Part 2...Booking cruises, competitive prices...How we book our cruises...


Even a cloudy day has some appeal.
Yesterday, we described two important elements to booking cruises, one, "determining the starting prices" and two, personal preferences that determine the final cost of a cruise.  Here's the link yesterday's post, in case you missed it.

Over the past several days, as in the past when booking cruises, these factors come into play, as we just so happen to be in the process of booking two cruises to be finalized today receiving the booking confirmations by the end of the day.

View of the ocean as we drive further into Sao Vincente.
Here's some of our "why" and "what" of cruising:

1.  We enjoy cruising to various locations that we'll either visit for a short term or stay for as long as 89 days or longer, visas permitting.  In most cases, we choose one way cruises staying at the new location, rather than taking a "round trip" cruise which usually works best for most travelers.
2.  Appealing itinerary: Hopefully, with ports of call we've never visited in the past.
3.  The length of the cruise;  Befitting our preference for longer cruises as opposed to those three or four day cruises crowded weekend tourists.
4.  The quality of the ships and cruise lines: Often based on past experience.  We've never chosen a ship rated under 4 stars, in this case, Celebrity Solstice is rated a 5.5 and Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas is rated a 4.5 (older ships, although often remodeled within the past 5 to 7 years usually receive a lower rating than if new or newer).
5.   The final cost: Including the opportunity that most agencies offer of a price reduction if the actual cost of the basic cruise  is reduced prior to paying the final payment, usually up to 90 days before sailing.  Since we left the US on January 3, 2013 we've been able to be credited US $2000, EU $1468 on booked cruises on our first of eight* cruises.  It is the customer's responsibility to watch for price reductions promptly reporting them to the agency for a credit.  More than one price reduction is accepted.  But, if not reported promptly and the price goes back up, the credit is no longer available.  Check the free popular cruising site, www.cruisecritic.com for updates on price reductions.  Another site we use, for a small fee, automatically notifies  the customer by email of a price reduction.  For this check www.cruisefish.com which charges are based on the number of cruises booked. 
6.  Cabin selection;  Each ship has a "deck plan" that clearly illustrates the placement of all cabins, stairwells, elevators, and venues by number.  Before, we attempt to book any cruise with our chosen agent and agency, Anna Urban at Vacations to Go, we decide on 3 choices of cabins, in order of preference, which we provide to our agent, hoping to pin down one of the three which is relatively easy when booking early.
7. Researching prices at other agencies:  While in the process of preparing to book a cruise, we research other pricing offered by other agencies by using this free website:  www.cruisecompete.com which once we enter the cruise and our preferences, within hours we receive "bids" from other agencies.  Once we receive several bids, we request that our agency match the lowest bid which they do.

Many areas may look the same as we post photos here but, as we drive to various villages, we note distinct differences.
*(Error correction from yesterday's post: I miscounted past cruises, accidentally including two upcoming cruises in the next three months.  I stated that we've been on 10 cruises when in fact we've been on 8 with 2 more upcoming shortly which are not the same 2 cruises that we're booking today).

More hillside farming.
Many have asked us, "Why do we like cruising when we vigorously avoid crowds?" 
1.  We use cruising as a fun means of transportation, not a vacation.  It's easier than flying when we're in no rush.  We plan our vacation home bookings around cruises, not vice versa.  Cruising is relaxing and relatively stress free as opposed to flying.
2.  The are no fees for overweight baggage.
3.  We're housed, fed and entertained.  In most cases, when calculating the cost of flying, meals, and daily rates in vacation homes or hotels, the cost becomes more affordable.
4.  As for the crowds, we plan our time carefully avoiding venues at the most busy times, when possible.  Within a day, we settle into a comfortable routine we've found to be extremely pleasurable.  Plus, at night when dining in the main dining area, we chose "table sharing" where we are able to join a table for 6 to 10.  In most cases, we have a fabulous time meeting new people often making new friends. On occasion we dine alone in order to experience the specialty restaurants, usually at an additional flat fee per person.
5.  The small cabin, often under 200 square feet, 18.58 square meters,  isn't problematic for us.  We spend as little time as possible in the cabin.
6.  The chefs on all cruises have been 100% cooperative in complying with my way of eating.
7.  Attending educational classes and seminars has been a highlight on many of our cruises, often centered around historical and geographical topics concerning our itinerary.  If a movie theatre is available, we may attend an afternoon movie.  We don't nap.  Instead, a movie is an excellent form for relaxation for us both.

Although the roads are often steep and winding, the roads are in excellent condition.
Based on the above criteria, last night we notified our rep at Vacation to Go with the following on the two cruises we'd like to book, both in 2016, January and April:
1.  Preferred cabin numbers (3 for each ship)
2.  Choice of offered packages:  Celebrity Solstice has a 1-2-3 promotion now which includes the choice of:  one, an onboard credit of $300 or, two, prepaid gratuities at US $24 , EU $17.82 (in this case 14 days includes both of us) for a total of US $336, EU $246.68; three, identical beverage package required for both us at US $98, EU $71.98 per day for a total of US $1372, EU $1007.70. 
Although, I don't drink alcohol or sweetened beverages, it made economical sense for us to choose the free for two beverage package if Tom had four cocktails per day at the usual US $9, EU $6.61 (including tax and tip) the total for 14 days would have been US $504, EU $370.17 for the entire cruise.  Comparing this cost to the other choices, it made sense to choose the beverage package.  Plus, with my having the beverage package, my bottled water is included throughout the day. It was a no brainer for us.
3.  Charge the US $900, EU $661 deposit per cruise to our credit card number on file.

Weathered house situated in the hills.
Soon, our cruise confirmations will arrive in my email with the document as a web page.  I convert this to a PDF, placing a copy into the cruise folder on my desktop, saving it on the cloud and external hard drive and sending a copy to Tom's email.  Once we both have a copy we review it together for accuracy.  We've yet to find an error.



Once we arrived in the village of Sao Vincente, we drove through the neighborhood of well kept homes.
Over the next few days, we'll be posting the details, final cost and itinerary of each of these cruises enabling our readers to see the completion of the booking process.

This may seem complicated but, it has become a normal course of action as we strive to receive the best possible pricing, terms and accommodations ensuring a great experience, barring any unforeseen obstacles or incidences over which we have no control.

Peculiar tree.
Please check back tomorrow for the details and prices of these two exciting cruises.  At this point, we have 5 upcoming cruises.  This may seem to be a considerable number but, they are broken up as follows:
2 cruises in 2014
1 cruises in 2015
2 cruises in 2016

Of course, our primary concern in all of our travels is the budget and estimates and later, final cost per day.  Our goal is to secure affordable vacation homes to ensure that we stay within the budget in order to be able to include cruises in our travels.  So far, we've stayed on target.  And, it's entirely our responsibility to engage in diligent planning as we continue on this journey.
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Photo from one year ago today, July 6, 2013:

The entrance to many of the old stone houses in Boveglio, Italy were often decorated and appealing to the eye as in this house in the neighborhood.  For details of that day when we visited the local pub, please click here.

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