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7 things you MUST pack for a cruise (and 5 items to leave at home)

Packing for a cruise can be frustrating, especially if you’ve never cruised before. But with this handy list, you’ll be prepared and ready to cruise like a pro!

1. Contact lens/Eyewear care
This may seem like a no-brainer, but woe is you if you need contact solution or storage cases. Sometimes the gift shop has them, sometimes not. And depending on where you are traveling, vendors may not have them on hand.
Let’s not even talk about replacement lenses! (Be safe and bring an extra pair.)

2. One formal outfit
Every line does something different, and gone are the days where formal wear was required for at least one night of the trip. But most sailings still have a night where formal wear is suggested, and they have all those backdrops strategically placed around the ship to capture your frame-worthy portrait. You definitely want to be ready.

3. Comfortable shoes
More than likely, you’ll be disembarking and visiting a port city or two. Make sure you have the appropriate footwear for a proper exploration.

4. Ipod or MP3 Player AND Headphones 
Sure, poolside hits spun by the DJ totally rock! But he doesn’t work 24/7, and sometimes you need the comfort of your favorite song.

And don’t forget to bring headphones! Because not everyone wants to hear your hits.

5. Small tote bag/purse
Shore excursions mean souvenir shopping! And unless you have pockets in every outfit, you’ll want a simple way to carry your phone/camera and key card while on board.

6. Small travel alarm clock/flashlight
Clocks are not a standard amenity in most cabins. Now you might not really care what time it is, or be more intent on disconnecting vs staying on a schedule. But if you want to maximize your time in port by disembarking early, or catch a specific show, having a clock can come in real handy. And having a flashlight for accessing the bathroom in the middle of the night beats fumbling around in unfamiliar territory any day.

7. Deck of playing cards/travel board games

Those sea days can get long, and you’ll want some items on hand to pass the time in between structured activities. This is especially crucial if you have kids.

Now, for what to leave at home…

1. Pets
Pets are not allowed on board, unless they are service animals.

2. Clothes Iron/Hair Dryer

The #1 risk at sea is fire, and Irons left unattended can pose a serious risk. Most ships do not allow them on board, but offer a laundry and pressing service for those that need it.

For hair drying, rest assured that there will be one available in your stateroom.

3. Liquor or Beer

These will.be confiscated as you try to board, as most cruise lines do not allow you to bring them on. Don’t worry; your favorite liquor should be available at one of the many bars onboard, and many cruise lines are now taking care to stock an assortment of craft beers.

4. Books

Opt for an e-reader, or download some titles to your phone or tablet. It will be lighter and more handy (just don’t forget your charger!).

5. Snacks

Trust in this: there will be no shortage of food at sea. Have special dietary needs? Alert the cruise line well in advance, and know that they can meet the needs of those suffering from most food allergies and/or dietary constraints. 

In Summary…

A vacation at sea should be one of rest, relaxation and fun! Taking a few careful steps beforehand can ensure that everyone in your party has an awesome time! For more information or clarification on what you can or cannot bring on your next sailing, call your travel agent! They exist to help you navigate the booking and planning process, and are happily available to assist. 

Happy Travels!

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3 Ways to Manage Your Money on Vacation Abroad

Your bags are packed. Your out of office reply email has been scheduled.  You can almost taste the delicious food awaiting you at your upcoming overseas adventure!  But as you sit dreaming of far off lands and foreign tongues, you begin to wonder…

How am I going to pay for all that?

No, I don’t mean how are you going to budget for shopping. I’m talking about the logistics of  it all. That is: do you use the local currency, US dollars, or what?

You’ve got a couple of options:

1. Request currency from your bank prior to departure (Approx 2 weeks, to give them time to process your request and mail it to your nearest branch, if need be).
Pro: Cash on hand when you need it.
Con: Traveling with a wad of cash (i.e. an increased risk of getting it stolen).

2. Use ATM machines at your destination.
NOTE: This method is usually the cheapest/most efficient way.

Pro: Cash on demand
Pro: Minimal charge for withdrawing from a bank other than your own. (Definitely check to see what the charges are from your bank.)

Con: The ATM will probably be in the local language, which could be a challenge if you don’t speak or understand it.
Con: The ATM will only disperse local currency, so you’l have to convert any leftover back to USD at some point. (You can do this at home or at the airport.)

3. Use your credit card.
NOTE: THIS is usually the most expensive way, unless you have a card that does not charge a foreign exchange fee (FEF).

Pro: Cashless, so less risk of theft of your paper money.

Con: FEFs can be pricey. You will definitely want to check with your bank to see what they charge.

Con: Increased risk of CC fraud.

Con: Street vendors don’t usually accept CC.

It’s important to note that some stores and vendors will gladly accept US Dollars. Be aware though, that the exchange rate may vary from shop to shop.

Also: no matter how you manage your money, it is critical to alert your bank to your travel plans before you go. AND: it is always a good idea to bring a few $1s and $5s for tipping.

Travel well, Friends!  Strive always to #elevateyourtravel!

Travel Update: Norwegian Jewel, October 2015

Calling Los Angeles home for more than 6 months out of the year, the Norwegian Jewel gives us West Coasters a little taste of what our friends to the East have known for years: bigger ships are better. They have more space, more activities, more places to eat and drink, and more access to fun.

View from the gangway

View from the gangway

With two theaters, multiple dining venues and numerous specialty bars, it really is possible for you to try something new every day of your sailing. Choices galore!

Dining consists of two main dining rooms (with a different menu each night), a vast & varied multi-station buffet, a chinese restaurant and an irish pub, all of which are included in your cruise fare.

Tsar's Palace (Main Dining Room)

Tsar’s Palace (Main Dining Room)

Specialty dining restaurants include teppanyaki, a sushi bar, italian, and french restaurants, a churrascaria and a steakhouse. Per person surcharges range from $20 – 30 per visit for all but the sushi bar, which is a la carte. My personal favorite was the sushi bar (and adjoining sake bar): though it served only a handful of options, each that I tried was fresh and tasty.

Sake and Sushi Menu (Sake is one of the many options of the beverage package)

Sake and Sushi Menu
(Sake is one of the many options of the beverage package)

Beverage Package
3 words: Totally Worth It.
Unlimited options allow you to try something new without fear of spending too much or splurging on something you won’t like. And trust me, with options like a champagne bar, martini bar, whiskey bar, sake bar and more, you’ll have no problem finding a new favorite.

AND, with Norwegian’s current promotion allowing you to choose the beverage package for free with your cruise fare, this makes for a great value!

Family Programs
The Jewel’s on-board children’s program (for ages 3 – 17) is designed to give moms & dads a chance to relax, and certainly does not disappoint. The staff is trained to address the needs of a variety of children, including those in the special needs community. Each member we observed were friendly and seemed to bond easily with all of their young charges. My kids were often reluctant to leave, and were not the only ones we observed asking for “just 5 more minutes, mom!”

A special treat was the circus show the kids performed at the end of the week. Held in the main theater, it provided youth in all of the programs to perform on the big stage and showcase their talents. (Kudos to one tween whose yo-yo skills could surely secure him a spot on America’s Got Talent.)

For the tiniest cruisers, there is a kids-only splash pool and water area that adjoins a Mommy and Me play area. It is rumored that the supervised children’s program will expand in 2016 to include care for infants – age 2, but this has not yet been confirmed.

In addition to cruise line staples such as a poolside game show, karaoke and daily trivia contests, the NCL Jewel has unique classes (for a fee) in wine-tasting, towel-animal art and sushi-making.

For self-guided fun, there are several shuffleboard boards, giant chess and giant checkers. Tweens, teens and adults all seemed to enjoy the basketball court, while adults in particular were drawn to the putting greens. We walked off that second helping of dessert on the walking track, and saw several cruisegoers keeping fit with the separate running track.

Poolside Mariachi Serenade

Poolside Mariachi Serenade

Entertainment is plentiful and available throughout the ship: live music, comedy shows, and a nightclub give adults something to get dressed up and step out on the town for. Each evening had a different theme, so check your daily newsletter. In particular, the Cirque Show is not to be missed.
For the kids, the children’s program has a daily nighttime schedule, as well as an after hours camp (for an extremely reasonable fee).

Whether you are new to cruising, or have been doing the Baja 3-day hops for years now, the Norwegian Jewel deserves your consideration. It offers big fun for everyone in the family, at a competitive price that makes it money well spent.

Happy Travels!

Multi-Generational Travel – The Family Reunion, Reinvented

As so many households today are a blend of generations, step-families and the like, planning a vacation can seem daunting – if not downright impossible. Between finding a location with activities that can please everyone, to finding a room block (or suite) that can accommodate your group size without breaking the bank, most families may opt to stay home rather than tackle the challenges that multi-generational travel poses. This doesn’t have to be! 

For starters, a good travel agent is your ally in this endeavor. In addition to finding great prices, your travel agent can assist with planning excursions, organizing transportation to and from the airport, and even provides help while you are away. When embarking on any kind of group travel, it is best to have one point of contact for information; this can be especially critical after you have left. There is nothing worse than having questions or hitting snags while on your vacation and not having any way to resolve them – except, maybe, going through it while your teenager and mother-in-law are griping in the background.

When I work with a group, I make sure to get each traveler’s age and general interests, so that as I qualify possible hotels or resorts, I can keep an eye out for those experiences that may make the trip even more exciting. A little early planning goes a long way toward ensuring that each person has a fantastic time.

Taking a family vacation can provide a chance for everyone to recharge and reconnect.  With the right travel agent in your corner, and a good idea of how each person in your group defines fun, your family can have a successful vacation – and you can get the rest and relaxation that you deserve, too!

Happy Travels!

Hello World!

Welcome to the Elevation Travel blog!  I hope you will enjoy the stories, articles and associated what-not that I have to offer on this little place on the web.  Please leave comments or share ideas; I love feedback!

Happy Travels!