Sunday, November 24, 2013


About 12 of the countries we are visiting require a visa to enter the country.  At the least this means some paperwork and paying a fee.  At the worst, it is lots of seemingly unrelated questions (why do they need to know what my daughter does for a living or where my father was born?) and a significant amount of money.

The good news is that most of the visas are obtained onboard and the cost added to my onboard account.  But then there are the visas for India and China....

Right from the beginning I had been worrying over the visas  for China and India.  I had followed roll calls from other world voyages and read about the trials and tribulations of getting these two documents.  I had asked a number of questions on Cruise Critic and we had discussed it on our roll call.

After doing a lot of research on line, I found that I could not directly mail my applications to the embassies.  For China, I could drive to D.C. and leave my passport and application and come back four days later, pay the fee and pick up my passport.  For India, I could only use the company to whom they had outsourced the processing of visas.  (I thought it was rather ironic that India outsourced the visas when so many of our jobs have been outsourced to India!)  My other choice was to use a company that acquires visas for you.

I finally decided to use the company recommended by Cunard - Visa Central (CIBT).  I still had to fill out the forms (or pay Visa Central an extra $225 to do it for me).  I decided to tackle the Chinese visa first.  I had had a Chinese visa for my 1988 trip there and did not 
remember having any
problems.  It was quick and fairly easy with the only problem being my address in China since I was going to be on a cruise ship.  A conference call with my travel agent (Patty), Cunard, and Visa Central cleared up that problem.

And then it was time to tackle the Indian visa.  I had found a sample online and had written directions.  Filling out the form (about four pages) was not too bad except for the question about reference name, address and phone number.  Once again my travel agent had to get in touch with Cunard.  After you have completed all the questions you get a chance to check your responses.  Once you verify all your answers and click to proceed, there is no going back.  The application that then appears looks nothing like the form you filled out and there is a big empty box that says "Address of Place of Stay/Hotel".  Wait a minute!  They never 
asked me that.  I can't go back and double check.  Time to call Visa Central (and freak out 
on my roll call).  Turns out that box is supposed to be blank.  I decided to get the ten year visa so if I went again I would not have to worry about applying again!

With both applications completed, it was time to send them and my passport off to Visa Central which I did on October 29.  An email the next day said they had received everything and would be in touch if they needed more information.  A week went by and I finally succumbed to curiosity and checked the Visa Central website.  It showed that my applications were being processed and the return date was by November 30.  Another week goes by and the UPS man comes to the door and my passport was back - complete with visas - two weeks, one day and $515 later!

All in all, I worried about the process way too much.  The problems others had did not 
materialize for me, thank goodness.  Now I could get back to planning, preparation, and 

Smooth sailing until next time!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Cruise Critic

Love to cruise?  Do you know about Cruise Critic?  The name may be confusing, making you think it is nothing but people complaining about their cruise.  But actually, Cruise Critic is a community of people interested in cruising.
When you first go to Cruise Critic you will see categories like, “Reviews”, “Find A Cruise”,  “Deals”, “Destinations”, “How to Cruise”,  “News”,  and “Community”.  Most of these have a pull down menu with specific information.  If you are reading the reviews, remember to take them with a grain of salt.  They are very subjective – what one person finds unforgivable might not bother another person.   Very few cruises are going to be totally horrible or totally fantastic.  A good rule is to eliminate the top 20% and the bottom 20% of the reviews.
For me, the best part of Cruise Critic is the “Community”.  This is where you will find dozens of forums covering just about any aspect of cruising.  Here are just a few of the forum topics:
Honeymoon and Wedding Cruises
Luxury Cruising
First Time Cruisers
Disabled Cruise Travel
Solo Cruisers
Cruising Technology
World Cruising

Most of the mainstream cruise lines have a separate forum where you can ask (and answer) the questions of fellow members.  Sometimes these discussions can become very heated and the board moderators have to step in and encourage everyone to “play nice”.

There also are “Roll Calls” where people who are going to be on the same cruise can chat with each other.  Roll Calls are interesting as some of them become very popular and others just sit there.   For this cruise I have been very lucky to be part of an amazing roll call.  We have discussed all kinds of topics of interest from excursions, setting up meet and greets, what to wear, to the pain of getting visas for China and India (more about that in a future post).  Although I am traveling solo, I do not feel like I am traveling alone because of all the great people I have met on the roll call.

If you need to find out information about your ports of call, there is a forum for that.  This is a great place to find out some of the best places to visit (or avoid) as well as reputable excursion providers.  Cruise Critic is owned by TripAdvisor which is another great site to learn about the places you will be visiting.

One of my favorite forums is the “Cruise Fashion and Beauty”.  Almost everyone on the forum is positive and helpful (even if they disagree).  There is even a recycling thread where people offer clothes, shoes, handbags, etc. that they have grown tired of, don’t fit any more, or they are just downsizing their closets.  If you are the lucky recipient of an item all you have to do is to send a check for the shipping to the giver and post a picture of yourself and the item on the thread.

So, if you are interested in cruising, give Cruise Critic a try.   You can read all the information but must register in order to post.

Smooth sailing until next time.