Death/End of Life, Need to prepare, Support Group, What to consider

Planning for the end of Life

Time passing concept

Welcome back blog readers,

I realize that I have not been as active writing or spending as much time on social media this last week. That’s mainly due to feeling under the weather and also trying to make an effort of not getting sucked into all of the negative drama that is posted on social media.

While I’m still not feeling 100%, I am inspired to write about a topic that is affecting my family, some members more so than others due to the varying stages of grief that are associated with death.

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

These stages are all part of the grieving process for both the person that has received the news about their health and for the surviving family members. A person may go through these stages in a different order, they may also revisit a stage. There isn’t a timeframe as each person will grieve differently and in their own time, to which is perfectly normal.

To better explain these stages.

https://grief.com/the-five-stages-of-grief/

While we all start our life in the same way, one egg one sperm, our end of life varies. For the most part, we either have a bit of a warning that our loved one has limited time left or things happen so quickly that there isn’t time to prepare, just immediate shock, and devastation.

The topic of Death still seems to be taboo, and many people still find it very uncomfortable to talk about. Death is a natural part of Life, and at some point, we all will mourn the loss of a loved one, just as our loved ones will mourn over the loss of us. Not talking about death won’t make it go away or make your grieving phase any easier. Knowing what to expect can make the process easier to go through because there is nothing to fear.

We tend to seek out information and books about what to expect when we are creating life, but we don’t put that same effort in when it comes time to dealing with the end of life. Medically, there are many resources that share information to help us make sense of the process from a scientific point of view. I suspect that religion and our beliefs in spirituality are what make the end of life process difficult to come to terms with. Nobody really knows. It’s mostly speculation and theories when talking about our soul/energy and what becomes of that after it leaves our body.

Medically/Scientifically, here is what happens to the human body:

Read about it here- https://www.verywellhealth.com/what-happens-to-my-body-right-after-i-die-1132498

Watch a short informative video here- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nUsdWOCPIQQ&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR3FGEmuAAXmZhEphv62AgXfLjyw2RWTnQX2aisWarmgpHtIt1Vx3JS3gNM

With spirituality and religion aside, it is important to talk with our loved ones about what kind of arrangements they want done after their death. Just as you should be voicing your concerns about you want done with your body. Often times the most difficult decision a family makes is coming to a decision about funeral arrangements, cremation, donating to science, or eco-friendly biodegradable options and where the money is to pay for these last expenses.

Having a Living Will or a Living Trust in place before your death will ease the burden on your family. Click here to learn more- https://www.thebalance.com/living-will-vs-living-trust-3505198

Most people have no idea about the costs associated with death are. In many cases, the costs are left up to the family to sort out at the last minute, and it puts a strain on their personal finances. The average funeral costs $7,200. That includes a viewing and burial, embalming, hearse, transfer of remains, service fee and more. It doesn’t, however, include the cost of, say, a catered luncheon with drinks after the memorial service or the copy of the death certificate.

If you are inclined to shop around, you might find this link helpful. https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0301-funeral-costs-and-pricing-checklist

Interested in the cost of Cremation? Check out your options here- https://www.neptunesociety.com/resources/what-does-cremation-cost

Once you’ve decided on what you want to be done, you may want to consider either setting the money aside for those expenses or making sure that you have a life insurance policy that will cover the cost plus a little extra to account for inflation. Many life insurance policies don’t cover a quarter of the funeral/burial expenses, something many families are left scrambling to make up with the difference.

My point is this, While many of us prepare for the new life that we are expecting (baby showers), we should also take the time to plan for our end of life. What your surviving family members want is closure after we’re gone, not a burden of debt due to a lack of planning. With life there is death, while it’s not fun to talk about, we should take time to consider what our final wishes are and who we entrust to make that happen on our behalf.

 

 

 

 

 

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Need to prepare, Speaking from Experience

Life Lessons 101: Subjects that should be taught in school.

Welcome back blog readers,

This is a topic that my husband and I have discussed in great length several times over the last 10 years. I thought it was worth sharing, so let’s get started.

I should preface by mentioning that I graduated high school in 1996, so almost 23 years ago. I don’t have kids, so maybe things have changed since then, but somehow, I think what may have changed has gone in the wrong direction.

Do I feel that my 4 years in high school prepared me for the real world? Not especially.

I did attend a Vocational High School (my choice) because I didn’t have parents, an older sibling, or an adult role model to learn from. I felt it was important for me to learn a trade skill and have experience in order to gain employment as soon as possible. Once I decided to enroll in the Automotive Technology program the curriculum was broken up into two alternating weeks. The academic classes that included trade-related math, trade-related science and automotive related classes that varied depending on which grade you were in. The “shop” week was our hands-on learning week where we spent time in an actual automotive garage with hydraulic lifts, a wheel alignment machine, several diagnostic tools, basically getting our hands dirty going from parts changers to diagnosing problems.

While the hands-on learning aspect did prepare me with experience needed to gain employment. I still wasn’t prepared to transition from graduate to functioning adult. While I was responsible, getting to work on time, showing up for my shifts, I felt so out of place when talking to human resources about tax forms, knowing what I could/should claim.

While we did have a short intoduction to balancing our checkbook, there was nothing that prepared us for personal taxes, learning about retirement plans, tax free savings accounts, stocks/bonds, 401K, RRSP, Unions, Unemployment benefits, Real Estate, Health Insurance, Home Owners Insurance, Vehicle Insurance, Renter’s Insurance, The Voting process and what the Electoral College is, Credit, credit cards, interest rates, bankruptcy and credit score. All of these things that I had wished I had been better prepared for, or at least had a basic understanding about before graduating at 17 years old.

A few other topics that should be considered and may go against popular opinion.

  • Sex Ed, reproductive anatomy, STD’s, Contraception
  • Nutrition, learn what a calorie is, learn to read nutrition labels, learn about food sensitivities/allergies, learn to prepare healthy meals.
  • Family Planning, learn how expensive it is to have a child, daycare, diapers, clothes, food, consider a single income, rent, utilities, co-pays for doctor visits.
  • Home Economics, bring back cooking, baking, reading recipes, sewing/knitting/crocheting, learning to use basic hand tools and learn basic first aid.
  • Driver’s Ed, should cover more than learning the rules of the road and learning to read traffic signs. Along with learning proper road safety, new drivers should also learn the basics about vehicle maintenance, which I previously covered here. https://reinbeckstudio.wordpress.com/2019/01/18/452/

Give students what they need to make smart informed choices about their future. Many students babysit for us, they are friends with your kids. Wouldn’t you have a better peace of mind knowing that are better prepared and have acquired basic life skills if they are babysitting for you or they’re out driving around with your kid? What I tend to see from high school kids (because I work with many of them in the world of retail) is that there are some that have a good head on their shoulders and they have a plan for their future. The majority, however; are mindless zombies that are completely clueless and can’t function without a mobile device in their hand. You can bet that they’re not researching any of the above topics in order to better themselves.

I’m not suggesting that all high school students should have their future mapped out, most adults have yet to achieve that. What I am saying is start holding this generation accountable and stop giving out participation trophies for showing up and doing nothing to earn it. The idea of holding a graduation ceremony at the end of the school year for each grade is absurd and takes away from the actual milestone of completing 12 years and entering adulthood. So now a simple “congratulations, we’re proud of you” is no longer enough, we have to sit through 12 cap/gown graduation ceremonies. I just don’t get it. We have and continue to create a self-entitled, praise me for showing up generation. Where is our trophy?

That is all I have to say about that, for now. No fancy segway as I finish this post.

 

 

Immigrants, Immigration Process, Living Abroad, Moving, Need to prepare, Speaking from Experience, What to consider

My Immigration Process, Part 2

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Welcome back blog readers,

Here is the continuation from yesterday’s blog post. I left off just having received my Visa that was permanently affixed to my passport and I was getting all of my ducks in a row before making the big move across the border.

I feel like I have to make this point again, you can’t just show up at the border with your belongings and expect entry and start your life in Canada without having gone through the proper process.

Here’s the link that I shared in the previous post, it’s the link I highly recommend that you use as your main resource for information.

https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/immigrate-canada.html

There is so much to consider when you now have the OK to move to another country.

  • Finding a place to live, establishing a permanent address.
  • Updating your address with the government, IRS, Banking, Social Security, Credit Card companies.
  • Having your mail delivery put on hold for a couple of weeks while you get settled/established.
  • PAY OFF YOUR DEBTS! I chose to consolidate all of my debts into one easy monthly payment. Back in 2008-2009 online banking and e-transferring was not as popular. I had to figure out how I was going to pay my debts in US funds while in Canada. I ended up creating two PayPal accounts, one attached to my US bank account and one in Canada attached to my new bank account. I was then able to transfer myself money back/forth until I no longer needed my US bank account (about 2 years later). I had to keep it open for pending tax returns and making automatic monthly payments to pay off my credit card debt in the USA.
  • Make sure you have enough money to cover you for a few months as you look for work and wait 2 weeks for your first paycheck. Most jobs pay bi-weekly in Canada, something to keep in mind. My first job up here paid on the 1st and the 15th, that took a bit to get used to after being paid every Friday. You’ll also have to show proof of the funds in your bank account(s), so have a print out of your last statement handy.
  • Downsize, sell or donate items that you can live without. If money is no object, then rent a U-haul or POD. In any case you will have to figure out which is the best way to move your belongings across the border. As for me, I was on a super tight budget and chose to sell the bigger furnature items. Actually, my husband was down with me helping me pack during this process. While I was at work, he was at my apartment wheeling and dealing selling just about everything that wasn’t nailed down. In fact, I came home on day from work and found that he had sold my bed, curtains for the bedroom window, my microwave and the cart, my TV and my couch. While the extra money was needed, I still had 2 weeks left before I was ready to move. We ended up sleeping on a twin air mattress and a pile of folded bath towels on the floor.
  • Schedule to cancel your utility services, Internet/cable/phone and make sure you pay your last bill.
  • Cell Phone: While I didn’t own one at this time, I suspect that you may want to look into an International Plan or buying a new SIM card once you get into Canada. Roaming charges will add up quickly unless you’re using skype, magic jack or a messenger app.
  • Tax Returns: Make sure that you have a copy of your tax returns (going back at least 7 years). I didn’t have the luxury of having them saved onto a USB drive as they were paper copies from H&R Block. In any case, make sure you can access them as you will be asked for that information when you apply for any line of credit in Canada.
  • Important paperwork: Birth cerificate(s), Social Security card(s), Marriage Certificate(s), Adoption Certificate(s), Divorce or other court documents of proof, Driver’s Ed proof of completion, Diploma(s), A copy of your medical history and refill your prescription(s), Vaccination record(s).
  • Pets: If you’re bringing your pet(s) they also need to go through the Import/Export process. Have their Vet/Medical history, make sure they are up to date on their vaccinations and refill their medication(s).
  • Vehicle insurance: Get a copy of your driving record as proof of your driving experience as you will need to have vehicle insurance in Canada. If you have a Drivers Education certificate, make a copy of that as well as that will be handy when applying for your new Canadian drivers license. Inform your insurance company of your intention to move and coordinate with them as far as making your last payment, returning your plates and cancelling your policy once you’ve established yourself in Canada, especially if you plan on driving your vehicle across the border.
  • Import/Export: While I did my best to research this before I packed up my car, there is a lot of misleading information as well as information that was not clear at the time. Learn from my experience and take from it what you will. You will need a complete itemized list of everything you are bringing across the border. Keep a copy for yourself and you will turn in a copy to the Customs agent. I chose to pack small boxes and with each box, I numbered the outside. I wrote down the contents, on the outside of each box I attached a copy of the contents, the second copy I kept together with the rest to hand over to Customs. The same thing with any backpacks or luggage, I attached a copy of the contents to the bag for my records and another copy of the contents was placed in the packet of the other lists of contents to be handed in to Customs.
  • Import/Export of your vehicle: Please keep in mind that this took place in November 2009, so it’s possible laws may have changed since then. I was able to find information about having to IMPORT my car into Canada, but I didn’t find anything solid about EXPORTING my car from the USA. I learned quickly once I arrived at the border. Canada did not require that I EXPORT my car from the USA before IMPORTING it. I was warned that the USA prefers that I do EXPORT my car and the issue that may come up from not EXPORTING my car from the USA is that if I cross the border (driving) into the USA and happen to get an agent that specializes in the IMPORT/EXPORT of vehicles after they notice my US passport with Canadian plates on my car, I may get fined and may be denied entry into the USA until I follow the EXPORT process. So, I simply didn’t cross the border in that car, crisis averted.

Here is the website I was directed to use from the Canadian Border agent to properly IMPORT my car.

https://www.riv.ca/importingavehicle.aspx

You may have more things to consider, especially if you have to sell your house, have other real estate or own your own business that you may have to dissolve. I can’t offer any advice on those concerns.

Now that we’ve successfully crossed the border and are ready to start our life in Canada, we’re not done yet. We still have to apply for a Permanent Resident Card which is mandatory to carry with you and have to show with your passport anytime you reenter Canada should you leave for any reason. This form of identification expires in 5 years and you will need to reapply/renew before it expires.

Being a permanent resident grants you all of the same rights as any Canadian citizen, with the exception that you can’t vote or be summoned to serve jury duty. You also can’t serve in the Canadian military and there are some government-funded benefits that you may not qualify for.

You also have to apply for your Social Insurance Number (SIN) which is the equivalent to the US Social Security card. You’ll need your SIN card to apply for jobs, open a bank account, apply for credit just as you needed your social security card for similar things. Keep your social security card as you will also need that, or at least the number to file your tax returns.

There is another important piece of information about filing taxes that needs to be clarified. Many Americans living abroad are under the misconception that they don’t have to file a tax return to the USA. This is only true if you renounce your American Citizenship and by renounce I mean you have to follow the process, file the paperwork pay the USA a hefty fee (close to $2,000 last I checked), and receive confirmation. Then and only then will you be exempt from filing a US tax return.

https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/legal/travel-legal-considerations/us-citizenship/Renunciation-US-Nationality-Abroad.html

Now it’s not to say that you actually OWE anything. If you are like me (most of us, middle class income) and you don’t own property, you don’t work in the USA, you don’t live in the USA, you don’t conduct business that results in income in the USA, then all you have to do is file a ZERO return. Filing basically states just what I mentioned above, you made nothing, you claim nothing, you owe nothing. This MUST be done when you file your Canadian (T4) taxes as a means of keeping the IRS informed, keeping them off of your back and remain in good standing with the USA because you are still a US citizen.

You are still a US citizen even if you apply to become a Canadian and obtain a Canadian passport. You will still have to file a zero return for the USA and file your regular taxes for Canada. You are now considered a DUAL citizen and hold 2 passports. You can stop renewing your permanent resident card at this point, but as long as you hold on to your US citizenship, you will be expected to file a tax return each and every year and yes, it’s still due April 15th even though you have until the end of April to file with Canada.

Renouncing your citizenship is a lengthly process as the USA wants to retain as many tax paying citizens as possible, even those living abroad. So they make the process long, costly and brutal. It’s just easier to file a few extra papers along with your Canadian taxes just to keep the peace.

As for me, I have thought about applying to become a Canadian Citizen as it makes sense to me. I don’t have any ties to the USA (besides a few family that I can visit whenever), I don’t own property, I don’t have financial ties (besides filing a zero return). Yes, I can still cast my vote for US Presidential candidates, but otherwise considering the state of the USA under its currant leader, I don’t see the point in maintaining my US citizenship. On the other hand, I don’t see the point of paying $2,000 (more like $2,600 if you consider the conversion from CAD to USD at today’s rates) just to get out from filing a few pieces of paper once a year. Even the cost of renewing my 10 year US passport is cheaper ($110 USD) considering that I might renew it 4 more times before I die or stop traveling to the USA. I’d rather pay the lesser fee and become a Canadian citizen, but that is my choice and not one that you have to make for yourself.

If you are a US citizen living abroad and would like more information about renouncing your citizenship, what it means, what are the pros and cons for your situation, if you are behind on filing your US tax returns then I encourage you to click the link below and contact a representive there.

https://www.moodysgartner.com/blog/

Since November of 2009, I have had to renew my Permanent Resident card once and renew my 10 year US Passport once. I am allowed to travel outside of Canada as long as I follow the same rules as Canadian citizens, we have to remain in Canada at least 6 months each year to maintain our status. I have to carry my permanent resident card with me along with my passport when I travel or when I expect to show proof of my status.

Now I have 2 US passports, both of which I have to carry as the first has my VISA and immigration landing document and the new passport, well it hasn’t expired as I just renewed it a few months ago. I will have to continue to carry both until I become a Canadian citizen; at which point I’ll only have to carry that one passport going forward.

That about sums up the immigration process if your going from the USA to Canada. I had no idea what I was getting into, what the process entailed or how long it would take. Knowing all of what I shared would have been super helpful because the not knowing was more frustrating than the waiting.

I’m happy to answer any questions or clarify if something I mentioned didn’t make sense. The link for the Canadian government website is truly a great resource to help you find work, answer questions about living in Canada and reassure you that not all Canadians live in igloos. That was a running joke from my former co-workers before I moved.

Actually most of the people live close to the border up to 2 hours away. Unless you live further North, then you better like the colder weather year round. Research the different Provinces, what the climate is like, what jobs are available, what the tax rate is (Ontario has a 13% sales tax while Alberta has a 5% sales tax) before you decide on which Province to settle in. Canada has so much to offer and if you have the means of coming up for a visit or a few visits, you should.

With that said, that has sparked another topic for a blog post… I won’t spoil it, you’ll have to come back to find out.

I hope that my experience has helped you to make your choice on whether immigrating to Canada is for you. At the very leas,t I hope that you have learned what the process is like for those of us that go through it legally and you know it’s an on going process to maintain our status. Please feel free to share, like, comment especially if you know someone that may be considering such a big move as they will have a better idea as to what to expect before going into this blind, like I did.

Have a great weekend!

Hannah, the international traveller.

 

 

Immigrants, Immigration Process, Living Abroad, Moving, Need to prepare, Speaking from Experience, What to consider

My Immigration Process

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Welcome back blog readers,

Today’s topic is about immigration, what you need to know and consider should you be thinking about immigrating from the United States to Canada. I will share my experiences and tips to help you get through this process. But first, here’s a link that will get you started. Most of your questions will be answered here, so please use this website as it is verified by the Canadian government and other websites may contain misleading information or may be a scam.

https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/immigrate-canada.html

There is so much information that you need to know before applying as an immigrant. First, How do you plan to apply? Do you have family in Canada that are willing to sponsor you?  Are you married to a Canadian citizen that can sponsor you? Are you coming to Canada to study in which there is a special student/study Visa required? Do you have a special trade skill or work experience that may qualify you to be sponsored by an employer? Are you a refugee seeking a safe place for you and your family to live?

Again, I will refer you to check out the link above. I was able to immigrate by means of meeting a Canadian citizen and falling in love. I did look into the special skill process, but my set of automotive skills/knowledge wasn’t enough to qualify, even though I had an employer that was interested in hiring me.

The first thing I should make clear is that you can’t just show up at the border and expect to be allowed entry and start your life in Canada. There is a process, there is a ton of paperwork, there is proof and documentation that is required, there is a medical exam that each member of your family will have to go through, there will be fees costing up to $1,000 and most importantly, you need a valid US passport. Expect this process to take up to 9 months to complete, maybe longer.

There was a packet of paperwork that we printed off, one set for me (the applicant) and another set for my husband (the sponsor).  Both applications, various forms of proof, and payment were all sent in one large envelope to begin the immigration process.

Here are some things that needed to be answered or required more documentation (proof).

  • All names (aliases) I have used, last names, maiden names, legal names
  • All addresses where I lived for the first 18 years of my life
  • Copies of my birth certificate, marriage certificate, copy of the picture page of my passport
  • I needed to obtain a copy of my fingerprints, FBI clearance to prove I didn’t have a criminal record or any outstanding warrants in any of the 50 states.
  • I had to seek a doctor (one approved by Canada which ended up being 2 hours away) to clear the medical exam, which was basically a physical, blood work and a “womanly exam” to ensure that I was not infectious and free of serious diseases and not trying to abuse the Universal Health Care that Canada offers.
  • Proof of our relationship, the marriage certificate was not enough, we needed to include photos, chat logs from skype and MSN messenger (2008), copies of emails that we exchanged, proof that our families knew/had met the other person. We sent in boarding passes and ticket stubs when my husband came down to visit me. We sent in receipts to prove that we bought joint items or gifts that we bought for each other. All to prove that we were in a legitimate relationship/marriage and weren’t trying to scam the government.

I suspect that if the proof we provided wasn’t enough to convince the immigration officer, that we would have been asked to come in for an interview. We were able to avoid that part of the process. Once we finally mailed out the large application packet and it was received, we were able to check the status online. My husband was approved to be my sponsor within the first week. Going through the paperwork (which we put in order, using paper clips as they requested) took them about 4-6 weeks. I did get a notification in the mail asking for me to resubmit my fingerprints as the first set were smudgy and there was a hiccup on one of the dates on the application. I inverted the last two numbers by mistake and had to correct it. Once completed, I sent that back to the immigration office. Another 4-6 weeks would pass before we received another notification in the mail, I was to send my actual passport in so they could affix my VISA to one of the pages before mailing that back to me.

Ladies, here’s a tip: Make sure that your passport is updated with your legal married name (if you took your spouses last name or hyphenated it). You want to send that updated version to have your Visa attached. Also make sure you get the correct sized passport photos taken. My first set were not taken properly and I had to get them retaken, wasting more time and adding to my frustration.

If my memory serves me well, I want to say that we started (mailed in the application packet) in February 2009 and I received my full passport back with affixed VISA in early October 2009, so about 8 months. Once I received that, it was a sigh of relief but it also meant I had a limited time to get my affairs in order, tie up loose ends, sell my belongings, seriously downsize and pack before actually crossing the border to live in Canada.

There is more information to share, but sadly the world of retail insists that I show up for my shift. I’ll come back tomorrow (on my day off) to share the rest of my experience.

Happy Friday! ~ Hannah

 

 

Cruises, Need to prepare, Speaking from Experience, Vacation

Cruising 101, Part 3

Welcome back blog readers,

Here is a recap from yesterday’s post, Cruising 101, Part 2.

  • You’ve booked your flight, hotel stay the day BEFORE to cruise leaves the port.
  • You’ve made your way on the ship and explore what it has to offer and where the buffet is located.
  • You know about Drink Packages, Specialty Dining Packages, Excursions and Gratuities.
  • You know to get cash from the slot machines to avoid more petty fees/service charges.
  • You know to be aware of the time, any time changes due to time zones, and getting back to the ship on time to avoid being left behind.
  • You know which aspects are “Inclusive” and where you can expect additional charges onboard.

 

First time cruisers may be unsure as to what to pack as we see many passengers that over pack and bring way too much stuff. Here are my tips and suggestions for packing a cruise to a warmer climate like the Caribbean (even in December) and to Alaska.

First the Caribbean:

  • Clothes: Shorts, T-shirts, sun dresses, sleep wear, undergarments, socks, sandals/water shoes, dress shoes and comfortable walking shoes/sneakers, bathing suits/swim trunks, a fancy outfit/suit if you want to dress up for the Gala night, a light sweater as the theaters, dining areas tend to be cooler. Oh, and sunglasses. I tend to forget as I wear glasses with transitional lenses. If you are traveling from a much colder climate like Canada in December, then you will want a jacket to leave in and return in. Don’t worry about the scarf, gloves, clunky winter boots as they will take up too much space.
  • Travel sized toiletries: toothbrush/tooth paste, floss, shampoo, conditioner, body wash is recommended (while most cruise lines do offer them in the bathroom, Royal Caribbean did not, that was a lesson learned). Any medications for you and your family; make sure the prescription label shows your name and bring enough to cover you for the length of the cruise. Hairbrush/comb, razors, sunscreen, deodorant, feminine products should you be expecting a visit from “Aunt Flo” on your vacation. If you want to bring makeup or jewelry, keep it to a minimum.  Remember that you are on a cruise, you are a tourist that doesn’t want to attract attention from thieves/con artists/pick pockets at the ports with wearing flashy jewelry. All liquids should be placed in a ziplock bag. Hair dryers are available in your stateroom.
  • Cameras, Binoculars, iPads, Tablets, Kindle readers or other e-book readers are nice to have, but completely optional. If you do bring them, make sure you bring the charger/power cord. As for your smartphone, keep them set to AIRPLANE mode to avoid ridiculous roaming charges (unless you have an international plan).
  • Power strip, not to be confused with an extension cord. A power strip is a MUST HAVE as most staterooms lack enough outlets, especially if you are not traveling alone. There is typically one standard (120V) outlet and one European outlet in each stateroom.
  • Walkie Talkies, if you are traveling as a group of with kids that can use them. Yes there is a phone in the staterooms to get in touch or leave a message to meet up. Kids are often having fun at the kids only area, they may lose track of time or find it easy to get lost on the huge ship. It’s possible that parents may lose track of time as they lay out on the sundeck having a few drinks. Totally optional, but worth considering if you’re not using an app or other means to stay in touch while onboard. Norwegian does have an app *$10 per user that acts as a messenger for you and your party as long as you have a smartphone or device that can use it.
  • If you are travelling with small kids that still wear diapers/pull-ups you should look into the “Packages” that are offered, not only can you order strawberries and champagne to your room, but I’ve seen where you can have diapers sent to your room. Just one less thing to pack, considering how many you’d have to bring for the duration of the cruise, or incase you start running low.

Packing for Alaska: Pretty much the same except you’ll want warmer clothes and a windbreaker. We took our cruise at the end of April/early May, while the temperatures were averaging 50F-60F/10C-15C the Arctic air made it feel colder. The pools onboard were rarely used, the sundeck had plenty of seating as it was too cold to sit out for very long. What Alaska lacks in warmer temperature it makes up for in beautiful scenery and amazing wildlife.

Hannah

Welcome To Alaska
Sign at Alaska/British Columbia border

On our first cruise, we over packed like many first time cruisers do. My husband and I each packed a full sized suitcase with our clothes, toiletries and to ensure we had extra space to bring home any souvenirs. In reality, we didn’t wear half of what we packed. There is laundry service onboard *for a fee, which is great to take advantage of by day 4 especially if you are traveling with kids. Honestly, we tend to wear the same 2 or 3 pairs of shorts mixed with the same 3 or 4 T-shirts throughout the cruise. Keep in mind that you will probably buy a few T-shirts or articles of clothing while you stop at the ports or browse the gift shop onboard.

The more luggage you bring means the more likely you are to be charged for your “Checked” bags (for larger suitcases) especially if they weigh more than 50 pounds. My only experience is with Air Canada, so please look into the airline that you are using to find out their fine print and what they will allow per passenger before charging extra.

My husband and I now travel with one full sized suitcase that we divide half for his stuff, half for mine. We each have one carry on, he brings his laptop and I pack an oversized “purse” that carries our passports, confirmations receipts for hotels, flights, cruise embarking details, cruise baggage tags and anything we might need like over the counter pain reliever, Pepto Bismol, hand sanitizer, tissue, earbuds for the flight. We never use the overhead bins to store our carry on, we stow them under the seat in front of us.

Here’s a tip for your carry on luggage: I know some of you don’t want to part with your carry on luggage and want to keep it with you. Carry on only what you absolutely need while you are in flight. Once you check your big luggage, you’ve cleared security and customs and you arrive at your gate chances are you will hear an announcement for passengers to voluntarily check their carry on bags. This doesn’t mean your laptops, your purses, your backpack. This means your carry-on travel suitcase with wheels, oversized duffle bags, or your luggage that is carrying your snorkel gear which will go directly on the plane for no extra charge.

Please for the love of god, take advantage of this if it applies to you. Your lap must be free/clear before take off and landing. This suggestion is made assuming that your flight is a DIRECT flight and you are not dealing with a connecting flight that departs in less than 90 minutes. If you have an immediate connecting flight, then I completely understand your situation.

While we are talking about airports, this scenario is something that happens when common sense is lacking. For first time fliers, please allow yourself to arrive at the airport at least 2 hours before your flight is scheduled to leave. Why? Because every passenger has to clear Security and most have to also clear Customs after they’ve checked in, receive their boarding pass and checked their large suitcase. What if I have an early morning flight? Arrive at least 2 hours before your flight is scheduled to leave. What if I have a red-eye flight? Arrive at least 2 hours before your flight is schedule to leave.

If you have never had to clear security at an airport, here’s what you need to know.

  • Your shoes have to come off (in most cases). So wear something that can easily be slipped on/off.
  • Your belt has to be removed. Better to not wear one or suspenders either for that matter.
  • You will go through a metal detector, so don’t arrive with your entire jewelry collection on, as everything will have to be removed, scanned through the x-ray and you’re just holding up the line as you put it all back on. Wedding rings are fine, simple stud earrings are fine. Don’t forget about toe rings, belly button rings, tongue rings, wear plastic ones until you arrive at your destination to avoid an uncomfortable pat down.
  • Cell phones, keys, wallets, loose change, watches, everything in your pockets has to come out, put in a bin to be scanned through the x-ray. Prepare for this while you are waiting in line, or better yet, wear pants without pockets.
  • Your jackets, sweaters, sweatshirts and hats need to be taken off and put in a bin to be scanned. While you’re in line place all of the above items in the pockets of your jacket and send it through together.
  • Laptops and C-Pap machines go through the scanner separately and out of the bag/packaging.
  • Everyone has to be processed, including infants, toddlers in strollers, people in wheelchairs or other mobility devices.
  • Food and Drinks are not permitted through security, including baby food, snacks, open packages. Chances are you will be asked to consume it before going through; otherwise the food/drink will be thrown out. Not to worry, once you clear security there are many food options available as you walk to your gate.
  • Keep your boarding pass and passport accessible as you will need both at this time. Have your passport ready to open on your picture page.
  • Be patient when you are coming up to the bins/emptying your pockets. Wait for the person in front of you to finish taking their things off and loading the bins. If you are traveling together, that is fine, you can share a bin for your shoes, jackets, hats. What I mean is, don’t jump in front of a stranger and push a bin of your things through before the person ahead of you is finished pushing their stuff through. Let them finish before snatching bins for your stuff. For one thing, it’s RUDE and two, it may look suspicious to the security crew as you jump ahead while the person in front of you has yet to be fully processed and cleared. We all want to get through as quickly as possible, these tips will assist in getting you processed efficiently.
  • While this tip has nothing to do with airport security, it’s about consideration. Please refrain from bathing in perfume/cologne or wearing heavy scented lotions before arriving to the airport. Yes, I know you want to smell great, but the truth is, nobody wants to smell you. You don’t know who you’re sitting in front of, behind of or may share a row with. Heavy scents can trigger a migraine which I can’t imagine is fun to deal with on a flight when you can’t escape the smell. Just be considerate, wear your perfume/cologne once you get to your destination.

As far as packing goes, try packing as light as you can if at all possible. If you and your spouse can share one full-sized suitcase and have minimal carry-on, great! If you require more than that, that’s okay too. You should be able to store a full sized suitcase under the bed in your stateroom and maybe another full-sized in the armoire/closet. Just keep in mind that the size of the average stateroom is equivalent to a 9′ x 9′ bedroom furnished like a studio apartment with an ensuite bathroom, so space really is limited when it comes to larger/bulky items.

There are baggage carts available at the airports and cruise ports to help carry your multiple bags. Don’t forget to tip the baggage porters, shuttle drivers, taxi drivers, uber drivers and your room attendant on the last day of the cruise.

This is all that I have time for today. I feel that is more to share about cruising to help you with deciding whether or not a cruise is the best way to spend your vacation.

If you’ve found my tips to be helpful in making your decision, please leave a comment and let me know. If I’ve mentioned something that doesn’t make sense or you have any questions, please inquire by leaving a comment and I’ll do my best to clarify or answer your concern. 🙂

 

Cruises, Need to prepare, Speaking from Experience, Vacation

Cruising 101, Part 2

On deck, Leaving Skagway

Welcome back blog readers,

Here is a recap from yesterday’s blog post, Cruising 101.

  • You are considering a cruise for your next vacation
  • What you need to consider before booking your cruise: Passport is up to date, Vaccinations (travel vaccinations) are up to date, You know to carry cash to pay for tips.
  • You know to research the various cruise lines, theme cruises, excursion options, and destinations to ensure that you make the most of your cruising experience.
  • First time cruisers are advised to book a cabin/stateroom Mid-Ship to avoid motion sickness.
  • Once you’ve settled on the ship, you are encouraged to find videos on Youtube to ensure you see the stateroom and consider any feedback left from former passengers.

 

There is so much information that I want to (and will) share, so let’s get started.

Let’s start at the beginning…

Before you book your cruise:

  • Do you need to go through a travel agent? No. If you find the process overwhelming, you certainly can book through a travel agent. This is at your discretion.  If you have a family member that is a travel agent or works for a particular airline or hotel chain, look into getting a discount. Don’t forget to take advantage of AirMiles, Reward Points, AAA/CAA or other Customer Loyalty perks if you have them.
  • If you don’t live near a cruise port (specifically the cruise port your ship is leaving from) let’s assume that you will require transportation to/from the cruise port from the airport. Consider the added cost for airfare roundtrip.

Here’s what I do and highly recommend. Since most of our cruises have left from Fort Lauderdale, Florida we book a flight that arrives the DAY BEFORE for cruise ship leaves port. Why? We are traveling from Canada where there is often snow/ice and risk of delays. We have been booking through Air Canada vacations (to save on the bundle of flight/hotel) and we know that there are only 2 flights from Ottawa to Fort Lauderdale. It’s really for peace of mind, to ensure we arrive at the cruise port before the ship leaves because it will not wait for you, unless they know you have entered the terminal. Most times we arrive at our hotel around 8pm (the night before) and we book a shuttle from the hotel to the cruise port in the morning. First time cruisers, you really don’t have to arrive before noon at the cruise port (unless your ship leaves earlier). All of ours have never left before 4pm. Now don’t wait until 4pm to show up as once you arrive at the cruise port you still have to go through security, customs and wait in the long line to get your key card for your stateroom (also acts as your ID onboard).

I’ve jumped a little ahead, back to the bullet points.

  • You’ve booked your flight, you’ve google mapped the long list of hotels near the airport, so now you look for hotels that participate in your Rewards/Perks program and consider staying at one that offers FREE shuttle to the cruise port. Feel free to book an Uber, Taxi or make your own arrangements as long as you get to the cruise port on time.
  • Don’t forget to book a hotel and transportation once the cruise arrives back at the port. This may not apply to all first time cruisers, depending on where you are going after the ship arrives or how early your flight home leaves. Allow yourself to arrive 2 hours before your flight is scheduled to leave.
  • When booking your flight home, I highly recommend you book a later flight anytime after 1pm or even book the flight the day after if you can. The ship usually arrives back at the port as early as 6am. The ship needs to be cleared from the local authorities and the several hundred suitcases need to be unloaded and sorted in the terminal before any passenger is allowed to leave (unless you opt for walking all of your luggage off of the ship). If your budget permits, book a hotel for the day as it serves as a place to store your luggage and book a sight seeing tour, spend the day at the beach or just take the extra day to relax before your flight. From my experience, spending the whole day (10:15am to 9:45pm) at the airport SUCKS.
  • If you are unsure about booking a shuttle from the cruise port to your next destination (hotel/airport), not to worry, you don’t have to sort it out now. Most cruise lines (Not Norwegian) will offer to help arrange transportation if you decide to book an excursion as to avoid sitting at the airport all day. Expect to pay a fee per person.

Ok, now that we covered getting to/from the cruise port, let’s talk about what to expect once you finally get onboard the ship.

The most important tip, KEEP YOUR ROOM KEY CARD ON YOU. Once you arrive you may feel a little overwhelmed as the ships are huge and most people spend the first day exploring, getting to know the layout, that is after you locate the Lido Deck (where the buffet is). Don’t expect to be able to access your room right away. Remember that there are at least 2000 maybe 4000 passengers waiting to have their luggage sent to their stateroom. Of the four cruise lines, Holland America has been the best for getting passengers on/off and the stateroom was ready immediately. I suspect that is the case because their ships are smaller and they assign 2 room attendants where the other ships are larger and only have 1 attendant.

Every cruise ship will go through a Muster Drill before the ship leaves port. You will be notified (the TV in your stateroom will already be on to guide you) as to what time it will start. Your key card will indicate where you are to meet the emergency crew (sometimes it’s out on deck, sometimes it’s a dining room or lounge). Please make sure your kids are with you, everyone HAS to be present, your key card may be scanned or your room number may be called as proof that you attended. Once this drill is complete, the ship will leave the port. Even past guests have to attend, it is mandatory, no exceptions.

Here are a few nautical terms that will help you navigate your way around the ship.

  • Forward, should be self-explanatory, Forward is referring to the Front of the ship
  • Mid-Ship, the Middle of the ship
  • Aft, the Back of the ship
  • Port (side), LEFT assuming that you are facing foward. I use word association to help me remember, PORT and LEFT have the same amount of letters. PORT and LEFT also have an EVEN amount of letters and the Staterooms that end in an EVEN number tend to be on the PORT side.
  • Starboard (side), RIGHT. Odd amount of letters in both words, Staterooms that end in an ODD number will be on the Starboard side.
  • Lido, not so much a nautical term as it tends to refer to the name of the deck that the buffet is located.
  • Gangway, The narrow walkway that allows passengers to walk on/off the ship while it’s docked at a pier. An announcement will be made as to where the Gangway(s) are located and signage will be posted to remind you what the All Aboard Time is.
  • Tender, A small ferry style boat that may be used to transport several passengers to/from the ship to the port. Often used when the ship is too large to tie up to the dock/pier. These tenders make several trips and they usually make their last trip 30-45 minutes before all passengers are to scheduled to be back onboard.

What does the All-Inclusive cover? Once you’ve book the cruise, your credit card is on file and attached to your stateroom in the event that you tack on any additional charges. The All-Inclusive covers:

  • All meals at the buffet, as many meals as you want including coffee, tea, milk, water and the juice, lemonade, iced tea from the drink dispensers.
  • All meals at the Dining Room (listed on your key card). Again you can order as many appetizers, dinners, desserts in one sitting as you’d like.
  • Entertainment/Shows/Demonstrations- for the most part they are FREE. Norwegian likes to charge for some of the entertainment. Norwegian and Royal Caribbean ask that you reserve seats, which I didn’t like. By the end of the first day everything was booked, so we missed out (or at least made to feel that we missed out as many guests booked but never attended). Holland America and Carnival were inclusive and had ample seating, ironic how the smaller ships can accomodate larger crowds and the larger ships don’t have ample seating. In any case, check your daily Itinerary that gets delivered to your stateroom as it should be mentioned there, otherwise contact Guest Services to be sure.
  • Room Service on Holland America and maybe Carnival were FREE, the other lines asked for a minimum order or want to charge a small fee for delivery or stopped delivery after a certain time. A menu will be in your stateroom, read the fine print.

That’s about it, your basic breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and most of the entertainment are inclusive.

Alcoholic drinks and Soda are EXTRA unless you purchase a Drink Package. The ships vary in price and some offer tiered packages, so it’s at your discretion to choose which is best for you.

Happy Hours: Holland America seems to be the only line that offers a Happy Hour. One of their ships offered a Buy one Get (the same drink) FREE. Worth mentioning as my husband and I wanted two different drinks thinking we’d buy one and get the other free, we ended up getting 4 drinks. A happy little mistake 🙂 The other 2 ships offered a buy one get one 50% off. There are 2 bars that participate in Happy Hour, the one at the Crows Nest is the one you should seek out.

As far as drink pricing (if you don’t buy the drink package), Holland America has the best pricing with a range of $5, $6 ,$7, $8 for mixed drinks and their drink of the day was discounted as well. The other cruise lines don’t offer a Happy Hour, just a drink of the day that costs $7 or $8 dollars. The most expensive drinks were on the Norwegian Epic that started around $8 and went up to $14

Gambling onboard, naturally will cost extra and all money spent goes right onto your onboard account. This includes the Casino, Bingo games, Deal or No Deal, Slot Tournaments, Poker Tournaments, BlackJack Tournaments (anything that offers a chance to win Cash probably has a fee attached). The casino is only open on Sea days and once the ship reaches international waters on Port days. The same thing is true for the onboard shops. No cash needed, just charge it to your room with your key card.

Casino Tip: Assuming that you have a credit card attached to your onboard account (most common, but not everyone does, they pay cash at the end). It’s very easy to swipe your key card at the slot machines or tables to charge $10 here, $20 there, another $10 here. Yes there are ATM’s, which charges a fee to process and your bank might charge for not using one of their machines, and don’t forget about the currancy exchange rate. You can get cash from the teller in the casino, for a fee. You can also get cash from Guest Services, for a fee. So where’s the tip? The tip is to swipe your key card at any slot machine, follow the prompts to Charge to your room give it a few seconds to process the transaction, once you see the CREDITS appear you press CASHOUT and take the voucher to a machine to cash in or to the teller to avoid extra fees (except Norwegian that charges 3%) the other cruise lines don’t charge if you use their slot machines to bypass the handling fee/exchange rate. Why is this helpful? Most ports will take cash, many vendors don’t accept credit card or debit so it’s a great way to ensure that you have cash to do your shopping just in case you need it. Also it’s nice to tip your tour guides on your excursions.

This brings me to my next point, Gratuities. You will notice when you check your onboard account that each day you will be charged a Service Fee/Gratuity Fee that averages $14.50 per day per person. What are these fees for? Basically the accumulated fees will be divided among the buffet crew that clears the tables, the room attendants, the crew members that put together the daily activities and provide the daily printout that gets delivered to your stateroom. Can I get this fee removed? YES! Go to Guest services and let them know that you want to remove the gratuity fees as you indend to tip in cash.

You will see automatic gratuities being charged for all drinks at the bars (unless you have a drink package). Extra Gratuities added for specialty coffee drinks and specialty dining and in some cases extra fees for Room Service. Let’s not forget about any services that you might get at the Spa like a massage, facial, getting your hair/nails done, acupuncture and even filler injections. This may not be a complete list, just what I can recall at the moment.

Dining: The buffet and Dining Room are not your only options (just the free options). Most cruise ships will offer options like Teppanyaki, Sushi, Italian, Brazilian, Steakhouse, French, Asian Noodle Bar if you’re looking to experience more of a fine dining experience. Don’t assume that you can just walk in when you’re ready to eat, in most cases you have to reserve a day/time in advance. If you’ve decided on a ship, then I encourage you to check out Youtube videos of the specialty dining to see if it’s something that interests you, especially if you are considering buying a Specialty Dining package.

When it comes to fine dining, it’s safe to assume that there is a dress code. Most ships do have a Gala night in all dining areas except the buffet. Typically this is the same night that you will see several crew members in the public areas available to take professional pictures. Taking the picture is FREE, buying a copy, not so much. The exception was Norwegian, they didn’t have a Gala night. They offered professional picture taking on several days of that cruise.

Shore Excursions: On days that you will be in Port, there are many activities for you to consider while you are off the ship. Snorkeling (bring your own gear if you have it), Kayaking, Scuba, various tours, Swimming with dolphins, hiking, tubing through a lazy river, Exploring caves, Ziplining, Parasailing, Train rides, honestly just too many activities to mention. You’ll be well informed as to what is available at the various ports. Equipment rentals are available, don’t worry. All excursions come with a fee, per person in most cases. Some activites require you to be fit and in shape, others not so much. Just something to keep in mind before booking a beautiful nature hike with strollers and grandma in tow 😛

Port Days: What to expect on port days… Expect the buffet to be chaos between 7am-9:30am. Those passengers that have booked an excursion want (need) to get off the ship to meet their tour guide. Do you have to get off the ship? NOPE. In fact some of the best days are port days where you stay on while half of the passengers get off. More chairs at the pool are available, the best time to book a spa treatment in on port days. There are still activities onboard, so there things to pass the time.

If you are getting off, BRING YOUR KEY CARD AND PASSPORT or ID. Make sure you know when the ship is leaving and please for the love of god, make sure you are back 30 minutes before that time. If the ship states that the ALL ABOARD time is 4:30pm, that doesn’t mean dilly dally, take your sweet ass time and show up at 4:45pm, 4:50pm, 5pm. The ports run on a schedule and other ships may be waiting or are enroute to use the dock/pier. If your ship is late leaving the captain gets fined big bucks and the ship will leave you behind (hence taking your passport as you will have to make arrangements to get home from there). Please schedule your excursions and allow yourself time to get back. If you are on an excursion that is running late, the captain knows and may make the exception to wait as he/she knows it is not your fault. Chances are it’s not just you the ship is waiting on, it’s a group of you.

This has happened on one of the cruises I was on, a group was out on an excursion in St.Marteen, all aboard was 4pm. The tour was running late the shuttle broke down on the way back. The captain received word and we watched several taxis leave the tourist area to retreive the guests. The captain wasn’t pleased as he had to stay an hour longer than he was scheduled, which means he had to make up time to the next port. It was this same cruise that some guests that got off were also late getting back on and were almost left behind. The ship does not sound the horn when it’s time to get back, so bring your watch, bring your phone, make sure you know what time it is.

Ship Time: It is very likely that while you are on a cruise, you may enter into a different time zone. Be mindful of the time the SHIP is on as this may impact your excursions and the time you need to get back. The SHIP time may vary from where you are and what the local time is. Typically an announcement will be made and you’ll be notified the evening before the time change happens so you can set your watches, phones and alarms accordingly.

Speaking of time, it’s time to end this post and continue tomorrow….

Cruises, Need to prepare, Speaking from Experience, Vacation, What to consider

Cruising 101

Welcome back blog readers,

Today’s topic is all about cruising and what you need to know or should consider before booking your vacation. As mentioned in a previous post, I don’t use notes or draft outlines, all posts are written as my inner monologue thinks it.

With cruising there is much to consider:

  • What’s your budget for your entire vacation? Including airfare, hotel, shuttle to/from the cruise port plus actual cash for tips.
  • Do you have a passport or require a passport for where you are going? Make sure you have at least 3 months left before it expires from the date you plan to travel.
  • Do any of the ports (countries) require vaccinations for Malaria, Typhoid and are you up to date on your Hep A, Hep B, Tetanus? If you require any of these or a booster this should be started 3 months before you plan to leave as some vaccines are given in stages.
  • Do a bit of research on the ports (cities in those countries) that you are visiting. Some may prohibit civilians from wearing camouflage (like Belize) because that is what their military wears. We didn’t know until we were on our excursion in Belize, better safe than sorry so leave your camo clothes at home.
  • Are you traveling alone, as a couple, a family with kids? There are cruises to accommodate every scenario.
  • Do I need to bring cash? YES! Bring at least $100 USD if you are traveling to the Caribbean, down the East/West coast of the United States, Mexico, Canada/New England and Central America. Most ports will accept Visa and Mastercard if you don’t have cash or they don’t accept US currency.

 

Now that you’ve decided on taking a cruise, where do you want to go? Which cruise line should I consider? The where and for how long is up to you. I can help with the Pros & Cons for various cruise lines.

  • Cruising solo, no expectations, just want to get away on an all-inclusive vacation. Any cruise line will work for you.
  • Cruising Solo or with friends: Maybe a Theme Cruise is something to consider, like the Walking Dead cruise or a Star Trek cruise, what about a celebrity cruise filled with heavy metal/ rock n’ roll/ country music played by the actual artist or meeting your favorite wrestler? Definitely a 21 and over crowd with lots of drinking and partying! Search Themed Cruises to find one that interests you. Here are a few links to get you started.

http://www.walkerstalkercruise.com/

https://www.celebritycruises.com/specialty-cruises/music-and-themed-cruises

  • Cruising as a family with kids: There are so many options available as most cruise lines offer a separate kids only area/section and members of the crew will look after the kids onboard and offer many activities to keep them busy while you relax by the pool with a cold drink in your hand.

https://disneycruise.disney.go.com/

Most cruise lines are kid-friendly and offer many family activities onboard like:

Water slides, wave pools, ziplining, rock wall climbing, bowling, wave riding, mini golf, arcade games, basketball, character parades and much more. Look into Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and Disney as they tend to be the better family friendly/kid friendly options.

As a side note: Holland America is a great cruise line, my favorite in fact. While they do offer Club HAL for the kids, their ships don’t have character parades, ziplining, wave pools, or water slides but the one thing Holland America does offer and the most other’s don’t are jars of baby food at the buffet. So if you’re traveling with an infant or toddler, then Holland America may be an option for you. Just something to consider as airport security has tightened up.

https://www.hollandamerica.com/en_US/cruise-ships.html

I have cruised on the Norwegian Epic (most recently), the Allure of the Seas from Royal Caribbean, The Carnival Legend and 3 ships from Holland America, the Westerdam, the Nieuw Amsterdam and the Eurodam. With that said my reviews/opinions are based on my experiences on these ships. Keep in mind that I have traveled with my husband, no kids and we are introverts in our early to late ’30s (non-smokers).

Norwegian Epic: Stateroom with balcony cruising the Western Caribbean/Central America on a 10 day cruise during early December 2018. A great ship for families with kids of any age. The outdoor deck had two pool areas, one with the waterslides and kiddie pool with lots of places to sunbathe. The other was an adult only area (until 6pm) with 2 hot tubs and a very large projector screen where movies and sports games could be watched. This section also served as a designated smoking section. There is so much to list, so here’s a link to give you a better idea.

https://www.ncl.com/ca/en/cruise-ship/epic

The ports were beautiful, lots of great shopping and excursion options. The food quality at the buffet was good, not great. The food options at the buffet again, good not great. Many hand sanitizer stations were available throughout the ship, especially at the buffet where there is a crew member at each entrance ready to greet you with “Washy Washy, Happy, Happy” as they are ready to squirt all those that enter with Purel. At the buffet you pretty much serve yourself, hence the need for the constant “washy washy”. Finding seats were like playing musical chairs, although you could take your food outside to the pool area or back to your room. I suggest if you are traveling with someone, one of you find a table while the other gets their food and returns to hold the table.

The internet package for 250 minutes (as a Canadian not having an international plan), hardly worth the money as it was more aggravating as we spent more time trying to log in/log out than we did actually having a good connection to do anything. The only place in our stateroom that had a decent connection was just behind the door next to the shower. Public areas were better for a connection, Port days were great as most people we off of the ship not sucking back the bandwidth. Early mornings and late evening were also better, less people awake. Days at sea were near impossible.

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My husband trying to get on to the ships’ internet as per his morning routine before breakfast. Like a kid being sent to the corner for punishment.

As for the shows and entertainment, half of the shows were not FREE (inclusive) and you have to reserve your seat and pay extra. The number of seats in the theater(s) are not enough to accommodate the guests that wanted to attend (the FREE shows). Many were left standing. Make sure you arrive 30 minutes before the FREE shows start to ensure you get a seat or can save enough seats for your party. Not impressed.

The Manhattan Dining Room: The food was good, not great definitely expected better. What typically happens with the dining rooms (My Time Dining/ inclusive meals) is that you can either reserve a table/time and show up each night, get to know the waitstaff or show up when you’re hungry, wait 20 minutes (sometimes longer) and get seated in a different section each time or with other guests if you don’t mind mingling.

  • One thing to note about dining anywhere that is not the buffet, is that 9 times out of 10 there is a dress code which is usually stated on the daily activity list that gets delivered to your stateroom each night to prepare you for the next day. Normally, the first day you arrive is a freebie and the dining room (may) allow you to wear very casual attire. This applies to all cruise lines that I have experienced.
  • Second thing to note about the dining room is that if you or anyone you are dining with has a food allergy, food sensitivity or any sort of food restriction, it is best to let the waiter know (as they don’t always ask). If there is something they should know, you are better off asking for a copy of the menu for the next day, picking out what you want, make substitutions if needed and have the waiter turn in your request to the chef (especially if you have a reserved time/table). This applies to all cruise lines that I have experienced.

Room Service, NOT INCLUSIVE on the Norwegian Epic. You are better off going to deck 15, getting what you want, hoping not to spill your drink or get bumped in the elevator as you stop at each floor and juggling for your room key card if you don’t want to pay the $7.95 fee. The only exception was ordering breakfast using the door hanger that you fill out the night before.

In fact most things on this ship had a *FEE attached including band-aids that can be purchased via vending maching on Deck 10. We were traveling with my sister in-law and her husband who had a Drink Package (free soda which is not inclusive and free alcohol with exceptions). Coffee is FREE, a shot of Bailey’s (for them) was FREE, ordering an Irish coffee, NOT FREE. They had to get their coffee from one to the drink stations, go to one of the bars or flag a server down for a shot of Bailey’s to then add to their coffee in order for it to be FREE. Be sure to read the fine print before buying any drink package from any cruise line.

The stateroom on this ship (The Epic), not a fan and so far our least favorite as far as the overall layout. While there is ample storage space; both shower and bathroom doors are loud to open/close and the curtain to pull across offers nothing to dampen the sound. If you are traveling alone, no worries. If you are traveling with someone, I hope you are not too shy to pee, poop, and fart in front of them. The Do Not Disturb sign will be your saving grace from being walked in on by housekeeping. Our room was set up exactly like the room in the video. From what I understand this ship was designed to appeal to the European cruisers (hence why the guy in the video doesn’t mind the layout). Since the European cruising market had too many ships/not enough passengers to fill them, the Epic was brought to North America. Many North Americans are not too keen on the set up.

In reality how much time do you anticipate spending in your stateroom? Hopefully not much since the TV has 18 channels, one for TV shows, one for movies (the same 3 that play over and over), Two news channels and the rest are ship related, Shopping at Port, Shopping onboard, Excursions, Navigation, What to do/Where to go in the event of an emergency, Onboard game shows playing on repeat that you watched on your first night, The view from the Bridge which is great until the sun goes down then it’s a view of pitch blackness outside, The onboard Pay-per-View movies ($9.95 each) be warned that some of those same movies are shown for FREE on the big screen outside or in the theater.

Compared to the Balcony Stateroom on Holland America (my favorite). Why is Holland America my favorite? It’s due to the many little things that this cruise line offers that the others don’t. Robes in your stateroom, I love them and wear mine every morning on the balcony. A fruit bowl that you can get refilled with fresh fruit, also a nice touch as I am the first one to wake up, sometimes 2 hours before my husband, so it’s a great start to my day. Put on the robe, grab an apple or pear and sit out on the balcony watching the sunrise. The turn down service includes chocolates on your pillow. Holland America is the only line (of the 4) that offers a Happy Hour (at 2 bars) buy one get one free from 4pm to 5pm.

Compared to Allure of the Seas… We had an actual balcony over looking the sea, not overlooking the Boardwalk. Something to note when considering an interior balcony, the balconies are not soundproof. You will hear the music playing until 1am.  One thing to consider of you decide to go with the Allure of the Seas, the interior balcony over the boardwalk will give you a great view of the Aqua theater shows that the rest of us chumps had to reserve seating. Just something to keep in mind. If you prefer a quieter room with a view, go with an exterior view of the sea instead. It’s ironic that the largest ship had the smallest bathroom in the stateroom and they don’t come with complimentary shampoo, conditioner, body wash. So pack our own or opt to spend $14 USD on a regular sized bottle of shampoo at the gift shop.

It wouldn’t be fair to compare the Ocean view room on the Carnival Legend as we opted not to go with a balcony for our Alaskan cruise. We figured it would be too cold to spend time out there at the end of April/early May and we were right. The room had a good sized window to which I was able to get some amazing picture from. Like the picture below, notice how close to the water we are? Not too shabby from the ocean view window.

Jaw Drop Point
Jaw Drop Point, a scenic view as we slowly cruised through Glacier Bay.

Tip for first time cruisers: Research the ship, the layout and the rooms before booking. Many rooms appear in a Youtube video to give you a better idea. If you are unsure as to whether or not you might suffer from motion sickness, I suggest a room mid-ship. Rooms at the very front (forward) or back (aft) lower than the balconies tend to be noisy when docking at ports when the anchors are dropped/pulled up. You are more likely to feel the motion of the ocean as well.

To be continued…