The Experienced Jazz Cruiser’s Post-Cruise Tips for Jazz Cruising

also known as…the reflections of a tired person. LOL, but true.

I utilized a lot of my tips from before, and also have to amend a couple. This trip has been good, and had its ups and downs, in more than a few ways. So, I will now tell you how it did or didn’t work.

1. The Two Suitcases.

I’ll be honest; I goofed here. I did save money on not paying the weight limit fees, but when it came to the basic reason of why I did the two-bag thing to start with, I goofed. Because instead of repacking and having the smaller wheelie as my carry-on aboard the boat, I did a stupid and checked both of them for delivery on board. I then proceeded to do another (albeit very beneficial) stupid and get a spa treatment scheduled for right after the muster station drill, which screwed me for attending the early show, which meant I went for the late show…which then meant I missed dinner.

This is where I discovered that everything food-related on the ship but for the cafe and the pizza joint shuts down at 9:30pm. Crap.

So let this be a lesson to you, lovely folks, unrelated to the bags: make sure you’re fed!

And the plan I had for wheeling off my second ‘case after the cruise? Yep, I goofed again. Guess who had both suitcases carted off.

Next year – well, I’ll likely still do the double-suitcase deal if I’m in danger of going over the weight limit again. I am extremely grateful to the lady working the bag drop at FLL, who let me slide on the pound coming back, but I’d like to actually be within the limit.

Needless to say, of course, that Delta rocks my socks, far as airlines go. This isn’t the first time they had let me slide, and they had come through for me majorly when it came to getting my friend on an earlier flight home. <3

2. Pace Yourself

On this one, I did reasonably well. While my friend, who’s a noob to the entire thing, crashed out on Day 4, I was A-OK. Until Day 6 or so, because even though I love and adore Lalah Hathaway’s music, I just couldn’t peel myself off the bed until 10pm, and even that took a late-night coffee to accomplish.

Oh yeah, there was a lot of coffee…a LOT of coffee. Know how I said coffee is your best friend? Oh hell yeah.

3. Comfortable Shoes

You know those “comfort wear” shoes? Avoid those. They’re comfortable for the first three hours only. Learned the hard way. Walked back to cabin barefoot. Spent the rest of the trip in flip-flops and glad for my super-super-long Old Navy maxi dress, which covers my feet completely even with my height. Not at all ashamed. Speaking of that dress, I want to see if I can grab a couple more of them on clearance; $8 for something that looks like a million bucks with the right wrap? Hey, I may not care for my looks, but I do know how to make magic happen.

4. Med bay = pharmacy = saving grace

Because my Eastern-European skin generally goes between Ghost and Extra Crispy as far as shades of tan go…I was firmly in the Extra Crispy department by about Day 3. Went to wipe the sweat off my face, and removed a skin layer – and usually, I don’t burn like that! My shoulder could’ve stopped traffic. This is with sunscreen. So I nipped down to the med bay and got lidocaine-infused aloe gel. Worth the $10 I spent on it, and again, a reminder: if in doubt, or in trouble, go to the med bay.

5. Have enough cash-on-hand!

This is a tip I learned the hard way. I generally withdraw $300 on top of my existing budget for all the souvenir shopping/local food, but I also pay down my onboard spending with what’s left. This was actually an underestimation. I came in way within my pre-determined budget for onboard spending, and very happy with the fact that I got that together, and this included all the folks whom I bought drinks for!, but I would’ve ended up strapped for cash when we docked at our last port. So this experience amends my usual withdrawal amount to about $500. Yes, I’m serious. Whatever I don’t spend goes against my onboard, so that this way, the grand-total that hits the credit card after the end of each trip is drastically less.

6. Mind Your Cabin!!!

Oh, did I learn that the hard way.

This was my first experience with a porthole-window cabin. It did not go as planned.

The good news: I had the sunlight in the morning, so I didn’t have my body clock thrown off the way it normally gets thrown off in an interior cabin. In an interior, you don’t have a window, so your body cannot tell the difference between day and night when you’re in there. On one hand, it’s great if you want to crash midday, because you will go right to sleep. On another hand, you are exhausted at the end of the trip because your circadian rhythms got all confused as to what time was what.

But the bad news… starboard side cabin. Starboard side is generally not the docking side of the ship, but in Ft. Lauderdale, when we docked back, I had the port lights through the window. Bad. I woke up at 5:30am when I was planning on 8:30. HELL no. I don’t take kindly to sleep deprivation. Worse, I chose a cabin that, as I discovered, vibrated when the ship would pull away from the pier. And I mean vibrated. Not pleasant. The fact that it was below the theater didn’t really bother me; to my surprise, I barely heard anything. But that vibration was not fun, and considering that I booked, unawares, the cabin immediately below for next year…. yeah, no.

I switched back to an inside cabin for next year, and got the same one I had in 2013, which is all the way at the nose of the ship. Extra room, oh hell yeah.

All in all, the trip was lovely. Worth the sunburn. :)

K.G.

Trials and Tribulations of Traveling, The Series

You know what, you guys may as well have a laugh or two at my expense. Seeing as I’ve been on a plane a lot more frequently this year than most others, the likelihood of Murphy’s Law coming into play is that much higher.

That and, because I’m on a plane a lot, you may as well learn a couple things from me as you go.

Mind Your Connecting Flight

Believe me, it’s not as much of a pain as you may think to get a flight with a layover. If you’re a little Joint Challenged, like me – nice way of saying your knees hate you if you sit for too long – then a layover is a welcome, if not a wholly necessary thing. I’ve had a couple of experiences flying directly from NY to CA, and frankly, I’d not care to repeat the experience. JetBlue legroom was good, Delta inflight Internet also, but to be frankly honest, I would have liked to have been on the ground midway through. So I was pretty glad when Delta switched me to a layover flight for the second cross-country go.

But more than that, you have to mind your gates if you’re booking a layover.

I learned this lesson the hard way – ironically, on the last CA trip. What happened was that I had a transfer in either MSP or SLC – can’t remember which – but the fact is, the terminal layout was in a C-shape. Likely it was SLC, then. But anyhow, I got a text as I turned my phone on, of the gate of my next flight. I look out my window and…there’s the plane I’m supposed to board right there at the gate.

Except, well…I’m in the back of the plane right now, and I need to hotfoot it to the other one.

It takes about a half-hour for the plane to empty.

I have to board the next flight in no more than…say…twenty minutes?

…Problem.

I did what any reasonable traveler would do: I tapped my neighbors on the shoulder, and told them, “Look guys, I’m very sorry to do this, but my connecting flight is about to start boarding, and it looks like I have to run across the airport to get it.” They were very gracious about it, and let me pass through – all the better that I had next to nothing for carry-on. I then proceeded to set a land speed record for sprinting across an airport. Seriously; I made it across the terminal from one arm of the C to the other in no more than 10 minutes.

I got to learn the same lesson very recently coming back from Phoenix. MSP-NY leg of the flight. I come off my first plane, come over to chill out and have a meal, and I’m thinking, I’m in the right terminal, yes? And all’s well, yes?

Uh….not really. You see, when you’re tired and flying all day, it’s pretty easy to confuse Terminal G with Terminal C, and if you’re in one and need to be at the other, the last! thing you may want to get is a phone call from Delta Airlines, telling you your flight is going to leave twenty minutes early.

Whoever invented those electric carts needs an award, because if not for a gentleman who drove that thing across the airport, I would not have made it home in time.

This, of course, leads me to…

If it’s worth it, pay extra for it.

Look. I’m not just saying that. Let the above scenario be a lesson to you: if you want to make a connecting flight, or if you think you need to get off the plane earlier than usual, then the first thing you do is plan ahead for it.

I’m not saying fly first-class. We ain’t got that kind of money, honey.

I am, however, saying that if Delta or A.A. or any airline lets you have a pick of the Economy Comfort seating, or Business Class and the price is in double digits only…take those. They’re usually situated in the front of the plane, and they are exactly what you need if you are, say, getting into a long-haul trip and you’re expecting to be off the plane fast. For instance, the next cross-country I’m set to take, I’m supposed to transfer in Atlanta. Wouldn’t be a problem, it’s a quick little flight…you know, except the fact that Hartsfield Airport is enormous and I’ll be lucky if I’ll make it to my gate and have the time to grab a pre-flight drink.

And while my seatmate flying home this past trip told me that he can’t possibly imagine planning things out to this sort of a detail, might I remind you fine readers of mine, Murphy’s Law is indiscriminate.

K.G.

An Experienced Jazz Cruiser’s Guide to Jazz Cruising, Part 2

Yes, there’s more! so join me, ladies and gents of the jazzy-and-cruising persuasion, for some more inside info on jazz cruising. Or, at least, have a giggle at my trials and tribulations.

So I started packing for the Capital Jazz Supercruise already. 

“But wait!” you say. “It’s still September! You’re not leaving for another month!”

Yes, I know that, and I’m also an accountant who is running headfirst into deadlines, and my calendar contains other things as well. Whether or not I want to admit it, that cruise is literally around the corner, and it’s going to gobsmack me well before I’m ready for it. So hell yes, I’m getting ready now! I’d rather have only my camera left to pack after everything is said and done, as opposed to running around the day before I’m set to fly out, and end up forgetting stuff I actually need.

I’m set to shoot a Long Island fest, jaunt really quickly to Phoenix for a private event, shoot two back-to-back NYC shows the following week, and guess what! the cruise departs two weeks from the city shows. And another major work deadline is two days before my departure time! This is not counting the meetings I have scattered between those things. That cruise is a blink of an eye away, and I know it.

So what are the lessons du jour?

1. Don’t be afraid of the Second Checked Suitcase when you fly.

Believe me, I know how counterproductive it sounds. However, as I’m now discovering, I may not have a choice, and who’s to blame – none but my own self. 

How so?

Well, story goes like this. After three or so years of heavy duty travel, my Big Suitcase started coming apart. So I replaced it with a nice strong one of a similar size – key words – and brought it home. Until I actually dragged it out and began to pack, I didn’t realize that it’s actually smaller than the suitcase I had to dispose of. Expandable or not, it’s just of a smaller capacity.

Houston, we have a slight problem here. 

I’m efficient like nobody’s business when it comes to packing. If I had to push it, I could be ready for a trip like the Capital Jazz Cruise in 24 hours to departure. However, that is wildly counterproductive. Last-minute packing is a guaranteed way of forgetting something. This is why I pack in advance. This is also why I am glad like hell that I started packing a month ahead, because if I discovered this size disparity in my big suitcase any later, I’d be in a world of financial hurt.

In other words: airline overlimit baggage fees

I’ll wait for y’all to stop cringing. 

This is the thing for me this year: my flights are paid for by the airlines themselves. My return flight, with Delta, is paid for with my miles. My American Airlines’ disaster last year, where they tried to bump me off my flights, ended up in me being issued a $300 voucher, which has paid my flight to the pre-cruise hotel in full, with pre-boarding and extras, such as the coverage for the first checked bag. I still have a little left over from that certificate, and while I’m not too likely to use it, it’s still something that could come in very handy – such as, well, checking a second bag. However, I checked the terms of service, and nowhere did it indicate that the first-checked-bag fee makes the bag exempt from weight fees. That is a problem. Also, seeing as I tend to go over the weight limit when I pack, this creates A Problem, because those fees are from $75 to $125 each way. I speak from experience, that is to say, a very ouchy wallet. 

So I figured that I would do a lot better if I were to pack a smaller suitcase for a second bag. This way, neither of them will go over the weight limit, and instead of about $100 each way, the max I’d pay is….. $40. Each way. 

Better? Oh hell yes. 

Also, it’s more practical. Explanation as follows.

Think of the logistics of your trip. Just the basics of when, where, why, and how.

If you’re going on a music cruise, the common-sense thing to do is to arrive to the port city the day before your departure. I don’t say this idly: you have no idea what can happen to your flight on a good day, never mind in inclement weather. Most of the time, if you’re leaving out of Florida, the ship departs at 4pm. It may not be a problem for you, per se, but again: expect the unexpected. Suppose your flight gets delayed. Suppose you’re rerouted. Suppose you’re stuck on the tarmac waiting for someone to shovel snow (if your cruise leaves in January, this concern is valid). Whether or not you like it, the ship will leave at the suggested departure time, on the dot, regardless of whether or not you’re on it, and it’s in your best interest to be on that ship. And if you want to get aboard the ship early and you want to get there day of departure, guess what this means: 6am flight! Are you up for waking up at 3am for a cab call? 

Yeah, I didn’t think so. 

So fly in the day before. One, you get to chill for a whole day before your big cruise, and believe me when I say, stock up on your sleep now, because if I were you, I wouldn’t plan on sleeping on the big trip. Too much music. 

Now, what does this mean in terms of your packing? 

Suppose you’re me for a second. You have your big suitcase, and it’s stuffed to the gills with all the Party Essentials for 8 days. Swimsuits, check. Cover-ups, check. Show attendance clothes, check. Comfy clothes for in-between, check. Toiletries to last, check. Sunscreen, check. Shoes, check. Hair dryer, check. Makeup and jewelry, check. All of that adds up to a LOT of stuff, and even if you take a tip out of How To Pack Like An Engineer, you would still have to dig into that case when you arrive to the hotel to make yourself comfortable, etc. And you know what that means? Repacking when you go to the pier.

What you may or may not know about the cruises, it’s this: on board the ship, delivery of your suitcases takes quite a bit of time. Think about it: 6,000 people all surrender their bags when they’re at the port, and this does not include the musicians’ instrument and gear cases. The ship has 12 decks total, of which 7-8 are strictly the residential decks. That is a lot of work for the crew. Last year, my suitcase didn’t arrive until about 6-7pm, which meant that I had no way of changing into gig clothes for the first show of the night – and I was lucky as hell that I chose early dining that year and just caught a quick meal while I waited, because I don’t know about y’all, but if I’m on a cruise, I don’t much like showing up to a main-theatre concert in my traveling clothes. Cargo pants and a tee are cool for airport and portside, but not cool in the front row of a show – at least that’s my opinion.

How does an extra bag help matters?

When you go on board the ship, a small wheelie will be your second carry-on – and if you set up your packing right, it’ll tide you over A-OK until your big bag is delivered to your cabin. 

So how to do this efficiently?

Well, first tip is to see the link above for the best Youtube video on the subject. 

Second: think. Think very carefully. Think of your clothing, think of what you’re taking, and think of what you’re most likely to use when you’re in layover at the pre-cruise hotel. Do you plan to sleep? Pack a set of comfy clothes to serve as pajamas (or if you’re me, pack flannels). Dressing up for dinner? A nice oufit; pants and top, or dress, and shoes, makeup as you like it. Lounging at hotel pool? Swimsuit, beach towel, sunscreen. Going to pier tomorrow? Pack another set of comfies. And pack a spare set of all the toiletries you’re putting into your Big Suitcase. 

Altogether, you’ll have just enough clothes for 2 days, and it’ll be just enough to fill up a small wheelie case and still leave packing room for souvenirs, shopping, and so on. And best of all: when you’re packing your suitcase back up at the end of the trip, that little tote for Night Before stuff I talked about in my last jazz cruising post? Goes right into your wheelie, which contains that spare set of travel clothes. 

And, you’re covered for your overflow. Ever had that moment where you ask yourself, “How the hell did I pack all this when I was departing?” I have. And rather than asking a friend to sit on your suitcase to get it to close, have a little extra room for overflow.

All of this talk about flying out, though, reminds me:

2. Watch your itineraries carefully!

I run into this dilemma routinely, I hate to say, and I’m not at fault this time. Unfortunately, I run into this because I do a lot of flying.

I think you know this, but if you don’t, I’ll happily reiterate: airlines often change their flight times, and depending on whom you fly with, you don’t get notified before you’re bumped off onto another flight. 

I am a creature of habit. I stay with the same hotels if the price is right and they treat me well. If I like a particular airline, I stick to them like glue until they do something that makes it difficult for me to stay their client (hasn’t happened yet). If I like a particular flight for how I can time my day, I’ll take that same flight year in and year out. So when I got the American Airlines voucher last year, I went with the same flight I always book when I fly American Airlines to Florida – which was a 10am NYC-MIA. Why Miami, when the cruise leaves from Ft. Lauderdale? 1. It’s a direct flight, while NYC-FLL isn’t for that particular airline, and 2. dirt-cheap. It’s an early wakeup call, but not too early, and I land in Florida at around 1pm, which means I can write, relax, sun myself, read a book, and enjoy the hotel for the rest of the day before vamoosing to the port the next morning.

You can imagine, then, the look on my face when I got an email from American Airlines, wherein they notified me that my new flight time was…wait for it…

6.35am. 

They changed the time again to 6:55am since, but to say I’m less than pleased is an understatement.

I took the 6am flight all of once, when I was leaving to Montego Bay in 2009 for Jammin’ in Jamaica. If I had the choice, I wouldn’t repeat the experience, even if sunrise in NYC is absolutely gorgeous, and reminds me of why I like window seats. I absolutely detest early wakeup calls enough as it is, and if you consider a half-hour to get to the airport, plus about the same time for security and check-in, plus having to be there at least another hour beforehand, I generally look at a 3:30am cab call with a 6-odd am departure time. Not happy. I wasn’t a fan of all-nighters in college, and even less of a fan of waking up at a time that I not-so-lovingly refer to as ass o’clock.

But nonetheless, it’s a flight that I paid nothing out of pocket for, and my bitching about the asscrack-of-dawn wakeup call will be limited. Plus, if I’m landing in Miami, I get to have papas rellenas for lunch, and there’s nothing I love more than good Cuban food when in Florida – which, in MIA, is easy to find. 

There is one  good thing about that sort of an early-morning flight: I can catch a long nap on the plane, and when I get to the hotel, I have most of the day ahead of me. So I can get some more sleep and more writing done this way.

 

One kind of similar incident about flight changes took place not a couple of days ago, and I have to hand it to the DeltaAssist twitter crew. (If you’re a Delta customer and have a problem, tweet @DeltaAssist and they help you in 15m or less).

Yep, it was another schedule change. The problem? It was such a change that made it impossible for me to make the connecting flight. My route was NYC – Tucson, two hours’ layover in Salt Lake City. Except the SLC-Tucson flight was now scheduled to leave a solid hour before I was scheduled to land in SLC. 

Problem.

Cue some tweets to the DeltaAssist account, and fifteen minutes later, I was rerouted through Atlanta instead, and set to land in AZ a whole three hours earlier than I planned. Good? Yes, but even better on Delta for notifying my schedule change with an alert of “Call customer assistance, for you may not make your connecting flight”. 

 

What are our take-aways from the day?

Plan ahead! If it means you have to spend money, then find a way to spend less of it. 

Oh, and make sure you have very good alarm clocks for the early flights. 

K.G.

The Experienced Jazz Cruiser’s Guide to Jazz Cruising

I was sitting down with one of my best friends at dinner last night, and she told me that she’s heading to her first jazz cruise, and after our talk, it occurred to me that considering that I’m embarking on my sixth jazz cruise this year – fifth with the same production, Capital Jazz – that it may be a good idea to do a post on what to expect on a music charter.

Mind you, while I’m a jazz cruiser, there are other music charters, and this can apply to any such a charter cruise – at least, that’s what I’m hoping to write out in here.

Before I get into the tips and tricks, though, keep this in mind:

A Charter Cruise Is NOT a Regular Cruise. It’s anything but.

I should perhaps say that a jazz cruise is not like any regular cruise. But nor is any other music charter. For those of y’all who don’t know, a charter cruise is basically a boat that’s rented out to do a theme cruise. 7-8 days of nothing but X theme, with activities and various other things to do.

Charter cruises are priced much higher than ordinary cruises, and for a reason: apart from just your cabin, you’re also paying admission for all those events and shows. They’re all included in your price.

And it’s worth it.

Your cabin is going to be little more than a crash pad to sleep, shower, make quick plans with friends (and you’ll make them if you haven’t brought them), and jet right back out the door. You will be doing things aboard the ship and off the ship pretty much every waking minute. The highlight of a charter music cruise is, naturally, the music. On board the ship, you can also expect workshops, Q&As, classes, parties, theme parties, and jam sessions.

A typical day on a cruise looks like this:

9am: dock in port, people come off ship to explore/do excursions

12pm: party somewhere on the island, or on the boat, or a choice of both

3-4pm: back on board! And a Q&A on the ship.

5-8pm: prep for dinner if you have early dining,* or the concert** of that night.

8-11pm: concert**/dinner for late dining.*

* The dining is split into sets: if you have dinner at 6pm, then you see the 8pm show, give/take an hour for prep/drink. Likewise, if your dinner is at 8pm, you attend the 6pm show, then go to dinner.

** There are always two shows: one in the main theater, one in the aft lounge, and I hope you can powerwalk if you want to make both!

11pm: drinks/get seats for jam session

12am – last man standing: jam session. Last man standing usually translates to anywhere between 2-4am.

And the next day, you get to do it all over again! On sea days, you can sub in the land excursions for more Q&As, parties, concerts, events, etc. but you get the gist. You do not stay idle.

FOR SEVEN OR EIGHT DAYS.

You do not take a jazz cruise, or a music cruise, period, if you want to get some rest. This is a party cruise. You take it to listen to awesome music, meet and mingle with the artists, and have a great time. You will sleep when you’re on your flight home.

And I’ve been doing this annually, so I offer to thee, my dear readers and future cruisers alike, my guide to Jazz Cruising 101.

1. Pack a sweater and/or flannel pajamas.

If you’re going to the Caribbean, as most jazz cruises often go, you may be asking, why a sweater? And I answer you: the air conditioning on the ships will turn your cabin into an igloo. This I speak from hard-won experience: last year, I got sick due to my hotel a/c being too strong, and the cruise-ship a/c was no weaker. I turned the knob to heat, and it was still a cool 60-odd degrees in my room. Trust me: the flannel pajamas I packed were a godsend. Know what else was? My running jacket, which I often wore to shows. The theaters get c-o-l-d. That air conditioner is no joke. Trust me: pack it now and you will have no cause to regret it later.

Speaking of unexpected illness…

2. Every ship has a med bay comparable to a small hospital. 

And it’s a lot cheaper than you’d expect, and the service is impeccable. That said? Pack a sampler of basic medicines just in case. My personal favorites: Advil, Benadryl, Dramamine, and cough drops. Bring any and all of your prescription meds as well.

If you are unwell on the ship, don’t be afraid to drop down to Deck 0 and ask for help. There’s a fully stocked pharmacy and a small but functional ER. Be healthy, that is first.

3. You need not worry about motion sickness too much…and don’t worry about the storms either.

These ships are bleeding enormous. Most of the time, you don’t feel the motion. The one time it got bad was in 2012, when my ship was behind that little storm known as Hurricane Sandy. That wasn’t pretty. That was the only time I ever hugged the walls to try and walk down the stairs. That is also a massive exception. Most of the time, the ships are very steady, and should a hurricane crop up on your route, the ship is often rerouted to avoid it. Bring the Dramamine anyway, because if you won’t need it, someone you will meet just might.

4. PACE YOURSELF.

This is the Rule #1 of the Capital Jazz Supercruise, and it’s with good reason. There has been more than one instance where I’ve seen people fall dead-to-hell-asleep in the casino lounge, in the aft lounge, in the atrium lounge, anywhere there’s a soft and cushiony seat, and why? Because they tried to do too much in one day. And I’ve been one of these people; I’ve had folks shake me awake in a lounge after a late-night jam sesh before. I’ve had someone scoop me out of a chair because I was too dang tired to move. You need to allocate some nap time between your activities, or forgo this or that show, because you can, and will, exhaust yourself.

Which brings me to…

5. Coffee is your friend.

Needs no explanation. There’s a reason I get a cappuccino at 11pm between aft lounge show and jam session, without fail. It’s a tip that people told me they picked up from me. Glad to be an influence :) but if you love jam sessions, you will, without fail, need a doppio espresso.

6. Yes, the ship has laundromats.

And I suggest you use them. There is, guaranteed, at least one self-serve laundromat on board every major cruise ship. And few things suck like going home after eight days with a suitcaseful of laundry. Valet service is available with your stateroom steward, but it will be about $20-40 bucks per bag, depending on your item list. Self is cheaper. Either way, it’s necessary. If something like Hurricane Sandy happens again, and you’re in a city other than your hometown, clean unmentionables will be essential.

7. Budget 1K for your onboard spending – and believe me, the amount is with good reason.

This is actually pretty important. As I told my friend, you will be very surprised at how quickly it all adds up.

This is what’s NOT included on a charter cruise:

– Any and all alcohol (and no, don’t bring your own, it can and will be confiscated)

– Steakhouse reservations (which are worth their $30 a pop, but…) – reservations only, not the food itself

– Gift shop stuff

– Shore excursions

– Artist CDs and merchandise

– Exercise classes (sometimes, this varies ship to ship)

– Spa treatments (and their cancellations!)

– Internet access

– In-cabin telephone usage for calls home

– Valet laundry service

Spa treatments are my personal Achilles’s Heel. I love massages on cruise ships; they are exorbitantly expensive, but the way they are set up, it is worth every. last. little. penny. However, I have to obey Rule #4 and indulge myself in a very limited fashion. I learned the hard way as to what happens when I don’t. My budget for the year ahead generally does NOT thank me if I go overboard, pun intended.

The reason why I say plan for a thousand bucks is because that is, realistically, an average amount that I had of onboard spending at all my cruises. If it’s not the spa, it will be other things. Drinks onboard a cruise are an average of $10 a pop. If you have two with every dinner, it’s $20 a day, or $80-100 for your entire cruise. Double that if you also have two drinks at each show. Triple that if you also partake at the bar. Quadruple that if you’re buying other people’s drinks, and add some more for that delicious bottle of wine. Before you know it, that’s $500 on just alcohol.

You may or may not use the Internet plans on the ship, but if you have a laptop on board (I generally take mine, because writing + photo work = need!!!), then it may actually be a good idea to invest in a bargain plan. The cheapest per-minute option is usually about $130, which is like 20c per minute. And again, before you know it, you just might use it all up. So there you go, now you’re up to $630.

Add your merch/CDs/gift shop stuff, and maybe toss in a shore excursion if you don’t buy one in advance…and you’re at $800!

So plan for 1K of onboard spending. Whether or not you end up actually spending it is another question.

And of course: if there’s anything that you can book and reserve in advance, when you’re doing the online check-in for your cruise, do so. It will drastically improve your onboard budget. Some cruise ships actually will offer you a discount for advanced booking. DO THAT.

8. Know your cabins.

This is something that I am passing along to you as an experienced cruiser, moreover as an experienced solo cruiser.

I travel alone for many reasons, and as I learned, I’m at a disadvantage in doing so. Why? Price. Most cruises price their cabins at double occupancy, anticipating two people per cabin. Myself, I travel alone, and this is why I love Capital Jazz: Capital Jazz actually offers singles pricing, and marketwise, theirs is easily the most reasonable price tag for a single. The trouble with that is, you may be limited in your cabin choices, and that is okay. It’s not as though you will be in your cabin all that much anyway – with all that’s on the ship to do, you will only use your cabin to shower and sleep, most likely.

However: there are some cabins to take and to avoid, as I learned.

To Take: If you’re OK with an inside cabin, and you like a little extra room, take something at the very nose of the ship.

2202 was my cabin last year, and I’ve stayed in 1202 on a previous sister ship. Both times, the cabins were nearly twice the size of any other cabin (had 1251 on yet another cruise; also an inside, and it was a good comparison point). They both fall under singles pricing – and if you like your cabins roomy, they are an absolute steal for the cost. The thing is, if you’re traveling as a single, pretty much any cabin will suit you fine, but the nose cabins will be much roomier.  

Drawback? …where do you think the anchor chain is? Expect rattly wakeup calls on port days. Still, holy hell, the room. The room! It’s like one and a half of any other cabin.

To Avoid: Unless you are good at sleeping through noise, avoid cabins by the stairs, or above and below the casino, theater, and lounge.

Been there and done that. My very first cruise, not with CapJazz, I was under the theater. Even if I didn’t attend the jam sessions, I attended the jam sessions. This year, I took a porthole cabin and ended up near a staircase…and it’s right under the theater. But, you know what? I picked it, and I’ll stay in it.

One thing I strongly recommend avoiding: anything near a utility room. Oh lord, the 6:40am rattling of service carts. Gah.

Which brings me to…

9. ALWAYS! pack an eye mask and earplugs.

Eye mask will have you sleeping soundly if your cabin has a porthole and you’re crawling in just as the sun is coming up. Earplugs will protect your hearing if you’re sitting near the speakers and/or when the late-night party folks walk and roister past your cabin door on the way to theirs. Trust me, both are your best friend.

And while I’m talking about packing, let’s revisit the essentials.

10. Toiletries – don’t skimp.

Shove them in your checked luggage and take all that you may need, plus extra. Reason: it gets pricey if you buy your essentials in the ship’s gift shop. I will say that their sunscreen is pretty excellent, and that’s the one thing worth splurging on aboard, (and my skin gets persnickety quite a fair bit…as my Cali friends can attest, having seen me lobster-red a few times!) but really: prep ahead. That and you’re on a ship for a week; not every port will have a CVS. St. Thomas had a RadioShack and a CVS, and both came in handy one year. But that also taught me to never, ever hesitate before packing something extra.

Oh, and ladies, take your own hair dryer. The one in the cabin is crap. I have a hot brush (dryer with a round brush attachment) and I rarely go on a long-haul trip without it.

A tip from my friend too: take a straightening iron in lieu of a clothing iron. They don’t allow clothing irons on board, but hey: if you gotta press something… :)

Another tip: portable humidifier. I gotta invest in one of those that can work from a simple water bottle. That plus a little peppermint oil will mean your respiratory system will be healthy.

11. Comfy clothes

You will need to dress up only for theme parties, dinnertime, and shows. All other times, comfort is king. Sweats, bathing suits, yoga pants, tees, etc. Trust me, comfort is a lovely thing.

12. Travel surge protector/outlet splitter. No, not a big power strip, those are not allowed.

Think this one from Belkin. It’s the best $20 you’ll spend, and let me explain why: nearly all staterooms have only one electric outlet.

It’s something no one tells you and something I learned the hard way. If you’re sharing a room, this little surge protector I linked will actually go a long way. Plus, it comes with two USB ports, which is handy for charging your mobile devices. Trust me: worthwhile investment.

13. The artists are people too. Socialize and mingle, but please respect them and their space too.

This I write as a friend to many artists, and as someone who had to step in and do the job of a handler to a couple of them as well: they are people too.

Yes, this is their job: play music, sell their music, socialize with the fans. But if they’re on board with their wives, husbands, girlfriends, boyfriends, children – please respect that. I’ve seen some questionable behavior in my six years of cruising, and believe me, they need to have some rest as well.

14. DO NOT MISS THE BOAT.

They tell you, at each port you dock into: set your watch to the ship’s time. EVERY year, without fail, there were people who were left stranded on the pier because they couldn’t make it back to the ship in time, even though they tell you, at every port, what time the ship is set to leave.

DO NOT MISS THE BOAT. You do not want to be That Person, who will later end up as comedian fodder. Trust me.

But just in case…

15. Spend the extra hundred bucks getting trip insurance.

I never travel anywhere without it, and definitely don’t go on any cruises without it. A recommended website is InsureMyTrip.com, which will give you quotes across several insurers. You can pick the coverage you need and want (trip cancellation, trip interruption, etc.) and it will give you a price.

And if you are the person who ends up stranded on an island because you missed the boat, this insurance can, and will, without fail, save your skin.

16. The final night of the cruise – be ready.

Cruise debarkation is every bit as tedious as the embarkation, but seeing as the party doesn’t end on the last night, here’s a couple of tips:

– Have your Travel Outfit laid out.

– Have the barest toiletry essentials still unpacked, and no more

– Have a small tote/beach bag at the ready.

This is how debarkation works: usually, you have two options to get yourself and your bags off the ship. Assisted debarkation, wherein your bags are collected the night before and you claim them on a carousel a la airport style, or self-debarkation, wherein you wheel off your own. Sometimes, the ship will forward your bags along to your hometown as well, so by the time you land, you claim your bags at the airport.

My favorite is the assisted debarkation, because that’s when I don’t have to worry about the big suitcase, and I am prepped in advance well enough that by the time I’m off the ship, all I do is zip to the airport and go home.

Which is why I say: make sure you have the Very Barest Essentials and your Travel Outfit ready, and a small tote bag.

Suppose I’m in a dress for the final show of the night. I put out my suitcase at around 10pm-midnight. That’s when they’re collected. I’m not going to the airport in my dress, so I keep my sweats, contact lens solution, and sneakers out of my suitcase. By the time the porters haul away my suitcase, what do I have to carry off the ship? My camera bag, my little tote that contains my dress and shoes from the night before…and I’m dressed in my comfy sweats. When I reunite with my suitcase, I stuff the tote into the suitcase and to the airport!

The best thing about all these cruises is that you will make a million new friends. I mean it. I met a lot of my current clients and friends on board the cruises. Even if you come alone, you’re never alone. You become A Family on the ship, and it’s a family that, if CapJazz is any example, is several thousand people strong.

At least once in your lifetime, do a music cruise. It’s so well worth it.

K.G.

ETA, w/THANKS TO MONICA: 

COMFORTABLE SHOES.

Ladies, this one is for you. If you’re like me, then chances are, you have some Nice Shoes. I have a stellar pair of stilettos that make me look awesome…but they’re staying home.

Why?

Because, and I came very close to learning this the hard way…you don’t want a sprained ankle. The ships lurch. Your balance shifts. And heels that may look good may not always turn out so good when it comes to walking around a ship that’s about a mile from nose to stern. Moreover, a lot of the thresholds on the boat are just slightly raised. Yeah, problem.

Fold-a-flats are a saving grace. So are flip-flops.

ETA #2, with thanks to LaVonna, whom I chatted with about those…

This may be a little ridiculous, but trust me, when you’re going on a cruise, a little handheld scale for your luggage will be an excellent accessory.

I touch on packing in my follow-up post. The thing about that is this: if you’re taking a second bag to avoid overage charges, it would really pay off well to make sure that the bags fit the weight restriction.

Check this little scale out, by ConAir, available at your local Walgreen’s.

Also…check out this video, maybe or maybe not linked above: how to pack like an engineer.

Catching Up, the Music Edition

Man, did I miss writing about music lately. In part because at the moment I’m stuck on an Amtrak train heading home (long story, approx. three more hours to go), and in another part because I am genuinely very busy, I had to pause on all my writing for a while. For an author, no guilt is worse than suddenly being forced to not write.

But, all my current work upheavals aside, there has been music. Lots and lots of it, which I’ll present in no particular order.

Spyro Gyra at the Blue Note, July 2012

You and I, dear readers, both know this: if Spyro is at the Note, there’s a pretty good chance that I’m in the front-row seat, and in this case too, as it were. This time, though, it was without my camera; not that I’m complaining, sometimes I like to not shoot and just immerse myself in a show. And moreover, I wanted to see what the new drummer was like; that is to say, Lee Pearson. Bonny B has not traveled with the band for a while.

For those of you who do not know the back story to this, last year in May, Bonny B had a stroke. This shocked the hell out of me, because only in 2010, I was hanging with him and Scott Ambush at the CapJazz SuperCruise. This was jarring, to say the least. He did the Spirit Cruises in 2010, but I’ve not heard from him since, and in November, I found out that he could no longer travel.

Yeah.

The good news to it is, last of what a friend let me know, Bonny B has relocated and is recovering in a rather beautiful island environment. So I’m only happy to hear it.

So when Spyro was coming to the Note some weeks ago, I didn’t want to pass it up. That and I wanted to see what Lee Pearson could do.

First things first, Spyro Gyra has done it again; there’s a new CD to check out. A Foreign Affairthe latest addition to Jay Beckenstein’s already impressive discography, sought to embody all the locations that the band had visited  over their touring history. And man, did they do it. Jay and the guys changed their usual playlist, and Caribe (which you may’ve heard on Pandora or through your favorite means of getting jazz) is a straightforward introduction to the flavor facet presented in the album. And of course, Jay playing both his alto and soprano saxes simultaneously never fails to shock the crowd.

Lee Pearson, however, stole the show. Right now, writing this, my brain still boggles at how he’s able to keep playing without breaking rhythm when he crossed his arms behind his back. Because seriously, that blows even Bonny B’s impersonation-station out of the water.

Warren Hill, Maysa, Jonathan Butler, and Spirit Cruises overall 

Ah yes, Spirit. The annual Wednesday series of boat rides on the Hudson with a side helping of jazz have returned, and instrumentalist-loving me was a little surprised at the lack of the Rippingtons (whom I generally only ever see on Spirit!), but delighted, I tell you, at the sudden arrival of Warren Hill and Euge, on separate sailings.

Those two… Every time I see them play, anywhere, I immediately flash back to Jammin’ in Jamaica. I’ve written about it at the time that I started the blog, thereabout; the trip was in 2009 and, hands down, had to have been the best adventure I could’ve asked for. Some segment of my heart is still buried in that private strip of beach at the Ritz Montego Bay, and Euge’s Sunday Morning accompanies a mai-tai.

But Euge on Spirit is no Sunday morning and a mai-tai, ladies and gents, and S7ven Large is nothing short of tear-it-up funk. Tower of Power is alive and well in this one, and never mind the storm earlier that day. Choppy surf on the Hudson was not the reason the boat was rocking. Euge knows how to rouse a crowd, and he knows how to rouse a New York crowd. He dominated the stage, the floor, played his way into the audience – nothing

In a separate sailing, Warren shared the stage with Maysa and Jonathan Butler. Gotta love a three-fer.

You know, I don’t see Maysa often. I’m hardly a vocalist fan, but when I saw her on CapJazz in 2010 the first time, I got comfortable and listened in. Her groove is a little old-school, a lot of great R&B/funk, and you may well know her with Incognito. I needn’t say much past Incognito, do I?

Didn’t think so. And I always love Deep Waters.

But Warren…well, Warren is something else. That horn can scream, and Warren has no “hold back” setting on any of what he plays. He takes you into a salsa-style something, slows it down, then gets a blues attack that hits an octave that you wouldn’t think that an alto sax can reach. There is no telling what Warren Hill can do, and that’s one of the best aspects of his shows. Play It Like You Mean It is a classic example, and it’s all Warren: raucous, loud, and energetic.

And of course, where would I be without Norman & Gerald? Officially, this has been one of the best ways to close out Spirit – there is a Regina Belle sailing this week, which I will not be attending, unfortunately – for this season. With a new project out, entitled 24/7, the majority of the set has focused on highlighting the new tracks from that CD (which I recommend, a lot). Norman’s easygoing guitar flow, Gerald’s sharp bite on the horn, August breezes on the water… this, ladies and gentlemen, is why I love this music, these sailings, and these people.

Dave Koz at the Paramount

Right now, without hesitation, let me give massive props to Mikey Cohen and Smooth Jazz Live. If you don’t know about SJL, please check them out. It’s a kickass family affair by Mikey and Jack Cohen, and you cannot deny serious visual talent on those guys.

So one fine day, two or so weeks ago, Mikey gives me a call and says, “Dave Koz is at the Paramount.”

Me: “Do you have to ask?”

Because seriously, when does Dave Koz come to NYC anymore? I’m lucky if I see him annually, and think it a treat more than once. So to the LIRR I go, and to Huntington I hightail, to discover a wonderful thing.

The Paramount of right now…is the IMAC of three years ago. And when I realized that, I cannot tell you how I felt. Surprise, joy, something in between; it was all there. The reason being is that the IMAC, for decades, was a musical stronghold for jazz in the Long Island area. It was a damn near iconic location, and my first – and last – show was a double-header by my two favorite bands: Special EFX and Acoustic Alchemy. But shortly after that, the theatre shut down.

Not anymore. It has been turned over to new management and ownership, who had promptly gutted it and built it up anew, and what it has become is an upgraded version of the very same haven that the IMAC had been once known to be. To have Dave there is not just fitting; it’s Long Island’s own definition of giving jazz music, specifically contemporary jazz, a hearty “welcome home” at where it had flourished once before.

With big thanks to Mikey, I assembled my camera, heeded the warning to shoot only for the first three songs (this meant no shots of BeBe Winans…pity…but them be the breaks), and it. was. on.

The thing about Dave, though, is that no matter what your age is, no matter whether or not you’ve heard his music before, he will make you feel something. When he plays Anything Is Possible, off his latest disc (Hello Tomorrow, strongly recommended), he and his rocker of a guitarist, Randy Jacobs, will make you feel that anything is possible. Together Again, no matter how many times I will hear it, will always make my skin go prickly with goosebumps. And there is no person in the world who won’t crack up at Dave’s theatrics on stage. On a prior show, he gave Andre Berry a kick. Or he’d hand Randy his hat after Randy would dominate his solo…on his back…spinning. He is a consummate showman and doesn’t waste a single move, or a single note.

And yes, he had a mullet in the 80s. I don’t care if I was a zygote then, Dave, album covers live forever, and your odds of living that down…eh, they’re a little low.

Album from these pics can be found at this link.

Part 2 of the grand music recap will come at a later point…too much music, not enough time! Plus, my life is continuing to change very rapidly, and I’m finding it a bit difficult to keep a level head. But worry not; this music is what keeps me steady, day in and day out.

K.G.

Finally!!!

I can’t even tell you how ecstatic I am to be aboard a plane again.

I came to the conclusion that I’m not flying enough. I need to explore more cities, more destinations… Hopefully, with the real estate thing, I would be able to get myself enough money to actually do all the exploring I want.

This will be a productive flight, of that rest assured. If I don’t finish the screenplay on my way to California, then I am pretty confident that I will finish it on my way back. Same goes for the minor touch-ups to Book 4. Yes, maybe 3-4 typos… This is what happens when you do the editing at two in the morning in tax season.

Really, I ought to learn by now: if your brains are Swiss cheese, then you really, really, really should refrain from doing tasks that require your full attention. Else it will not be good.

But it is okay. As I said before, it’s a human endeavor, and a human labor. It will happen. Such is the nature of this work.

So. I’m somewhere over Illinois right now, going through the Great Lakes region. I’ve written a guest post for Kathleen Doyle, which I will link as soon as it goes up. I’ve also started putting together some author interviews for people who had contacted me about guesting here. So you guys will have a whole different mix of things coming up.

As to where I’m going? I’m once again chasing music in Newport Beach, CA! It’s time for the annual jazz festival, and I’m personally looking forward to a great reunion with friends, sweet CA sunshine, and some stellar music/photos.

I just need to actually force myself to stay awake  through the entire flight. This is only the first leg. I got so into my writing that my body started to remind me that it’s on a plane and every plane, without fail, has a soporific effect on yours truly. I am honestly fighting to stay awake!

Until next time…

K.G.

Chasing Music – What’s On The Menu

Whew. It just occurred to me: there hasn’t been a jazz-related post on here for quite a while, and I won’t lie, I missed writing about my favorite music.

In truth, I’ve been pretty busy, both with the day job and writing, but as it is, I have been making every effort to see my music. I’ve taken to photographing the shows more than I write about them, and if you have me on Facebook, whether my personal profile or my business page (which I strongly encourage you like on FB to see some of my shots), then you may’ve seen them.

So far, the notable shows have been Ragan Whiteside at Trumpets, Chuck Loeb going straight-ahead with the Plain ‘n Simple Trip at the Blue Note, and Elan Trotman pairing up with Will Donato at the Houndstooth. Ladies and gentlemen, I take back whatever I said about Koz or Brian Culbertson being hams. You just have not met Will Donato, and you cannot possibly mistake it when you do: chances are, he’s either in your lap or pulling you onstage, and yes, I mean that literally.

For crying out loud, when I met him, he was between me and my coffee! :)

(Will, I know you’re reading this. Hi! Hugs! See you soon!)

May and June will be busy indeed. I have so far:

– Smooth Jazz for Scholars, Connecticut. Nelson Rangell is coming for that gig. Uh…yes. Please.

– Shilts at the Houndstooth for the release of his new CD, All Grown Up.

– Newport Beach, CA, for the jazz festival

– Acoustic Alchemy coming back to the Iridium

– Steve Cole and JJ Sansaverino in Lucille’s Grill at BB King’s

– Spyro Gyra at the Blue Note (in July, I think).

There is much to catch up on far as writing about music goes, and once my brain recuperates from being Swiss-cheesed by tax season, I will happily proceed to do so.

K.G.

Had to happen…

Travel hassles. So far, three years of chasing music had gone off without a hitch. I’d book a flight, get flight insurance, board it early, zip over to my destination, and enjoy. Thanks to the people of American Airlines (and sometimes Delta and JetBlue Airways), it has been smooth sailing.

…yes, I’m sure you can figure out where this is going. And if you have me on Facebook, you can pretty much figure out what happened.

The interesting bit is, I’m signed up de facto for text and email alerts for any flight I book. Bear this in mind as I walk you through what took place.

My cab was scheduled for 11am. It arrived, I tossed in The Suitcase, got in, zipped over to LaGuardia and its American Airlines terminal. Reason I take American from LaGuardia is simple: they have yet to treat me with any sort of discourtesy over there, and handle my luggage just fine. There’s an Au Bon Pain cafe in the terminal, which serves awesome asiago bagels and French Vanilla coffee. So I enjoy the pre-flight wait wholly and unabashedly. And, I won’t lie, I was looking forward to it today.

I climb out of the cab, walk over to curbside check-in, and the agent says to me, “You have to go inside. Your flight is cancelled.”

*record scratch*

I check my cell phone. No alerts. My email. No alerts either. So basically, I arrived to find a grounded plane. Whooooops.

O-kay. So I get inside, and that’s when I tossed up the Facebook post about potentially finding a different LGA-MIA flight. But the line moves fast, and I’m seen by an agent, who tells me that the next outbound to Miami is at about 5:50.

“What are my alternatives?” I ask.

“I can get you on a 4:00 flight,” the agent says. “But it’s from Newark.”

Wha-huh? Nothing against New Jersey, but to schlep from Queens with a 50-odd-pound piece of luggage to Newark International Airport (which, from what I gather off reviews and travel sites, is a royal clusterfuck) was not something I had in mind. My original plan was to land in Miami at about 6:00pm, check in, and have a nice dinner at the Bayside Mall Chili’s, where I’m an annual regular. To end up there at whatever o’clock, worn out from traveling to hell and back, wasn’t my cup of tea.

“Is there anything at all from JFK?” I ask.

“Yes…but it’s almost booked up…and it’s another airline,” says the agent, “but it leaves at 3:10pm.”

“SOLD.”

By this time, I was willing to take (gulp) United Airlines, if it meant that I would leave New York on the ground within the next couple of hours.

The agent promptly booked me, and produced a taxi voucher. And – surprise!!! – it’s a Delta Airlines flight. Delta = onboard Internet. So effectively, I get the taxi to JFK, and a rebooking on what I know would’ve been a more expensive flight had I booked it myself, for no additional charge.

At JFK, an even bigger surprise: no bag fee. Even though I know my bag is over limit. Turns out, its overlimit is by about 3-4 pounds, and the agents there didn’t charge me for it.

Total time between cancelled flight, rebooking, jumping into taxi? 5 minutes. Time between airports, checking in, security, and cup of Dunkin’s finest? 15 minutes. I kid you not, security line at Delta was empty.

Need I say it? I love Delta Airlines. Yes, they’re exorbitantly expensive compared to some other flights, but I learned my lesson with this little adventure: Delta + JFK = one happy writing bon vivant. Just have to book it early, to get the best pricing.

So, hard part’s over. And of course, that little drop in my stomach as the plane takes off, leaving NYC and work-related stress behind it was worth any price and any wait.

(and yes, this is coming to you from about 37,000 feet in the air)

So far, all’s well. Buzz by Four80East in my ears, writing ideas in my head, and the plane being somewhere over Raleigh at the moment… I think I can consider myself on vacation now. :)

I’ll update very sporadically from the cruise. Still not sure if I’ll be doing the writeup like last year, but if I will, you’ll know it.

Much love, from me to you,

K.G.