[ choosing a cruise ] [ when to book your cruise ] [ types and sizes of cruise ships ]
CHOOSING YOUR CRUISE
Cruises come in many sizes and styles. You need to consider what appeals to you; what places you'd like to visit, the passenger types with which you would like to spend time, and what accomodations you prefer. I emphasize there is a ship for EVERYONE-- not just the stereotypical "Love Boat" experience. If you have a special interest, many cruise lines offer themed cruises as well; wine, culinary, music, sports, etc. A cruise is also the ideal place to bring a group or family reunion. The rates will be lower with a group, it's all-inclusive, there are children's programs (also included) and each person can do as much activity or as little as they like. You also don't have to agree on the same place to eat, as there will be many dining choices on the same ship.
To help you sort out the hundreds of options, use a travel professional who specializes in cruises such as Kate Rosenfeld of Cruises By Kate. There is no point in buying a cruise directly off of the internet just because it was "cheap," and having a mediochre vacation because it wasn't what you expected. Travel consultants have access to the exact same pricing structures set by the cruise lines as the online drones, so why not get value for your dollar?
WHEN TO BOOK YOUR CRUISE
Early! As a rule, the earlier you book, the less expensive it will be. Don't gamble on last-minute discounts-- they have become much rarer these days. You have nothing to lose in booking as early as possible, to ensure the cabin type and location you prefer. During the high season the ships begin to fill nine months before the sailing date. Generally, you just leave a refundable deposit with the last payment due approximately two months before departure. If you book with Cruises By Kate, she will keep an eye out for any price reductions that may come along on your cruise after you have made your deposit. (Kate takes care of you from beginning to end!)
TYPES AND SIZES OF CRUISE SHIPS
These are probably what comes to mind first when thinking of a cruise. You have seen the ads-- mid-sized to large megaships from approximately 70,000 tons/1,200 passengers to 150,000 ton/3,600 passenger behemoths. These ships are a fantastic choice for families, reunions and groups. They are a destination in themselves! Some common features:
- Myriad of activities for all ages
- Extensive children's and teen programs
- multiple dining choices
- multiple bars
- multiple pools and jacuzzis
- fitness center and classes such as aerobics, yoga, etc.
- Broadway- or Las Vegas-style production shows
- shopping areas
- internet cafe
- Clinic and doctor onboard
- special features such as ice skating rinks, basketball, golf, rock climbing, and even real surfing wave pools.
Pros and Cons:
These big and beautiful ships have something for everyone, from toddlers to the elderly. You can always find a place to relax and "do nothing," or participate in activities from dawn until dusk. The newer ships do an incredible job of space utilization. Rarely am I aware of being on a ship with 2500+ other people. However, you may find the occassional long lines and crowding during check-in, departure, in buffet areas, the waiting area to go ashore, and deck chairs poolside. (You can always find a deck chair, but maybe not close to the pool.) Also, don't expect an intesive learning experience when visiting other countries. These cruises are meant to give a very limited "taste" of another culture. However, they do work especially well for people with trepidations of traveling overseas and first-time travelers.
If you demand high levels of service and have no objection to paying for a top quality, five-star experience, then this is the cruise for you! Luxury cruises can be found on smaller yacht-style ships to mid-sized ships of about 70,000 tons. All come with a crew who will pamper and cater to your every whim. Luxury lines offer cultural, sophisticated itineraries often with guest lecturers and artists presenting programs on the trip. These ships have some of the features of the megaships, but on a smaller scale. TYpically these include various dining venues, bars, pools, spa, and entertainment. (although not usually the elaborate Las Vegas style as on the mainstream lines.) The passenger makeup tends to be a bit older, well-educated and well-traveled.
Pros and Cons:
Prestige, amenities,and superb dining await you. Luxury lines are often more cost-inclusive than the mainstream cruises. (Sometimes you don't have to pay extra for alcohol, excursions, or tips.) The itineraries can be unusual and exotic. Because of their smaller size, they can offer ports not often visited by the large ships. There are limited if any children's programs, and very low-key activities offered. Be careful about the dress codes if you don't want to dress up for dinner every night. Some luxury lines do have a dress code, while others deem themselves more casual.
Are you searching for a "different" vacation? Have you "been there and done that?" Imagine waking up in China and walking right off your boat, tied directly to the town or city wall along the river. You spend your days with local guides showing you the wonders of their country, or explore on your own. How about taking a European Christmas river cruise, visiting the famous German Christmas markets taking place in villages across that country? If you want to stay closer to home-- steamboat up the Mississippi on the Delta Queen, or cruise up the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Riverboats are specially designed small ships with shallow drafts, able to navigate shallower waters. This enables one to visit the interior of a country instead of just the surrounding sea. Another benefit is that while in port, you will not be accompanied by hundreds of cruisers from other cruise ships in port that same day. Don't expect to find many of the amenities you would see on a large oceanliner, such as pool areas and multiple dining choices. Often you will have guest lecturers or entertainment geared towards the locations to which you visit, and very good food. Remember, the destinations and the unique ship are the main reasons for taking these kind of cruises. You will find a casual, friendly environment with a touch of elegance on most of the riverboat lines.
ADVENTURE and EXPEDITION CRUISES
For those of you looking for the antithesis of the typical "cruising experience" (i.e. visiting a commercialized port on a traditional cruiseship for sightseeing, shopping, sunbathing) there are cruises out there for you as well! On this type of cruise, passengers get involved in interactions with local culture or "up close and personal" with nature. You will typically visit wilderness areas, fjords, bays, and small ports. "Expedition" ships generally refer to those visiting Alaska, Antartica, Galapagos, and the ultra-exotic. The size of these ships are it's selling point and it's downfall, depending on who you talk to . Most of these hold around 100 passengers or much less. The ships are very comfortable but strictly functional, with none of the usual amenities you think of on a mainstream line. Naturalists and other educators come aboard to present onboard, with many of your fellow passengers interested in hiking, kayaking, wildlife and the like. Note that you will not necessarily have to be in top-notch shape for these cruises, as they are designed for a person in just average physical condition. Average age of passengers is around 55. These cruises are not for young children, and do not always have medical facilites.
Sometimes called "clipper" ships, these are true wind-powered sailing ships. The experience is always casual, although some of the newer sailing ships do have some amenities you would not normally expect to see on this type of adventure. The ships explore more exotic locales, fitting of the romantic image they project. Imagine dropping anchor off a remote Caribbean island, having a swim off the bow and beach all to yourself. These cruises are not activity or education heavy, but geared for relaxation and sheer novelty of the whole sailing experience. Passengers are active, intellectual professionals from many countries who enjoy a casual experience and mixing with fellow passengers.if you have a weak stomach it is advised you refrain from sailing ships, as they are not outfitted with stabilizers like the mainstream cruise lines.