9 Chapters
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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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5 PREPPING FOR THE CRUISE

Aaron Saunders FrommerMedia ePub

5

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.

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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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7 THE CRUISE LINES: LUXURY SHIPS

Aaron Saunders FrommerMedia ePub

7

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.

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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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