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The Joy and Value of Cruises

Last year, approximately five million people enjoyed cruise vacations. According to ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents), cruises have a higher percentage of satisfied customers than any other vacation experience.

Once you have experienced the true pleasure and value of cruising, you'll be hooked like I am. I've sailed 15 times over the years and each voyage just keeps getting better. This past year, I took two cruises: one on the Carnival Destiny and the other on the Disney Magic. Both were wonderful.

Cruising is the ultimate vacation in value and convenience. Today's new cruise ships are floating resorts with all the choices fine resorts have to offer, only better: they also take you to different places, so you'll never be bored.

There are a variety of cruises that can accommodate any individual's taste and budget. The price of your ticket includes your cabin and all of your meals, snacks, and all onboard activities and entertainment. The only extra expenses are drinks, sodas, spa treatments, and shore excursions.

What will I pay?

Cruises can range from $300 per person for a three-day cruise to well over $100,000 per person for an around-the-world cruise. Cruise package prices can be quoted either with or without airfare added on. When airfare is included, cruise lines generally price their packages with greatly reduced or even free airfare.

You may often see enticing ads in the newspaper boasting a 7-day cruise from $599 per person. These ads usually tout the lowest inside cabin categories without airfare, and the majority do not tell you about other expenses, such as port charges, taxes, and tipping. Port charges vary depending on your destination. An average 7-day cruise with five ports of calls averages out to cost about $100 extra per person.

What are my cabin options?

The cabin you choose will largely determine the price you pay. The price of a cabin is based primarily on size and location. Cabins can range from expensive penthouse suites to small inside cabins with no portholes. Newer ships tend to have larger staterooms; however, some older ships have cabins that are very small. Regardless, be advised that cabins aboard all ships are small compared to hotel rooms. Nevertheless, they do not lack for amenities, and they are very comfortable.

Unlike ships in the days of the Titanic, today's cruise ships are "one-class". All passengers onboard can use all of the ship's facilities. Whether you are in the lowest category inside cabin or owner's suite, you will enjoy the same service, menus, activities, and entertainment as everyone else onboard.

Do I need to tip?

A few cruise lines include tipping in the price. Most, however, do not. Tipping is an additional expense and a matter of individual preference. As a general rule of thumb, plan on tipping $3.00 to $4.00 per person per day for your room steward and dining room waiter/waitress, and about half that amount for your busboy/busgirl. Additional personnel can be tipped at your discretion. Most bar drinks have tips automatically included in the bill.

It is important to understand that tipping is how the majority of the cruise service staff earns their living. Good service should be rewarded. If you find the service lacking, however, be sure to speak up and say so.

Types Of Cruises

There are very few places on earth that cruises don't go to. Itineraries include Antarctica, Caribbean, Mediterranean, Africa, India, Asia, North Sea, Oceania, the Mississippi, even the Amazon, just to name a few.

The dates you will be traveling influence the types of cruises available to you. Alaskan cruises, for example, sail from May to September, while European and Caribbean cruises sail year-round. The duration of a cruise ranges from three-days to several months. The most popular cruises are seven days. However, three-day cruises to the Bahamas and the Mexican Rivera are growing in popularity.

Specialty cruises are also a growing trend. Many cruise lines now cater to specific age groups, singles, couples, and families. In particular, themed cruises for enthusiasts of music, art, wine, sports and so on have become hip.

When it comes to atmosphere, cruise lines can vary widely. Cruise lines like Crystal, Silversea, Radisson, and Cunard offer a more formal and sophisticated experience, while Costa, Disney , Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean, and Carnival are more mainstream and offer more a relaxed, party type atmosphere.

Cruise ships also vary a great deal in size. Cruise ships range from the small, 60-passenger explorer type ships to the huge, 12-story mega ships that can accommodate over 3,500 passengers and crew.

Dining Onboard

All the great things you've heard about dining on a cruise ship are true. Cruises are feasts for the eyes and stomach. You will wine and dine on gourmet meals. Even children have their own menus.

The best part is that there is virtually no limit on what or on how much you can order. If you have the late night munchies, check out the midnight buffet, or order room service. Most cruise ships offer 24-hour room service, which is included in the price.

Contrary to popular belief, not all cruise food is high in fat. You can certainly manage to stick to a healthy diet and still enjoy all the good stuff. Most cruise lines offer low-calorie and spa type cuisine.

Entertainment

Cruise lines such as Carnival specialize in glitzy Las Vegas-style entertainment. Some offer shows that are more subdued. Often the best entertainment onboard is from passenger participation. For example, last year onboard the Carnival Fascination, I had a great time watching passengers participate in a newlywed type game with the cruise director as the show host. On Costa, you can experience "Toga Night" where passengers don togas.

You can dance the night away in the disco or you can mellow out in one of the many lounges on board, which feature jazz or classical music. If you are an active soul, you can exercise to your heart's content. You can jog, participate in an aerobics class, work out in the gym, swim, golf, play tennis or basketball, go skeet shooting, shuffleboard and much more. Want to be pampered? Try a message or facial in the ship's spa.

Kids from 2-18 have their own play areas and supervised entertainment. Carnival, Disney, and Princess offer the best and most expansive children's programs at sea.

Get Professional Advice

After you've developed a general idea of what type of cruise you'd like to take, talk with a professional travel agent. Unlike airlines, most cruise companies deal exclusively with agents rather than with individual consumers.

A good agent who specializes in cruises will advise you on what cruise is right for you. You can find an agent near you by checking out the CLIA (Cruise Line International Association) website at http://www.cruising.org/ or ASTA's website, at http://www.astanet.com/ . When discussing your plans with a travel agent, let them know your preferences and budget and you'll be on your way to smooth sailing!


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