I told you so … MSC Cruises ready to expand its’ North America footprint

It’s been five or six years since my sit down with MSC Cruise USA Chairman Rick Sasso, where we discussed the future of the rapidly-expanding, privately-owned cruise line.

It was obvious to me that MSC had designs on becoming a major player in the cruise market in the United States. Sasso mentioned a year-round presence, and the possibility of ships on the West Coast as well.

Fast forward to 2017. MSC Divina has a year-round presence in Miami, and the brand new MSC Seaside is set to debut from South Florida in December. MSC Seaside was designed specifically for warm-weather sailing – perfect for the Caribbean. By 2019 another ship debuting this year – MSC Meraviglia – will homeport somewhere on American shores … perhaps on the West Coast where it could become the first MSC ship to cruise Alaska. At that point MSC will have three ships here.

You probably don’t know much about this cruise line. Americans can be a bit arrogant at times, believing that if they haven’t heard of something then it must not be any good.

Well, let me introduce you to MSC Cruises. It’s the fourth largest cruise line in the world, and the No. 1 line in Europe, South America and South Africa.

They are the cleanest ships I’ve ever sailed on … and the entertainment is stellar.

Need more? This is not a startup company with old ships. MSC has the youngest fleet in the industry and continues to build … with 10 more coming into service over the next nine years. Included amongst those new builds are four that are more than 200,000 tons each. Only Royal Caribbean has ships that large.

Just like anything else, MSC isn’t for everyone. However, MSC Seaside is working to address some American concerns such as smaller dinner portions designed for Europeans.

MSC Cruises are priced amazingly well as they look to get the word out about their product. Beautiful ship + great pricing = a solid cruise experience.

Allure Quest Travel Experience has a series of cruises booked for 2018 to get the ball rolling. The most popular so far is a seven-night Spring Break cruise set for March 31-April 7, with balcony cabins selling for $974 per person.

MSC Seaside rendering

Finally … a luxury passport-less all-inclusive resort outside of continental USA

The announcement that Dreams Sugar Bay St. Thomas will open in November, becoming the 13th property for the Dreams Resorts & Spas brand, is good news for more reasons that one.

That’s because it will become the first Dreams resort in a location that does not require a passport for U.S. citizens. As a U.S. property, all one needs to fly to St. Thomas is your government ID … just like flying to Cleveland, Ohio. However, to leave the island you’ll need two forms of ID … such as an official birth certificate.

There are very few all-inclusive reports in the USA or it’s properties. In fact, Club Med in Florida is the only one in the continental USA. And there are limited options in Puerto Rico.

Adding the Dreams brand – a genuine all-inclusive where everything comes with the price – is a fantastic thing … and open the doors to other possibilities.

Dreams resort customers enjoy all the benefits of Unlimited-Luxury®, where everything is included: spacious rooms and suites, 24-hour room service and concierge service, limitless access to gourmet a la carte dining options and specialty restaurants, unlimited international & domestic top-shelf spirits, Explorer’s Club for kids with supervised day and evening activities, endless daytime activities, live nightly entertainment and more.

There are lesser known national parks you may want to consider

Alan Whitt

Alan Whitt

I’ve long been a fan of our national parks … experiencing my first back in 1966 on a family cross-country vacation that included one of the wonders of the world – the Grand Canyon.

It’s always amazed me that man could create something like Lake Mead in Nevada, but wouldn’t dare to even try to duplicate God’s majesty in creating the Grand Canyon.

I’ve experienced some of the big ones – Yosemite in California … Volcanos on the Big Island of Hawaii, etc., but there are many yet to be enjoyed, including a few gems you may not have thought of.

One of those happens to not only be in my home state of Ohio, but also my home county of Cuyahoga near Cleveland.

There’s also one in my new home state of Tennessee.

Here’s an article you may enjoy reading that looks at some of the best kept secrets among our National Parks system. Get out of the city and breath in the fresh air of a national park and take in some of these beautiful sights.

In the end, you’ll realize what a magnificent country we live in.

If you want more from Allure Quest Travel Experience, Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and call us to book your next vacation.

 

Beam me up … travel technology evolves with everything else.

I read a fellow traveler’s blog today that brought back vivid memories.

Alan Whitt

Alan Whitt

The blog was titled “Evolution of Travel – Where Have All the Pencils Gone,” and looked at how things have changed over the years because of technology. The writer was on a trip to Nova Scotia with her mother … who actually hand wrote notes on the trip using that relic … the No. 2 pencil.

And she actually looked up a restaurant at one of their stops … in a phone book!

Nowadays, we use our smartphones to get every detail we can about restaurants or anything else … prices, menus, directions, reviews, etc. … so that we can make decisions on whether we’re going to spend our hard-earned dollars at the place.

I remember back in the day … 40-plus year ago … when most of us traveled via car or rail, and air travel was for the well-to-do. My best friends were AAA TripTix and TourBooks, which were the only travel tools you had or needed to get from here to there.

Now there’s an app for that.

Back in 1966 my parents, three brothers and I drove round-trip from Cleveland to California. It took about three weeks, and during that time we entertained each other, saw breathtaking sights across the United States, and never once talked to our friends back home.

Today, the kids sit in the back seat, Facebooking, Tweeting, or sending photos via Instagram or Pinterest, remaining connected 24 hours a day, seven days a week … all the time missing out on what this amazing country has to offer. But they know exactly what their friends are doing at any given moment.

I love technology and would probably have withdrawal pains if someone took my iPhone from me. But I know that I need to put it down at some point. That’s one reason I love cruises so much. I usually put it in airplane mode when the ship sets sail, because I know I’ll be paying $2.99 a minute to use it, and texts will cost me even though I have an unlimited plan back home.

All this is kinda funny because when those bulky remote phones first appeared years ago, I questioned who would need such a thing.

Well, me for one.

And even elementary school children have a smartphone these days. I’ve learned that those who don’t embrace technology usually go the way of the dinosaur … and Lord knows I don’t want to end up in a museum.

So if in the near future air travel becomes obsolete and they can instead beam me from Nashville to the site of my Mediterranean cruise, just like Captain Kirk on Star Trek, you’ll find Alan Whitt one of the first people in line.

I could kick myself for booking with Orbitz because I know better

Sometimes it pays to take your own advice … no matter how good a deal looks.

Alan Whitt

Alan Whitt

I’m always telling people that using a travel agent is usually better than booking at an Internet site … even one as popular as Orbitz.

As a travel agent I rarely book just airfare for my clients because I get no commission for it and would have to tack on a service fee to keep from giving away my services. (I will book flights in connection with other travel services.) My promise is to give clients the lowest possible price, and adding a fee makes that impossible.

So when I needed a one-way ticket  I went to Orbitz on a lark and behold … I found a one-way ticket for a great price. I put in the required personal and credit card information, selected my seat and figured I’m done.

So I pushed the “purchase” button and to my surprise Orbitz informed me that particular ticket was no longer available for the price. There was no delay in inputting the information, it just happened.

I realize that those things happen in the airline industry where the price of a ticket can go up or down in the time it takes to scratch an itch.

Since I needed to get to my destination, I took the next lowest priced ticket on a different airline and everything went through smoothly.

End of story, right?

Wrong!

Two days later while checking my bank account I noticed that I had been charged for two sets of tickets. Apparently, the first ticket went through, even though the Orbitz website clearly said it had not.

So I called Orbitz and after a supervisor got involved I was told that I could pick which ticket I wanted and the other ticket could be used as a future credit. Meanwhile, they would check to see if there was a glitch in the website, and if so, I would be refunded the money.

I wasn’t happy, but the supervisor said that’s an Orbitz policy.

I’m assuming this is a rare situation, but just to make sure I Goggled “Complaints against Google.

Low & behold, I discovered that this is common with Orbitz. And even more disheartening is the fact that often times it takes Orbitz months to acknowledge their mistake and for any type of refund to be issued.

Here’s one that sounds familiar to my own … from www.pissedconsumer.com.

“I attempted to purchase two round trip tickets from Washington DC to Cancun, Mexico, but before the online transaction was completed, I received the following message: “We’re sorry. That flight is no longer available.” I immediately booked another flight that nearly matched my first attempted purchase, except for the last leg which terminated in Baltimore instead of Washington D.C. I was charged for both flights. I called Orbitz customer service and was told that I could get a credit for one of the flights, but not a full refund.. The explanation was that the flights had to be exactly the same before Orbitz would consider the issue a website issue!”

There were others, including one where Orbitz acknowledged a $2,000 mistake and still wouldn’t issue a refund. Some issues took six months or longer to resolve … usually not to the customer’s satisfaction.

If you insist on using Orbitz and the infamous “We’re sorry. That flight is no longer available” pops up on your screen, I suggest calling customer service and speaking to a supervisor to make sure you haven’t been charged before trying to book another flight with them or anyone else. Get the supervisor’s name and a reference number for future use because you may need it.

After reading the myriad of complaints against Orbitz I’ve faced the reality that I’m not getting my money back and will be forced to book another flight with Orbitz (for the last time) to collect my credit. It’s either that or lose the money completely.

But Ive learned my lesson. Even if I have to pay a bit more I’m swearing off website airline ticket bookings … at least for this lifetime.

Wine business opens new doors into the world of travel

I love wine. And through the years I always thought I knew what I needed when it came to the almighty grape.

Alan Whitt

Alan Whitt

How wrong I was.

It took me getting into the wine business to learn that I had much to learn … but that I knew enough to make this a profitable occupation.

My partner and I own Sommelier Wine Cellar, an independent wine company partnered with Wine Shop At Home.

We host professional wine tastings, have a wine club rated in the top 4% in the world, sell personalized wines that’s particularly attractive for special occasions and businesses, as well as some of the best wines in the world exclusively from Napa Valley.

It’s the perfect business for us. Why, because our newfound knowledge of wine has opened a new world to sell Sommelier Wine Cellar Vacations by Allure Quest Travel Experience.

Huh? That’s right! As travel agents we have access to any wine-related vacation you can think of … to any region of the world.

There are ocean and river cruises – with excursion to vineyards, direct access to the ship’s sommeliers as well as lectures onboard and in port – plus a wealth of land tours to Europe, the United States, the Caribbean and elsewhere.

Two particularly eye-opening tours are a private, personalized and chauffeured tour for two through France’s famed wine country, and another to Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, known for it’s award-winning wines.

The great thing about wine is that it stirs passion. I never knew how involved people were about it until Sommelier Wine Cellar was created. It also helps that the wine business has put us in contact with higher caliber clients, which has helped Allure Quest Travel Experience … even for travel not wine related.

I’ve always felt that cheap vacations aren’t necessarily the best value. And now I’m in contact with people who understand that as well as I do.

I’m obviously in the business to make money, but I still want my clients to get the absolute best they can based on the funds they have.

After all, wine and money mix very well.

If you want more from Allure Quest Travel Experience, Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and call us to book your next vacation.

Carnival current problems stem from greed and disrespect

As an avid cruiser I’ve enjoyed all of my cruises on Carnival Cruise Line because it truly is a fun cruise.

Alan Whitt

Alan Whitt

As a travel writer I’ve also enjoyed all of my cruises and the fantastic media staff that took care of my needs in a timely and polite manner.

But as a travel agent, Carnival leaves much to be desired. Although I still book Carnival if a client specifically request it, there aren’t  many other lines that I won’t try to book first.

Apparently, there are many travel agents who feel the same way.

Why? Bluntly put … Carnival has gotten too big for its britches.

There was a time when travel agents were truly loved by “The World’s Most Popular Cruise Line.” Not anymore. Over the last few years, Carnival policies have made it tough on travel agents … and in fact they have encouraged travelers to book direct, even though it won’t save travelers a dime to do so. In other words, they didn’t need us anymore.

Well, times have changed … but travel agents have long memories.

With the recent spate of problems on Carnival ships … some travel agents have a bit of a smirk on their faces and are using the situation to steer clients to other cruise lines.

Take that, Carnival!

Just like in life, if someone treats you well … in times of crisis you’ll go the extra mile to help them. Treat folks like dirt and don’t expect them to throw you a life preserver when you go overboard.

I worked for a company in my previous life where the man in charge was probably the worst human being ever created.  it was a fact that if he dropped from a heart attack in the middle of the office not a soul would have lifted a finger to help him.

That’s the way some travel agents feel about Carnival these days.

That may explain why Carnival has brought back former president/CEO Bob Dickerson as a consultant to bring back the good old days. Dickerson retired in 2007 after 35 years at Carnival, which not by coincidence is when things started to go downhill.

Carnival started to cut costs even though their profits remained high. They got greedy, and the product has suffered in the process. That probably explains the recent rash of operational problems that the media looks forward to reporting.

Will Dickerson turn the tide and recoup Carnival’s previous reputation? Thousands of travel agents are waiting to find out.

Take a vacation from booking trips and find a travel agent

Being a travel agent is a tough business … but what they heck, I love it anyway.

Alan Whitt

Alan Whitt

However, it disturbs me to see the ignorance of some people – especially those do-it-yourself folks who prefer to spend their valuable time seeking out travel bargains when it won’t cost them an extra dime to let me do it for them.

Why people don’t know that our services are basically free is a mystery. For instance, if you book a cruise yourself it will cost no more than if I did it for you. But it will save you a lot of time and eliminate the headache of sifting through the real deals and con games that are all over the Internet.

There are a group of Tennessee college students who had their Spring break trip ruined by what appears to be a con man. They booked a Panama City vacation online, paid their money and now have nothing to show for it.

The hotel? Not booked

The bus to Florida? Nope … nothing.

The pretty face on the website? No one can find him … and in fact, who know’s if it’s a guy anyway. It could be someone’s grandmother behind this charade.

Now they’ll be stuck in Tennessee when they should be sunning in the Sunshine State.

I see these stories all the time. And I shake may head when I see them. We’ve become so dependent  on the Internet for just about everything … that we forget that it can be your enemy just as much as your friend.

Everything on the Internet isn’t the truth. In fact, it is relatively easy to create an authentic looking website with all the bells and whistles, but in truth it can be no more real than a hollywood set.

I remember during my days as a news editor at ESPN when we received an email saying that the Miami Herald was reporting that Shaquille O’Neal was going to have knee surgery. The problem was that the link was to a bogus Herald website, one that looked just like the real thing.

What an embarrassment when we had to retract the story.

The same can happen with a travel website … except you can’t retract your lost money.

Get it together people! Find yourself a trustworthy travel agent to do the heavy lifting for you.

A different ship, stellar lineup highlight third Soul Train Cruise

Here we go again. Soul Train Cruise 3, scheduled for February 23-March 2 in 2014, has announced another spectacular musical lineup and a new ship.

Alan Whitt

Alan Whitt

The cruise is shifting from Holland America’s Westerdam to the newer Eurodam, and departs from Ft. Lauderdale with stops at St. Barths, St. Maarten and the cruise line’s private island – Half Moon Cay.

Check out these performers:

The Isley Brothers (featuring Ronald & Ernest Isley); Charlie Wilson; Roberta Flack; The Commodores; Stephanie Mills; Peabo Bryson; Morris Day & The Time; Jody Watley The Manhattans (featuring Gerald Alston & Blue Lovett) Maxi Priest, The Chi-Lites; Honey Cone (featuring Edna Wright; Ray, Goodman & Brown; Blue Magic; Peaches & Herb; DW3 and comedian Alonzo Bodden.

You do not want to miss the third sailing of “The Hippest Trip at Sea,” but if you can’t wait that long cabins remain available for the Oct. 5-12 sailing out of San Diego with stops at Cabo San Lucas and overnight in Puerto Vallarta.

That lineup includes Earth Wind & Fire, Gladys Knight, Jeffrey Osbourne, The Ohio Players, The Dazz Band, The Whispers, Freddie Jackson, The Bar-Kays, Jennifer Holliday, Billy Paul, Con Funk Shun,  Jody Watley, Regina Belle, Mary Jane Girls, A Taste of Honey, Lakeside & DW3

Book these and any other Entertainment Cruise Productions cruise – including the inaugural Country Music Cruise, the Jazz Cruise and the Smooth Jazz Cruise – through Allure Quest Travel Experience. Call 615-818-8241 or email alan@allurequest.com.

Carnival Triumph incident is another black eye for cruise line

I’m not one to pile on but … whats up with Carnival Cruise Line?

It seems that all dire news about cruise ships these days focuses on lines owned by Carnival.

Alan Whitt

Alan Whitt

A few years back it was Carnival Splendor catching on fire and stranding guests at sea along the Pacific coasts. And my brother had his family’s Christmas sailing cancelled because of it. He still hasn’t forgiven me.

A year ago Costa Concordia sank costing 32 people their lives, and continues to be an eyesore along the coast of Italy.

And now we come to Carnival Triumph, which has been stranded for days in deplorable, unsanitary conditions due to another engine fire.

Although Carnival and it’s portfolio of cruise lines provide safe, fun vacations for countless happy customers, these three incidents are a public relations nightmare for any company.

While cruisers should be clamoring for information on the upcoming debut of Carnival Sunshine, all we get are images of a cruise ship floating to nowhere, and endless postings from those guests stranded onboard.

My first thought was … hey, they got a few days of a cruise, all of their money back and a future cruise credit.

I could live with that. But that was Monday.

Here it is Thursday, with reports of no air conditioning, folks sleeping on open decks, toilets overflowing and cold food the only nourishment. And word that Carnival has cancelled all Carnival Triumph sailing through mid-April.

It seems that you never hear of these traumatic stories about other cruise lines. But I guess when you’re the biggest cruise company in the world, the chance of something going wrong comes with the territory.

Visit Allure Quest Travel Experience and We 2 R 1 Honeymoons on the web for all your travel needs – including analysis of destinations, insightful videos, the latest travel news and vacations to book.