I am posting some random travel thoughts today as we are now 9 days away from leaving for our big adventure!
Random thought #1: I am NOT a patient person!!! The week before leaving is the worst; too much time on my hands (since I plan so much ahead of time). Nothing to do but worry about details I may have forgotten. . .
Random thought #2: Our luggage gets picked up today between 1 and 3 pm by Luggage Forward. If you have read my previous blog posts, you know that we are shipping our suitcase ahead of time so we don’t have to deal with it while we travel. The only inconvenience is that they pick up the suitcase way ahead of when you leave, so not a great option for the last minute packer! We have been packed for weeks; we are definitely not last minute people.
As you can see, the suitcase still has “room to grow”; it is not packed to the gills. We use packing cubes to help keep our clothing sorted and organized, and ziplock bags for virtually everything else. When we fly home at the end of December, we will have used up or thrown out virtually all of the toiletries, which will also provide space for the inevitable souvenirs. I doubt we will buy an enormous amount of “stuff”; a wise traveler once told me that they collect experiences, not souvenirs. I think this is an excellent motto!
For the two days we will spend in Rome before we meet up with our big suitcase, we have a small Travelpro carry-on suitcase. In this, we both have two changes of clothes and travel sized toiletries to tide us over until we reconnect with our big suitcase.
Random thought #3: Thirty ports = quite a bit of planning and TONS of emails!
I have been inundated with emails from other passengers that have signed up for the tours that I have planned. I have been corresponding with over 250 people; some of those people have emailed me upwards of a hundred times. And, of course, I have multiple emails going back and forth with all of the tour companies that I am working with.
I had posted on Cruise Critic in early September that I was done with new signups for the tours. I needed time to make final arrangements with the tour companies, and to make sure they had accurate numbers. Up until that time, if someone wanted to sign up for a tour, all they needed to do was add their name(s) to the tour spreadsheet. Additionally, some tours required me to collect information, so people would email me and I would compile that information. So, I changed the access to the spreadsheet so that people could open it, but not edit it. That way, no new people could sign up. It seemed like a good idea at the time…
Unfortunately, the price of the 3 legs of the cruise all dropped dramatically around this time and so many new people booked the cruises. And, of course, they were interested in signing up for the tours. And, I am a wimp, and agreed to add them to the tours (one of the people I correspond with called it “masochism extremus” – I can’t disagree!). Totally my own fault; I could have said no. So an unfortunate cycle began – a new person would contact me about tours. I would then have to contact the tour company to inquire as to the feasibility of adding more people. Then, I would have to correspond with the person that initially contacted me to confirm their spot on the tour, and add them to the tour spreadsheet. And, if they were signing up for a tour where I had to collect passport information, I then needed to add that information to my records. There were also those that wanted me to email them every detail about every tour, rather than looking up the information themselves. . .
So, I posted the following on Cruise Critic:
Hello, all! I am in my final preparations for leaving town for the cruise. I wanted to touch base regarding the tours I have set up. All tours are full. I am not making any further changes at this point.
FYI, I never expected the interest in my tours to be so overwhelming! I have re-read some of my original emails to the tour companies. They go something like this, “My husband and I are interested in your tour of __________. How much would it cost for the two of us?” The next email, “We have another couple that are interested in joining us. How much would it cost for the four of us?” And then, “A few more would like to join us. How much now?” “What is the maximum number of people you can take?” I have emailed back and forth upwards of 100 times with some of the companies. And, the largest tour has well over 100 people!
I have greatly enjoyed corresponding with so many of you and am looking forward to meeting you in person! I feel like I have found new friends.
If you have signed up for any of the tours on my spreadsheet, please read carefully:
- Some of the tour groups have changed slightly due to increased numbers, so please re-check the tour spreadsheet to verify which group you are in.
- Over my objections, some of the tour companies want me to collect money prior to the tour starting. Frankly, this is a major hassle and not something for which I volunteered. The affected tours are clearly marked on the spreadsheet (highlighted in red). You may need to meet me off the ship 15 minutes prior to the tour starting in order to meet this requirement. I have updated some of the information recently due to a flurry of emails between me and the tour companies. Again, please read all of the information on the page carefully.
- Please bring exact change (most of the companies require payment in cash).
- BE ON TIME!!!!
And last, but not least, I have been trying to think of a “nice” way to say this, but haven’t been able to come up with the right wording, so will just say it: I am not a travel agent; I have set up these tours for myself and my husband but was happy for others to benefit from the research I have done. If things don’t go exactly as planned on the tours, please feel free to take up your issues with the tour company directly. Although I may be assisting the company by collecting the money for the tour, I am not a “tour leader” per se; just another passenger trying to enjoy her vacation!
What do you suppose the response was to this post? On the positive side, several people posted their thanks for my work, and their support. Nice! I really appreciated them taking the time to do so. There are so many wonderful people on the roll call. But, on the negative side, I got an enormous amount of emails from people that needed to let me know this, that or the other thing. Or, needed to change their tour. Or, needed to cancel their tour. Or, needed to correct something on the spreadsheet (I didn’t mind these; they were obviously my error and needed to be fixed). Can you sense that I am frustrated?
Random thought #4: Will I do this again on future cruises?
Yes, I will, but I will definitely do a couple of things differently. For starters, when people signed up on the spreadsheet, they put first names only. Obviously, last names will be required next time around. But, for tours that required passport information being submitted as well, I will require passport names on the spreadsheet. Especially when working with companies with non-native English speakers, there is a big issue with not understanding that, for example, Bob and Penny are actually Robert and Penelope. It seems obvious in retrospect, but I definitely didn’t realize it would be a problem ahead of time!
The other thing that I will change is to set up my spreadsheet a bit differently. When I started, I listed all of the tours on the same page. This was somewhat intentional. There were quite a few people that contacted me by email because they had no idea how to use a spreadsheet. I thought that having a single page would make it easier for people to understand. However, in the interest of cutting down on the number of emails I received for specific information about tours, I will instead set up a page for each tour, and put ALL of the information about the tours on that page – itinerary, prices, you name it! I am hoping that this will cut down on the amount of correspondence.
Final random thought (for now): My plan is to post to my blog after every port. It sounds like a good plan. So much better than waiting until the end of the cruise and then trying to remember everything I want to write. But, we shall see how it goes! I may be too tired at the end of a long day touring to do much writing or to edit my photographs. I may not have good internet access (or any internet access at all). I will keep up as best I can. Eventually, you will be able to read about all of the ports. If you have not done so, please subscribe to my blog so that you are notified when I post new information.
Heather Griffin Phillips