What You Should Know Before Taking a Cruise

Hello Lovely,

I just got back from my summer vacation and I’ve got to say, IT…WAS…A…BLAST!!! I took my second cruise on Carnival (my first cruise was 2001, and also on Carnival). While it wasn’t my original plan to spend my summer trapped on a boat with my family, the fact that my dad was getting married kind of made it a priority, regardless. We boarded the Carnival Glory on Saturday 7th July, 2018. The first part of the trip was a little stressful because we were supposed to do an online check in, but no one told me that we were supposed to do an online check in until the night before. But the moment I walked up and saw the Carnival Glory (in all its glory) I was overwhelmed in awe. Luckily it wasn’t too much of a hassle for me to get checked in at the ship. When I realised how many things were limited, prohibited or simply not included, I just knew that I had to write this guide to help anyone considering a cruise vacation. Keep in mind, ships may have different regulations or the small stuff, but in general, they all follow the same guidelines.

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1.      Wi-Fi is not included

I was pissed to find out that for the S1100 I had invested, it did not include Wi-Fi. To make it worse, there were different internet packages for different services just to force you to spend more money. The most basic was the social media package (access to Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram etc.) for $4 per day. That came out to $28 for me for the entire trip. If you wait until you're onboard, it's $5 per day. The Value Wi-Fi plan adds access to email, airline sites as well as news, entertainment (not including streaming sites), sports, weather, banking and finance. Pre-Cruise price: $10.25 USD per day | Onboard price: $12.00 USD per day | Onboard price for 24 hour plan: $16.00 USD.
Then there's the Premium Wi-Fi plan which truthfully provides nothing worth paying for as you still can't stream Netflix, Hulu or, well anything. This plan just boasts having the fastest internet speed. Pre-Cruise price: $14.88 USD per day | Onboard price: $17.70 USD per day | Onboard price for 24 hour plan: $25.00 USD.
 

2.      Online check in is preferred

U.S Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requires Carnival Cruise Line to submit a final departure manifest with specific guest information at least 60 minutes prior to departure. This allows you to print out your boarding pass and luggage tags in advance. Don't feel bad if you don't get a chance to do it, as the site wouldn't allow me to complete my online check in the day before. I was still able to check it on the ship, it'll just take a little longer (like 10 minutes).

3.      No plastic bottled beverages are allowed

Carnival’s  Liquor and Beverage Policy states that guests are prohibited from bringing water, sodas and other non-alcoholic beverages onboard that are packaged in bottles. This also includes juices. But if it's in a can, you can bring it on board. You'll meet two litre-sized bottles of water in your room on embarkation day but they costs $4 each. A complimentary bottle of water will be delivered to your stateroom on embarkation day. Bottled water may also be purchased onboard by contacting Room Service (gratuity fees apply).

4.      That means you can’t bring your own alcohol

The ship has bars all over so it makes sense they wouldn't want you bringing on your own alcohol, which would cut into your profits. But there are ways you can sneak them on, like in travel sized clear bottles (you know the stuff you put your shampoo and what not in), or even in the Listerine bottle. Shh! Don't tell anyone I told you that.

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5.      If you’re not a US citizen, you need a US Visa

Because I'm Bahamian to go anywhere in the US, I need a US Visa. And because a lot of the ports were US territories, my US Visa was definitely a necessity. I'll never forget travelling to London last summer and thinking everything was fine, until I got stopped at the airport check in because I needed a Canadian ETA just to connect through Canada. Guests should check with their travel agent and/or government authority to determine the travel documents necessary for each port of call.

6.      Luggage restrictions

This one isn't so bad and it's pretty much just like flying. Each checked suit case and carry-on suit case should not weigh more than 50 pounds, and when lying flat, bags must not exceed 16 inches high by 24 inches wide (the length of the bag is not a factor). For security screening purposes, all luggage should be unlocked. Oversized luggage and locked luggage may cause delivery delays. The common sense thing here is to pack sensibly, so limit your luggage to a maximum of one bag per person, if traveling on cruises of 3-5 days duration, and no more than two bags per person, for cruises of 6 days or longer.

7.      The rooms are really small

You know how hotel rooms are usually tiny? Well subtract about 20 square feet and that’s the cabins on a cruise. It’s not small enough to trigger claustrophobia (unless you have it bad) but don’t expect a grand space. The bathrooms are tiny and there are only five drawers, only two of which can actually hold clothing. There are three closets, but the hangers aren’t the best if you have the type of clothing that easily slides off the hanger.

8.      Bring a drop cord, not a surge protector

I am not kidding, there is literally one outlet in the entire cabin. ONE!!! And the way it's set up, it's at the desk so an outlet won't fit in the socket, only a drop cord. So if you have a cabin of three, it's going to be hell for the three of you to charge all of your electronic devices. However, we were told that surge protectors are not prohibited so make sure your drop cord is not a surge protector.

9.  Beware of hidden charges

On the last day, we were all shocked to find out that our accounts had been charged $90.65 for “Gratuity”. I was grateful that I didn’t attach any of my cards to my account so technically my account was in the red, and I had to pay it back. Other hidden fees include having to buy soda and juice from the bar as it’s not available from the free beverage dispensaries, having to pay for photos that are taken of you from the photo gallery, and a few restaurants and coffee shop that are not free.

10. Pre-booked shore excursions sometimes cost more

How many of you like to pre-book your activities before you get to your destination to save time and money? I know I preached this with my trip to London, but guys, after this recent experience, I have learned that does not apply to everything. When we got to Amber Cove, DR we were surprised to see the ziplining that was advertised as $75 per person, was only $20 per person at port and came with unlimited use. Had we actually booked it, I would've immediately demanded a refund! Then a guy for the waterfall excursion told me it was $110 to go to the waterfall. There was no way I was paying that much! When we got a taxi for $20 per person and the driver said he would take us to the waterfall, imagine our disbelief to see it only costs $10 per person. That is a HUUUUUUUUUGE difference! So please be careful when book shore excursions in advance. In fact, you're probably better off just doing a tour.

11. There is ALWAYS something to do

I looked forward to reading the itinerary every night for the next day so that I could know what to expect. On the last night we had a Mardi Gras party, which was full of energy and live music that simply brought the ship alive! The waiters would put on a show at dinner time that was really adorable. We had a Motown show, 80s and 90s music trivia, trivia games, raffles every day for art work and jewellery and even free fitness classes in the gym. There are several opportunities to score free booze with free rum tastings, and free champagne at the raffle events.

12. The pools suck

I've never seen people go to a pool to literally just stand in it! There are two actual pools and everything else is a whirlpool so that was disappointing. Then the pools deepest part is only 4'7". But let's be realistic, it's a giant floating hotel so naturally you can't have massive pools; and the way lawsuits go, the pools couldn't be too deep. Lastly, the pools are almost never free so don't expect to go swimming. Just stand up in your swimmy with your drink and take a few photos.

Why Brandless.com Is The New Way To Order Groceries

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Hello Lovely,

Last week I received my first order from a relatively new site called Brandless. I was watching TV the week before and saw a commercial for the website advertising many gluten free and vegan grocery items. I was intrigued but given the natural sceptic that I am, I was like, "That's nice. Now how much?" Can you imagine my surprise at the end of the commercial when they said everything is just $3?!?!?!?!?!? I almost did a back flip off my bed to grab my laptop! I thought, this has to be a scheme. It's probably an introductory price or something. NOPE! They meant it!

While I searched their site, I found out that they're based in San Francisco and Minneapolis and got started July 11, 2017. Brandless offers a unique selection of food and household items. I say unique because none of it is name brand. That's right, if you haven't figured out by the name of the company yet, Brandless sells non name brand items. They're simple clean products that are practically being sold at cost! Brandless is trying to eliminate BrandTax™ (the hidden costs you pay for a national brand) once and for all.

So what did I order? I'm glad you asked!

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Now let me break down this order for ya!

I loved everything I got! I made the blueberry muffins the very next day. They were great! My co-workers couldn't believe it was gluten free. I definitely want to try making own using a flour alternative I actually like (so far I've tried spelt, but I really don't like it). The maple syrup isn't think like most, but it does have a smooth and light taste. I made the soup the very next night and added a little pasta and strips of leftover chicken breasts with some mushrooms. I could eat that almost every night!

I went through the snacks over the course of a week (no shame) and I couldn't believe they were healthy. I was mad when I had to share my maple twists with my students. The oat and cranberry crisps have a genuine real flavour (nothing artificial there) and the sweet potato crisps were a great savoury sweet snack that made a field trip I had to supervise much more bearable.

I use the face lotion every day but my skin is taking awhile to adjust to it. Next time I order, I'm going to try the toner as well.

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You wanna know something cool? A meal is donated to Feeding America®, the nation's leading domestic hunger relief organization every time you shop on Brandless. Check them out today. You can even buy a prepackaged bundle if you don't know where to start.

How to Save $1000 by Christmas

Hello Lovely,

We officially only have 8 weeks until Christmas. Hopefully you've already started saving for your Christmas plans, but if you haven't, don't fret. I found an amazing 12 week savings plan from How Does She. I know what you're thinking. Liv, you said 12 week savings plan and there's only 8 weeks until Christmas. You can automatically deposit the missed weeks if you want, or just skip them. You may not make it all the way to $1000, but at least you'll have a pretty penny saved for the holidays. Here's a look at the chart.

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As you can see, as each week progresses you'll be asked to save more and more. But some weeks require less, so you won't feel the pinch too much. This CAN be done. If you don’t have a budget yet, take some time to create one with this goal in mind. Get rid of the small expenses that add up over time! Living a balanced life requires saying “no” more than saying “yes”. This applies to finance and fitness. It is not about deprivation, it’s about self-control.

Below are a few suggestions to help you reach your goals:

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Limit eating out to once per week (or none)

  • When you do eat out, choose a restaurant that is inexpensive.Value meals are your best friend!
  • Not only will only eating out once per week help your wallet but it will also help your waistline. You will be in complete control of what goes into your food and how much you eat! Try a few of our most popular recipes
  • Skip the drinks – water is free at most places.
  • Skip the appetizers and desserts. If you must have dessert, limit it to once a week and buy it from the grocery store. It’s much less expensive to go to the grocery store and buy ice cream (or make your own using frozen banana and peanut butter!) than it is to buy dessert at restaurants. 

Skip the pampering (manicures, pedicures, massages)!

  • I know this one might sound harsh but it has to be done. These extra expenses add up very quickly. Do your nails yourself or let them have a break for a few months! 

Stay at home for entertainment

  • Do you go to the movies or to sporting events frequently? Cut back on those for the next 12 weeks. Rent a movie (there are many different low budget options for this!), cook dinner at home, and have a great family night! If you enjoy sporting events, instead of going to watch a game, have your family join in on the fun and go play baseball, tennis, or golf together. The weather is also great this time of year to go hiking!

Eliminate unnecessary errands

  • Not only do unnecessary errands add to your gas budget but when you go to run errands you normally end up buying things that you don’t need. Keep a weekly list of things that you need to do and/or buy. Try to stick with the list and keep your errands to only a few times per week.

I hope these tips help you reach your goal of vacationing debt free. Keep in mind that you can always adjust to what your budget allows. If this is truly too much for to you save each month, half the amount. If you are able to save more, double it! I can’t wait to hear your success stories!

How I Saved For My European Trip (and you can too!)

Hello Lovely,

Imagine your dream vacation. Maybe you see yourself trekking in Australia’s Outback, relaxing in a hammock on a beach in Bora Bora or taking a six-month cruise around the world.

But here’s the thing: Your dream vacation will remain a dream unless you begin saving for it. I recently travelled to London, Amsterdam and Switzerland this summer. The entire trip (transportation only) cost me just under $1300. And it would've cost me a lot less if I had purchased my tickets further in advance. There are a lot of ways you can save for a European getaway. Here's how I did it!

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1. I Opened a Dedicated Vacation Bank Account

One easy way to save for a special trip is to open a dedicated vacation savings account. You can set up automatic payments into the account, and, with a little restraint, leave that money there until it’s time for your trip. If you choose an interest-bearing account, your money might even grow while you’re looking forward to your trip.

I opened a Christmas Club account with Commonwealth Bank and it's one of the best decisions I ever made. I would deposit anywhere between $50-200 every month. I have been able to withdraw from this account twice since opening it (the first time was to pay for my trip to St. Croix). The beauty of a Christmas Club account is you are allowed to withdraw once per year any time of the year for free. This month also gains interest, so the more I have on it, the more interest I get.

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2. I Cut Back on My Monthly Food Budget

The biggest waste of money is eating out. By limiting fast food and restaurant expenses, in favour of cooking and eating at home, I was able to have money to put in savings. Sure I still treated myself occasionally (I didn't eliminate just cut back). This teaches important resources on how to make groceries stretch and how to enjoy leftovers. Truthfully, there were many days that I ate ramen noodles, so once I was on vacation, I ate well!

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3. Cutting Back on Entertainment

I already had to limit my outings because I was paying for school out of pocket, but I had to be extra wise because of my savings. I'm not saying I didn't go out at all. I'm sure if you follow me on Instagram, you could see I still found time (although very little) to socialise. I became the master of finding free entertainment. I paid attention to Facebook events. I found free wine tastings, started having dinner parties with friends at home and went to almost every free event I could find. Check Facebook events and other social media outlets for local events that are cheap or free if you're looking for a good time on a budget.

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4. Plan ahead and pre-pay as much as possible

Stretch your vacation savings a little further by finding deep discounts on trips using websites such as LivingSocial and Groupon. I used Expedia to book all of my tours and realised that I saved a lot of money when I looked at individual entrance fees to the tourist sites and how much landed I would never have been able to cover on my own.

5. Pay attention to the time of year you book

Had I booked my trip earlier, I could have saved about $200! My round trip ticket to London, connecting through Toronto cost just north of $1,100. Had I purchased my ticket in March instead of May I would have only paid about $980 round trip. Obviously the closer to your trip, the more you'll pay. And the more you monitor prices, the more the price will actually increase. Try to book on particular days during low demand hours. Naturally some places will cost more to travel to depending on the time of year. Certain festivals or national holidays can make your ticket much more expensive so pay attention to these little details when booking.

Saving up for a big trip isn’t easy, but these strategies should help you save a little bit faster and have your trip already paid for before you leave home.

Your Turn: How do you pay for your vacations?

Why You Should Drop Everything and Shop the Ark Sale

Hello Lovely,

I'm the kind of girl that can go on a shopping binge because it's Tuesday and raining outside. So when I heard through my favourite UK Blogger, Beka that Ark was having a sale, like a ridiculous sale, I had to see what I could get my hands on!

So my entire refund from school went on this sale. Here's what I snagged! When I actually receive the items, I'll show you an unboxing.

Ark Cammie Belt Fedora           202494.6802391      £4.00

Ark Cammie Belt Fedora           202494.6802391      £4.00

Ark Lalia Floppy Feather Detail Hat        195827.3835931     £7.00

Ark Lalia Floppy Feather Detail Hat        195827.3835931     £7.00

AX Paris Susie Grid Midi Dress         182465.2854921       £6.00

AX Paris Susie Grid Midi Dress         182465.2854921       £6.00

Motel Eclipse Kimono Sleeve Playsuit      196350.5580261      £9.00

Motel Eclipse Kimono Sleeve Playsuit      196350.5580261      £9.00

Hearts and Bows Ohio Mosaic Tile Print Border Dress       188606.5615501             £3.00

Hearts and Bows Ohio Mosaic Tile Print Border Dress       188606.5615501             £3.00

Subtotal      £29.00

 

Delivery      £9.99

Total            £38.99

So what are you waiting for? Check out the huge sale now before it's over!

XoX,


DIY Brown Paper Bag Gift Wrap

This holiday season, it's easy to get discouraged by overpriced presents, and sometimes, after buying those overpriced presents, the department store you bought it from, charges extra for gift wrapping. And I'm sure you'd do it yourself, if you were any good at it.

Well put down the generic wrapping paper, and gift boxes. As I wrap my godchild's Christmas present, I'm going to show you in four easy steps, how to make super cool and attractive wrapping paper out of a brown paper bag. It may seem boring to the untrained eye, but brown paper bags make a cheap alternative to traditional wrapping paper that allows you to add character and pizzazz to your gift wrapping this holiday season. The best part? It's completely recycled and will save you money!

Step One:

Insert present into brown paper bag

Insert present into brown paper bag

Step Two:

Fold edges inwards. 

Fold edges inwards. 

Step Three:

Hold edges together with glue dots. I orginally tried to use tape, but it didn't hold. Glue dots are cleaner and easier to use because your hands won't get sticky and it doesn't leave any residue.

Hold edges together with glue dots. I orginally tried to use tape, but it didn't hold. Glue dots are cleaner and easier to use because your hands won't get sticky and it doesn't leave any residue.

tep Four:

f using ribbon to decorate your present, measure your ribbon so that it fits nice and tight around the present before cutting. Use the glue dots to hold it in place along the length of the gift. When you get to the edge, whether your edge is on the long or the short, fold the edges of your ribbon inward and hold it together with your glue dots. (Since I was using medium sized glue dots, to save glue dots, I ripped them apart to make smaller dots)

f using ribbon to decorate your present, measure your ribbon so that it fits nice and tight around the present before cutting. Use the glue dots to hold it in place along the length of the gift. When you get to the edge, whether your edge is on the long or the short, fold the edges of your ribbon inward and hold it together with your glue dots. (Since I was using medium sized glue dots, to save glue dots, I ripped them apart to make smaller dots)

And you're done! It really is that simple! You can get fanicer and use any kind of ribbon you want, you can write or draw on your brown paper as well. Get creative! And are you stumped for a gift tag? Tomorrow, I will show you how to make a super cute gift tag out of buttons and scrapbooking paper!


Until then,

XoX

Olivia