Early travel planning: Phase 2!

We have now moved into phase two of our advance planning for winter travels to come.  As this past long, hot, summer weekend drew to a close, we checked our email and found that our travel agent, Angela, has been hard at work (as usual) trying to find us the perfect hotel accommodation to book-end our February 2013 cruise.  But, it needs to be said that discerning travelers will want to be flexible in their planning.

Art on board the Regent Seven Seas Mariner in Montenegro. It was a great trip, but not a ship we want to revisit this winter in the Caribbean.

When last we visited this topic, we had pre-booked a cruise from Rio to Buenos Aires.  Well…that’s now a memory.  When we began to drill down into the cost, and whether or not it was really going to fulfill our desires for a South American holiday, sadly, we had to conclude that it didn’t.  We had wanted to cruise on Crystal since we have yet to try it on our trip through the luxury cruise lines, but we weren’t able to come up with a single suite on the cruises we want even this far in advance.  Angela went right to the source, but to no avail.  That’s proof positive for us that advance planning is essential.  So we booked on the same itinerary on another line.  This time we were able to book the suite we wanted on Regent Seven Seas cruises.  Which we’ve already been on.  Twice.  And it was on the Mariner.  Which we’ve been on.  And it was OK, but not an experience we need to repeat yet.  So many cruise ships, so little time! So we moved on to plan B.

Plan A for cruise planning always starts with an itinerary we want, at a time when we can get away.  Plan B starts not with the itinerary, but with a cruise line.  Our second choice was Seabourn.  The February time frame when we need to take a dip south is a bit challenging if you’re trying to avoid the Caribbean as we originally were.  However, what we were really trying to avoid was repeating a series of islands that we’d already visited – either for a day on a cruise ship, or for a longer stay.  What we found was the Yachtsmen’s cruise in the Caribbean that takes in small ports that the larger ships can’t reach.  After all, the ship we’re now booked on, the Seabourn Spirit, has a grand total of 204 passengers.  A yacht, indeed! So, that and the airline booking was phase 1 – phase 2 is a bit more challenging at this time of year since it involves finding the perfect hotels in Barbados

We were considereing staying at The Crane in Barbados again – but at this time of year, the prices they’re offering for February are out of this world and not worth a return.

and St. Martin where the cruise begins and ends.  That might sound easy, but when you’re trying to be discerning and the hotels haven’t really formalized their winter season yet, you can easily fall into the trap of paying too much for those 5 and 6-star properties.  So, we’re going to wait.

From time to time people will ask us why we don’t just wait until the cruise lines start pushing the winter cruises that they start to discount later in the year.  “You’ll get more bang for your buck,” they tell us.  But they’re wrong – unless you think that something is of value just because it’s cheap.  We don’t happen to take that view.

There’s an analogy to shopping for clothes.  If you always wait until everything is on sale, you’ll never really get what you want – and you’ll always be ‘settling’ for what’s left.  If you don’t like something enough to have bought it at full price, most times, you shouldn’t buy it on sale either.  Buy something just because it’s on sale hardly demonstrates discernment – but if it’s n sale and you love it, then that’s great!  Sadly, that happens only once in a while.  So, for the big-ticket vacation planning, get out there early and start turning your dreams into reality!

Tips for early planning:

  • Start by figuring out where you want to go.
  • Then decide how you want to get there.
  • Determine your budget – and shop within it rather than lower.
  • Keep an open mind.
  • Don’t book something just becasue it’s on sale!
  • Set a deadline for when you want all of the final bookings complete.
  • Be prepared to put Plan B into motion if necessary!

Who plans a winter vacation in the summer? Discerning travelers do!

A taste of winter on St. Margaret’s Bay, Nova Scotia last November. It usually doesn’t snow this much!

Our story begins this past weekend when over a glass (or two) of wine, we began to talk about those travel-related things on our bucket list, two of which include a South American vacation and trying out Crystal CruisesBut…it’s only June! You rightly suggest.

The sun is shining, the temperature is rising on our deck, the dock is in the water waiting for the boat to arrive from the marina – sure signs that summer in Nova Scotia is about to arrive.  And not a moment too soon in this part of the country.  So, why in the world have we begun planning our winter vacation?  The reason is simple: long years of experience.  Being a discerning traveler often means taking action many months before actually setting out for the airport.  So, that is precisely what we did this week.

Our first step in planning this vacation was to revisit our bucket list.  A South American adventure was right on top of that list alongside a desire to cruise our way through the luxury cruise lines. Regent cruises?  Check. (Actually check more than once). Silversea cruises?  Check. Cunard Queen’s Grill? Check. Crystal?  No check yet.  So putting those two desires together, we’ve decided that we want to visit Rio and Buenos Aires and travel between the two by ship.  Next stop, the web.

Visiting Crystal’s web site uncovered the perfect cruise for us departing from Buenos Aires on February 26 (a bit late in the season for our taste, since we’re trying to avoid winter weather up north,  but occasionally you have to compromise to get what you really want) and landing 12 days later in Rio.  We’d plan to spend a few days in each city before and after – we could feel the flamenco coming on already. We chose the level of suite we wanted, and were on to our next stop, Angela, our wonderful travel agent.

Perhaps we’ll have another wonderful lunch like the one we had here in Tulum, Mexico.

Angela was quick to respond to the query about prices on Penthouses and Penthouse suites that we were interested in.  “Sorry,” was the reply.  “None available.  But there are deluxe staterooms.”

A quick look at the size of the “deluxe staterooms” was enough to send us scurrying over to Regent’s web site to have a look at a similar itinerary.  There it was – and the suite we wanted was available – just one left, we might add.  So, that one is now being held for us while we figure out all of the other things that go along with planning a big cruise.  Getting to Argentina, visiting Buenos Aires, visiting in Rio at the end of the cruise etc.  But it isn’t over yet.

Just today we found a couple of Silversea cruises that sound interesting though: Cape Town to the Canary Islands and Bali to Singapore.  So many cruises, so little time!  But there is a real lesson here.

We were going to wait until September to book our February holiday.  In years gone by when we were looking to get away to a resort in the Caribbean, that strategy worked.  If price is your only criterion, then waiting for a sale and taking what you get might work.  But not for us.

But…we’re hoping to dine on our suite verandah again this winter.

As we’ve gotten older, we’ve gotten more discerning in our travel choices, and we’ve found that each trip is imbued with a kind of nostalgic feeling: we may never travel to these destinations again (but we’ve thought that before, and you know what happened!).  This means that each decision is significant.  Sure, we occasionally do something more or less on the spur of the moment (we did book our April vacation only six weeks before), but we’ve been seeing a pattern over the past few years when it comes to booking cruises in particular.  The higher end the cruise, the more likely the suites will be booked far in advance.  It seems that discerning travelers everywhere are simply not taking a chance.  Neither are we.

John Steinbeck once wrote that “…a journey is like marriage.  The certain way to be wrong is to think you can control it…” Hold that thought – right from the moment you begin to plan that journey.  Think you’re in control?  Think again.  Now, 30 seconds of winter to get you thinking about booking your own winter holiday!