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8 THE CRUISE LINES: RIVER CRUISING

Aaron Saunders FrommerMedia ePub

8

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.

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2 DIFFERENT TYPES OF CRUISERS

Aaron Saunders FrommerMedia ePub

2

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.

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9 THE CRUISE LINES: THE NICHE SHIPS

Aaron Saunders FrommerMedia ePub

9

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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6 THE MAINSTREAM LINES

Aaron Saunders FrommerMedia ePub

6

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.

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4 CRUISE DESTINATIONS

Aaron Saunders FrommerMedia ePub

4

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.

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