Should I book now or wait, that is my question ??? What should I do ???

I have been asked this question so many times during my 22-year career in this business that I decided to write an article on it and to save it as a resource for each time I get asked this question.

Should I book now my vacation now or wait for a deal? While nothing in life is guaranteed except death and taxes what I am about to tell you is a given fact that you can take to the bank 80-90% of the time. Those are excellent winning odds, even in Las Vegas.

If you book in advance you will always get the cruise lines version of their “book early” discount. Most of the time as the ship is empty early in the booking process they will offer the bigger discounts. As the ship begins to fill up the discount they offer you will start to decrease. Most people think the cruise lines lowball the prices right before the cruise. WRONG !!!!!  It doesn’t work that way.

You can’t have your cake and eat it too. If you wait closer to the sail date to book your cruise and there happens to be some kind of promotion going on be prepared NOT to get something that you were really hoping for. More than likely the dining time you really want will be on a waitlist. You might want a balcony, but there isn’t any left so now you have to suffice with just a window cabin, or an interior cabin. More than likely the last cabins available on the ship will be by the staircase, elevator, the front or back of the ship, next to the pantry area or under some very noisy and busy public area. So, while you may have saved a few bucks on your cruise you can now stay up even later at night since you won’t be able to get a good night sleep in your noisy cabin. On the flip side if you book early you will get the early booking discount, and will get to choose your specific deck and cabin, and will even have your choice of dining times.

Let’s do some math. Say I book a cruise a year in advance and my balcony cabin is $1,000 per person. With 2 people in the room that would be $2,000. Now 3 months before the cruise they come up with a Texas resident, a senior or a military promotion. You are so happy that you decided to wait and book this cruise now instead of doing it a year in advance like I did. You’re super excited because you got a deal by waiting and I did not. They are offering 30% off the first passenger and a $50 onboard credit per cabin. What you fail to realize is that your balcony price because you waited so long to book this cruise has increased to $1,300 per person or $2,600 for 2 people, and with a 30% discount off the first person (-$390) that brings it down to $2,210. And even if you take off the $50 of onboard credit that takes your price down to $2,160. You’re feeling proud of yourself because you took advantage of a good promotion and brought your $2,600 cruise down to $2,160. When I booked the cruise, there was no promotion except the basic early booking promotion and I paid $2,000. So, you ended up paying $2,160 and I paid $2,000. Let me ask you a question, “who paid less?”. And again, I got the dinner time I wanted and you are more than likely going to get waitlisted for what you want and probably won’t even get it. I also have a great cabin location right in the center of the ship in a nice and quiet area. Because you waited to book your cruise everyone else beat you to the prime cabin locations. Your choices now are probably underneath the cafeteria which has a crew working above your head 24 hours a day making noise, underneath the noisy pool area, or underneath the disco with loud music echoing through your walls until 3am.

If you book in advance you will also get to split up the deposit and final payment date helping you to spread out your payments and budget for your vacation. If you book within 3-4 months of departure you will have to come up with the full amount all at once.

This philosophy not only applies to cruises, it applies to all vacations including all those great all-inclusive resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean. I will bet you money that any smart shopper will want the cheapest, shortest, and most direct airline schedule to begin and end their vacation with. Once the wise folks buy these seats up you will be left with the longer and more expensive flights.

So, there you have it.

Steve Rice
The Cruise Butler
830-981-2445

Cruising is like a box of chocolates

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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 deal.download (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

http://www.TheCruiseButler.com

Steve@TheCruiseButler.com

 

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 welcome@galerieslafayette.com. 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?

6 ways to escape children on a cruise ship

No offense, parents, but this is a nightmare scenario for some cruisers: They book a cruise hoping for a little R&R, and instead find a ship full of screaming children trampling on their stuff, interrupting their trashy book reading and drenching them with Olympic-worthy cannonballs. But take a deep breath, people — there are ways to avoid other people’s children, even on a family-friendly ship. Though in some cases it will cost you more.

It’s not your imagination that children are everywhere on cruises: Nearly a third of cruisers bring their children along with them, according to data from Cruise Lines International Association — and that means thousands of kids take a cruise each month. Indeed, by some estimates, 1.6 million children under 18 take a cruise each year, and many lines actively promote their family friendliness with on-site babysitting, special kids activities (think SpongeBob roaming the decks), promotions where kids sail free, and more.

Of course, if kids are on your ship it doesn’t mean they’ll be noisy or bother you. And even family-friendly ships have areas of respite from children.

Still, many cruisers would prefer to avoid a ship in which there might be misbehaving minors (ahem MarketWatch commenters, we’re listening to you). Here’s how to do it.

Pick the right cruise line

Some cruise lines — like Royal Caribbean RCL -0.50%  , Carnival CCL -0.49%   and Norwegian NCLH -1.73%   — are very family oriented, so they’re likely to have a lot of kids, says Rich Tucker, the marketing manager for CruiseDeals.com . Indeed, these cruise lines all recently ran kids-sail-free deals and offer up amenities like photo ops with Disney characters, rock-climbing walls, ice-skating rinks and more to attract families.

Cruise lines have been catering more and more to families, and the results have been paying off. But if the prospect of being trapped aboard a boat with screaming kids makes you recoil in horror, here are five ways to escape them and enjoy your vacation. (Photo: Getty Images)

On the flip side, the higher-end lines like Seabourn, Regent, Azamara, Oceania, Paul Gauguin, Crystal and Silversea are less likely to be filled with kids, in part because it can be pricey to take a whole family on ships like this and the ships tend not to have too many amenities that specifically attract young children, says Tucker.

The sweet spot for those looking for a deal on a ship with fewer children may be Princess and Celebrity cruises, he says. While these ships will have some families, they don’t tend to have as many kid-friendly amenities as Royal Caribbean and Carnival, which means they are far less popular with families.

And if you really want to avoid children (read: you never want to ever see one on your entire cruise — ever), look to one of these ships, which offer adults-only cruises: P&O’s Arcadia, Adonia and Oriana.

Hang out in the right spots

Even on child-friendly ships, you can find places to hang out where the kids don’t. For one, many of the ships have adult-friendly areas. Carnival offers the Serenity area on some of its ships that is available only to people 21 and up and has a bar and whirlpools; Royal Caribbean offers the Solarium pool area on 20 of its ships that’s available only for guests 16 or older; Norwegian offers a few adult-only areas on its ships including the Spice H20 area, for those 18 and older. However, Colleen McDaniel, managing editor of Cruisecritic.com , warns that consumers should look at a ship’s deck plan (this is usually posted online) as sometimes adults-only areas on ships are quite close to kids areas and thus can be less relaxing (read: you can hear the screaming children from your supposedly child-free lounge chair) than a more isolated adults-only area.

Even if the ship doesn’t have an adults-only area, there are places to hang out where a lot of the kids won’t be. Many ships have spas where you can get a treatment and then enjoy the accompanying pools and relaxation areas, and others have libraries, quiet areas and rooms with private balconies that provide a respite from other people’s children. Tucker adds that some ships also have a class of rooms with their own private relaxation space that tend to be quieter: Norwegian, for example, offers the Haven rooms, which have their own lounge and pool; just get prepared to pay more for this.

Time it right

It sounds obvious, but because it’s so crucial for the kid-avoidant cruiser, it bears repeating: Cruise at a time when kids will likely be in school, says McDaniel. That means you should likely say no to summer, spring break and holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, she says.

Take a longer-length or repositioning cruise

Booking a cruise that’s longer than a week is also good way to avoid kids, says Stewart Chiron, founder of CruiseGuy.com . That’s because “short cruises are great for families,” says McDaniel. But “parents are less likely to take kids out of school for a week or longer.”

Repositioning cruises — these take place when a cruise line moves the ship to a new port to take advantage of the upcoming high season at that port — may also be a good bet, says Chiron, as they tend to attract fewer families in part because they are longer lengths and tend to be in shoulder seasons (added bonus: they also tend to be great deals).

Pick the right dining experience

Tucker says that if you opt for the specialty restaurants on your cruise, you’re likely to encounter fewer children. The downside: These tend to cost extra on many cruise lines. If you’re on a budget and still want to avoid kids, pick the later dinner hour (usually it’s around 8 or 8:30), says McDaniel, as families with young children tend to eat at the 6 p.m. seating.

Select a room in the right locale

McDaniel says that cruisers should check out the deck plan of a ship before selecting their room, as some rooms are much closer to areas where a lot of kids will likely be (the baby-sitting area, arcade, major pool, etc.), while others are near adults-only or other quiet areas. Tucker says that some cruise lines also have “spa” rooms that are near the spa and tend to be relatively quiet, and others have clusters of studio rooms (meant for single cruisers) that may be quieter because they aren’t near families.

The “10 Commandments of Travel”

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Due to all the bad advise that I constantly hear I have developed a new set of the “10 Commandments”. Please use this as a travel resource when booking your next vacation. Trust me……you will have a better overall experience and your money will go farther.

The Cruise Butler

830-981-2445

http://www.TheCruiseButler.com

 

 

Traveling to Europe – Money hints and suggestions

HOW MUCH MONEY SHOULD I TAKE WITH ME WHEN TRAVELING TO EUROPE? WHAT CREDIT CARDS ARE ACCEPTED, WHERE SHOULD I GO TO GET MONEY EXCHANGED, AND MORE. 

  • When traveling to Europe I would bring the equivalent of $100 per day, per couple in local currency. This amount will keep you out of trouble and more than likely you will even have some leftover Euro’s which you can exchange back into USD when you get back into the USA. This money can be used for a cheap cab fare, a tip, a cold beer, a small souvenir, a sandwich and soda somewhere or an admission to a venue, subway fare, etc. Anything over $20 per person I tend to just put in on my credit card.
  • Travelers Checks are almost a thing of the past and are considered “old school” by many.
  • American Express is NOT widely used in Europe. You might find some locations but they are limited.
  • I would suggest taking 2-3 credit cards with you, and different types, such as Discover, MasterCard, or Visa.
  • If you plan on using your credit cards at ATM’s for money withdrawals make sure you have a PIN number to do so.
  • Advise your bank and/or credit card companies that you will be traveling to Europe during this time so they don’t cancel your card due to suspicious activity while you are in the middle of your vacation. That really adds unnecessary frustration to your trip.
  • The best locations that I’ve found for money exchange are the money exchange companies located at the international airport terminals. From my experience they have the best exchange rate around and they will even buy back your unused Euro’s from you when arriving back into the U.S.

I hope that helps with your planning.