us on our balcony…. boy, did we feel like rock stars that day!!!  Another evening we decided to have dinner in our suite. The whole 5 course meal was delivered to our suite on fine china complete with a white tablecloth, a vase of fresh flowers, and of course our bottle of favorite wine.


Most everything is included in a Regent cruise.  We pic21started off each morning with a gourmet coffee like you would typically get at Starbucks but we didn’t have to pay $6 for it. And if you want to add some Kahlua or Bailey’s to it you could do so. No matter if you are in the dining room, in a lounge, or out by the pool you could get any cocktail of your liking throughout the day.

When we first entered our cabin we had a chilled bottle of champagne waiting for us, a stocked fridge which gets refilled each day with a selection of bottled water, sodas, and beer. And if you request a liter of your favorite adult beverage they will accommodate you with a complimentary bottle.

As you relax on the pool deck one of the great crew members will come over and ask you if you would like something from the bar so you don’t even have to get out of your chair to get a drink. Now that’s what I call service.

pic3During lunch and dinner service in the main dining room the wine sommeliers offered a featured red and white wine of the day. The wine flowed freely. If you don’t care for the daily wine choice, no problem, just ask them for something else. My wife loves a sweeter German Riesling and she had that with each lunch and dinner throughout the cruise.




imagesAll the cabins are considered suites with the smallest cabins measuring a very spacious 301 square feet. The restrooms are all marble with high-end toiletries, plush robes, a large walk-in closet, a long hallway entrance, a nice size balcony, a safe, a daily restocked fruit basket, fresh orchids, a DVD player with a huge complimentary video library, gourmet chocolates each night and more. The Concierge suites and above even include a personal expresso maker and a cashmere throw.pic4

Down the hall from our suite was a self-service complimentary laundry room complete with washers, dryers, irons, and ironing boards.



  • A pool deck party with dinner and music under the stars.
  • Every night in the main show lounge they put on an elaborate production show. A couple of evenings they had Broadway style reviews, plus original shows like the “Piano Men”, a show featuring the songs from Elton John and Billy Joel.
  • Several lounges offered live piano music with cabaret singers.
  • Guest lecturers
  • First run films
  • High tea was served each day with fresh made pastries, scones, and sandwiches. And besides a wide selection of gourmet teas, the champagne was flowing and the bar was open.
  • Full service casino
  • Trivia and occasional bingo
  • Full service spa and gymnasium
  • The last night of the cruise was the most fun. After spending 10 days on board getting to know the crew, the singers and the dancers, and the other passengers they had a “Beatles Tribute” party. We all let our hair down while we mingled, sang, danced and partied with all our new friends. What a great finale to a great cruise.
  • It is important to note that the level of daytime and night time entertainment is somewhat limited and subdued compared to what larger mass market cruise lines offer. Regent clients are typically more mature in age, highly educated, and well- traveled. They would rather play bridge, go to wine tastings, cooking classes, attend the seminars put on by the guest lecturers, read a book, or socialize with fellow guests. You won’t see any crazy pool games on this cruise line.


Regent includes complimentary shore excursions in each and every port. These can be reserved in advance before you even board the ship. The shore excursion selection is large and you shouldn’t have any problem finding a tour to suit your interest level. Depending on the length of your tour you could even possibly squeeze in a second FREE excursion with time permitting. Some of the very expensive tours such as helicopter rides are not included but they are heavily discounted. All of the vehicles they used were very nice and spacious. Sometimes large coaches were used and other times we had nice size mini-vans with just two couples per vehicle. Instead of making you wait on the dock in the hot sun all the shore excursions gather in the show lounge until your tour is ready to depart.


On many of the itineraries Regent will stay in port late at night or sometimes for 2 to 3 days as we did in Bermuda. A huge benefit that is hard to put a price tag on is being able to dock in the heart of town since our ship is smaller. In Bermuda we were able to dock in downtown Hamilton and were across the street from all the downtown attractions. Othe142959-425x270-Bermuda-cruise-shipr larger ships have to dock in Kings Wharf on the northwestern point of the island. Each passenger on those larger ships has to waste a lot of valuable time and money getting back and forth to downtown Hamilton.


Once again with such a small head count of passengers the disembarkation process was a breeze.

Presented to you by:

Steve Rice

The Cruise Butler

Elite Cruise Counselor / Luxury Cruise Specialist

830-981-2445 / /

5 Things Not to Do on Your First Cruise

By: Shayne Rodriguez Thompson, Cruise Critic Contributor

So my first cruise — a weeklong Bermuda cruise sailing on Norwegian Dawn — wasn’t perfect (credit the rain, a couple lackluster shows and several canceled activities), but it was pretty great. It took me a couple days to figure out how to make the most of my time onboard. As the days progressed and I learned the lay of the ship, my experience improved exponentially. I might have thought I knew a lot about cruising, but until you actually experience a cruise … well, you experienced cruisers know what I mean. So what did this first-time cruiser learn?

Don’t overdo it your first day onboard. Most mainstream cruise ships are bigger than you think — even if they’re not among the largest afloat. Most modern ships are composed of deck upon deck of cabins and public spaces and can accommodate thousands of people. The last thing you want to do is wear yourself out trying to unearth every nook and cranny of the ship before your vacation is even underway. It’s easy to want to see and do it all on the first day, but avoid the temptation.

Don’t try to eat at every specialty restaurant. Most major cruise lines have made a habit of building multiple for-fee specialty restaurants into newer ships, and while these restaurants can be fantastic, you could end up shelling out a fistful of cash by the time your cruise commences. Plus, you risk missing some of the special items found in the ship’s main dining room. During my cruise, I was in such a hurry to start trying out the specialty restaurants that I neglected to realize that Night No. 1 was lobster night in the MDR. I was so sad to miss it — and those passengers raving about the quality didn’t help.

Don’t think you’re too cool to participate in cruise activities. Sure you can sit in your cabin all day or loaf about on the pool deck, but the real fun comes when you dip your toe in the cruise waters. No, I won’t sing karaoke, and bingo is not really my thing, but I found that even playing spectator at some of these events resulted in gut-busting good times. And don’t forget, cruising’s much better when you meet new people — and these cruise line organized activities are the best way to do so.

Don’t stay in your cabin for hours at a time. While a few short naps are nice (especially if you have a balcony to veg on), if you spend too long of a stretch in your cabin, you’re sure to miss some fun onboard activities. It took me a couple days to realize I was missing things like movies on the big screen, trivia sessions and game shows like “Battle of the Sexes.” When cruising, there’s something going on every hour of the day, and the only way you’re going to have the best time possible is to venture out of your cabin and get involved.

Don’t forget to be nice to the crew. These guys and gals work hard for your enjoyment. Remember to smile at them and thank them for their hard work. You’ll be rewarded with personalized service and great conversation. It was awesome to have crew members addressing me by name and stopping in the halls to chat me up at every turn. Be sure to set the right tone from the beginning, and your effort will surely be reflected in your experience.

Traveling overseas with your smart phone

Rick Steves: Travel Smart With Your Smartphone

June 3, 2014By: Rick Steves

rick stevesRick Steves, Tribune Content Agency, June 3, 2014

I love all the technology that makes travel easier than ever. Even when you want to get away from it all, it makes sense to take your smartphone (or tablet) with you. You can keep in touch if you want to, plus you’ll have instant access to resources that can enrich your trip. I wouldn’t leave home without mine.

Essentially, a smartphone helps you make the most of your travel time. For example, some of Europe’sblockbuster sights, such as the Eiffel Tower in Parisand the Colosseum in Rome, allow you to buy tickets and have them sent to your phone — enabling you to skip the formidable lines when you get there.

You can also check hours and get directions to places you want to visit, and confirm other details that help you plan your itinerary. I generally don’t care about the weather, but while filming recently in the Italian Riviera — where good weather was critical — I repeatedly checked my weather app hoping for a better forecast than the predicted drizzle.

RELATED: Rick Steves: Renting a Car for Your European Trip

Besides managing the nitty-gritty details, you can enhance sightseeing with audio tours and podcasts. (It works best to download these at home before your trip.) I’m even starting to see more innovative ways to use your mobile device when sightseeing, such as the QR codes posted at spots of interest in ColmarFrance. Scan one, and bam! You’ve got the information right there on your screen for free.

Using your phone abroad isn’t hard, and horror stories you may hear about sky-high roaming fees are both dated and exaggerated. With a little preparation, you can text, make calls, and access the Internet — without breaking the bank.

First, confirm that your phone will work internationally. Find out your service provider’s global roaming rates for voice calls, text messaging, and data roaming and tell them which of those services you’d like to activate. (When you get home, remember to cancel these services to avoid extra charges.)

If you’d rather use your phone exclusively on Wi-Fi, ask your provider to deactivate roaming options on your account. You can also put your phone in “airplane mode,” and then turn your Wi-Fi back on.

Luckily, Wi-Fi is easy to find throughout Europe. Most accommodations offer it, usually for free. When you’re out and about, head to a cafe. They’ll usually tell you their Wi-Fi password if you buy something. Some towns have free public Wi-Fi hotspots scattered around highly trafficked areas. Keep in mind using a shared network comes with the potential for cyber-attacks. It’s safest to use a password-protected network rather than being open to the world. If you’re not actively using a hotspot, turn off Wi-Fi so that your device is not visible to others. And save your banking and finance chores for your return home.

Though widely available, Wi-Fi can be spotty: Signals may slow down or speed up suddenly, or just conk out every few minutes. Data roaming — accessing the Internet over a cellular connection — is handy when you can’t find useable Wi-Fi. It’s important to set up data roaming with your service provider before your trip; if you do this, it costs about $25 for around 100 megabytes (enough to view 1,000 emails or 100 websites) — more than you’ll likely need to bridge the gaps between reliable Wi-Fi.

Budgeting data is easy. For example, you can limit how much you use by switching your phone’s email settings from “push” to “fetch.” This way, you can “fetch” (download) your messages when you’re on Wi-Fi rather than having them continuously “pushed” to your device. If you receive an email with a large photo or other attachment, wait until you’re on Wi-Fi to download it.

Also, be aware of apps — such as news, weather, and sports tickers — that automatically update. On some phones, you can select which specific apps can use data roaming; to reduce usage, check your phone’s settings to be sure that none of your apps are set to “use cellular data.”

Because there are various ways that you can accidentally burn through data, I like the safeguard of manually turning off data roaming on my phone whenever I’m not actively using it — try checking under your phone’s “cellular” or “network” menu, or ask your service provider how to do it. Then, when you need to get online but can’t find Wi-Fi, simply turn on data roaming long enough for the task at hand, then turn it off again. By sticking with Wi-Fi wherever possible and thoughtfully budgeting your data use, you can easily and affordably stay connected throughout your entire trip.

Wherever I go — from people-watching bustling boulevards to beach cafes — I appreciate staying connected with my family, friends, work, and most important — the place I’m visiting.

(Rick Steves ( writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. Email him at and follow his blog on Facebook.)


This article was written by RICK STEVES and Tribune Content Agency from Rick Steves Travel – PBS and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.