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Frommer's EasyGuide to Cruising

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When you take a cruise, choosing the right ship can make or break your vacation. And with the varieties of cruises and itineraries out there, making that decision is increasingly complex. This book will help you sort out what you need to know, quickly and easily. It contains:

-Fun to read, opinionated descriptions of each of the major cruise lines and, as importantly, their classes of ships
-Savvy tips on saving money, whether you’re booking a super-premium ship or a mainstream liner
-An overview of the major itineraries and cruise ports, so you can choose what’s best for you
-Helpful information on which cruises are best for families, people with disabilities and seniors

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1 CHOOSING THE RIGHT SHIP

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choosIng the right ship

Choosing a cruise is a complicated decision. You have to decide where in the world you want to go. Then, you have to figure out which line suits your taste as well as your budget, and then which of the ships within the line is the right fit for you (since they can vary greatly, even within the same cruise line).

So why is it such a hard decision? While you may think that the moment you decide to take a cruise is when you define your vacation, it’s really the moment when you pick your ship that determines the fate of your holiday. People tend to lump cruising together as one type of vacation, but cruise lines are as different from one another as hotel chains—usually even more so. Some lines are young and fun and loud and even a little messy; some are older and sophisticated with intellectual leanings or a posh and refined atmosphere; others are full of energy and designed for families with children of multiple ages. Choose the wrong ship and you’ve chosen the wrong vacation.

 

2 DIFFERENT TYPES OF CRUISERS

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Different Types of Cruisers

Choosing the ship that’s right for you has as much to do with whom you’re cruising with than anything else (and that includes traveling alone). This chapter covers the best options for families, romance-seekers, solos, groups, and travelers with disabilities. Read on.

Family Travel

Many parents take their kids with them on cruise vacations. The big ship lines have responded with youth counselors and supervised programs, fancy playrooms, teen centers, and even video-game rooms to keep kids entertained while their parents relax. Some lines even go so far as to offer special shore excursions and spa treatments for children and teens, and most ships provide additional evening activities and in-cabin babysitting (for an extra charge). You may even find reduced cruise fares for kids; MSC Cruises is famous for offering “kids-sail-free” promotions at certain times of the year.

And children certainly enjoy cruising. The largest ships have splash parks, water slides, game show-style activities, and character meet and greets as well as sea day brunches with costumed favorites. On land, there are often family-friendly activities (sometimes at ships’ private islands) such as beachcombing, trampoline parks, splash parks, water slides, zip-lines, and kid-friendly barbecues. Cruise vacations can be a hybrid of a resort, an amusement park, and a shopping mall, meaning plenty of entertainment for kids of all ages.

 

3 CHOOSING & BOOKING YOUR CRUISE

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Choosing & Booking Your Cruise

Cruise lines have detailed websites and brochures, or sometimes many different brochures—including e-brochures—full of beautiful glossy photos of beautiful glossy people enjoying fabulous vacations. They’re colorful! They’re gorgeous! They’re enticing! They’re also confusing in that they all blur together very quickly. Sadly, while the lines themselves are very different from one another, their marketing strategies are not.

This chapter is about comparing and contrasting, so you can pick the cruise that’s right for you. And about not getting taken, so you can feel good about your vacation costs.

If you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that picking the right cruise is a lot like buying a car: Any one will get you where you want to go, but there are some that will make you happier than others.

Questions to Ask Before You Book

When you look at the attributes of the various ships and itineraries to make your choice, some determining factors will be no-brainers. For instance, if you’re traveling with kids, you’ll want a ship with a good kids’ program. If you’re a foodie, you’ll want a ship with gourmet cuisine. If you usually stay at B&Bs when you travel, you’ll probably prefer one of the small ships.

 

4 CRUISE DESTINATIONS

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Cruise Destinations

In previous chapters, we’ve taken a look at the “who” and “what” of your cruise choices. Now it’s time to focus on the “when” and “where.” The next step in ensuring you’ll have a successful cruise vacation is to match your expectations to the right itinerary for you and your own personal travel preferences.

While some regions of the world—for example, equatorial regions where there’s less seasonal difference in the weather—offer cruises year-round, many others are traditionally limited to certain months of the year. If that’s where you know you want to go, you’ll have to plan in advance to clear time in that season. Conversely, if you only have certain time windows free, then we’ll help you identify the regions that are active in those time periods.

Once you’ve decided on the season and the region, we’ll clue you into the different travel experiences of various routes in that region. And finally, we’ll profile a number of major ports of call, and ports of embarkation, so that you can be sure that the itinerary you choose includes experiences you’ll enjoy.

 

5 PREPPING FOR THE CRUISE

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Prepping for the Cruise

Packing, budgeting, embarkation…oh my! There are a number of tasks you’ll need to accomplish before you can board the boat and start to relax. Here’s a quick rundown with our (hopefully) helpful tips, plus some info on shipboard customs, fees and scheduling that you’ll want to know well before your trip.

Packing for Your Cruise

The must-haves on any cruise include a raincoat, an umbrella, and comfortable walking shoes that you don’t mind getting wet. A swimsuit is also a must if your ship has a pool or hot. You’ll also want to pack enough outfits for daytime sightseeing and dinners in the evening.

Packing for Formal, Informal & Casual Events

Some people agonize over what to pack for a cruise, but there’s no reason to fret. Except for the addition of a formal night or two, a cruise vacation is really no different from any resort vacation. And in some cases, it’s much more casual so don’t feel you have to go out and buy “cruise wear.” Sweatshirts, jeans, and jogging outfits are the norm during the day. Dinner is dress-up time on most ships, but certainly not on all (and except on smaller vessels, there’s always somewhere you can just pick up a quick bite in shorts and a t-shirt). The small adventure-type ships are all casual, all the time.

 

6 THE MAINSTREAM LINES

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THE Mainstream Lines

Here’s where the rudder hits the road: It’s time to choose the ship that will be your home away from home on vacation. We’ll start with the cruise lines you know even if you’ve never set foot on one. They’re the ones with the catchy TV spots, glossy magazine spreads, and omnipresent website banner ads that make cruises seem like sheer paradise—and for many people, they really are.

Today’s mainstream ships are part theme park, part shopping mall, and part faux downtown entertainment and dining district, all packaged in a sleek hull with an oceanview resort perched on top. The biggest are really big: 14 stories tall, 1,000 feet long, with cabin space for between 2,000 and 5,000-plus passengers and a couple of thousand crewmembers. Most of the mainstream lines have spent the past 15 years pumping billions into ever-newer, bigger, and fancier ships. The newer the ship, the more whoopee you can expect: open-air boardwalk districts, bowling alleys, water parks, ice-skating rinks, outdoor movie theaters, surfing machines, giant spas, rock-climbing walls, full-size basketball courts, and virtual-reality golf, plus classics like hot tubs, theaters, water slides, and bars, bars, bars.

 

7 THE CRUISE LINES: LUXURY SHIPS

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The Cruise Lines: Luxury Ships

On luxury ships, elbow room is abundant and service is very personal. The onboard atmosphere is much like a private club, with guests trading tales over delicious meals that often rival what’s served in respected shore-side restaurants. And a full dinner can be served in your cabin, course-by-course if you like—how cool is that?

Instead of glitzy entertainment, you’ll likely find informative lectures and more sophisticated activities, like wine tastings or culinary classes. When it is offered, entertainment tends to be of a more personalized variety, favoring a handful of entertainers rather than Broadway-style production numbers. The ports are often the off-beat ones, mixed with the classics.

On the flip side, these types of sailings are sometimes not the best choice for families with children, unless those kids are able to keep themselves entertained without a lot of outside stimuli. With a few exceptions, you won’t find kids’ clubs or a daily schedule of children-focused activities the way you would on the mainstream ships.

 

8 THE CRUISE LINES: RIVER CRUISING

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The Cruise Lines: RIVER CRUISING

U nless you’ve been trapped under a rock recently—or missed Downton Abbey —chances are good you’ve seen one of Viking River Cruises snazzy television ads. They’re snappy, exciting, and surprisingly do an accurate job of showcasing what a river cruise through Europe is like.

But river cruising is neither new nor confined to Europe: Lines like CroisiEurope and Uniworld among others have been around for decades; and river cruising is now a tourism staple in many parts of the world from China and Southeast Asia to the United States, Egypt, the Amazon and, recently, India.

There are literally dozens and dozens of river cruise lines located around the world. But when most people think of river cruising, they picture sailing down the gorgeous Blue Danube. Spoiler alert: It’s really more of a muddy-brown color; chalk that up to a bit of wishful thinking on the part of Mr. Johann Strauss.

What’s not wishful thinking, however, is how enjoyable this type of vacation really is. The ships take you on the arteries that linked communities for centuries, meaning when you disembark you’re in the heart of a small town or city (often an important one), rather than having to get in from a (sometimes) distant port to see the sights, as you would on an ocean cruise.

 

9 THE CRUISE LINES: THE NICHE SHIPS

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The Cruise Lines: The NICHE ships

These are the least like what you might think a cruise would be like. Each has its own personality, from the Alaska Marine Highway System which is a bare-bones ferry service that happens to have cabins you can sleep in (on some ships), all the way to Lindblad Expeditions, which focuses on its educational program more than any other line, and Un-Cruise Adventures, whose ships feel like oversized yachts. The niches can differ greatly—and that’s their charm.

Alaska Marine Highway System

www.ferryalaska.com.  800/642-0066 or 907/465-3941.

In Alaska, which has fewer paved roads than virtually any other state, getting around can be a problem. In fact, some cities—like Juneau, the state capital—are not even connected to the rest of the state by roads. There are local airlines, of course, and small private planes—lots and lots of small private planes. (There are more private planes per capita in Alaska than in any other state.) But given the weather conditions for large parts of the year, airplanes are not always the most reliable way of getting from Point A to Point B.

 

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