What I learned from my first Holland America cruise

I am always excited each time I try a new or different cruise line.
In November 2017 my husband and I took a 10-day cruise from Ft Lauderdale to Panama and back. We have sailed on several different lines, but this was our first with Holland America (HAL). As far as ships go, it’s extremely similar to other large ships of its class. I will give my list of the good and not so good from this particular voyage. And I will also list a couple of ship tips I have learned.

Bird in Curacao

Good:
This is the first time we have tried open seating as opposed to a set dining time. We like having a table for 2 and this worked for the most part, but we also timed it right and kept our fingers crossed. Open seating is like walking up to a busy restaurant and asking for a table for 2. This all depends on table availability and you may have to wait. If you don’t mind sitting with others being seated without a wait is usually never a problem.

Holland America has a private Caribbean island called Half Moon Caye, and I really enjoyed this. It’s nice to get off ship and have a private uncrowded beach for swimming. On a cruise you forget that just because you are at sea for a week, you never get to swim in the ocean unless you take an excursion or can find a public beach on your own while at port. The private beach included beach towels, lounge chairs, and a wonderful gigantic lunch buffet.

There was a great selection of on-board activities. Since the Holland America demographic is more of a mature crowd, the activities are more geared towards classes, presentations, and demonstrations. Yes, I can live without Belly Flop and Hairy Chest contests. Many of the classes on board are health and fitness presentations, America’s Test Kitchen cooking demonstrations, and my favorite -Microsoft computer classes.
Every afternoon, 4-5 pm, was happy hour, with 2 for 1 drinks

Holland America Zuiderdam Pool

The not so good…. because nothing was bad this trip:
Air conditioning…. Yikes! The a/c in public areas seemed to be turned up higher than I ever remember on a cruise. I tried to look for a cozy quiet lounge area to read, but I always had to have on some pants and a heavy sweater. I remember sitting in a computer class with a sweater on and still shivering.

The buffet was always crowded, especially breakfast. It was such a chore hunting for a table. One thing I noticed that seemed to be different from other ship buffets was how much of the food needed to be served from behind glass. If I wanted a bowl of oatmeal I’d have to stand in line behind people ordering eggs and pancakes. Why can’t I scoop out my own bowl of oatmeal? Same with the salad bar–you had to instruct someone how to make your salad… am I wrong?  But most people like to build their own salad on a salad bar!

Cruise Tips:
Having dinner in the specialty restaurants costs about $20-$35 per person. We found that you can have lunch in the same restaurants for $10 pp.
Avoid the crowded buffet at lunch and have an elegant, non-hurried, sit-down lunch by eating in the big dining room. Just know that the menu is limited to about 10 items, and the dining room hours are 12:00 pm – 1:30 pm.

Cruisers watch as we pass through the locks, Panama Canal

Below are some street scene photos of Panama City

Ice cream shop in Panama City
Street Scene in Panama City
Painted Bus, Panama City

Closing Time, Yellowstone, September 2017

What a beautiful time to visit Yellowstone– mid-September, about 2 weeks before closing for the primary tourist season. The weather was really good, with temps in the mid 70’s. On the last 2 days it rained and was just starting to get cold, especially at night.


I had no idea that there was so much to see inside the park, and 4 days was perfect. Besides the famous Old Faithful geyser there are waterfalls, canyons, hiking trails, hot springs, wildlife, and a large lake. My favorite area was Norris geyser basin with walking trails on boardwalks.


Although we had booked this trip last-minute, we were able to get rooms inside the park lodges, but we had to move around to different hotels 3 times: Canyon Lodge for 2-nights, Old Faithful Inn 1-night, and 1-night in the Old Faithful Lodge cabins.

Dining room Old Faithful Inn


Here are some things to know about visiting Yellowstone–

  • The park is very user-friendly. There are hundreds of miles to explore. As long as there are no orange cones up blocking the road you are free to roam. There are plenty of picnic areas and pull-offs to stop at and take pictures.
  • This park is very accessible. I was surprised at how many people I saw with wheelchairs and walkers. The park provides ramps, accessible rooms, and special parking.
  • The food was not very good. You have to eat in the park restaurants, or buy food in the little convenience store. The buffets were priced fair and the nicer sit-down restaurants were a little pricey for the quality. If I were to do it again, I’d bring more food in.
  • It gets really dark at night. You need a flashlight, and there are not many streetlights. This is great for star-gazing.
  • No televisions, no wifi, and no radio. Welcome to off-the-grid!



7 Things You Should Know About Travel Insurance

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First off, I am a travel agent and not an insurance expert. This list is general, because there are many variations and plans available. I hope to give you just a little more understanding and knowledge about what kind of questions to ask when looking to purchase travel insurance.
What a typical insurance plan covers–
Sickness, injury, death, or death in the family. Coverage is for cancellation prior to and during the trip. If you need medical attention, or if there is an emergency back home that would cause you to end the trip early, this is called trip interruption. Most policies provide coverage for your major travel expenses, including some medical coverage, emergency evacuation, and baggage loss or delay. Missed connections due to weather and flight delays are another issue of concern and are covered in many insurance plans.
Points to know:
• To be covered for pre-existing medical conditions, you must generally purchase insurance within 2 weeks of deposit. This is true even if you are just putting down a $100 deposit on a $2000 trip and final payment is 8 months away. Lately, though, some cruise line insurance plans will let you purchase the policy when you make final payment.
• In some cases, especially for travelers over 70 years old, a cruise line insurance plan can be quite a bit less than one offered by an independent provider. But you will still need to buy coverage separately for the airfare, since most cruise line plans will not cover air unless you buy it from them.
• The cost of an insurance premium is determined by the traveler’s age and trip cost. The cruise line insurance cost is usually determined by the trip cost alone.
• When adding up your trip cost, you cannot pick and choose what you’d like to cover. It is very important that you add up all trip costs that are pre-paid and non-refundable.
• When upgrading to a Cancel for Any Reason policy (and it’s usually an extra cost) you will not get 100% of your money back if you do have to cancel. Usually about 50%-70% of the total is reimbursed. Many of the cruise line plans include a Cancel for Any Reason clause, but if this clause is needed, then usually you’ll get something like 70% back towards a future cruise.
• If Medicare is your primary form of health insurance, it is extremely important that you buy travel insurance. Medicare does not provide coverage outside of the United States.
• For travel more than 30 days, beware: there could be an extra daily charge added for every day over 30 days.
Vacation can be a huge monetary investment. There are so many things that can go wrong and that are out of our control. We all need to be smart about purchasing travel insurance.

Reinventing Family Reunions

Have you been on a cruise lately and seen all the groups of families (wearing matching t-shirts) and having a fantastic time together? They’re on to something fun. Kids spending a week playing with cousins and sharing quality time with grandparents. A week on a cruise ship with family, no hurry, no worry, and plenty of time to just … hang out together.
I personally have immediate family in six different states. Needless to say, my husband and I spend a lot of time traveling over the course of a year to visit family. And I know of many others who are doing the same thing.
Families today seem to be more spread out across the nation. It is becoming rare that kids grow up living in the same area as grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
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                                 This is why Pickwick Travel is branching out— and focusing more on family reunion vacations.

                   We all try to take vacations periodically anyway. So why not every year or two get together for a multi-generational family vacation?  it’s the new family reunion! Many of us may have grown up attending Saturday afternoon family reunions in a park or church basement with a pot-luck dinner. They were fun, lasted one day, but only the people who lived nearby attended.

Why not reinvent family reunions, make them young and fun?! Families are more active and grandparents are more youthful than ever before. Happiness for all is centering family time around camping, boating, national parks, and beaches.

There is always something to celebrate—

  • New babies
  • New spouses
  • Graduations
  • Anniversaries

Pickwick Travel invites you to visit our newest family member—Branching Together, which specializes in family reunion vacations.  www.branchingtogether.com

Slow Travel

Slow Travel: this topic has recently caught my attention. In the past I have always been a pretty hyper traveler. Usually, travelers have a short time in one place and I try to cram in as much as possible before moving on. It was on my last trip to New York City that I started to seriously thing about going slower. During that trip my husband and I stayed in the same hotel for 6 days. It was nice to spread my stuff out, hang clothes in the closet, plug in the white-noise machine, and really settle in. After that trip I started to examine other ways to take it slow.
Hotels– Boutique hotels have become the new trend, replacing the popularity of B&B’s of the 80’s and 90’s. For the slow traveler a hotel is more than just a place to sleep at night. It is also considered part of the location experience. If you are in Inverness, Scotland, do you want to stay at a sterile chain hotel? On the other hand, it could be dangerous to enjoy your hotel so much that you don’t want to get out and sightsee. I remember staying at a hotel in Beijing, where there was a large breakfast buffet area with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a tranquil garden. Each morning there would be a Tai Chi class going on outside the window. Watching participants dressed in white and moving slowly together in unison made you want to eat slow and linger. I’m sure the hotel had that arranged on purpose.
Cruises– There is a new flavor of international cruises which feature ships staying longer in a port. I know that Azamara was one of the first to start this. Usually a ship stays in port about 8 hours during the day. More and more, some cruise lines are staying in port overnight. This way people can visit a city in the evening and enjoy the nightlife. Sometimes, the feel of a city is very different at night than in the day. Another type of cruise that fits this slow pace is the repositioning cruise, where you can be at sea for 5-6 days at a time.
All-Inclusive Resorts– To me, this is the kind of vacation that people with stressful, high-pressure, and physically-demanding jobs crave. They love the idea of falling into a beachside lounge chair and hardly moving from it for the week. This is the ultimate slow vacation. Drinks are brought to you and the restaurants are only a few steps away.
Everyday I discover more on this topic, and I plan to continue reading up on this immersive style of travel. But I will be doing it slowly…
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