Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Cruising – A General Overview


Cruising aboard the “Love Boat” was something many enjoyed on television every week a few decades ago. While many cruised while on their couch other actually went to the port and boarded ships to sail the waters around the world. Cruising has grown by leaps and bounds not only out of the USA but around the world and more recently out of Asian ports. Cruising tends to be a great way to vacation where you are entertained while moving between various ports so you can sample various areas of the world. It is of course not an in depth vacation at a single destination though.

Cruising is an experience many really enjoy. This is because you turn the transportation to the final destination, the ports of call, into an exciting experience for everyone aboard. With onboard entertainment, dining, and many other activities available cruising offers many opportunities for everyone to have loads of fun.  Cruising is ultimately a means to get from where you embark to several fun ports of call and to a disembarkation port. The embarkation and disembarkation ports may be the same or may be different.  As part of the transportation many fun activities are offered. Further the ship offers shore excursions to help you have a great experience while in the various ports of call.

Cruising is a unique vacation because it offers the chance to board your transportation and then unpack and begin enjoying the vacation while on the way to your destination. Not only do you unpack and begin enjoying yourself, you get to do so one time and not have to repack until your cruise comes to an end. This makes seeing several destinations much easier. Further because the cruise is set up to entertain as well as transport, you will get an opportunity on most cruises to go casual or dress up depending on what you are involved in doing or what dining experience you are taking in.

The cruise experience is not a vacation that can be experienced anywhere other than on a cruise. Even the best land based resorts can’t deliver a cruise experience because the land resort stays in a single location. They can do a fantastic job of delivering the same service levels as on a cruise, but just can’t move you between islands every day. (It doesn’t even need to be islands, it could be historical European cities or the major cruise ports of Alaska.)

Cruising is available to all segments of the population. It is definitely not for the nearly dead and newlyweds only. With different cruise lines working to attract different segments of the cruising population as well as selected segments of the non cruising population there is a line for everyone.  Families have several big lines focusing on that demographic while others focus on luxury and primarily upscale adult cruising. Thus, everyone can cruise. In fact the cruise lines and other vendors have made it possible for those with physical impairments to fairly easily cruise as well. (I’ve seen sign language translators aboard to help passengers recently on a Princess cruise, and know a few years ago one was paid by Carnival to be there to assist my niece.)

I have seen and booked cruisers who travel solo, as retirees, as families, as young newlyweds, and even some who have commented that they hope they live long enough to make the cruise they had me book them eight months out.  All kinds of different people regularly book cruises.  Girls weekends, religiously affiliated friends, and just friends who know each other travel together on cruises. It is a great way to spend some time reconnecting with friends.

Cruising, much like the people who cruise, offers a wide variety of destinations. When most people think about cruises the first place to come to mind is the Caribbean, which is probably the most cruised destination. The Mediterranean is another area very frequently cruised. Mexico, the Middle East, Alaska, Hawaii, Asia, South America, and Northern Europe are all other destinations where getting a cruise is not too difficult to see. Some more difficult destinations but still viable cruise options include India and Africa. Both though are gaining popularity as cruise destinations.

Again, like cruisers and destinations there are plenty of different cruise lines. They differentiate themselves in an effort to capture different market segments. Of course there are usually more than one line that focuses on specific market segments so there is competition among lines for the same cruisers, making for generally better cruise experiences. There are family oriented cruise lines more commonly in the industry called mass market lines. They tend to have the biggest ships and largest fleets. Then there are several more upscale lines which tend to serve a more refined crowd focusing on service levels and food quality more than hitting the most popular destinations. They also tend to sway the onboard experience towards the culinary and higher service level experience.  For the really upscale experience there are various levels of luxury cruise lines.

In addition there are several specialty cruise lines available. These include lines focused on specific destinations such as Alaska where they get to the outback of the destinations. These lines focus on passengers who are most interested in seeing the areas not visited by the big ships. Other boats include paddle-wheelers on US rivers and long boats sailing rivers in Europe, Russia, Asia, and Egypt. Together these specialty lines offer some great unique cruise experiences for those who want the experience offered by the destination above what a huge ship experience offers.

These specialty ships and cruise lines tend to offer different cruise experiences as well. They often get to out of the way areas and explore town and cities not explored by other cruises. The river boats get you into the heart of many cities far from the coast which allows more time to explore these neat places.  In Alaska there are a few small ships which spend tons of time in areas only visited by small ships and private boats allowing much more unique wildlife viewing etc...  Additionally, some lines offer special cruises highly focused on culinary experiences where the guests get significant interaction with the chefs. These chefs are often aboard and hail from the corporate culinary team.

While at sea on these special cruises or on regular mainstream cruises there are always plenty of options. Of course you can relax on any of these cruises. On many there will be plenty of time to worship the sun for better or worse. On scenic cruises there is usually tons of opportunity to view wildlife and beautiful scenery as you sail by.  Culinary demonstrations, galley tours, swimming, movies under the stars, the disco, trivia, athletic competitions, and many more activities occur on sea days and even port days. Thus, it is ultimately up to you what you want to do on any given day.  You can almost always work out every day on the ship running laps around the deck or using the ship’s gym.

When you arrive at the ports of call there will be tons of tour options. These are typically sold by the cruise line aboard the ship, and in some cases they can be bought ahead of time. Other vendors also offer up the opportunity to book shore excursions in some areas ahead of time without going thru the cruise lines. The other option is to book the excursion directly. On these shore excursions there are endless options for what you can do.

Shore excursions range from beach visits to America’s Cup sailboat racing. Ultimately where you sail and what you like to do will dictate what you will choose to do in most ports. There are so many options and they vary so much based on what part of the world you visit. One of my personal favorites is the Salsa Salsa course in Cozumel. There is also a cooking class at Playa Mia which was tons of fun.  Equally fun has been fishing in Alaska and various flight seeing trips we’ve been on there.  Shore excursions are available to fit pretty much everyone’s needs and desires as well as pocketbook.
Cruising is a great way to see the world hanging out with the same crew and passengers most of the cruise. You get to unpack once while visiting different ports and enjoying different experiences on the cruise. While onboard, you will find plenty of activities in which to participate and entertainment for you to enjoy. The dining experiences vary by ship but generally are very good and varied. Overall a cruise vacation is a great way to have a nice vacation at a good value price. Cruising comes in various luxury levels to fit most needs as well.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

What is the best way to know more about the ship I am considering for my vacation?


So you have booked a great cruise and want to know more about where you are going and the ship that is getting you there. These are all fair things to want to know more about. Numerous sources of information exist that will help you learn more about the ship and specifically who is on your sailing. Some sources are great and filled with highly accurate information while others are filled with rhetoric and a push to sell ancillary services. Some sites have lots of information but with the good is just as much bad and misleading information.

The best way to see information specific to your ship is the cruise line web site. Each cruise line has a website with maps of the ship outlining various venues as well as diagrams of most cabin types. That is not to say your cabin layout will be an exact match to the diagram, because many are a flip (mirror image) of the diagram. They are though generally the same size, just with beds, counters, and doors on the opposite side. The balcony generally is in the same place though.

Some websites have been created by individuals with more information about cabins on various ships, be it a class of ship, each ship in a fleet or some similar grouping of ships. These usually have photographs and comments from passengers who have sailed in those cabins or suites previously.  Personally when we booked two Royal Family Suites on Enchantment Of The Seas a few years back, we were able to find a set of photos someone posted of the cabin we were going to use. It helped build excitement for the trip as I was able to circulate the link to the pictures among family members ahead of the family reunion at sea.  These kinds of finds though are somewhat rare and are the exception not the rule.

To get answers to specific questions about your cruise, amenities offered to you on the ship, etc…generally again going to the cruise line website is probably your best option.  Most cruise lines have a FAQ section on their website full of useful information.  Often it’s found in the plan your cruise or pre-cruise section(s) of their web site. The information there is provided by the cruise line thus generally more accurate than what you will get from general information cruise related chat sites.

As I mentioned before, there are various sites where folks chat about cruising. They also offer advice and answers to each other about cruising and specific cruises. These sites offer mixed levels of accurate information, depending on who is answering and their actual level of expertise.  More likely than not if you post a question eventually you will get an accurate answer, but you may not know what answer is correct. Of course then you have to decide what answer was correct. Also, you will see many answers where there are mostly opinions or what happened on one ship which is contrary to policy so may not happen on other ships. Because the information can be spotty and some questions generate a firestorm op different opinions, these sites while helpful to an extent are not the best place to hang your hat on every answer that comes up.

Your best information again, is found on the cruise line websites and they should be your second source of information after your trusted travel agent who booked the cruise for you or will be making that booking.  I do not suggest calling agents for information only and not using them for the booking, as that is stealing their time where they could be helping folks who want to book.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

What should I do in Skagway, Alaska?


Figuring out what to do in various cruise ports is always something folks who love to cruise must face. It can be an easy task to accomplish or difficult depending on how you approach the situation. One thing is for sure, though, it is nearly always a good idea to have some of it figured out ahead of your cruise. Booking independently or thru the cruise line does take advanced planning because once on board you may find your first pick tour is already booked up.
Skagway, Alaska is a great port for those who like natural beauty. It is also great for those who want to see part of the Yukon Territory of Canada.  Skagway is located North of Juneau on the inside passage essentially at the far North end of an area cut out be a glacier many years ago. The area is accessible via roadway connected to Alaska, Canada, and the lower 48 states. In fact from here you can even get all the way to where the road ends South of the Panama Canal.
Skagway was a gold mine oriented town. It was set up primarily as a transportation hub in and out of the Yukon area where gold mining operations were rampant. In fact there is still Gold mining there, but with modern trucks and roadways the Skagway area is less critical than before to those mining operations.  Skagway of present day is mostly a tourist oriented town, in part because there is no fish processing plant there so fishing in that area is primarily for subsistence instead of for commercial purposes.
Skagway is a neat small town with a small group of year round residents. I suspect a visit there in the Winter, one would find many of the stores shut down at the end of tourist season and only the year round shops are open for the locals. To that end, it also means not everything is always right available right when you need it year round.  
Because of the proximity to the Yukon and specifically the White Pass many visitors latch on to the folklore of the gold rush heading out into the mountains to see where the gold rush took folks decades ago. Back then it was quite a hike as compared to now where vehicles make the trip far more palatable. There are both railroad based tours and minibus tours. There are even some full size motorcoach bus tours up the highway into Canada to see the gold rush area.  While at outposts in the Yukon many other activities are available including panning for gold and dog sledding in the Summer training buggies. Both are fun activities, although for me my next dog sledding adventure will be a 2-3 day tour thru the wilderness with outback cabin camping.
In addition to the White Pass railroad and vehicle based tours, there are tours around town and even rafting trips available. The Famous Red Onion Saloon offers shows as well to keep guests in town entertained. Cycling tours down the mountain roads also exist. There are not too many tours from which to choose and several are many hours in length. Overall there is plenty to do there if you want to be active but not so much you can’t get a lot done while there. The helicopter tours are quick and can be coupled with other tours to the White Pass area to make for an enjoyable day.
Tours can be purchased independently or thru the cruise line. Often the prices are not very different between the two unless you do some research ahead. Calling the visitor center and some of the tour shops may get your best deal by booking yourself onto the early tours due to depart immediately after ships arrive.
Overall Skagway is a great place to visit. I’d love to spend a few nights there when we decide to take a month or two to drive the Alaska Highway stopping in various towns along the way. For those going up via cruise ship, there is plenty to do or you can just kick back and walk around town to see what is going on. It is just one of the several fun ports of call on the Alaska Inside passage so go there looking for adventure and enjoy your time there.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Sapphire Princess Short Review

As we love to cruise we decided to take a two week vacation this year to Alaska. We were fortunate to find an excellent last minute deal on the Sapphire Princess. We booked it about three weeks before the cruise and went about quickly planning the rest of the trip so all the details would fall in place before we left. It worked out beautifully.

We set out on our second cruise to Alaska (as a family, my wife is on her third) on a Thursday at dinner time in Houston. That is not the ideal time to head to the airport because leave too early to ensure traffic is not an issue and you will get plenty of wait time at the airport, but leave too late and you could just miss your flight. We were on our hometown airline United, which is an easy choice here since we are home to their largest hub in the entire world.  The flight was uneventful, I suppose in part because it was a Continental aircraft and crew operating the flight (the merger has not settled well for all employees).  We made it safely to our hotel around 1am or a bit before.

We had a day to enjoy Vancouver before boarding the ship on Saturday. This was fun because we got to see the Celebrity Millennium come and go on the Friday. (We saw her again a couple of times during the next couple of weeks as well.) Sadly it was a rainy day, but that passed by late afternoon so we got a chance to enjoy the area around downtown. Then we were really revved up for the cruise the next morning.

I first saw the Sapphire Princess as she came around the building and into her berth just below our hotel room window. That is one reason I picked the hotel I did. We scurried about taking care of business until it was time to head on down and board the ship. We knew we would be in for a fun filled couple of weeks.

Overall this ship is a lot like the Island Princess, so different from other cruise lines. That is a good thing as if all cruise ships were completely alike life as an avid cruiser could get very boring quickly.  Again we have found that crew are trained to the C.R.U.I.S.E. standard and serve as much as hosts as they do crew/hotel staff making sure the ship sails safely and guests are served properly.

Again I am pleased with my choice to sail Alaska on a Princess Cruise ship. In fact my impression is that Princess probably is the best choice for sailing to Alaska based on a comparison to the Royal Caribbean sailing on the Serenade of the Seas three years ago, almost to the day. Princess seems to have more locals come aboard to enhance the Alaska experience than we recall on the prior cruise and Princess has half of the slots to sail into the Glacier Bay National Park.

The ship’s various venues are all in good shape. I only noted rust in a couple of spots that are more difficult to maintain on a regular basis. Of course, the ship was recently renovated so everything would be expected to be in good shape. I was pleased with the condition of the ship and attention most crew paid towards keeping it neat and clean.

We did not see tons of hand sanitizers. I suspect the fact that really they do little to help with norovirus leads to reduced placement of them around the ship. It would be nice if everyone would wash and dry their hands after using the bathroom. However, I saw often where people didn’t do so for whatever reason.  I’d love to see more crew cleaning the handrails on the stairs thru the day and also the inside of the elevators. That is my biggest beef with cleanliness.  

The crew are quite pleasant. They typically did whatever they could to make guests happy while aboard the ship.  I saw several crew members go out of their way to assist guests even in areas of the ship they normally do not work. We also saw and personally experienced several times teamwork not spotted on most other ships or even in everyday life. It is amazing to see how well oiled things can run when there is teamwork, especially in dining venues.

As we really like cruising, we often are less picky about some things than are those who have never cruised and expect total perfection. Just like with any encounter total perfection is seldom achieved 100% of the time.  It is possible also that others on the same cruise could have had a different experience from what we had. I saw that in a review someone posted about a prior cruise where sitting at different tables in the same dining room we had very different experiences.
I have a longer review based on a daily journal from the cruise and also post much of what comes to the cabin in the form of the Princess Patter and other handouts. I know many cruisers looking at Princess, Royal Caribbean, or Celebrity have commented how helpful the reviews and information are for them.  This review was purely to give a very quick overview of the ship.

We were so glad to have come back to Alaska via cruise ship on a two week round trip cruise from Vancouver.  We were fortunate to get a great room at the Pan Pacific above Canada Place and will stay there again when we need to stay in Vancouver in the future.  We will continue to cruise Princess when the itinerary fits our cruise needs and desires as Princess does a great job caring for the passengers and delivering a good cruise product.

Princess is definitely a great way to cruise, especially when in Alaska!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Review: Sapphire Princess sailing Round Trip from Vancouver, BC to Alaska


We set out on our second cruise to Alaska (as a family, my wife is on her third) on a Thursday at dinner time in Houston. That is not the ideal time to head to the airport because leave too early to ensure traffic is not an issue and you will get plenty of wait time at the airport, but leave too late and you could just miss your flight. We were on our hometown airline United, which is an easy choice here since we are home to their largest hub in the entire world.  The flight was uneventful, I suppose in part because it was a Continental aircraft and crew operating the flight (the merger has not settled well for all employees).  We made it safely to our hotel around 1am or a bit before.

We had a day to enjoy Vancouver before boarding the ship on Saturday. This was fun because we got to see the Celebrity Millennium come and go on the Friday. (We saw her again a couple of times during the next couple of weeks as well.) Sadly it was a rainy day, but that passed by late afternoon so we got a chance to enjoy the area around downtown. Then we were really revved up for the cruise the next morning.

I first saw the Sapphire Princess as she came around the building and into her berth just below our hotel room window. That is one reason I picked the hotel I did. We scurried about taking care of business until it was time to head on down and board the ship. We knew we would be in for a fun filled couple of weeks.

Overall this ship is a lot like the Island Princess, so different from other cruise lines. That is a good thing as if all cruise ships were completely alike life as an avid cruiser could get very boring quickly.  Again we have found that crew are trained to the C.R.U.I.S.E. standard and serve as much as hosts as they do crew/hotel staff making sure the ship sails safely and guests are served properly.

Again I am pleased with my choice to sail Alaska on a Princess Cruise ship. In fact my impression is that Princess probably is the best choice for sailing to Alaska based on a comparison to the Royal Caribbean sailing on the Serenade of the Seas three years ago, almost to the day. Princess seems to have more locals come aboard to enhance the Alaska experience than we recall on the prior cruise and Princess has half of the slots to sail into the Glacier Bay National Park.

The ship’s various venues are all in good shape. I only noted rust in a couple of spots that are more difficult to maintain on a regular basis. Of course, the ship was recently renovated so everything would be expected to be in good shape. I was pleased with the condition of the ship and attention most crew paid towards keeping it neat and clean.

We did not see tons of hand sanitizers. I suspect the fact that really they do little to help with norovirus leads to reduced placement of them around the ship. It would be nice if everyone would wash and dry their hands after using the bathroom. However, I saw often where people didn’t do so for whatever reason.  I’d love to see more crew cleaning the handrails on the stairs thru the day and also the inside of the elevators. That is my biggest beef with cleanliness.  

The crew are quite pleasant. They typically did whatever they could to make guests happy while aboard the ship.  I saw several crew members go out of their way to assist guests even in areas of the ship they normally do not work. We also saw and personally experienced several times teamwork not spotted on most other ships or even in everyday life. It is amazing to see how well oiled things can run when there is teamwork, especially in dining venues.

We generally enjoy cruising, so it may be easier to keep a positive less critical view of what is going on around the ship. I know over the course of the cruise I saw other passengers who were having bad luck and things were not going their way. On a couple of occasions the issue was being resolves right by where I was sitting. In each of these cases it appears there was a dropped ball somewhere along the way that led to the strife for the guest. It was however generally resolved fairly.

I write a much longer review based on a daily journal from the cruise and also post much of what comes to the cabin in the form of the Princess Patter and other handouts. I know many cruisers looking at Princess, Royal Caribbean, or Celebrity have commented how helpful the reviews and information are for them.  This review was purely to give a very quick overview of the ship.

We were so glad to have come back to Alaska via cruise ship on a two week round trip cruise from Vancouver.  We were fortunate to get a great room at the Pan Pacific above Canada Place and will stay there again when we need to stay in Vancouver in the future.  We will continue to cruise Princess when the itinerary fits our cruise needs and desires as Princess does a great job caring for the passengers and delivering a good cruise product.

Princess is definitely a great way to cruise, especially when in Alaska!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What should I do in Skagway?

Figuring out what to do in various cruise ports is always something folks who love to cruise must face. It can be an easy task to accomplish or difficult depending on how you approach the situation. One thing is for sure, though, it is nearly always a good idea to have some of it figured out ahead of your cruise. Booking independently or thru the cruise line does take advanced planning because once on board you may find your first pick tour is already booked up.

Skagway, Alaska is a great port for those who like natural beauty. It is also great for those who want to see part of the Yukon Territory of Canada.  Skagway is located North of Juneau on the inside passage essentially at the far North end of an area cut out be a glacier many years ago. The area is accessible via roadway connected to Alaska, Canada, and the lower 48 states. In fact from here you can even get all the way to where the road ends South of the Panama Canal.
Skagway was a gold mine oriented town. It was set up primarily as a transportation hub in and out of the Yukon area where gold mining operations were rampant. In fact there is still Gold mining there, but with modern trucks and roadways the Skagway area is less critical than before to those mining operations.  Skagway of present day is mostly a tourist oriented town, in part because there is no fish processing plant there so fishing in that area is primarily for subsistence instead of for commercial purposes.
Skagway is a neat small town with a small group of year round residents. I suspect a visit there in the Winter, one would find many of the stores shut down at the end of tourist season and only the year round shops are open for the locals. To that end, it also means not everything is always right available right when you need it year round.  
Because of the proximity to the Yukon and specifically the White Pass many visitors latch on to the folklore of the gold rush heading out into the mountains to see where the gold rush took folks decades ago. Back then it was quite a hike as compared to now where vehicles make the trip far more palatable. There are both railroad based tours and minibus tours. There are even some full size motorcoach bus tours up the highway into Canada to see the gold rush area.  While at outposts in the Yukon many other activities are available including panning for gold and dog sledding in the Summer training buggies. Both are fun activities, although for me my next dog sledding adventure will be a 2-3 day tour thru the wilderness with outback cabin camping.
In addition to the White Pass railroad and vehicle based tours, there are tours around town and even rafting trips available. The Famous Red Onion Saloon offers shows as well to keep guests in town entertained. Cycling tours down the mountain roads also exist. There are not too many tours from which to choose and several are many hours in length. Overall there is plenty to do there if you want to be active but not so much you can’t get a lot done while there. The helicopter tours are quick and can be coupled with other tours to the White Pass area to make for an enjoyable day.
Tours can be purchased independently or thru the cruise line. Often the prices are not very different between the two unless you do some research ahead. Calling the visitor center and some of the tour shops may get your best deal by booking yourself onto the early tours due to depart immediately after ships arrive.
Overall Skagway is a great place to visit. I’d love to spend a few nights there when we decide to take a month or two to drive the Alaska Highway stopping in various towns along the way. For those going up via cruise ship, there is plenty to do or you can just kick back and walk around town to see what is going on. It is just one of the several fun ports of call on the Alaska Inside passage so go there looking for adventure and enjoy your time there.  Of course we are always here to help you plan the best Alaskan Cruise Experience.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Is it safe to sail during Hurricane Season?


Sailing during hurricane season is not all bad. In fact it can generate some cheaper cruises at times. Cruise ships are large enough and generally built with a good stability that they are still safe in bad weather. Of course no cruise line sails into a storm instead going around and otherwise altering course to provide for the highest level of passenger comfort and safety as can be afforded the passengers.

Hurricane season runs June to November. This is on the Atlantic side. The season runs a bit earlier on the Pacific side, however seldom are cruises impacted by hurricane type storms in the US based Pacific Ocean cruising areas.  This may seem like a long time of year in which we can encounter hurricanes and yes that is true. However, generally in the Atlantic most of the storms are spotted in August thru September which is the peak of the season, statistically speaking. Storms have been known to occur before and even after the season, it is a function of favorable weather for the formation of the storm.

The cruise lines for economic reasons not completely directly related to the storms, move a large portion of the fleet to other areas most notably Europe during the Summer Season. Other ships are moved to Alaska which is an area not affected by hurricanes as such. Thus, the bulk of the fleet is out of the Tropical Atlantic and Caribbean Sea where hurricanes are most problematic to US interests and that of cruisers. Thus, there are fewer ships to be impacted by such a storm. The remaining ships in the Caribbean region do have plans in place and plenty of help in their corporate offices to modify schedules as needed.

Most hurricanes come thru both the Lesser and Greater Antilles, depending on exactly when the storm moves from a tropical wave to a full-fledged storm status. Some then go up along the East Coast of the USA while others come thru the Gulf of Mexico hitting the USA, Mexico, or countries of Central America.  Thus, we can and often do see storms coming into areas where the cruise ships sail. More often than not they affect either the Eastern Caribbean or the Western Caribbean areas at one time. A single storm may affect first the Eastern and then the Western Caribbean but generally not at the same time. Due to their affect on one area at a time, avoiding the storms is not too difficult.

The cruise ships are fairly stable, but they instead use their advanced systems to navigate around or out of the path of a storm where possible. Despite the stability of the ships, it is far better to just avoid the storms and this can lead to missed ports, and rarely shortened or lengthened cruises. Ultimately passenger as well as crew safety are most important so changing around, adding and dropping ports is all part of the changes you will see. It’s permitted by the passenger contract so ultimately nothing is owed by the cruise line for the change. Just keep in mind the Captain wants to get home to his family in one piece as well.

Sailing into or thru a storm may seem like it would get you to the port you expected to see, however because sometimes hurricanes grow rapidly and have unpredictable winds and wave action, that is just not a safe idea. To further the thought of danger from sailing into the super rough weather, one has to consider that rescue could be difficult if something went wrong and bad weather tends to increase the risk of an accident happening. Thus sailing into or thru a storm is not a wise idea.

Some will say sailing during hurricane season will save some of your premiums. Although this may be true on select sailings aboard select ships the overall theme of late is that hurricane season sailings to the Caribbean are no less expensive and some weeks are even more expensive than most every other time of the year. Much of this is a function of the cruise lines moving ships around where they can generate the most profit and leaving few in the Caribbean forcing higher prices to the cabins left for sale.  This is not as good for the consumer but is good for the cruise lines.
Ultimately one has to consider that there are risks when sailing during hurricane season. Those are bad weather and changes to the itinerary to avoid the worst or storms or avoid visiting damaged ports of call.  Thus, if you are deadest on seeing specific ports it is important to understand hurricane season can force changes for the safety of the ship, passengers, and crew which is ultimately the captain and cruise lines 1st priority.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Luxury Cruises


Do you enjoy a life of luxurious things and going to luxurious places?  A Luxury cruise may be just the way you want to cruise. These kinds of cruises bring together top service levels along with luxurious accommodations. These ships tend towards a more exclusive feel much like what is often found in a Country Club setting. Some lines even go so far as to use the Club in their name such as Azamara Club Cruises.

When you choose a Luxury cruise line for a luxury cruise experience, you are picking the best of the best for service and accommodations. Of course even with these lines there are variations in size of accommodations and perhaps services granted based on the cabin size.  The luxury lines tend though to have mostly balcony and suite cabins, with a smattering of inside cabins for those who want to enjoy the luxury while keeping the costs under control.

Why choose a luxury line over taking the best suite on one of the big lines?  This is a decision some have to make when choosing how they want to cruise.  It can be tough if evaluating just costs alone since often the top cabin on the mass lines will go for less than a nice balcony or mini-suite type cabin on a luxury cruise line.  Of course the inclusions in the cruise fare begin to paint a different picture with the overall cruise cost. Many luxury lines include a number of items and services which cost more on other cruise lines. Depending on how heavily they are used these costs can easily make the mass market line cruise more expensive in the long run. Thus, cost alone can be difficult as the measure.

The service level difference between lines is typically quite noticeable with the luxury line cabin crew typically not only experienced but also highly trained in how to care for guest needs while being very non-intrusive with the provision of service.  On the higher end lines butler service is often provided where your clothes are unpacked and those which need to be pressed are automatically pressed. It is as if someone is reading your mind about what needs to be done and making sure it is done before you ever need to ask.

Dining tends to be country club casual to formal depending on the cruise line and night of the cruise. Super casual attire is not allowed in the dining rooms on luxury cruise ships, so if you want luxury but don’t want to get out of the cutoff jeans and t-shirt pick a ship that will allow you to order room service or has a casual dining venue where you can eat. Often on the luxury ships there are few options for dining if you don’t dress at least as well as the evening dress code, other than in-cabin dining. The flip to this is that typically in-cabin dining is off the menu items so you can really get good food in your cabin.

Some of the lines will include some to most of the shore excursions. This can be a money saving idea, but if you look to just save money, understand that some shore excursions you may want are considered deluxe and require a supplemental payment. However some of the excursions are customized for the ship and includes at times very personalize subject matter such as shopping with the chef. They may also have guides from the ship help provide walking tours in the port.

On board entertainment tends towards country club chic instead of glitzy like on the mass market lines. You will likely encounter good musicians aboard your luxury cruise. Expect ballroom dancing and other finer activities to be available on a luxury cruise. These are less likely to be offered during a normal mass market line cruise. Thus, if having Broadway shows and lots of entertainment options is critical that needs to be considered as the luxury cruises are more refined and offers fewer entertainment venues.
Ultimately a luxury cruise is a very nice experience for cruisers. It may or may not end up less expensive than taking the best cabin on a mass market line however the service nearly always will top any you get on a mass market line.  Cost is not the best way to decide which cruise to take, one must also look at the service expected as well as what on board amenities are expected while cruising. All together goes into the decision on what cruise is the best one to take. Rest assured if you go with a luxury cruise your service and quality of experience will be second to none.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Do all travel insurance policies cover the same things?


Travel Insurance is varied in what it covers. Different companies and even policies within companies may offer different levels of coverage and different exclusions. Of course various riders can be added to enhance coverage but not all riders are available on every policy.  Thus, a simple summation is that all travel plans are not created equally.

Price alone is not a good way to determine what policy is better than the next policy either. Pricing of travel insurance usually varies with age, sex, destination, length of the trip, and of course the cost of the trip. The next level of differentiation is the coverage itself. Coverage is a function of what is explicitly covered along with what is explicitly excluded from coverage.

When choosing a policy you need to make sure the limits of coverage are at a comfortable level along with the exclusions. For example it is worth deciding will missed connection coverage offer you enough money to cover a hotel in connecting cities along with extra meals and taxis to and from the hotel.  Will medical evacuation allow you to come to a hospital of your choice? Will it cover two evacuations, one to the nearest place for appropriate care and then a second transfer back to your hospital of choice?

It is a good idea to examine the features of the plans you like and if there are more than one compare them to make sure you are getting the coverage you want or need. Onesite I like will help with the comparison.  By comparing policies you can pick one that covers adequately the things most important to you. A very good overall plan though, especially if travelingwith your children under age 18 is the Travel Guard Gold policy. One feature I really like with the Travel Guard Gold plan aside from the good rates and more than adequate coverage for most items, is that kids living in the same household as the traveling parents are covered for free. When you have three or four kids going with you this can really bring down the average cost of excellent coverage.

Also, when looking at vendor provided insurance make sure you are looking at that travel insurance policy and see how well it stacks up to the likes of Travel Guard Gold. Usually, the vendor provided coverage does not, unless they are using a branded product that essentially is the Travel Guard Gold plan. 

When traveling it is usually a good idea, especially when traveling outside the country, to ensure you have travel insurance. Buying from an independent travel insurance carrier you ensure you don’t put all of your money at risk should the tour operator fail, unless that vendor is on the do not insure list of the travel insurance company.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Should I buy my travel insurance thru the cruise line?


I do not really favor buying travel insurance thru the cruise line. In most cases what you get only covers cruise related travel, not the air going to or from the cruise. Also, for the cost unless you are well into retirement you can usually get far more comprehensive coverage thru a reputable travel insurance program. I personally like a couple of travel insurance programs with my overall favorite being the Gold Level plan offered thru Travel Guard.

The cruise line programs are backed by an actual insurance company, but it is one who does not regularly sell directly to the public. Instead they create programs customized for each cruise line. In many cases money back is in the form of future cruise credits which actually is more beneficial to the cruise line than the passenger. Other areas of concern with these policies, usually unless you specifically force payment of them before final payment, there is no coverage and no pre-existing condition coverage will be available when it is needed.

The limits on coverage for these plans are often very small. In fact one area I where I have big concern is medical evacuation coverage. They usually will only fly you to the nearest appropriate facility, not to a facility of your choice. That means they may not even fly you back to a US facility.  Also, the cost limits are such that depending on where you start and need to go the coverage may not fully pay for the medical evacuation.  Thus, even with insurance you could still have to shell out quite a bit of cash to get to an appropriate hospital and more to get home.

I’ve heard many people complain after the fact about how little was covered when they really needed the help.  This is of particular concern since the idea behind insurance is to have it there when needed, not to have it so limited that you only get partial coverage or worse find out many typical conditions are actually excluded from coverage. Of course only getting future cruise credit may depending on circumstances amount to no reimbursement at all.  Thus, I strongly recommend my clients both get travel insurance and that they get it and that they take true travel insurance from a reputable company as linked to above.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Should I buy the video put out by the cruise line while aboard?


I write from aboard the Island Princess where I am enjoying myself and thinking about how nice it would be to have a good DVD related to my transit of the Panama Canal. Also, it seems I may end up in one of the videos produced as I ended up a few times on the camera while they were shooting on the ship’s excursion we took today.  These DVDs are somewhat expensive compared to what you would pay for a movie when shopping at Target or Wal-Mart. The DVD typically is a mix of stock video collected over many cruises and updated periodically and lots of events collected on your specific cruise. 

The video is one great way to memorialize the cruise. If you have friends who likely will want to see the cruise it also serves as a great way to show them what you saw and what happened on the ship. Of course unless you are followed constantly by the ship’s videographer all of what you do and see will not be on the video, but given the amount of video you could create think of the editing that you would have to do to make it palatable to the general audience.

Yes, you can shoot all your own video, but the time it takes to edit it all down to one or two reasonable length shows can get lengthy. That said, do you really want to spend hours creating one or two videos that you can show your friends?  Yes when you make it yourself you are able to then go put it on Youtube etc… but unless you plan to post your video out there having a nice DVD from the cruise often is much easier to have.
Prices vary from really not too bad to fairly expensive depending on exactly what you purchase. The longer more involved cruises often have special packages that provide more than one DVD which allows you to tailor your presentation of DVDs to the audience you have watching them.  Overall in most cases if you want a unique and nice souvenir from the cruise, getting the DVD tends to work out to be a nice idea.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Should I buy my air thru the cruise line?


Air from cruise lines is one of those things that over time, has really changed.  Years ago, it was usually a good idea because they would get you essentially the same price you could find for your own air. Also, you could pack your bags and check them right thru to the ships at no extra cost.  Times have changed, especially in the post September 11th days.

These days buying your air thru the cruise line is more, dicey.  You may save money or you may end up paying quite a bit more. Regardless you don’t get to check your bags straight thru to the cruise ship cabin.  You also no longer even get free bags on most airlines unless you happen to be one of their elite flyers.  Buying air thru the cruise line, unless you pay more for specific choices in the air reservation can easily yield you flights on non preferred airlines and at bad times. Also, unless you specifically pay the air portion at the time of booking, the air price may fluctuate up or down.

Paying for what is called an air deviation will allow you to select the airline and specify the time of day you want to fly. This can help at least get you on a preferred airline etc….but does not necessarily help with the airfare.  A new program offered by some airlines allows you to actually pick your own flights. In most cases you also pay a surcharge for this service. It does however offer some protection that just letting the airline pick does not offer.

Buying your air thru the cruise line does not guarantee you will arrive at your ship on time, nor does it guarantee they will get you caught up with the ship if a problem occurs while you are flying in. A common myth is that buying air thru the cruise line will have them holding the ship at departure dock or paying for connections to catch you up with the ship. That is simply not true, unless you also have unlimited travel insurance coverage.

Some of the new air programs, where you pay a fee of as much as $50 per passenger included special protections. They have a center monitoring all flights on which they have customers heading to cruises. When they see problems develop they try to work out rerouting where necessary to ensure you make the ship (your luggage may have to catch up later) on time. They also work with the cruise lines where possible holding ships to ensure slightly late passengers sail from the embarkation port.  When things go terribly wrong, they will reroute you to the next port of call where they can embark passengers. They cover the cost of the reroute also, but other costs such as extra hotel nights are on your own thus the need for travel insurance still exists.

It is worth looking at various factors when you are booking before picking if you will plan the air on your own or if you want to have the cruise line plan it for you.  Be sure you know what the benefits and costs are for choosing cruise line air.  We are here to help you with the entire cruise experience booking process.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What kind of shopping is available on the ship?

I can honestly say that I am writing this from just a few decks above and about 50 meters forward of the shopping area on the Island Princess.  Yes, there’s lots of shopping available on this and most other cruise ships.  Depending on your tastes you can find clothes, duty free booze, and even new jewelry on your next cruise without leaving the ship.

One thing to note, the cruise lines are only able to have the ship shops open while at sea. The shops are closed while in port due to local port rules and regulations. This does not really hurt your chance to shop on the ship since in port you aren’t usually hanging out planning to go shopping on the ship anyhow. I’ve always found the shops to be open an adequate amount of time while at sea.

The boutique shops range from fine jewelry shops where you can get top designer watches or diamonds. They also tend to carry a range of items to suite a wide range of gift purchases so most folks on the cruise ship can find something in the shop to their liking.  Also found onboard is a liquor shop selling a wide variety of the most commonly purchased alcoholic beverages at decent a price. Just keep in mind there are customs limits on how much you can bring back duty-free. You can bring more and pay duty, but it is best to get the most current limits and duty costs from US Customs before your trip.

Another standard shop is the logo shop for the particular cruise line. These you can find Royal Caribbean, Princess, Celebrity, or whatever cruise line you are on then, t-shirts, polo shirts, model ships and more. It is a great place to get trinkets related to the cruise and ship specifically.  It is always a good idea to watch for sales when they try to close out some of the merchandise as it may fetch you a good deal. T-shirts often go on sale one evening during the cruise, but you may find they are limited in both size and design on those days.

Usually you will find a boutique clothing shop aboard as well. This tends to have more expensive and nicer clothing, often with a flavor of the destinations you will visit. You can typically find some nice button down shirts along with nice dresses. You also find some fancy costume jewelry in this shop.  If you decide you need to dress up more for formal night this is a good place to go stop and check out the deals they may have. This shop often is where you will find fine crystal figurines alone with other high end collectible souvenirs.

There is typically also a camera shop aboard that not only handles the on-board photography but also handles the sales of digital cameras. They often offer services handy to digital photographers such as transfer of your pictures to CDs or DVDs. They also can usually print selected photos as you wish which can be good if you like to have prints or need them to share with others.  They are usually involved in the production of the cruise in review or similarly named DVD of the cruise.  These folks are also a good source of help with your current digital photography. Of course they do like to help you upgrade your current equipment.

Overall the pricing in these shops for many of the items is at a slight premium above what you can get on land especially when you find things on sale. The prices are definitely not hugely out of line though.  If you need something while on the ship they are there so that is a plus, but if you are looking for inexpensive souvenirs from your destinations, I’d recommend buying while ashore.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Are all travel agents knowledgeable about cruising? Is it better to look for a travel agent who is specifically trained for cruise travel and is certified by CLIA and the cruise lines?


Travel Agents typically can see most any travel regardless of their actual knowledge of the product. This is unlike what you find in many other fields. It allows a travel agent to help you plan most if not all aspects of a trip, but at the same time does mean that when for instance buying a cruise you don’t necessarily know what if any training that agent has about cruising. In fact specifically looking at cruising there are many agents who sell cruises who have yet to set foot on a cruise ship.  It would almost be like buying a new car over the internet from someone in an India call center who hasn’t ever seen the a US manufactured car up close.

Cruise Line Industry Association (CLIA) offers various levels of certification to travel agents. There are also a couple of travel agent certification programs that help set agents apart. I will focus on CLIA here since I am CLIA certified and I am focused on cruises in this post. CLIA offers an Accredited Cruise Counselor program as well as a Luxury Cruise Agent program. They also have a couple of other programs where there are some additional advanced studies required.  I hold the CLIA Cruise Counselor and am working on my Luxury Specialist Certification as well.

Part of what CLIA’s certification program requires is feet on ship time.  Each certified agent has been on at least two cruises and several additional ships to see what different ships look like and to better understand a short and long cruise.  With the definition I am using of short being 5 nights or less and long being 6 nights or longer.  In fact agents have to use at least two different cruise lines to accomplish this certification.  If asked many of the folks selling cruises would have to admit they are neither, enrolled in, or certified as a cruise counselor.  Also, the cost of taking two cruises is a hindrance to some agents, and the two actual cruise requirement is not waived.

The advanced programs, such as the luxury cruise specialist require even more study and more ship visits.  They also require minimum sales within a two year period which helps keep the certification process aimed at folks who truly sell cruises and know as well as understand the process and product. This is a step up from the sales certification programs offered my many of the cruise lines. Yes, the cruise lines do actually offer a program to get to know what makes them different than other cruise lines.  They do not require though any ship visits or cruises as part of the overall program.

Some of us actually used actual cruises on several ships to obtain our ship visits and cruises. For me I have over 20 actual cruises almost all of them week long cruises. In fact I had to seek out a short cruise to meet my last requirement for certification, not a bad thing to have to do to finish such a certification.  I’ve cruised on several cruise lines, and cruised everything from very laid back live-aboard dive boats which are a specialty product right on up to the largest ship sailing, Royal Caribbean’s Allure Of The Seas.  Each offers a unique experience and of course the different ports around the world offer different experiences.

I’ve sailed Asia, The Middle East, Alaska, and all over the Caribbean. I’ve sailed Northern South America and even transited the Panama Canal from Ft. Lauderdale on the way to Los Angeles.  All of these unique experiences help me, and other agents who sail a lot and are well trained the ability to really help you pick the best cruise for yourself and your family.  There is nothing more disappointing than going on a vacation and it not being what you expected and as a result possibly not enjoying yourself.
Ultimately a well trained agent, and for cruises that means their having the top level training for the particular line recommended as well as a CLIA training certification is key to ask about when selecting an agent. An agent who says it is not important likely is not well versed in really selling folks the right cruise for their particular vacation needs.  So be sure to ask your agent what certification(s) they hold. Or to deal with a CLIA Accredited Cruise Counselor who also holds top certifications from Cunard, Princess, Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, Celebrity, Azamara Club Cruises, InnerSea Discoveries, and American Safari Lines, and several others, give us a call, we are happy to help you pick the right cruise.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Sports and other Competitions aboard the Ships


Cruising is a great way to get away from all the cares of daily life at home. However all aspects of home are not lost while on vacation. Aside from lots of good food, you can participate in many sporting events while on the cruise. Some of these are individual sports while others are team sports. These sporting activities can be just for the fun of it or competitive in tournaments that last just a couple hours or thru the entire cruise.

Often there will be shuffleboard tournaments, mini-golf tournaments, table tennis tournaments, volleyball tournaments, and at times dodge ball tournaments. To some extent what is offered is partly based on the demographics of the passengers aboard the cruise. I find on cruises with younger overall populations the team competitions are more intense and frequent.

On Royal Caribbean in particular I’ve seen competitions for speed climbing the rock wall as well as surfing competitions. Rock walls are aboard all of their ships while the “flow-riders” are only on Freedom Class and larger ships.  Allure and Oasis are equipped with two each allowing one to be just for stand-up riding with the other dedicated to lay down surfing. (I really enjoyed it when I tried it in July 2011.)

Aside from the physically demanding sports competitions you will find other competitions aboard the ships. One where you will often find many are trivia competitions. Often they are a great place to meet other cruisers.  Aside from trivia there may be sign making contests, karaoke contests and many other ways for both individuals and teams to win particular events.  These are all set up to be fun for both the participants and spectators. Karaoke in particular is set up to be entertaining for large gatherings of people, not just the participants.

The competitions are typically all free to enter and often have trinket prices given to the winners.  Thus, it is worth trying one out yourself and seeing if you really enjoy them. When you find one you like, use it as an ice breaker on future cruises to meet someone new.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Round the World Cruises, are they for me?

Round the World Cruises are, a unique way to see a lot of different ports while at the same time enjoying a cruise.  These cruises are sailed typically by adventurous folks who are already fairly well traveled and have time to make the trip. These trips can be fairly long or perhaps somewhat short depending on how you go.  It is a fun way to see places you otherwise would likely not see. Most folks don’t of course pop from port to port via air or car for short visits. They may go for extended stays in select ports which is how many folks go enjoy the ports they really like after the cruise is over.

Round the World cruises are offered by a few different cruise lines.  Most Round the World cruises are offered by the luxury lines with Princess, an upscale cruise line offering some World Cruises as well. Princess cruises are typically not fully around the world, but segments out of the longer Round the World cruises.
Round the World cruises are often booked well in advance.  Frequently the best cabins are booked within hours of the cruise first going on sale as people tend to plan such a long travel event well in advance. The reason is there are so few Round the World cruises and the demand tends to be growing. The number of cruises available to feed the demand is not growing as fast as the demand hence a more limited supply of cabins. Thus the best cabins sell quickly.

Round the World cruises come in two forms full circle and partial circle cruises which are usually called segments by the respective cruise lines. Segment cruises are also very popular, especially among those who want the Round the World experience without spending the months on a ship required for a full circle cruise. Cost and time of travel are usually the difference between folks sailing a Segment and a full Round the World transit.  
Round the World cruises are a great way to see infrequently visited cruise ports. There are also numerous stop that are visited by cruises on a regular basis so you really get the best of both worlds.  The ports not frequently visited often end up gems because they are not yet overrun by cruise passengers in for a day rushing to see everything possible. Thus the ports tend to showcase more of a natural what life is really like around the area.  Mixing regular cruise ports with these hidden gems is part of what makes the Round the World Cruise an exciting adventure.

In addition to the exciting and unique ports a Round the World cruise is a great place to meet and really get to know other who enjoy cruising. These folks tend to be well educated and well traveled leaving open many different conversation topics. This is one of the things various cruisers really find exciting about these longer cruises.  Other cruisers use these long cruises to mark special occasions such as retirement.
No matter how you cut it, if you have the time and money and enjoy cruising a Round the World Cruise is an exciting way to send several weeks and see many different places around the world. When I retire many years down the road one of those cruises will be on the bucket list.  Speak with a cruise expert now.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Cruise Fares, When is the typically best time to book my cruise?


When to book a cruise to get the best price, that is a question I hear often.  The generally most accurate answer when looking across the board for all cruises is that booking them when the cruise is first released for sale generally gets the best fare. There are some exceptions I will explore here as well.

Generally most cruise lines come out with early booking fares that are as low as you will see for most cabins on most sailings. They do this to encourage folks to put down some money to secure their cabins.  This is also when you have the best shot at securing some of the best cabins on the ship.  Both agencies setting up groups and folks who know they want select cabins book in the first couple days a particular sailing is listed.  If you want one of the prime suites on the ship, such as the Presidential Suite, or Royal Suite on the Freedom of the Seas, typically they need to be booked in the first couple of days they are open for sale.  That is not to say these cabins can’t ever be secured closer to sailing, but it is a rare find.

Some cruise lines regularly sell a lot of their cabins when the sailing is first announced.  Disney is one where when they announce new sailings cabins become short in supply very quickly. Many of the sailings operate on a fully refundable deposit basis, so other than tying up some money in a deposit, it’s in most folks minds not a big deal to grab and later release a cabin.  If you think you want to sail a route and can swing the deposit money being tied up for a while, securing you cabin early is worth locking up some money.  If you consider the increase in cost for the cabin, it often represents a great return on your money having the cabin booked.

A number of luxury cruise lines have pricing programs where as a select number of cabins sell all of the prices for the ship go up at a predetermined percentage level. The number of cabins for the first rate increase is often reached fairly quickly after release of the sailings.  There are some lines that offer a single price from start to finish, but these are rare sailings and typically start out quite expensive anyhow. The reason they don’t change prices is the minimal number of guests makes it nearly impossible to offer different prices among the few cruisers on their small ships.

If you plan to sail a group, it is usually a very good idea to work well in advance so you can secure a block of cabins at the very best prices as the cruises are first put on sale. Over time as the supply of cabins dwindles, the prices for new bookings climb. For those who secured their cabins ahead and the groups they keep their lower prices.

Some folks say, at least on certain lines, it’s best to wait for last minute deals. Although on select sailings it is possible to snag a great deal at the last minute, that is the exception, not the rule.  Some cruise lines will put on sale those cabins they want to move to fill up a ship. Most often when those cabins go on sale they are not the best cabins you may want as your cabin on a given sailing. Often the cabins on sale are in only specific cabin categories, so if you have your heart set on a specific category, you may be disappointed by waiting.

Recently, I booked myself in a junior suite on the Mariner of the Seas and then the next day looked for a client what was available.  The same cabin had gone up $100 per person after I booked my cabin. I see all the time where cabin prices increase and seldom see where cabin prices drop. Most folks I know are in the same boat, usually seeing cabin pricing increase instead of decrease.

The key, if you know you want to sail book early and lock in the best price. Just check the terms of the deposit if you may need to change sailings to ensure you can get the full deposit back if needed.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Is the at sea internet very good?

If you work hard and are always in touch, or own your own business where you must be accessible, fear not, most cruise ships have phone and internet service available.  Now with that said let’s chat about the issues related to internet and phone connections while at sea. They are far better now as technology has evolved, but sadly they are far from perfect.

First off, you must know that your internet speed will be fairly slow on a ship. For one there is only one connection that everyone is sharing, unlike in your own neighborhood where folks are using several connections.  We also see more and more people spending time logged on while at sea. I admit I do so nearly every day to check email. I don’t surf the net unless I need to go get some critical piece of data.

You will also find that although the internet is available it can get fairly costly to use if you use much of it. Most of the major cruise lines though do offer some really good package deals which bring the cost down to a more palatable cost/per minute. Of course it’s still a cost you will see on your on-board spending account at the end of the cruise.  Those who happen to be frequent cruisers may well get some free internet time while aboard and some also get additional discounts on the packages.

You will find that aside from the slow connections, there are some other key factors that determine how well your connection and speed will be.  On older ships where the internet satellites are a bit older (have not yet been updated) a bit of a rock can lead to choppy connections in plain English. What this means is that although you are connected the strength etc…are poor and the internet is slowed to a crawl as packets of information are checked and rechecked to get the data to and from the ship.  This can make those email communications frustrating especially if they are critical.

Another area where you will begin to have difficulty with internet is the middle of Atlantic and Pacific crossings where the satellite coverage is spotty if at all. The satellites are set up in a geostationary orbit so they provide coverage to a specific view of the world at all times.  This allows for better coverage of those areas, but due to the cost of the satellites coverage is not global. Coverage is established where there are people who want to pay to use the services.  

In some ports various communications devices must be turned off. I have yet to personally experience it, but you could find that your internet via the ship is turned off while you are in certain ports around the world.  This is a rare occurrence though.  On the subject of internet in port, I would like to point out that rarely in the major ports of the Caribbean will you find free internet access while sitting on your balcony scanning.  Some ports have totally free internet in their terminals but most often it is in the building or just outside the walls only. Dubai is one such port which comes to mind.
Overall if you only want to upload and download email, the internet on the ship is fairly reliable and fast enough to send plenty of messages up and down without too much difficulty. However, if you start sending or receiving large attachments the whole process will slow to a crawl pretty quickly.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Should I only shop in “cruise line endorsed” shops while in ports?

This is a topic often discussed among experienced cruisers. On board the ship, where generally a large portion of the passengers are new to cruising or have only one or two prior cruises, the official line by the cruise employees is you should only buy from recommended shops.  To some extent the real answer is more of a port by port based answer.

Some ports are safer than others for venturing out to whatever shops you want. When I say safe I don’t intend for you to think in terms of personal safety but instead to think about it as will you be dealing with honest businesses. When you are laying out a bunch of money on some fine jewelry or art, or whatever you like to collect that is expensive it’s imperative that you deal with honest and reputable businesses.  Those businesses who aren’t honest know you are off the ship and likely can’t come after them if or when you find out what they sold you is not what it was advertised to be. In many ports the local authorities aren’t going to stop anything that brings money to the economy while in other ports where there are strong consumer protection laws the less reputable businesses can be shut down.

One thing to be wary of are the street vendors. Don’t expect to get high quality trinkets from them in most places. That said if you are seeing lots of hand crafted art work and you like it bargain and get some. The artisans often need our support and their art work is usually as good, or better than you get in the trinket stores.  Some places around the world yield far better artwork than others, or more unique artwork.  In particular I really like the hand carved items put out on the island of Bali.

Focusing on the high end things that the folks on the ship shout out; “If you like it, you want it, buy it!” So we are referring to liquors, higher end souvenirs, and even jewelry.  Often for the high end souvenirs there will be other decent shops that offer similar quality goods. You of course have to take a look at the items in both places to know for sure what you are getting, or just know what to look for in terms of quality before buying at the lower cost not recommended stores.

For jewelry, or high end art, it becomes a bit difficult to say one way or the other is fine to go. When buying gold you need to know are you getting the real thing, is it as solid as they say, or just plated? Many questions come up with jewelry and watches, it’s critical to know what you are buying.  Know the expected quality, what it should look like, and what you would be paying at home. That will help as you shop other than just the recommended shops.  

Know the general attitude and laws about misrepresentation where you are going. Singapore, the USA, and Canada are great examples of places where you are generally safe dealing with an established shop either recommended or not, because these countries have laws to protect consumers.  On the other hand, Mexico is one great example of buyer beware.  When in places where the attitude is buyer beware and you can’t be certain of exactly what you are buying, then it is probably best to stick with a recommended shop.

A cruise and shopping in port should be a fun experience. To that end depending on what kind of money you are spending, it is best to be careful that you are buying. You should either what you know is legitimate and that you are getting a good deal on such deal, or stick to recommended shops where you have some recourse.  Just keep in mind that the recommended shops are not accepting returns based on buyer’s remorse.