A Client Case Study: First Time Cruise Passengers

I received a call from a client that had always booked land vacations with me in the past.  They had never considered a cruise before, but they’ve seen my pictures and have been reading my blogs and newsletters over the years.  One Sunday morning they saw an ad for a cruise that sparked some interest.  Being first time cruisers they had plenty of questions about what to expect for their cruise vacation.  Some of the questions were:

  • What should we pack?
  • What can we wear to dinner?
  • Where happens when we board the ship?
  • What will the weather be in each port?
  • What excursions are available?
  • Will we have internet and Smartphone access at sea?
  • What are the dining options on the ship?
  • Do we need to exchange currency in each port?

As a travel agent, I have access to resources and tools that allowed me to answer their questions in a timely manner.  My personal experience and training also gives me the knowledge to answer many questions that others might have to research.  It saved my clients a lot of time and effort I was able to make sure they knew everything they needed for a great vacation.  For this client, I sent them current ship overviews, info about life onboard and created custom port guides for each stop on their cruise.

This client contacted me a few times while they were on the cruise. It was great to hear from them and what a great time they were having.  We chatted briefly once they got home and now I am looking forward to seeing all of their pictures from their first cruise.

Amy Windham



Why I Specialize in Cruises

I have been a Cruise Specialist for 6 years. That’s the official number, but I think I’ve been a cruise specialist long before I became a travel agent.  I loved cruises before I ever went on one myself.  I studied the cruise lines, ships, activities, dining room menus and shore excursions. I was fascinated with cruises and I know some of that came from watching TV, but it was also the stories that I would hear from my grandparents and friends that cruised.

Once I made the move to become a travel agent for a career I started taking classes with each of the cruise lines.  Most lines have a cruise “school” or “university”.  For example, I am Freestyle Certified with NCL University.  To achieve this I had to take a series of classes on the different ships, staterooms, dining and entertainment options, and the ports and excursions.  Each step of the way I had to take quizzes and tests to prove that I was proficient in each topic.

I have taken 10 cruises so far.  I have sailed with Premier, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian.  I have also done many ship inspections, including Holland America and Costa. My goal is to sail multiple times each year to gain experience on other cruise lines.  I am also completing my ACC (Accredited Cruise Counselor) certification with CLIA (Cruise Line Industry Association).  CLIA is the world’s largest cruise association and I have been a member since 2007.

One advantage of working with me is that I have direct access to the cruise line’s business development managers. They are the representatives for the cruise lines that provide information, special rates and can assist with any issues that can arise before or during a cruise.  These managers help me to make sure that I have access to the most up-to-date information about what is going on with the cruise lines.  These direct relationships give me a strong advantage over booking a cruise with an online agency.  If there is a question or a problem I can get answers from my manager, where you may never have a name or a phone number of someone to call at an online agency.

If you are considering taking a cruise but don’t know where to start, or if you have some ideas and need some guidance feel free to send me an e-mail or give me a call so we can discuss your travel plans.

Amy Windham



Travel and Romance: A Perfect Match

Going on a vacation usually brings out the romance.  Couples needing to get away. Mom and Dad planning some alone time on a trip.  Or singles finding that romantic encounter you see in the movies.

Romance is found around the world, at sea and on land. It can be a candlelight dinner overlooking the ocean or a couples’ massage at a resort spa.  For some it’s getting away to a seaside boutique hotel with no televisions or phones.  For others it’s the once-in-a-lifetime adventure on safari in Africa.  Romance is what you want it to be. It is not one size fits all.

Some of my favorite trips to plan are honeymoons.  Honeymoons are all about love and romance.  One honeymoon I planned was a 7 Day Eastern Caribbean Cruise that included stops in St. Thomas and St. Maarten. The couple planned a great balance of spa treatments and relaxation on sea days, and they snorkeled and sailed while in port.  They spent most nights dining alone at a quiet table for two, and ordered room service for breakfast and ate on their balcony watching the ocean.

I always enjoy finding out what my clients like doing to make their vacation special. I have even taken some of those ideas for my own vacations.  On Princess Cruises they have a ScholarShip@Sea Program that includes pottery classes.  On one cruise we took a class and made our own bowls and painted them. On other cruises we have opted for the pre-made pieces that we painted.  It’s a great way to have a souvenir and a memory.  It was fun and we got to create something together.

Romance can happen anytime and anywhere.  Where do you find it?

Amy Windham



Travel in 2011: ch-ch-ch-ch-changes!

Ch-ch-ch- ch-changes!  That’s how I describe the travel business. Each year there are differences in how travel suppliers do business and that leads to changes in how I do business.  There are also clients who want to change how they do business.  Five years ago I was spending at least 4000-5000 minutes a month on the phone and my e-mail box rarely got full. Now my phone time has been cut in half and I have many e-mail accounts to support the different functions of my business.

The internet is taking over. There are some travel suppliers that have certain tasks that can only be done online.  I have some clients that I rarely speak to on the phone.  Most of our interactions are by e-mail. Marketing campaigns have shifted to e-mails more than direct mail. This seems to be happening in most industries today.

The challenge is being able to translate my excitement for a cruise line, resort, destination or activity into words in an e-mail rather than in a conversation where someone can hear the excitement in my voice.  I have always taken a lot of pictures when I travel. With the advantage of digital cameras and other technology I now take thousands of pictures when I am on a trip.  I now use those images to speak for me when I am not able to talk to a client on a direct basis.

There have also been changes in where people want to go and how they want to get there.  Cruises are still my primary business, but now there’s a “been there, done that” feeling with many of my clients.  They are now looking for a new adventure.  Land trips are starting to have a new appeal so people can travel back to places they only had a day to visit on a cruise.  A great example is my work with Costa Rica Dream Adventures.  They are an Atlanta based tour company with an office in San Jose, Costa Rica.  Costa Rica has become a hot spot for travel.  Costa Rica offers beautiful beaches, active volcanoes and tropical jungles, which feature a wide variety of animals and vegetation.  It can be an active vacation or a relaxing spa get-away, or a great combination of both.

I am also seeing a rise in last minute travel reservations.  In the past, it seemed like people were locked into their one or two weeks of scheduled vacation time every year.  Now people are starting to travel on short notice to take advantage of the great offers in the market.  I also think employers are being more flexible with vacation time and that allows more couples and families to plan a trip with short notice.

2011 will be an interesting year in the travel industry.  New ships, renovated resorts and new excursions are everywhere. The industry is stepping up to meet the demands of the savvy traveler. I am excited about the variety and new adventures that I am planning for my clients.

Amy Windham



How’s the Food?

“How’s the food?”  is one of the top questions I hear when a client is considering a cruise.  Dining on a cruise ship has come a long way.  On Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) there are main dining rooms, specialty dining, cafés (buffet style) and room service available.  Food is available 24/7, and there’s plenty of variety for even the most finicky eater.

Mussels Appetizer

Each night, the main dining room will have a new choices for appetizers/soups/salads, main dishes and desserts. There is also an “Always Available” menu that includes beef, chicken
and fish dishes, and dessert favorites of cheesecake and ice cream.  One of my favorite dining experiences is trying out the specialty restaurants (Italian, French, Steakhouse, Tapas, Teppanyaki, Sushi, and more).  NCL’s Le Bistro French Restaurant is my personal

Beef Tenderloin

favorite.  There is an extra charge for the specialty restaurants, but I think it’s more than worth it.  Here are some pictures from my December 2010 sailing on the NCL Sun. At Le Bistro I had mussels AND an escargot appetizer. That was followed by the beef tenderloin and the chocolate napoleon for dessert. It was a fantastic meal.


On this cruise, one of our stops was in Belize City and we were pleased to discover The Smoky Mermaid.  It’s a short walk from the port and offers a wide range of dishes at a very reasonable price (my husband I had lunch for under

Banana Chimichanga

$20US).  I had the chicken burrito and we shared the banana chimichanga for desert. It was soooo good that I will order my own next time.

Amy Windham

Cruise Specialist


The Caribbean Princess, a Princess Cruises Review

When I was planning our honeymoon we decided to sail with Princess. I think it was the whole “Love Boat” thing. That cruise was on the Grand Princess and we have sailed on her again, and our next cruises were on the Island Princess, and the Caribbean Princess as the most recent.  At that time the Caribbean Princess would be the largest ship I’ve sailed (3600 passengers).

I studied the ship layout and deck plans and wasn’t sure if I would feel like this ship was too big. What I found was that the Caribbean Princess had all of the advantages of a large ship, but still had that small ship feel.  An aspect I love about the Princess ships is the décor, artwork and the overall design.  The ship has an elegant look, without being stuffy.  I usually end up walking around the ship taking pictures of the sculptures, paintings and even some of the light fixtures.  I also think that the cabins have some of the best designs at sea.  The cabins are spacious, the closet, desk area and storage in the bathroom gives us plenty of room.  The Mini-Suite layout with the separate seating area and two TVs is also a big bonus.

I have always enjoyed the food on Princess. They offer some of the best soups, appetizers, entrees and desserts.  Their chilled fruit soups and soufflés are fantastic and when I see one on the menu I always order it.   A nice follow up to a great meal is the fun entertainment.  Princess has production shows, many bands, and entertainers. Where they excel is in their selection of comedians.  I have enjoyed each one on our sailings and have even purchased CDs and DVDs from them.

The Caribbean Princess is sailing (Jan-April 2011) roundtrip from San Juan.  These sailings range from $449 per person (+ taxes, double occupancy) for an inside cabin, to $1,399 per person (+taxes, double occupancy) for a Mini-Suite on their 7 Day sailings.  You can also combine sailings and have a 14 Day cruise.  Here are the maps:

Amy Windham

Cruise Specialist



Why I Fell in Love with NCL (Norwegian Cruise Line)

When I first cruised, “Traditional Dining” was king.  Your dining experience was the: same time, same table, same waiters, and the same tablemates.  I enjoyed it, but I had no idea what changes would come years later.

Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) became a leader in changing the dining (and cruising) experience with Freestyle Cruising. While other lines have implemented their own versions of a Freestyle concept on their ships, NCL has it fleet wide.  Freestyle means you have the freedom to choose your type of vacation. Dress up or not. Eat at 5:30, or how about 9:30? Want to dine alone or with others? That’s ok too.

I have to admit that before I sailed NCL I was a bit skeptical. After my cruise with NCL (on the NCL Dawn to Bermuda), I was hooked.  The ships have a great layout, cabins are spacious, the food is excellent and there were plenty of activities on board. We did what we wanted, when we wanted, even when it meant doing nothing but watching the ocean go by.  I ended up sailing with NCL three times in the last 14 months.

While NCLs style might not be for everyone, it fits me perfectly. Cabins are competitively priced and I’m sure there’s an itinerary, ship and cabin category for almost anyone. NCL provides a great way to cruise with different people with different likes and each person can have their own perfect cruise.

Amy Windham

Cruise Specialist