As a travel agent, one of the most common questions I get is “Where are YOU going this year?”
What is that saying about the shoe makers children? Sometimes I am so caught up in planning all of YOUR travel that I forget to make time for my own vacations!
My husband will snort-laugh at that statement because the word “vacation” is a little foreign to me… it’s hard to ever really shut down and relax when you have clients on the go. It’s also hard to be married to a travel agent… no matter where we are, I am peppering concierges with questions, ducking into open hotel rooms for impromptu “inspections,” and constantly saying things like “this resort would be good for families with teenagers.” LOL.
Nonetheless, everyone needs time to relax and recharge. I have a few trips planned this year; a little bit of work and a little bit of leisure mixed in. Here’s a rundown of my own personal travel for 2017 (at least what is planned for today!)
Western Caribbean (Cozumel, Belize, Honduras)
Next month, Alpaca Your Bags Travel is hosting a Whiteman Air Force Base group cruise onboard the Carnival Freedom. I’ve actually never personally cruised Carnival before so I am excited to check it out! We have several fun excursions planned including a waverunner tour of Cozumel, cave tubing in Belize and hanging with the sloths & monkeys at Daniel Johnson’s Sloth & Monkey Hangout in Roatan, Honduras. I CANNOT WAIT TO HOLD A BABY SLOTH!
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
This trip is a prize! Last year, I attended a travel agent conference in Playa del Carmen. While we were there, we participated in the first annual travel agents Amazing Race. Imagine 50 travel agents racing down Avenida 5 (Fifth Avenue) in Playa del Carmen, doing crazy things like eating brain tacos and selling coconuts on the beach. Guess who won? THIS GIRL! My team of four won a 3 night stay at any Hard Rock Resort & Hotel property. We are planning to use ours at the intimate, friendly Hard Rock Hotel Vallarta. I love Puerto Vallarta because the scenery is so unique. The combination of beach and mountains reminds me of my time in Rio de Janeiro.
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
It’s no secret that I love the DR; my husband and I actually got married there on beautiful Bavaro Beach. This year, I’ll be attending the Romance Travel Forum, an elite travel agent event for travel agencies who specialize in honeymoons, destination weddings and the like. While at RTF, I’ll be visiting several properties to report back for you: the Paradisus Palma Real, Secrets Cap Cana, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana, Sanctuary Cap Cana and more.
As of today, this is my only true “vacation” of 2017. Did you know that Bermuda is only 600 miles due west of North Carolina? It’s a great place to visit and (as of today) one of the only tropical Zika-free destinations close to the US. We can’t wait to check out the pink sand beaches. Horseshoe Bay, historic St. George and (hopefully) get our preliminary PADI scuba certification. More to come on this trip!
While not as glamorous as the destinations above, I had to throw this one in. I love Chicago, having lived in nearby Milwaukee for almost 7 years. In August, Christopher, Jen and I will be meeting in Chicago for the first annual Alpaca Your Bags Travel annual meeting.
Did this list inspire any travel plans for 2017? Where do you hope to visit this year?
Let us know in the comments!
Planning a family vacation is a big undertaking… and a big expense. Flights, accommodations, souvenirs and excursions can add up faster than you can say “momhestouchingme!” Busy families can easily spend weeks — if not months — researching and planning the best way to save their hard earned dollars.
In an earlier post, we explained a few ways that travelers can prioritize and set aside money for travel. But did you know that travel agents are also a great resource for saving money on the trips themselves?
As travel agents, we are often asked “What’s the cheapest deal you can get me?”
I’ll be honest, I CRINGE when I hear this question. Like anything in life, you get what you pay for. After all, someone has to get stuck with that the tiny, odd-shaped room overlooking the dumpster, right? Don’t let that person be you!
When planning a vacation, it’s important to remember that COST does not equal VALUE. More often than not, people who ask the “what’s the cheapest?” question don’t actually mean the cheapest out of pocket price…they are actually asking about how to get MORE for their money. This is where an agent can be a huge resource and advocate.
1. Agents know what’s “worth it” and what’s not.
Here’s a real life example: Last October, my family sailed on the Norwegian Escape. A beautiful, brand new ship, the Escape offers a private adults-only area called Vibe. The catch? It’s $199 a person for the entire week. Was it worth it? For us, no.
On that seven-day Eastern Caribbean itinerary, we scoured the ship and found many other FREE areas to be just as relaxing as Vibe. Cost savings to us? $400 in cold hard cash. Travel agents have years of knowledge for things just like this…we can tell you if a room upgrade is worth the money or if that “luxury” property is really actually a luxury. Even better, we have access to dozens of agent-only resources to help when an answer is hard to find.
One note on this: Just because WE didn’t like Vibe doesn’t mean that you won’t. This is another area where agents are extremely helpful. We excel at asking questions and listening to exactly what you want. We can help you weigh the options to find what’s right for your family… that is always money well spent!
2. Agents have personal relationships with resort managers, concierges and tour operators.
Looking for the best day-trip fishing excursion or a resort that specializes in food allergies and special needs? Travel agents know which properties can handle special requests and which tours give you the most for your money.
Earlier this year, we arranged a spectacular birthday surprise for a client, complete with room decorations, a romantic beach dinner, a surprise birthday cake and access to a special excursion. The cost to our client? ZERO DOLLARS. That’s right — because of our relationship with the resort concierge, we were able to offer this amazing and memorable day to our client, absolutely free.
3. Agents know the best time to visit a location and have special tools to narrow the options.
Trying to arrange a vacation around a school calendar or work schedule? If you can be flexible with your dates, a good travel agent can offer suggestions on the best time to visit a particular location. If your dates are locked in, we can help you find the most cost-effective location for that month.
Travel agents can also offer suggestions on when to book said vacation, often resulting in hundreds of dollars in savings. Booking on the “shoulder season” is one good tip for saving money. A resort that costs thousands in February may only cost hundreds in June. We’ve seen luxury properties drop by nearly 50% in the off-season months.
Finally, travel agents also have access to special tools not available to the general public. For example, we have a cruise-booking tool that allows us to see every cruise company's departure date on the same screen at the same time. This allows us to quickly compare departure dates and price options across dozens of itineraries, saving our clients time and money.
4. Agents understand room capacity and configuration.
Did you know that many all-inclusive resorts can only accommodate four per room in a standard room? What is a family of five to do? In many cases, unaware families get stuck booking two rooms at double the cost.
Travel agent to the rescue! Most travel agents have a list of properties that can accommodate a family of five, booking a single room (or a 2-room suite) and saving you lots of cash. Need adjoining rooms? Many properties won’t guarantee them, but a good agent will have a list of properties that can accommodate the ask.
5. Travel agents know what is hot and new, what is being remodeled, and which locations are past their prime (avoid at all costs!).
Construction updates are another area where a travel agent’s insider knowledge can help get more bang for your buck. Understanding which properties or cruise ships are currently being remodeled can actually work both ways when it comes to saving money. A travel agent can help you AVOID construction, but we can also help you take advantage of remodeling deals!
For example, the much anticipated UNICO property in Riviera Maya, Mexico is pricing much better than other five-star resorts, simply because it is brand new! Hotels know that new properties are unproven…to entice adventurous travelers, they sometimes offer extremely low rates in the first year. A good travel agent can help you take advantage.
These are just a few of the DOZENS of ways that travel agents help families…truthfully, these five tips don’t even scratch the surface! The knowledge above combined with our access to the latest promotions, resort credit offers and exclusive deals make using an agent a smart decision for any family.
What is the best way that you’ve saved money on a family vacation? When did a travel agent come to your rescue and stop a bad decision in its’ tracks? Sound off in the comments below!
Summer is just around the corner. Warm weather is calling my name…and so is sand, water, and relaxation. Anyone with me?! Summer is the season of vacations, so let’s explore the best 2017 summer vacation destinations.
School is out, hours at work are often relaxed, and the weather is at its peak. Planning a summer escape can often seem like tough task, but do not fear! It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the options, but a great travel agent will listen to your needs, listen to what you DON’T want (sometimes more important!) and help you find the perfect vacation package that fits your time and budget.
Do you want something that caters to kids? A destination that includes outdoor activities? A quiet place that doesn’t accompany large crowds? A memorable place for your honeymoon?
The following travel locations are some of my favorite, most-breathtaking, and adventurous places in the world. They are all diverse and exciting options for your summer vacation plans!
7 Best 2017 Summer Vacation Destinations
1. The Bahamas
The Bahamas is tropical paradise that everyone should visit at least once in their life! It’s close to the US and just a short flight from sunny Florida. While there aren’t many true “all-inclusive” options, the number of activities is plentiful. You can snorkel in the gorgeous blue waters, swim with dolphins and stingrays, visit historic sites, and more. This is a great destination for families looking for laid-back living.
If you’re looking for a tropical paradise without a passport, Hawaii is the place for you. Although Hawaii is a part of the United States, its unique terrain will make you feel like you’re in a different country! The red and black sand beaches, the sea cliffs, volcanic landscapes, and sea life are absolutely breathtaking! Hawaii is a great place for families or couples…really, Hawaii is great for anyone who wants to to relax, see unique and breathtaking landscapes, all while staying in the USA. Did you know that Norwegian Cruise Lines is the only cruise line that offers a 7-day, inter-island, Hawaii-only cruise? It is one of the most cost-effective ways to see multiple islands in a single trip.
Mexico has many beach cities perfect for a romantic destination or a fun family vacation. Mexico’s rich history also makes it a unique destination. With over 758,000 square miles, Mexico is two-thirds the size of the US and just as diverse. If you think Mexico is a “been there, done that” destination, we’d love to prove you wrong! Some of our favorite off-the-beaten-path destinations in Mexico are Acapulco, Tulum, Huatulco, and more.
Looking for an LGBT-friendly destination? Mexico welcomes you with open arms, especially the fun-loving Playa del Carmen and Puerto Vallarta areas. You can see dozens of historic ruins, experience water life with snorkeling and scuba diving, and eat delicious cuisine! In addition, experiencing Mexico is relatively inexpensive compared to other Caribbean vacations.
4. St. Lucia
This small island has it all! From chalk-colored beaches, gorgeous towering mountains, and beautiful resorts, this destination is perfect for the adventurer. The mountainous landscape of St. Lucia makes it easy for adventure lovers to start their day hiking in the mountains, spend the afternoon enjoying a natural mud bath, get some sun at the beach, and watch the sunset over the Caribbean. If that doesn’t intrigue you, then maybe zip lining through the region’s rainforest will?!
Looking for a show-stoppingly unique place to hang your head? Try Ladera, a 32-room suite-only boutique resort high in the cliffs. Each suite has an “open wall” — the west side of each unit is left open to expose the breathtaking view, and the orientation of the building maintains complete privacy.
While a little more remote than other Caribbean islands, St. Lucia has quickly become a popular destination for honeymooners and couples of all ages.
Jamaica is the home of reggae music, jerk chicken, and Blue Mountain coffee. It is also home to Seven Mile Beach, a beach that is consistently on Top 10 Lists for being one of the most beautiful in the world. Jamaica is another great destination for active travelers, with one of the top excursions being a hike around Dunn’s River Falls. Beautiful beaches in Negri, the hustle and bustle of Montego Bay and the music and food scene in Ocho Rios are all at your fingertips in this diverse country. If you want to golf, snorkel and scuba dive, you can do that and so much more!
Looking for a place to relax and reconnect with a loved one? We love Couples resorts, an upscale property dedicated to reconnecting relationships. With unlimited SCUBA, a sunset catamaran cruise, 24-hour premium beverages and more, it is one of the best properties for a truly “everything’s included” experience.
6. Turks and Caicos
Turks and Caicos is becoming a more popular summer destination year after year, and is now a prominent port location for many cruises.
Turks and Caicos is made up of 40 islands and cays. The “Provos” act as a main port for cruise ships, and on Grand Turk, you can find many historical sites. This destination also provides one of the largest reef systems in the world! Whether you’re wanting to relax or explore, Turks and Caicos provides both. Turks and Caicos is also home to one of the most popular family resorts, Beaches. Year after year, families return to this location for excellent service and attention.
Although Barbados is known to be a beach vacation destination, it also offers so much more! Barbados is full of white-sand beaches, beautiful golf courses and shopping, but you can also enjoy the famous Mount Gay Rum, listen to live calypso music and partake in a polo or cricket match.
One of the most upscale islands in the Caribbean, Barbadians boast one of the highest “happiness” rates in all of the world. This luxurious island is brimming with sports, culture, and beautiful architecture.
Barbados is also home to Daphne’s Restaurant, one of the only Zagat-rated restaurants in the Caribbean. Tamarind and Colony Club are two of our favorite upscale properties in Barbados.
Even with this list, there are still so many decisions to make after choosing one of these top 2017 summer vacation destinations:
The to-do list can be endless! A vacation should be a time to relax and sometimes you need assistance before the trip even gets started. At Alpaca Your Bags Travel, we want this process to be as streamlined and easy as possible for you.
You deserve to have a relaxing experience start to finish.
To get started planning your summer vacation, click on the link below to fill out our “Help! I Need A Vacation!” planning form. We would be honored to handle all of your travel arrangements. From airline tickets, hotel planning, car rentals, travel tips, and everything in between, we want to make your dream vacation a reality!
If you’re a frequent traveler, you’ve undoubtedly had the near-universal experience of enduring a TSA security line or an immigration line upon re-entry to your home country.
What if you could bypass these lines for good?
You may have heard of Global Entry, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. You fill out a (fairly lengthy) application, pay $100, and if your application passes the initial phase, you’re invited to an in-person interview/screening at a participating airport. If you pass that phase of the application, you are granted a Global Entry ID. In a nutshell, this is how it works:
At airports, program participants proceed to Global Entry kiosks, present their machine-readable passport or U.S. permanent resident card, place their fingertips on the scanner for fingerprint verification, and make a customs declaration. The kiosk issues the traveler a transaction receipt and directs the traveler to baggage claim and the exit. (www.globalentry.gov)
In addition, people who are approved via the Global Entry program can also participate in TSA Pre-Check, which allows people to skip regular TSA security lines at participating airports and go through an expedited line — without having to remove shoes or other clothing items, open laptops, or do any of the other things that take up time in line.
Global Entry (and the accompanying TSA Pre-Check) is a good fit for your flying needs if:
In addition to inside info on things like GE and Pre-Check, as your travel agent, I’ve got tons of helpful hints and connections to make your next trip an amazing one. I would be thrilled to meet with you and plan out your next great adventure!
We're thrilled to announce that Alpaca Your Bags Travel will be represented at the 2017 Romance Travel Forum! This prestigious event is limited to only 175 travel agents GLOBALLY and has a stringent application process. This year's event will be held at the Paradisus Palma Real in beautiful Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.
The Romance Travel Forum provides an opportunity for rising star travel agents to network directly with travel partners (hotels, resorts, transfer companies, wedding planners and more). What does this mean for you? MORE firsthand knowledge, MORE access to exclusive deals, perks and amenities and MORE advice to pass to you, our beloved clients!
This year's agenda also includes visiting several top-tier properties, including the Paradisus Palma Real, Secrets Cap Cana, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, AlSol properties and many more. At the end of the week, attendees receive their Certified Romance Travel seal!
Stay tuned for more info! We can't wait!
This offer is so good, it's getting its very own blog post!
Did you know that more engagements happen between Christmas and Valentine's Day vs. any other time of the year? That's right: ENGAGEMENT SEASON is upon us!
If you're recently engaged and curious about destination weddings, have I got the deal for you!
In honor of our Wedding Wire Couples' Choice Award, we are partnering with Hard Rock resorts to offer a FREE Colin Cowie Wedding package when you book a group of 10 rooms or more. FREE Wedding! That's right!
This offer must be booked by February 27, so it's time to get crackin'.
Want to get inspired? Check out Colin in the video below!
WeddingWire, the leading global online marketplace for the wedding and event industry, has honored ALPACA YOUR BAGS TRAVEL with the esteemed 2017 WeddingWire Couples’ Choice Awards® for Travel in Missouri!
The Couples’ Choice Awards recognize the top five percent of wedding professionals on WeddingWire who demonstrate excellence in quality, service, responsiveness, and professionalism. The prestigious awards are given to the top local wedding professionals across more than 20 service categories, from wedding venues to wedding photographers, based on their professional achievements from the previous year.
The WeddingWire Couples’ Choice Awards winners are determined solely based on reviews from real newlyweds and their experiences working with us. Award-winning vendors are distinguished for the quality, quantity, consistency and timeliness of the reviews they have received from their past clients.
“The Couples’ Choice Awards’ ninth year features one of the most impressive groups of dedicated and acclaimed wedding professionals yet,” said Timothy Chi, CEO, WeddingWire. “It is our honor to work with high-caliber merchants, such as Alpaca Your Bags Travel, who not only make a couple's big day possible, but also contribute to the more than 2.5 million U.S. reviews represented on WeddingWire. We congratulate all of this year's winners on their achievements.”
As a Couples’ Choice Awards® winner, Alpaca Your Bags Travel is highlighted on WeddingWire, which is comprised of more than 200,000 wedding professionals in the U.S.
We are THRILLED to be one of the top travel agencies in Missouri on WeddingWire! We would like to thank our past clients for taking the time to review our business on WeddingWire. We truly value all of our clients and appreciate the positive feedback that helped us earn a 2017 WeddingWire Couples’ Choice Award.
The Alpaca Your Bags Family is growing again!
We are so thrilled to welcome Jen Fanoele to the team Here's Jen's intro, in her own words:
Hi, I’m Jennifer!
Over the past 17 years I have had the pleasure of serving in the United States Air Force which has given me a unique opportunity to travel the world (more than once!) and see some amazing sights. I have literally lived across the United States, from Honolulu, Hawaii to Dover, Delaware and a few places in between! Now that my family has settled in Missouri, I am determined to travel with my children and show them the world.
Over the past 5 years, we have traveled to all-inclusive resorts in Mexico, went on multiple trips to Disneyworld, as well as a few Caribbean cruises. Along the way I was introduced to Ashley through a co-worker, and we had an instant connection. During this time, I have realized I enjoy the planning process of the trip as much as I do being on vacation, so when the opportunity to join Alpaca Your Bags Travel presented itself, I jumped at the chance!
I look forward to sharing my passion of travel with other families and will work tirelessly to ensure all of my clients create memories that last a lifetime.
Jen has already started her training and would happy to help you with your next vacation! In the coming months, Jen will also be getting her Disney certifications... we can't wait to have a Disney specialist on board! In the meantime, you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Alpaca Your Bags Travel is THRILLED to announce that Christopher Grable has joined our team as a cruise specialist!
IN his own words, here's Chris' bio!
Hey there, I’m Christopher, or Chris, depending on how long you’ve known me.
I recently joined the Alpaca Your Bags Team after several discussions with Ashley about our mutual love of travel. While I’m new to Alpaca Your Bags, I’m not new to travel. I’ve been a professional pilot and self-proclaimed world traveler for the past decade. I still remember my first international trip when I was 11 to Germany. I was fascinated by the small differences in culture just as much as I was the larger differences like the language. Plus it was the first time I had the equivalent of Nutella (Yum — Chocolate for breakfast!). Since that trip I’ve visited 6 continents, 47 countries, and all 50 states. I can easily say I “got the travel bug” and haven’t stopped since.
It also incorporates the second love of my life being on a cruise ship. I find cruises to be the most economical and versatile vacation there is. These ships have something for everyone, whether your schtick is drinking beer by the water or hiking the Dunriver Falls. Since my first cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas in 2006, I’ve been on 26 different cruises on Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Norwegian with itineraries ranging from 3 day weekend getaways to 17 night Suez Canal tours.
Ashley and I have known each other since high school and have shared our love of travel and our adventures with each other over the years, so when she started talking about starting Alpaca Your Bags I thought I may be able to compliment her experiences with mine and help others find their dream vacations. You can contact me at email@example.com
Hello, my name is Ashley and I'm a huge packing nerd. I'm not afraid to admit it!
One of the things I love about planning a trip is the PACKING! Admittedly, I don't love the physical act of putting things in a suitcase.
However, I do love is the research part... I love learning about and searching for all of those perfect little items items that will make my vacation that much better.
The unique nature of cruising presents a special challenge. The smaller space, the wide variety of activities and the expense of certain items onboard leads many to think carefully about what we can and can't bring. Add in a formal night or two and a small closet and you've got yourself a grade A challenge.
In this post, I'm not going to focus on clothing or personal items. Instead, I'm going to focus on a few items that I consider "must haves." These are the things that I bring with me on every cruise. I may not always need them all, but they've all come in handy a time or two. These are the things that are worth the space and then some.
1,. Cruise Luggage Tags: When you check in online for your cruise, you'll print special luggage tags for your bags. At the cruise port, you'll say goodbye to your bag and it will be waiting for you in your cabin later that afternoon. The special luggage tags allow the curbside porters to load your bag and deliver it to the correct stateroom onboard. Sure, you could print the paper luggage tag and staple it around your suitcase handle, but I love these plastic luggage tag holders for an extra layer of protection. No lost bags here!
2. Eagle Creek Packing Cubes: I have evangelized packing cubes before, but they deserve a second mention. Note that I am specifically recommending Eagle Creek ... I have no incentive to mention them by name, except that I LOVE them. I've owned this set of Original Pack it cubes for over 6 years. These have been in multiple countries all around the world and are now surviving twice monthly trips to New York. I've had the cheaper ones and they rip. Go for the good ones and save your money!
3. Hanging Toiletry Bag: Once you get in the cabin, you'll need a way to keep your toiletries organized. In a small cruise bathroom, I recommend a hanging bag that will keep everything organized and off the counter. I like and own this Travelon bag. It's a little big for weekend trips, but it's my go-to for anything 7 days or longer.
4. Heavy Duty Suction Hooks: While most bathrooms do have a hook for hanging items, sometimes you want a few more. These heavy duty suction cup hooks hold up to 22lbs each. They are so strong, I used them for hanging my laptop bag in my NYC apartment!
5. GoToob Travel Bottles: These are the best travel bottles because you can squeeze them and get every last drop out Trust me.
6. GoTubb travel containers: From the same manufacturer, these little tubs snap tight and hold a number of things. I use them for jewelry, bobby pins, cotton balls, q-tips, etc. They are also great for pills, small items like coins and lots of other uses. Go nuts!
7. Poopourri Spray: While we're in the tiny bathroom, grab a bottle of this. No explanation needed, except that IT WORKS.
8. Backpack: I highly recommend a good backpack for your carry on. When you embark on the ship, it may be a few hours before you get your checked bag. If you bring a backpack, you can have all of your essential items with you, yet still be comfortable as you explore the ship. Remember to pack your swim gear and a change of clothes for the evening in your backpack as you may not get your big bag before dinner.
9. Dry Bag: If you plan on hanging by the pool or taking a camera ashore for excursions, you may want to consider a dry bag. A dry bag is a sealable plastic bag that can keep important items dry when you're out and about. Some dry bags allow you to keep your phone or camera inside and take photos through the clear plastic. These are worth checking out!
10. Emergency Flashlight/Flare/Whistle Combo: Ok, this may be bordering on paranoia, but I like throwing one of these in my backpack. I have this exact model and it has traveled with me for years. it's a flashlight, an emergency flasher, a whistle and more.
There you have it! Those are my must pack cruise items.
Did I forget anything ? What would you add?
Also, don't forget to check out our Friends & Family cruise! When it comes to cruises, planning ahead is the best way to save money. The earlier you book, the more you save!
10 Things You Should Know Before Going on a Cruise
This is one of my favorites because it doesn't require a blender!
The Dark & Stormy is a classic! I love it because it instantly feels like "Mmm, vacation!" YET it doesn't require a blender or any special equipment. The trick is to use real GINGER BEER. Note: ginger beer is not alcoholic! Think of it like root beer, only made with ginger and not, um, roots. Because that's what root beer is made of right?
BARRITT'S s the best ginger beer brand. It's from Bermuda so you might have to search for it, but it's worth it. Any brand will do, but make sure it's ginger BEER and not ginger ALE.
Gosling's Black Seal (also from Bermuda) is the best spiced rum for this cocktail.
Side note: My mom just figured out that ginger beer is non-alcoholic. Seriously, it happened last year. Sigh.
Here's the recipe from our friends at Esquire:
Did this drink get you in the vacation mood? There's only a few short weeks left to join our FRIENDS & FAMILY cruise on the Carnival Freedom! Just $100 per person holds your spot. Click here for more details!
Looking for a summer family vacation?
At All-Inclusive Hard Rock Hotels in Mexico and the Dominican Republic, everyone is sure to have a blast.
Book by June 30 and 2 kids under 12 stay free in select room categories!
Travel any time between now and December 23, 2016.
Message us to learn more!
If it seems like we are cruise crazy lately, that is probably a little bit true. I am just so excited about this group cruise on Carnival Freedom!
When I first became a travel agent, I knew I would eventually dedicate part of my business to group travel. While I love solo trips and family vacations, I cannot help but educate people about how group trips really rake in the benefits! When you book into a group trip, you save cash and gain perks that "regular" vacations just can't access. In this case, there is truly strength in numbers!
In honor of this awesome deal, I dub the month of June Alpaca Your Bags Travel "Cruise Month!" While I will eventually get back to discussing other types of travel, I do want to give cruising its due.
For anyone who is CRUISE CURIOUS, it's important that you know the ins and outs of this type of vacation.
If this post leaves you pining for more, join our FREE webinar on Sunday. In that live session, I'll review these top 10 tips, as well as answer your questions about cruises and our group event. Go sign up! I'll wait.
Without further ado, here are the 10 most frequently asked questions about cruises!
1. Do I need to have a passport? This one is tricky to answer. For a closed loop cruise (one that begins and ends in a United States port), you technically are not legally required to have a passport. In that case, a photo ID and a birth certificate will suffice. HOWEVER, most travel professionals (including this one!) highly recommend that you use a passport anyway.
Here's why: When you travel out of the country, it is critical to have valid, foolproof evidence that you are a United States citizen. A passport is the most surefire way to check this box. If you leave the ship for an excursion and accidentally miss the ship, being stranded without a passport is not a good situation to be in. A valid passport is also useful for medical evacuations and other unknown emergencies that can pop up. It's always better to be safe than sorry. At Alpaca Your Bags Travel, we strongly encourage our clients to have a passport for cruises, even if its a closed loop cruise.
2. Do I need vaccinations? It depends on the cruise itinerary and your destinations, but usually the answer to this is no. While I am not a doctor, I do keep up with the CDC's recommendations on travel health. If you are ever curious about the health requirements and vaccination policy for a country on your itinerary, you can always check the CDC website for their latest information.
3. Which cruise line is right for me or my family? What about this ship vs. that ship? A travel agent with cruise experience has received hundreds of training hours to help answer this question. Family friendly or luxury? Quiet and relaxing or loud and lively? Formal or casual? Scheduled gourmet meals or "freestyle" any time dining?
Within each cruise line, there are also differences in the actual ships! For example, we chose our first group cruise onboard the Carnival Freedom because it is very family friendly, yet offers a lot of adult entertainment as well.
4. What type of stateroom is best for me? As with so many questions, the answer is "it depends!" A good travel agent can ask questions that can help guide you towards the right choice:
5. Will I get seasick? Today's cruise ships are equipped with stabilizers that minimize movement onboard. I personally get extremely carsick, yet cruises do not bother me. While every individual is unique, there are some precautions you can take: Traveling with motion sickness medication or wristbands, choosing a midship cabin close to the waterline and eating green apples frequently are all said to help with potential illness from motion. However, most people have no problems at all!
6. Will I need cash onboard? Do I need a credit card? Cruising is one of the most budget-friendly methods of travel because SO much is included! While it varies by cruise line, most cruise fares include your accommodations, your meals (except for speciality or upgraded dining options), basic non-alcoholic beverages like water, iced tea, coffee and lemonade and finally, your onboard entertainment.
When you board the cruise, you'll get a plastic card, like a hotel key card on steroids. This card is linked to your onboard account and is how you do almost everything on board. You'll use it to unlock your room, order drinks, check in for your dining reservations, program your safe (on some ships) and use it for any shopping you do while onboard. The card is connected to your credit card so that charges are paid quickly and seamlessly. Prefer to use cash? Most cruise lines allow guests to deposit cash into the onboard credit account at the beginning of each cruise.
If you're planning to take shore excursions or shop while in port, it's best to bring a combination of cash and credit cards. I also highly recommend bringing a stash of $1 bills for tips. Even if gratuities are included, I find that tipping at the bar leads to better service.
7. What do we pack? I'll cover this in a separate post, but packing lighter is generally easier! While cabin size varies by cruise line and by ship, you can guarantee that you'll have less space than at home. Typically, a hair dryer and basic toiletries (shampoo, body wash, etc) are provided in each cabin. Stay tuned for a future post about the top items Matt and I pack for a cruise!
8. Are cruises safe? What if I'm pregnant? This is a question that requires a common sense answer: Use your head and do what is comfortable for you. NO travel is without some risk, and that includes traveling across down to Walmart. While traveling anywhere, be self aware, don't engage in risky behavior and use the buddy system. I recommend traveling with a small first aid kit (not just because it's smart, but because drugs onboard are pricey!) I also recommend packing copies of your passport and important paperwork and adding them to each suitcase and carry on.
If you are pregnant or planning to be pregnant soon, this is a question for your doctor. While cruise lines are vary, most cruises allow women to travel until the beginning of their third trimester. For example, Carnival accepts passengers until they enter their 24th week of pregnancy.
9. Can we go on a cruise if we are under 21? Again, it depends. Most cruise lines require the primary passenger to be 25 years of age or older. Anyone under 25 needs to travel with their parent or with their spouse, if married. Married passengers under 25 may required to show a marriage certificate. And sorry to burst any bubbles, but the drinking age onboard is generally 21 years old. While some countries outside of the US allow drinking at 18, major cruise lines enforce an Age 21+ policy for alcohol.
10. Will we have an amazing time? YES! Unless you are just a total stick in the mud, I can't imagine anyone not enjoying a cruise. The trick is to find the cruise that is right for YOU. As mentioned above, a good travel agent will ask questions about your likes and dislikes to make sure that they find the perfect fit.
What can you find on our upcoming Carnival Freedom cruise? Sunny shore excursions, multiple pools, hot tubs, 3 kids areas, Broadway-quality shows and entertainment, a piano bar, a sports bar, trivia, a casino, dozens of restaurant and bar options and MORE. There is even a library! The challenge will not be "how do I have fun?" The challenge will be "How can I fit everything in!"
Feeling excited? Then let's get started! Contact us to start the booking process today!
Still have questions about Carnival Freedom? Don't forget to sign up for our LIVE Q&A session. You can join from your very own home! Wear your PJS... we won't tell anyone!
Have you seen our ads about the GROUP CRUISE on Carnival Freedom?
If you have, you already know it's an amazing deal. You might even be ready to book!
With reduced deposits, reduced rates and $75 FREE ONBOARD SPENDING CASH, this deal isn't going to last long.
Some travel agents will hold group cruise events at a restaurant at a bar. Like our name, we like to be a little different. in this crazy busy life, we know everyone is busy! Instead of asking you to come to us, we are going to come to you in the comfort of your very own laptop :)
For anyone who is cruise curious, we're offering a live Q&A Webinar on Sunday, June 5!
Whether you're a cruise veteran or a brand newbie, you'll definitely want to join.
From the comfort of your home, you can watch our LIVE presentation about this can't-miss trip.
In 30 minutes, we will cover:
When is the fun? Next Sunday, June 5 at 2PM!
Wear your pajamas, we won't judge!
CLICK HERE to sign up!
Last December, I wrote a post called “Three Big Signs a Destination Wedding is Right For You.”
Now that I’ve had my own destination wedding, I think it’s only fair that I update you on my experiences.
In April, Matt and I dragged 50 of our closest friends and family to Now Larimar, a beautiful property on Bavaro Beach in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.
Did we have an amazing time YES! Did we learn a lot? DOUBLE YES!
As we discussed in this post, a Destination Wedding isn’t right for everyone! It is a huge undertaking, one that I honestly underestimated. In the end, it was worth every bit of time, energy and dollar spent.
Now that I’m an experienced travel agent AND an experienced Destination Bride, here’s my list of insider tips!
1. Consider Your Guests Comfort when choosing a location. This is a controversial statement, but this part of the process is not about you. If you are asking your friends and family to spend thousands of dollars and travel for hours for your wedding, shouldn’t their comfort be considered?
I am not suggesting that you abandon your dreams to please the masses, but think about this: If your goal is to be accommodating for as many guests as possible, thinking about this now can save tons of stress and anxiety in the long run.
What’s the saying, don’t force a square peg in a round hole? That applies here.
When choosing a location, think about your guest list and ask yourself these questions:
One last question I will add: Does any of this matter to you? If you’re looking for a small, exclusive event, abandon all of this and do what you want! These tips can also be used as a barrier, if necessary (wink, wink)
2. Consider How Far Your Guests Will Travel. For our wedding, we had guests flying in from eight different cities across the US. Eight!
We chose Punta Cana because it was a direct flight for many of our east coast guests and a short layover away from our Kansas City guests.
3. Don’t Forget the Drive Time. This is one that most people forget, even when planning a “regular” vacation. When you arrive at your destination airport, how fast do you want to get to the fun? Do you want to be near the airport, or is a more remote location preferred?
For example, we only considered resorts that were under 30 minutes from the Punta Cana airport. This helped ease the travel burden on our guests and helped everyone start their vacation as quickly as possible.
Some couples may want a more remote location! Tulum is a popular spot for those looking at a quiet, off the beaten path area. However, Tulum is nearly an hour away from the Cancun airport. Discuss with your partner and decide what is right for you.
4. Plan a Group Excursion to Break the Ice. I cannot recommend this one enough. Weddings are wonderful because they bring lots of different people and personalities together. Sometimes those personalities mix well, sometimes they don’t!
For our destination wedding, we planned a group snorkeling trip on the Sanael, a catamaran in Punta Cana. This was our gift to our guests for traveling so far to celebrate our marriage. For three hours, our guests drank, snorkeled and got to know each other on an entirely different level. After all, it’s hard to be shy when you’re all wearing flippers and masks!
The excursion was the highlight of our trip (after the actual wedding of course!) It was so good, we received thank you notes from our guests! Imagine that! By the time our wedding reception rolled around, everyone was great friends and had a fantastic time.
5. Stay Longer Than Your Tribe. This is the single best advice I can give you. When your guests are with you, you will be running around, attending to their needs, answering questions and enjoying their company. You’ll also be meeting with the wedding coordinator, the photographer, the hair and makeup person, etc. It’s busy and you may not have a lot of time to relax.
Near the end, you’ll start to crave some downtime.
I recommend that you and your partner stay for a few extra days after your friends and family depart. Better yet, move to a new resort and see a new place! This will give you some separation between “wedding” and “honeymoon,” which offers a chance to relax.
This word is over used, but our wedding was AMAZING. At many points during the week, I teared up thinking about how much effort everyone made to be there for us. I also have some hilarious memories, such as my dad zooming down an inflatable water slide with my best friends!
Are you considering a destination wedding? Are you overwhelmed by the details? Did this post make you break out in a sweat? Relax, I am here to help! Working with an experienced travel agent will pay back tenfold in saving you time, money and stress. This is the most important day of your lives, not something you want to DIY.
Hi, I'm Ashley
Ashley (@ashleysmorris) is a freelance writer, virtual assistant and owner of Alpaca Your Bags Travel.
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