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Bruin Steve

In normal times…

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In normal times…

 

There is a process I go through when planning a major cruise vacation.

 

First, I book my major cruises well over a year ahead.  For most of my cruising life, my wife has worked for the school district, so we’ve always known our major vacation windows.  We’ve usually gotten great deals by booking early...then I keep monitoring for price drops.

 

The next major step is airfare.  About 11 months prior is when most airlines start posting flights and airfares...and I usually look to cement these in place early.  Say we’re going to Europe, I want both a choice of flights and a decent price.  And, I want to head over there a few days early...and maybe fly home a few days after disembarking the cruise.

 

Soon after solidifying my flight schedule, I’ll start booking pre- and post-cruise hotels and other arrangements (ie. rental car, transfers, etc.).  If I’m flying in or out multiple days ahead or later, often it’s a multiple-destination pre- or post-cruise.

 

Then, the next major step in the planning process is planning the visit to each port.  Typically, I will research each port--if I don’t already know it well--and decide what it is we want to do and see there.  I will then start researching local private tour companies and guides--checking on the port boards here on Cruise Critic and the relevant sections on Trip Advisor and other internet sources as well.  Then, I will email various tour providers, usually one port at a time, asking for availability, pricing, proposals or suggestions, etc.  Once I have narrowed down a tour and provider, I will post on the Cruise Critic Roll Call for the cruise, looking for others who might want to join us in putting together a group of, say, 8 persons, more or less (usually about the optimal size for a tour--fitting into the typical tour van and making the resulting per person price reasonable and competitive).

 

If I cannot find a good private tour scenario, I will consider the cruise line’s shore excursion offerings as well.

 

But, at some point, several months prior to the cruise, I will have it all put together--cruise, flights, hotels, ground transportation, tours in each port.  Then, of course, I can deal with all of the minor pieces--specialty restaurants and select dining reservations, mail and newspaper holds, etc. 

 

In a way, I really love the whole process...It helps me to really look forward to the trip itself...and allows me to daydream along the way.

 

So, this year is VERY strange indeed.  I have four cruises in the hopper:  Back-to-back 14 and 15 night cruises on Millennium, Japan and TransPacific in April...and near-back-to-back 7-night Mediterranean cruises on Apex and Infinity in July.

 

For both, I made the bookings some time ago.  The two July cruises are “Lifted-and-shifted” from July 2020 cruises--for which I planned all the way through--including port tours and pre- and post-cruise extended trips (9 nights in Switzerland and the Cinque Terre and 2 nights post-cruise in Rome).  Obviously, all that planning went out the window when Covid hit.  The Japan cruises were just booked a LONG time ago now.

 

I have made airline reservations for both trips, smartly using the refundable rates option on Celebrity Choice Air.  I have the flight in to Tokyo booked for four nights prior...and the return home from Vancouver is planned via Portland (the cruise ends in Vancouver) to visit our daughters.  For the July Europe cruises, we have four nights prior in Barcelona, then two nights between the cruises in Rome...and a 10 night post cruise (after disembarking in Venice) in various cities in Austria...with all hotels now booked... as well as a rental car.

 

SO...I’d be ready now for the next step--the port tours.  This is where it gets strange.  It is really hard to get into that next planning step.   I actually have a couple of tour providers I was going to use in 2020 in European ports...but, with everything up in the air, it’s hard to talk to them about booking again...AND, even with tours in place, it’s virtually impossible to start lining up tour mates on the roll call.  The Roll Calls are REALLY quiet.  Unlike the activity in an ordinary year, the Roll Call activity this year is VERY quiet...and NOBODY is talking about ports and tours.  ALL of the discussion, the little of it that there is, is about the pandemic...and whether or not the cruises will actually take place...and what we will know and when will we know it.

 

It’s sort of hard to put together a tour group with a bunch of people who don’t even think there will be a cruise.  Or committing to tour providers when you can’t even assure them you’ll be there (or will have enough of a group to make it a reasonable value to book a private tour).

 

Now, I really hope that we get an approved and distributed vaccine...and that we can return to cruising as normal...and that all of that happens EARLY enough to allow us to really follow through on our planning...HOWEVER, I am guessing that, though that still has a good chance at happening, we may not near any stage of certainty until we get very close to those cruises...which means we will not have nearly enough time to do any reasonable planning and connection with others.

 

So, when we finally do cruise in 2021, we may be taking a whole lot of Celebrity Shore Excursions...or making last minute arrangements with certain local providers to join whatever packaged private tours they may offer--where we have no control over the group size or the itinerary.

 

AND, for the bulk of the normal FUN planning period, I will have NO FUN planning...just a continuation of the current anxiety and frustration and insecurity.

 

Of course, if we DO get to take these cruises, yes, we will REALLY enjoy it.  I have now not been on a cruise since January, so, if we do get to cruise in April, that will mean I will have gone 15 months without cruising.  If we can’t go until July, it will have been a year and a half.  It has been DECADES since I’ve gone that long without a cruise!!!

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I was to be on the Venice to Rome cruise this month plus an additional 2 weeks planned with private tour guides in Milan, Cinque Terre, Lago de Como, etc. That was lift and shifted to Oct 2021 and I don't have the energy to begin contacting making arrangements till I feel confident we will sail. Missing the vacations!

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I am somewhat the same except we normally book when itineraries are released.  Most times close to 2 years out.  Next is arranging tours.  We had a 45 night B2B2B which should have left later this month.  It had 5 overnights and tours and hotels for the overnights and all other ports were all arranged.  Normally at 11 months out air and hotels. 

The B2B2B was axed as well as 2 others.  We are also booked for a April TP & Vietnam, Japan on the Eclipse.  I seriously doubt it will go, haven’t booked air and only 3 tours, which are with a guide we had booked for the now axed B2B2B. Just can’t get excited about these unlikely cruises; or maybe not wanting to invest hours just to have to undo everything and fight for refunds again.  Still fighting a flight refund and waiting for another FCC.  

 

We have a B2B booked Caribbean in Feb, the Vietnam/TP and aB2B Europe & a TA in October.  Only thing booked are hotels pre-cruise Im Miami & Lisbon.  
I expect if February goes we will stay on the ship unless we can get off without a ships tour.  As I said I doubt the April cruises will go.  Singapore is still closed, Oz which is where the Eclipse is scheduled to be in December-Feb is closed.  So I can’t imagine they will send it from San Diego to Asia to do a few cruises and the. Back to the US. 

 

For the time being cruising, or the process of cruising has lost its luster.    The dead Roll Calls are a sign most are weary. 
 

We disembarked the Eclipse in November so IF Feb goes 15 months .

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Hi OP,  just a word to say that I really enjoyed reading your cruise trip preparation process, which follows closely what I used to do. It’s so much fun to read and learn about cruises.

 

In my opinion, a trip has 3 phases: the dreaming phase (preparation), the living phase ( while experiencing the trip) and the souvenir phase.

 

After having worked hard in 2018, 2019 and 2020, to plan and dream about an Asia cruise, which involved two changes of itinerary followed by a cancellation, and then an Hawaii cruise which was also cancelled. In both cases, all associated flights, hotels, transfers and excursions also had to be cancelled.  I have become more shy about working too hard in planning our next trips.

 

We have a Northern Europe cruise booked for May 2021, along with Flights by Celebrity.... but that’s as far as I’m going to go until final payment and final decision to go or not. Similarly, our following cruise booked for September 2022, will leave from a port that will not require a flight. Therefore, no further planning at this time... It’s kind of sad for me, to not feel like involving more energy on these trips, but once bit, twice shy.

 

I am still wishing so much to be able to return to the world of discovering news countries, meeting new people, and tasting different food.... Keeping my fingers crossed! 

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We are missing the planning too!

 

At the moment it is hard to plan as we are reluctant to tie up too much money in airfare, hotel bookings, tours as we know so many people have struggled to get money back. Also we need to check the small print on insurance...

 

Keep smiling, Bruin Steve, the sun will come out tomorrow....In the meantime why not organise a local trip. So often there are wonderful things to do and places to visit just a stones throw from our home town which we are always going to do ‘one day’...Perhaps ‘one day’ has arrived for many of us this year!

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I guess I should also say that I have been very careful to make all of my hotel reservations with cancellable rates...and, for the most part, where we don't have to pay anything up front.  And those air reservations are on cancellable rates through Celebrity Air.

 

With our 2020 cancelled cruises, we had prepaid for our hotel in Portovenere and we prepaid our rental car charges with Kemwel...But, we were able to get those both quickly refunded.  Also, our private tours and ground transportation in Italy were reserved but cancellable with no money paid up front.  When the cruises were cancelled, we were able to cancel everything with zero penalty...and got those two prepaid charges refunded quickly.  Celebrity Air was cancelled and the money refunded quickly...and money we advanced for shore excursions and specialty restaurants above and beyond our OBC was quickly refunded by Celebrity...Everything we paid for the two cruises themselves were converted as payment in full toward our 2021 cruises.

 

Generally, I shy away from non-cancellable hotel bookings after a strange episode a few years back.  we had booked a back-to-back cruise in and out of Rome...and booked extra time in Orvieto and Civitavecchia pre-cruise and in Tivoli post-cruise...but, since we had an early morning flight home from FCO, we decided to book our final night at the Hilton Garden Inn at FCO.  Since Hilton had a nonrefundable rate at the hotel much lower than the cancellable rate, we decided to go with that.  After all, what could possibly go wrong?  Well...Air Berlin (I'll never use them again) changed our flights (and never even sent us a notice--I only found out because I check y flights from time to time)...and they messed it up so badly that our FCO-Frankfurt leg now got into Frankfurt and hour AFTER our Frankfurt-LAX flight was scheduled to leave...and, the ONLY way they had available to get us home was to move the flight to the following early morning!  I called Hilton to ask if we could just change the reservation to the next day.  The answer:  NO!  Still needing to have a hotel for the next early morning, I ended up making an extra day's reservation at the HGI.  So, now we were spending TWO nights at the desolate, inconvenient airport location. Later, of course, Air Berlin again changed our flight time...and now we weren't leaving until around noon.  Had we had that flight schedule originally or if we had cancellable rates, we would have spent two nights in Central Rome and grabbed a cab or shuttle to FCO the morning of the flight home.  Instead, we spent TWO nights at FCO! 

 

So, now, for me, I need to be able to cancel my reservation at any time right up to the end...

 

BTW, I've had to fall back on trip insurance before...We had to fly home only 5 nights into a 14 night Baltic cruise when my father-in-law passed away.  The insurance paid for a lot--a prorated portion of our cruise fare, for example.  But they did not pay for everything--The small print had some limitations on the airfare replacement...and our last minute Helsinki to LAX flight was VERY pricey (Bereavement fares are a thing of the past)--so, the insurance hit its limit there.  And we ended up eating our cost for two orchestra seats for a play in the West End in London...and a few other small expenses.  As to the present Covid thing, I've read that most of the trip insurance policies have small print that excepts a lot of Covid--or pandemic--related issues...so, beware...

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We switched a European cruise we were supposed to have taken in July of this year and we rebooked for July of next year. We got the majority of our money back with the exception of a very well rated tour guide in Italy. (they might be well rated, but they lied on their return of cash when we couldn't even get there!) We are also out the train we were to have taken in Italy from Venice to Rome.  I just sent them an email to see if I could get something figured out with them.  I'm struggling this year because we decided if this really happens, we are just going to fly to Santorini and stay for a few days before coming home.  Speaking for us, we are getting close to retirement, so we just don't have money to throw away.    So while I have always loved planning, it has now turned into another stress thing and actually a lot of *what if's?*.  Right now, the airfare is a huge thing....the hotels seem the easiest as most of them can be cancelled with no problem, but then it's what if there are less ports, there are changes to the ports, you can't get off at the ports, you have to take ship sponsored tours of the port, are we going to have to mask on the ship, are we going to have to test for Covid, are we going to have to have a vaccine....yada, yada, yada.  This is making what should be a very happy time uber stressful. 

Edited by islandgirlejfan

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We are still researching and planning for our future cruises.  I also follow cruise critic which helps me "dream" about our future cruises.  We have moved some already- and now hope that March 2021 will be okay.  We also have August of 2021 planned and Jan of 2022.  If the world is better, we are also considering a make up cruise in May.  Since my DH and I are now senior citizens, in good health, who knows what the future will bring.  

 

We should all continue to enjoy our planning for future cruises.  Hope that the best is yet to come!

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We have a TA on Reflection next spring, with several good ports and ending in Amsterdam.  While we do have hotel booked in Amsterdam and air fare home booked(with refundable miles, not cash) we have nothing else booked....normally would have several private tours set up by now but not doing that until we have a clear signal that the cruise is a go..  We give it a 50-50 chance at this point...   We wind up with all Celebrity shore excursions...but if we can safely get on that ship and sail to Europe we will be fine with that this time.

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Thanks Bruin Steve and others for describing your planning process.  Very similar to ours, but THIS time, taking it very carefully.  Using Choice Air for the June '21 cruise Rome to Venice (rolled into cruise price at final payment), pre and post-cruise hotels and car are booked and not payable until we arrive.  Won't book any port tours until much closer to sailing date.  All of this preparation is subject to Covid cancellation so not getting too far into it, however prices are good booking refundable now.

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In normal times...Bruin Steve, quite often I wonder if we actually did live in normal times!

 

But seriously, I concur with every word of your post, I too do almost the exact same things, though we usually cruise only once a year. We book when itineraries are announced and I plan the whole trip in great detail, both cruise as well as pre and post land stays. 
 

We were to take a Southampton to Barcelona Iberian peninsula sailing on the Apex this May, which of course Celebrity cancelled. No lift and shift at that time, though this itinerary isn’t being offered next year.

 

We’re now booked on 12 night Apex cruise out of Barcelona for May 2021, though right now am not sure if it will happen, or if we will want to be on the ship. We also have a South American cruise for January 2022, which looks more promising. Needless to say I haven’t made any other arrangements, not even checked out either of the Roll Calls. 
 

I’m hoping we’ll have a better idea of the situation by early next year, fingers crossed...😊

Edited by prish

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The OP's title says it all:  "In Normal Times".

 

It has to be difficult for a planner to deal with these abnormal times, as previous travel norms have been totally upset.  There is still so much to be learned about this virus and how it effects us all, so the uncertainty is not congruous with travel planning.

 

Hold onto your hats, More will be revealed!

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Oh I feel your pain!

As of today, we have 3 cruises booked - one in November that we have no hope of doing, but are waiting for Celebrity to cancel to get a refund or credit, one in May 2021 that is an anniversary cruise and one in October to Greece.

The May trip at most has one port we haven’t visited, so there’s not a lot of planning for that trip, but it is time to start thinking about Greece, but I don’t have the ❤️.

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Agree with others that planning is part of the trip for me and I enjoy it. We moved our January trip to 2022 and that is hard, since we wont be getting away this winter. We are currently 48º with rain, way to early.

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I also enjoy the planning side of cruising. We would book on board a year or 2 out. My thoughts now are to not book a cruise until just after final payment. Look at the Celebrity XcitingDeals that are released every Tuesday. 

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I really enjoy the planning and research part of a cruise, including pouring thru all of the relevant CC boards.  I really hate the idea of just taking cruise line shore excursions, but I found myself (in a moment of supreme optimism) looking at the shore excursions for our post Thanksgiving 7 night Southern Caribbean cruise.  If we need to book shore excursions thru the cruise line, it's going to significantly increase the overall cost of the cruise.

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I, too, thoroughly enjoy planning for a cruise, from continually researching airfare, hotels,  ports, restaurants, it’s all enjoyable!  We have a May, 2021, cruise planned, which is very questionable right now; but if we’re unable to go, I’ll just start over again with the planning!  

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That´s what I found out too, i miss planning cruises almost more then the cruise itself. I love that- to put things and schedules for trains, hotels, flights and of cruise the cruise , together!

At his point I only my " small time plans" - means I only book as close to a planed cruise as possible.

I also rather prefer the train then flying. Sailing outside of Germany is difficult anyway- since we have travel warnings all over Europe.- well almost!

UK and US are out of the question - so I look for nice littel get away´s on board TUI- ships - sailing out of Germany. No more then four weeks ahead. 

For 2021 - I am in " the wait and see" modus. I refuse to book a cruise in 2021 only to get it canceled again- and beeing burdend with yet another FCC.

In my German cruise magazin they reported from those first " Blue Journeys" - the very first one out of Hamburg- I was on the second Blue Voage- so I read said report with interesst.

What they underlined was what I found too- the relaxing aspect of cruises where there are no shore excursion - the limited passengers - unique experiences. Passenger answered in the same tenor!

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I am not making any plans yet as I fear that when (if?) we get through this Covid phase the world will look completely different then.

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You should be very careful when planning ahead of time. And what I mean is buying airfare, book hotels and excursions.. and etc. You should first be sure that your cruise will take place, that there will be no delays or cancellations. Only after, you may start pre-planning the rest of the things 

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2 hours ago, Roger88 said:

You should be very careful when planning ahead of time. And what I mean is buying airfare, book hotels and excursions.. and etc. You should first be sure that your cruise will take place, that there will be no delays or cancellations. Only after, you may start pre-planning the rest of the things 

 

Agree with your advice.

 

Most frequent travelers are aware of the usual ‘do’ and ‘don’ts’ when it comes to booking things. For example, no risk booking no prepayment hotels etc. The snag with the present is we are not in ‘normal’ times. Probably all of us know of people presently holding flight vouchers etc with the concern of ‘what happens if the company doesn’t survive’. Also most of us buy insurance feeling confident it will cover all eventualities, that may no longer be the case with some policies.

 

We are enjoying a bit of planning by looking at 2/3 hotels we may spend a couple of nights at pre cruise. We can follow them on review sites and try to decide which may best suit our needs but we will not be booking until nearer the time and even then we may pay extra for easy cancellation options rather than a reduced fixed price.

 

Excursions we are looking at but definitely not going to commit to anything probably until we are ready to board and even then we may decide to have a stay on ship cruise...

 

The one thing we are planning is how to make our cruise the best ever...a special room, lots of speciality dining, premium drinks package...

Edited by chemmo

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Boy I'm right there with you!! I too really enjoy the planning and spend a lot of time on it...usually have at least 3 or 5 cruises "on the books" at any one time! I've realized how much I really love just being on the ocean..and the sailing aspect..almost as much if not more than the ports!! I also miss activity on the R/Cs!! Good to know I'm not the only one...does bring some comfort!! 🙂

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     This thread makes me sad - like so many of you, I too, am a planner; "in normal times" just having a trip ( cruise or land)  booked is enough to keep me dreaming while I research and chip away at hotel, dining, sightseeing arrangements.  Having had 3 cruises cancelled since March, my planning activity has recently been replaced by the less enjoyable task of cancelling all the arrangements I had just finished making in February for our September-October cruise to Hawaii.  I have 2 cruises booked for 2022, neither of which requires a flight or even hotel arrangements, but the future is so uncertain that I cannot even think about these until I have better sense of what cruising and the world itself will be like 17 months from now.

   In the meantime, I am so thankful that my husband and I have enjoyed a retirement that has provided us with fantastic travel experiences.  On a bit of a whim, we booked a last minute cruise last February on the Edge, where we had a great time, just before cruising and our world as we have known it came to an abrupt halt. Now that we are confined mostly to home, I am so happy that we did that.   Good  memories and our photo books keep me going these days.   

   I am definitely not ready to give up travelling.  Right now, I am focused on finding  interesting places within 2 hours of home, but I am hopeful that in the next year, we will all be able to be more daring in a world that doesn't feel as threatening as it does now.  I love Cruise Critic; even though I have not met most of you, I recognize names, and feel a kinship with the spirit of adventure and love of the sea that I find here.  

 

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