Reasons to Splurge on a Royal Caribbean Cruise Balcony Stateroom

Reasons to Splurge on a Royal Caribbean Cruise Balcony Stateroom

A Balcony Stateroom on Royal Caribbean

There are countless reasons to splurge on a Royal Caribbean Cruise. While a balcony stateroom is an added cost, having a private, outdoor ocean view may be worth busting the budget.

Balcony Stateroom with Royal Caribbean

It’s true that you can enjoy the ocean air and beautiful vistas from public decks on the ship. And if your main goal is a cost-effective vacation, then that’s definitely how you should cruise. Plus, there are times that your stateroom accommodations won’t seem as important. For instance, when we sailed the Mediterranean, we were away from the ship for many hours on once-in-a-lifetime visits to exotic locales. When we returned to the ship, we were too darn tired to care that our ocean view was courtesy of a simple window.

If you plan to spend a lot of time on the ship and have some extra funds, I recommend trying a balcony stateroom. Let’s take a look at some of our balcony experiences aboard Royal Caribbean ships!

Afternoon Nap

Take an afternoon nap while listening to the ocean.

Royal Caribbean Balcony Stateroom. Fresh ocean air.

The sound of the ocean is conducive to afternoon naps.

Connecting Balconies

When traveling with extended family, we always have our cabin steward open the partition between our balconies. This gives us extra room to visit. When arriving or leaving a port, you’ll find us out here enjoying the view.

Stateroom balcony partitions can be opened to allow families to enjoy a larger balcony.

Connecting balconies are great for families!

Embarkation

It’s always interesting to watch the goings-on at a port while a ship is preparing to depart. We love to watch the late arrivals running to the ship. The last minute mad dashers always make us laugh.

Watching people return to Royal Caribbean ship.

Watching people return to the ship.

Enjoying Coffee While Docking

There’s something wonderful about watching the ship dock in a new port while drinking coffee from a stateroom balcony.

Morning coffee on stateroom's balcony on Royal Caribbean cruise.

Enjoy your coffee looking at the sea!

Passenger on Royal Caribbean enjoys coffee on outdoor balcony while heading into a new port.

More coffee time while heading into port.

Morning Sunrise

Watching the sun rise with an entire day of vacation ahead is exhilarating.

A morning sunrise while cruising into port.

Good morning!

Read a Book

Retreat to your balcony and read a book. This is a lovely pastime before heading to dinner at Windjammer or Chops Grille!

There's plenty of time to read a book while cruising at sea.

Read a book

Ships

Yes, occasionally you’ll see other ships in the distance.

Watch for other ships from the comfort of our balcony on a Royal Caribbean ship.

A ship in the distance

Take Pictures

From the comfort of your private balcony, take beautiful photos of your Ports of Call.

From the Royal Caribbean's Jewel, a passenger enjoys the beautiful Mexican port view.

Enjoy a beautiful view while in port

Waving to Other Cruisers

Go ahead and wave! It’s fun to wave hello (and goodbye) to passengers on other ships. It’s as if you haven’t seen civilization in oh, a day or so.

Royal Caribbean and Celebrity ships docking next to each other. Passengers waving hello.

Waving to passengers on a Celebrity ship.

We really make use of our balcony and find the added expense worth it for us. Morning, afternoon, and evening — the ambiance is truly special. It’s the first place I venture to in the morning and the last in the evening. Watching the moonlight dance across the ocean just before going to bed is quite magical. And then there’s the ocean air that revives the soul. Priceless.

These are just some of the reasons that we love to splurge on a balcony. We’ve sailed on Independence, Freedom, and Jewel. In January 2017, we spent our 25th anniversary aboard Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas in a Grand Suite. We loved it so much, we returned with family in June 2017!

Have you sailed on Royal Caribbean? What’s your cruise line and stateroom of choice?

Top Five Reasons to Cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas

Top Five Reasons to Cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas

Top Five Reasons to Cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas

We recently sailed aboard the Oasis of the Seas with Royal Caribbean International. If you’ve sailed on smaller ships with any cruise line, you’ll be amazed with the plethora of entertainment and dining options aboard the Oasis and Quantum class ships.

Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas

After last year’s Spring Break sailing with our family on the Freedom of the Seas in a balcony stateroom, we quickly booked the Oasis for our 25th anniversary celebration in January 2017. We had contemplated various destinations, including European, for our getaway but opted for a relaxing cruise in a Grand Suite.

Grand Suite Oasis

Grand Suite

We counted down the months until our Oasis sailing anticipating a restful vacation. And yes, we rested, relaxed, and left our cares ashore in Cape Canaveral. Surprisingly, we also got caught up in many of the activities offered on board this unique ship.

Beach Pool Chairs Oasis Royal Caribbean

Lounge Chairs at Beach Pool on Oasis

Here’s five reasons to book your next cruise on the Oasis:

Dining

On this voyage, we ate in the main dining room, Coastal Kitchen (for suite and Pinnacle guests), Johnny Rockets, Chops Grille, Park Cafe, Windjammer, and more. The variety of dining options provided an extra element to our vacation that made it seem like we were vacationing in a city such as Las Vegas rather than on a Caribbean-bound ship.

Chops Grille Oasis

Chops Grille

The good news – I had lost some pounds before our trip. The bad news – I gained half of it back via cheese omelets, French toast, croissants, cookies, ice cream, and delicious dinners. Oh, there were specialty drinks too; my favorites were the Lava Flow and Strawberry Daiquiri.

Adult Activities

Another aspect of the trip that was a pleasant surprise — the endless activities offered for adults. From sunup to sundown, we used our orange highlighter to mark the offerings on our Cruise Compass that we found interesting. Of course, we didn’t get to half of them; we still had in mind that this trip was for rejuvenating, preferably while reading a great book.

Oasis Breakfast

Breakfast and a good book to start the day!

The activities that we went to were all enjoyable. Some of these included Geography Trivia, Captain’s Corner, and the Majority Rules Game Show (our team of 4 won!).

Oasis Captain's Corner

Also, we spent time in the Suite Lounge where complimentary beverages were available.

Reserved Shows

As suite guests, we did not have to reserve entertainment times except for the adult comedy show due to the small venue, Comedy Live. Coming soon: we’ll share the benefits of being a suite guest!

The shows that are able to be reserved are offered throughout the week and easily reserved via Royal Caribbean’s Cruise Planner. We loved Oasis of Dreams, the diving show in the Aqua Theater located in the Boardwalk neighborhood. The combination of the outdoor venue, unique setting, and talented performers made for an entertaining performance.

Oasis Aqua Theater

Oasis Aqua Theater

Another favorite was the Frozen in Time ice skating spectacular in Studio B located in the Entertainment Place neighborhood. Growing up, I spent countless hours in a skating rink and can truly appreciate the difficulty of skating aboard a moving ship on a small ice surface.

Shopping

I love to shop. Browse, buy, browse, browse, buy. It’s all good. 😉

Kate Spade store

Kate Spade store

While the weekly purse sale was a madhouse of women trying to snag a deal on designer bags (with one young man filming the chaos for his own amusement… LOL), it was fun to scoop up a deal on a Michael Kors purse.

Michael had fun picking out a Citizen watch.

Oasis of the Seas shopping

Shopping the Sales

Of course, we also got souvenirs (shirts, for example) and gifts for those we left at home. New cologne for the teen! Browsing through Tiffany, Kate Spade, and other stores was a pastime that added extra fun (and a little bit of exercise, right?!) to our cruise.

Solarium, Central Park, and Entertainment Place

After previously sailing on Freedom class ships and Jewel of the Seas, we were already fond of the solarium available to passengers ages 16 and older (previously 18+) due to the quiet space with cozy seating.

On Oasis, the Solarium is a double-deck hideaway with a variety of seating arrangements and cozy nooks for reading, socializing, and staring at the sea. One evening we went to a dance party, Twenty by Absolut, on the upper deck (Deck 16, Solarium Bar) of the Solarium. SeaPass cards were scanned for admittance. (If you know what the age limit is for this party, please let us know in the comments below!)

Solarium Oasis of the Seas

Relax in the Solarium

Central Park is an outdoor space with meandering pathways, tropical plants, romantic lighting, soothing cricket sounds, and lovely music.

Finally, Entertainment Place is home to fun venues such as Casino Royale, Jazz on 4, Comedy Live, Blaze, and Studio B.

Oasis Entertainment Place

Entertainment Place

Bon Voyage!

What’s your favorite cruise ship? Let us know in the comments below!


Five Favorite Victorian Themed Hotels in the United States

Five Favorite Victorian Themed Hotels in the United States

Five Favorite Victorian Themed Hotels in the United States

I‘ve always loved the ambiance of Victorian themed hotels. Maybe it’s the white balustrades or the ornate fixtures. Whatever the allure, the time-honored interior designs of this era have inspired many of our vacations.

Victorian Themed Hotels

Boardwalk Plaza Hotel

Nestled on the shore at Rehoboth Beach in Delaware, the Boardwalk Plaza exudes elegance at its beachfront property. The oceanfront suites have gorgeous views of the Atlantic ocean. Room service breakfast served in our “parlor” was always a highlight of past visits.

Boardwalk Plaza Rehoboth Beach Delaware

Boardwalk Plaza

Prince of Wales Hotel

Escape to a bygone era in the charming town of Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario, Canada. For a romantic getaway, select an elegantly appointed suite. Prince of Wales Hotel is centrally located to boutiques and restaurants.

Prince of Wales is one of my favorite Victorian themed hotels.

Suite at Prince of Wales.

Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

The Grand Floridian is a favorite Victorian themed hotel of mine. In fact, this is probably my favorite hotel anywhere. Part of the reason for my great adoration is that this is where Michael and I honeymooned, celebrated our tenth anniversary vow renewal, and have spent many other occasions such as my birthday. Plus, I just love Walt Disney World. You might be surprised to hear that WDW has some romantic lodgings.

Disney's Grand Floridian Vow Renewal

Celebrating our Vow Renewal at Disney’s Grand Floridian.

From afternoon tea to dinners at Narcoossee’s, the genteel atmosphere is unforgettable. Even when we aren’t staying as guests of the GF, we almost always make a stop here to soak up the atmosphere.

Hotel del Coronado

Since the Grand Floridian was partially designed with the Hotel del Coronado in mind, this Coronado, California gem steals my heart too. Choose lodging in the Victorian building or in one of the contemporary rooms.

Hotel del Coronado California

Stay in the Victorian building!

Doesn’t this view look familiar? It’s like stepping out of the Grand Floridian!

Hotel del Coronado is a Victorian Themed Hotel

Grand Floridian fans will notice the similarities to Hotel del Coronado.

Dunes Manor Hotel

The Dunes Manor presents seashore charm that I find extremely endearing. One block off of the boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland, this hotel embraces the Victorian era.

I would return to any of the above hotels for another stay. Plus, Victorian themed hotels like The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island are on my travel bucket list

To enhance your vacation options, stay tuned to The Castle Concierge for more in-depth reviews.

Victorian hotels are one of our favorite types of lodging to seek out. Help us find more!

Do you have a favorite Victorian themed hotel?

UFOs and Starry Skies: A Themed Vacation Itinerary

UFOs and Starry Skies: A Themed Vacation Itinerary

UFOs and Starry Skies: A Themed Vacation Itinerary in Texas and New Mexico

UFOs and Starry Skies is a fascinating itinerary that was part of our 5,000 mile southwest trip. Yet, it’s easily adaptable to add on to a long vacation or for a shorter road trip. Traveling through Texas and New Mexico, you’ll get to see the mysterious Marfa Lights, attend a Star Party at McDonald Observatory, explore the UFO phenomenon in Roswell, climb White Sands, and continue to feel very small next to the Very Large Array.

UFOs and Starry Skies

To accompany this itinerary, stay tuned to The Castle Concierge for more in-depth reviews.

Read on for an itinerary with optional stops to add to your aliens and starry skies exploration.

Pre-Trip To-Do List

Your pre-trip to-do list for your UFOs and Starry Skies vacation gives you an idea of some of the logistics that will need to be addressed before setting out on the open road.

  • Book a hotel in Alpine, Texas, Roswell, New Mexico, and Las Cruces, New Mexico.
  • Reserve the Star Party at McDonald Observatory, 3640 Dark Sky Drive, Fort Davis, TX 79734.
  • Look up sunset time for Fort Davis, TX.
  • Reserve a Roswell UFO Tour with Dennis Balthaser.
  • Reserve hotels, if needed, before and after this itinerary.

Begin the Road Trip

Day 1
Drive to Alpine, Texas.
We made the 5 hour journey from San Antonio, departing around Noon and arrive about 5PM. Plan your trip according to your starting point!

Road from Alpine to San Antonia Texas

On Road to Alpine from San Antonio, Texas.

Note that this town has limited lodging and dining options (Pizza Hut, Subway, McDonald’s, Dairy Queen), so consider making reservations early.

It’s going to be a late night so we recommend resting at your hotel (we stayed at the Hampton) until it’s time to travel to the McDonald Observatory, which is 50 minutes away from Alpine.

Frank N. Bash Visitors Center McDonald Observatory

Arriving before sunset at Frank N. Bash Visitors Center at McDonald Observatory.

Depending on the time of year that you are visiting, you may be able to see the Marfa Lights at dusk, followed by the Star Party. Since we were visiting in May, we went to the Star Party first (9:30-11:30PM), then stopped at the Marfa Lights in the late evening.

For reference: Marfa to McDonald Observatory is 45 minutes. Alpine, Texas to Marfa is 22 minutes.

McDonald Observatory

The scenery along the way to the McDonald Observatory was beautiful. We left before sunset and were there with plenty of time to explore the Visitor’s Center, have a snack, and watch the sunset (8:49PM, during our visit).

Due to the elevation of 6,700 feet above sea level atop Mount Locke and the dark skies, McDonald Observatory is a great location for viewing the starry skies.

McDonald Observatory Star Party

See the stars at McDonald Observatory.

Unfortunately on our night, the skies were cloudy. The Observatory added extra lectures and were able to point out some stars. We were also able to view several planets through the telescopes. Best of all, I saw a shooting star!

Marfa Lights

Marfa, Texas is known for the mysterious lights that appear on clear nights.

The dark drive down the mountain, plus the added anticipation of seeing the mystery lights definitely gave us a spine-chilling ride. We located the Marfa Lights viewing center and parked our car in the pitch darkness. As late as it was, we were not the only ones making the stop. There were some people already there (locals and tourists) as well as people coming and going while we were there.

UFOs and starry skies travel theme

As instructed we gazed into the blackness toward the Chinati Mountains and some locals told us where to focus our attention. At first, we didn’t see much of anything but we heard cows grazing nearby. And then it happened, a light flickering. Another one bouncing. Two or more lights would appear seeming to hover and then dance.

What are the lights? I don’t know. Are they headlights? I can’t say. I do know that the feeling of being out there in the dark between Marfa and Paisano Pass was other-worldly. And, I’m glad we made the stop.

We certainly had a lot to chat about on the ride back to the hotel! In fact, we still talk about that entire evening. Amazing!

Day 2

Roswell

We had pre-booked the Holiday Inn in Roswell, New Mexico. While there are more accommodations here, you’ll still find that your options are limited compared to other touristy stops.

Since we were out late star-gazing and looking at mysterious lights, we slept in. Departing by 10AM, we were in Roswell by 2PM. The four hour drive is quite desolate so plan accordingly.

Road to Roswell New Mexico from Alpine Texas

Prepare for your road trip before heading out on the desolate roads.

After checking into our hotel, we decided to rest and then go out to dinner. We had underestimated how tired we would be from the previous late night. If you arrive with energy, I would recommend touring the UFO Museum (allow one hour).

Day 3

Meeting us in our hotel lobby, Dennis Balthaser picked us up for our pre-arranged private Roswell UFO Tour. We spent from 9-11AM riding around Roswell in his vehicle. There wasn’t a single boring minute. He kept us completely captivated with accounts of the alleged UFO crash. It was extremely interesting to how this event affected the town of Roswell and its people.

Hangar 84 Roswell New Mexico on our UFOs and Starry Skies Road Trip

Hangar 84 in Roswell, New Mexico. Were alien bodies and debris kept here before being flown elsewhere?

After the tour, we had lunch, then spent an hour at the UFO Museum.

White Sands National Monument

Begin your two-hour drive to White Sands National Monument. The other-worldy landscapes glistening with white gypsum sand are stunning.

White Sands National Monument

Glistening white sand!

Continue to Las Cruces where you’ll spend the night before continuing your itinerary. An optional morning stop at White Sands Missile Range Museum makes for a fascinating tour surrounded by gorgeous scenery. Be sure to have photo ID to enter the gates.

White Sands Missile Range Park

White Sands Missile Range Park has an impressive display.

Day 4

Very Large Array

Plan to drive to the Karl G Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) located on the San Agustin Plains. This drive to 7,000 feet above sea level is also rather isolated so be sure to gas up, get food, and stop for breaks when you are near civilization. Fifty miles west of Socorro, New Mexico, this astronomical radio observatory is made up of 27 radio antennas (each 82 feet in diameter).

Very Large Array from Road

Very Large Array from Road. Wow!

A video presentation (Jodie Foster from Contact narrates) and self-guided tour will take about 1.5 hours from the small VLA Visitor Center.

Very Large Array Antenna

Standing next to one of the antenna at the VLA.

For sci-fi fans, the VLA is iconic. Stop here and try to take in some of the mind-boggling science!

Very Large Array Antenna

Very Large Array Antenna focuses on the science of black holes and more!

Post-Itinerary options:

Drive to Meteor Crater near Winslow, Arizona and/or Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. Due to a travel delay, we had to skip Meteor Crater and drove right to Flagstaff.

One of our favorite itineraries, the UFOs and Starry Skies theme was a highlight of our summer trip.

Are you ready to set out on a UFO and Starry Skies adventure?

Roswell, New Mexico: UFO Tour and Kitschy Close Encounters

Roswell, New Mexico: UFO Tour and Kitschy Close Encounters

Roswell, New Mexico: Southwest Road Trip Overnight Stop

During the summer of 2016, our family took an extended road trip through the southwestern portion of the United States. An exciting journey that allowed us to check off several destination-related bucket list items, including a stop in Roswell, New Mexico.

Aliens and UFOs in Roswell New Mexico.

Visiting and touring the area surrounding Roswell, New Mexico has been a bucket list item of mine for decades. The events that allegedly occurred at Roswell shortly after the end of the second World War have always intrigued me. As a sci-fi/fantasy fan, I also have a related interest in the history of the phenomenon of UFO sightings. Luckily, both my wife and my son share this interest. Our road trip was the perfect opportunity to make the pilgrimage.

Roswell Highway Driving the Roswell Highway

Part of the mystique of Roswell is due to its remote location.

Roswell Highway Road to Roswell

New Mexico History

Regardless of your interest or level of skepticism related to such topics, it cannot be denied that Roswell, New Mexico holds a significant place mark in the history of post World War II America and has influenced aspects of our culture for decades.

Fat Man Bomb Casing Fat Man Bomb Casing at White Sands Missile Range

New Mexico, in general, surprised me by both its beauty and the wide-ranging cultural influences it holds. Undeniably, one of those cultural influences is the importance it played during the last half of World War II and in the infancy of the Cold War.

After 20 months of development, the world’s first atomic bomb was detonated 200 miles south of Los Alamos at Trinity Site on the Alamogordo bombing range on July 16, 1945.

Trinitite Trinitite – debris from Trinity Site on display at White Sands Missile Range

Today, New Mexico continues to harbor a significant military presence at the White Sands Missile Range.

Kitschy Close Encounters

Visiting Roswell can include experiencing its quirkier side, such as the dozens of green alien figures of various sizes decorating businesses throughout the area.

Roswell New Mexico Alien Alien take-over in Roswell

The International UFO Museum And Research Center is located in Roswell and is an informative place for those desiring to dive deeply into the specifics of the 1947 incident at Roswell as well as for those who are simply curious.

UFO Museum UFO Museum

Additional UFO and alien theories, as well as the expected tourist trappings of T-shirts, books, and other paraphernalia, can be found at the museum.

Close Encounter Kitschy Close Encounter at UFO Museum

We spent about an hour or so pouring through some of the more detailed exhibits related to the supposed UFO crash. The museum is definitely worth visiting while in Roswell in order to get a more intimate view of the cultural impact the incident in 1947 has had on the town.

UFO Museum Exhibit Exhibit at UFO Museum

UFO Tour

The primary purpose of a more serious visit to Roswell should include a plan to visit several of the actual locations integral to the Roswell incident. While you could surely work to do this on your own, we found it advantageous to have assistance in not only finding the locations, but in explaining the importance of each place within the context of the Roswell story.

Fortunately, there are several options for guided tours of the Roswell area. Researching months in advance of our visit, my wife came across solid reviews related to the tours provided by Dennis Balthaser.

Ballard Funeral Home Ballard Funeral Home in Roswell

The experience we had with Dennis was fantastic. He picked us up at a designated time in our hotel lobby, and then spent the next several hours driving us around Roswell showing us the specific locations and detailing the events that transpired before, during, and after the incident at Roswell.

Dennis is widely considered to be an expert on the incident at Roswell and has developed a significant resume of research and presentation on the topic.

Roswell International Air Center Driving onto the Roswell International Air Center

The tour included numerous stops and drive by locations: drive by of rocket scientist Robert Goddard workshop; drive by former homes of Intelligence Officer Major Jesse Marcel, and Public Relations Officer Walter Haut; current City Hall (Roswell Police Station in 1947), and more.

Most exciting, was driving onto the Roswell Industrial Air Park, known as the Roswell Army Airfield in 1947, to see Hangar 84 where “bodies and debris” were briefly stored before being shipped elsewhere.

Hangar 84 Hangar 84

Dennis Balthaser

Dennis was extremely courteous and knowledgeable throughout the entire tour. His tour allowed us to gain a much better understanding and appreciation of the events. Not only was he able to provide us with fascinating information that was new to us, he demonstrated an interest in why we wanted to visit.

Clearly, Dennis has found his passion and was able to share that with us in an accessible manner. I would strongly recommend his tour for anyone interested in diving deeper into the incident at Roswell. We took the private tour for up to 4 people. With Dennis doing the driving and unfolding the story in chronological chunks, we were able to really absorb the scenery and mind-boggling information.

1947 Roswell Dennis Balthaser shows us a 1947 photo. Original water tower still stands.

Bucket List

Our visit to Roswell was extremely satisfying. We were able to appreciate the importance of the event while gaining additional perspectives on what may or may not have happened.

This overnight stop on our 5,000 mile trip gave us lots to discuss and think about!

Von Braun and Roswell Von Braun Exhibit

Plus, Bucket List item checked!

Roswell New Mexico Road Trip Overnight Stop.

What U.S. destination is on your bucket list? Let us know in the comments!

Prepping for a College Visit: Tips for Parents and Students

Prepping for a College Visit: Tips for Parents and Students

College Visit Preparations: How to Plan a Campus Tour

Why Visit?

After touring a few universities you’ll find that visits are indeed helpful. During your college visit, consider that this is the campus environment and local area where your child will be living for the next 4+ years. And if there are job opportunities in the area, this relocation could be an even longer commitment.

College Visit

You’ll need to discover if a small, medium, or large campus is most suitable. Is a city or suburban campus the best fit? If the locale is of little importance, then you’ll have even more options open to you. More tours, oh my!

Campus visits can be an all-day event or a quick one hour tour. Consider whether you want to take a formal tour through the Admissions office and/or an Academic Department or a self-guided tour. Both have their pros and cons. In fact, for those colleges that remain top on your student’s list, I would recommend both.

Formal Visits

A formal visit will typically involve setting up an appointment via the college’s website and possibly setting up a more detailed visit to the academic department of your child’s intended major.

Formal visits are usually lengthy with a set schedule. Your day could include checking in at the Admissions Office or Welcome Center, a presentation about the school, a general tour given by student ambassadors, lunch in the dining hall or food court, a visit to an empty classroom, a tour through a staged dorm room, a session on financial aid, and more.

Visitor Center at University of Tennessee at Knoxville

A formal visit may involve touring with a large group of students in varied majors or a small group of students hoping to pursue the same course of study.

Event Days

Consider college tours versus larger preview days. Preview days are usually large events sponsored by the school during which you’ll get to tour the campus, sit in on presentations, visit a club fair, and/or see a sporting event. These are campus wide events rather than smaller Admissions Office gatherings. Both are beneficial, although I find the larger events to be a bit more time-consuming and stress-inducing. These larger events however are often planned on weekends rather than weekdays making them possibly an easier fit in your calendar.

Meeting with an Academic Department

You’ll need to set up an appointment with the academic department of interest in advance.

If your visit includes meeting with an academic department, then this is where you’ll want to really take notes. What are the criteria for admissions? Does the school support internships and co-ops? How soon will the student begin taking classes in their major interest of study? What projects are required to be completed during senior year? Do they offer scholarships? Are there first-year class requirements that must be met before a student is admitted into the major?

Engineering Building at Purdue

Will your child be spending a large amount of time in a computer lab, engineering lab, theater, or music room? If so, ask to see that space. If the engineering labs are in an old part of the campus, deep within a tired engineering building, then perhaps the school isn’t putting funds toward that particular curriculum.

Self-Guided Tours and Summer Camps

On the day of your formal tour, I would suggest leaving at least an hour free to spend some time exploring the campus on your own. Visit the bookstore, sit down in the food court and observe students, ask a student some questions. Ask what popular restaurants are within walking distance of campus and have dinner there. You’ll see the prettiest areas on your guided tour but may notice some less than stellar sights roaming on your own. Then again, you may find even more to love as you explore!

We’ve received extremely helpful information from current students participating in our son’s intended major as well as from students in marching band. Ask about the activities that interest your child.

Marching Band Visit at Old Dominion University

Look for summer camps and other ways to spend more time on the campus that most interests your student. For one of Nic’s top school choices, we returned to roam the campus on our own. Consider participating in a summer camp at one of the colleges. A stay in the dorms and more time spent with the students and professors before applying? Yes, please!

Dream School

You’ll often hear talk of a dream school. Is it the one with the best ranking nationally? The best ranking for a certain course of study? A local school with a great football team? An inspiring campus with beautiful buildings? A campus with a plethora of dining options? The party school? The Ivy school? The school with the fantastic hotel-like dorms and outdoor swimming pool? A dream school has a different meaning to each student. Maybe it’s a family member’s alma mater. Your family may require several visits to this school to determine whether it really lives up to expectations or whether it falls flat in some unexpected ways. Then again, a one time visit may result in that dream school sticking and that’s exciting!

Contact Admissions for your college visit

Visit Preparation

Ideally, parents and/or your student should review college materials that have already been mailed or picked up at college fairs. We devised a question sheet before our first college fair and it’s been amazingly helpful throughout our chats with Admissions, College Deans, Professors, and students.

Many colleges have virtual tours on their websites. We like to watch these together on our big screen TV, if time permits.

Confirm start times and locations. On our first college visit, we forgot that we were traveling from the Central time zone to the Eastern time zone. While we left with plenty of time to make up for this error, we then ran into traffic. After a detour, we finally arrived on time but the mad dash stressed us all out and wasn’t a good way to start a long day. Learn from our mistake!

Get a map and directions!

College campuses can also be large and sometimes their layouts are confusing. Consult a college map prior to your arrival. Know where the parking lot for visitors is located and how far it is from your tour’s starting point.

Decide before your visit if you would like to set up a chat with a coach, marching band director, or other person who may be important to your overall college experience.

When to Visit

Try to schedule a visit while the college is in session. Some campuses don’t even give regularly scheduled tours during the summer months. You’ll need to visit during a high school break that doesn’t conflict with the college’s schedule. And this is why you should absolutely start touring colleges early!

Common Data Sets

We do recommend creating a spreadsheet to compare schools. Student body size? Campus size? Number applied? Number accepted? Number enrolled? How many students join a fraternity or sorority? How many men vs women are on the campus? What’s the average ACT or GPA score of accepted students? Is an interview part of the admissions process? How many students live on campus or are from out of state? Do they have a jazz band, newspaper, or other club of interest?

All of these questions can be easily answered with a quick Google search for common data sets. For example, “Auburn University common data set”. Insert the name of each school and voila! Instant data!

Day of Visit

Eat a good breakfast. It may be a long time before you can sit down for nourishment. Some colleges put out a spread of breakfast food, others provide a bottle of water and a meal ticket for later in the day. With lots of walking, sometimes in all kinds of weather, you’ll want to be fortified.

Speaking of weather, check the forecast. We’ve been caught in a downpour. We’ve toured in extreme heat. Bring extra water, even though schools usually have bottles available.

Bring a notebook. We like to sit down with Nic during lunch or immediately after a college visit and ask him his immediate impressions. He may note that he liked or didn’t like the dorms. He’ll give us his thoughts on the engineering facilities. Any random observation that he can look back on to help with his decision is jotted down quickly. Some of these details will be difficult to recall after you’ve visited several campuses, so you’ll appreciate being able to refer back to them.

Welcome Presentation

Wear comfortable clothing and shoes. Even if the campus is large enough to supply a bus, van, or trolley transportation for part of the tour, you will still be walking and standing on your feet a lot.

Should You Visit Every School of Interest?

It depends. Does time and budget permit? Do you really want your child to see that high reach school before you know if he/she is accepted?

Stats to Look Up

Make the Most of Your College Visit

As an investment in your child’s future, be sure to go on college visits, ask questions, and help guide your child to find the right fit for them.

Out of State College Tour

Is the school with the best ranking, newest buildings, and/or coziest dorms the top pick for your child? Does the school closest or farthest from home appeal more? Is the university with the most costly tuition (or the one offering academic merit scholarships covering the full price of tuition) the best choice?

We don’t have the answers to those questions. What we are concluding is that the best fit for our child will be unique from what the best fit is for yours. There’s not a single path to success. Help your child set their own course with a college visit!

Update: Nic applied to 7 schools. He was accepted to six (Florida Institute of Technology, Purdue, University of TN at Knoxville, University of Alabama at Huntsville, Ohio State, and Auburn University). After careful consideration, Nic has chosen his college path. He’ll be attending Auburn University, Auburn, AL.

College Visits Theme Travel

Now, it’s your turn to help us on our journey to college. Tell us how many colleges your child visited and what was the criteria that led them to pick their school. Or just give us your most helpful tips and advice!