7 Ways to Make Your Cruise Even More Special

For a few extra bucks, you can make your cruise even more special.

 

Everything you need to have a good time is already included in the price of your cruise. You don’t need to spend one extra cent if you don’t want to. But you may want to budget for a few extras once you’re on board. Here are some of the main ways you can upgrade your experience as you sail the seven seas that will make your cruise even more special.

1. Specialty Dining

Every cruise ship has places you can dine for free. There is usually at least one dining room and a buffet. But most ships also offer alternative dining options. For a small fee, you can eat at a sushi bar, steakhouse, teppanyaki house, or pizzeria, for example. Prices usually range between $10 and $30, depending on the restaurant. Many ships also have a full-service cafe, where you can buy specialty coffees and pastries for a few bucks.

make your cruise even more special

2. Beverage Packages

Water, coffee, and tea are always available on typical cruises. Most also offer free juice at breakfast and some sort of water-based beverage, like iced tea or lemonade, throughout the day. But if you’re thirsty for a pop, bottle water, or anything with alcohol, you will need to open your wallet. But there’s a loophole. You can buy a beverage card that lets you drink as much as you desire, and it usually costs much less than you would spend overall buying one drink at a time. You can get either alcoholic or nonalcoholic versions of the card so the entire family can take advantage.

make your cruise even more special

3. Spa Treatments

Ships of all shapes and sizes have an on-site spa. But beware, the prices are typically well above anything your would spend on land. A massage typically costs at least $120 but can be close the $300 if you’re in the mood for a something more specialized, like a seaweed wrap. If you’re really looking to treat yourself, you can even get acupuncture, Botox, and cellulite treatments on many ships. But relax, there are a few affordable ways to pamper yourself on a cruise, such as a scalp massage, haircut, or manicure.

make your cruise even more special

4. Shore Excursions

If you’re not sure what you want to do when your ship docks at each cruise port, fear not. There are plenty of tour options available through the cruise line. They would with the best local tour companies and guides to make sure you have the best experiences on land. Whether you’re into adventure, culture, shopping, or history, they’ll have something for every taste. Parasailing over the open ocean, horseback riding on the beach, a cooking class at a local restaurant, a visit to the outlet malls—you’ll find it all and more at every scheduled stop.

make your cruise even more special

5. Celebrations and Gifts

Are you celebrating a special event during your cruise? For a small fee, you can arrange to have your room decorated with flowers, balloons, special signs, desserts, wine, and more. You can choose from a variety of themes, including birthdays, anniversaries, and bon voyage. Even if you’re not sailing, you can surprise a friend or loved one by contacting the ship in advance. You can also purchase cruise merchandise and other gifts in advance of sailing so that they’re waiting in your room when you get on board. I’ve secretly hoped someone would surprise with a celebration or gift, but alas…maybe they’ll read this post and get the hint.

Pro Tip: If your travel agent lets the ship know about your special day when you book the cruise, you may get a little something special for free. That’s right…I said free. On my last sailing, I got a gift card for a bottle of wine and a free photo of my choice from the photo studio. It was lovely.

make your cruise even more special

6. Photo Packages

Wouldn’t it be great if life were like the movies and every minute of your special getaway was captured on film (or digital thingamabobs)? Well, every cruise ship has a photo studio to do just that. Every time you get on or off the ship, a team of photographers will be on standby, ready to snap a shot of you at each port. At night after you’ve dressed for dinner, they’ll have impromptu portrait studios set up in strategic locations around the ship. You can even hire a photographer to follow you around for the day.

make your cruise even more special

7. Shopping and Sales

If you love to shop, you don’t even need to step off the boat to do it. Designer handbags, fine diamonds, and couture cosmetics are just some of the upscale items you can purchase in the ship’s boutiques. You’ll also find duty-free tobacco and alcohol, candies and chocolates, costume jewelry, cruise merchandise, cheap tees, and knick knacks. You want it, they got it. And they have special sales every evening. One night you might get a deal on scarves and sunglasses, while the next night there may be a special offer on earrings or t-shirts. The deals are often amazing.

make your cruise even more special

Pro Tip: You can purchase just about everything on this list in advance of your sailing by contacting your travel agent or accessing your online itinerary. You can even buy gift cards to make purchases in the ship’s shops. This way, you still don’t have to spend any extra money once you set sail.

These are some of the main ways you can make your cruise even more special. What other ways can you think of? Share them on the Wanderlust Wayfarer Facebook group.

5 Tips for Finding the Perfect Souvenir

Everyone wants a souvenir that will remind them of the fantastic time they had on vacation.

 

But finding the perfect token to represent your travels is harder than it sounds. You want a keepsake that brings a smile to your face every time you see it. But I bet more often than not you end up with something you found in the hotel lobby as you were rushing to flag down a taxi to the airport. When we don’t find the right thing, we tend to settle for anything. And when we get home, we toss it aside and forget about it all together.

As you’re flying, driving, or cruising to your next destination, consider these five tips to help you choose the best souvenir.

souvenir-doll

1. Collectibles

One of the easiest ways to avoid getting bogged down in the search for the perfect souvenir is to start collecting a specific type of object. Key chains, magnets, postcards, spoons, and shot glasses can be found in pretty much any place you visit. They’re small cheap, and easy to pack. My personal favorite: thimbles. That’s right…thimbles. I’ve been collecting them since I was 12, and I have one from just about every place I’ve ever been, which means I have hundreds and hundreds of them. They’re super small, can be found pretty much anyplace, and usually cost less than $2—unless you’re in Norway, where they cost $20. I also love “I ❤” shirts, which you can often snag for only $5 to $10. I plan to make them into a quilt one day…as soon as I make a friend who can sew.

souvenir-magnet

2. Destination

What is the place you’re visiting best known for? Canada is infamous for maple syrup. And let’s not forget about Belgium and its delicious chocolates. Do a quick Google search to find out what people in the area are known for producing and bring that back as a memento. And don’t worry too much about how much you’ll have to spend on your destination-dependent souvenir. You’ll find a range of prices, from cheap knockoffs to handcrafted keepsakes. It all depends on how much you care about authenticity.

When I was in the Black Forest, I shelled out a couple hundred dollars for a traditional cuckoo clock made by a local wood carver. But a few weeks later when I was in Istanbul, I bought a pair of $10 mosaic glass lanterns that were probably made in China. I love them all equally despite their varying levels of authenticity, and I think of happy times whenever the clock strikes the twelve or I flip the switch on one of those lamps.

souvenir-lantern

3. Budget

How much do you want to spend? Give yourself a budget and stick to it. This will help you decide what’s really important to you and what’s not. If you want to put the majority of money toward your actual travels, you may have a more limited budget. A key chain or magnet may be right up your alley. But if you’re all about authentic reminders of the places you’ve been, you’ll want to set aside a loftier budget.

One of my favorite things to do is find an article of clothing made by a local designer. I try to minimize the amount of money I spend on any other items so I can put my money toward one fabulous piece. To aid this endeavor, I avoid chain stores that I can find back home and only venture inside one-off boutiques. In the end, I probably spend less overall because I’m not buying a bunch of stuff I don’t need. I focus on that one item.

souvenir

4. Size

If you’re like me, you don’t have a lot of room in your suitcase to bring things home once you’ve packed all of your gear. So, size matters. Consider how you’re getting your special souvenir home. If you want something you can tuck into the side of your suitcase, a shot glass is perfect. But if you’re open to paying for shipping or are willing to lug around an extra bag for the rest of your trip, it can open up a whole new world.

I can fit two or three thimbles in my change purse, so they are the ultimate keepsake when I’m looking for something small. But remember that cuckoo clock I got in Germany? I was too cheap to pay shipping and duty charges, so I made my husband lug it all over Germany, Switzerland, and Turkey. I won’t be doing that again.

souvenir-eiffel

5. Use

Before you buy that neon fiber-optic Eiffel Tower ask yourself what you’re going to do with it when you get home. I know, you’ve always wanted a pair of wooden clogs from Amsterdam, but maybe a clog key chain will do the trick. A good souvenir is something you will cherish forever. It fits your décor or is a perfect addition to your wardrobe.

I know you’re dying to know what I did with that cuckoo clock. Do I cherish it, or has it been tossed aside? Before I even considered spending a single penny, I knew exactly where I would display it in my house. It’s the first thing you see when you walk in the door. Now that’s money well spent.

souvenir-clog

Over the years, I’ve had my fair share of buyer’s remorse. I just had to have that sailor hat with my name embroidered on the side from Disneyland, even though I only wore it for the three days I was in the park. And don’t even get me started on that olive oil shampoo from Greece that dried out my hair. You win some, you lose some. But nowadays, I try to follow these five tips to make sure I come home with a souvenir that’s right for me.

What types of souvenirs do you look for? Are you someone who buys gaudy knickknacks only to regret it when you get home? Or have you finely honed your souvenir shopping skills? Share your stories with the Wanderlust Wayfarer Facebook group.

 

 

5 Reasons Why You Should Take Cruise Vacations

It’s no secret that I love cruise vacations. But I didn’t always.

 

At first, I thought cruising was cheesy and only for people who didn’t really care about seeing the world “for real.” Now, I know that notion is completely ridiculous. There are so many benefits to cruise vacations, especially if you have limited time and a shoestring budget.

So Many Stops

cruise vacation

I want to see as much of the world as I can, and I want to do it now. The great thing about a cruise vacation is that you can sample all sorts of places and decide which ones to come back to later. Most longer cruises stop at several ports. Some are awesome, and others not so much. If I really love a port, I plan a trip there later so I can spend more time exploring the area.

All-inclusive

cruise vacation

Cruise vacations are all-inclusive for all intents and purposes. Once you’ve paid for your cabin, you don’t need to pay a penny more if you don’t want to. There are typically a handful of free places to eat on a cruise ship, and you can always get water, juice, tea, and coffee for free. Don’t forget about the Broadway-style shows, dance parties, competitions, sports, and more. Oh, and the ice cream. There’s always free ice cream!

If you want to splurge for extras, like alcoholic beverages, shore excursions, massages, and upscale dining, you can even pay for them in advance. This way, you have no surprise extra charges when you disembark.

Pro tip: Be sure to pre-pay your gratuities before your cruise vacation. There’s really no way to get out of the daily fee, so you might as well take care of the tab in advance. This will leave you in the free and clear so you don’t have to worry about blowing your budget later.

Super Safe

cruise vacations

After the sun sets in a foreign land, I’m always a little concerned about hitting the streets for a night out. On a cruise vacation, you always have lots of safe places to go at night. And again they’re always included in your cruise fees. You can sing along at a piano bar or karaoke, have cocktails in the atrium, or watch a stage show. The likelihood of something untoward happening to you on a cruise ship is pretty rare. You’re not likely going to be pickpocketed or fall overboard. Unless you’re acting inappropriately–like sitting on the balcony railing in your cabin, you don’t need to worry.

Home Base

cruise vacation

One of the things I appreciate most about a cruise vacation is that I have a home base for my entire trip. I can unpack and stay for a while. I don’t need to worry about coordinating trains or booking tours. The captain will take me where I need to go. And when I get there, people will be waiting to help me find my way. Sometimes you simply don’t want to lug your bags from one place to the next. Bus tours also take you to several places in one trip, but you have to pack up every few nights and move on. On a cruise ship, you can kick back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

Cost Conscious

cruise vacation

Cruise vacations can be very inexpensive. If you’re willing to stay in an interior cabin with no windows, you can get a steal of a deal. I just took an 11-day NCL cruise to the Canary Islands for under $950 per person. That works out to $86 per night. Where can you get a better rate than that for all you can eat, transportation to another place, above-average accommodations, and tons of entertainment?

These are just a few reasons why cruise vacations can be a great way to travel affordably. What are your reasons for cruising? Head to the Wanderlust Wayfarer Facebook group and share your ideas.

Cheap Places to Stay: 5 Tips for Luxe Accommodations at Affordable Rates

I like a nice hotel. But I especially like when I find cheap places to stay that make me feel like a princess despite their low price.

 

When I’m traveling, I prefer to stay someplace authentic with a little local flavor rather than at a big-name chain. Regardless of where I am, I like to be in the lap of luxury…or at least someplace cute or quaint. If you can relate, follow these handy-dandy tips and tricks to help you find cheap places to stay that still have a high-class vibe.

cheap places to stay1. Compare different websites

I usually start my quest for cheap places to stay on a hotel metasearch like Trivago. Before Trivago, I would spend countless hours searching half a dozen different travel websites at a time. Now, Trivago does that work for me. It searches bunches of other travel sites, including some of my faves like Expedia, Travelocity, Booking.com, and Hotels.com. Then it displays the prices listed on each of those other sites for every available hotel in the date range and location you’ve indicated. From there, you can select the one with the lowest rate.

Regardless of which site you use to search for accommodations, your bound to get a whole bunch of results…like hundreds. Rather than sift through all of the options, I always narrow my search further by star rating and district. If I know I want to stay in three-star hotel in Anaheim, there’s no point looking at four-star hotels in Newport, for example. Then I sort by lowest price first. Sometimes you can find high-end hotels mixed in with lower-priced places. There are often special rates or promotions you may miss by jumping past modestly priced listings.

Once you’ve vetted the list to a few top options, it’s time to take your search to the next level. Go to the hotel’s website to see if there are any special offers for booking direct. Even give them a call. Sometimes you can sweet talk your way to a bit of an extra deal. And don’t forget to search the web for promo or discount codes. A quick Google search can often yield fruitful results.

hotel-7873832. Consider a Bed and Breakfast

Bed and breakfasts (BnBs) offer a different kind of accommodation. I’ve stayed in some that are, quite literally, a bed in a person’s home. Nothing flashy, just a bed in a private room. Other times, I’ve stayed in apartment-style buildings with multiple rooms over numerous floors that greatly resemble a boutique hotel. Each type of BnB has its own panache.

A great thing about BnBs is they come in a range of prices and are often more affordable than hotels. They can be simple and modest or over-the-top. Many are nearby main attractions, while others are off the beaten path. Regardless of your preference, there is something for everyone.

Since I like a little local flavor, if I’m having trouble finding a hotel that suits my tastes, I always turn my search strategy to BnBs. And if I can’t find an affordable hotel, I am certain I will always find a modest BnB to put me up for a few nights. And as you can tell from their name, the cost always includes breakfast. Did I mention BnBs are my go to for smaller towns, such as Lewes or Salisbury, England. You can find really cute, quaint BnBs in these places that give you a sense of how the locals live.

In fact, the opportunity to mingle with locals and others from around the world is one of the things I like best about BnBs. Typically, the owner puts out a lovely breakfast spread of fresh fruits and breads, jams, pastries, and more. Some may even cook eggs according to your personal preference. You can chat about living local and get a real feel for the place you’re visiting. Often other guests may be eating at the same time. BnB dining rooms are usually fairly cozy, giving you a chance to learn about their cultures as you eat. Maybe you’ll even learn about a new place to visit.

cheap places to stay3. AirBnB Availability

A recent favorite for me when it comes to cheap places to stay is AirBnB. When a friend of mine told me two years ago he was renting his place to strangers using this new online arrangement, I thought he was nuts. Then I checked it out and realized the fabulousness of it all.

Six months ago I got a reminder about a cruise I had booked a year earlier and had forgotten all about. I always like to arrive a few days early to check out the departing port, which in this case was Barcelona. Unfortunately for me, there was a massive mobile conference that week, and even hostels were selling for hundreds of dollars each night. That’s when I remembered AirBnB. And boy am I glad I did. I got the most amazing private apartment for a fraction of the cost—$500 total for four nights. It was Spanish to the extreme, close to everything, and the host was divine.

On AirBnB, you can find everything from private apartments to single rooms. There’s quirky comfort or lavish luxury. Many owners are incredibly welcoming, offering tailored arrival information, maps, suggested activities, discounts to local amenities, and more. One apartment owner even let me have a package shipped to the residence in advance! AirBnB is quickly becoming my favorite way to find cheap places to stay that offer luxury and a taste of local living.

cheap places to stay4. Stay off the beaten path

I know it’s great to be right in the heart of the action, but sometimes your budget just won’t stretch that far. This happened to me on a recent stay in New Orleans. I wanted to stay on either Royal or Bourbon Street, but the cost was a little out of my league. One block in the opposite direction—literally a two-minute walk to the infamous Famous Door live music venue—I found Dauphine Orleans. This top-rated hotel was well priced and had all the luxury amenities I love.

You don’t have to go far from the main attractions, unless you want to. But sometimes looking even just a block or two from the hottest spots can bring you surprising deals, not to mention a bit of peace and quiet at night since you’ll be away from all the late-night carousing.

Since the rail system in Europe is so simple, sometimes I look as far as nearby towns for cheap places to stay. They’re less popular than their big-city neighbors, so you can usually get way more bang for your buck. And little towns can be a lovely way to experience a less touristy look at daily life.

cruise-ship-6377335. Choose to Cruise

It’s no secret I take a lot of cruises. I’d love to spend more time in each place I visit, but I have limited time and money. Cruises allow me to see a lot of places for a more-or-less all-inclusive rate. All your food and accommodations are included in the price you pay up front. Aside from alcohol, gratuities, and anything you buy onboard, you never need to take out your wallet.

I often book an interior stateroom when I cruise. The way I see it, if I’m spending all my time sitting in my room, I’m cruising wrong. Interior cabins are often ridiculously well priced. Remember that Barcelona cruise I mentioned earlier? All in, it cost less than $950 for 11 days on NCL Epic, one of the most impressive ships at sea. You simply can’t beat a deal like that.

If you’re worried about being cooped up in a room with no windows, fear not. There are plenty of open decks up top where you can sit and watch the world float by. Besides, balcony cabins only offer you a view of one side of the world, and from up top, you get a 360-degree view. But if you’re a bit claustrophobic, you can often upgrade to a room with a window for a few bucks more per person per night. It’s still a steal.

Pro tip: be sure to check the cost of your cruise from time to time. Ships often reach capacity with many empty rooms still available. More than once I’ve found the same cabin for less money a few weeks prior to departure. Most cruise lines will honor the lower rate. Occasionally, I’ve even been upgraded for free or got a deal and a half on an upgrade after boarding the ship.

Follow these handy tricks for hunting down cheap places to stay, and you can make every vacation both luxurious and affordable.