Meet the Cruise Mom

» Posted by on Jul 31, 2014 in Carnival Sunshine - 2014, The People | 0 comments

Meet the Cruise Mom

Maribeth Kring is a well-known and very popular travel agent who specializes in booking cruises. We were thrilled when she agreed to an interview during our February 2014 cruise on the Carnival Sunshine.

We originally planned to do a video interview during the cruise, but the timing just never worked out. So instead I talked to her over the telephone a few weeks later.

At the time of the interview (March 4, 2014) she was living in Texas. She now lives in Florida. As she mentions in the interview, this move was part of her plan to become more centrally located with respect to the most popular Eastern USA cruise ports.

Here’s what she had to say.


How long have you been a travel agent and what type of work did you do before that?

I started doing this about two years ago. Prior to that I spent twenty years or so waitressing, bartending, dealing poker … all customer service stuff which tore out my back pretty bad. One day I got to thinking about what kind of job I could do that involves all the customer service but without having to do any heavy lifting.  A friend of mine suggested travel agent since I like to cruise so much. That just seemed to be the perfect fit.


How often had you been cruising at that time?

My first cruise was in 2006. That was on the Carnival Glory for my honeymoon. I was hooked from that point on.


On your website you call yourself Cruise Mom. What’s the story behind that?

I actually have people that think it’s because I do cruises for moms. That’s not the case really.

Prior to becoming a travel agent I connected with the staff quicker than I did with other passengers on a ship. I’m not sure why. It might have been because I always treated them as a friend and with respect. They appreciated that. Some of them got close to me. Most of them are half my age, so they referred to me as their mom away from home, or their Cruise Mom. So that’s how I thought of the name when I became a travel agent. Some of them have actually stayed at my home when they got into the area too early to join their ship. I said, “Hey, don’t stay in a hotel. Come crash here.”


Can you tell us about the most common questions you get from people who are wanting to book a cruise but have never cruised before?

One of the first questions I almost always get is “How much does it cost?”  They have never cruised before. And if they’re not very close with someone who has, they usually have a misconception that it’s a lot more expensive than it is. All they’ve seen is what’s on TV. In the old show The Love Boat it seems like everybody on there was rich and famous. Cruising has come a long way since those days. Cruising is very affordable now. So the most common question is about the cost.

After that, it’s probably, “What’s included in a cruise?”  If they haven’t cruised before they compare it to land vacations. They might say, “Why would I want to spend X amount on a cruise when I can get a hotel for my whole family for a hundred dollars a night?”  Well, then you have to buy your food. Then you have to pay for gas to drive around. Then you have to pay for whatever entertainment choices you may have. On a cruise, most of that is included. That’s the second most common question … trying to compare the cost of a land vacation versus a cruise vacation.


Are there some fairly common questions you can expect from people who have already cruised quite a bit?

Usually that’s only if they’re thinking about cruising on a line that they have not tried before. Maybe they regularly cruise Princess and they’re thinking about cruising Carnival. The biggest question would be about the differences from this cruise line to one they’re already familiar with.  Sometimes I do have a problem with that. Due to where I’m located, most of my cruises have been on Carnival. I don’t really have a frame to compare to … not yet anyway, but I’m working on it.


Are there important questions people should be asking you when they’re booking a cruise, but oftentimes don’t?

Actually, one of the surprising things happens when a person who has always booked through the cruise lines themselves is thinking about going through a travel agent instead. One of the main questions they should be asking, but often do not, is “What is the total cost?”

Some agents charge fees for their services, or fees for filing any forms that need to be filed. Maybe you signed up for a special rate promotion and later want to change to a different rate promotion. Some agencies will charge a small fee to file the paperwork for you.

So if you’re thinking about booking with a travel agent for the first time that would be one of the questions you should ask. You need to find out if they charge any fees above and beyond what the cruise line charges.

Then, there’s another question experienced cruisers sometimes forget to ask when they’re planning to sail on a line they have not sailed before. They’re really used to the way things work on one line, but they don’t ask if things work the same on the new line. They should find out if the check-in process is similar, if the smoking rules are different, or if something included in one cruise line is not included in the other.

As an example, I had a lady that booked a Princess cruise with her daughter a while back. They had most recently cruised Carnival several times. They purchased a balcony cabin. I didn’t think anything of it. When they got back from their cruise, she called to let me know that her daughter was upset because she could not smoke on her balcony. Her daughter is a smoker. She is not, which is why it didn’t occur to me. There are several cruise lines where they don’t allow smoking anywhere on the ship except for a few designated areas. Some cruise lines will let you smoke on your private balcony.


Some people will use a travel agent to book cruises. Some people like to work directly with the cruise line. Others like to do it themselves online. It’s fair to say you have a certain bias, but can you share your perspective about the pros and cons of the different approaches?  There’s got to be trade-offs, right?

Definitely there are. Perhaps you have a lot of time on your hands. Maybe you’re a retired person and you really, really like to be hands-on with all of your travel arrangements. That might be a good reason to call the cruise line directly. Booking online is pretty much the same. The only thing different is that you don’t have to talk to a real person.

In those two cases a travel agent might not be the way for you to go. Once you work with a travel agent, unless there’s a serious issue and you cannot get in touch with your travel agent, the cruise lines themselves will not talk to you about your booking.

It’s quite a different story if you work a lot of hours and don’t have time to be always checking your rates. Or maybe you have several different cruise lines in mind and you can’t really figure out how to narrow the situation down. A travel agent is the way to go. They will take the time. You tell them what you want and you go on about your business while they do the research for you.

This cruise was, of course, Bloggers Cruise 7. How often and to what degree have you participated in previous Bloggers Cruises?

Obviously I missed a few because I only started cruising in 2006. Back then I wasn’t paying much attention to cruise news and what was going on in the cruising world per se. I think around 2009 I had discovered John Heald’s blog. That’s when I started hearing a little bit about Bloggers Cruises. I asked, “Do you have to have a blog or what?”  A lot of people think that. It’s like, “No. It’s for fans of his blog,” so they call it a Bloggers Cruise.

In the process of being on John Heald’s blog and reading about the workings of the ships and what happens on board and his personal life, I noticed there was a gentleman on there that used to comment fairly regularly. He goes by Big Ed. The photos on the sites are not very large, so I had no clue who he was. He had some odd photo there like a lot of people do for profile photos. We started both commenting on the blog. I noticed his name a lot.

One day he posted a link to his own blog, which had the last name of Konefe. I have some cousins by that name, so I asked him, “Do you happen to know anybody in the Detroit area?”  He said, “As a matter of fact, I’m from the Detroit area. Why do you ask?”  I told him, “Well, I’ve got a cousin named Jim that was part-time in Florida and part-time in Detroit. I thought you might be related.”  He made the connection first that Jim is his brother. He messaged me back saying, “I was at your wedding, and you don’t remember me.”

Apparently my cousin was the impetus behind Bloggers Cruises. He was one of the original people on the blog. As a result of realizing my cousin was involved in this I went, “Wow. Okay, I’ve got to start going on these Bloggers Cruises.”  I started doing that on Bloggers Cruise 5.

So this one on the Sunshine was my third Bloggers Cruise. There were over eight hundred people in the group.

A lot of newcomers come because they love John. They follow his blog. They follow his Facebook. They want to meet the man.

For people who have been on more than one it’s more of a reunion of friends which we call our cruise family. We do get very close. We stay in touch on Facebook and email and phone calls. We talk about each other’s families and kids. Once a year it’s like a big family reunion but without the dysfunctional ones.


No dysfunctional ones allowed, huh?

Some might show up.  But we just ignore them. We’re too busy having fun with the ones that aren’t.


So now that Bloggers Cruise 7 is over, how did it go?  What was your experience?  Good?  Bad?  Indifferent?

It was amazing. I enjoyed meeting so many new people and, like I said, reconnecting with people that I’ve known for a couple of years now.

I think eight hundred might be a little too many. It seemed that it’s not as personal or intimate as it once was. Then again, John Heald is getting much more popular with thousands and thousands of hits on his Facebook and his blog. So it has to grow, really.

You learn new things every time because John does have question and answer sessions where you can ask pretty much anything you want. And he does his best to answer. He doesn’t lie or cover up. If he doesn’t know the answer, he tells you, “I don’t know the answer to that.”  Or, “I’m not allowed to say yet because it’s something we’re still ironing out the details on.”


One thing I’ve noticed is that sometimes he would even do something immediately to address an issue. That was very impressive.

Yes. He has been known to get on what he calls his “raspberry” in the middle of an interview to ask a question to the office so he can try and get an answer as quickly as possible. That’s a nice aspect of the whole procedure.


One final question. There have been a lot of comments, as you know, posted on Facebook and other places about the Sunshine transformation from the Destiny. Some folks say they love it … others not so much. Are you surprised by all this discussion?

This was my first time on the Sunshine. And I had not been on her previously when she was the Destiny.

From what I gather, there were apparently some problems in the shipyard with vandalism. They got way behind schedule. In the beginning, I believe there were probably a lot of leaks and a lot of smells. It was an enormous project that had never been done before. I think some things might have gotten overlooked. From my perspective, being on her now several months after she’s been released, I didn’t notice any leaks. I had heard from some other people that just cruised recently that there were leaks in the elevator. I didn’t see any.

I did notice some smells in one of the public restrooms. I think it was in the aft area of the ship. I can’t remember which deck that was on. It didn’t smell like sewage. It smelled more like a permanent, which I didn’t understand because the spa was on the other end of the ship. The other public areas, the restaurants, the dining areas, they were beautiful. Everything seemed to work just fine.

People had complained about some of the flow issues and that it was too crowded. Yes, some of the lounges are smaller than what you are used to on a Carnival ship. There’s not quite as much seating. In my opinion that gave it more of an intimate feel.

The Comedy Club was smaller than what we’re used to. The layout has some seats from which you can’t actually see the stage. They solved that by putting TV screens up on the walls in that area so you could watch the comedian even if you couldn’t physically see them.

One of the biggest complaints about other Comedy Clubs is that you can’t get in because of the crowd coming out. Plus, too many people will stay from one show to the other and you can’t get seats. On the Sunshine, they clear the Comedy Club after every show. You come in one way and go out another, which is nice.

But I think it should have been reversed. Leaving, there’s nowhere to go. You have to go upstairs, then go back down to the midship elevators, and then come back down. Let’s say you want to go enjoy the piano bar after the Comedy Club. It’s maybe forty feet away. But you have to walk out the back, go up, walk to the midship elevators, ride back down and then walk back to the piano bar. That didn’t make a lot of sense to me. I was scratching my head over that one thinking, “Why didn’t they just reverse it? Have folks enter on the other side and come out this way.”


Now, I won’t ask if you would you go back on the Sunshine because I already know the answer to that.

Sunday … I am sailing her again this coming Sunday (March 19, 2014) and I’m really looking forward to it.


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