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.

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