Published: January 4th 2009
January 4th 2009
I love to travel and so did my late mother. When I was 21, my mom took my two brothers and I on a Carnival Festivale cruise to San Juan and St. Thomas for Christmas. This was our first travel adventure outside of summer driving trips to Ft. Walton Beach, FL from New Orleans. My mom was quite thrifty, being born during the Depression, so this was a trip of a lifetime for our family. She bought the cruise with a small inheritance from her mother saying "Maman (she spelled it this way but we said Maw Maw) would want us to see the world with this money". I was hooked on travel and ocean travel from that point on. When my mother passed away in May 2007, I knew how I would honor her - with a cruise. We are taking this Mediterranean cruise aboard the new Celebrity ship, Solstice, in June 2009. My family (Husband and soon 9 year old daughter), known as the Hurricanes, selected a cruise as a great way to see a little of Europe with a 9 year old. We can pack and unpack just once and see plenty of sites over the 10 days.
We are joined on this cruise by 4 other cabins of friends and at the suggestion of the travel agent, are all reserved in the back of the ship with "shared balcony" rooms. We booked within the first 2 weeks of the cruise (April 2008) becoming available and then changed from the original 11 day cruise to the 10 day. Friends with us are celebrating a 25th wedding anniversary, while others are just enjoying an incredible departure from our usual 2 weeks at the beaches of South Walton. By booking far in advance, we were able to get the back of ship cabins together.
We have since seen the economic conditions change, mainly in our favor, as cruise prices have reduced some $300-$500 per cabin for the same June 5th cruise. The fuel surcharges have been reduced/removed saving us a little more (this is not confirmed but rumored). As a Captain's Club member, we are also able to take advantage of a $100 coupon that was published last month. To date, we have not paid any more than the $450 per person downpayment to reserve our cruise. My family (and each of the other families) have already saved $400 over our original anticipated costs. So, it pays to keep shopping your cruise, even after you book it!
By planning so far in advance and by selecting a cruise with a Friday departure (vs Monday) we found far more availability of frequent flyer awards. Travelling to Europe on awards in the Summer gets tight, especially on weekends. We depart on Wednesday June 3rd and arrive June 4th. I was able to book my family of 3 on Delta/AirFrance (ok there are 3 connections MSY/ATL/EWR/CDG/FCO but that was the really fun part) for 50k award level. Then I logged in for a friend and booked her family of 3 on Delta/AirFrance for the same 50K from ATL/JFK/CDG/FCO. I think the newly announced AirFrance partnership helped with availability of award travel! I found that there were no flights available for the 50k level when i tried MSY/FCO so I started piecing together a multi-destination ticket that priced out at 50K. Once I learned how to do that and which cities service Paris Charles DeGaulle (Air France partnership hub) the rest was easy. I was able to change my flight for $100 once I found better connections and was able to book all 3 of us (using every mile I had plus an advance from Amex Membership rewards). I tried moving 12000 valuable Starwood points to 12000 Delta miles but they arrived way too late for my needs. and are still sitting in my Delta account, useless! To anyone trying to move miles from hotel programs like Starwood and Marriot: By the time you have your trip held, there is not nearly enough time to transfer hotel miles. I don't believe the delays were actually explained properly on the website as I expected it to take about 48 hours as Amex does. This was a big dissappointment because Starwood says they would not reverse the miles, even though they arrived 8 days after I requested them. Oh well, the value of the airfare for my family is about $5500 and I paid about $900 for all the taxes and change fees (i changed my reservation 3 times). My last change in late August allowed me to change the departure date to allow that 3 day trip in Paris. This was after the increased mileage requirements were put into place. I kept calling Delta SkyMiles to try to get someone reasonable, who would allow me to just make a change to my existing 50k ticket and not consider it a "rebooking". I happily paid my $100 change fee per ticket versus coming up with an additional 30K miles per ticket.
Speaking of saving (and I know my mom trained me right), the Dollar to Euro exchange rate has changed from $1.60 to 1 Euro to as low as $1.26 to 1 Euro. Today's rate is near $1.40. The rate fluctuations as well as reluctance to travel by so many have reduced hotel rooms. They still aren't anywhere near what we pay in the States for a 4 star hotel but we are saving Euros versus summer 2008 pricing. We plan to stay 1 night pre cruise (Westin Excelsior using Starwood points) and 1 night post cruise (Marriott Park using Marriott rewards) in Rome. We have added a 4 day trip to Paris for myself and 1 other family.
All the flights, hotels, and airfare itineraries are now saved at tripit.com. Its an incredible site that you email your emails to! It publishes one itinerary and adds weather, maps, and other info as a full service travel agent might do. Its an incredible website that was mentioned in Travel and Leisure magazine last month. Another one is triporama.com - for planning group travel. Finally, i found this site so I can officially have my first blog. I'm looking forward to updating this with pictures and experiences for anyone who is still reading! HAPPY NEW YEAR!