Saturday, February 23, 2013

6 Smart Ways to Save on a Cruise

The high cost of a dream cruise vacation can leave you feeling a little queasy before you even set sail. (And let's not mention the add-ons!) Here, our Trip Coach's sage advice about how to save big before boarding.


By reserving six to 12 months ahead of your cruise, you can lock in an early-bird rate that's 25 to 50 percent lower than the published "brochure" rate most lines advertise. You'll also have a wider selection of itineraries, dates, and cabins, and possibly get better deals on airfare and hotels. If prices go down after you book, a good travel agent—or the cruise line itself—should help you get the new lower rate.


Yes, it runs completely counter to what we just said about booking early, but if you wait 60 to 90 days before you want to sail, cruise lines often drop prices significantly to fill any remaining spaces on their ships. If you're willing and able to white-knuckle it, this is when you can nab a weeklong Caribbean cruise for under $500. But of course, you won't have as much choice of itinerary or cabin, it may be tricky to find a low airfare to your port, and last-minute fares are typically nonrefundable.


Asking the right questions can work magic. If you're a return customer, mention it when booking and politely inquire whether you're eligible for a discount—it can shave 5 to 15 percent off your fare. Since cruise prices are based on double occupancy, a third or fourth person in your cabin should get a 30 to 60 percent discount. If you're 55 or older, don't be shy about asking for a 5 percent discount; likewise, active and retired servicemen and women should always ask if the line offers them savings.

USE A TRAVEL AGENT (like Nonstop Travel!)

Sites like Kayak and Expedia have put you in the driver's seat—sometimes literally—but don't underestimate the role a good agent can play in finding you the right deal. Many have reserved spaces they can sell you at a discount, and they can explain whether an advertised "free" upgrade or all-inclusive package is for real or just a ploy. They can also advocate for you if rates drop after you've booked your cruise.


Large groups—like family reunions at sea—can be complicated to pull together, but they can also knock big bucks off the price of cabins. A group of 16 people in eight cabins, for instance, can sometimes get a steep discount on the 16th fare, or in some cases a free berth. For large groups, booking a year in advance is advised to ensure you get the block of cabins you want.


You won't save a ton, but sailing when most folks stay home can nab you a modest bargain—maybe 10 percent off typical high-season rates. Here are the best times to find deals in four highly popular cruise regions:

  • Caribbean. September and October, the non-holiday weeks in December, and early January to Presidents' Day.
  • Europe. Mid-March and April, September to December
  • Alaska. May and September
  • Bermuda. April and October 


The end of a beautiful cruise can be stunning in all the wrong ways—if the bill tacks on a bunch of extras you weren't prepared for. Ask in advance what activities, food, drinks, and sundries are included in your fare and which will cost more. In general, be ready to pay the following:

  • $2+ for a can of soda
  • $3+ for a latte
  • $5+ for a mixed drink
  • $10+ for a photo shot by cruise staff
  • $20+ for a bottle of wine
  • $10 to $75 per person for alternative dining
  • $10 to $15 per person per day gratuities

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Jet lag: What the tired traveler needs to know

Question: My wife and I travel to Israel at least twice a year to visit children and grandchildren. There is a 10-hour time difference between Los Angeles and Tel Aviv. Because of time constraints, we can stay only about seven days. Even though we take Ambien on the plane, we are hit with heavy jet lag for the entire time we are in Israel, which affects the enjoyment of our trip. Is there anything we can do to reduce the jet lag?
Zach Samuels
Los Angeles
Answer: Short of not going, there is so far no magic potion that will cure jet lag, which is a disruption of circadian rhythms that regulate our body clocks. When we are jet-lagged, we want to sleep and eat at the times that are inappropriate to where we have landed.
And, alas, for the Samuelses, flying east is more difficult, said Dr. Herbert L. DuPont, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston. "Expect jet lag when you are going east across time zones," DuPont said. "As a general rule you are going to take a day for every [time zone] you cross to become acclimated."
The bad news about jet lag just keeps on coming: "As you get older, it may get worse — like everything else," DuPont said.
Neither DuPont nor Dr. Tanvir Hussain, a Los Angeles cardiologist, thinks Ambien is the magic potion either. A recent Food and Drug Administration statement noted that the insomnia drug probably should be taken at lower doses than that at which it has traditionally been prescribed.
"It's long been known that older patients metabolize drugs more slowly, and in the case of Ambien, there is a greater than 30% reduction of metabolism for people over the age of 65 or 70," Hussain said in an email. "Thus, the sedation and disorientation effects can be more pronounced and prolonged."
DuPont said Ambien and similar drugs might "put you to sleep, but it may not be high-quality sleep."
If you're going to take medication to sleep, it's important that you are sleeping at the time that you would be sleeping at your destination. "If you're traveling east and the local time will be evening upon arrival, it may be counterproductive to sleep on the plane and then lie awake all night" at your destination, Hussain said. It may work better to take a sleeping medication at bedtime after you arrive.
What's a tired traveler to do? If it's daytime when you arrive, "the very best thing to do is to get out in sunlight as soon as you arrive, not go into a dark room and go to bed," DuPont said. "You need to reprogram that circadian rhythm so you can get closer to the schedule locally."
You may try to get on the local schedule before you leave, said Daryal Mark, author of "Jet Lag Relief: It's About Time." You can change your bedtime and meal times to the destination's, he said. That's just one method, and it may not work for everyone, he said. It also can prove disruptive to your regular schedule. Just make sure your timing is on the money.
In his more than 100 trips abroad, he has found that working to reset the body's clock to the local time is most effective for him (sunlight, sleeping and eating on the local schedule) and, most important, being gentler with himself because he knows he might feel a little out of sorts.

Mark made this point: We think jet lag is abnormal. It's not. It's a body's natural reaction. Even presidents and policymakers have to deal with its effects. Sometimes you just have to let go, he said, and let Mother Nature take over. Once again, Mom really does know best — at least, better than her jet-setting children.