I’ve booked a short itinerary that sails from Tampa for Mom and me. We can easily drive to the port and she will be away from home less than a week. In the meantime I’ll be working on my Royal Caribbean Diamond Status.
One of the best cruises I’ve ever been on was the one that Mom and I took about 10 years ago. We were on Holland America’s Zuiderdam on a Mediterranean itinerary from Venice to Barcelona. It was on this cruise that I visited Rome on a port stop, and immediately fell in love with Roman antiquities and Italian culture. Now all cities are compared to Rome. After that cruise, I thought that Mom and I would be taking frequent cruises together, but life and family responsibilities intervened. It’s been several years now that we’ve taken even a short cruise together but she’s now said that she’s ready to go.
She’s now 94 years old and is not quite as flexible as she was ten years ago. When I asked her where she wanted to go, she was enthusiastic about visiting Barbados. Itineraries that visit Barbados are either 7-day sailings that leave from Puerto Rico, or longer cruises that leave from Fort Lauderdale or Miami. After discussing the possibilities with her I discovered that she doesn’t want to fly to her cruise and she really wants to be gone less than a week.
My only constraint at this point is my grand kid babysitting duties. I’m needed full-time until May. I’ve had a little nagging idea in the back of my mind for a couple of years that I would like to attain Diamond status on Royal Caribbean. I am 16 points, or 16 nights away from this goal. The Diamond perk I’m interested in is having access to the Diamond lounges with open bar! The last two cruises we’ve taken have been on Carnival because we needed cruises that fit the grand kids’ schedule of short cruises close to home or having a kid’s program that will admit two-year-olds. I have more flexibility for this cruise. We won’t have to work around school days or need access to a supervised childrens’ program.
The five night sailing aboard Royal Caribbean’s Empress of the Seas will work for us. It sails from Tampa which is a 7 hour drive. It is less that a week so Mom won’t be gone too long. And it’s on Royal Caribbean which will put me closer to Diamond status.
Booking the Royal Caribbean Empress
I checked Royal Caribbean’s website as well as several of the larger online cruise agencies. The travel agencies were not offering any discounts or perks. This is usually the case with the cruises I end up booking because I tend to go on the cheaper cruises. There’s just not any fat to trim! I did see a $25 on board credit offer from American Discount Cruises, but they have a $100 cancellation fee that I don’t like. I decided to check out a couple of points-earning portals.
Ultimate Rewards Cruises
I knew that I wouldn’t earn extra UR points by using their portal but I wanted see if they had competitive pricing. Unfortunately they have removed the cruise search function from their website and I didn’t feel like spending time on the phone with them.You can pay for cruises with Ultimate Rewards points, but I haven’t earned my 100,000 sign on bonus yet from the Chase Sapphire Reserve so there was no need to check out the Pay with Points option.
American Express Cruises
I called them for a quote to kill two birds with one stone. I wanted to hear directly from American Express the terms and conditions of using the American Express Platinum card to receive Cruise Privileges on board credit. In this case my benefit would have been $100 on board credit and a bottle of champagne. I also wanted to see if their quote was competitive–it wasn’t–it was about $50 higher than my lowest quotes. I also learned that you need to be very careful when using the card to book on Royal Caribbean–if Royal is giving you on board credit you can’t also get on board credit from American Express. You must pay the FULL AMOUNT of the cruise with the Platinum card to get the credit. You do get an extra Membership Reward point per dollar spent if you use American Express Cruises.
Royal Caribbean Website
This is where I ended up booking the cruise. No one else was offering any deals– I could book on line and avoid any booking or cancellation fees. Now the million dollar question–which credit card to use?
Paying for the Cruise–Which Credit Card?
It would have been helpful to make split payments on the cruise. I still needed to spend money on the Sapphire Reserve to meet my minimum spend, and also earn the yearly $300 travel credit. The card also has trip cancellation and evacuation insurance if you pay for part of your trip with the card. As I stated before, I also wanted to use the AMEX Platinum card for the Cruise privileges benefits. Since I wasn’t prepared to give up the travel protection of the Reserve I decided against using the Platinum card. I paid the full amount of the cruise on the Reserve.
Cleaning Out My Club Carlson Account for a PreCruise Hotel Stay
We’ll be making a seven hour drive to Tampa. We could leave at 3:00 am (we’ve done that before) but it would be nicer to either stop along the way or spend the night in Tampa before the cruise. In my opinion there are not any aspirational hotels in the Tampa area to waste points or a free night on. Ocala is 90 miles of Tampa and there is a nice Country Inn and Suites property there for 28,000 points that will clean out my Club Carlson account. We’ll have a leisurely breakfast and do some sightseeing before we head for Tampa Port.
We are both looking forward to our cruise and traveling together again!