Cruise Vacations for Mature Travelersby Kerry Smith
If you're one of the more than five million people who will go on a cruise vacation this year, you may be wondering how to choose between the many cruise lines, ships, and destinations that are available. You may be looking for a cruise geared towards adults, one where both you and the grandkids can have fun, or a cruise on which singles are catered to as much as… See more details below
If you're one of the more than five million people who will go on a cruise vacation this year, you may be wondering how to choose between the many cruise lines, ships, and destinations that are available. You may be looking for a cruise geared towards adults, one where both you and the grandkids can have fun, or a cruise on which singles are catered to as much as couples. The key to great vacation is knowing what you need in one convenient place.
Looking for an Alaskan cruise in an intimate, Old World-style ship, or a huge ocean liner that can keep all ages happy during a Caribbean family reunion? Cruise Vacations for Mature Travelers helps you, the traveler, determine what kind of cruise experience fits your personality and then tells you how to find it, describing every cruise line and detailing their fleets, ship by ship, so you can choose the perfect vacation! The book also includes tips on budgeting your trip, as well as the options for booking through travel agents, directly with the company, or online. It even helps you choose the best time to travel and the most comfortable cabins.
A cruise vacation is an adventure. Make the most of it with Cruise Vacations for Mature Travelers!
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Cruise Vacations for Mature Travelers
By Kerry Smith
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2001 Kerry Smith
All rights reserved.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Before you pick up a brochure, study a port of call, or ring up Aunt Min to tell her you're going on a cruise, decide what you expect from the experience. It sounds basic and a bit like psychoanalysis, but cruising has changed in the past fifty years and no longer resembles pre-World War II sea travel. What you expect from the vacation and what you get may be worlds apart.
RESORT OR SEA EXPERIENCE?
Do you want to visit a resort or be one with the sea? On some ships — the ones most people choose — cruisers notice that there's an ocean outside the window on their walk from dinner to the 8:00 P.M. show; but otherwise, the ocean is unimportant. On other cruises, however, vacationers can steer the ship or swab the deck. Still other ships offer a combination of both worlds.
Many first-time cruisers expect traditional nautical decor such as wooden decks, brass handrails, and a spot where you feel ocean breezes, smell salt air, and watch the sun dip below the far horizon. While tradition can still be found, don't expect it on the mammoth newer ships. Atriums now extend from bottom to top decks; color schemes run from rich greens and browns to electric magentas and pinks. Casinos speak in neon, spas massage flesh, cigar bars fill up, and shops push Rolexes. The ocean is still out there. Somewhere. The cruise experience, however, is a palate of colors, social activities, and ports of call.
"I'M NOT A CRUISE-TYPE PERSON"
Most of today's cruise ships are, in reality, those resorts that just happen to float, and that's what most people want. For some, it's a camp for big kids, and they fill their days with scheduled activities. It bears a striking resemblance to other family vacations, but without the stress of planning and paying as you go.
Compare a cruise vacation to a self-guided road trip where travelers pick a destination, map out a route, decide when to arrive, and guess how long it will take to get there. They pencil in time for breaks and, when finished, tell their spouse to be ready to leave by 6:30 A.M. The couple must constantly reach agreement on when to eat, what to do, and how to handle the car's ping-ping sound as they endure hours of monotonous drive time.
On a cruise, someone else worries about the details. Passengers scan a smorgasbord of activities, pick those they like and ignore those they don't. If they wish, they do nothing. At dinner, they show up and pick an entrée, an appetizer, a dessert, and two or more other courses. If still hungry, they order a second entrée. They get off in St. Thomas — if they want. Or not. If they forgot to pack an iron, they turn to the room steward and ask for one. It's now his problem. Servants constantly ask if everything is okay, turn the bed down at night, place a chocolate on the pillow, and make sure you're happy on an emotional, do-you-feel-good level. Passengers feel as if they've moved up in the social order, tasting a lifestyle shared only by a select few, the Donald Trumps or the Leona Helmsleys.
A cruise disappoints few people. But — and there's always a "but" in life — cruising might not be the best vacation choice under the following conditions:
"I want to understand a country's culture." While a number of cruises have educational themes and most offer pre-port destination lectures conducted by area experts, a cruise is usually not the best way to experience a country's culture. In the Mediterranean, for example, ships stop in different ports for less than a day, and may hit six different countries in one week. Passengers barely have time to see the tourist attractions, much less get a feel for how the people live. For that, travelers must stay inside a country, talk to cabdrivers, and eat in small, family-owned restaurants. Lost is the conversation with the hotel clerk, the one-day car rental into the countryside, and the sights, sounds, and smells of the open-air market. On a ship, the countries are an optional activity, the cruise the actual vacation.
"I don't like crowds." Even full cruises don't feel crowded most of the time thanks to staggered mealtimes and diverse activities. Cruise passengers are, however, traveling with many other people, and cruising, by definition, is a social vacation. Any activity open to all passengers can create elbow-to-elbow conditions. Those who would kill for a little privacy should not be deterred, but remember that few places on a ship, outside a private cabin, offer complete seclusion. Expect some human contact.
"I'm afraid I'll get seasick." Sometimes a valid reason, sometimes not — see The Truth About Seasickness.
While the previous reasons may cause you to choose a different type of vacation, almost everyone would enjoy a cruise at least once or twice. But some people use the following nonlegit reasons as an excuse to avoid cruising:
"I'd get antsy on a ship. I'd feel enclosed." That's a bit like standing in the middle of a football field and complaining that the stadiums are closing in. When viewing the ocean from the comfort of the main deck, humans feel almost powerless against the vastness of the earth and her oceans. From within the ship, guests not only enjoy massive theaters, dining rooms, and decks, but they can easily move from one to the other. On the largest ships, you'll barely see everything in seven days.
"It's too expensive." Almost never. You pay for a cruise, in full, at least six weeks before departure, meaning the vacation budget is tapped long before eating that first gourmet meal. Consequently, it feels more expensive to people writing a $3,000 check and seeing no immediate return for their outlay. But compare the costs.
Assume a driving trip costs $100 per night for a hotel room (a bargain rate most places). Further assume that it costs $100 a day for food (again, a bargain rate for two people), $75 per day for gas, admissions, cover charges, and tolls. That comes to $275 per day for a couple, $1925 for one week. To cruise for the same price, the trip would have to cost $962.50 per person.
Can a cruise cost that little? Easily for a middle-of-the-road line, especially for adults flexible on travel times and itineraries. It could net you a great cabin on an economy cruise line, or a moderate cabin on a luxury cruise line, and it comes without the stress and frustration of planning your days. If traveling with grandchildren, it comes with an additional priceless perk — free baby-sitting.
"I hate dressing for dinner." Most mainstream lines ask passengers to dress for dinner once or twice, but even then, the rules are lax. Very few people wear a tux for formal cruise dinners; most wear a dark suit, a few wear a light suit, and a sprinkling of individualists wear only a jacket and button-down shirt. Women, of course, have greater leeway in fashion. Outside those formal dinners, almost anything goes, though most people go "resort casual," meaning something a notch above T-shirts and jeans. Only a handful of luxury liners would make you feel out of place, and even some luxury liners shun coats and ties, touting a "casual elegance" theme.
"I'll be bored." On the one hand, ships schedule so many activities that cruisers can rise at dawn and not stop moving until they drop a tired patootie into bed somewhere around 3:00 A.M. On the other hand, if someone chooses not to participate in any of the activities and does indeed get bored, is it a vacation? Many times, the I'll-be-bored people are Type-A executives who don't know how to relax. They read market reports, not novels. They walk fast because they're late, not because it's good for their health. They see ocean waves and wonder how their company's stock is doing. Mature travelers, by definition, enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of a cruise.
Immature travelers may, however, be bored.
"I'm afraid I'll get seasick." This can be a legitimate reason to avoid cruising, though it's usually a sorry excuse. See the next section.
THE TRUTH ABOUT SEASICKNESS
Fear of seasickness keeps many people from cruising. Why, they reason, should I spend thousands of dollars on a vacation I might not enjoy? It's a rare sea that affects a modern ship, however, and even if it does, medical solutions are effective and readily available.
On today's large ships, the ship doesn't even seem to move most of the time. Compare that to fishing boats, the number one reason most people fear an ocean voyage. The typical story: A couple, while at the seashore, book a day trip on a fishing boat, the first time they've actually gone out to sea. They board at 8:00 A.M. Five hours later, they arrive at the dock, swearing never to return, their faces green, their stomachs empty. But that fishing trip has nothing to do with cruising.
Cruise ships built since the 1950s have stabilizers — massive fins below the waterline that, using computers, sense the roll of the waves and compensate to minimize rocking. While the sea does the jitterbug, the ship dances a waltz. While no stabilizer is perfect — i.e., the ship still moves in the worst storms — a rocky voyage is rare.
If worried about seasickness, be honest with yourself. How susceptible are you to motion sickness? Carsickness? One passenger I met gave up a career in ballet because she could not turn her head rapidly without feeling nauseous. Still, she willingly cruised the Caribbean. If you do not ordinarily get carsick, don't worry about a cruise. If you cannot look left without your brain gurgling, consider a river cruise — or a train.
Generally, the fear of seasickness is worse than the actual malady. Consider the following seasickness remedies:
Either Dramamine or Bonine are over the-counter medications that fight seasickness, though they might make you sleepy. (Avoid alcohol.) Older adults may be affected more than young adults and kids thanks to slower metabolisms, so you may want to start with a half dose to see how it goes. Both medications can be purchased before departure at a local drugstore or on board the ship. On some cruises, one or both are handed out freely.
A Transderm Sc p patch works in a similar way to Dramamine and Bonine, but the patch's medicine, absorbed through the skin, gives a more consistent dosage and lasts longer. Because it can cause side effects, it is available by prescription only. Talk to your doctor.
The Sea-Band, a bracelet, supposedly eases nausea by putting pressure on strategic nerves (pressure points). Many drugstores carry them, as do travel stores, mail order catalogs, and ship's stores. Some people swear by them. Since they don't introduce medicine into the body, they're a good choice for people worried about drug interactions.
Seasickness can be virtually wiped out by choosing the proper itinerary and ship. The Caribbean, for example, is usually smooth, while the North Atlantic can get rocky. In general, cruises on smaller bodies of water (Caribbean, Mediterranean, or Gulf of Mexico) rock and roll less than those on large bodies of water (Pacific, Atlantic, Indian Ocean, or South China Sea). In addition, big ships move less than their smaller counterparts. Putting the two together, a megaship sailing in the Caribbean rarely moves enough to cause anyone to get seasick, even during a storm. (For a guaranteed seasickness-free cruise, however, choose a river trip, such as one with the Delta Queen Steamboat Company.)
The location of the cabin also affects the amount of rocking. On any size ship, the best cabins for avoiding seasickness are not necessarily the most expensive. Ships rock in two directions. The front of the ship cuts waves, moving up and down as the ship plows forward. As the front goes up, the back goes down and vice versa, rocking like a child's teeter-totter with the ship's center remaining relatively still — the reason cabins in the center fill faster.
The same principle works if the boat rocks side to side, called "roll." Picture a metronome rocking back and forth. The bottom of the metronome moves an inch or so; the top rocks five or six inches. On a ship, it works the same way. Cabins toward the bottom move a slight amount; cabins near the top roll more. Adding the two ship movements together, it follows that a central cabin on a lower deck will move much less than any other cabins on the ship.
The traditional method of fighting seasickness is, to many, still the best. If you feel nauseous, head to an outer deck and concentrate on the far horizon. Eat some dry crackers to settle the stomach. Above all, avoid tasks that cause you to look down, such as writing postcards or reading.
BIG VERSUS SMALL CRUISE LINES
Very little can be determined by the size of a cruise line, though certain economies of scale result from owning many ships. The large cruise lines — Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Holland America, NCL, Princess, Star, Celebrity, and Costa — can negotiate lower prices from suppliers, meaning passengers get more for their money or the cruise line earns a higher profit. Carnival alone will have twenty ships in the water soon. Just as a mom-and-pop motel can be better than the nearby national chain, however, some small lines offer specialized service that the big guys cannot match. Because the most luxurious cruises are also the most expensive, for example, and unaffordable to most people, true gourmet cruising usually takes place on smaller lines.
In many cases, the big cruise lines actually own each other. Carnival Corp., for example, owns or has an ownership interest in Carnival, Holland America, Windstar, Costa, NCL, Cunard, and Seabourn. As ownership changes and vessels bounce from one company to another, score cards become somewhat meaningless. In other words, read their individual descriptions in Chapter 8 and don't be deterred by a David and Goliath analogy.
SHIPS: IS BIGGER BETTER?
Cruise line brochures, travel agents, and passengers operate on the "bigger is better" principle when selecting a ship, and most of the time, they're right. For limited ship motion, bigger is better. For sheer number of onboard activities, it is, too. And for newness and technical glitz, big beats small almost every time.
Consider a smaller ship, however, for:
Avoiding children. Families want plenty of activities, meaning a big ship, to keep everyone happy.
Romance. If hoping to meet that special someone, a small ship lowers the pool of potential partners, but may also offer a higher quality selection. Big ships, based simply on the number of people, still offer plenty of shopping opportunities though.
Intimate cruises. With a limited number of small lounges on a small ship, it's easier to socialize and make friends.
Out-of-the-way ports of call. Smaller ships can navigate into shallower ports and visit cities unmarred by thousands of previous tourists; many adults book passage on a small ship just to avoid the standard tourist traps. In fact, many smaller ships offer interesting ports of call to make up for their lack of onboard entertainment.
Traditional cruising. Just as some folks take a train for the experience as much as the transportation, a smaller ship looks, smells, and feels like a classic ocean vessel. The motion of the sea is part of the adventure.
Five-star luxury. Luxury costs money, and product demand from financially secure people cannot fill a megaship week after week. Plus, personal service and Intimacy — the hallmark of a luxury cruise — can't be found in a crowd.
Unfortunately, like all aging things, some older ships are well kept and others are not. "Old" should not be confused with "small," but it is many times true — and that distinction feeds travel agent recommendations for bigger ships. While a well-kept older ship is a joy to behold, a not-so-well-kept older ship is no joy to be on. Imagine a Caribbean cruise without working air-conditioning in July. Scary. Plumbing can be dicey, carpets worn, and decor reminiscent of the 1960s. Booking passage on a new ship is the easy way to avoid poor maintenance problems.
Excerpted from Cruise Vacations for Mature Travelers by Kerry Smith. Copyright © 2001 Kerry Smith. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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