The Unofficial Guide to Cruisesby Kay Showker, Bob Sehlinger
The Unofficial Guides® are the "Consumer Reports" of travel guides, offering candid evaluations of all the vital elements of your vacation, all rated and ranked by a team of unbiased inspectors so even the most compulsive planners can be sure they're spending their time and money wisely. Each guide addresses the needs of everyone from families to business
The Unofficial Guides® are the "Consumer Reports" of travel guides, offering candid evaluations of all the vital elements of your vacation, all rated and ranked by a team of unbiased inspectors so even the most compulsive planners can be sure they're spending their time and money wisely. Each guide addresses the needs of everyone from families to business travelers, with handy charts that demonstrate how each place stacks up against the competition. Plus, all the details are pulled out so they're extremely easy to scan.
The Unofficial Guide® to Cruises looks beyond the glossy cruise line brochures to rate and rank each cruise line and ship so you can find the one that's right for you. We give the inside scoop on cabins, itineraries, service, dining, entertainment, facilities, and shore excursions, and show you how to get the very best deal when you're ready to book your trip. Includes complete coverage of worldwide cruises, from the Caribbean and Alaska to Europe and Asia.
The Top 5 Ways The Unofficial Guide® to Cruises Can Help You Have the Perfect Cruise:
- More than 120 cruise lines and 350 ships reviewed and ranked for value and quality, plus tips on how to identify the ship that's right for you
- Industry secrets for getting the lowest possible fare, plus extras like free vacation days
- The inside story on who your fellow passengers will be
- Proven strategies for making hassle-free air connections
- Tips on making the most of your time and money once you’re on board
Read an Excerpt
The Unofficial Guide to Cruises
By Kay Showker Bob Sehlinger
John Wiley & SonsISBN: 0-7645-3979-5
Chapter OnePlanning Your Cruise Vacation
The Cruise Package
Although it's possible (and sometimes desirable) to buy the components of a cruise vacation à la carte, most cruises are sold as complete packages. The basic package includes:
1. Shipboard accommodations.
2. Three full-service dining room meals daily (breakfast, lunch, and dinner), plus alternative breakfast, lunch, and late-night buffets. On most ships, room service meals do not cost extra. Many ships also offer options, such as early-bird breakfast, morning bouillon, and afternoon events, including tea, pizza snacks, ice cream parties, wine and cheese tastings, and poolside cookouts.
3. All shipboard entertainment, including music, dancing and shows in the lounges, discos, live bands, Las Vegas-style productions, nightclubs, karaoke, and movies.
4. All shipboard sports and recreational facilities, including swimming pools, health club or exercise room, promenade or jogging track, Jacuzzi, sauna, library, game room, and child-care facilities. (Spa and beauty treatments and some specialized sports equipment often cost extra.)
5. All shipboard activities, including the casino, on-board games and contests, lectures, demonstrations, and children's program (where applicable, baby-sitting services are extra).
6. Stops at ports of call on the itinerary.
7.Round-trip airfare to and from the port city.
8. Transfers (ground transportation) from airport to ship and from ship to airport (see "What Happened to 'Free' Air?").
Port charges (about $120 per person on a seven-day Caribbean cruise) are usually included in the advertised cruise price. If not, the line's brochures will show the cost for each cruise.
Taxes, optional shore excursions, alcoholic beverages and soft drinks, casino play, onboard shopping, and tips are not included in most cases. On a few very upscale lines, tipping and wine and alcoholic beverages are included in the cruise price. On some, tips are pooled (you are asked to contribute a suggested amount per day to be divided among all staff except officers and senior staff). We include a section on tipping in Part Two.
Cruising's Unfortunate Stereotypes
You have probably heard that "cruising is not for everyone." But that's like saying travel is not for everyone. If you like to travel, you will almost certainly enjoy cruising. It's that simple. Cruising, however, has accumulated unfortunate stereotypes, which continue to recycle.
Myth No. 1: I'll Be Bored Many people, particularly men and younger, active folks, believe cruising is dull and sedentary. They picture bulk loaders crowding buffets while active folks sit bored and unstimulated. Sorry, not so.
Today, most cruises offer around-the-clock activities. Ships have workout rooms with quality equipment, jogging tracks, pools, and daily exercise classes. Some larger ships have volleyball, basketball courts, and even climbing walls and ice rinks. At ports of call, a variety of sports-from golf to cycling, snorkeling to kayaking-are offered. There are far more opportunities for sports and athletics than most of us have at home. If you go on a cruise and sit on your butt, that's your decision.
For the active but less athletic, most ships offer swimming, shuffleboard, table tennis, walking areas, and spa amenities, including hot tubs and saunas. Many ships offer yoga or stretching classes. At night, for the energetic, there's dancing in many forms, from ballroom to reggae to line dancing to salsa.
A range of organized activities targets gregarious and fun-loving people. Versions of television game shows are popular, as are more traditional events, such as bridge tournaments, arts and crafts classes, and dancing lessons. Most cruise ships have casinos, and almost all have bingo.
If learning is your goal, dozens of cruises specialize in providing educational experiences and exploration of a region accompanied by experts. Like floating graduate schools, these cruises may focus on political and natural history or may even offer lectures on topics unrelated to the ship's destinations.
Finally, there is no place better than a cruise ship to relax. The favorite cruise activity for many people is curling up in a comfortable deck chaise with a good book. Even a big ship with constant activity offers quiet spots for meditation, reading, or just enjoying the beauty of the sea.
Myth No. 2: Cruising Is for Rich People; I Can't Afford a Cruise If you take a vacation of three or more days during which you stay in hotels and eat in restaurants, you can afford a cruise.
Let's compare cruising to a modest vacation: Vic and Edna's one-week trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and the Smoky Mountains. Driving from their home near Cleveland, Ohio, Vic and Edna spent about $300 on gas for the Chevy. They averaged $65 a night plus tax for motels, or $498 for the week. For breakfast and lunch, it was Shoney's- or Denny's-type restaurants. They'd go more upscale for dinner, and they liked beer or wine with their meal. Total for seven days' food: $388. In the mountains, they mostly hiked and drove around. One day, however, they played golf; on another they visited a museum and a theme park. On the Friday before heading home, they rented horses for half a day. Golf, admissions, and horses came to approximately $190. Recapping:
VIC AND EDNA'S SPLENDID VACATION
Lodging $498 Gas $300 Meals $388 Admissions $190
During the same period, Norwegian Cruise Line, a good middle-of-the-market line (not super-budget or super-luxury), offered a seven-night southern Caribbean cruise on Norwegian Sky for $671 per person, including round-trip airfare. The cruise visited San Juan, St. Thomas, Martinique, Tortola, the British Virgin Islands, Antigua, and St. Maarten. Even better values can be had with Celebrity and Holland America's promotional fares, which can go as low as $599 for nicer cabins on even newer ships.
These were promotional rates, not the "rack" rates listed in the brochures. The point is, on the seven-night cruise, Vic and Edna could have enjoyed the amenities of a full resort, dined in grand style, danced to live music, visited six beautiful tropical islands, and soaked in a whirlpool under the Caribbean moon for about the same amount they spent on their road trip. We are not suggesting Vic and Edna should swap the Smokies for the Caribbean, only that they could afford to do so if they are inclined.
Myth No. 3: Cruises Are Stuffy, Elitist, and Formal Most cruises are none of the above, though the description might fit some passengers. A few cruises resemble floating debutante balls, but these are easily avoided. Cruises cover a broad range of dress and social protocols. You can choose a cruise at whatever level of formality or casualness feels right for you. Overall, cruises have become very casual and informal. Even on "formal" nights-such as the captain's welcome-aboard party and/or farewell party-half of the men wear business suits, and women don cocktail or party dresses. Newer ships offering alternative (to the main dining room) dining options make it possible to avoid formal events entirely. On the most informal ships, like Carnival, where you can wear anything short of a burlap bag, people dress to the nines-and it's often the men more so than the women. And they love it.
Myth No. 4: Cruises Are Too Regimented for Me Granted, it takes organization to get everyone on board a cruise ship. It takes similar regimentation to get everyone off at the end of the cruise. At ports, you need only get back on board before the ship sails.
Some folks lump cruises into the same category as whirlwind bus tours-eight countries in five days and that sort of thing. A cruise might visit eight countries in five days, but you will have to check in and unpack only once. That's the beauty of cruising-you can hang out on the ship and just enjoy the ride, or you can get off at each port and pursue your own agenda.
Myth No. 5: I'm Afraid I'll Get Seasick Well, you might, but the vast majority of people don't, particularly on a Caribbean cruise, where the ocean is usually as smooth as bathwater. Even those who get queasy in a car can usually handle a cruise. Over-the-counter antinausea medications like Bonine (doesn't make you drowsy) or Dramamine get most folks over the acclimatization period of the first few hours at sea. Bring some; you may never need it, but having it is comforting. Usually, Dramamine or Bonine is available from the purser's desk or your cabin steward.
If you are really worried, buy Sea Bands-a pair of elasticized wristbands (similar to tennis bands), each with a small plastic disk that applies pressure to the inside wrist, according to acupressure principles. They are particularly useful for people who have difficulty taking medication. Sea Bands are sold in drug, toiletry, and health-care stores and can be ordered from On the Go Travel Accessories (5603 NW 159th Street, Miami, FL 33014; (888) 303-3039; onthegoaccessories.com). If you take precautions and become seasick anyway, the ship's doctor can administer more powerful medication.
In regard to seasickness, remember: Don't dwell on your fear, and if you become queasy, take medicine immediately. When you deal with symptoms quickly, relief is quick.
Minimize the probability of getting seasick by choosing an itinerary in calmer waters: Alaska's Inside Passage, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, and the Gulf of Mexico. Less smooth are voyages on the Atlantic, Pacific, or Indian Oceans or the South China Sea.
Myth No. 6: I'm Apprehensive about Walking on a Moving Ship If you are not agile or fit on land, you might envision tortuous trips down narrow gangways or climbing ladders through tiny hatches while the ship rolls and pitches. But generally, if you can handle a hotel, you can handle a cruise ship. Large vessels have wide, carpeted halls and slip-resistant outside decks. Elevators serve all passenger decks, so using the stairs may not even be necessary. Passengers use no tricky ladders or tiny hatches.
Modern cruise ships have stabilizers, and even in bad weather and heavy seas they are amazingly stable. Small ships, depending on their draft and build, may be more subject to the motion of the ocean and are a little more challenging to get around. Being smaller, however, there's less territory to cover. Most ships launched in the last ten years were built with consideration for healthy passengers as well as those with ambulatory disabilities. Many modern ships offer wheelchair-accessible cabins and ramps.
A Typical Day on a Cruise
Let's say we're cruising the Caribbean. You can start your morning with an early-bird breakfast or a walk or jog around deck, or you can have breakfast from the menu in the dining room. Late sleepers can order breakfast from room service or catch the breakfast buffet, which stays open later than the dining room. It usually is served on the "lido" deck-a casual indoor/outdoor dining facility on the same deck as the swimming pool or sports facilities. The lido buffet has longer and more flexible hours, enabling you to come and go at will.
Days at sea are the most relaxing of the cruise itinerary. The casino, shopping arcade, spa, exercise room, and shore-excursion desk are open. Programs and activities are virtually nonstop on large ships; most folks, however, hang out by the pool or on deck to enjoy the beauty of the sea and the relaxing movement of being underway. The captain may update passengers over the public-address system on the ship's progress toward the next port. The captain or cruise director may also point out interesting sights.
Lunch works much like breakfast: You can eat in the dining room and order from the menu, or you can stay in your swimsuit and eat burgers or pizza by the pool, where there is likely to be a music combo playing upbeat rhythms. You can join the pool games-always a good way to meet people-or just watch or ignore them. You then might work out, read, nap, play bridge, learn the latest dance steps, or attend orientation lectures about the next port. Recently released movies are shown in the ship's movie theater or on cabin television in the afternoon. On some ships, afternoon tea is a big deal-white gloves and all. At cocktail hour, there is usually live music by the pool, often with special drinks or appetizers, or happy hour in one of the bars.
As dinner approaches, it's time to dress for the evening. The dress code generally is specified on the daily agenda slipped under your door every evening. It is also spelled out in the cruise line's brochure, so you can pack accordingly. (More information on dress codes is available under "Preparing for Your Cruise.")
Some passengers stroll the deck before dinner, particularly at sunset, a beautiful time at sea. Others have a drink in one of the lounges. Dinner in the dining room is a social culmination of the day's activity. Spirits are always high.
After lingering over several well-prepared courses, it's off to the showroom, where live entertainment, ranging from Las Vegas-style variety shows to Broadway musicals, is offered nightly. After the show, early risers and those who had a long day of touring retire to their cabins. The more nocturnal or party-minded guests head for the casino, disco, or a lounge with entertainment. By now, it's time for the midnight buffet, often the chefs' most creative venue. Each night may have a theme-pasta, salads, desserts, barbecue, and so on. But at least one night will be the Grand Buffet. Bring your camera; every platter is a work of art. Before turning in, stretch out in a chaise lounge on deck with a glass of wine. Breathe in the balmy salt-sea air and be caressed by the warm breeze. Lose yourself among the million stars of the Caribbean night.
Usually, cruise ships sail through the night and arrive at the next port early in the morning. If you have been smart and risen in time to enjoy the early morning-the most beautiful time at sea-you can watch your ship dock. It's interesting and fun. After breakfast, the captain announces that the ship has been cleared by local officials and that passengers may disembark. Those signed up for shore excursions are given last-minute instructions about when and where to meet and are normally first to go ashore.
Although port calls range from three hours to two days (with an overnight at dock), most are five to ten hours-hardly enough time to sample an island or city.
Excerpted from The Unofficial Guide to Cruises by Kay Showker Bob Sehlinger Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Kay Showker has been a travel writer/photographer/lecturer for more than two decades. Following a ten year tenure at Travel Weekly, she became a freelance writer, authoring 13 guidebooks, appearing as a travel expert on CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, and The Travel Channel, and writing America On Line's "Cruise Critic/Caribbean Ports of Call."
Bob Sehlinger is the creator of the Unofficial Guide series and the publisher of Menasha Ridge Press.
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We had purchased the previous edition, so much was a repeat.The value ratings used is a different method from other cruise books - esp. if reviewing for the first time, will be helpful. We compare this info. to other info. to help make an informed decision. Also recommend, Cruises/Ports of call. Frommer's - Cruising & cruise ships. Ward. Good books with the above for info.
Would not book a cruise without reading this book. I've sailed on 27 cruises and the worst was one that I ignored the advice of the guide.