Cruising With 200 Of Your New Best Friends

If you can collect a group of friends, family, colleagues or even people you’ve never met but with whom you share a common interest, hobby, lifestyle, sport or passion to go on a cruise, you can cruise free. I think a 100% discount trumps a 50% discount any day of the week.

Arranging a group cruise is surprisingly easy to do as long as you consult a travel agent who specializes in group cruises. An experienced group consultant will help you determine the most important aspects of a group cruise: departure date plus which cruise line, ship and itinerary is best for your group. Best of all, you don’t have to fork over money, worry about booking cabins or mail out documents.

I consulted Alishah Kier, one of America’s Vacation Center’s affiliate travel agents who has been booking groups for eight years. I asked her to walk me through the steps of getting a bunch of people together, talking them into taking a cruise together.

The first step is deciding what the group will be; I discovered the list of potential groups is as long as my arm. A group is a bunch of people with something in common. They may be family, friends, church members, golf buddies, fellow gym rats, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Jane Austen fans, computer geeks, people of Scottish – or any – ancestry, hikers, accountants, lawyers, photography buffs. Thanks to the Internet, it’s easy to target others who share my interests. In addition to the more obvious celebrations such as a wedding, sweet 16 party, birthday, wedding anniversary, bar mitzvah or high school/college reunions, group cruising may be used as a vehicle for fund raising or workshops. For example, Alishah worked with a minister in setting up a marriage retreat at sea. An added bonus is that meeting space and audio-visual equipment is available at no extra charge should your group need them.

Once the group is decided, it’s time to consult your group specialist. Alishah questions clients about the members of the group. “If they’re more conservative we’ll go with one cruise line whereas if they’re liberal, I might recommend resort casual. Have they cruised before and if so, what have their experiences been?” With this kind of information in hand, she’ll make recommendations for cruise lines and itineraries.

Alishah recommends a lead time of at least 15 months prior to departure. The more time you have, the easier it is to market the cruise and most people can commit to a trip that far in advance.

Once the ship, itinerary and departure date are determined, your cruise specialist will get the ball rolling with the cruise line. “An experienced agent knows what kind of cabins and the best locations to book.”, Alishah says. She says the minimum number of staterooms that can be reserved is eight and says that number can grow very quickly. She cites a minister who thought he wanted 15 cabins for a marriage retreat; his group ended up with 200 staterooms.

Your work involves marketing the cruise to prospective group members. Alishah helps clients create special brochures and gives a crash course on marketing, radio advertising and press releases for newspapers.

Alishah explained the logistics of booking a group cruise. A $25 deposit is expected 25 days after the group space is reserved. Each participant works directly with the the travel agent in booking the cruise from the initial deposit and cabin selection to obtaining cruise documents. Your group will have until 90 days prior to departure to get people and the total price is expected 70 days before departure.

An experienced group specialist can arrange a complimentary cocktail party for your group, reserve function rooms, special shore excursions and nice touches like champagne and chocolate delivered to staterooms. If your group needs special activities, such as tee time at island golf courses or break out rooms for seminars aboard ship, your travel agent will do that as well. If you have ten people or more in the group, Alishah will book group air space for you and arrange transfers between the airport and the pier.

So what about the free cruise? According to Alishah I only need 25 cabins to get a free cruise including port charges, taxes and fuel surcharge. Since I have plenty of time to find people interested in cruising in my group, it should be easy.

Layman’s Guide to the US Debt Ceiling Crisis

The ongoing ‘discussions’ or rather political point scoring for raising or not raising the US Debt ceiling, is not doing the US economy or the world much good at the moment.  Increasingly the US economy appears to be jittery, the people are in limbo and some have already lost their jobs as reported in today’s news.

So what exactly is the ‘debt ceiling’? Well it is the limit on the amount the U.S. Treasury is allowed to borrow, without further Congressional authorization, to manage the national debt (the total amount currently owed by the U.S. government). And don’t worry, upping the debt ceiling is not unusual, it’s already been increased 78 times since 1960 and this would make it the 11th time in the last decade -up $8 trillion since 2011- what does that tell you about our spending/gambling/fudged accounting by Governments in recent years…

With the US about to lose its authority to borrow more money under its current $14.3 trillion limit on August 2, this effectively means there won’t be the cash for it to pay all of its bills as per Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, so Treasury is currently working on a plan to decide who does get paid and who doesn’t- now that’s a really cheery thought! Basically the US Government will not be able to meet its existing obligations and pay its bills, whether they are for Treasury securities or Government Programs.

We’re getting closer and closer to the August 2 deadline with not much hope in sight with the Republicans and Democrats still not on the same page for the sake of the US short term or long term, not to mention the rest of the world. Most people have probably believed until now something would be worked out rather than send the economy into a further downward spiral and upset the global financial markets once again. Now, this seems a real possibility with the Federal Reserve preparing guidance for banks in the event the US debt limit isn’t raised and the Treasury Department runs out of money to pay all of its bills. Get your money out now people.

Even Blind Freddy can see that not raising the debt limit would have severe consequences. Of course, President Obama, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke all realise this but all the proposals put forward for trying to address the country’s budget deficit are just not going anywhere because everyone seems to differ on just how to begin to reduce that deficit.

Should the debt ceiling NOT be raised the consequences are likely to be major as alluded to previously. The US credit rating would be harmed and investors would end up charging higher interest rates for buying Treasury securities which in turn would increase the country’s borrowing costs, making the national debt problem even worse in the long term. Not to mention how the rest of the world would react with the world’s richest and most powerful nation in the poo.

The Tea Party Republicans (with a name like that, need we say any more!) and in Congress since all of January 2011, are definitely flies in the ointment for the negotiations to be finalised sooner rather than later. With Democrats suggesting failure to reach an agreement will be the fault of the Republicans there’s no love lost between anyone.

Any agreement also unlikely until the last minute is what we keep hearing – well, Hello – it’s now 29th July – didn’t think Congress met over the weekend.. However, when an agreement is finally reached it will likely be temporary as has happened before, albeit the US economy and debt level hasn’t been as high. But, it will then lead to several short-term debt ceiling increases before a longer-term agreement is reached.

Not being able to pay it’s bills or meet its obligations is unprecedented in US history. Let’s hope the US doesn’t start this trend on August 2.

Oh and I bet you can’t wait for the issue being debated  during the upcoming 2012 Presidential election campaign – how the US is going to deal with its budget deficit! Riveting stuff.

Presidential Convention Blogger Tent?

Apparently, Google is going to set up a huge tent outside the democrat convention in Denver for bloggers who will be blogging about the event. Perhaps, you are unaware that there are some 500 dedicated bloggers who helped Senator Barrack Obama with his rise to Stardom. Well, these bloggers, many of them are still at it attempting to get the word out and get Obama elected. Google realizes that they want to be involved in the race to show their technological and Internet prowess.

The Republicans have about 200 dedicated bloggers out there, not as many as the democrats, but a respectable number of fully dedicated individuals. These bloggers are actually certified with credentials from the national parties. Each of the credentialed bloggers has a vast amount of knowledge of current political events.

So, what will these “big Google Tents” have in the way of accommodations? Well, they will have high-speed Internet access, electricity, food, couches, beverages, smoothies, and HD TV of all the news media. Cost, $100 for entry and a work station to blog away on. And these are not little tents, we are talking some 8,000 square feet or so.

For those who do not have the respect for the Blogosphere or do not understand what it is all about or why it matters, soon they will see just why it may be the bloggers that swing this election. Both the Republicans and the Democrats are counting on their bloggers to make a difference. Will it be enough, can they make a difference? We shall see, but one thing for sure, either way they are making history.