So, you have decided that you think cruising sounds pretty cool. You have seen the slick ads on TV, read brochures and articles in travel magazines, but where do you really start? The following suggestions are based on our experience.
Let your trusted local travel agent do all the heavy lifting. Just let them know where you want to go. If you have a dream, and sit back, write the checks, and go. This method takes a lot of the “pre-cruise” work out of the preparations. Let the professionals do their job. (Quietly Google to see if you can do better.)
Once you begin that first cruise, you will be exposed to other cruisers who are very seasoned and are only too eager to share. A lot of these cruisers always have one or two cruises booked ahead. Also while you are on board, the cruise line, in order to make sure you will become a loyal customer, will offer lower prices on future cruises – if you sign up while onboard. Be prepared to lay down some cash upon booking. Once you become a member of their “loyal customer” mailing list, you will receive periodic future cruise offerings by mail or email. Barbara and I are members of NCL’s “Latitudes” and HAL’s “Mariner” society. We wait for cruise deals from a trusted travel agent.
Every cruise line has their own agents that will be only too happy to help you fulfill your dreams, both by phone on on their web site.
Individual travel agents get to know you and will insure that you are made aware of the special “deals” available through their agency. As I have mentioned before Alan Schiller offers some excellent deals through his weekly email sent out each Tuesday. You can sign up for these weekly offerings at www.travelwithalan.com . Alan always includes in his special round trip air fare, and he seems to have some special touch when working with the airlines. He recently offered a 13 night/15 day Far East adventure from Seattle to Osaka, Japan with return air back to Seattle for a “base” price of $1499 per person!
We are also very pleased with the excellent service we have received from http://www.cruisespecialists.com/default.aspx and our favorite agent Debra Dickerson.
The Internet abounds with web sites from hundreds of “Travel Agencies” who may be no more than one person working out of their home. We have never felt a need to explore this avenue, but we know some folks who have been very successful booking cruises this way. Others take advantage of “last minute” deals that the cruise lines/agencies offer when a particular cruise has not been sold out. We met a couple from Canada last year that “keep their cruise bags” packed and ready to go, hoping to cash in on one of these specials. Usually these folks “have been there – done that” and just cruise to be getting away – the destination IS the ship.
Internet Based Message Boards
Our favorite Internet message board is at http://www.cruisecritic.com/. There may be other boards out there, but this one offers just about everything when it comes to planning. Just a few of those subjects are listed below:
Member Showcase – Cruise Blogs and Websites, Cruise Videos, and Member Cruise Reviews – a great starting point because these are reports put together by non-professionals – people like you an me.
Cruise Critic News & Feature Articles – read about what is going on in the industry.
Photo Gallery – This board offers thousands of photographs submitted by cruise critic members. Additionally there is a “Photo Discussion area” where members have posted personal experiences with photographic equipment.
Cruise Lines “A to Z” – These boards provide the answers you might have about every line currently in business and detailed information about each ship.
Roll Calls – Members Only – A roll call is a discussion forum for members who have booked a certain cruise or are planning to book. This forum provides great interaction between cruisers that will be taking the same cruise. It is a tremendous source of information, and a great way to become acquainted with some very interesting people you will be cruising with.
Ports Of Call – These boards provide information about most ports where cruise ships currently dock. Here again people share valuable information about their experiences – the good the bad and the ugly.
Others – These are just a few of the board topics. Plan to spend plenty of time exploring these boards, then sign up, log in and start sharing.
Passports – Inevitably you are going to need a passport, so you might as well go down now (if you are serious) and get the process started.
Visas – It is also the responsibility of each traveler to ascertain what countries they expect to visit, will require visas for entry. Your travel agent should be able to provide you with this information. Even if you do not intend to go ashore in a country that requires a visa, everyone on the ship is required to have a visa – prior to boarding the ship.
Immunization Records – The Center for Disease Control at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx offers information about travel to every country. Your travel agent should also have this information.
Since the time your ship spends in each port is limited (4 to 12 hours, some stay overnight), you might want to spend some time researching what there is to see and do in each port. The Travel Agent you booked your cruise through, might offer excursions, usually at a very reasonable rate. The ship will also offer excursions, however they might not be the best bargain. The advantage of booking a tour with the ship is if your tour is delayed in returning, the ship will not leave you behind.
Some ports are easy to explore on your own, on foot. Sometimes shuttle buses or taxis are good choices. Volunteer guides are a rare opportunity. Local tour companies can also be considered, sometimes right on the pier where the ship docks.
Barbara is a specialist at port research, here are her sources, with the exception of Google Earth:
Travel books. Our Library usually is well stocked with travel books, written by renowned travelers. Photocopies of choice pages & maps (sometimes enlarged) are lighter than books to bring along
Cruisecritic.com. Cruise reviews, Port Reviews and Roll Calls. One word of caution when reading cruise reviews, what may have been a wonderful experience to one person, might have been a disaster for someone else.
DVDs and Videos. There is a company, http://seavid.com/ , that produce videos for sale onboard cruise ships, and the Internet.
Google Earth. This program allows such things as “3D fly-overs” of ports and the areas around them. You can also zoom in and explore items of interest in almost photographic detail. In this view little “squares” will appear, and when you click on these squares you will be presented with a photograph that has been uploaded to Google earth of that area.
With the weight restrictions being tightened for today’s’ air travelers, “less is better“. Make sure to include a collapsible bag in your luggage. Along the way treasures will be purchased. Luggage straps and a roll of strapping tape will keep luggage secure.
Consider traveling Amtrak to and from your embarkation and disembarkation port as Amtrak has a much more liberal baggage/carryon policy, and if you are eligible for a senior discount, fares are reasonable, especially for sleeping accommodations.
Establish a “core” packing list, then add or subtract depending on:
Length of cruise.
Destinations – hot or cold.
Mode of transportation used when traveling to and from ports.
Activities onboard and in port.
Formal dress expectations during the cruise.
In the end, experience will teach you much more than I can. Get out there and experience one of the most pleasurable ways to see the wonders of this world. JWC
One thought on “Cruising – Part III Final”
Thanks for the mention; it’s appreciated. Everyone is welcome at Cruise Critic; we’re serious about cruising but we have a great deal of fun, too.
If anyone needs help with the boards or any other community-feature, please feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org