Monday, February 27, 2012

Do we have to dine at specific times?

Very few ships these days restrict dining to only specific times. Most ships have several dining venues so there are alternative venues where you can dine at alternate times. Some ships offer the ability in part of the dining room to dine whenever you want within a set of hours. Also, most ships offer room service throughout the cruise.
Years ago there were specific formal dining times but as the cruise ships have grown to attract a wider passenger audience, we have noted a growth in the number and variety of dining venues on ships. The food experience onboard a ship is something cited as one of the most critical elements of a cruise for many of the guests.
Ultimately when you book a cruise, you tend to pick between a couple dining times where you have an assigned table. The table could be just for your family or for as many as 12 passengers from all over. The ship does try to match your ages and other factors with the other passengers selected for the same table so you may be able to carry on a conversation. It can be hit or miss though.
More recently the advent of anytime or my time dining has come about on many of the ships. This allows you to enjoy the main dining room without herding like cattle into the dining room at one of the set times.  Specialty restaurants as well as the buffet offer more alternatives. Then add in grills and pizzerias as well as other caf├ęs around the ships and you now have so many choices from which to choose and most are open extended hours so it is possible to get food pretty much around the clock when you want to eat.
Of course for those who want to stay put and have their food brought to them, there is always room service. If you are in a full suite on most ships you can get a course by course deliver of your extended menu room service meal. Thus, you do not have to dine just when the cruise ship tells you to dine. Enjoy your abundant dining options while you cruise.

Monday, February 20, 2012

How is immigration handled in each port?

The immigration of passengers into each port of call and the final destination port are of concern to some cruisers. Typically it is a process which takes place behind the scenes. The ship typically has hours between ports in which the guest services crew is able to send advance arrival lists to the immigration authorities in each port well in advance of arrival.  This allows upon arrival a very fast clearance of the ship’s passengers to go ashore.

In some foreign ports (non-USA that is) each passenger will be provided with and must retain a landing card which is their tourist visa. These are most typically collected upon arrival back to the ship allowing a very quick count of # of visas distributed and returned to see if anyone is trying to overstay their visit. Of course anyone having an emergency while ashore is handled somewhat as an exception.  These ports tend to be in areas of the world where cruising is more of a new phenomenon and are infrequent.

Immigration issues are also one of those things that differ depending on where the passenger is from, as those from the USA face one set of immigration rules while those from other countries have totally different immigration rules. These rules vary on who must have an immigration/visitor visa when they visit a particular country. Also, it may be that some countries require a lot more work to get a visitor visa than is required of countries. Those with USA passports typically have among the easiest time getting VISAs issues ad needed for stops nearly anywhere in the world. There are a few places you can/should not travel on a USA passport though, and cruises don’t typically go there.

In most ports the passenger will never even know how their immigration takes place. In the Caribbean an official will come aboard the ship and look over some overall ship records and clear the ship or single out specific passengers. As I said before typically with advanced notice of who is arriving, any specific issues can be addressed fairly privately and without any real issues allowing folks to dash for their shore excursions. This is one thing that makes sailing the Caribbean so nice for many persons. In fact in some places arriving with just the minimum paperwork to sail a closed loop cruise from the USA will not even be enough to get you into the port should you arrive any way other than by cruise ship.

On Caribbean sailings typically travelers, with few exceptions, will retain their own passports. In some cases certain foreign passengers must surrender them to officials when traveling to certain ports. Generally though cruising the Caribbean is so well set up that it flows seamlessly for the passengers. Sail out of Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and other places around the worlds and often you will be handing over your passport to the ship’s authorities for handling in each port. This helps make the immigration process flow much better than if each person had to queue up and go thru immigration on their own.
What is important to know though is what the immigration rules are for your arrival into each country you visit. Don’t assume that the cruise line will ensure you have them ahead of time, you must be sure you have all of the proper documents for your trip. Also, if you book well in advance be sure to double check the documents requirements shortly before the cruise to again make sure you have all of the proper documents.  Your travel agent can help you with this as well.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Can I get on and off the ship at alternate ports?

For those who want to cruise but think they can’t get to the departure port or who need to get off early, the question often comes up can I get on late or off early. There is however no simple answer to this question. It tends to vary based on what ports are involved, most specifically the departure and arrival ports for the ship. (The two ports being, where the cruise officially begins and ends.)

Ships sailing out of embarkation ports in the USA have special rules to follow. There are laws on the books which prohibit foreign flagged ships from taking passengers from one US port to another port for hire.  To add some clarity, taking passengers who remain on the ship is permissible, thus we have all the Alaskan Cruises.   What is not allowed is sailing passengers for pay from Anchorage to Seattle which is why you see the ships embarking and disembarking in Vancouver on the Southern end.

Round trip cruises out of and back to the same US port are permissible so long as if they stop at a port, a foreign port is included in the mix. Thus the round trip Alaskan cruises out of Seattle stop somewhere in Canada.  US flagged ships such as those owned by American Safari Cruises can depart and go to any US port they want without the same restrictions. NCL’s Hawaii based cruise ship is essentially the same situation where they have a US flagged ship serving the destination.

Since most of the cruise ships are foreign flagged (that is a whole different blog post) I will focus the answer there.  Most cruise ships with advanced notice of the special need for downstream boarding or early disembarkation are able to work it out. The key is that you are boarding in a US port and getting off in a foreign port or vice versa.  There are other cases and countries where you can’t get on or off at alternate ports like with the US. 
You will find many one way sailings between foreign ports and even transits of the Panama Canal. Notice though that the Panama Canal transits almost always you stop in Aruba which is one of the nearby distant foreign ports where ships can stop that allow then for one way transports between US ports by foreign flagged ports.

If you miss your ship catching up later is usually possible except on most Alaskan cruises sailing round trip from Seattle.  However, missing your ship and playing catch up can be a costly affair, hence the need for travel insurance.   Getting off early usually can be arranged. You just have to work it out ahead of time and make sure it is not in another US port than where you boarded.  Of course if it is a medical emergency there are provisions for paying a fine if it were enforced in the time of a medical emergency.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Who cruises these days?

Today cruising is for everyone who can afford a cruise. I clarify because short of being able to pay for a cruise there is no reason every personality can’t find a cruise that suits them. Cruises can be for small groups or large groups where you just blend with the crowd.

I personally enjoy the venues offered by the large ships but also really like the cozy feeling of smaller ships with fewer passengers.  Cruises for me can be all about being active or relaxing depending on what else is going on at the time. Thus like me depending on what experience someone wants out of their vacation time different cruises may fit the same folks at different time.

As I said there are cruises for nearly everyone. In fact there are even cruises for folks with specific medical needs. In these cases specialized medical staff travels with the cruisers who are suffering from the medical conditions.  In these instances a “regular” cruise is transformed for the ill. Generally though, it is a function of the medical team picking the cruise and advertising it to this unique passenger population.  There are even cruises put on for Make A Wish families where a cruise was requested. Specifically Royal Caribbean is one cruise line that specifically supports the Make A Wish Foundation both raising funds and helping ensure those families cruise.

Cruises take place from departure ports and to destinations around the world. Thus , those looking for a big adventure to specific areas of the world are typically able to get such a cruise by consulting with a knowledgeable cruise agent, such as Brooks Cruise Services.  Such an agency knows how to pair up what a specific cruiser wants out of a cruise to the cruise that best fits their needs. It is this specialized cruise knowledge that allows a cruise agent to help everyone cruise.

There are 3 night cruises to the Bahamas over the weekend which are well suited to the crowd who wants to party. On the opposite end of the cruise spectrum an around the world cruise is a great option for those financially well off, retired or otherwise who have tons of time on their hands and a sense of adventure towards seeing many new places or revisiting places they have seen over the years.  In between there are cruises for adventure and cruises for relaxing and cruises where it can be considered one big party. It is a function of the ship and destination that can make the difference.