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FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions by Cruise Travelers.
Most cruise lines offer programs for children. Many offer special teen and pre-teen scheduled activities. The larger ships almost always include a video arcade, kids disco or other designated "kids area".
Cruises are a great way for families to travel and see a variety of countries and ports. Some ships also offer babysitting services and daycare centers.
It is unlikely that you will notice any motion on a large cruise ship, even if you are sensitive to motion in automobiles or airplanes. All ships today have stabilizers to smooth the ride. Some cruises sail calmer waters than others. Caribbean and Alaska cruises enjoy smoother sailings than say Bermuda. If seas do get rough, there are many preventative medications available on board.
Personally, I prefer the acupuncture type wristbands that seem to work for most people and they can look like jewelry.
Do I have to participate in scheduled activities or can I just relax?
There are dozens of activities going on all over the ship every day. One the best ones can be "doing nothing at all". Relaxation is what attracts many people to cruise travel. Every ship has one or more pools that you can lay around with a good book, most have a library and several lounges where you can sit and relax by yourself or with friends.
And don't forget those wonderful spas. Hint: make your appointment as soon as you board the ship, as these are very popular ways to do nothing and get relaxed.
Tipping is up to you. Generally speaking, $10.00 per day/per person should take care of your waiter, bus boy and cabin steward. Other ship personnel can be tipped at your discretion. There are a few cruise lines that have a "no tipping" policy.
All U.S. and Canadian citizens must travel with proof of citizenship, which is a valid passport and any necessary visas. Since Sept. 11, 2001 it's not advisable to rely on your birth certificate (complete with raised seal, not a photocopy) with a picture identification, or a certified naturalization certificate with picture identification anymore. A state government issued drivers license or other form of picture identification is acceptable only for domestic flights.
Non-U.S. citizens who are residing in the United States are required to travel with their Alien Registration Card (Green Card) and valid passports. All others must have valid passports and necessary visas at embarkation. Ask me for more information if necessary.
Can I call home from the ship?
Most ships provide Ship to Shore telephone service. On some ships you can call from your stateroom. Ship to Shore rates apply so you may want to limit your conversations. Call home from shore using a payphone and a phonecard if it can wait a few hours.
Virtually every major cruise ship will have a staffed medical facility to handle emergencies. If you suffer from a medical condition, check with your travel agent before booking to make sure the ship on which you are cruising can handle your needs.
That is very unlikely! However, if you are concerned about having enough to do, choose one of the larger ships (40,000 tons and above), they will typically have more activities due to the sheer numbers of people on board.
A small ship will keep you so active and busy during the day, that you don't even miss the Broadway show. After the naturalist talk about the next day's activities and an afterdinner drink in the lounge, listening to the soft music of the entertainer onboard, you are ready for bed anyway.
Most ships have dozens of planned and spontaneous activities going from sunrise to way past midnight. Pool activities, sports, bingo, casino, wine tastings, dance lessons, dancing, karaoke, live entertainment, movies, television, fitness centers, shore excursions, talent contests, masquerade parties, Captain's party, country western night, just to name a few!
Generally speaking, cruise travel is very casual during the day and casual to formal in the evenings. This can vary depending on the itinerary. Caribbean, Hawaiian, Alaskan cruises are more informal while Transatlantic, Mediterranean and European cruises tend to be a little more formal. This can also vary from cruise line to cruise line and ship to ship.
Princess Cruise Line would probably lean toward formal whereas Carnival will
tend to be more informal and casual. There is no real hard and fast rule,
however, here's a try.
Ladies can take cocktail dresses or a full length formal.
There are usually 1 to 2 formal nights on a 7 night cruise, only 1 on 3 & 4 night cruises. The rest of the time is typically very casual. Even on "non-formal" nights, men should wear a collared shirt to dinner and slacks or skirts for the ladies.
One of the most attractive features of a cruise vacation is the price. Even more expensive cruises are a good value for the money. You can spend anywhere from $400 for a 3-night Bahamas cruise to $30,000 for a suite on a 30-day cruise to Africa!
No matter how much you spend, you pay one price that covers virtually everything: meals, accommodations, taxes, on-board entertainment and in some cases, airfare! The only extras are shore excursions, liquor, tips and incidentals (photos, etc.).
Undoubtedly, a cruise is the most affordable way to travel. Compare a 7-night cruise to the Caribbean at around $1300 pp (including airfare) with a 7-night trip to Hawaii. In Hawaii, a hotel comparable to your cabin on the ship will be at least $150 per night (that's $1,000 right there!), your airfare from most cities will be at least $600, and meals in Hawaii to rival that of the cruise ship will easily be $100 per day per person (another $700!). That is $2,300 per person compared to $1,300 and we haven't even talked about entertainment!
What is included in the price of the cruise?
Just about everything! All your meals are included (and there are usually about 7 or 8 per day from which to choose), all accommodations, all shipboard entertainment, all taxes and in some cases your airfare, hotel accommodations the night before and after/or your cruise, and ground transportation to and from the port is included. On some cruiselines your wine with meals, soft drinks, a bar setup in your cabin and all gratuities are included, even selected shore excursions. But more often you must pay for extras such as liquor, shore excursions, gratuities, photos, incidentals, gambling, etc.
What about sightseeing when in port?
Your ship will typically arrive in port early in the morning at which time you are free to go ashore. In most cases, you will be back on board the ship by 5:00pm to 7:00pm. This gives you more than enough time to enjoy one of the cruise lines' shore excursions, or go off on your own to do some shopping, sightseeing, swimming, scuba diving, etc.
We highly recommend the cruise ship sponsored tours and excursions. In some ports, when you debark from the ship, local sightseeing companies (in some cases a local with a van) will be waiting to temp you with their own tour. Take our word for it, while these tours may be safe and in some cases quite good, it is always a safe bet to stick with your cruise ship's recommendation.
Can I get/send e-mail while onboard the ship?
Many of the newer ships do have a business center complete with computers
connected to the Internet. Some charge as little as $16 an hour for computer
time and you can get your e-mail using Microsoft HotMail or Yahoo Mail. Check
with your cruise line for availability of these services.
When you Absolutely need a Travel Agent
Even if you consider yourself a Web-savvy travel bargain hunter, there are times when you absolutely need a travel agent? Find out why. Here's a good article that discusses this issue in Smarter Living on Aug. 07, 2003 , by Smarter Living features editor Anne Banas.
I've been an online travel editor for several years now, so you'd think I'd be the right person to ask for vacation planning advice. My brother and his fiancée (now wife) Ania are physicians who work very long, stressful hours. So I thought, what better way to give them a wedding gift than by helping them plan their honeymoon to Maui?
I suggested what I know best: going online to find the best deal. I got on the phone with my brother and rattled off bundled air-and-hotel packages from major websites like Expedia and Travelocity. I also told him how to save by booking parts of the trip individually: finding airfare through Orbitz or SideStep, then a hotel on Hotels.com. I even suggested looking at Delta.com specifically, to maximize their mile-earning options with the current bonus offers. Clearly overwhelmed, he left me with dead silence on the line until he was able to utter, "ummm...errr...I need to talk to Ania." Click.
A few days later, he called back raving about the great package deal he got through a local travel agent, and how she was able to book the whole thing for them-including air, hotel on Kaanapali Beach, and even a convertible-for one simple price. Plus, they even got free breakfast every morning, flower leis, and an upgrade to an oceanview room. How could I compete with that?
There's definitely something to be said for the convenience of a travel agent, whether you end up paying a little more or not. You can spend hours online scavenging for the best price, even if you know where to look, but the time involved and frustration could in itself be costly. Not to mention that an experienced travel agent can give you valuable inside knowledge that will greatly enhance your trip.
In my brother's case, the agent was able to secure a better room for a better price. They originally wanted a partial oceanview because they assumed anything better would be beyond their budget. But the agent contacted the hotel's representing agent in Hawaii, who said it would be cheaper to get the full oceanview room. Without the agent, they wouldn't have known.
With travel companies offering their products online, consumers indeed have more direct access to the supplier. But the problem is that the supplier is likely to have its own interests in mind and won't tell you when there's a better option, unless you think to ask.
But even when you do ask, you're not likely to get very far, as most sites don't specialize in customer service. And certainly, they won't tell about the great deal the other guy is offering. So you're left to do all the research yourself. Some people like this do-it-yourself approach, but it's not best for everyone, particularly those who are not Internet or travel savvy, or who are just plain busy.
The cost of an agent
Does it cost more to book through an agent? Possibly. With travel providers, particularly airlines, reducing or cutting commissions, travel agents have to charge the traveler higher fees to stay afloat. However, the extra money you spend for expertise that can cut through the quagmire of complex travel options and pricing can sometimes yield you greater value. And, without commissions, you know that the agent (if it's a good agent) is working for you, not the supplier.
You shouldn't feel that you're completely missing out on hot Internet rates if you go to an agent. Not only do agents have access to services that consumers don't, such as consortiums, group rates (in which they buy blocks of space), and GDSs, more and more agents are gaining access to cut-rate prices available online. For instance, some cruise lines, most recently Carnival, have leveled the playing field with uniform pricing across the board so that sellers online or off can offer the same pricing. Also, should you find a great rate online, you can always ask your agent to beat it-many times he or she can.
Money aside, agents can provide other services that can greatly add value. For instance, they can inform you if your flight changes, and keep you up-to-date on travel advisories. Some agents will also go to bat for you if something goes wrong.
According to Terryl Lofgren, owner of Denver-based World Wide Adventures & Photo Journeys, it's the relationship travelers build with their agent that can greatly enhance the travel experience. For instance, agents can store preference information such as frequent flier numbers and preference for first class. But more importantly, the agent will remember things like whether the traveler has kids, likes to visit certain destinations, or seeks out certain types of travel. And when specials that fit those preferences come up, the agent will contact the individual. Or, when travelers book their next trip, they can save time by not having to explain what they like all over again.
Lofgren also stresses that agents know who to contact to get the best service for their clients, such as making sure they get the best cruise cabin in the category they want, arranging for special requests like wine or flowers, and even steering them away from hotels that are unsuitable for their needs. Occasionally, agents can "pull off a coup," and secure free perks that the client doesn't ask for.
To be fair to online agencies and sellers, many do offer customer support or advice. However, they tend to be spread thin in their offerings and might not specialize in the particular product you're interested in. Travel agents often specialize in certain types of travel such as cruises, vacation packages, age-based trips, destinations, weddings, and just about anything else you can think of, allowing them to narrow the options down to exactly what you are looking for.
When to use an agent
Although I rate myself highly on my online trip-planning savvy, here are my recommendations for when it's a good idea to axe the online search and book with a travel agent.
Special occasions: When planning a special occasion like a honeymoon, destination wedding, family reunion, etc., you'll want everything to be perfect. (It's not as if your other concerns such as guest lists, caterers, and decorations aren't stressful enough.) You won't want to worry about nonsynched flight connections, airport transfers, or flight change updates. These are all things a travel agent can organize for you. Plus, agents can arrange special perks like in-room champagne or birthday cakes, which can really give your experience that added special quality.
Cruises: Cruises are big-ticket items, and if you don't plan correctly, you could risk not getting the vacation you've paid for, particularly if you are a first-time cruiser. Because agents often specialize in particular cruise lines, they'll be able to direct you to the cruise that's right for you, whether you're looking for a demure line like Cunard or a family cruise like Disney. If you know what cruise line you're interested in, you can go to that line's website or call for a list of recommend agents that specialize in that line.
An agent also can assist in selecting a cabin. After all, you don't want to get stuck in the smallest inside cabin next to noisy galleys or the boiler room. Additionally, they can help you with dinner seating arrangements, shore excursions, and dress-code information. Agents might also be able to swing perks like upgrades and shipboard credit.
Vacation tours: Like cruises, tour vacations can be big-ticket items. There are thousands of tour companies to choose from. An agent can steer you away from the bad ones and also point you towards the operators that specialize in the type of tour you're looking for, whether it be for seniors, adventurers, families, etc.
Group travel: Booking a large group requires a lot of coordination. Plus, agents can buy in bulk, which can lower the price considerably. Some agencies specialize in group travel.
Special needs: There are agents who specialize in just about any type of travel including disabled, pet travel, or any other type that requires special considerations. Also, most agents, specialized or not, can make arrangements for the disabled, such as making sure travelers have necessary wheelchairs and other equipment, as well as ensuring that adequate access is available.
How to find a good agent
Before you run off to a travel agency, take some time to find a reputable agent. There are enough agents running fly-by-night operations to make anyone weary. Also, after commission cuts in recent years, some agents might have become biased against certain providers who they feel left them out in the cold. On the flipside, some agents might form alliances with certain providers who will give them "override commissions" if they consistently make sales with that provider. With all this wheeling and dealing going on, how do you know that your travel agent has your best interests in mind?
Ed Perkins, columnist and former editor of the late Consumer Reports Travel Letter, recommends finding out about an agent's fee structure, so you'll know what extra costs are coming your way. Most agencies charge a flat fee that's a minimum of $20 to $40 for airfare bookings, and whether that price is per person or per party varies by agent. You'll also want to be careful of agents that mark up the price on tours or cruises, in which they still receive commissions. You should also always ask if the agent accepts override commissions, which in theory could bias the agent and compromise the client.
Word of mouth from a trusted source, like a friend or family member, is always your best bet. If you have no luck there, Perkins recommends agents who are members of The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), which has a code of ethics. ASTA will also adjudicate complaints against a member agent, offering a level of protection for the consumer.
Oh, and if you're wondering about how my brother and new sister-in-law's trip turned out, they said it was fabulous without any glitches. They can thank their travel agent for much of that. Now that the honeymoon is over, I can only wish for them that rest of their lives together will be as blissful.
E-mail Anne Banas at firstname.lastname@example.org
Top Ten Reasons to Choose to Cruise
1. Choose to cruise for VALUE. One price buys your cabin, dining, entertainment and more.
to cruise for ROMANCE. Secluded beaches, en suite dining on a
balcony overlooking the ocean and spa services for two are just
some of the romantic pursuits available.
to cruise for CUISINE. Tantalize your taste buds with gourmet
fare that showcases exotic ingredients, old standbys like pizza
and ice cream or spa cuisine for a healthy alternative. Depending
on your mood, dine in a traditional ballroom setting, a small
bistro or a casual eatery.
to cruise for VARIETY. With over 150 distinctive ships, 1800
ports-of-call and an unbelievable array of places to see and
things to do, there is a perfect cruise for you. For even more
choice, consider a pre- or post-land tour.
to cruise for ACTIVITIES. Fill your days with sightseeing,
sports activities, cultural lectures, educational tours led by
naturalists and historians or simply lounge by the pool and relax.
At night, enjoy dance extravaganzas, musical revues, gaming or a
quiet evening gazing at the stars.
to cruise for SIMPLICITY. Don't come back from your vacation
needing a vacation. Planning a cruise is simple; your CLIA-affiliated
travel agency can handle all of the details. Once you're on board,
nearly all expenses are pre-paid... talk about hassle-free.
to cruise for NEW
HORIZONS. Fall asleep in one destination and
awake to a new horizon... and you only have to pack and unpack
to cruise for FAMILY. Families love cruising. Children's
programs, kid-friendly menus and tours of the ship will keep your
children happy, while affording you some time alone.
to cruise for PAMPERING. Regardless of your budget, all cruise
lines pamper their guests with first-class service around the
to cruise for SATISFACTION. It's a fact that cruises have a
higher percentage of satisfied customers than any other vacation
You haven't lived until you've cruised.