Looking Back at a Weekend of Racing – Part 2

On Saturday morning we got up around 5am, checked out of the hotel, and headed to the track. After stopping for a quick bite to eat, we arrived shortly before the gates
opened to find a bit of a chaotic scene. The DIS parking staff apparently hadn’t been given much in the way of instruction on what the various parking passes meant, so those of us holding guaranteed infield passes were held up for a bit while everything got straightened out. No biggie, after a 45-60min delay we were driving through the tunnel towards the infield!

Once parked, we headed in to the fan zone (next to the garages) to see what was going on. There was a 5k going on out on track that we managed to catch the end of, and once it ended we walked around up and down pit lane, and even walked out on the front stretch of the track, stopping to take some pictures at some cool spots along the way.

Wall TRGPits StartFin3 StartFin2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We walked around out there until they kicked us off the track, and then headed in to the garage area. Crews were already hard at work preparing the cars, so we walked around checking out all the activity. I find it fascinating to watch a crew disassembling/reassembling major pieces of a race car, so I get locked on that pretty easily. At some point (likely at Bayley’s urging), we finally moved on to check out other areas of the infield. I don’t recall everything we did, but we hit the large infield ferris wheel adn swing once during the day before the race started, and then once late at night while the race was in full swing. Honestly, both of them provide some of the coolest views at the track, especially at night during the race. They also had a fireworks show over the wheel at 11pm during the race, awesome stuff!

FW1 FW2 FW3

FW4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the big events we wanted to hit was the autograph session, as we both really enjoy meeting the drivers. Travis Pastrana was co-driving Michael Waltrip’s Ferrari, and
with Bayley being a huge fan of his, we waited in that line first. We got over there 45min early and ended up second in line, but by the time things started moving, he had
one of the longest lines there, second only to Patrick Dempsey’s, if I recall. Travis was really friendly, and Bayley couldn’t have been happier to get her picture with him. After we finished with his line and the tables that followed, we headed over to where I wanted to be, in Flying Lizard’s line. I’d bought a team flag the day before, but completely forgot to bring it with me to the autograph session. With no time to run back to our car and get it, I just went through and got autographs on the cards they provided. In the session shots below, be sure to check out the ones from the Sahlen’s table (last two pics). That little girl was awesome, sitting there signing autographs like she’d been doing it for years!

ESM Lizards Oryx Pastrana Sahlen Sahlen2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the autograph session, we walked around a bit more, got some food, then headed to the fenceline at the exit of the turn 3 horseshoe to get set for the start of the race. I’d come equipped with two Nikons, a D7000 and D80, and handed the D80 off to Bayley so she could try her hand at shooting moving race cars. I had a 70-200 F/2.8 VR mounted to the D7000, and was ready to get some race shots. The start itself was fairly clean, and I got plenty of pictures in the time we spent at that spot. I think we stayed there for around 45min or so, then headed out to check out other areas of the track.

02 03 45 Battle2 Battling R8 Vette Viper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over the course of the next 24 hours we did a lot of walking, but we did take time to relax in my car, too. We’d rented a scanner, so throughout the race one of us was usually listening in on various teams to see how things were progressing. I’d brought some food and drinks in a large cooler so we weren’t stuck eating the track food the entire time. I’d also come armed with a bunch of energy drinks to keep us awake. Not sure Bayley ever had any of the Monster, but she was a trooper anyway. During the night we were mostly out walking around the track, but admittedly did take a couple of quick naps. I think I got a total of 45min of sleep in the middle of the night, with Bayley getting just over an hour’s worth. Through it all, we hit just about every spot on the track getting plenty of pics along the way. Around 5am I headed over to the fence line near the entrance to turn 3 to see if I could get one of the more iconic shots: A car flying by with the large ferris wheel in the background. I got a couple that I liked, including one showing the glowing front brakes on the #03 Patron 458 just before sunrise.

01 03 Bimmer Porsche

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the night, several cars ended up in the garage for various issues, including one of the two Dempsey Racing Mazdas due to a wreck shortly after 9:00pm. We’d been in the garage area an hour or so earlier, and there weren’t many fans there, but once a Dempsey car was brought in, it seemed like every fan left at the track headed to get a look, as shown in one of the shots below that was taken as they were bringing it in on the flatbed. We also walked the backside of the pits a few times at night, as it’s pretty cool to watch the crews at work. In the shot below taken from behind the fence, the driver in yellow standing there with his helmet on is Patrick Dempsey, waiting for the #40 RX-8 to pit so he can get out there for his night stint

DempseyCar R8 TRG

Dempsey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the sun came up over speedway turns 3 & 4 on Sunday morning, we hung out in our chairs by my car giving our feet some much needed rest.

Morning Morning2

 

 

 

 

At that point we had about 8 hours left in the race, and spent the day doing more of the same, wandering around watching the race from various places, checking out the garages and pits, etc. While it was a long couple of days, we made it to the end, as we saw the #60 Daytona Prototype of Michael Shank Racing cross the line for the overall victory, with the #44 997 GT3 of Magnus Racing taking the GT class win. Shortly afterwards we packed up and headed to our hotel to check in and clean up. After being awake for the better part of 36 hours, the idea of trying to drive straight home didn’t seem very appealing, so I’d reserved another room at the same Super 8 we’d stayed at on Thursday and Friday so we could get a full night’s sleep before heading back to Charlotte.

The Rolex 24 at Daytona is definitely one any race fan should attend, and if you do, be sure to stay for the entire race. I was surprised at how many of the cars parked around us left after it got dark. If the crews can stay up all night, the fans can too. There are a handful of ways to do the full 24 hours:

  • The way we did, just camping out in the car. There were several people around us who made fires to keep warm and cook food, etc. Take a fully stocked cooler in, and you won’t have to spend a ton of money at the concession stands.
  • Get tickets for the actual campground area. These were sold out quickly, otherwise I’d have done the same vs camping in the car. Looked like lots of partying going on in the tent area!
  • Rent an RV and park it in the infield for the weekend. This provided the best of both worlds from what I could tell, a comfy place to rest and cook food while still being at the track the entire time.

All in all it was a great time, and we’re really hoping to do it again this year as part of the Audi Motorsport Experience, with me driving my black 2009 TT Roadster down. These tickets supposedly go pretty fast, so I’ll be online when it opens Thursday evening hoping to scoop a couple of them up!

If anyone’s interested in seeing all of our pictures from the 2012 race, feel free to browse the gallery!

Looking Back at a Weekend of Racing – Part 1

We don’t have any trips scheduled for the holidays this year, so I figured I’d fill the gap by revisiting a few of our past ones. My first one’s going to cover a more unorthodox trip completely unrelated to cruising, the one my daughter and I took to the 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona for the 50th anniversary of the race. Yesterday I discovered Audi’s less than a week away from putting their Rolex 24 Motorsports Experience tickets on sale, and sitting here thinking of our last trip has me a bit nostalgic. I’ll be doing my best to pick up two of the Audi tickets as a Christmas present for Bayley and I, as the 2015 race happens to be the weekend she’s heading back to college. Fingers crossed :)

I’ve been a fan of various forms of motor sport for years. Being that I tend to prefer road and street circuits, I generally follow F1, IndyCar and various forms of sports car racing. CART was my first love, and my interest grew from there. Honestly, if I didn’t need the paycheck, I’d quit my job in a second to stooge for whatever team would have me. I know people say it’s not the same when it’s your job, but I’d gladly do whatever menial task was needed if it meant I got to hear the roar of those engines every day, it’s most definitely my happy place. I’m lucky in that my daughter picked up the bug too, so we’ve been able to do some awesome father-daughter trips the past few years. Her first trip with me was to the 2010 Grand Prix of Long Beach when she was in 8th grade, and she’s been hooked ever since.

The Rolex 24 had been near the top of my list of races to attend for several years. Shortly after tickets for the 2012 race went on sale, I decided to go for it. Bayley’s always been a trooper at the IndyCar street races I’d taken her to in Long Beach and Baltimore, staying at the track from open to close with me, and enjoying every minute of all the track walking we did. Being a 24 hour race was different, but she was just as excited, and agreed that once we were at the track the day of the main race, we weren’t leaving. With that discussion out of the way, I got us a set of 4 day race/garage passes and infield parking.

Since she was in school, we didn’t go down until Thursday, and missed one day of track activity as a result. I’d booked a cheap hotel for Thursday, Friday and Sunday night a few miles away from the track, so once we got down there we crashed for the night. Waking up Friday, we got to the track as soon as it opened, parked in the infield, and began to explore. It was a bit overcast and misty, but neither of us cared, we donned our ponchos and walked the garages. One of the cool things about a series like Grand Am (now IMSA/TUDOR) or the now defunct ALMS is the variety of cars. You get to see everything from a Camaro, Mazda, Ferarri, Audi R8, all the way up to the prototypes. The latter are some of my favorites, there’s nothing like being next to the track as a prototype goes roaring by. Here are some shots of the garage from Friday morning.

FridayGarageAudiR8 Camaro Ferarri Lizards Patron Porsche Prototypes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to the garage area, Daytona International Speedway offers quite a bit of other stuff to see and do. The Sprint FanZone’s got food and drink options, shopping, and a handful of cars on display. For this event, they had the Corvette ZR1 that lapped the ‘Ring in under 7m:20s, in addition to a few other cars on display in the FanZone and/or other manufacturer display areas around the infield. That, and something I wish I’d bought Bayley when she was a toddler. Should be easy to pick out which one that is:

VetteZR1Bimmer Camaro2 MiniDF Nissan NissanProto

 

 

 

 

 

PrototypeMazda

 

We walked the infield multiple times, checking out the facilities, and watching various practice and qualifying sessions. After grabbing some lunch at one of the food areas in the middle of the infield, we settled in to the grandstands in turn 4 of the road course to watch some of the Continental Tire Series race. As an ex-MINI owner, I was happy to see a couple of those out on track, but in general the race itself was pretty good, with the overall victory going to Jack Roush Jr and Billy Johnson in one of the Roush Performance Mustangs. As it was ending, we decided to head out and have a little fun for dinner. With Orlando being fairly close (well, closer than it is from our house :)), we decided to hit Downtown Disney for dinner before heading back to the hotel to get some sleep before our long weekend of racing.

Coming up in part 2: All the fun (and lack of sleep) we had at the track on Saturday and Sunday! In the meantime, enjoy some more pictures from Friday!

 

BayleyDaytonaLizards

RumBum Viper Racing PaceCars MINI Infield DaytonaHangingOutRolex

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grouponing A Vacation

First off, two of the three deals I mention here were actually through Living Social, but “LivingSocialing a Vacation” doesn’t have the same ring :)

While in Orlando over Thanksgiving, we didn’t visit any parks for anything other than food. Not one. That was a first for us, as we’ve been down there a handful of times over the years to visit Disney and Universal for cheer competitions and for vacation. I honestly had no idea what was planned for the trip until the 17th, when I got my birthday (and late anniversary) presents. My wife had been planning the trip for a while, and found several deals for stuff to do in the area. This just goes to show that sites like LivingSocial and Groupon can be very useful when you’re going on vacation, not just in your local area. So what did we do? Let’s review:

Space Coast Segway Tours: This was an absolute blast. The kid and I had done this once before, but this was a new experience for my wife, and she loved it just as much as we did. It was just the three of us with the guide, and while it was cold that day, we loved every minute of this tour. It takes you through the port area in Cape Canaveral, with several scenic stops along the way. Our guide was great, and it’s something we’d definitely do again.

Groupon deal price: $25/pp for a 75min tour. The Groupon claims a value of $65/pp, no idea if that’s really the normal price.

Segway1 Segway2

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dolphin Paradise Tours: We did this the same day as the Segway tour since both are in the Cape Canaveral area, and apparently chose the coldest day during our time down there, unfortunately :). Regardless, it was another fun tour. We did the 1:00pm tour, and really enjoyed it. We had several dolphins swim by, had one following in our boat’s wake (picture below), and saw a couple of manatees. Both the captain and the guide on the little island were awesome, and this is one we really want to do again in the spring once the water is warmer.

LivingSocial deal price: $76 total, but note this was actually the 4 person price. The only LS options for this deal were for 2 or 4, and with their regular price for one person being $40, it made more sense to buy the deal for 4 than it did to buy it for 2 and pay separately for the 3rd person.

Gary Dolphin

Crab

Island

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Air Force Fun Helicopter Tours: Our Living Social deal was for 3 people on tour 1. This was a ~6-7min tour that took us over Sea World, Aquatica and Discovery Cove. My daughter and I had done one other helicopter tour (in Grand Turk, mentioned here) and had a blast, so this deal was an easy pick for my wife. Our pilot did a great job of pointing out all the sights along the way, and we had a nice smooth ride with clear views in all directions. One of these days, we’ll pony up for longer rides :)

LivingSocial deal price: $75 for all 3 of us, with the full photo package included. The normal price for the ride is $25/pp, so we basically just got the $25 photo package free.

Heli1 Heli2 Heli3 Heli4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That covers all of our deals on the trip. We also saw Jim Gaffigan at the Hard Rock Live on Saturday night, but there was no deal on that, it was sold out, and it was a great night of comedy between Gaffigan and his opening act Ted Alexandro. Honestly, I’d never heard of Ted before, but he’s a really funny guy, I’d definitely go see him again.

The whole point here is, when going on vacation be sure to check sites like Groupon and LivingSocial or deals on stuff like this, it’s a good way to help save money on a trip!

Dining at Disney

This year we decided to do Thanksgiving in the Orlando area. With Bayley only having the 4 day weekend, a longer trip was out of the question, and hanging out in Florida for a few days seemed like fun. As part of that, we had to decide where to eat for Thanksgiving, and after some discussion, decided to dine at one of the Disney resorts. We’d been going back and forth on exactly where that would be, but in the end decided (pretty much at the last minute) that we’d have a couple of meals at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. We were spending a little more than we wanted to, but with no plans to visit any of the parks, figured we’d enjoy the meals.

Dinner #1 came Wednesday night, a few hours after we got to Orlando, at the Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show. My mom and step dad were here for this one too, as they’d been in St Pete for a few days visiting Bayley at Eckerd, and drove up to Orlando with her and stayed with us overnight (they flew home Thursday). My wife had been constantly searching the Disney Dining site in the days leading up to the trip, and saw a table open up for ths show, so we grabbed it. Turns out that table was in the very back of the theater (upper floor 2 section), so we were a ways away from the stage. No biggie, we could see just fine. The food was good, at least the ribs and chicken I had. My wife enjoyed the pulled pork, too. The dessert, a warm pineapple bread pudding with caramel sauce, was delicious too. We got a little bonus food, too, as one of the guys at the table next to us knew the executive chef, who brought him over a large plate of steak and shrimp from ‘Ohana, and they shared it with us, too. Delicious, and a nice little bonus on the night. Huge thank you to him and his friends for that!

On the not so good side is just about everything else. The service was not up to Disney standards, as our server was really struggling to keep up. Other sections around us were already on to the main course by the time we got our drinks. At one point another server had to step in and help get things caught up in our section with main courses. Our dessert didn’t arrive until after all of the other servers had completed their service for the main part of the show. All in all just not the service experience people typically expect out of Disney. The show itself was a bit cheesy, too. We all really liked the fire dancing portion, but the rest of the show really seemed geared towards little kids, a fact that was very evident early on when they performed their own version of the Hawaii Five-O theme song (not really “traditional” ;)). All of the young kids seemed to be enjoying it, and really the only way I could recommend the show is to those who have young kids. For those who do go, one tip: Go to the late show (8:15pm). It gets out right as the fireworks at Disney are starting, and you can easily see them from just outside of the stage area. My pic of it below is pretty bad, but only because I took it with a phone camera in low light :)

Bayley Dinner Fireworks Stage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dinner #2 was the following evening on Thanksgiving. This one was also at the Polynesian, this time at ‘Ohana. This had been our target restaurant for Thanksgiving from the start, and it took quite a bit of checking on the Disney Dining site to find an opening for Thursday. We’d eaten here once before, a long time ago, and were looking forward to the food, and it did not disappoint. The steak was delicious, as was the pork. Now I’m not sure what was up, maybe it was just us, but our service here was basically a mirror of the night before. Sections around us getting great service, while once again our server was struggling to keep up. I’ve worked in food service and understand that there are off nights, but two nights in a row at a place that prides itself on service seemed very out of character. Regardless, it certainly wasn’t anything to ruin the night, we left full and happy :).

Other restaurants we’ve hit during this trip (which doesn’t end until tomorrow morning):

Mia Pizza, near the condo we rented. Good pizza, which I finished off for breakfast this morning. We got a couple of larges since there were 5 of us, along with some garlic bread, which was also yummy.

A N.Y. Pizza House, which we ate at for lunch on Friday while we were in Cocoa Beach. I had two slices, one regular crust and one Sicilian slice, both with pepperoni. The slices were delicious, and huge. Had I known how big they were I’d have skipped some of the cheese fries we had as an appetizer (also delicious). My wife and daughter both had pasta, (baked ziti and fettuccine Alfredo) and neither really liked them all that much. They did agree that my pizza was delicious, tho :).

That about covers it for the food. Other meals were either at chains or here at the condo, and all we have left tonight is Hard Rock before a show, so I’ll skip the rest of it as I’m not big on reviewing chains.

Turkey Day on a Ship

One year ago today, we were boarding a ship to enjoy our third straight Thanksgiving on a cruise. As I sit here and look back on that today, I realize just how much I’ll miss not spending Thanksgiving on board this year. Couldn’t be helped, though, with our daughter Bayley at college this year, we didn’t really figure her schedule would cooperate, and this isn’t grade school anymore, you can’t just pull a kid out of college classes for a few days and expect the professors to let her make that work up. The education comes first. Thankfully, we’ll still be spending the holiday with her, as we’re driving down Tuesday evening to spend a few days with her. More on that at a later date, for now let’s head back to last year.

Thanksgiving on a cruise ship is a blast, no cooking or cleaning to worry about, no stress of hosting family, just a week of relaxation and fun. On this trip, my mother and step-father were with us, as they wanted to take us all on one last family vacation before Bayley started college. Frankly, without them paying most of our fare, our string of Thanksgiving cruises would have been broken, as we simply weren’t in a position to do a cruise last year. So let’s look back on that week:

The Ship

The Breeze is the largest ship we’ve been on to date, and we were all interested to see how that played out. It also represented a departure from the normal decor that adorns most of the contemporary lines (gaudy chic? :)). The breeze’s decorum is definitely one of my favorites to date:

shipShip2 Ship3

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ship was very easy to navigate, and offered plenty of food choices. I enjoy a good burger, and definitely liked being on a ship with Guy’s Burger Joint. The Pig Patty was a winner for me. Additionally, BlueIguana offers a delicious steak burrito. Another yummy stop was Fat Jimmy’s C-Side BBQ, which is only open on sea days. We tried it on day one, and overall wasn’t bad. The line’s generally kinda long right when it opens, so if you go, wait until it’s been open an hour or so. Frankly, Guy’s and Blue Iguana are the same the first day or two. Regardless of th wait, it was nice to have more than just the buffet and pool grill to eat at. My only complaint was the pizza station, as it takes way too long to get a slice of pizza on a Carnival ship. We experienced that on our previous two Thanksgiving cruises (both on Carnival too). Minor annoyance most of the time, but after skipping dinner to spend extra time in Curacao, pizza was one of the only things open when we got back on board, and if I recall, I waited 45 min for two slices. Yikes. Eh, we were on a ship, so one little thing like that’s not going to ruin my day.

Activities on the Breeze were in abundance. As I’ve mentioned in past posts, we love to stay active on sea days, especially if there’s a trivia event, which there were plenty of on the Breeze. We attended several, and even managed to win a couple. It is amusing to watch the people who take trivia on board way too seriously, too. Arguing with the person running trivia over whether an answer is right or not (especially when you’re blindingly wrong) seems a bit ridiculous when you’re on vacation, but to each his own. It’s all in good fun, and it’s not like the prize is super valuable, although I admit we enjoy winning them, and have at least one from each of the four Carnival cruises we’ve been on.

SaaS

 

 

 

 

 

The ship has several things to do outside of scheduled activities, and we took advantage of two of them. The water slides were an absolute blast, as was the ropes course. The course is situated up high and provides a great view of the ocean on a sea day. I’ve got GoPro footage of my trek around it, definitely a highlight of our time on board.

The Stops

We broke one of our rules on this one, as all four of our stops were back to back. Normally we like an itinerary that breaks it up, but for this trip it was a no-brainer. We went easy with activity scheduling to avoid getting all stressed about planning. I’ll lay out what we did stop by stop. Some of this is probably a repeat from my ‘Choosing Cruise Excursions‘ post, so I won’t go too deep, but we had a blast in every port!

Grand Turk: This was our planned beach day. It’s a tiny strip of sand with little to do, and served as an excellent choice for hanging out on the beach since you basically walk off the ship and right to the beach. We did walk through the shops, picked a couple of things up, etc, but overall just planned to lay on the beach or snorkel. While we were hanging out on the beach, someone came by selling helicopter tours. After he walked by, we discussed it and decided to spend a little money and have some fun. My wife stayed behind, concerned about her motion sickness, so it was just four of us. Since we had a group, they cut $10/pp off the price for the 8-ish minute ride, for a cost of $40/pp. We had an absolute blast, and had a great view of our ship and the beach where my wife was waiting for us. Well worth the money in our opinion, and frankly I think my wife would have been fine, it was a very smooth ride.

GT GT3 GT4 GT6 GT8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dominican Republic: For our second stop, we’d booked a dune buggy tour ahead of time with Pro Excursions. While the port experience was one of the worst we’ve had (covered in that past post I mentioned above), the dune buggies were an absolute blast, one of my favorite excursions, and any stress getting the correct taxi was worth it. We were covered in mud when we were done, and smiling the whole time. I think the pictures say it all :)

Buggies4 Buggies3 Buggies Buggies2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Curacao: We got off the ship with no plan whatsoever. We figured if there were tour guides offering island tours at a good price, we’d grab one, but if not, we’d just walk around and shop. As we got off, we found the tour operator stand, and grabbed a cheap tour. It was a little over two hours, if I recall, and half of that was probably spent in traffic :). Beautiful island, but they definitely share some of the traffic problems cities in the US have. Our time in port was 2pm -11pm local time, and by the time we got back from the tour, most of the shops were starting to close up. We were able to do a little shopping, and did walk around the area a bit.

Curacao Curacao2 Curacao3 Curacao4

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aruba: We had a blast here. My wife had set up a private tour before we went, so it was just the 5 of us in a van with the guides. The tour took us all over the island, and included stops at Philip’s Animal Garden and a local donkey sanctuary (among regular scenic stops). Our guide had lived on the island most of his life, and obviously knew his stuff. This was a 5 hour tour, and we enjoyed every minute of it, as it basically took us from one end to the other. When we got back, we walked around the shops for a while, picked up a few things, and headed back to the ship not long before departure. Aruba is a very beautiful island, and is on my short list of ones I want to go back to.

Aruba8 Aruba6 Aruba5 Aruba4 Aruba3 Aruba2 Aruba

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also bought Faster to the Fun passes for trip, which I know some people don’t think Carnival should sell. For those who aren’t familiar, they sell a limited amount per cruise, and a single FTTF pass covers everyone in the cabin. Benefits of the pass include priority boarding, priority tendering (which we didn’t need on this trip), stateroom available as soon as you get on, priority line access at guest services, and priority debark. My main reasons for getting it were priority embarkation and debarkation, as being Gold level we wouldn’t otherwise get priority there. We treat boarding day as an extra sea day, and like getting on as soon as we can. For debarkation, Charlotte’s an 11 hour drive from Miami, so getting off as early as possible helps me get home in time to some sleep before I have to go back to work the next day. We bought a pass for my parents cabin, too, and we all found it worth the cost ($50 per cabin). For the first time in a long time, I had to use guest services for a couple of things, and not having to wait in the long regular line was a huge benefit.

Overall, this was one of our best cruises to date. A great crew, plenty of activities, and some great stops made for yet another awesome Thanksgiving on board a Carnival ship. I highly recommend cruising over turkey day at least once!

Our New Adventure!

As I’ve alluded to in my last couple of posts, our trip to Ft Lauderdale wasn’t really a vacation. Throughout my daughter’s final year of high school, my wife and I had talked about her going back to work after the kid left for college, she just had no idea what she wanted to do. After returning from our Bermuda cruise, I was looking for ways to get more involved in the travel industry, and happened to come across CruiseOne’s franchise program. I brought it up to my wife, and she was sold right away. Having not been a fan of the franchise model in the past (especially after watching my dad’s experience in owning a 7-11 franchise while I was growing up) I was skeptical, so I spent the next couple of months doing a bunch of research on the company and reading anything I could on their franchise program.

The end result was that I found very little in the way of negative info, and came away pretty excited about the possibilities. My wife signed up for a prospective franchisee webcast, and away things went. Fast forward to October, and we were headed down for our new franchisee training and starting this new journey. I admit that prior to doing this I felt travel agents were a thing of the past, but as we learned, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The way the service is delivered is definitely changing, but I’ve come to see that the need is very much alive. Many people don’t really enjoy all the research and planning that goes in to it the way we do, and there are still plenty of deals to be had that aren’t visible when just searching a given agent’s site.

Since we got back home last month, she’s been hard at work with the business. She’s even booked a couple of trips, and has a few more she’s researching for different people. It’s fun to watch, as I can tell she enjoys it. She’ll be upstairs in her office all day focused on travel planning and making her way through the sea of training we now have access to, and eventually come downstairs for dinner all nice and relaxed, a feeling I rarely have when I leave work :). There’s still plenty to be done, especially on the marketing front, but that will come in time. One of the nice things about this setup is that it isn’t our primary source of income, which has multiple benefits:

  • If things are slow with the business, it doesn’t add to our stress levels
  • We’re able to take the time off to visit some of the places and ships we’re selling to our customers, so we get a chance to ensure what we’re selling is up to snuff
  • The commission isn’t the priority, ensuring that her customers are booked with the right cruise line / land tour / resort that matches their taste.
  • We control the number of clients she’s juggling at any one time to ensure that she’s not overloaded and has plenty of time to properly focus on those clients she does choose to take on.

This doesn’t mean anything changes with my blog, I’m still going to call it as I see it in my trip reviews. Transparency and honesty are hard to find in reviews these days for various reasons, and I have no intention of letting up with my opinions.

That said, I will take this one opportunity to pitch the business :). If anyone’s looking to take a cruise, land tour, or book a resort, feel free to contact my wife, she’d love to help you!

888-416-3182

Just some of the things we can help plan/book:
and a whole lot more!
CruiseOtter!

Touring the Getaway

As mentioned, the Florida trip I’ve been writing about wasn’t for pleasure, we were down there in training for our CruiseOne franchise. I’ll cover that more in my next post, but back to the trip, the week ended with a tour of the Norwegian Getaway. We’d never done a ship tour like this before, so we weren’t sure what to expect, but I have to say that we really enjoyed it.

First, a ship tour gives you the high of getting on a cruise ship and the low of getting off all in the span of about 3 hours. It was surreal standing in the passenger boarding area waiting for our guide to come get us, and I admit to being jealous of all those who were about to get on and get out of town for a week. Here I was, standing there dressed in business casual, watching a whole bunch of people walking by in shorts and sandals. Made me want to book something right then and there.

Once our guide arrived and all of our people made it through security, we headed for the gangway. We were boarding shortly after the previous guests had disembarked, and right before new passengers started getting on board. With this in mind, they hustled us up pretty fast to The Haven, one of the areas I was interested in the most.  We needed to get through the show cabins and off those floors fast, as those guests board first, and they obviously don’t want us trapsing through guest rooms as those guests are arriving. Now, my interest in seeing this area is because I’m somewhat skeptical of the “ship within a ship” concept that The Haven presents, especially as more lines move to similar models. I can see the pluses (no chair hogs, a quieter pool area) but I’m also not really the kind of guest that this model fits. I like being out and active and participating in the on board activities, so I’m not really sure I’d spend much time in this area, outside of when we’re in our room. I could very well be making poor assumptions about The Haven, so maybe it’s something you have to experience first hand. In any case, I admit to being impressed with the rooms we saw. The one thing that really intrigued me were the forward balconies, which provide an awesome view. It would seem you’d potentially get a ton of wind out there on some days, making the balcony less useful, but that’s only based on my experience on the forward outside areas on some Carnival ships. If anyone’s stayed in one of NCLs forward balconies and can comment, feel free to add your input. Anyway, here are a few shots from the rooms we saw on the Haven floors:

WP_20141018_11_19_03_Pro WP_20141018_11_20_31_Pro WP_20141018_11_21_39_Pro WP_20141018_11_21_55_Pro

 

 

 

 

 

 

WP_20141018_11_25_42_Pro WP_20141018_11_24_57_Pro WP_20141018_11_24_45_Pro WP_20141018_11_24_00_Pro

 

 

 

 

 

 

WP_20141018_11_28_20_Pro WP_20141018_11_28_44_Pro WP_20141018_11_29_06_Pro

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moving on, after we finished in The Haven, we moved on to touring regular cabins. For the most part, they were pretty standard fare, with the exception of the spa cabins. Interesting location for the tub :)

WP_20141018_11_33_09_Pro

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another set of cabins that stood out were the solo cabins, in an area aptly named the Studio. Solo cabins are somewhat rare on contemporary lines, so offering up a cabin where single cruisers only pay a single rate is a plus. Yes, the cabin’s noticeably smaller, but still, you’re not paying up to 200% of a single fare to cruise alone. The Studio also comes with access to a private lounge area, and frankly, the decor of the area is pretty well done, imo. I managed to get a shot of one of the rooms while we were in there:

WP_20141018_11_42_49_Pro

 

 

 

 

 

 

After we finished our cabin tour, it was time for lunch. The Getaway has plenty of food options, and the one set up for our group that day was Taste. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but we’ve only been on NCL one other time, and were far from impressed with the MDR food. We were part of a large group on that sailing, and no one in the group liked it, especially the foodie. The specialty restaurants were good on that trip, but having to pay for decent food left a bad taste in our mouth (pun intended ;-) ). This was the other part of the tour I was really interested in, as I wanted to see first-hand just how much the food has changed. In short: I was pleasantly surprised. We had a full menu, 3 courses. I had the chicken nachos as my appetizer, meatball sub as my meal, and the peanut butter cup cheesecake for dessert. All delicious, except the fries. They were okay, but tasted like they’d been grabbed off the pool grill.

 

WP_20141018_12_27_09_Pro WP_20141018_12_37_20_Pro WP_20141018_12_55_25_Pro

 

 

 

 

 

 

After lunch, we had an hour left to tour the ship on our own, all while guests who had boarded were also walking around, which gave us a sense of how crowded a ship this size might be. Things we found:

  • The ship is very family friendly, which didn’t come as much of a surprise. We chatted with the staff in the kids clubs, who all seemed like they were very good at what they did.
  • The spa staff was just as friendly, and not just to us, but to all of the actual guests they were talking to. This was a big departure from the experience we had with the spa staff on our last cruise on Celebrity, who weren’t friendly at all.
  • The ship is lloooonnngggg. We walked one floor of cabins from end to end, and frankly, it felt like we’d never get to the end.
  • Outside of the previous bullet, the ship never felt “too big” like I was afraid a ship that can hold 4000 passengers would. We walked around the buffet after the vast majority of boarding had taken place, but people seemed to be flowing pretty well. This held true in most other areas as well.
  • The decor is well done compared to other ships in class. Didn’t come off as the normal, classic cruise ship gaudy.
  • The staff, including our guide, were all super friendly. Yes, I get that wearing our guest badges gave them indication that we were likely in the travel business, and they may have stepped up their game, but I’d like to think they were being genuine, and seeing the way they interacted with the regular guests, I’m leaning towards that.

Honestly, after touring the Getaway, we’d be interested in trying it on an actual cruise. I realize that 3 hours on-board really isn’t enough to pass true judgement, but it was enough time to get me interested in trying NCL again after swearing them off 8 years ago. It was also enough time to make me miss being on a cruise :)

Here are a few more pics from our tour. Sorry some of these are blurry, we were constantly on the move, and I was doing my best not to get in the way of any their actual guests.

WP_20141018_11_59_47_Pro WP_20141018_12_00_33_Pro WP_20141018_12_00_40_Pro WP_20141018_12_01_41_Pro WP_20141018_12_02_20_Pro WP_20141018_13_31_30_Pro WP_20141018_13_35_53_Pro WP_20141018_13_36_15_Pro WP_20141018_13_37_39_Pro WP_20141018_13_37_53_Pro WP_20141018_13_39_48_Pro WP_20141018_13_40_52_Pro WP_20141018_13_42_32_Pro WP_20141018_13_44_36_Pro WP_20141018_13_47_49_Pro WP_20141018_13_49_08_Pro WP_20141018_13_49_40_Pro WP_20141018_13_50_06_Pro WP_20141018_13_50_32_Pro WP_20141018_13_55_53_Pro WP_20141018_13_56_31_Pro WP_20141018_13_58_58_Pro WP_20141018_13_59_18_Pro WP_20141018_14_00_32_Pro WP_20141018_14_01_40_Pro WP_20141018_14_02_30_Pro WP_20141018_14_20_11_Pro WP_20141018_14_20_55_Pro WP_20141018_14_21_14_Pro WP_20141018_14_22_24_Pro WP_20141018_14_23_40_Pro