Saturday, December 8, 2012

Home from the Caribbean, and Back in the Saddle.

Hey there friends, it's good to be back home, and back to writing again!  My wife and I just returned yesterday from a week long vacation cruising the western Caribbean.  It was so nice to get away for our 10 year anniversary, and to see a new place in the world.  I do however apologize that you have not seen any new material on here during that time.  We plan on making that up to you over the next couple of weeks!

This is a little off topic as far as hunting, fishing, and Utah outdoors goes, but I want to share a bit of our vacation with you.  The main reason being is that I can't believe that it took me so long to go on a vacation like this.  As I have mulled that thought over so many times in my mind, I realize it is because of 2 things; worry of the cost, and worry of the difficulty of arranging a trip like this.  As I have talked to so many others I realize I am not alone in those to concerns.  I regret not doing this sooner, and want to encourage our viewers to see that it really isn't all that hard to do, and the world is an amazing place to get out and enjoy.  I love Utah, but there's so many other outdoor adventures out there to be enjoyed.

New Orleans
Our "arranging" for our trip started back in July/August.  This is when we first started talking about going, and looking into the ins and outs of it all.

Getting Started:  Getting the ball rolling was tough.  I have a fear that I easily get screwed on price on every costly thing I get involved in.  So, there was the constant feeling in the back of my mind that we would pay, then find out down the road there was a better way to do things.  It seems people always find better deals than I can.  We started by looking directly at cruise line sites.  Step 1 was finding a date range that worked, which was easy enough.  Step 2, finding the best deal.  It was easy to see an inside cabin without the window option was going to be the most cheap way to go, but no big deal.  Still, we worried about getting a deal that was good.  We went to a travel agent next, just to compare.  I was surprised to find the travel agent holding the same price as the ship.  I fully expected a travel agent to charge more, and had no idea that the person booking a trip doesn't usually pay the travel agent extra.  The resorts and ships pay that fee for getting them the business!
Great plane!  Did they know I was coming?

 Airlines:  The next hurdle was the airfare. I always feel like I get taken to the cleaners on airfare!  Of course to save costs we started with red eye flights.  I just couldn't seem to find the cheap rates I hear everyone talk about through any airline, Priceline, Expedia, you name it.  So, back to the travel agent.  We were hooked up with flights at very reasonable times, not bad layovers, everything just lined up at cheap rates.  Things were looking up!  We adjusted our flights and cruise itself to allow us to fly into New Orleans, and take a 5 day cruise of the Western Caribbean.  Flying to New Orleans saved considerably vs. flying to Florida to cruise to the same destinations.

Shore Excursions:  This is one area where the travel agent didn't seem to help a lot.  You can book your shore excursions through travel agents, or directly through the cruise ship.  I didn't care for the prices on the ship, or through the agent.  Our 2 stops were Progreso and Cozumel, Mexico.  Progreso was tough, there was very little out there we could find for shore excursions at good prices, so we opted for a Mayan Ruins/Beach Resort combo through the cruise line booking. 

My barracuda.  Not a huge one, but cool for sure
However, for Cozumel where we wanted to get in on deep sea fishing, I simply found a way cheaper deal through a company there that is very good about honoring cruise ship arrival and departure times, but does not work directly with the ship.  Fishing wasn't the best that day, but the process was smooth, our guides spoke great English, and took care of us.  There were many more options other than fishing through cheaper means in Cozumel, and there is a lot to do in Cozumel for sure!  Also, there were several options in Progreso that involved touring Mayan ruins.  We opted for a tour that was closer (shorter bus ride) and allowed you to actually walk around on and in the ruins.  Again, do your homework here!  I simply used Google with the topic of "Progreso shore excursions" to find reviews on several tours, and found a lot of good about this one.  We were very pleased with the choice.  Again, the guides spoke very good English, and were very friendly.

On the Ship:  One great thing about a cruise ship is that you will be forced to relax!  Everywhere you turn people are there to take care of you.  The couple of days at see offer everything you need, from pool fun, sports, a spa, entertainment, and great food to take care of your troubles.  Food is covered in your booking, just be prepared to pay extra for soda pop, alcohol, shopping, and the spa.  This is where a cruise ship will get you, these things are not cheap at all.  But for us, we just enjoyed the food, entertainment, scenery, sun, and water, and did quite all right without the extras.  We even brought our own sodas on board to avoid the high prices for pop.  The highlights on the ship for us were the sun and water of course, entertainment (comedy acts, singing, dancing, etc.), friendly staff, and the relaxation.

 Although it was a 5 day cruise, our vacation actually lasted a full week, with a night prior to sailing in New Orleans, and a night after in Las Vegas.  And what were the damages?  For the 5 day cruise it was about $700 total for us as a couple.  Round-trip airfare came in at $240 for each of us, so just shy of $1200 for the trip.  That's really not too bad when you think about a week long vacation, and it really wasn't as difficult to save up the $$$ for it as I thought it would be.  $100 per month gets you there in a year.  Of course, I have to say that wasn't our final cost.

Shopping in Cozumel
Things to Keep in Mind:  I thought we could keep the trip close to only the travel costs, but I didn't do my research!  You should do yours before you go!  New Orleans is a very pricey city!  The 1 night in a hotel and for dinner was more than I expected.  We scored big in Vegas with cheap rooms that were very nice (The Orleans Hotel/Casino) and this was even during the National Finals Rodeo.  Still, before you go think about the cost of gas to the airport, additional lodging for the trip, taxis, tips, food, souvenirs, and extras on the ship.  I can tell you I should have looked at the price of New Orleans more.  The short ride to the hotel was $60 for 4 of us together, and there are few motels near the port that offer a shuttle.  Everyone has making money there figured out quite well.

Alternatives:  I would suggest starting small with the cruise experience before hitting up one like we did.  San Diego, California is just a few hours from us, and offers a 3 day cruise, as well as a 5 day down the Baja Mexico coast.  I think it would have better prepared us for what to expect on our cruise.  You will also find that there are many options to get you to where you want to go.  In addition to several cruise lines, you will also find a variety of ports that will get you access to where you want to go.  For example, if you want to cruise to Cozumel, you can get there from New Orleans, Mobile Alabama, Orlando Florida, and Miami.  As well you will find cruises of differing durations to fit your budget.  So, do your research!  Maybe if I would have paid just a little extra to fly to Florida I would have paid less for some of the more expensive services that I had to pay for in New Orleans.  However, we enjoyed the time in New Orleans, as the culture there is an experience in itself.  Google is an amazing tool!  Get on there and find reviews, suggestions, and info to enhance your trip.

Also, what are you going for?  If you just want the relaxation of a cruise then your work is easy.  In hind sight, we realized we wanted to spend more time in Cozumel, and there were other activities we wanted to check out there.  We probably should have looked into just going there for a couple of days.  Not a regret, the cruise was amazing, but there is so much to do in the ports you stop in, if you are more of an active person when it comes to vacationing, you will be longing for more when you sail away from those stops.  Cruises are for relaxing, with some adventure mixed in here and there.  Keep that in mind.

When all was said and done, we had no trouble staying within our budget, and I don't feel like it was at any sacrifice of having fun.  We did what we wanted and had money to spare.  Well, I'm sure Dayna could have kept shopping in Cozumel, but we only had so much room for stuff!

Do yourself a favor and book months in advance.  We did notice that as we procrastinated our rates on the cruise went up just a bit week by week as the date came closer.  4-6 months in advance should be good enough to lock in a good deal.

I hope you find this helpful.  There are great deals out there, and it's not hard to find.  If I can do it, you can for sure!  There's so many amazing sites to see out there in the world, don't hold off and wait until it is too late!