Tips to Keep Your Next Cruise Ship Shape
Looking for the ultimate escape far away from daily doldrums and demands? It’s time to run away to sea. According to the most recent Cruise Lines International Association Executive Summary, more than 50 million North Americans express a strong interest in cruising in the next three years. Keeping up with consumer demand between 2011 and 2015, 26 new vessels, ranging from oceangoing to riverboats, will join fleets sailing to more than 2,000 ports around the world.
Close to home, five Florida cruise ports and the Port of New Orleans offer destination diversity and added-value deals that are strong enticements to sail away.
Making the Best Cruise Match
There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to cruising. Cruising is all about choices. Ready to rock-around-the-clock or seeking serenity? Like to dress up or dress down? Tight travel budget or able to splurge? Choosing a destination, cruise line and cruise ship that matches personal style and budget is the first step to finding the best cruise.
It pays to do some homework. Visit cruise line websites and note which companies and ships offer appealing activities and entertainment choices. Read online cruise reviews. Ask frequent cruisers for recommendations. Surveys show that the majority of cruisers rely on the services of travel professionals.
Tammy McDaniel, owner of Tammy’s Journeys in Fort Walton Beach, has been in the travel industry for nearly 30 years. Her advice: “Create a wish list of what’s important to you and work with an experienced travel agent to sort through the myriad of choices for a dream cruise.” In addition to helping make the best cruise match, well-connected travel agents like McDaniel sometimes have access to deals not found online. They handle time-consuming logistics of booking flights, pre- or post-cruise hotel accommodations, rental cars and travel insurance. They also help clients decide where to cut corners and how to stretch travel budgets. And they often score perks, such as upgrades and onboard credits. Most important, McDaniel says, “We are in the client’s corner if something goes awry.”
Choosing Your Cruise
Destinations with lots of competition usually deliver the best deals. For example, the Caribbean and Alaska are top-ranking cruise destinations, and a wide variety of cruise lines offer highly competitive pricing. McDaniel recommends booking at least six months in advance for early-bird fares, the best cabin selection and travel arrangements. If the price drops prior to final payment, most cruise lines adjust the fare or provide onboard credits for the difference. It also pays to be flexible. Cruise fares vary significantly between high-season and off peak times. Delaying sailing by a few weeks may mean savings such as two-for-one fares.
Bhe Caribbean is the hottest cruise ship destination in the world. Luckily, itineraries are as diverse as the islands themselves. For smooth sailing, follow these Best Bets:
Avoid the hectic Miami International Airport and crowded Port of Miami where as many as 16 cruises are waiting to sail. Check out ports in Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Port Canaveral, New Orleans and Mobile, which (at press time) was finalizing an agreement with Carnival Cruise Lines.
Most cruises to Alaska depart from Vancouver, Canada or Seattle. Cruising Alaska treats travelers to some of Mother Nature’s finest gifts: majestic mountains, calving glaciers and icebergs. Follow these Best Bets to make the most of this cool cruise:
Splurge on a private balcony cabin or opt for a small ship cruise so you won’t miss any of the action. Book a cruise tour that includes travel by railway through Denali Park.
The South Pacific cruises are usually a week long and primarily circle the volcanic islands and coral atolls around Fiji or Tahiti. Hop on this Best Bet if you go to Hawaii:
Helicopter ride over the Kilauea volcano crater and the Road to Hana on Maui.
Surprising to many new cruisers, the least expensive cruise fare may actually cost more in the long run. In addition to airfare, onboard cruise costs add up fast. When comparing cruise costs, factor in the added value of all-inclusive amenities like free airfare, transfers, complimentary hotel nights, pre-paid gratuities, open bars and free shore excursions offered by upscale cruise lines.
If you are not cruising with an all-inclusive cruise line, plan ahead for these onboard a la carte charges not typically included in cruise fare:
- Cocktails, wine, beer, soft drinks and items in cabin mini bars. Look for discounted drink-of-the-day special each day. It is permissible to bring a bottle of wine or champagne on board; however cruise lines do not officially permit you to bring your own alcohol on board for consumption in your cabin. Some cruisers pack a bottle of their favorite liquor (wrapped securely against breakage or leakage) in checked luggage.
- Luxury spa and salon services. Watch for specials, especially on port days when many passengers go ashore and business is slow.
- Ship photographs are DVDs. A ship’s photographer is always around capturing cruise moments, including formal portrait sitting. There is no obligation to purchase photographs or a souvenir DVD.
Look Before You Book
The size and location of your stateroom has a huge impact on your cruise cost, not to mention how much you will enjoy it. Consider these factors when choosing a stateroom:
- Inside cabins are the least expensive. However, spending a little more for an ocean view or balcony cabin adds value to the overall cruise experience.
- Choose the highest affordable cabin category and request an upgrade if available. Travel agents who do a lot of business with a cruise line often get preferential upgrades for their clients.
- Do not leave your cabin assignment to chance. Consult a deck plan online for exact stateroom locations and request a specific room. Avoid cabins located below or above nightclubs, theaters or the gym. Avoid cabins across from laundry, housekeeping stations or next to elevators, or near the dining room.
- ROS stands for Run of Ship and means you pay for the lowest category cabin and could possibly receive an upgrade near sailing date. “Best Cabin Guarantee” means getting the best cabin available in a certain category rather than choosing a specific cabin. Choose a specific cabin rather than risk a disappointment in your cabin location.
Pack These Must-Haves
In addition to your cruise wardrobe, here are some additional items that will make for smooth sailing:
- Pack a crushable tote bag or backpack for excursions and explorations on shore. The bag is also an “overflow” bag at the end of the cruise for all the purchases made along the way.
- Zipper bags are helpful for organizing leaky prone liquid, sets of jewelry, maps and guidebooks, snacks and small personal toiletries for carry-on bags.
- Purchase a hanging cosmetic bag and stock it with prescription medications, personal hygiene items and over-the-counter medications for common complaints. Hang it on the back of the door to free up space in a tiny cabin bathroom.
- You never know when rain showers will pop up at sea and ashore, especially in the tropics. Don’t forget a small umbrella and disposable poncho.
- A pair of small of binoculars should never be far away for spotting whales, wildlife and coastal landmarks or viewing passing ships and the starlit sky.
- A travel journal will be your best souvenir when it comes to capturing and reliving cruise moments long after you are back on land.
- Small gifts that are representative of your hometown are a fun way to delight shipmates and show extra appreciation to crewmembers.