Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Insider's Look At: Las Vegas Circus Circus

One of the hardest parts of getting ready to book a vacation is deciding where to stay within your desired budget. You go online, search through dozens of sites, trying to decode the pictures to figure out which have been airbrushed or shot from an angle that make them look better than they are.

Then you show up, and the moment of truth arrives - you find out that the room/hotel is not as nice as you were hoping.

As a travel agent, I stay at a variety of hotels and resorts, so I've decided to share with you insider views of places that I stay to help you make better travel decisions. 

Obviously, I'm only one person, so I can't give you an exhaustive list. However, if you have a place that you'd really like to see, post it in the comments below and I'll keep it in mind! :) 

Today I'm going to share with you a couple of video segments I shot here in Vegas regarding Circus Circus, a budget hotel and casino located on the strip. These are MY opinions, so you may have had a different experience than I did, but I still wanted to share my experiences. 

To give you a little bit of a comparison, I also took a quick tour of The Venetian lobby. As part of the conference I was in Las Vegas for, The Venetian sold out very quickly and I didn't get the chance to stay there, but WOW what a difference between a budget hotel and a luxury hotel!!

What are your opinions on these hotels, or recommendations for other places on the strip to stay?

Friday, February 8, 2013

Make the Most of Your Cruise Part I: Food Tips

Having recently just gotten back from a cruise to Mexico on the Carnival Elation, I've had a lot of cruise newbies or interested non-cruisers ask about how to save money or get the most value from your cruise. The great news is that most of the work is already done for you - cruising already includes your lodging and most of your food and drinks, so the price you see is the majority of what you will spend! :)

Although I am a travel agent, I don't consider myself an expert on cruising (yet, lol!) so I talked with industry experts as well as combined my personal experience with tips located on the internet, and I've compiled a great list of tips that can make even a first-time cruiser feel like a pro. Today's post deals with food tips.

First - you aren't limited to just one appetizer, entree, or dessert in the main dining rooms! This can come in handy if you are like me and have a food allergy and so are limited to only the planned meal times for 99% of what you eat (the other 1% for me was the soft serve ice cream machine!!) - or if you are someone like my husband, who isn't satisfied with the smaller portions that you will find because of the high-class dining. This also works in reverse - you can choose to skip an appetizer or dessert, or have them bring out appetizer-sized entrees so you can try more varieties of food or eat light.

Room service is generally FREE! So if you're feeling like you want to eat a more intimate dinner in your room (and since rooms are generally pretty small, it will be intimate) or miss breakfast in the dining room but don't want to go to the Lido deck for buffet, you can order up without feeling guilty! There are a few exceptions with regards to "after hours" ordering, which is determined by cruise line, so pay attention to any fine print on the room service menu.

On many of the cruise lines, there are options to dine outside of the dining room and buffet, usually for a price. However, book one of those on the first night of the cruise and you will often receive a discount, better seating, or even a bottle of wine! You may also find that these are great options if you want to avoid the mob scene on embarkation day as other passengers flood the buffet while they wait for their cabins to become available.

Love soda? Can't stand tap water? Be prepared to pay a price. Almost all cruise lines, except some of the most premium high-end lines, charge for bottled water, soda, and alcohol. However, there are a few things you can do to alleviate this - one, you are usually allowed to bring a 12 pack of soda and bottle of wine per adult with you (and some cruise lines allow a little more); and two, there is usually an unlimited beverage option available for purchase for the non-alcoholic beverages. Also, watch your daily newsletter for the drink special of the day - you can save a little more by asking for it in a regular glass rather than the souvenir glass!

If wine is your drink of choice, it is often cheaper to buy a bottle rather than glass. Don't worry about having to finish it all in one meal, though - your waiter can mark the bottle with your room number and you can use it another night.

There is no "open beverage" rule, or really any rule, that prevents you from bringing your food and drinks with you wherever you are headed. So don't hesitate to grab an extra glass of water to bring back to your room so you can avoid using the expensive bottle of water left in your stateroom.

To get the most out of your cruise, book early enough that you are able to choose the flexible dining option. This option allows you to eat within a much larger time frame, which prevents you from frantically trying to catch the early or late dining option if you were busy with other fun activities.

Several cruise lines now roll gratuities and tips into the final bill that you pay, so make sure you find out if you should be leaving a tip every night or not. Your cruise waiters and maitre d's all work very hard, and don't often get paid very well, so tips make up a large portion of their overall wages. If your ship does take out gratuities, still consider giving a small tip to any waiter you feel went out of their way to help you - for example, since I had a food allergy, one of the maitre d's came to our table every night to take my order for the next day, and often stopped by every meal to make sure I was enjoying the food and to see if I needed anything else, so I made sure I handed her a little something extra at the end of the cruise to let her know that she was appreciated.

Are you a foodie looking for a unique dining experience? For an additional price, Carnival Cruise Lines has the Chef's Table one night during the cruise, which is an intimate dining situation for only 12 guests. It is a several course meal with a personal chef right there in the room!

Those are my food tips to make the most of your cruise! Do you have any food tips that aren't on this list? Please share below!!