Friday, September 23, 2011

Pre-cruise Hotel Specials

Rose Tours just posted their annual pre-cruise hotel special for Marriott Biscayne Bay. Their rate is $119/night with the code "rosrosa." But an enterprising BH got an even better rate for the same night at the same hotel. You can get a room for $109/night if you call the hotel directly at 305-374-3900 and ask for the "Crystal Foshee Cruise Group" rate!

The Marriott, previous Rose Tours' favorite Intercontinental, and Holiday Inn are very close to the port, so if you don't plan on doing much Wednesday or the days before we set sail, that's the best location to choose. Lots of cruisers have already booked Holiday Inn and are planning a Wednesday night get-together.

If you plan on going out on the town Wednesday night or if you are going to stay in Miami for a few days, I'd recommend staying in South Beach. Otherwise you'll end up spending $50 in cab fare each time you go back and forth to the shops, clubs, and restaurants.

Many of my friends go back every year to the Casa Grande Suite Hotel in South Beach. Don't let the name throw you off; it's no luxury resort. But it is in a prime location, and all the rooms have full kitchens and free wi-fi.

There are dozens of hotels in South Beach, many of which are boutique and independent hotels, so do a little homework before you book by checking reviews on TripAdvisor or another site. No one wants to start a vacation by staying in a place with a broken shower or no air conditioning.

Cruisers, where are you staying? What rates have you booked? Share in the comments!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

My 2012 Cruise Resolutions

After taking a hiatus this year, 2012 will be my third -- and final -- cruise. (I say final because the third cruise is likely to break five-digits spent on this one activity, and I have to draw the line somewhere.)

This year, I vow to do a few things differently, partly because I've learned my lesson on some things, and partly because lots has changed since I last cruised. Back then, I went to the gym 6 days a week, spent my weekends reading, and stayed up past 10 p.m. Nowadays, I spend most of my time covered in drool, spit up, poop, or all three.

In 2012, I vow to:

Not even pack high heels. Yes, they look nice for the 20 minutes I keep them on during formal night, but then I end up barefoot while the shoes get kicked around and slopped with pool water. Why waste the space in my suitcase?

Shop less. Between 2009 and 2010, I think I bought something like 7 swimsuits for the cruise. And that's just swimsuits! Nevermind the sundresses, theme outfits, jewelry, purses, shoes, and PJs. What was I thinking? This year, I'm doing a lot more shopping from my own closet. I'd be forced into this resolution anyway, since I can't afford the luxury of leisurely trips to the mall anymore.

Sleep more. I realize this is blasphemy on a New Kids cruise, but I can't pass up the rare chance to nap in the middle of the afternoon or sleep in past 7. In 2010, I slept around 10 hours total the entire trip. 2012 is going to be the year I learn to nap onboard.

Stand with anyone, including a pole if necessary, for the photo op. At this point, I have a photo with each New Kid. I'm more interested now in getting a chance to say hi while avoiding hour after hour in line. Photo ops this year are said to be much improved though.

Leave my phone on. Yup, I'm going to be the doof who comes home to an $800 phone bill. I just don't want to be unreachable. Unfortunately that won't help me on Half Moon Cay, where there are no cell towers, or most of the time at sea, where I never could get a signal.

Fly in the morning of. I'm breaking one of my own rules here, but this year I'm flying in to Miami the morning we depart. I don't recommend this. But with the added day, I just can't be away any longer. Again, don't do this. This is crazy.

Take Tuesday off. I'm finally learning my lesson with this one and taking an extra day off after the trip to recover. The day after the cruise, you'll be hoarse, exhausted, bloated, and seasick tipsy. Best to feel this way at home on the couch.

Repeat cruisers, what are you planning to do differently in 2012?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Your No-Stress (Okay, Low-Stress) Guide to Booking a Cabin

It's official.

Even for a repeat cruiser, booking week can be rough. You're thrown from a state of anticipation to one of uncertainty and anxiety. Nothing can make it possible for 4,000 people to book 1,000 cabins, but I will do my best to prepare you for booking day.

What I can't do is tell you how much this year's cabins will cost. That info won't be released until Thursday. What we do know, from, is that inside cabins start at $699, ocean view cabins start at $1099, balcony from $1299, and suites from $2399. This is consistent with 2011 pricing.

Via Rose Tours Terms and Conditions, a $300 per person deposit is payable with your reservation.  A second payment of $500 per person will be charged on November 29, 2011. The remaining balance will be charged the week of April 24, 2012. Payments must be made in the form of a credit card. Last year, there was also a $5 booking fee per passenger payable at time of booking.

If you cancel: the $300 deposit is non-refundable. Between November 29 and April 23, you will be charged a cancellation fee of 50% of the total cruise fare. After April 24, you won't get any refund and you'll be responsible for 100% of the fare and taxes.

Before On-Sale
  1. Choose your roommates. Keep in mind that two- and four-person rooms are easier to come by than three-person rooms.
  2. Decide on a budget. Don't forget port fees, taxes, and all the extras.
  3. Using last year's pricing and the Destiny deck plan, create a wish list of cabin types in the order you will try to book. For example, you will first try for an 8D, then 8E, 8M, 8N, 9B, and so forth. I recommend planning at least 10. The deck plan will help you figure out how many of each room type are available. Include cabin category (e.g., "ocean view") in your list.
  4. Decide who will try to book the cabin. BN members will book first, at noon Thursday, followed by past cruisers at 1 p.m. and general sale on Friday.
  5. Choose early or late dining.
  6. Decide if you will purchase travel insurance from Rose Tours. All passengers in the cabin must choose yes or no on travel insurance; you can't choose individually. (My advice is to shop around.) Remember, insurance will not help you if you decide later that you can't afford the trip.
  7. Make sure the person booking has full names, DOB, email addresses, billing addresses, and credit card information for each person in your cabin. If you put in only one credit card, that card will be charged the deposit for everyone in the cabin. Each street address has to match the billing address on the credit card or the system will not process the card or the reservation. (Be smart. Don't email or tweet this information.)
  8. Read the Rose Tours booking procedures and FAQs carefully.
  9. Block off time in your calendar to be near a computer come sale time!
On Sale Day
  1. Make sure the person(s) booking has all of your information plus the wish list of cabin categories and types. It helps to have these in a text file so you can copy and paste during booking. (If possible, have each roommate on the phone together during booking so you can have more than one person trying.)
  2. When you log on to the ComcastTix site, you will see four options. Click the red "Tix" button next to the category of the room you want to book.
  3. Past this screen will be a link to every possible room type and combination available in that category. That means there will be a separate link for 8D Double, 8D Triple, 8D Quad and so forth. The list can get very long. Be careful to click on both the cabin type AND the number of passengers you want to book.
  4. If your first choice is not available, go back to the list and find your second, third, or fourth choice until you find an available room.
  5. Using your text file of passenger info, copy and paste all the fields into the reservation form.
  6. At this point, if more than one of your roommates has made it to the reservation form, make sure only one of you clicks submit! Multiple reservations will cause all of your bookings to get thrown out.
  7. Cheer, dance, do a shot, whatever! You're on cruise 2012! Print your booking confirmation for safe keeping.
If You Don't Make It
First, don't stop trying to book until @NKOTB officially says all cabins are gone. Lots of people "play" with the system and "practice" booking without taking the cabin. They'll open up throughout the day.

Once all cabins are sold out, Rose Tours will open a wait list. Put your name down ASAP. Last year, the entire wait list was called and offered cabins before the cruise. If you are on the wait list, save your pennies! When Rose Tours calls, they'll want whatever payments have been received within a few days. That means if you get the call on December 5, you'll pay $800 at once, or if you get the call in May, you'll pay the full amount.

Do you feel prepared? What did I forget? Add your questions or tips to the comments!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Cruise announcement coming Monday?

For possibly the first time ever, Ground CTRL gave us something early. Users of their Ground CTRL iPhone app got a surprise yesterday when the news tab released info of the 2012 cruise. As of this morning, the entry is gone.

If the information is accurate, here's what we know:

  • Cruise will be June 7-11 on the Destiny
  • Sailing from Miami to Key West and Half Moon Cay (this is very unusual as it does not seem to be an available itinerary)
  • An official announcement is Monday
  • Pre-sale for past cruisers and BN members is Thursday 8/18 starting at noon, although it is unclear if this will be all at once or in waves
  • General sale is Friday 8/19 at noon
  • Cabins start at $699 (same as last year)
  • Promised features improved photo op, new themes, more individual and group events, and some sort of evening theater event with NKOTB
Screen shots from the iPhone app below:

So who's in? Don't forget, if you're looking to find a roommate, you can post here.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Need a roommate? Post here!

By request, this post will create a place to find roommates for the 2012 cruise. Ning is no more, BN is a closed site, and Twitter is hard to keep up with, so hopefully this will help singles in search of the perfect cruise mate.

For reference, here are the cabin types and prices from 2011.

Do your cruise roommates a solid; don't book if you aren't sure you can afford to cruise.

Hope this is helpful!

Friday, August 5, 2011

OMG We're back again

No, I didn't jump ship. This is still the NKOTB Cruise blog. But those tour mates had an appropriate lyric.

Rumors are afoot. Among hopeful first time cruisers, nerves are starting to set in. So what's a cruiser to do?

How to prepare for a cruise when no cruise has been announced

It is possible. Really, some preparation is necessary, since historically cruise announcements have come merely days before cabins go on sale. And, prices for the cruise aren't revealed until the moment of on-sale.

Step One: Honestly determine whether you can afford to cruise. With cabin prices, port fees, transportation, and on board necessities, it's nearly impossible to spend less than $2000 on the trip. In fact, you will probably spend a lot more. Don't count on being able to sell your spot to someone else if you decide later you can't make the payments. Last year some who canceled found themselves selling at a fraction of the cabin cost just to find buyers. And travel insurance won't help if you decide later you can't afford to go. The cruise is a lot of fun, but it's only a few days. It's not worth going into debt.

Step Two: Decide who you will room with. Will you have one roommate or three? If you don't have anyone in mind for a roommate, will you do the single room match program, or will you try to find someone on Twitter or the forums to book with? Keep in mind, only one person can do the booking, so you will either have to share credit card information or arrange payments. If you don't trust the roomie with this information, the match program would be safer.

Step Three: Start to think about what type of cabin you want. Make sure you and your roomies agree on whether you want a suite, a room with premium seating, or something closer to steerage.

Step Four: Along with your roommates, set a budget for how much you will spend on your cabin and commit to it. Check to see prices from last year (don't forget the port fees and taxes!). Since prices aren't released beforehand, many cruisers find themselves grabbing any room available without even looking at the cost. Be prepared by deciding how much you would like to spend and determining an upper limit if your first choice (or three) isn't available.

Step Five: Take a deep breath and wait for the time to arrive. As much as we try to sleuth out information, nothing is certain until it's announced. And nothing is announced until NKOTB is good and ready. But don't worry; we've got at least 10 months to prepare!

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