Aboard the Harmony of the Seas

Harmony of the Seas

Royal Caribbean makes good use of the new ship’s extra length, wider beam.

On a two-night preview sailing of Royal Caribbean International’s 5,479-passenger Harmony of the Seas, the line’s third Oasis-class ship, Travel Agent was impressed with how it combined Quantum- and Oasis-class features on a grand scale. The 226,963-grt ship spans 16 guest decks with seven neighborhoods, including the popular Central Park and Boardwalk areas.

Our favorite jaw-dropping feature was the “Ultimate Abyss,” a 100-foot-long slide cascading down 10 decks in the aft section of the ship. Riders climb stairs leading to the slide platform, walk over the clear platform suspended above a 90-foot-plus drop, and then enjoy a thrilling multi-sensory experience during the slide itself.

Thrills? Data from a Royal Caribbean test of the slide, as supervised by Professor Brendan Walker, director, Thrill Laboratory, UK, revealed that the experience caused heartbeats to rise by an average of 44 beats per minute compared to the resting rate for a 30-year-old adult of average fitness. When the ship is totally full on a regular sailing, there likely could be longer lines, but we liked that the Harmony of the Seas has other adrenaline inducing options nearby on deck 16, including a zip-line and two FlowRider surfing pools.

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More Snazzy Features

Longer than Allure of the Seas at 1,188 feet and a bit wider, with a beam of nearly 216 feet — as well as 20 percent more energy efficient — the new ship is the fastest in Royal Caribbean’s fleet and a city unto itself.

Guests will discover 42 restaurants and bars; four swimming pools, including an adults-only pool in the Solarium; multiple whirlpools and FlowRider surfing pools; a large ice rink; multiple theaters; a casino; a full-service spa; shops; rock climbing walls; and more.

Entertainment-wise, much is new. The 600-seat Aqua Theatre has two new water shows. “Fine Line” features extreme stunts and acrobatics, while “Hideaway Heist” is a comedy dive show. The ship also offers the line’s first dedicated Puzzle Break escape game, and the Attic is a new comedy club.

New productions include the musical “Grease” — for the first time at sea — and “1887: a Journey in Time”, a fun new French-themed ice show.  We were most impressed by the latter with its costumed ice performers in historic French garb; the production unfolded against a backdrop of ultra high-definition video designed to resembled the Seine. It’s great for kids of all ages.

What else is new? Sure to appeal to younger passengers is a dedicated satellite that enables the high-speed VOOM Internet service and a Royal IQ app for quick check-in and the booking of dining and activities. In addition, the ship uses a razzle-dazzle new RFID (radio frequency identification) system to track bags, stateroom entry and onboard charges.

Specialty Dining

Harmony of the Seas has eight specialty restaurants, including the first two-story, 122-seat Wonderland. The concept was initially launched on theQuantum-class vessels, but this is the largest of those offerings. Jamie’s is the first such eatery on an Oasis-class vessel, and also has more space than the ones on the Quantum-class ships.

Of the eight specialty restaurants onboard, we best loved Wonderland, loosely based on the Lewis Carroll novel and Johnny Depp movie. It’s a fantastical experience with a tunnel like-entry, whimsical art and waiters in purple velvet jackets.

Fun touches abound. We loved the menu that revealed itself only after you painted it with a special brush. An appetizer of deviled eggs appeared from beneath a dome of smoke. A “wow” moment was when a dessert was set ablaze to melt an outer chocolate shell — revealing a moist, delicious cake. All entrees are served to be shared so guests dining together can try everything.

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Izumi, a Japanese dining venue, is the first of those restaurants in the fleet to offer teppanyaki. So 24 diners can now enjoy the chef’s sizzling show on the grill. With just 70 seats for sushi, it’s best to book clients for a meal here as soon as they confirm a sailing.

We also sampled the Italian cuisine at Jamie’s ($20 per person at lunch, $30 per person at dinner), Latin dishes at Sabor, and high-end continental fare with multi-course tasting menus and wine pairings at 150 Central Park.

All of the above are more intimate than the main dining rooms. The ship’s specialty dining venues carry surcharges and online pre-booking is essential.

For a casual, yummy treat, definitely check out the Dog House on the Boardwalk, where cruisers can choose from seven different kinds of succulent hot dogs with toppings of grilled onions, peppers and sauerkraut.

Drinking spots worth a mention? Certainly, you shouldn’t miss the mesmerizing Bionic Bar, where two robotic arms create cocktails from 160 suspended bottles and 16 mixers. We also liked the concept of the Rising Tide Bar, essentially a pod of cocktail tables on a platform that rises and drops — seemingly floating between three decks. Vintages, with its an impressive selection, is the place for wine lovers.

Larger Accommodations

The new ship’s increased width means slightly larger accommodations than on other Oasis-class vessels. That’s particularly true for the staterooms on decks six and up. Virtual balconies, a signature of Quantum-class ships, are also offered in 76 of Harmony of the Seas’ inside cabins, a first for an Oasis-class ship.

We stayed in stateroom #9264, a 272-square-foot Ocean View Stateroom with an 80-square-foot balcony. The stateroom felt spacious with a king bed, sofa, desk and two wardrobes with shelves, drawers and a safe.

We toured many other accommodations and particularly liked #8660, a 371-square-foot Grand Suite with Balcony; the king bed area is separated from the living space with a half-wall / half-curtain divider and there’s a large marble bathroom with two sinks.

Most luxurious and spacious for families? It’s #12640, the 1,142-square-foot Presidential Family Suite, which can accommodate up to 14 guests. It has four bedrooms — two with king beds, two with bunk beds — and sofa beds. There is also an additional sofa bed in the main living room. Most spectacular is the 476-square-foot balcony with whirlpool, dining area and bar.

The Royal Family Suite, #10244, is 580 square feet with two king bedrooms with vanities, a nook with bunk beds, a spacious living room with convertible sofa, plus a 238-square-foot balcony. Modest family rooms designed to sleep six are also available.

Royal Suite Class Program

Royal Caribbean has just rolled out a three-tiered Royal Suite Class program for guests staying in suites (excluding junior suites). The three tiers are Sea, Skyand Star class.

Benefits range from access to dinner in the 100-seat Coastal Kitchen on Deck 17 for Sea Class to Suite Lounge access, concierge services, priority bookings and free VOOM for Sky Class.

The most robust perks come with Star Class. Ten suites on Harmony of the Seasqualify for this level of amenities. Included are all the features in Sea and Sky class, plus access to a Suite Sun Deck, a beverage package, free movies, spa classes and exclusive activities such as bridge, galley and back stage tours.

An added level of pampering for Star Class is the Royal Genie butler who greets guests and tends to your every need, creating bespoke experiences and excursions. Guests in these top suites will be whisked to the front of any line, generally ensuring they never wait or want for anything on Harmony of the Seas. Star Class Suite guests fill out a questionnaire before the cruise so the butler will begin preparations for their arrival.

Pampering and Fitness

Top features of the Vitality at Sea Spa include a thermal suite with heated ceramic loungers, saunas and steam rooms. Twenty-nine spa treatment rooms include three couples’ massage suites and seven individual treatment rooms — the largest collection at sea.

Kids and teens have a dedicated spa of their own, YSPA. Certainly, the Fitness Center impresses with its large selection of cardio and weights machines; yoga,Pilates, TRX, spin studio and kick boxing classes; and personal trainers available to assist.

Family Entertainment

Beyond the Ultimate Abyss and water slides, guests can head one deck below — to Deck 15 — for mini-golf, a sport court and ping-pong. That area nicely flows into the family areas, including the Teen Zone, an arcade, Fuel (the teen night club) and Puzzle Break. As you continue on to the bow, you’ll see the aptly named Splashaway Zone with its trio of waterslides.

On Deck 14, the central Kids Avenue boulevard links such spaces as the Royal Babies & Tots nursery and Adventure Ocean, the line’s supervised kids’ club. Around the ship, you’ll also see Dreamworks characters floating around the restaurants at times. The Boardwalk neighborhood is home to a large colorful carousel and carnival games. The ship also has rock-climbing walls.

A Gallery Afloat

Art aficionados amongst your clientele will especially appreciate the ship’s spectacular $6.5 million art collection, brimming with paintings, sculptures and other pieces displayed in public spaces and accommodations. International Corporate Art curated the more than 3,000 unique pieces from 60 countries.

The Ship’s Itineraries

Launched in May, Harmony of the Seas is operating seven-night western Mediterranean sailings through early fall. In November, it will reposition and homeport at Port Everglades, FL, where will sail alternating seven-night eastern and western Caribbean sailings.

— Source;  Travel Agent Central

16 Worst Mistakes You Can Make on a Cruise

August 30, 2015 by Ben Souza  cruisefever.net

Cruise Fever’s mission is simple, to help you have the best cruise possible.  While we often write articles on things you should do on cruises, here are the worst mistakes that you can make on a cruise.

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1. Climbing/horseplay on railings – Although this should be a no-brainer, we occasionally hear accounts of passengers sitting on the ship’s railings or climbing over balcony partitions.  This is a photo sent to us of a cruise passenger who left common sense at home.

2. Stiffing the crew – While most cruise lines automatically charge a daily gratuity or service surcharge to your stateroom, you can have them removed by going to guest services.  However, just because you are allowed to have them taken off doesn’t mean that you should.  You wouldn’t go to a restaurant without tipping and you shouldn’t go on a cruise without tipping.

3. Getting too drunk – No one enjoys having an obnoxious drunk by them on the lido deck or at their dinner table.

4. Getting left behind in port – When the captain says that the ship is leaving port at 5:00, he means it. He isn’t going to wait around for those that lost track of time.  If you get left behind in port, you are responsible for your own transportation to the next port or back home.  The costs can be several thousand dollars each and will be even more complicated if you are traveling without a passport. Our advice?  Plan on arriving back near the ship 1 1/2 to 2 hours before you are scheduled to leave.  This not only gives you some time to shop in the port area, but also gives you plenty of leeway if you run into traffic or your taxi or bus has a breakdown on the way back.

5. Going by port time instead of ship time – Going by port time instead of ship time is a great way to miss your ship.  Also, never trust the time on your cell phone. Bring a watch and if you don’t have one, pick up a cheap $10 watch and you will never have to worry about getting port/ship times mixed up.

6. Eating only at the buffet – While newer ships like Regal Princess have great buffets, the best food on a cruise is almost always in the main dining room.  By eating only at the buffet, you miss out on the great food and service that is offered in the main dining rooms and specialty restaurants.

7. Line cutting –  We all hate waiting in lines while on vacation, but it’s part of life.

8. Booking late flights on embarkation day – Booking late flights on embarkation day is a great way to miss your cruise.  While it is not always possible for everyone to fly in the day before due to work commitments, you should always plan on arriving the day before if you are able to.

9. Booking early flights on disembarkation day – Cruise lines recommend not booking flights before noon on disembarkation day.  Just because your arrival time says 7:00 a.m., there is almost no chance of catching an 8:30 flight.  There have been times I walked right through customs, and other times it took over an hour to get through the line.

10. Leaving balcony doors open – Leaving your balcony door propped open will create a wind tunnel when your stateroom door is opened.  It’s a great way to get your fingers smashed in the door when it slams shut on you.

11. Leaving your curtains open when pulling into port – More often than not, you will be docked directly across the pier from another cruise ship.  Those on the ship next to you will be able to see into your cabin if your curtains are open.

12. Forgetting to turn data roaming off – Before stepping foot on the ship, you should go to the settings on your phone and make sure that data roaming is turned off.  This will keep your cell phone from racking up huge charges and using data even when it is in your pocket. Putting your phone in airplane mode will also keep you from racking up additional charges.

13. Piling into elevators without letting other passengers out first – This is about having respect for your fellow passengers.

14. Treating the crew like 2nd class citizens – We all have bad days, but how many you would have if you worked 7 days a week and were away from your family for 6-9 months at a time?  Kind words to the crew will go a long way, treat them with the same respect that you give to your spouse.

15. Cruising without travel insurance – Cruising without travel insurance is like playing with fire.  There are a wide range of policies offered that include coverage for medical (your medical insurance most likely won’t cover you out of the country), travel delays and interruptions, and cancellations.

16. Lying on your medical form – Before you board your cruise, you have to fill out a medical form where you check boxes of certain symptoms that you have had over the past 48-72 hours.  Lying on this form is a great way of spreading an illness to other passengers.  Lying on your form is one of the biggest mistakes you can make on a cruise.

Top Places to Eat Po’Boys in New Orleans

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New Orleans natives are known for their discerning culinary palates, so you know when a mere sandwich grabs their attention (and hearts), it’s got to be one amazing sandwich. Along-standing tradition in New Orleans, po-boy sandwiches have been around since the late 1920s and now can be found at nearly every casual restaurant. Fried seafood or tender meat is stuffed inside freshly baked French bread and slathered with hot sauce or remoulade. Start your po-boy tasting tour with our list below, or head to the annual Po-Boy Preservation Festival to get the full experience.

What Is a Po-Boy?
A po-boy is a sandwich made with Louisiana-style French bread (think crispy baguette with soft, fluffy insides), which is usually stuffed with fried seafood or tender meat —  anything from house-made hot sausage to barbecued gulf shrimp. Order like a local and ask for the sandwich “dressed,” it’ll come loaded with lettuce, tomato, pickle and mayonnaise.

Huck Finn’s Café
Huck Finn’s Café has it all if you’re looking for a Southern dining experience: flavored daiquiris, spiked lemonade, pecan pie and, of course, a menu packed with po-boys. Go all out and try their smoked alligator sausage po-boy, which comes drizzled with creamy remoulade sauce.

Mother’s Restaurant
The frequent line out the door and the sumptuous aromas wafting out from inside are the first clues of the deliciousness diners encounter at Mother’s Restaurant. The cafeteria-style joint has been serving up home-cooked standards for more than 60 years, and one of the reasons the local keep coming back is for their juicy po-boy. Stack your roast beef po-boy high with debris (gravy) and have a seat at this uniquely New Orleans institution; you’ll quickly understand why New Orleanians always seem so happy.

La Bayou Restaurant
La Bayou Restaurant knows New Orleans ingredients, and the proof is in the po-boy — the Big Easy Po-boy, to be exact. It comes loaded with seasoned gulf shrimp, fried green tomatoes and a Louisiana-style remoulade, all served with a side of French fries.

Johnny’s Po-Boys
Even though Johnny’s Po-Boys has a menu touting more than 50 po-boys, such as country fried steak and alligator sausage, a locals’ favorite is the soft-shell crab po-boy. Piled with battered, flash-fried soft-shell crabs, this crunchy, seasonal sandwich really shines when it’s served with lettuce, tomatoes, cheese and a splash of hot sauce.

Central Grocery
Traditionally speaking, Central Grocery is known for the other famous New Orleans sandwich, the Muffuletta. However, they’ve been perfecting sandwiches since 1906, and we trust them with the ways of a po-boy. Try a different take with the veggie po-boy.

Learn more about the famous cuisine of New Orleans.

Source:  New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau

Hurricane Season Cruising: What to Know Before You Go

U.S. News & World Report Travel
Sherry Laskin

Summer activities are winding down. Kids are back in school. The unrelenting heat of summer has started to fade. Sounds like the perfect time to book a Caribbean cruise. Then you turn on the weather report only to learn that Mother Nature is sending a wallop of a storm right where you planned to sail.

This story is retold every year, mostly from August through October. Although the six-month Caribbean hurricane season officially begins June 1 and ends November 30, the peak of activity usually falls toward the beginning of September — at the exact time the cruise lines lower their rates. It’s a heady combination to consider.

There are also the odds to consider. Hurricanes and tropical storms tend to affect the Bahamas, Bermuda, the eastern Caribbean, the East Coast of the U.S. and even Canada a bit earlier — between August and mid-September. Mexico and the western Caribbean seem to be a magnet for storms a bit later in the summer, from mid-August through October. Rarely does the Caribbean or U.S. get hit with a hurricane in early June or late November, but it can happen.

If you hope to avoid rough weather and save a little money, plan a cruise to the southern Caribbean. For years, islands in the southernmost Caribbean (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago) promoted themselves as being out of the hurricane zone. Historically, that is correct. Although there’s no 100 percent guarantee, this area could be your best bet to avoid a hurricane. But you still have to cruise to get there.

 

Getting there and home again

No matter if you leave from Florida, Texas or fly to the Caribbean to begin your cruise, there’s always the possibility that a major weather scenario may interrupt your plans. It’s yet another reason why it’s important to arrive at your departure port at least one day in advance of your cruise.

The good news is that hurricanes travel very slowly and can take up to two weeks to meander from their formation off of the west coast of Africa to the eastern basin of the Atlantic Ocean and beyond.

The bad news? While cruise ships never sail into a hurricane, they scurry like rabbits to find safe harbor. And here’s where cruising during peak hurricane season can get tricky.

Airports and ports can be closed. You’ve received notice from your cruise line that despite the impending possibility of a major storm or hurricane, your ship is still heading out to sea on the scheduled date of departure. There’s a slim chance that the ship may not be able to return to the port of embarkation. The same port where you’ve parked your car or booked your return flight home.

When something like this occurs, the cruise line makes arrangements to return guests to their original point of embarkation, usually by motor coach if it’s only a few hours away. Wi-Fi and phone charges are usually dropped so guests can make new air travel arrangements. Conversely, passengers departing on a ship whose embarkation isn’t where it was supposed to be will find themselves on buses going to the port where the previous passengers left the ship.

Itinerary changes. If you choose to cruise during hurricane season, be prepared to sail to ports that may not be on your original itinerary. Cruise lines can easily rearrange itineraries to change course or bypass a port based on weather conditions. They certainly do not want to risk running headlong into a full-blown hurricane. It doesn’t take a hurricane to churn up waves; a tropical storm can do it just as well.

Refunds and cruise credits. With simple port changes, passengers are rarely entitled to any refund, which is why it’s so important to read your cruise line’s terms and conditions before you make your final payment.

For example, if at the last minute your ship’s captain decides that it’s too risky to make it into port, you may spend a day at sea or on another island out of harm’s way. Whether or not you are eligible to receive a refund or cruise credit is clearly spelled out in the cruise line’s policy. Generally, there’s no compensation whatsoever that covers missed ports, shorter stays in ports or a totally new itinerary. Rough seas do not constitute a claim for compensation.

Strongly consider travel insurance

Hurricane and severe weather cancellation refunds are available with some cruise lines’ insurance policies, as well as through third-party companies. But again, you need to read the fine print. If you’re sailing during peak hurricane season (September and early October), purchasing trip cancellation insurance can save you from forfeiting the entire cost of your vacation.

Most insurance policies, cruise lines and third-party insurers, offer some sort of cancellation fee protection if the area to which you are sailing is under a hurricane warning issued by the National Hurricane Center. But note the cancellation period from when the warning is issued varies for each cruise line and insurance company. Do your research, discuss it with your travel agent and decide whether purchasing a policy through a third-party insurance company or via your cruise line is best for your needs.

For more information on Travel Insurance  CLICK HERE

Do your homework to prepare

You’ve booked your cruise and purchased travel insurance — what’s next on the list?

About two weeks prior to your cruise, start checking the weather across the Atlantic; the National Hurricane Center website and Weather Underground are resources to bookmark. While the majority of tropical storms and hurricanes materialize off of the coast of Africa, it’s always possible for something to form in the Gulf of Mexico, too. Hurricanes form off the coast of Mexico and make their way toward the Hawaiian Islands, meaning your California and Mexico coastal cruises are nearly as likely to be affected as the Caribbean.

If it looks like a storm is brewing, consider what to pack. Since it’s already rainy season in most of the Caribbean, a poncho and a sturdy umbrella should be in your luggage. If cruising with children, bring a few familiar toys, games and playing cards from home. If rain keeps everyone indoors, make it family time rather than sending your young ones into what could be an overcrowded kids club.

Cruising the Caribbean during hurricane season can be like any other time of year, especially in the early weeks of June and July. After that, when cruise prices drop, it’s important to realize there’s a chance that unforeseen weather conditions could spoil your vacation. Or, you might end up visiting a surprise port, have more family bonding time and relax knowing that if something unforeseen arises, your travel insurance has you covered.

How To Save Big on Airline Tickets and Catch the Best Airfare Prices

Published April 28, 2014  by The Thrifty Couple

As you are contemplating upcoming travel plans, some of you may be considering flights! Well, we want to share tips with you to help you get the best prices for airfare and the lowest airline ticket prices that you can nab!

There have been times in which flying became cheaper than travel by car for the two of us. Obviously, the more that are flying, the cheaper it will be to drive, but this isn’t always the case.  Especially when you consider the gas, wear on your vehicle, potential hotel stays, the food and the nickel and dime expenses – the price and convenience may make flying out the most attractive option.

Well, we have learned and have applied a few of tips and tricks and so we want to share with you as we continue with “thrifty” travel plans!

Here’s tips to help you get the best deals:

Sign-up for the airline’s deal alerts.

Especially airlines like Delta, Southwest and JetBlue, they will have these great one-way airfare sales that can make for great deals.  Southwest seems to be one of the most common airlines where you can find flights for $49 for one-way a few times a year.

Plan to travel on the best days.

This is one of the oldest and still truest rules about cheap airline travel.  Traveling on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday seems to render the lowest prices.  Think about it, one of the biggest supporters of airlines are the business travelers. Most business travelers need to arrive at their destinations on a Monday.  This makes Sunday, Monday and Friday (Friday as they return home after the work week) travel the highest. Well, it is still true!

Shop at the optimal day and time!

Now this trick is a widely advertised one….. but what is the optimal time?  That is a question that doesn’t necessarily have a definitive answer, but here’s the times/days that we and others we have known have nabbed the “best results.”

Airlines update their databases in the mid week and so because of this, Tuesdays and Wednesdays seem to be best. And then to refine even further, the best times on these days are between 12 am – 3 am EST on Tuesday morning or 1-3 pm EST on Tuesday afternoons.  We even have a good friend that stayed up until Tuesday morning to make an airline ticket purchase in those wee hours of the morning and got over $100 off the rates posted earlier in the day! That is a great savings for one ticket, but if you need to buy many, that is a HUGE savings!  We would tend to lean more towards the 12 am – 3 am times.  If you think about it, lots of travel being booked by travel agencies and businesses are during the business times and the prices will tend to be higher due to supply and demand.

Shop at the optimal time from travel date.  

This one is a debate and perhaps one that changes and needs to be considered.  For years, many of us have heard about the 7, 14, 21 days out being the optimal times.  But this doesn’t seem to be the case much anymore.  Perhaps with the widely known knowledge of this trick, it became obsolete.  Well, the newest experience seems to be either far out or last minute.  Most tickets are being purchased a few weeks out and they do seem to be in the higher ticket range. Some have the best experiences 6-7 weeks out or literally the week of (the week of as they fill their final remaining seats).  This does make travel planning difficult, but it is at least a tip to consider.

Have flexible travel dates and airports. 

The more options you have, the better the deal hunting will be.  We try to make almost all of our air travel flexible as this contributes to a vast amount of savings.  We have saved hundreds before just by leaving a day earlier or traveling a day later.

We personally haven’t had a ton of different airports to pick from for our departure airports, but this extra option for certain areas gives you even that much more flexibility.  We have changed our arrival airports (like Newark instead of New York and Long Beach instead of Los Angeles, etc.) and have saved tons on certain destinations with multiple airport options.

Check often and clear your browser history. 

This may sound weird, but do a search a couple of times a day at different times of the day and if you are not satisfied with the results, do it again the next day.  Airline ticket prices are unpredictable.  Even with the tips and tricks we share here, any one of these rules can be broken because there really are no rules.  So checking often and at different times for several days get’s your “bearings” on the flight you are hoping for.  We did this recently for a flight. For about a month, I would check a couple of different flight times at a couple of different times of the day and would get ranges almost $100 apart for the exact same flight.  But they would always be in the $300 range.  Sometimes low $300 sometimes high $300.  Well, then all of the sudden, the flight dropped to $229.  BUT….. in order to really see the best prices, you will want to clear your browser history!

Why?

Well, some travel and booking sites record your web browsing data and with this information, some of them will raise prices because they know you are interested in this flight! So by clearing your browser history, you can possibly find the original lower price or even a lower price!

Use travel sites to compare prices, but you might want to go with the airline directly.

We recommend check at different travel sites like Travelocity, Priceline, Kayak and more and see what prices they come up with! Honestly, there is not much change in prices between many of these sites and the airline directly.  So why do this?  Well, it gives you a quick glance at your options to decide which airline to go and work with directly.  But then working with the airline directly, you have a bit more flexibility, rewards and perks.  You will also want to book online to get their online prices.  The travel sites can be a great way to go if you are needing multiple parts to your trip (like hotel, car, etc.) but just airfare may be best with the airline.  Don’t forget, airlines too have travel packages which can save you a bundle! Southwest and Delta have some of the best packages for hotel and car with airfare that is out there!

Even if you don’t think you will ever earn enough for a free flight, always join the frequent fliers program. 

You never know, life may change and you may earn a free flight from frequent flying in your future.   But it is more than that – members of the frequent flier program receive special emails and snail mail deals.  Plus you can sometimes receive deals from their partners, like a hotel.  So even if you don’t fly to a destination, you might get a special hotel deal! It doesn’t hurt to be a member as it is free.  Plus, when you actually do infrequently fly as part of the frequent flier program, frequent fliers can sometimes receive perks on the day of your flight, even if it is just boarding the plan a little sooner.

Get an airfare refund if the prices go lower. 

Here’s a nice one! If your ticket prices go any lower than what you purchased them at, you can get a refund for the difference! Yapta.com is your source for details on your airline’s refund policy and being alerted to when you can claim a refund if your price drops!

Here’s a couple of “off the wall” tips:

  • Buy discounted gift cards to the airlines from places like Cardpool HERE.
  • Consider a red eye flight.  We did this once, and yes we saved a bundle, but it ruined our first whole day of vacation due to complete and utter exhaustion (you can read the story HERE). However, it is something to consider and may work with your travel plans.
  • Book one-way flights.  Sometimes booking this way will render some nice discounts, but not always. It is at least worth checking!
  • Book multi-stop flights. These are a pain and risky as the more flights you have the greater the risk of delays, but it could save you a good chunk of money!
  • Be bumped. This is more for a future flight instead of a current one.  If the opportunity presents itself, consider skipping a flight at the gate for an “over-booked” flight and you can end up with a free future flight. You will then be “bumped” to the next flight, which is often several hours later. We have personally done this 3 times in our marriage and it paid off big time with free tickets to use on a future flight and one of those three being bumping us to a flight the next day, so free accommodations that night.  My parents have also done this a number of times.  But you do have to consider how this alters your travel arrangements and needing to get back home or to your destination as it usually means coming home or arriving several hours to a day later.

What it’s like to take a Carnival “Fun Ship” cruise

Published on March 26, 2015

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Carnival Cruise Line’s affordable cruises manage an impressive balancing act. While there is always something going on, you also have time to relax and look at the sea, visit ports with beaches and other attractions and somehow the crew still finds time to make you and the thousands of other passengers feel pampered and special.

While the mainstream line once had a reputation for a more hedonistic atmosphere, that’s changed. Carnival is now focused on providing a family-friendly environment, where grownups will have fun and the kids will too. We’ve done many Carnival cruises, but our most recent was to Mexico on Carnival Freedom, from its new homeport of Galveston – where the “Fun Ship” line now has three ships.

Before we get to what we liked, we have to state one thing we didn’t: Smokers flocking to the casino produced smoke that permeated the Promenade and rose into a stairwell and even a few cabins. Carnival says it’s been testing ways to fix the problem including tweaking the air conditioning system. “We have already seen good initial results from these actions. Additionally we are testing new ionizers and UV lamps in the casinos on a few of the ships and will expand these to the rest of fleet if they prove to be successful in further reducing the smoke smell,” the line tells USA TODAY in a statement.

Here are 10 things we love about Carnival “Fun Ships” (offerings vary by ship).

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Casual eats: We can’t help ourselves, we’re suckers for Food Network star Guy Fieri’s thick, greasy, yummy burgers served at the poolside Guy’s Burger Joint. Nearby, at the Blue Iguana Cantina, start your day with the overstuffed breakfast burrito (you can add kick at the salsa bar). We also find it hard to pass up a slice of the hand-tossed Italian pizza at the 24-hour Lido pizza spot.

Dancing waiters: In Carnival’s main dining rooms, updated American-focused food and some surprises for the more adventurous (escargot, fried rattlesnake) are deftly handled. But it’s the waiters who steal the show when they start gyrating their hips and pumping their arms in choreographed moves to popular dance tunes.

Trivia: The Carnival “Fun Times” daily newsletter is packed with activities, ranging from a classic Hairy Chest Competition to a family game show involving giant versions of Hasbro toys. In vogue is trivia, and Carnival offers several contests each day – the lineup including Super Team, Turbo, sports, Elton John, “Kryptic,” general music and even Disney trivia.

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Comedy: No cruise line does adult comedy better than Carnival — thanks in large part to a clever affiliation with George Lopez. The comedy star helps Carnival attract topnotch comics, who perform in Punchliner comedy clubs. They are often hysterical and, especially at the adults-only (18+) shows, very naughty.

Music: Live music can be found all over the ship, from piano players doing sing-alongs to rock bands to great DJs to an acoustic guitarist plucking Jimmy Buffet tunes at the RedFrog Pub. High-tech Playlist Productions shows with singers and dancers, first launched on Freedom and expanding to other ships, are the main show lounge attraction – the 35-minute production is largely pre-recorded (the singers are live) but a whole lot of fun.

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Water fun: When they aren’t busy with activities in the Camp Ocean program, or splashing in the pools, older kids will squeal with delight on the twisting waterslide – and more elaborate WaterWorks water parks on some of the ships.

Dr. Seuss: The line’s recent affiliation with Dr. Seuss means passengers can meet such characters as Cat in the Hat and Sam I Am. While some of the parents and kids on Freedom didn’t seem to know the children’s books, they and their progeny still enthusiastically participated in such activities as a Seuss-A-Palooza Parade, Seuss-A-Palooza Story Time and a for-a-fee “Green Eggs and Ham” breakfast. On Freedom, there’s also a “Bookville” room where families can gather on beanbag chairs to read Dr. Seuss classics.

Carnival Live! Now in its second year, this live concert series brings top-rate performers onboard ships in ports for exclusive concerts for passengers. Tickets start at $20 to $40, and those who splurge on pricier VIP tickets add schmooze time with the stars. The spring lineup includes Rascal Flatts and STYX (and Little Big Town this week in Galveston).

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Serenity: For those adults who come on a cruise vacation to soak in the sun and relax there is the aptly named Serenity, a secluded adults-only sunning area with bar. Snag one of the shaded daybeds for two, face the sea and pretend you’re on your own private yacht. Speaking of adult attractions, don’t miss the spicy chipotle pineapple martini and other concoctions the mixologists whip up at the Alchemy Bar on the Promenade deck.

Towel animals: Carnival crew so expertly does towel animals, a nightly treat in your cabin, that the line even shares secrets in a book (available for purchase onboard). Do not miss the towel animal parade one morning, where the towel creations take over the main pool.

Who Has The Best Burgers At Sea?

Cruise vacations involve eating multi-course meals in fancy dining rooms and making choices from lavish buffet spreads, which is part of the fun. But at some point you may find yourself craving a simple burger. Cruise ships have you covered there too.

Check out the best burgers at sea on these cruise lines.

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Carnival: Food Network star Guy Fieri delivers thousands of fat, greasy and delicious burgers at his poolside, California surfer-themed Guy’s Burger Joint on several Carnival ships. The meat is 80/20 ground-chuck and you can have your complimentary burger topped with lots of cheese and Donkey Sauce (a secret mayo combo).

Silversea: You can get a burger day or night, either at The Pool Grill, in The Restaurant at lunch or via 24-hour room service, and it’s a yummy one. The chefs use USDA Top Sirloin to make the patties.

Seabourn: At the outdoor grill or via room service you can order a juicy, American-style hamburger or cheeseburger, made of high quality meat and served with fries. It’s a classic.

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Royal Caribbean:Just as on land, Johnny Rockets outlets on a dozen Royal Caribbean ships serve up burgers such as The Original, 1/3rd pound of all-natural beef on a bun, topped with shredded lettuce, tomato, chopped onions, relish, pickle, mustard and mayo. Accompany your burger with a shake, chili fries and apple pie. Cover charge $4.95.

Oceania Cruises: The best gourmet burgers at sea feature Black Angus Beef and are served at the Waves Grill onboard this upscale line’s five ships. Go classic or get one topped with Swiss cheese. There’s also a menu of crazy combos such as The Kobe Burger, made with Wagyu beef, topped with black truffle sauce and baby crass. It’s decadent and delicious.

Celebrity Cruises:Celebrity is in the process of redoing its Lido buffet areas into marketplace-like spaces where dishes are creatively packaged. This continues at the poolside grill, where you can get a tasty burger, wrapped in paper (like at a fast food joint) and crispy fries served in a miniature, paper-lined fry basket.

Holland America Line: While you can indulge in a filet mignon burger at the fancy, for-a-fee Pinnacle Grill, you can also dig into perfectly wonderful, complimentary burgers at Dive-In at the Terrace Grill. The poolside grills have signature burgers that are hand-formed, served on a toasted brioche bun and feature a “secret” sauce. The Gainer comes with a mound of crispy frizzled onions; The Cannonball with Gouda cheese, applewood smoked bacon and sweet caramelized onions. If you want a simple cheeseburger ask for The High-Dive.

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Norwegian Cruise Line: There are grills where you can get a patty on a bun, but the best burgers are at Cagney’s Steakhouse, where the menu includes Wagyu Beef Sliders. They’re on a bun, topped with caramelized red onions and come with apple & celery slaw. Have a second course of a Certified Angus Beef filet mignon, and don’t miss the truffle fries. Cover charge: $30 adults, $15 kids.

Crystal Cruises: The all-beef burgers are classic and the accompanying sweet potato fries put them over the top at the grills on Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity.

SeaDream Yacht Club: The chefs on the line’s two small ships want you to feel at home (if home is a sophisticated yacht). Order a beef burger, or if you prefer, see if they have any other choices such as buffalo or ostrich. You can have your burger delivered anywhere on the ship including to the hot tub or your lounge chair. The accompanying homemade onion rings are divine.