Saturday, June 27, 2009

Saturday Morning Coffee 6/27/09

Good morning everyone. My Saturday started a little earlier than usual for me today for some reason. Maybe because Jaylee, my 5 year old niece, stayed with us last night and slept with her aunt Lindsey in our bed. The other bed in our house is actually the one I grew up with but I must have been a lot tougher back then because it makes my back hurt now. Boy, getting old stinks. Any way we have had a good time playing, making pizza, and lemonade.
Instead of talking about the 3rd cruise line in my little mini-series, Norwegian, I am going to put that off until one day next week. I want to spend today talking about what types of trips you will need to be thinking about now to get the best deals and availability as we head into late summer all the way through next spring. As with every thing I have dealt with so far in the travel business, the earlier you plan the better! I have this question presented to me on an almost weekly basis, "If I wait until right before I travel will I get a better deal?" My answer is always possibly, but I sure wouldn't risk it. Here is the short version, if there are any great last minute deals it is normally within 3 weeks of the travel date. 90% of the people I know have jobs and families, thus ruling out short notice vacations. My goal in life is to be young enough, free enough, and financially stable enough to be that kind of retiree one day. This doesn't even take into consideration that a lot of the most popular forms of travel sell-out. As far as the pricing goes during normal booking periods, it is always cheaper to book early. If possible up to a year in advance will net you the best deals. It is simple economics. Lets just use cruising for an example. The cruise lines look at their capacity 12 months before any sail date and see they have only booked 5% of the cabins on board. Well it only makes sense to put out to the public a rock bottom cruise rate, hoping to attract groups and buzz about the fare in general. It works, and now 8 months from sail date they have 60% of the cabins booked...guess what? Yep now the rates are creeping up, up, and up, all the way until the last couple weeks when they realize there are only 10 cabins left at which they put on that fire-sale that the rich retiree's, mentioned above, gobble up. I have seen this first hand with a large group I have cruising in Jan. 2010. I first held the space in Feb. and rates have gone up three times since then for a total of about $100 per person! Enough of the economics here are some things to think about going forward:

Fall Idea: New England foliage tour! We have several tour companies that have these tours. Most of them start in Boston and are from 7-9 days long. The best time to see the best color is from late Sept thru mid-Oct. Most go into Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.

Winter Idea: Snow skiing! Anywhere in the Rockies will do. Maybe Utah, Colorado, or Wyoming. The best season is Jan. thru March.

Spring Idea: Since a large majority of you have children and have to work around spring break Disney World is a great choice for our area! Usually in March the weather isn't unbearable yet and the crowds are smaller. One tip, try to avoid the week of Easter, it is one of Disney's busiest weeks of the year.

Summer Idea: Alaskan Cruise!! This is one of my must do before I die trips. I have never heard one bad word from anyone who has taken an Alaskan cruise. The season runs from late May thru early September and the best accommodations sell out quick. If this is a trip you want to take summer of 2010 you seriously need to call me now!

In closing, I will say due to 95% our geographic location the Caribbean and all its forms of travel are open year round. This is a good thing because winter rates are cheaper at resorts and cruise lines. Since we are situated so close to most every cruise port we can really take advantage of some great deals that normally begin after Labor Day weekend and run through mid-May.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Saturday Morning Coffee 6/20/09

Good morning, as most of you already know it had been a wild week here in Dothan for the Lee's. Not to tell this story for the 1000th time I will just say we had to put all 4 of our cats down due to a fight with a rabid raccoon. The good news is that Linds nor me got bitten/scratched in the whole ordeal so we have that to be thankful for. If there any readers out there not living in our area let me tell you that this has been the hottest week I can ever remember this early in the summer. For the last 3-4 days we have hit triple digits with an even higher heat index. I literally walked over to my neighbor's house and back yesterday and had wet my t-shirt when I got back in. It reminds me of a sauna and we are not going to have any relief for a couple more days!
Today we will carry on with our cruise market-segmentation from our last post. I would like to tell you about Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. RC is also considered a first-class cruise line and, in my opinion, along with Carnival the most popular cruise lines out there. Let me preface all the following information by saying that I am Royal Caribbean "cruise-expert" based on tons and tons of online training and reading, however I have never been on a RC ship at all. I do think that I have talked to enough customers, trained, and booked plenty RC cruises to have a firm grip on what they have to offer.
Like Carnival, RC is a very up-beat ship with lots to do on-board. Their slogan is "the nation of why not?". RC is the only cruise line that has both an ice skating rink and a surfing simulator on board some of their ships! They also have a rock climbing wall on all their ships. They use these features heavily in their advertisements asking "why not" ice skate in the middle of the Caribbean? They also, in addition to tons of other eating venues on-board, have a Johnny Rocket's 50's style diner on every ship. One key difference between RC and Carnival is the decorations on-board RC's ships. You may remember I told you in the previous post that Carnival's decorating was very gaudy, almost over bearing in my opinion. That is not the case with RC. RC ships have a more subtle approach that appeals to me much more, but maybe not the kids as much. The closest RC port to the Wiregrass area is Tampa or Pt Canaveral, FL. They also have medium to extremely large ships in their fleet. This November the Oasis will make her maiden voyage coming in at 230,000 tons!! That is 100,000 tons larger than Carnival's newest ship. I can't even get my brain around how huge this thing will be. The cruise we went on in March was a 55,000 ton ship.
The staterooms are about average size as compared to other first class cruise lines, comfortable but not lots of extra space unless you book a suite. The activities and entertainment are top notch and there is plenty to do all day and night. I have people who have never cruised say they would be bored on sea days and my response is only if you choose to be. RC has an extensive kid program that caters to all children up to 18 years old so parents can enjoy a little alone time on sea days. I always like to ask my customers which cruise line they prefer between RC and Carnival and 95% always choose RC. I know one thing for sure, if I ever get the money set aside for it I will definitely be taking a Royal Caribbean cruise.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Saturday Morning Coffee 6/6/9

Good morning to everyone today. Boy, 5:15 A.M. has come entirely too early today. I participated in a charity poker tournament last night in Hartford, my home town. I didn't win, or even get close for that matter, but I did have a great time with some people I haven't seen or been around in a long time. I didn't get in this morning until about 12AM only because I wisely chose to leave them going strong. The reason I had to get up so early is because Linds and I are helping with the Poplar Head Farmer's Market downtown today. Our church, First Baptist, and the Downtown Group and joined together to start this event and it will go on every Saturday in June and July. I really hope everything goes really well for the participating farmers. There are also going to be some arts and crafts there but since they are calling it a "farmers market" I hope that is predominatly the theme. I guess I have, and always will, a soft spot in my heart for farmers since that is what my dad did until I was 18 years old.

What I would like to start today and then continue for the next several post is a more detailed description of each of the most popular cruise lines as a follow up on the market-segmentation blog from a few weeks back. I will start in the "first-class" segment of cruise lines. These are the most recognizable, affordable cruises offered today. Carnival Cruise Lines is a name I am sure all of you recognize. Baring any specials or promotions I have found them to also be the least expensive cruise line. They are retiring their ship currently in Mobile, the Holiday, this year which will put their smallest ship afloat at around 70k tons. That means all of their ships are mid-sized or larger. The trend now in the first-class segment with their new ships is bigger is better! Carnival's newest ship, the Dream (due out in November this year), is going to be 130,000 tons! Also a good piece of information is she will be docked in Port Canaveral so we will have easy access from the Wiregrass area.

Carnival's theme is "fun for all, all for fun"! That is a very true statment. I have not actually been on a Carnival cruise but I have toured a ship. It is very festive from the time you step onto the ship until the time you get off. The decorations, atmosphere, and overall mood of the ship is always upbeat. If you are looking for a quiet, laid back, relaxing vacation Carnival is not for you. However, if you enjoy a lively good time or have children it may be the perfect match. Carnival really goes all out to make sure the kids have a blast. Like most cruise lines they have activities all day every day just for kids. They also have them divided up by age group and the activities are always age-appropriate.

Carnival's cabins are actually a bit larger than the industry's average and very comfortable. Everyone loves the food and entertainment onboard. I have clients from 21-83 for whom I have booked a Carnival cruise and they love it! I have a huge group going on a high school reunion cruise next Janurary and most of them are older than 65, been on Carnival before, and can't wait to get back on. I could go on and on but due to the fact we have to leave in 20 minutes to head downtown I will stop here. I hope I have shed some light on Carnival for those of you who have not cruised with them. For those of you who have but it has been a long time or on one of their older, smaller ships I highly recommend considering giving them another try...they are doing some really exciting new things these days.
Thank you,