Road Scholar “Bay of Fundy Circle of Tidal Wonders”

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I recently returned from my first Road Scholar trip, and I had a great time! I wanted to share a little bit about my experience, especially about traveling solo with Road Scholar. I’m going to focus on the practicalities of the trip that will give you an idea of the way the program worked–you’re likely to take a different Road Scholar trip than I did so I figure that will be more relevant for you. Also–I don’t take pictures of my food–sorry! You’ll just have to imagine it!

While some Road Scholar trips have a “no solo supplement” price at least on certain departures, most do charge a supplement. I was happy to pay it in order to have my own room, but they also offer a roommate matching program so that you can share a room with another solo traveler and not pay the supplement. On my tour there were four women who did the roommate matching, and one of the matched duos seemed very happy with the arrangement while the other, though they were not actively unhappy, just didn’t seem to mesh as well. One of those women told me she’d likely pay the supplement in future.

I chose this trip because I’ve always wanted to visit Atlantic Canada, and I was able to drive there from my summer home in Maine, which kept the cost down.

Most of our travel was on a comfortable bus. We had one guide who was with us for the entire trip, and picked up other guides for specific parts of the program. There were only 21 of us, and we were on a full-sized bus so there was lots of room. The program provided bottled water and snacks on the bus at all times, as well as those free-to-pick-up brochures for the various sites we visited, and maps of the areas we would visit.

The program was focused on the Bay of Fundy and we had experiences that focused on all different aspects of life around the bay: the geology, history (including programs on the Micmaq natives, the Acadian settlers and their forced expulsion and the fishing and shipbuilding industries), current efforts to harness the tides for electricity generation, the tidal bore (including a midnight walk in Moncton to watch and listen to the bore come up the river–amazing!–and a whitewater rafting ride on rapids generated by the tidal bore–and the reversing rapids in Saint John.) Though everyone wasn’t super-interested in everything, there was such variety that I think everyone was happy with the program overall.

I was a little concerned about the amount of walking that would be required–this was a “keep the pace” tour per the Road Scholar website–but it was fine. We may have walked 2 or 3 miles a day but it was split into several walks and wasn’t taxing for me at all–granted I was probably 5 years or so younger than the next youngest participant in the tour but I’m generally a couch potato.

Most of the meals were included and while not gourmet, were very nice. Since it was the Bay of Fundy every single dinner had a seafood option. Lots and lots of haddock! The last night we had the option of a whole steamed lobster. There were a couple of gluten-free eaters in our group and they always were catered for. When we had meals on our own, they were always in locations where we had multiple options for meals–except a meal on the ferry where options were necessarily limited.

The hotels were adequate. We stayed at a historic seaside inn the first and last two nights, at new and nice Residence Inn and Hampton Inn properties, and at an old-fashioned “motor inn” type property. The latter was not at all impressive in terms of the quality of the property, but the view of the Bay of Fundy was amazing and it was very clean. The hotels were mostly just for sleeping as we were out and about most of the time.

The other participants were an interesting group and distinguished by their curiosity and love of learning–if you (like me) are one of those people then Road Scholar is for you! They were great company, as was our knowledgeable tour guide.

Overall I was really impressed with the organization of the tour and I’d take another Road Scholar tour in an instant–it’s a wonderful option for solo travel! And New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, as you can see from my pictures, are absolutely beautiful!

My not-so-amazing tips to save money on cruises as a solo

So I’ve been planning to write this post for, oh, several months.  I’m ashamed that I haven’t been posting.  BUT…today is a new day!  (And it’s Easter, so it’s an especially new day!)

I think I do a pretty darn good job of finding excellent deals on cruises.  And no, I don’t have any tips for finding a roommate to share costs–I really prefer to have my own cabin unless I’m with someone I love (as in a spouse or child or parent) and even then sometimes I wish I had my own cabin!  😉

So, what do I do to get good deals?

  1.  There is no one easy way to do it.
  2. You have to spend a little time each day on it when you’re in the market for a cruise–because if you don’t you might miss flash sales or the cabins on sale might sell out.
  3. Get on the emailing list for ads from all the cruise lines you might want to sail on.  Open all the emails they send and at least skim them–sometimes solo deals, especially, are not in the subject line but will be inside the email.  Why, I don’t know, because solo deals are the most important things to me!  🙂
  4. I religiously look at the “daily deals” on http://www.vacationstogo.com and also look at their 90-Day Ticker, at least to scan through it for ones that say “New Offer” or “Reduced Again”.  Those prices are not solo prices but you can click on the offer and they’ll give you a solo rate option a lot of the time–though beware, they are often more than twice the price of a per-person shared cabin.  They do have a link for “best solo deals” but I don’t think they usually have the best solo deals there–they are picking them based on how much more than a double-occupancy rate the solo rate is, and I’m not interested in that percentage but rather in how much the cruise will cost me in total.
  5. I have never actually purchased a cruise through http://www.vacationstogo.com.  (I’m not saying you shouldn’t–they may be a great travel agency–I just already have found my preferred travel agent.) When I find a good deal there I check the cruise line’s website and then I email my travel agent who can generally get me at least as good a deal as these websites advertise and always throws in a little on-board credit.  I like my travel agent because she is very responsive and often can also find me great airfares that I can’t find elsewhere.  Find a travel agent you like–what I like in a travel agent may not be what you like.  If you didn’t like the one you used for the last cruise, try another one for the next cruise.
  6. Often cruise lines have weekend sales and/or mark down cruises on Tuesdays so those are especially important times to check cruise line websites, even if they didn’t send you an email telling you they have a sale.
  7. It’s annoying, but all the websites including the cruise lines’ own sites can make it difficult to find solo fares.  You may have to walk all the way through a booking–just don’t push the final “book it” button!–to see the price for a solo cabin.  The fares you see listed first are usually per-person double occupancy fares.  Some of them even make you call them or call your travel agent to get solo fares (I’m talking about YOU, Uniworld!  You make me crazy!)  Norwegian (NCL) actually has the best cruise line website for finding solo fares in my experience.
  8. Look for cruises after final payment date–that used to be 75 days before the cruise date but most cruise lines have moved to a final payment date 90 days prior to the cruise.  If a cruise is not selling well the line may continue to cut prices until the last week before the cruise–if you aren’t fussy about cabins and you can travel on short notice you may get extremely good prices then.
  9. Cruise lines are trying (though so far not often succeeding because they keep increasing capacity with new ships) to get people to book early by offering what they think will be their best prices when they first open the cruises for booking.  Though most have also gone to non-refundable deposits now, if you have your heart set on a certain cruise you might still want to book early and then if a great deal comes up later (but before final payment) you can cancel and rebook at the better price.  That doesn’t happen often, because cruise lines don’t like it when people do that, so they generally save their price cuts for after final payment date.
  10. Be somewhat flexible in what you’re looking for and exactly when if you can.  I generally decide, for example, that I am looking for a fall transatlantic in a balcony cabin.  I have certain dates when work commitments keep me from going on a cruise, but I know the dates I could probably make work.  I look for cruises from multiple cruise lines on multiple dates.  I want a good deal, also good airfare, also dates I can make work, also new ports or ports I really want to revisit, and also I am always interested in new ships.
  11. There are, for me, a few cruise lines I am not interested in, and a few I’ve decided cost too much for my budget.  But I try to be really open to trying new lines.  For instance, I had heard that Norwegian (NCL) was really crowded and low quality, and I had heard that Holland America (HAL) was full of very elderly people using walkers.  There was only a small grain of truth in those rumors in my experience, and I have really enjoyed cruises on both lines even though I’m not elderly and not a fan of crowds.  I tried the lines because I found a great deal on a cruise to places I wanted to go…so it pays to be open.
  12. It does pay to become a “frequent flyer” on one cruise line – or corporation, as they often have reciprocal “frequent flyer” benefits for other cruise lines within that corporation.  For example, Azamara/Celebrity/Royal Caribbean have reciprocal benefits; though you collect the status on just one of the lines you can use it on the others.  (I’m simplifying a bit there <== just mentioning that in case any RCCL fans noticed it!) You also get extra credits toward the status on most lines by sailing solo, as well as by booking a higher level cabin.  My “elite plus” status on Celebrity was earned in not too many cruises by sailing solo and often booking one of their higher level balcony cabins, and entitles me to some free drinks daily, free laundry, free internet minutes, etc.  Even if you have only been on one cruise on a line, join their “frequent flyer” club and you will be entitled to some small perks on your next cruise with them.
  13. Some cruise lines offer airfare and the rates can be very good. I check their airfare, check Kayak.com, and also check with my travel agent to see what she can get before deciding where to book the airfare.  Just make sure the amount of luggage you want to bring is included in the rate (or add it in yourself) and that you will arrive in plenty of time to still get to the ship before it sails even if the flights are a bit late.  Coming in a day early is best if you can.
  14. Check how far the airport is from the cruise port, what transfer options are available, whether the cruise line offers free transfers and if they do what restrictions they place on when you can arrive etc. if you intend to take a free transfer.  It is best to find all this out before you book your air.
  15. Definitely go to cruisecritic.com and join the “roll call” for your cruise.  You can find others to share transport to/from the airport, can join a shore excursion organized by someone on the roll call (often less expensive and, because it’s with a much smaller group, in my opinion much better than the cruise line’s shore excursions,) and can get to know folks on your cruise a bit before you go so you have a start on finding folks to socialize with.  People on the roll calls often organize “cabin crawls” and slot machine tournaments and other events that you might be interested in.  And there will always be people on the roll call who have been to the ports before and can give you advice and answer questions you may have about them.  Just keep in mind that you can’t really judge the quality of that advice–so also research things yourself on sites like tripadvisor.com.
  16. Viator.com is another good option for shore excursions, though often there is a minimum number you have to sign up for (often it’s 2 people, again a pain in the neck for solos!) on the tours on that site.  I booked most of the shore excursions for my New Zealand/Australia cruise through Viator and they were all very good.
  17. If you are considering buying a drink package, often the cruiseline will offer a sale on them–but not always!  I would not book one in advance unless they were on sale–I’d wait until a week before the cruise to book it just in case a sale came up.  If you book it onboard, and it’s before the ship is in international waters, they may have to charge sales tax–so best to book in advance if you want to start using it as soon as you get onboard.
  18. For solos, those “all inclusive” fares with multiple perks like drink packages, onboard credit, etc. are not usually worth the money because of the way the cruise lines charge for solos.  So do the math carefully if you are considering them–see what a solo fare without the perks would cost and then decide if they are worth it.  For drink packages especially, consider how much time you will be on shore at the ports and not using the package.  I have never found them worth purchasing–then again, I don’t drink much and if I’m on Celebrity or Royal Caribbean I get some free drinks each evening because of my “frequent flyer” status with the company.  There are multiple websites where people have posted drink menus from various cruise lines if you want to find out how much your preferred drinks will cost if you buy them without a package–check that out before deciding as well.  I don’t know of  a site that shows all menus for all cruise lines, so you’ll have to Google it!  🙂
  19. Most cruise lines will let you bring at least a couple of bottles of wine onboard with you–they may charge a fee per bottle or not, depending on the line.   And often for cruises in Europe or New Zealand/Australia, they will let you bring on additional wine in the ports (it seems to be a don’t ask, don’t tell situation!) even though their policy says you can’t.  The worst thing that can happen is that they confiscate the bottles and give them back to you the last night of the cruise–and then you will need to bring them home with you.  Of course none of this helps if you prefer beer or hard liquor, unless you are on a high-end cruise line where you are free to bring any kind of alcohol on board – but on those lines all your drinks are included in the cruise fare so why would you?
  20. Don’t be afraid to sail solo.  Cruisers are very friendly people in general – and not only the ones who have been taking full advantage of their drinks packages!  You can be as sociable or as introverted as you like and it will be fine.  I think it’s the easiest way to travel solo because you don’t have to find your way around strange cities, don’t have to lug your bags to a new place each day, have a limited amount of decisions to make each day (and when you’re making them, for example deciding where to eat dinner and what to order, any choice is going to be a good one!)

Those are all the tips I can think of at the moment.  I’m a little obsessive about getting the best possible deal on cruises–okay, a LOT obsessive!  You don’t have to be this obsessive–even one or two of the tips above will save you some money and/or help make your cruise go more smoothly.  And smooth sailing is what we all want for our vacations!

A start–in hopes others will find it useful

If you are reading this, thank you!  I hope I can provide some useful information/opinions to others, especially “women of a certain age”, who are, or are considering becoming, solo travelers.

A little bit about me–I’m just *slightly* over 55 years old now.  I’ve been traveling solo for business throughout the US for about 25 years, and after adjusting to single life after my divorce 10 years ago I began traveling solo on vacations as well.  I wanted to go places before it was too late…and I didn’t want to wait around until I found someone to travel with.  Which was a good idea, because I still haven’t found someone to travel with–not that I’ve been looking; I’m enjoying answering only to myself!

I’m also…well…cheap.  I want great vacation experiences, but as a now single woman who is saving like crazy for retirement, I can’t afford to spend too much money on vacations.

I try to take two international vacations a year.  I’ve found cruises to be cost-effective, relaxing, convenient and an easy way to travel solo, so very often my vacations are cruises.  And when I’m on an ocean cruise, I REQUIRE a balcony cabin!

So what you’re likely to read on this blog is a lot of info about how I look for bargain vacations, as well as travelogues of those vacations as I experience them.  Also, one of my dreams is to spend extended time in other countries (mostly in Europe) after retirement, so every trip now I’m keeping an eye out for ideas about retirement…and I hope to share those ideas here.  I’m not a great photographer, but I will also share some of my iPhone snapshots with you.

My most recent vacations were:

–a transatlantic cruise this spring on the Norwegian Breakaway from NYC to Southampton with stops in Ponta Delgada (Azores, part of Portugal,) Cork (Ireland), Portland (England), LeHavre (France), and then a weekend in London before flying home

–a New Zealand cruise last December on the Celebrity Solstice from Auckland (came in a day early, which I always recommend if possible just in case of flight delays), with ports in Bay of Islands, Tauranga, Wellington, Akaroa, Dunedin, Fjordland National Park, Melbourne Australia, and ending in Sydney Australia.  I couldn’t stay a day or two in Sydney at the end because it was almost Christmas and I needed to fly  back to the US for family celebrations

–a transatlantic cruise last spring on the Celebrity Eclipse from Miami to London, with ports in Nassau (Bahamas), Bermuda, and Lisbon Portugal, with a few days in London before flying home

My next vacation will come in late October when I’ll be going on a river cruise for the first time, the River Countess (Uniworld Cruises) in and around Venice Italy.

On my next post I’ll talk a bit about planning my more recent vacations and how I look for attractive solo pricing and decide which vacations to take.

I hope you enjoy my posts!