Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Living the Dream: 2015 Disney Cruise Line Trip Report - Pre-trip

Okay, first off, let me introduce myself for those who may now know who I am.  The name’s Mush, and I’ve been a Disney freak for about ten years now.  After traveling several times with my family to the Walt Disney World resort, my wife (Sheri) and I became “those people” who helped plan out trips for friends and family members.

In early 2014, I started contemplating taking this trip planning to another level: since I do this for quite a few people all the time for free, why not do what I love and get paid for it at the same time?  Why not consider becoming a travel specialist?  It wouldn’t cost the people I help any more money; in fact, if I do things well, I could probably save them quite a bit of money than if they tried booking their trips themselves!  I could also help them with the actual itinerary planning, getting the My Disney Experience thing figured out, etc.  Yeah…why not?

So I did.

I have joined forces with two very good friends of mine at Starfish Travel, LLC, and I’m having an absolute blast helping people with their travel needs!

I anticipated that I’d have about 80% of my clients be friends/family and that they’d be using it for Disney World primarily.  I soon found out that I had the ratios flipped…the vast majority of my bookings are coming from referrals!  I consider this a VERY good thing, and I’ll take it any day of the week.

Being an economist, I don’t simply want to “put all my eggs in one basket”; I want to diversify, especially after I had three bookings coming in simultaneously and realized that I can handle an increased workload with travel planning fairly easily.  I decided to work at adding various cruise lines to my repertoire.  I don’t just want to start selling cruises, though, without knowing about them.  Sure, the various lines have their literature and their online programs that help agents familiarize themselves with the product, but I want to offer the same level of service with the cruise lines that I do with Disney World / Disneyland.  That means I need first-hand experience with the cruise lines.  The obvious choice for my first cruise experience: Disney Cruise Line (duh...told you that it was obvious).

There was a slight issue, however, that I knew I was going to have to deal with…my wife.  You see, Sheri is prone to motion sickness; I jokingly say that she needs Dramamine for the “it’s a small world” attraction at the Magic Kingdom.  As she is the “packer” of our family, I want her to go to see her perceptions of the ship: storage space, number of outlets, closets, etc.  There is another problem, too – she has seen the movie “Titanic” one too many times.  I had a significant task ahead of me: I had to convince someone who I love very much to take on what she considers a life-risking endeavor that she will likely be barfing on for the entire duration.

My tactic?  Get as many people as I could to talk up cruising to her!

If that didn’t work, I’d pour on the guilt… “I need to take this cruise so I can start selling cruises.  The longer I wait, the more bookings I’ll miss out on…”

If THAT one didn’t work, I considered just booking her without her knowledge and hitting her over the head with a club the day the cruise starts.  She’d come to after we leave port and will have no choice but to remain on the ship.

Luckily, I didn’t have to use that last option.

I presented it to her and she acquiesced fairly quickly, with a caveat: “if I’m sick the entire trip, you’re dead meat!”  I didn’t doubt her at all and took her at her word, so I started researching “how to keep your spouse from chumming the water on a cruise”.  She asked about price, and I went into this long diatribe about sailing seasons, room selections/locations, itineraries, etc.  When I woke her back up 45 minutes later, she said that I was the travel agent...do my job.

To avoid a sudden end to my life, I went with the shortest cruise that Disney offered: the 3-night Bahamas itinerary.  I recommended a time in September as it would still be warm and not in as high of demand as many other times of the year.  I casually forgot to mention that it was the peak of hurricane season in that area.  I opted for a mid- aft- stateroom with a balcony, which she agreed with.  Ba-da-bing…ba-da-boom…we were booked.  I was happy to hear that Cathy and Michelle, my friends who own Starfish Travel, seemed to agree that I made a decent selection for the booking, the option regarding transfers, the stateroom, etc.  As they have well over 100 cruises collectively under their belts, I took this as a sign that I might not be too terrible at this cruising travel agent thing after all.  In no time, we were booked (I did it quickly before Sheri’s buyer’s remorse set in).  For those interested, we decided to go with a Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah, Cat 5C, Stateroom 7158, with the 3-night Itinerary A to Nassau.  This cruise eventually also had the “Halloween on the High Seas” events added.

I won’t bore you with the logistical issues we had.  You see, we have three other family members, a 12 year old son involved in everything, a 10 year old son also involved in a bunch of stuff, and a 1 year old cat that doesn’t like being left alone in the house for more than 20 minutes.  The boys weren’t going to be going on this trip, despite their protests.  They had school, baseball, football, etc.  The cat, however, just wanted someone to be nearby so she could bite him/her.  It took planning that rivaled a military invasion, but all things were covered, and I’m happy to report that all of them are still alive after the trip and that one is happily gnawing on my arm (I’ll let you decide which one that is).

As I write this, I’ll be offering up a few pointers that might help you in deciding whether or not a cruise is right for you (hint: for most of you, the answer will be a resounding “YES!!”).

One of the first pieces of advice that I could give you would be to ARRIVE TO THE AREA THE DAY BEFORE EMBARKATION (the day your ship departs).  This helps out with stress and anxiety that comes with flying in the day of the cruise.  One single delay can instantly mess up an entire vacation if one chooses to arrive on the day of the cruise.  Remember that, just because your area might have nice weather, your inbound plane (or crew) might have 2-3 stops before it gets to your airport, and delays can hit anywhere.

The next piece of advice that I would like to offer to you is to BUY TRAVEL INSURANCE!!!  Things can come up unexpectedly (like a delayed/canceled flight, an illness, a lifestyle change (think job loss), etc.  Also, cruises have a final payment day that is much earlier than many other types of vacation.  At the time of this writing, Disney World, for example, has a 45 day final payment date.  Many hotels have a 5:00-7:00 pm cancel on the day of your arrival.  Disney Cruise Line has a 75 day final payment for regular staterooms and 100 day final payment for those staying in concierge units or suites.  Of course, that is for cruises of 5 nights or fewer.  6-9 night cruises have a 90 day final payment date for both regular and concierge staterooms/suites.  For those cruising on 10+ night itineraries, the final payment date is 120 for regular staterooms and 150 for concierge units.  Of course, these are all different for cruises classified as “holiday” cruises.  Oh, and, if you’re not departing out of a U.S. port, then it’s 120 days for regular staterooms and 90 days for suites/concierge.

Confused yet?

That leads to my third recommendation…USE A TRAVEL AGENT TO BOOK YOUR CRUISES!!  Yes, it has sort of a self-promoting feel to it, but, after going through the process, I can honestly say that I believe it to be 100% wholly true.  Imagine missing a payment date and having your booking canceled. What about traveling with a child but not both parents?  Will you need a Passport?  How does embarkation/debarkation work?  What is actually included in the price?  Are there any other fees that I don’t know about?  How about bringing on or buying alcohol?  This stateroom seems like an AWESOME deal…should I book it, or is it just below the dance club?  What is a Guaranty booking???  I’ll have your back on these things. I’ll also be watching for deals that might lower the price for you or get you into a better stateroom (or get you a little on-board credit to cover for the difference in the fare).  I’ll help you with selecting the right cruise line, ship, itinerary, and stateroom that fits best with what you’re looking for.

Before we start talking about the actual cruise, though, we have to get there (remember what I just said about arriving the day before a cruise?).  The next installment of the trip report will be looking at the arrival day!  Yes, folks, there will be pictures from here on out!

For those who might be unfamiliar with my writing style, I try to include a lot of detail, so it seems that you're with us on the trip.  You might picture yourself walking alongside us as we experience the vacation...that's the goal, at least.

With that, I suggest you buckle up, because this was an amazing trip!!!  Here we go...

Day 1, Part 1 starts HERE.

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