Friday, December 14, 2007

Learning from Mistakes

Business, like life, is all about the learning curve. And some weeks the curve just gets deeper and deeper.

The steepness of the curve is measured by the mistakes we make in the process of learning. Perhaps you've gathered that I am speaking from experience....a current experience.

And its one thing to make a mistake that just impacts yourself. Its another thing when it impacts others.

Its been a relatively trying time for me and a group of my clients. You see they entrusted me to plan and facilitate their family's holiday vacation. And for the most part all went well. They asked questions, I found answers. I quoted them a price and we booked the cruise.

The first problem came when I entered the pricing into my confirmation system and transposed two numbers so the pricing on the confirmation was $600pp less than I quoted. Thankfully the family understood and honored the original price quoted. I sent them a gift card to thank them for their understanding--it could've gotten ugly.

The second and more serious of the problems arose out of my ignorance, stupidity, and neglect. When I entered the cruise into my booking system, the system generated an approximate final due date, which in ignorance I accepted; in stupidity didn't question; and in neglect never checked against the cruise line's final due date.

The cruise line final payment date, due to the fact that it was a holiday booking, was two weeks earlier than the system generated date so when I called to make final payment the booking had cancelled. Thankfully, luck was on my side and the cabins were still available and the cruise line reinstated them at original price which was lower than the current prevailing price of the cabins.

I really thought I'd dodged a bullet and didn't give it any further thought until the client contacted me last week to say that when they reviewed the cruise documents it was noted that they have early dining when they specifically requested (and I had confirmed in writing) that they wanted late dining.

So I checked the cruise line confirmation from the reinstated cruises and right there in black in white it clearly states: early dining.

At this point we are three weeks out from the sailing date, and pardon my pun, but I get a sinking feeling that I am in deep trouble. And I am.

I called the cruise line and fessed up the whole ordeal and plead for mercy, but as I feared, late dining wasn't available. I couldn't even waitlist it. My clients were now at the mercy of the maitre'd--only he could arrange to change their seating and that couldn't be requested until they were physically on board the ship.

Naturally my clients, who booked this cruise almost a year in advance, are livid. But I was too chicken to fess up to them that I screwed up again, so I blamed the cruise line saying that there must have been a large group requesting late dining and they got bumped.

I am beside myself not only with worry, but with shame. I ignored my own ethical principles and flat out lied to my client.

I appealed to higher levels within the cruise line and asked for my parent company to intervene. But the end result was the same..."no room at the inn."

In mega-ships as my client will be sailing, there are many dining options, so eating in the main dining room every night is no big deal. Unless you need kosher food.

And of course that was the case. One of the sons requested kosher meals, which it turns out, can only be served in the main dining room.

So that bullet I thought I'd dodged, is now headed my way.

After further conversation with the cruise line I learn that the family can ask the maitre'd to have the kosher meals delivered to the specialty restaurants on board.

So my fate and my clients happiness all rest within the hands of the maitre'd on board the ship.

To make amends I have offered to pay the nightly per person fee rate at the specialty restaurants for the four nights when they will be returning from shore excursions (they were concerned about being rushed to make early dining).

I haven't heard back from the client, but I am hoping they will accept this offer.

I'll keep you posted.

Three days later....all is right again in the universe. The cruise line was able to guarantee my clients (all three cabins) late dining. To thank them for thier patience, I still gave each cabin $50.00 shipboard credits

And while this could have been an extremely expensive mistake, there is no doubt I learned my lesson!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Self help, coaches and finding one's course

As a member of eWomenNetwork, an international women's organization, I have the opportunity to receive two free coaching sessions from a list of pre-selected coaches. For two years I've debated whether or not to utilize this benefit.

My excuse is also probably my ignorance for this profession. But I always believed a coach was akin to a psychiatrist and I wasn't getting comfy on one of those couches. Besides, I always felt I could self correct without outside influences.

But I know some of the most successful women have personal coaches for various aspects of their lives. Perhaps I was wrong.

SO I finally decided to give it a try. Well, that is I made the connection with the coach. Now I have to make the appointment. I'm a little unsure of what to do. You see she asked me to tell her a little bit about myself what area I would like to concentrate on in the session: personal or professional.

When I started to respond I was like a "push me-pull you" character...every time I wrote about my personal goals I got pulled into business goals. They are not exclusive of each other.

Here's what I mean...

I’m 47 and never been married---my choice. Two years ago I entered a relationship with a great guy, but he has three children and I never wanted kids. He lived an hour away and it became increasingly difficult to travel back and forth and since he had custody of the boys, we decided I would give it a shot and move in with him and work from home. The kids love me, so there’s no issue there.

What I found after a year was that I had changed. Without my circle of influence that gave me a sense of pride and self worth, I was losing ground to the fuzzy bunny slippers/sweat suit work style and slower pace life. I knew going in that I was going to give up things to make this work, but what I realized recently is that when you give up core values and needs, everything suffers. I was spiraling downward and my relationship and my business suffered.

I gave up my home
I gave up my close proximity to my circle of influence
I gave up my music (I was a regular fan on the local blues circuit—check out ) because what was once an hour drive to see the bands is now 2hrs.
I gave up my sense of self

But that's where the self-correcting factor kicks in. I must have unconsciously recognized that I needed to make a change because I began to resurface in the networking world. I traded my sweat suit for a dress suit (sadly a few sizes larger than I'd like) and took on the challenge of building a new chapter of eWomenNetwork in South Jersey.

But I couldn't do it alone. Thankfully, Milt and I can talk about anything. In a tear-jerker session the other day he vowed to support my "rebirth" because what is important to me is as important to him. And he means it. Like a said earlier, great guy.

So when I stayed back in Cherry Hill the other night to catch the Randy Lippincott Band at Red, Hot & Blue and then drove up to the Mermaid in Chestnut Hill later that night to see Zydeco-a-go-go, he was totally supportive. John Colgan-Davis from the Dukes of Destiny, who was at the Mermaid summed it up when he said, "the music world is all right again...Marilyn is back."

And I think I'll send the coach a link to this blog so she can decide where should I begin....

Monday, November 12, 2007

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


Every once in a while you are given a chance to start something meaningful from the ground up. If you are lucky there is a blueprint to follow, but the final result is determined by the building blocks you can lend to the foundation.

So it is with the new eWomenNetwork chapter in South Jersey. After a few years of attending events on the PA side of the bridge, I lobbied the founders of the organization to start a chapter in New Jersey.

In most states, chapters can be found in major towns and cities, but my vision expanded beyond townships and counties--I wanted to bring this organization to all women in South Jersey and I now have that opportunity as the new Managing Director of eWomenNetwork SJ.

I am blessed that I have a core group of women standing right by my side as we launch the new chapter. Some are women that, like me have be attending the Philly events, others are women that I've known and admired through my own business network and others are friends of these women.

Together we are poised to create the largest, most resourceful organization for women in business in SJ.

"It takes teamwork to make the dream work." (I wish I could claim that as mine...but kudos to rightful owner of that quote.)

In many ways eWomenNetwork is about business—we want to connect women with other women opening doors for them to do business with each other. But we are much more. At eWomenNetwork our philosophy is that you must first and foremost give to others "first." We believe that by giving and being "other-focused" you create a world of abundance for all. For us, networking is really the art of "giving" and searching for ways to serve the needs of others before focusing on ourselves.

eWomenNetwork is comprised of various levels of women in business…from entrepreneurs with one–two employees to representatives from larger companies. Our goal is to offer the best resource for women to do business with other women. We offer members a website on which they can post their photo and business profile for the 200,000 women who visit the site every day; we celebrate women authors by providing them a publishing company dedicated to their success; we have our own radio program; we offer free mentoring and coaching sessions to the members; we support other women through the eWomenNetwork Foundation; and we strive to provide access for our members to women in senior levels of the business world.

I hope you will read this and "get it". If you do, I'm sure I'll see you at an upcoming event. Just visit the website listed above and click on events. Scroll down to SJ and make your reservation! And remember to share this with other women you admire.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Boomers, vacation planning and River Cruising

I recently read an article from the Chicago Tribune, "Boomers are spelling 'vacation' l-e-a-r-n-i-n-g. "

This seems to hold true in the cruising industry, too. As we (yes, I am a "boomer") look towards taking future vacations, the potential for seeing new places, learning about different cultures, and experiencing new adventures are all major components of the decision making process.

CLIA (Cruise Line International Association) lists the number one reason (76%) people choose cruising is the "opportunity to visit multiple places." And 60% are looking for "unique and different" experiences. 42% of cruisers reported that they seek a "cultural learning experience."

And the industry is listening. Luxury cruise lines such as Crystal, Regent Seven Seas and Cunard all have some type of on board enrichment programs.

Celebrity recently spun off a new cruise line called Azamara. It's two ships, the Journey and the Quest each offer the experienced cruiser an exploration type experience on a deluxe cruise line.

Holland America has the Culinary Arts Institute on board all their ships.

CruiseWest and Hurtigruten provide unique sailing that are itinerary intense. And the size of their vessels allow close encounters with nature.

But of all the cruise products out there, river cruising seems to best fit our growing desire for cultural immersion. Picture cruising up the Rhine, the Danube or the Yangtze river with history within view from your stateroom on deck. Image sitting down to a meal sampling the culinary delights from that day's port of call or local storytellers coming on board in the evening to share their history with you. Or perhaps the idea of spending an overnight at a port of call entices you--enjoy a night at the opera, an evening at a local pub or specialty restaurant or maybe be invited into the homes of your hosts.

With so many choices, its no wonder cruisng is a favorite vacation for Boomers!

If you ready to learn more about any of these cruising options, drop by my website or drop me a line.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Trade Shows and Tired Shoulders

I just returned to my office from a Home-Based Travel Agency trade show in Atlantic City. It was great to meet reps from the cruise lines, resorts and convention and visitor bureaus of various countries. I reconnected with some colleagues and spent some time chatting with the CruiseOne team, including our CEO Vivian Ewart who is so genuine and easy to talk to. She was there to market the company to potential franchisees--not that I need any more competion in my backyard!

I know setting up and working trade shows are hard work--I used to run the Chamber's Annual Business Expo and I've had display tables at many, many trade shows.

But what about the attendees??? After walking row by row and stopping at each table, I was loaded down with 4 bags of brochures and information. As the show was coming to a close,the vendors were happily handing out as much as could, the idea being they more they give away, they less thay have to pack and slep back to the office. Good stuff, absolutely. Heavy as heck---you better believe it.

You'd think my shoulders would be used to the extra weight from carrying my tote bag around, but I'm telling you--I could have used these bags for weights in my exercise routine!

Next time I'll bring a suitcase on wheels--I may look funny, but when I'm still standing up straight at the end of the day and everyone else is hunched over...guess who will have the last laugh then!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Dressing for Success

Every Wednesday morning at 7:15 I head out the door to meet with the South Jersey Women's Network, an informal group of professional women from the Atlantic County area. Each of us represents a different industry and each is there to learn about and support the other members by word of mouth marketing.

Being in the travel business and working from home I find myself at a quandry as to what to wear each week. One of our members makes no apologies for her attire, and to be honest, I applaud her---she works out every morning at 6:00 a.m., so she comes straight from the gym.

Another member is in the financial business and she is always dressed impeccibly in her business suit.

Others, like myself, dress according to what the rest of the day holds. If I have other appoinments I'll dress in business attire. If I'm coming right home to work in the home office then I'll wear jeans, a tank and a decent jacket and good shoes (today I wore my pink Cozumel tank and pink cowboy hat...souvenirs from my recent cruise!)

And that's really who I am, a low maintenance, dress down, casual person. Does that mean I can't be professional when dressed this way?

Its all about image perception. The question I have to ask is whether I perceive myself as less professional. If the answer is yes, then I'm doomed because my confidence is tied to my self perception.

Turns out that I am a victim of comformity, because in many situations I do need to put that suit on to feel the power of confidence.

Now if only I could button that suit jacket..ah but that's fodder for a future blog!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

California Wildfires

A good friend of mine lives in San Diego. I visited her several years ago and fell in love with the area. So much so, that I brought the real estate section home with me to read and dream on the plane back to Philly.

My friend Karen has built a business working with local and county governments across the country helping them devise state of emergency plans to work with the healthcare organizations in their areas. And yes, she did work with the several of the counties now ravaged by fire.

In an e-mail to me this morning, she wrote:

It is really really bad. My emergency response training is no longer fiction in SD - the worst possible thing that we trained for is actually happening.

A quarter of a million people have been evacuated from their homes so far. From the dessert to the sea some 40 miles of million dollar homes. But, the worst is that no one can breath the air with all the ash and smoke, so the hospitals are packed with wheezing and shortness of breath patients including my parents which I have advised to move up to San Clemente (fires from Fallbrook are now in Camp Pendleton).

AND, I am in Minnesota running a curriculum retreat for the School of Medicine and have been on the phone and internet for the last 24 hours with family, friends and the 19 year old UCSD student that is house sitting with Torrey. I just called her and told her to go up to Pasadena (she has an aunt there), but the traffic won't allow it. The temperature inside my house is 85 degrees since it is all closed up (outside it is 90, even though the fires are 10 miles away). Don't have air conditioning, cause I "live on the coast" ! Never saw anything like it.

I am tired, very sad and really want to be home.... I will be back on Wednesday night.

I am sharing this with you because of the reuccuring truth that plagues all of us. We cannot control or escape nature. But it is also nature that, over billions of years has evolved to provide a planet onwhich human nature has prevailed.

I recently completed two of James Michener's epic novels, Alaska and the Caribbean and am just in the opening chapters of Hawaii.

Two truths have emerged from my readngs:

  1. It is, sadly, human nature to seek, destroy, overcome and rule others that are not like them.
  2. The earth is constantly reinventing itself and although it can/may/will take tens of thousands of years for a cataclysmic occurance, every volcanic eruption, every storm that destroys, and every fire that devours what we have built, is one tiny step towards the next big life altering event.
I don't know where this is all leading except that I know I'm headed to Alaska next summer---I want to see it while the pristine beauty and the wonders of the glaciers are still with us.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Coulda, shoulda, but didn't

For Eagles fans, the saying "coulda, shoulda, but didn't" is the mantra for today. The Eagles could've won, should've won, but ended up losing in the final seconds of the game.

That got me thinking...How many things in our lives do we miss out on because we "coulda, shoulda, but didn't"?

People that suffer life threatening illnesses upon recovering will often say "I'm going to live everyday as if the next could be my last." And ya know what one of the first things that they do? They take that vacation they've always wanted.

So I ask you, do you really want to wait and find yourself saying, "coulda, shoulda, but didn't"?

I know it sounds impractical, especially when you've just paid your bills and are wondering how you'll make the next payments, but with enough planning, minimum deposits and good budgeting, you can take that family vacation while the family is all together.

Multi generational family reunions on a cruise are wildly popular now. Where else can you find something for the youngsters, teens, parents and grandparents plus activities that everyone can participate? What a great way to create that family bond.

I bet you have relatives you never see except at weddings and funerals. I know I do. And I know we always say, "let's plan to get together soon." For me this is another "coulda, shoulda, but didn't".

Or how about that dream vacation to Alaska or maybe the Greek Isles, or perhaps South America? With so many cruise lines and so many options, you are bound to find something that will fit your personality and your pocketbook.

Milt and I are headed to New Orleans in January for a 2 night stay in the French Quarter followed by a 5 night Western Caribbean cruise. It's a pre-Mardi Gras cruise and I can't wait to get back to New Orleans.

Next September we're taking an 8 night Alaskan cruise--along with 800+ other members of the CruiseOne family. Its our 2008 conference. Which is pretty funny...the morning before they announced the 2008 location, I said to Milt, lets take and Alaskan cruise this summer.

But my dream vacation is to sail the Eastern Mediterranean on a Windstar cruise (a five mast, engine powered sailing ship). I keep telling Milt that will be our honeymoon cruise---even if we never get married!

I'd love to hear from you--what is your "coulda, shoulda, but didn't" that you still have time to do?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

New passport rules...again

Well folks, they've extended the passport requirement for cruise travel...again. However, I strongly suggest that you just go out and get your passport; it is the most recognized form of identification and most readily accepted.

U.S. Citizen Passport Requirements--

Air Travel: ALL persons, including U.S. citizens, traveling by air between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda will be required to present a valid passport to enter (or re-enter) the United States.U.S. lawful permanent residents will continue to be able to use their Alien Registration Card (Form I-551) issued by the Department of Homeland Security or other valid evidence of permanent residence status to apply for entry to the United States.

Cruise Travel--As early as Summer 2008, subject to U.S. Government amendment, ALL persons, including U.S. citizens, traveling between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda will be required to present a valid passport or other documents as determined by the Department of Homeland Security.

Subject to U.S. Government amendment U.S. and Canadian citizens 15 or younger with their parents consent may cross the U.S. / Canadian border by land or sea with a certified copy of their birth certificate.Until that time, the following travel document requirements apply:International Travel• A valid passport is required; visas are required where they apply. This includes Europe, Asia, Central and South America.

Domestic Travel--For domestic travel which includes: the Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada, the Caribbean and Mexico, a passport (valid or expired) is highly recommended.• In the absence of a passport, a birth certificate (original or a certified copy), plus a picture ID card issued by a federal, state or local government agency is required. • A voter registration card or Social Security Card are not considered to be proof of citizenship.• Children under 16 years of age do not require a picture ID.

The luggage has arrived

Good news, we received our missing luggage today! Better news, Milt's credit card and cash were still in his pants pocket (did I mention he packed his dress pants at the last minute and forgot to check his pockets?)

I have to say I'm pretty surprised at the expediency of the process...not to mention relieved. When the the airline rep said we'd get a call today I was skeptical. When the delivery service called to say they had our bag and would drop it off at our house within 2 hours I was impressed.

Not that I like the fact that they lost it in the first place (and ripped my other bag which I've chalked up to a total loss), but it is a good feeling to know that the processes the airlines have in place actually work. Of course if it happened on the way to the the cruise and not in reverse I might not be so agreeable--lost luggage can't catch up with the ship until it reaches a port of call.

So alls well that ends well. The kids have their gifts from the trip, we have our souvenirs (including three new stuffed animals) and the dirty clothes are in the wash.

Blues Cruise from Philly?

Hey folks, one of my goals in the next year or so is to put together a Blues Cruise out of Philly or Cape Liberty, NJ featuring some of my favorite local bands from the Phila/NJ area.

Check out the Dukes of Destiny, The Randy Lippincott Band, Zydeco-a-go-go and Rollin' and Tumblin' on my music website

I'm looking at maybe a 5 day Bermuda cruise with one or 2 bands on board--depending on the cost.

I'd like to hear your thoughts on this...

Oh where or where is our luggage?

Or subtitled, "The day our luggage went through the war"

Okay, I have to admit, the first part of this story is my fault. Sort of.

NCL has a program called "BAGS" which is described in the flier this way, "leave your luggage outside your door and the next time you'll see them is at your destination airport." Sounded good to me, so for an additional $15.00pp I signed us up.

What I didn't know (and this is where I have to say mea culpa) is that we DID need to see our luggage one more time and that was to identify them at the cruise terminal and take them to be loaded on the baggage truck. Yes, this was wrtten on the notice I received in the room. No I didn't read that far down (next to the last paragraph) in the letter. I took the flier at face value and so Milt and I breezed right past our luggage and onto the waiting transfer bus to the Miami airport.

Thankfully I had a moment of doubt and pulled out the form and read the entire document, otherwise all our luggage would still be in Miami.

I jumped off the bus and flagged down an NCL agent..really an angel (Warren Eisenberg wherever you are...Milt and I love ya, man!) Warren must have heard it all before because he pulled us aside and gently explained the bad is illegal to leave luggage in the terminal and it is illegal to go back and retieve it. YIKES!!!

This is were the "angel" part kicks in. He found a custom agent who took our passports and then he went and found our luggage for the customs agent to inspect. I was told customs had to take everything out of all 4 bags before they would release the bags to Warren (yuck--one bag was full of dirty clothes..I apologized profusely to Agent Wexler). Warren then arranged for a porter to bring out luggage to the loading truck.

So an hour later our bags were on the truck and Milt and I were on our way to the airport. We arrive about 12:30 for our 3:35 flight. If you read my previous blog you already know my gripe with AA terminal.

Our 3:35 flight finally took off at 5:20 p.m.

We finally touch down, head to baggage claim only to find that one bag was destroyed (ripped across the top and taped together) and another bag was missing. We know they went on the truck in perfect condition, but what happened in between, not even the "Shadow knows" (okay, I'm showing my age, I know).

So here I sit at my computer hopeful that tomorrow will bring the suitcase with all the kids gifts, Milt's suit, and the purchases we made for ourselves.

Stay tuned!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Returning home from a 5 night Western Caribbean cruise

As I sit here on the floor in the American Airlines terminal at the Miami airport I have to wonder.. why don't they have more outlets for computer plug-ins? Actually it took three or four tries before my boyfriend and I found a live working plug. A tad frustrating since each time we had to unplug, pack up and move on. I'm actually plugged into the panel of the service desk. I figure I only have a few more minutes before they chase me away, so here wait...looks like I'll have to vacate now... the rest of the report is from the comfort of my home office in Egg Harbor Township (near Atlantic City).

Milt and I just returned from a fabulous 5 night cruise on the Norwegian Pearl out of Miami. Our ports of call were Cozumel and Georgetown, Grand Cayman.

When you think of NCL (Norwegian Cruise Line) you think of the ads they have touting Freestyle Cruising and I have to say, for us it was perfect. We got to eat when we wanted, where we wanted and with whom we wanted. We'd made some great friends along the way and enjoyed being able to sit with them at dinner.

The Norwegain Pearl is one of NCL's new ships. Her sister ship, Gem is just getting ready to launch and their sister, Pride of Hawaii will be renamed the Jade which be sailing the Caribbean waters in the near future. She is a beauty. Every lounge, every dining venue is decorated in clean, crisp and vibrant colors befitting the cuisine or theme of the venue.

Entertainment galore from Wii games on the 70ft screen (approx) in the Grand Atrium, to side splitting comedy routines performed by Second City members, to afternoon pool deck Caribbean bands, it was all there for us to enjoy. The ony disappointment was the smoking in the casino, which really wasn't a bad thing...we only stayed long enough to lose $40.00!

Eventhough we really didn't see many children on the cruise, knowing we would be headed back home to three teenage boys made the Adult only Biss Lounge, well blissfull! It was romantic, bohemian and just a bit naughty...they had luxuourisly decorated sofas that encouraged cuddling and even elegant appointed double beds for relaxation pleasure. When we were there one early evening for drinks, the video screen played 80's classics (has Mick jagger aged at all?)

We were very impressed with their precautionary health measures...making sure we all sanitized our hands before entering any restuarant and when returning from shore excursions.

The only thing that was a bit surprising was the room size. We had a Balcony cabin category BA and we were in pretty tight corners. But by the second day we had adjusted just fine-- the sofa bed made for a great suitcase valet for Milt and a good place to drop our dirty clothes at the end of the day.

I must confess though, that we were part of a large group of cruise travel professionals from CruiseOne ( and Cruises, Inc. and we were priviledged to have many of the NCL reps as well as other cruise line reps on board for daily seminars and programs. While I don't believe we received any special cabin treatments, we did get nightly cocktail parties.

Did you know that when you book a group, each cabin may be offered a free cocktail party, or complimentary champagne, or even shipboard credits? Group cruises are a great way to bring the family together, raise funds for your favorite charity organization, party with your favorite local bands and on NCL even your local bowling league...yes, they have 2 bowling alleys on board!

Our 5 day cruise visited 2 ports of call, Cozumel and Grand Cayman. In Cozumel, the group did a deluxe beach party at Playa Mia. Lordy did we have fun! Open bar, free food and lots and lots of sunshine and blue waters. Did I mention I forgot to back my sunsceen? Ouch :-( I'm headed back there in January as a Pre-Mardi cruise out of New Orleans ( some inside cabins still available!) and I look forward to exploring other parts of the isalnd.

In Grand Cayman we partied at the Hard Rock Cafe, but didn't get to the Seven Mile Beach. Next time!

Check out my next blog..."oh where, oh where has my suitcase gone???"