Category Archives: Caribbean Cruise

Disney Cruise Line vs Azamara Club Cruises

As many of our friends and fans know, I just returned from my first Azamara Club Cruise on the Azamara Journey.  I traveled over Easter, so more children were onboard than normal.  According to the stats we were given, there were six onboard under 17.  Yes, I did say that was more than normal.  Part of the reason it is surprising is that Azamara does not have dedicated children’s programming like all of the contemporary cruise lines.  That was ok with us as we are two adults with no children.

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We have cruised 27 times on Disney since 2002.  People are amazed when I tell them that.  We have been very happy with Disney Cruise Line and to be honest, the experience on board has rarely been less than excellent for us.  We have realized that we pay a premium to cruise on Disney and it hasn’t been a problem for us when we consider all we are getting.  This started changing about 2 1/2 years ago when the Disney Magic came out of her reimagination.

As I was preparing to host a group onboard for the five night sailing, I received a call from Disney Cruise Lines, indicating that the cruise was going to be cancelled as the ship was not ready yet.  This was three days prior to sailing.  I scrambled to reschedule or postpone all of my clients to another cruise date and then I started worrying about myself.  Our flight was in the morning and we had been scheduled to cruise back to back, plus meeting friends at Disney World pre-cruise.  We couldn’t just cancel, we had a lot of arrangements to be made.

Of course, since our notice was three nights prior to the sailing, we figured that the rest of the work should only take three more days, right?  I think I would have been more accepting if it had only taken three days, but instead, when we got onboard eight days after we received the notice, there was still work being done.  Some cabins weren’t completed.  Reserved cabins weren’t cleaned, toilets weren’t attached, etc.  This made me realize that Disney should have been able to give more than three days notice.  As far as I can tell, this is when my opinion started to change.

After this time, Disney started putting limits on onboard bookings, changed the alcohol policy, significantly increased pricing, yet didn’t vary many of the sailings at all.  After 27 sailings, we really didn’t see a need to cruise except if it was a very special itinerary or a new ship.  When summer 2016 sail dates were released, we made our decision that unless it was work related, we would not be cruising Disney again after our scheduled cruise to Iceland and Norway in summer 2015.  It was a very sad moment in our household.  It was a tough decision, but we had decided that unless people started to send a message about the itineraries and the pricing, nothing would ever change.  As long as people were paying, Disney had no incentive to change.  I was no longer going to be a part of the problem.

Don’t get me wrong.  If you have young children and haven’t been on every Disney Cruise Line itinerary, you have every reason to cruise.  The children’s programming is fantastic.  I don’t know of any cruise line that comes close to what Disney does for the kids.  I’m not saying the other lines have bad children’s programming, I’m saying that Disney far exceeds the others.  Disney is a great line to go on a multi-generational trip.  There is something for every age to do.

Disney prides itself on is exceeding the competition in terms of what they offer onboard.  I think the children’s programming is a great example.  But when it comes to the rest, I think you can reasonably argue that Disney has started to fall behind the competition.

With summer 2017 sailings released last week, it was great to see some new itineraries out there for more than just the Disney Magic.  Four and five night “double dips” to the Bahamas, new ports in Alaska, a nine night sailing in Alaska, plus two Southern Caribbean sailings on the Fantasy.  However, when I looked at the pricing on those sailings, it was the same old, same old.  New itineraries mean higher prices, justified because they are during summer break and because you can’t compare to previous sailings as there weren’t others.

Let’s turn back to our Azamara Club Cruise.  This cruise far exceeded our expectations.  From the food, to the service and everything in between, Azamara was, well, just amazing.  While onboard we booked a future cruise in November 2018.  This was a 10 night Eastern Caribbean, visiting many islands that we have not visited before.  The price was not cheap, but the experience made us realize it was worth it to us.

Balcony Cabin

After Disney announced 10 and 11 night sailings on the Fantasy, we felt it was important to compare the two lines and sailings.  Here is a comparison of the ships and what is offered.

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Yes, gratuities and standard alcoholic beverages are included in the cruise fare.  The inclusions listed above are for all cabins, not just concierge and suites.  They have other extras as well.  I should also mention that with a new booking on a future Azamara cruise, onboard credits are available for most of the categories.

Of course, you have to compare the pricing as well as the ports of call as it wouldn’t mean much without that.  Below I compared the 10 night Disney Fantasy sailing with the 10 night Azamara Journey sailing that I am booked on.  The price difference is staggering!  Yes, the Journey is not going as far south as the Fantasy, but I will get nearly 20 more hours in port and visit three ports of call I have never been to, and return to three ports that I loved in the past.  Plus I won’t have to pay for gratuities or beverages.  If I opt for the concierge room, I’ll pay just a little more than a balcony on Disney and I’ll also get my specialty dining included.  Plus I’ll get between a $300 – $1500 onboard credit from Azamara.

Next I compared the 11 night Disney Fantasy sailing with the 11 night Azamara Quest sailing in January 2017.  Editor’s Note:  Price comparison removed by request.

10 vs 11

One other thing that I forgot to mention about Azamara pricing.  Several sailings a year will have single rates at 125% instead of the industry norm of 200%.  This is great for the solo travelers.  Additionally, if you are a cruiser who has been on Royal Caribbean or Celebrity Cruises, you have an advantage.  When you are part of either the Crown and Anchor or Captain’s Club, you can request a one-time match into the other club.  You will come in to the other club at a corresponding level, then start earning loyalty with the second line.  Azamara shares the club levels with Celebrity.  What this means is if you have cruised with Celebrity, when you cruise on Azamara, you come in at their respective level.  What is different is that you continue to earn points with both!  We started our Azamara Journey cruise 6 points away from the next level with Celebrity and Azamara.  After completing the cruise, we have now reached the next level with both of them.  The repeater benefits are much better as well with both of these lines.

This has made me feel even better about the amount I’m spending for my Journey sailing.  The only question left is “Who wants to join us?”  If there is enough interest, we will make this a ToaD group sailing!  Drop my wife a note at tracy@travelonadream.com.

Summer 2017 Disney Cruise Line Itineraries Announced

Disney Cruise Lines has announced the itineraries and dates for Summer 2017 sailings today.  Here is what we are seeing.  Gold and Platinum members of the Castaway Club will be able to book tomorrow and everyone else on Thursday.  If there are dates you are interested in, please let us know as soon as possible so we can book for you as soon as the bookings open.  If you don’t have a Travel On A Dream agent, please email vacations@travelonadream.com.

Disney Fantasy – Will be alternating Eastern and Western Caribbean sailings.  The Eastern Caribbean sailings will go to Tortola, St. Thomas and Castaway Cay while the Western will go to Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Falmouth and Castaway Cay.  Eastern Caribbean sailings will be on June 3, July 15, July 29, August 12, August 26, September 9 and September 23.  Western Caribbean sailings will be on June 10, July 8, July 22, August 5, August 19, September 2, September 16 and September 30.

Also, there will be an 11-night Southern Caribbean on June 17 with stops in Aruba, Barbados, Martinique, St. Kitts, Tortola and Castaway Cay.  Finally, there is a 10-night sailing on June 28 with stops in Aruba, Curacao, St. Kitts, Tortola and Castaway Cay.

Disney Dream – The Dream will sail 3, 4 and 5 night Bahamian sailings from Port Canaveral.  Several dates will include two stops at Castaway Cay.  The 4 night sailings with two stops at Castaway Cay include June 7, June 21, and July 5.  The five night sailings will have two stops at Castaway Cay on June 2, June 11, June 16, June 25, June 30 and July 9.

Disney Magic – The Disney Magic will again visit Northern Europe and the Mediterranean.  The Eastbound Transatlantic will visit Ponta Delgada, Portugal, Portland, England, Dover, England, Amsterdam, Netherlands and end in Copenhagen, Denmark.  This sailing will be on May 13 for 15 nights.

May 28, June 11 – 7 night Northern European – Copenhage to Tallinn, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Stockholm.

June 4 – 7 night Norwegian Fjords – Copenhagen to Stavanger, Alesund, Geiranger, Bergen.

June 18 – 10 night Northern European – Copenhagen to Warnemunde, Stockholm, Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Tallinn, Amsterdam, ending in Dover.

June 28 – 11 night Norwegian Fjords and Iceland – Dover to Stavanger, Alesund, Akureyri, Reykjavik and Invergordon.

July 9 – 12 night British Isles visiting Newcastle, Invergordon, Kirkwall, Greenock, Liverpool, Dublin, Le Havre and Guernsey.

July 21 – 7 night Western Europe – Dover to Le Havre, Lisbon, Cadiz, Barcelona.

July 28 – 10 night Mediterranean – Barcelona to Villefranche, Livorno, Olbia, Civitavecchia, Naples, Palermo, Palma.

August 7 – 5 night Mediterranean – Barcelona to Cannes, Livorno and Civitavechhia.

August 12, 19, 26, September 2 and 9 – 7 night Mediterranean – Barcelona to Naples, Civitavecchia, Livorno, Villefranche.  September 2 sailing visits Cannes instead of Villefranche.

Disney Wonder – The Wonder will again be visiting Alaska with a new port of call – Icy Strait Point.  We visited this port in 2014 and know it will be popular!

April 23 – 14 night Panama Canal sailing – Port Canaveral to Cozumel, Cartegena, Panama Canal, Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas, and ending in San Diego.

May 7 – 5 night Baja – San Diego to Ensenada, Cabo San Lucas.

May 12 – 2 night Baja – San Diego to Ensenada.

May 14 – 3 night Baja – San Diego to Ensenada.

May 17 – 5 night repositioning – San Diego to San Francisco and ending in Vancouver.

May 22, 29, June 5, 12, 19, 26, July 3, 10, 17, August 7, 14, 21, 28 – Vancouver to Tracy Arm, Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan.  July 17 date will also stop in Icy Strait Point.

July 24 – 9 night Alaskan – 9 night Alaskan – From Vancouver to Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point, Hubbard Glacier, Juneau, Skagway, Tracy Arm.

August 2 – 5 night Alaskan – Visiting Tracy Arm, Ketchikan.

Any dates not listed will not be released this week and should be available on the future release.

An Azamazing Journey

We have just returned from a 10-night sailing on the newly refurbished Azamara Journey.  When I tell many friends that we cruised on Azamara, the most common question is “who?”.  While I admit the only reason I know about this cruise line is because I’m in the business, since cruising on Azamara, I want to shout out to everyone about this line.

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Azamara is a small cruise line owned by Royal Caribbean International.  Each of their two ships holds just under 700 guests.  Azamara is a mostly inclusive cruise experience with standard beverages (including alcoholic beverages) and gratuities included with your cruise fare.  Also included is an Azamazing Evening event, which is an evening shore excursion that is nothing less than spectacular.  We paid for specialty dining and shore excursions, that was pretty much it.

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After taking a course on Azamara last year, I decided that we needed to try out this cruise line.  Since we had been to Europe twice in 2015, we were looking for an experience in North America.  We found the March 26 sailing to fit into our schedules and pricing was not bad.  As previous Celebrity Cruise guests, we were already members of Azamara’s Le Club Voyage which offered a discount for the March 26 date.

I can tell you that the service onboard was nothing short of spectacular.  The food was very good to excellent, with the specialty restaurants consistently excellent.  We enjoyed the best steak dinner we have ever had, on land or at sea, when we attended the French Chef’s Table.

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The service onboard was something that we won’t soon forget.  Servers, bar staff, managers, officers remembered you when they met you again.  And with the size of the ship, you were constantly seeing familiar faces.  This also rubbed off on the guests.  While I will admit there are times on every cruise line when you run into “entitled” folks, the vast majority of cruisers we met were friendly and welcoming.  We made several new friends onboard.  I truly think the cruise line does that to you.  We have been on other cruise lines where you just don’t interact with other guest.  You just don’t feel like it.  I think that is reflective on how you interact with the crew.  If they are outgoing and friendly, you feel like being the same.

In future blogs, I will talk about more details with this cruise, including a cost comparison to our Disney cruise last year (here’s a sneak preview – Azamara cost us considerably less when all was totaled).  We enjoyed this sailing so much that we are considering a group cruise in the future.  What do you say?  Sounds like fun, right!?

In the interest of full disclosure, I received an onboard credit of $100 for Bill and I to try both specialty restaurants, which we planned on doing anyway with our onboard credit we received from a booking promotion.  My opinions and impressions of this cruise line are independent of any perk I received.  While a travel agent rate may have been available, we booked at prevailing rates and promotions, getting a discount only because of our prior sailings with Celebrity, a benefit any other previous Celebrity cruiser would have been eligible for.

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Early 2016 Disney Cruise Line Bookings Open Thursday

Disney Cruise Line has announced the itineraries for the first part of 2016 today. Gold and Platinum Castaway Club members can begin booking tomorrow with bookings open to everyone on Thursday, October 30.  Contact us today to get ready to book your date as soon as possible.  Or better yet, use this form to submit your request to us.

All four ships will be staying in the Caribbean and Bahamas for the spring months. Dates have only been released through the end of April. Here are the itineraries:

Disney Dream: Sailing alternating 3 and 4 night sailings from Port Canaveral to the Bahamas with stops at Nassau and Castaway Cay. 3 night sailings are on Fridays and 4 night sailings are on Mondays.

Disney Fantasy: Sailing alternating 7 night Eastern and Western Caribbean sailings on Saturdays from Port Canaveral.

  • Tortola, St. Thomas and Castaway Cay – January 2, 16, 30, February 13, 27, March 12, 26, April 9, 23, 2016
  • Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Castaway Cay – January 9, 23, February 6, 20, March 5, 19, April 2, 16, 2016
  • Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Falmouth, Castaway Cay – April 30, 2016

Disney Magic will be sailing out of Miami and Port Canaveral. For Miami, the sailings will be:

  • 4 night Nassau, Castaway Cay, Key West – December 27, 2015
  • 3 night to Castaway Cay – December 31, 2015 and January 3, 2016
  • 4 night to Castaway Cay, Nassau, Key West – January 6, 20, 2016
  • 5 night Western with Cozumel, Castaway Cay – January 10, 24, 2016
  • 5 night Western with Grand Cayman, Castaway Cay – January 15, 29, 2016

For sailings out of Port Canaveral, we have:

  • 3 night with Nassau, Castaway Cay – February 4, 11, 18, 25, March 3, 10, 17, 24, 31, 2016
  • 4 night with Nassau, Castaway Cay – February 7, 14, 21, 28, March 6, 13, 20, 27, 2016
  • 7 night with Key West, Grand Cayman, Cozumel, Castaway Cay – April 10, 26, 2016
  • 7 night with Tortola, St. Thomas, Castaway Cay – April 3, 26, 2016

Disney Wonder will be sailing out of Galveston, San Juan and Miami! Here is what we have from Galveston:

  • 6 night repositioning from Galveston to San Juan – St. Thomas, Tortola – January 4, 2016

Here is what is showing from San Juan:

  • 7 night Southern Caribbean with ports of call in Barbados, Grenada, Martinique, Antigua, St. Kitts – January 10, 17, 24, 31
  • 5 night Southern Caribbean repositioning with ports of call in St. Kitts, Tortola and Castaway Cay – February 7, 2016

Here is what we are seeing from Miami:

  • 4 night with Castaway Cay, Nassau, Key West – February 17, March 2, 16, 30, April 13, 27, 2016
  • 5 night Western with Cozumel, Castaway Cay – February 21, March 6, 20, April 3, 17, 2016
  • 5 night Western with Grand Cayman, Castaway Cay – February 12, 26, March 11, 25, April 8, 22, 2016

Which itinerary are you most interested in?

 

“Can We Book 2016 Disney Cruise Dates Yet?”

We have been getting a lot of questions about booking 2016 cruise dates for Disney Cruise Line.  This started around the time that Disney released the remaining 2015 cruise dates.  The answer for the most part is that we have our suspicions when it will happen, but won’t know for certain until they are announced by Disney Cruise Line.

Disney Magic in St. Lucia

Disney Magic in St. Lucia

Based on the past few years, we do believe that Disney will divide the year into thirds again.  We think that the first part of the year, before the “Summer” season, will be released before the holidays this year.  This could be as soon as next week or as late as mid-December.  We do expect a release on Tuesday or Wednesday for Gold and Platinum Castaway Club members with a general public release the following day.  We usually get a feeling when the release is going to happen and our feeling right now is that it will happen sooner rather than later.

What do we think we will see in terms of itineraries?  Probably nothing different than Winter/Spring 2015 with the Magic on Western Caribbean sailings, the Fantasy on Eastern (though we do expect Tortola to be added), the Wonder sailing out of Miami or Galveston with Caribbean and Bahamas sailings and the Dream sailing 3 and 4 nights to the Bahamas.

What does this mean for you?  If you are looking for a Winter/Spring 2015 sailing on Disney, let your Travel On A Dream agent know!  Don’t have an existing booking?  Use our handy form to request a quote.  Tell us when you want to cruise, who’s traveling, where you want to go and what type of room you want.  When the pricing is available, we’ll get you a quote right away.  Be sure to let us know which category of Castaway Club you are in so we also know which date to book your reservation!

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Was the Carnival Dream a Dream?

Last week we cruised on the Carnival Dream for a Exotic Western Caribbean itinerary.  We chose this cruise for two reasons – I needed a cruise on a line that I’ve never been on for a certification and I have always wanted to go to Belize.  First let me say that this cruise was not a complementary cruise, nor was it purchased at a travel agent rate.  We did book it on a discount under a senior rate promotion with a small onboard credit.

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