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CRUSING 101 By Suzanne Fortey (Article)


Suzanne Fortey

By the time March rolls around, Ottawa residents can be forgiven for thinking longingly of sunny skies,warm breezes, and blue seas. My husband and I recently returned from a two week cruise,– our favorite way of escaping the winter blahs. We have waxed eloquent on cruising holidays but a few of our friends remain skeptical about the value of this form of holiday. Some talk about sea sickness, some about the brevity of the shore excursions, some worry about their waistlines, and some just say “a whole week on a boat! Are you kidding?” This article is directed to all of you who share these concerns or who have never cruised for whatever reason.

Is a cruise right for you? Are you a “generalist”, a person that likes to know a little about a lot? Do you get bored with sitting on a beach for too long? Do you like to be on the move during your holidays? Then a cruise holiday might appeal to you. A cruise will take you on a whirlwind tour of a growing choice of itineraries all over the world. Choose from an array of destinations in the Caribbean islands, the South Pacific, Northern Europe, the Mediterranean, Hawaii, Alaska, South America, and many more. Don’t expect to garner any in depth knowledge during your one or two week vacation which will whisk you to a number of ports for a day here and a day there.. When visiting the islands in the Caribbean, the South Pacific, the Canaries, for example, the brief stays are sufficient to form at least an impression about which places you may want to favor with a future visit. The down side is that the ships disgorge so many people on these small islands, that the streets are full of cruisers like yourself.

If you label yourself a “specialist”, that is you like to know a lot about a little, then cruising may whet your appetite and leave you panting for more with regard to the ports of call. Visits to the major European cities, are likely to be a frustrating experience since the time allotted is never adequate enough for what there is to see. This is not to say that a “specialist” would not enjoy cruising, but certainly more care should be given to the destinations, and the excursions. A specialist might limit his frustration with the short schedules, by choosing island destinations, or by choosing shore excursions that concentrate on specific interests such as botany, or history, etc., or choose a specialty cruise that visits a more limited area. The other option is to set your mind on spending most of the short time allotted to the major centers, on one very special focal point. Traveling off-season will mean less time wasted lining up so that you will get the most out of your touring time.

Worried about motion sickness? No need. Today’s liners are very well stabilized and some of the larger ships are so heavy, that movement is hardly discernible in average conditions. Some cruisers who are prone to motion sickness, will take an anti nausea pill as a precautionary measure on the first night or two of sailing, until their bodies adjust to the motion..

Is weight gain a concern? It does not have to be synonymous with cruising. We lost weight on our first cruise, by using the gym facilities daily, walking the decks, avoiding the elevators and occasionally looking at the daily “lean cuisine” suggestions on the menu.

Before booking • First, pick your destination. What part of the world would you like to see? Once you have selected the area, find which ships cruise there. Pick the itinerary that interests you the most. The cruise travel books will help you determine which ships go where. • Then, pick a time period for your cruise. There are advantages to off-season or shoulder season – better deals and less crowds. • Next, if there is a particular activity you love, inquire about ships that offer, for example, nightly dancing, dance lessons, big band dancing, or organized bridge games, or golf cruises, or whatever else may tickle your fancy. There are many choices of activities available, over and above the destinations. Some cruises appeal to a younger set and some to an older crowd. An agent with cruise experience will be able to guide you in your choice. Some of the agents in Ottawa who specialize in cruise travel are Captain Sandy's Cruise Holidays and Travel, Cruiseship Centres, and Ports of Call.  Google for others who also have cruise expertise. • You might also want to check the internet for any specials that come close to your choices. A good internet newsletter to subscribe to is from Vacationstogo.com for the latest in cruise deals sorted by destination area. It also lists all the deals on cruises departing within the next ninety days, and those departing after ninety days. Once you have picked your cruise, your favorite agent can do the booking for you. Most cruises offer an early booking bonus so that it is not necessary to wait until the last minute to get good deals. • Another possibility to consider, is a back to back cruise. Rather than a round trip cruise, you can choose a cruise that leaves from one port and travels to another in one week, then stay on for another week, as it does the reverse journey and returns to your original point of departure.

When booking • Choose your cabin location. The preferred location for a cabin, is midship to minimize the effect of the ship’s movement. However, the view from a cabin facing out from the stern of the ship are well worth the more noticeable movement. Unfortunately, not all ships have cabins at the facing aft. • Next, decide on an inside, outside, or balcony cabin. If you don’t suffer from claustrophobia, an inside cabin is always a good deal especially if you don’t intend to spend much time in your room. If you can splurge for a cabin with balcony, it is well worth it. Your private balcony is the perfect spot for some peaceful reading, or for a quiet breakfast. • At the time of booking, you will be asked to choose between early dining and late dining, as most of the larger cruise ships have two sittings for dinner. There are advantages to both. Typically, late sitting starts between 8 and 8:30 pm. The later sitting is ideal for those who are nighthawks and like to stretch the day out a little. You won’t be rushed when returning to the boat from afternoon excursions. The gym is not as busy during the time that the early birds are getting ready for dinner, so this is an ideal time to have your pick of the gym equipment. Some of the special attractions sometimes start late, such as the midnight buffet and so there is less waiting time between dinner and these events. Often the ship leaves the harbor in the late afternoon or early evening and it is always an exciting process to watch. Also while the early birds are already inside at dinner, you can enjoy the last rays of sunshine and some spectacular sunsets up on deck. For the early to bed, early to rise crowd, then the early sitting is preferable. For those traveling with young children it is the sensible option .  It usually begins between 6 and 6:30 pm. The evening’s entertainment for the first seating begins almost immediately so that there are no gaps in the day. Also, if you are traveling during the summer months, you can enjoy the sunsets on deck while the late seating dining is under way. • Request the table configuration you prefer, that is whether you want a table for just the two of you or if you prefer to sit with others. A table for eight is recommended because it provides you with a wider range of companions and you have a better chance of meeting kindred spirits. • Request a seat near windows which are at a premium in the dining room, especially if you are choosing the early sitting during the winter months, and the late seating during the summer months. You might then enjoy fabulous scenery as the ship makes its way along the coast or a fantastic sunset. The cruise lines cannot always accommodate such a request. • You can choose twin or queen size beds. If you make your choice known at the time of booking, the room will be set up accordingly before you arrive. • Consider travel and extra health insurance.

At boarding time • Check with the purser’s office for a room upgrade in case the ship is not fully booked. For example, if you have a room on the 5th deck, you might be able to obtain one on a higher deck. • Purchase your excursions as soon as possible since some excursions are very popular. Some cruise ship allow you to book these while waiting to board. Some may also offer a bonus for passengers booking five different excursions. Excursion descriptions are usually sent at the same time as your tickets, so that you can book your tours as soon as you arrive on the ship.

Ship amenities  Most people choose their cruise based on the ship’s itinerary. In addition to traveling from one interesting port to another, shipboard life is itself an experience. Worried about being bored during one or two weeks on a boat? Your entertainment for the week or two will be well planned. You will have a choice of any number of activities, ranging from arts and crafts, social games, card games to language instructions, bridge lessons and port lectures. The evenings always feature night club entertainment, live music, and dancing. The food can be first class as is the service both in the dining room and in your cabin. Even smaller ships include such amenities as a casino, an exercise room filled with state- of- the- art equipment, a spa, a well stocked library, card and games room, pools, water slides, hot tubs, and on some larger ships, rock climbing walls, ice skating rinks, inline skating, golf simulator, mini golf course. Other than your cabin, you can always find a quiet corner on deck or in the library to relax with a good book.

Cabin amenities  Do not expect your cabin to look like a hotel room. Space is at a premium but you will be impressed by how many amenities are packed into a small space, especially on the newer ships. Nowadays beside your twin beds or queen size bed, you can expect to find seating for two with coffee table, a dressing table with lighted mirror, a hair dryer, in-cabin safe, mini bar, and a small but functional bathroom.

A Word About Prices  There are many deals available and a good agent will be able to scout these out for you as well as your own research on the internet. Some of the best Internet sites are the following: www.vacationstogo.com  or Onlinevacationcentre.  These sites will give you an idea of the cost. For example a cruise to the Caribbean, or the Mexican Riviera departing sometime in April, will start for as low as $599 per person. Fares are usually quoted in American dollars. They do not include alcoholic beverages, tipping, excursions, or airfare if you are getting a last minute deal. If booking in advance, cruise lines offer reduced airfare to the port of departure which makes booking air through the cruise line an attractive option. A European vacation will typically cost more. Even the excursions are more expensive. When comparing a two week vacation aboard a cruise ship with a land vacation, remember to include not only all your meals, day-long entertainment, and accommodation, but also the considerable amount of travel as you move from one port to another. A Canary Island cruise for example covers about 3700 kilometers to and from the port of departure. Cruises offer an exciting holiday at good value.

Final Note   When you become smitten with the cruising holiday in general, and your ship in particular, remember to play the field when booking your next cruise. Not only does each cruise line have a different flavor, some ships within the same cruise line have a distinctive cachet and part of the fun of cruising is to sample different ones.

Suzanne Fortey

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