Vacation, Unplugged
By Carmen Shirkey (Collins)
Originally posted April 23, 2010

I am addicted to the Internet. I work on the Internet. I play on the Internet. If it weren’t for Twitter and Facebook I would probably have to *gasp* pick up the phone to talk to someone. I’m always on, I’m jacked in, and usually it’s good.

However, I have absolutely no problem – well, almost no problem – giving it all up for the sake of a vacation. No one needs to reach me that bad that I should have to pay for international cell phone minutes. There is no rational need that I can think of that would require anyone to have a laptop on the beach. And enough with the Facebook “place dropping.” We know you’re on vacation, stop spending time rubbing it in our faces on Facebook and get out there and enjoy yourself.

Have we become so reliant on constant connection that we can’t disconnect? Isn’t that what a vacation is supposed to be about?

Now, there’s a place for technology on a vacation. Downloading a map, for example, or checking to see if your flight is on time, read an e-book or maybe even get a guidebook application.

However, I get annoyed quickly when someone in my tour absolutely must take a call. Or check an email over dinner. Not only are they interrupting their own vacation, but mine as well.

I’ve got some sobering news for us, people. We are not as important as our technology makes it seem that we are.

There are numerous studies and statistics that espouse the benefits of letting the mind and body recharge, so I won’t bore you with them here. But what I am saying here is that we all need to let our technology recharge while we let our bodies recharge. Or our battery life is going to catch up to us before we’ve had a chance to do all that we wanted to do.

Life is short. Travel hard.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

First-Time Cruisers: Planning Your Cruise

First-Time Cruisers: Planning Your Cruise
By Carmen Shirkey (Collins)
Verizon Central Newsroom Travel Editor
Originally published March 11, 2009

I love to travel, and I love to help others plan travel. I’ve recently had the opportunity to participate in some training classes on cruising. I’m learning a lot, and I thought I could share what I’ve discovered to help you decide if cruising is right for you.

If you’ve never cruised before, the idea of a cruise can be a bit daunting. The cruise business is like everything else in travel these days – it’s hurting, so you can find some good deals if you can find a good agent and do your research.

Cruising can often be a fantastic deal, if you look at the cost per day of a cruise verses seeing a destination the traditional way – by booking airfare and hotel. Let’s say you book a great airfare and hotel deal for 7 days to a Caribbean island. In my research a good deal is going to be around $1000. A 7-day cruise to the Caribbean is running around $799 for an ocean-view room these days (out of Miami) and meals are included in that price. So you can do your own quick, unscientific comparison and see that when you look at a per-day cost, a cruise can give you great value for the money.

There is, however, a caveat that some cruise-newbies often miss. There are things that are not included in your cruise package, and they can add up. The biggest expenditure that gets most people is the buying and indulging in alcoholic beverages. That wine with dinner can add up in costs. Don’t forget tipping, excursion costs, Internet fees, spa charges – these can dent your wallet as well. Of course, you’d spend money on these things if you bought a traditional air/hotel package as well, but it’s always good to budget in advance so you don’t go overboard – pardon the pun.

The room you chose on the ship is also going to affect the price. An inside stateroom is usually the smallest, with no windows – so therefore it’s going to be the cheapest option. I look at it this way: are you going to be doing much more than sleeping in your room? If not, the cheapest option might be the way to go. Now, if you’re like me and worry about motion sickness (which is less common on cruise ships than you might think) you may want to consider an ocean-view or a balcony room. These are a little bigger, and come with a view, so you’re going to pay more for these options.

It’s also important for first-time cruisers to know that if they’re leaving the U.S. – even to just go to the Caribbean – they’re going to need their passports. This is a new development in the government’s battle to better control the borders. And you’re looking at least at a two-month turnaround without paying express fees. Be sure your current passport doesn’t expire within six months of your travel.

This is all just planning stuff. Next week, we’ll look at what to expect when you get onboard!