Tales from Past Experiences with Assigned Dinner Seating

Dinner for two?  Or four, six, eight or twelve?   When booking a cruise, other than selecting  a stateroom by type and location, the most important questions you may be asked are regarding dinner preferences.   Do you want the early or late seating  (on most ships) ;  would you like  a large or small table?

 

Years ago, my answer was: a table of no more than six or eight and for late seating.   We thought it would be fun to meet people who shared our love of travel.   Eating late meant more time ashore in ports with time to rest back on the ship before dinner.

 

Back then our cruises were seven to ten days, we were younger, and that plan worked well, meeting interesting people most times, until…..!

 

Three table changes on a weeklong cruise to Bermuda (still my personal favorite cruise destination if one only has seven days) convinced us to reevaluate our dining options.   Twenty years later, I still remember that week. .  The first evening, we sat at a table for six.   Unfortunately, the other four were a family travelling together who never spoke to us after an initial hello.   So the maitre’d moved us.

 

Second night, we were placed at a table with a couple who spent most of the time arguing with one another.  And when they weren’t arguing, they felt the need to tell us in exquisite detail about every cruise they had ever taken—which in turn led to more arguing over dates and locations of these cruises.

 

The third night we sat at a table with three other couples who were pleasant enough, but in order to talk to one another, my husband and I had to shout across the table.   (The people who arrive at dinner first often determine who sits where as later diners arrive.)

 

The fourth night, the maître d’ suggested a table for two, something new for us, and we have never looked back.

 

We are far from anti-social.  Some of our closest friends started out as shipboard acquaintances.   But we met them originally at breakfast or lunch, playing Trivia, or sitting out on deck.   We met them on shore excursions, playing bridge,  and at cocktail parties.   But not at dinner.

 

It turns out that we love to eat at a table for two.    Dinner is our time to relax after a long day, talk about what we have done separately or together, and perhaps plan for the next one.   Sometimes, it is nice just to sit quietly.    We don’t have to wait until everyone has arrived for a waiter to take our order, or try and focus on what someone else wants to discuss when we are not particularly interested.   And if we don’t feel like eating in the dining room one night, we do not need to explain our absence.   It works well for us.

 

But our choice isn’t right for everyone.  We have friends who prefer sitting at the largest tables.   For them, dinner is the time to meet people, laugh and tell stories over several bottle of wine, and enjoy the camaraderie of being with new people.   Which is, of course, why ships offer so many options at dinnertime.

 

There is always a casual dining venue or even dinner delivered to your stateroom.    Open seating  allows passengers to choose to eat alone or with others on any given night at a time of one’s choosing. We often opt for that rather than a set dinner time.

 

And then there are the specialty restaurants.   While there is always a main dining room, the new larger ships may have ten our more dining venues, and an equal number of bars and lounges.    Even older ships have been converting space into small specialty restaurants to offer passengers more choices in dining experiences.

 

Sometimes the smaller restaurants are free, and others have varying prices as would happen at land-based restaurants.  One can dine on sushi one night, Italian the next, Chinese, Mexican, Indian, French, American steakhouse and vegetarian.   There are even ship-based branches of land-based restaurants, and guest chefs contribute recipes that are served some nights in the dining rooms.   And my personal favorite is not exactly a dinner option—it’s the little gelato stands that have begun popping up on ships.

 

When you board a ship and look at the little card propped up on the desk in your stateroom or suite, it shows your table seating for the cruise.   Take a stroll to the dining room, check out the location and size of the table, and if you aren’t pleased, join the queue of other passengers waiting to change their tables to something more to their liking.  You are paying for the cruise, and you have the right to have your meals in a manner you choose.

 

I am not afraid to laugh at myself.  One time, long ago, I was not happy with our table placement—I wanted to be near a window.   A friend had advised tipping the maître d’ in advance as a method of ascertaining what one wanted.   When my turn came, I stepped up to the counter, said what I wanted and handed over an envelope with some money.  The man pocketed the envelope, studied the chart, and said “I will add your name to the list for the maître d’ when he comes later.”   Oops!

 

 

While you are digesting (poor pun) these dining suggestions, it all assumes you are travelling without friends or family.   What happens on those occasions are the topic of the next installment.  In the meantime, grab a glass of wine or a bowl of gelato, and sit down with a cruise brochure to think about where you want to travel next—and then call Ken to help you make it a reality.

 

Happy planning!

What to do on the Ship?

It is not uncommon for me to hear someone say “I would love to take a cruise, but my spouse, partner, or travel friend is afraid the time on the ship will be boring.”

Sea life is not for everyone, but often that is because a common perception is that time aboard the ship is one of two scenarios.   Sitting and reading in a deck chair or sunning by the pool is one old-fashioned version of days at sea.  Another is a crowded mega-ship with hundreds of children, large noisy casinos and lots of young singles celebrating while you want peace and quiet.

And yes those options do exist, but that doesn’t have to be your vacation.

Since people associate cruising with food, let’s talk about that first.   From the famous High Teas with white glove service served on Crystal and Cunard ships to the 20 plus specialty restaurants on some mega-ships, there is a cuisine to suit everyone’s taste.  Mexican, Italian, Asian, French, Brazilian, English Pub Food, or American regional specialties–you will find it at sea.   Specialty bakeries, gelaterias, pizzerias, sushi bars and ice bars–they are all found on ships.   Restricted or special diet—ships  accommodate that as well.

Worried about gaining weight from too much good food?  Crystal Serenity offers Deck Walking programs that allow you to tone up and work off extra calories in the fresh air with ocean views.  And of course, there is always the gym.

Want to be pampered?  Try and hour or a day at a specialty spa such as Canyon Ranch SpaClub found on Crystal ships among others.

Pampering is not just for adults.  For generous parents or grandparents taking families on a Disney ship, the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique offers packages ranging from a couple hours to three days of hair, makeup and costumes for children ages 3 to 12.  Other cruise lines also have specialty programs for children, tweens and teens, including babysitting options for the adults who want time for themselves.

How about a little personal luxury?   Be treated like royalty in suites that offer butler service and concierge lounges.

Don’t want to get dressed up for dinner?   Norwegian Cruise Lines has no formal dress code, and even jeans can be worn in their dining rooms.

Want to get away from other people’s children because you left yours at home?   Many ships offer ‘adult only ‘ pools, spas and other spaces.

Miss being on dry land?  The Solstice Class Celebrity cruise ships sport half acre parks with actual green grass lawns where passengers can picnic, play bocce or sit on the grass and read or tan.

Today’s ships offer lecture series, trivia teams, and performances ranging from classical music and comedians to the Blue Man Group.   Art classes, book review groups, bridge sessions, language and computer classes can take up many interesting hours at sea.  Queen Mary 2 offers acting workshops with professional actors from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts on their famed transatlantic crossings.

And if for some reason you want to know what is happening in the world you have left behind, there are daily condensed versions of international newspapers, internet, and television available in staterooms.

And then there are specialty theme-based interest cruises focusing on topics such as arts, sports or fashion, to name a few.

Who knows, maybe what you really do want is just a day sitting on your verandah, with a cool drink, a book and a view of the sea!  I can arrange that for you!

Smooth seas and calm winds,

Ken

Why use a travel agent??

You want to take a cruise.  Everyone knows there are cruises to the Caribbean, Hawaii and Alaska, but you would like to do something different?   Maybe you would like to do something more intellectual, creative or adventurous.

 

How do you find out about that cruise?  That is why a travel agent is important, and how I can help you.

 

Yes, you can book directly through a cruise line.  But in doing that, you are restricted to planning a vacation only with that line, and not necessarily at the best possible price.  And unless your heart is set on a specific cruise, on a specific date, on a specific ship, perhaps there is something out there that might strike your fancy.

 

Once again, this is where I can help you with my professional expertise.

 

As cruising has become more popular, ships have not only grown larger, but more creative in options they offer to passengers.

 

To whet your appetite, these are but a few of the possibilities for you to consider when booking a vacation.   The small luxury Crystal Cruises is recognized not only for their fine cuisine but also for the quality of their onboard lecturers.   Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 has a kennel for up to 25 of your furry family members as well as the only planetarium at sea and a 6000 book library.   The small luxury yachts of the French company Ponant will be introducing lounges under the waterline with portholes so the passengers can watch the sea life float by.   And Ritz Carlton will be introducing smaller cruise ships able to dock at smaller ports than larger ships in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean.

 

Seabourn Cruises has a shore excursion program visiting UNESCO World Heritage sites.  And while you can always explore the world’s markets on your own, some Seaborun chefs will take you shopping with them as they hunt for fresh fruits, vegetables and fish in some destinations.

 

There are ships with a limited number of two story suites, and ones that are developing personal plunge pools.   Are you a grandparent who wants a family cruise, but not the hustle and bustle of the mega-ship that your grandchildren want to experience?  Norwegian is one of the cruise lines offering special accommodations-–theirs is called The Haven– an area of the ship that can only be entered with a key card, a restricted pool, restaurant and amenities, so that while the children and grandchildren are playing at the ship’s waterpark, you are having a day of luxury.

 

And then there are all the wonderful places in the world to visit, from the Galapagos Islands to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.  Sail to the ends of the earth, Arctic or Antarctica, or cruise 900 miles up the Amazon River to Manaus, Brazil—perhaps on the same vacation where you attend Carnival in Rio

As a travel professional, I can tell you about these and other cruise and travel opportunities.  Vacations and holidays are what we all look forward to and we all want it to be as perfect as possible.  We all want to fulfill our personal dreams of what we want from our travel experience.

 

So give me a call so I can help tailor the perfect vacation for you.

 

Smooth Seas and Calm Winds,

Ken

Airplane VS Cruise Travel – What do you prefer?

‘Can I get there from a ship, or do I have to take an airplane?’ That
might be the question I am asked most often.
The desire to visit far-off and exotic places is ages old, but only in the
past one hundred years is it a realistic possibility for most of us.
Airplanes have made travel convenient; cruise ships have made it
luxurious. And while it is common knowledge that one can travel by
ship to the great ports of the world, including Hong Kong and Sydney,
Australia, two of my personal favorites, it is also possible to visit inland
locations, like the Taj Mahal, or Xian, China, while on a cruise.
Air travel can be trying enough if someone is going to one destination,
say New York to Paris, or L.A. to Tokyo. But what if you want to visit
Tokyo, Hong Kong , Singapore, Sydney, Australia and Honolulu on a
single vacation. Not to mention all the packing incumbent on such a
journey—my wife and I can fill a single suitcase with just our shoes! We
have now gone from difficult to overwhelming.
Now imagine boarding a luxury cruise ship. Within five minutes of
being greeted at the entryway by a white-gloved steward who carries
your hand luggage, you are having a glass of champagne, sent to your
stateroom by your thoughtful travel agent, and waiting for your luggage
to be delivered. In some instances, a helpful steward or butler may
even do the unpacking for you! And for the next two weeks to four
months, you have just arrived in your home away from home.
And while you are sitting there relaxing, perhaps nibbling the chocolate covered
strawberries that arrived with the champagne, you realize that
not only are you being pampered in luxury surroundings, but the stress
that would normally accompany transitions between airports, cities and
countries is gone. You are now free to accumulate wonderful
experiences and great memories of new and exciting destinations. For
now you are on your way to Tokyo, or India, or Florence, or Monaco, or
maybe all of them in a single marvelous cruise! The world is waiting for
you to explore from the comfort of your suite.
And here is where all the careful planning you and I have done together
has become so valuable. Not only has my team matched you with the
perfect ship for your lifestyle, but we have helped select the itinerary
that provides the destinations you most want to visit in the time frame
you have chosen. We have helped you with the advance planning for
shore excursions that will actually land near the South Pole on
Antarctica, or take you on a three day safari in South Africa, or a three
day trip to Xian and Guilin in China.
One 2019 World Cruise stops in Sydney, where you can disembark for a
two day train journey across Australia, where a second cruise ship will
take passengers on the continuation of the World Cruise. And you won’t
have to lift a single piece of luggage!
And this is just the beginning. The world really can be your oyster!!
Next time: how to pack, what to bring, and making the mot of the space
in your suite!
Smooth Seas and Calm Winds,
Ken Heit

Why I Became a Travel Agent – Ken Heit

Iceland 2015

A few weeks ago, I was having drinks with a friend who asked why I became a travel agent. I have always loved travel and adventure, and the opportunity to have a career that focused on what I personally enjoy, after a successful business career, was too tempting to pass up.

Now, more than 25 years later, I have taken 63 cruises, travelled to all 7 continents, and visited many of the more exotic destinations in the world. For me, being a travel agent with a specialty in upscale cruising, is more than just making a booking and sending E-tickets to a client. I want to be certain that each and every person is matched with the cruise and ship best suited to that individual, to make your personal adventure as customized as possible.

Jost Van Dyke, Virgin Islands 2012

For my team, your enjoyment is our priority. We want you to get the best out of you’re your vacation, your time and your money!

To that end, this Blog will address questions I have been most frequently asked, information that I feel will make your cruise more enjoyable, and sometimes just fun facts—like where to go for tapas in Barcelona or where to find the best gelato in Gibraltar!

On a serious note, over the years I have learned that most people aren’t even aware of the many options available to them when booking a vacation. Everyone seems to know they can take a cruise to the Caribbean, Alaska or Hawaii, and that for the wealthy with time to spare, a cruise can be as exotic as sailing around the world. Phineas Fogg might have travelled around the world in 80 days, but it does take longer on a ship!

Egypt 2011

However, there are many options in between these two, including traveling as far north as the Arctic Circle and as far south as Antarctica. And while one does need the time to travel around the world, it’s not just for the very well-to-do.

In the ensuing weeks and months, I will share my knowledge, and look at issues you might not even have considered yet. Upon occasion, another one of my team members, who is a veteran of more than 100 cruises, might sneak in an occasional column addressing issues from her viewpoint, such as women as solo travellers.

Mumbai India, Buddha born under this tree .. 2014

For now, I hope you look forward to the next installment in a week: Can you travel anywhere in the world if you are a non-flyer?

Smooth seas and calm winds.
Ken Heit