At some point, a traveler is likely to consider the enticements of a cruise. For some, the lure is the relaxing rocking of the ocean’s waves or having the world’s most exotic locations brought straight to their cabin door.
For others, it’s the chance to save money on a floating hotel with just about everything – including multiple-course meals and, perhaps better, unlimited ice-cream cones – prepaid and included.
Some travel agents estimate that a cruise can save travelers up to 50 percent over the price of similar rooms, travel and meals paid for separately. Then again, on any other kind of trip, you probably wouldn’t stop in Belize for just a day.
Cruise itineraries are difficult to replicate on a land-based trip, and there are perks, such as free entertainment like dance shows and comedy acts. For instance, Norwegian Cruise Line recently showcased the Broadway show “Blue Man Group” onboard the ship Epic.
Over spring break, Patty and Matt Hart sailed from Miami through the Caribbean on the Norwegian Sky. They were sold by the chance to visit exciting places without the hassle of packing and unpacking with each new destination.
After comparing costs, Patty chose Norwegian, where she was able to get a free upgrade to a suite and was charged only $149 each for their children, Delaney, 5, and Marshall, 7. The suite had a king-sized bedroom, living room and wrap-around deck, and additional concierge and priority check-in services were included.
What really impressed the family was being able to rise in a different location each day. Patty said it was “a nice way to wake up” when she found herself in Nassau after falling asleep in Miami.
The Harts hoped to take advantage of every destination when they went to visit the Atlantis resort’s 63-acre water park called Aquaventure. Unfortunately, the facility wasn’t open, so the Harts stuck to the pools. Atlantis has a huge Mayan-themed pool and several shallow children’s pools, as well as a beach and nature lagoons with stingrays and turtles.
One benefit of being on a ship with more than 2,000 people is the chance to meet new friends. Marshall and Delaney joined in games, costume parades and contests at the Kids’ Club.
No one hopes for bad weather on a vacation, so the Harts were disappointed when it began to rain during a stop at a private island. However, while land-based getaways may come to a halt during a storm, cruises provide indoor activities to keep vacationers entertained. The Harts requested DVDs for the children, and the concierge brought the movies to the cabin.
Cruises are known for large amounts of food served buffet-style, but the freestyle dining exceeded Patty’s expectations. “They have a steak house, an Italian restaurant, a fine-dining restaurant, a French restaurant, plus a café,” she said.
“Overall, the convenience and service provided onboard compared to a visit to a luxurious, all-inclusive resort,” Patty said. However, “having a little more time to see Nassau itself would have been enjoyable.”
There is another option for those with a larger budget who want to control how much time they spend in any one location. To avoid the tourist rush and choose more secluded destinations, lifelong sailor Cece McCann and her husband, Mike, like to cruise on their 1,800-square-foot catamaran, Pas de Deux (“The Dance of Two”), based in the British Virgin Islands.
The couple and their daughter, Macey, 11, and twin boys Ford and Marshall, 9, have spent many vacations on the sea. When they can’t get away, they enjoy sailing in Galveston Bay on their smaller, 42-foot yacht.
“We all agree that our favorite memories were two magical snorkeling trips when we swam with a beautiful 5-foot sea turtle in Loblolly Bay, Anegada (in the British Virgin Islands), and a family of dolphins. We touched them and stayed with them for about 20 minutes in Great Harbour off Peter Island,” Cece said.
When the McCanns aren’t sailing, they charter out the Pas de Deux, which comes with an experienced British Royal Yacht master and a gourmet chef. Penny and Drew Grams have purchased several week-long vacations on the Pas de Deux at auctions benefitting West University parks.
“We start by staying on an island a day or two before. One year it was Caneel Bay/St. John and the second year Peter Island. Then the boat picks you up, and we set sail for seven wonderful days,” Penny said.
• Here are a couple of fares to give you an idea of cost. Recently, Cruisecheap.com was offering 15-day Mediterranean cruises with hotel and airfare for $1,699 per person (800-543-1915). SeaVents had a 7-night Caribbean cruise for $749 per person (713-721-4000 or e-mail (email@example.com) contact (at) seaventsworld (dot) com). Also see Affordable Cruises at cruises.affordabletours.com/.
• For more information about the private catamaran Pas de Deux, see www.charter-pasdedeux.com.
• Don’t want to fly? Royal Caribbean (www.royalcaribbean.com) and Carnival Cruise Lines (www.carnival.com) both have cruises departing from Galveston. Worried about your car? The San Luis Hotel in Galveston offers parking and a free shuttle ride to your ship after a one-night stay.
• Concerned about seasickness? The big ships rock very little, for the most part. The bigger concern may be the small boats used at ports for excursions. If you are prone to motion sickness, request a cabin toward the center of the ship, both lengthwise and vertically. It helps to start taking seasickness medicines like Dramamine, Bonine, prescription patches or antihistamines before departing. All big ships generally have medicines on board, and some even have acupuncture remedies. Ginger also is said to help.
• Check out the message boards at www.cruisecritic.com to get up-to-date reviews and meet other travelers on your ship before you travel. Especially helpful is the advice on shore excursions. Shore excursions offered by your ship often are larger and less personal than those offered by local companies at ports of call. A few hours of browsing the message boards will give travelers a good idea of which excursions to book.
“This trip allows you to slow life down and appreciate the little things,” said Penny, who especially enjoyed the ability to set the ship’s course.
Even though past trips have been made without the children, Penny said she wouldn’t hesitate to bring them onboard. Each trip has been so fabulous that Penny said she imagines Robin Leach from Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous to walk on board – not surprising when you realize that the fair market value for a week on the private catamaran is listed at $20,000.
A sense of adventure and a need for relaxation drove Frank Collura and Paula Brett to take off for Europe during the Thanksgiving holidays for the start of a trans-Atlantic cruise on the Celebrity Century.
Because they had cruised through the Panama Canal on the Celebrity Summit, a larger and newer ship, they knew the type of cabin they preferred and booked a room with a veranda and concierge-class service.
“For a little premium, they bring you canapés every afternoon, put a flower in a vase every afternoon and provide other extra service,” Frank said. “It was worth a $100 upgrade.”
After the first cruise, they joined Celebrity’s recognition program called The Captain’s Club and were invited to a cocktail party. “The more cruises you do, the higher level of the benefits,” Frank said.
A cruise’s shore excursions generally include water-based adventures like snorkeling, diving, kayaking or parasailing along with land activities like archeological tours, museum trips or whizzing across zip lines in the jungle.
Frank and Paula like to try different cuisines. “In a port of call, we would do a little research and find a nice place for lunch. Restaurants are generally less crowded, and the menu offerings are just as extensive and less expensive” as during dinner hours, he said. For dinner, they try to return to the ship.
In order to ensure a relaxing cruise, Frank and Paula try to vacation during the spring and fall seasons when there are fewer children onboard. Costs for off-season cruises are more affordable, too.
With any cruise, Frank recommends purchasing trip-interruption insurance “because you book it so far in advance, you don’t know what’s going to happen.” Most plans will cover unexpected disruptions, including injury, illness and weather.
When booking a cruise, it’s wise to consider what services you’ll require after the ship returns to port. Pre-arranged buses can require a lengthy wait, so Frank recommends choosing a cab.
To make the most of any cruise, Frank recommends travelers learn to “go with the flow,” starting as soon as they hear the call “All aboard!”
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