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Finding The Best Perks Just Takes Time

You might say we're a little slow. Last week we got a Costco card. It seems everybody we know has a Costco card. You might also say now we can be more a part of those conversations.

With the card came some perks, some of which told us about other perks.

Like cruising.

Since you already know something about cruising, then you also know there are lots of places you can get cruise perks. Travel agents. Websites that sell cruises. The cruise lines themselves. Memberships in other clubs, such as "M Life" in Las Vegas. And obviously, Costco.

Now that we are members, some of the things we can access by booking a cruise with Costco are on-board credits, cabin upgrades, specialty restaurants, entertainment that you would otherwise pay extra for on the ship…that type of thing.

We've seen perks like this mentioned in a myriad of places, but the Costco deal started us thinking about how you wade through them for the best deal. So here, at no charge, are two suggestions you may or may not already know about:

1. Before researching perks, decide on a cruise line, a ship, a departure point or a destination — or all of the above.

2. Once you narrow your options, check with a cruise travel agent to see what they have to offer. Search websites that sell cruises that match your decisions. Compare. All these places have different perks, and different configurations of perks. While it takes some time, that's the only way to find the one that best suits you.

Everybody has an opinion about the "best" place to book a cruise. We have three that we generally check out for the best deals: VacationsToGo.com, iCruise.com and CruisesOnly.com

At the very least, they're a good place to start, and just because cruise lines discount their pricing for agents doesn't mean it isn't worth checking out the cruise line's website, too. It may not be cheaper but, like we said, the perks are all different.

Today at Phil Reimer's portsandbows.com: The end of a 15-day European river cruise

Caribbean Princess
14 nights
June 21, 2014
Fort Lauderdale (return): Princess CaysSt. ThomasSan JuanGrand TurkFort LauderdalePrincess CaysOcho RiosGrand CaymanCozumel
Inside: $1,199
Cost per day: $85
www.princess.com

Black Friday cruise deals often more than a day

It started with televisions and stereo systems going on sale at the crack of dawn, and it was known as the kick-off to the Christmas shopping season.

Black Friday.

As the day between Thanksgiving and Saturday, its naming roots go back more than 40 years, when pedestrian and vehicle traffic was so intense that it was a "dark day." The name came to be known as the day that enabled retailers to be profitable, or in the black.

Black Friday still kicks off the shopping season for Christmas, still causes retailers to open when most people are sleeping, and still features televisions and stereos. Also phones, toys, clothes, jewelry…

And yes, cruises.

As foot soldiers in the army of people trying to find good deals for you, here is what some cruise lines have to offer customers on Black Friday:

Norwegian — Credits up to $250 per stateroom and air credits up to $1,000 in what is really "Black Friday Week" because it goes from today to next Tuesday.

Celebrity — In keeping Black Friday shrouded in mystery, the sale starts one minute after midnight with three "incredible offers on over 400 sailings."

Princess — Savings of up to $600 per stateroom, plus an upgrade, a bottle of wine and a few pennies to spend on the cruise, in another Wednesday-to-Wednesday sale.

And then there are the agents that sell cruises on behalf of the lines…like VacationsToGo, and CruiseCritic and Cruise.com.

Sometimes, they're able to come up with the best deals of all.

Even on Black Friday.

Sapphire Princess
4 nights
January 20, 2014
Los Angeles (return): Catalina IslandEnsenada
Inside: $269
Cost per day: $67
www.princess.com

Booking Alaska: Five Key Factors

Ice breakers leading the way to reach the fuel-starved people of Nome, on the far west coast of Alaska. Elsewhere in the state, there are snowbanks towering 15 to 18 feet high. Good time to think about an Alaskan cruise?

The answer is yes.

It is now that cruise companies start promoting this year’s cruises to Alaska, so if you want to pick the optimum time for going, this is the time to start looking.

Optimum time?

This is always problematic with Alaska. Also unpredictable. Preparing cruisers for the uniqueness of booking an Alaska cruise is the job of cruise agents, and we came across one — Vacations To Go — that has done an excellent job of the “five key factors” when planning a cruise to Alaska.

Here they are, in capsule form:

Price
Discounts are available right now on virtually every departure from May to September. Shipboard credits and other free amenities are also available on many sailings and you’ll find the lowest rates on departures early and late in the season. If for some reason you must sail on a specific ship on a specific date, or you require special cabin needs, you should lock in your rate while there are still cabins that will accommodate you on nearly every ship. However, if you are flexible rates for many cabins are likely to be reduced about 90 days before departure.

Itinerary
There are two types: Inside Passage cruises that sail round-trip from Vancouver, Seattle or San Francisco; and Gulf of Alaska cruises that sail one way between Vancouver and Seward or Whittier. The round-trips offer two advantages: 1) you can book closer to departure because there are many flights and 2) airfare is less because no flights to/from Anchorage or Fairbanks are required, and flights to those cities is limited and fill early with cruise and cruise tour passengers, which makes it more risky to wait for a last-minute deal on a one-way, where there’s the opportunity to explore the interior on a land tour. Keep in mind that tour buses, rail cars and lodges can sell out early and booking no later than the end of February is recommended.

Weather
It’s unpredictable, but the warmest temperatures are generally in July and August, when average highs are in the low- to mid-60s. Precipitation can rise a bit in late August and early September, but don’t avoid that time for that reason. Weather is part of the experience in Alaska.

Wildlife
Different species of wildlife are active at different times.
• Humpback and killer whales: summer in large sounds and straits along the coast.
• Brown and black bears: grassy tidal flats starting in May and near salmon streams and berry patches in July and August.
• Moose and caribou: calving in May and cow moose and their young near thickets along roadsides and rivers in May and June.
• Bald eagles: plentiful and spotted at the water’s edge in the summer, particularly near salmon-spawning streams.
• Tufted puffins and other seabirds: nesting colonies on coastal islands in May. Shorebird watching is popular in August and September, as species begin migrations south.
• Harbor seals: visible throughout the season and with their pups on and around the icebergs of Tracy Arm and Glacier Bay during June.
• Sea lions: start becoming visible in September.
• King salmon: runs from May through August; late May through June best for saltwater king salmon fishing, and July-August for freshwater.
• Sockeye (red) salmon: fill freshwater streams and rivers on spawning runs from late June through July.
• Chum and pink salmon: saltwater fishing best in July and August, and freshwater fishing peaks in August.
• Coho (silver) salmon: in saltwater areas from late July through early September, and in freshwater areas during September and October.
• Halibut: most abundant in salt water from late June through August.

Passports
Passports are required for all travelers who enter or re-enter the U.S. by air from any other country, which means U.S. citizens and residents who fly back to the U.S. from Canada are required to have a valid passport. It is also required for anyone who enters or re-enters the U.S. by land or by sea. There are a few exceptions but passports are always recommended.

DAILY DEAL:
Carnival Conquest
7 nights
March 4, 2012
New Orleans (return): Key West, Freeport, Nassau
Inside $489
www.carnival.com

On the Night Before Christmas…

…there is wrapping to do, and food to be enjoyed, and family time to be savored, and maybe even some 11th-hour shopping. Translation: With little time left for doing a Christmas Eve blog, we’re turning this space over to Alan Fox, whom we’ve never met.

He is the Chairman and CEO of Vacations To Go and he did send us an email (we’re in the address book), to share his “my personal tribute to Clement Clarke Moore’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

And since this is the season of sharing…ENJOY!

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