Top 10 Cruise Questions

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by Jim Antista “The Cruiseman”

Here are the all time “Top 10” questions asked by first time cruisers:

  1. How will we know which photo is ours?
  2. Is it salt water in the toilets?
  3. What time is the midnight buffet?
  4. Is there water all around this island?
  5. Does the crew sleep on board the ship?
  6. What do you do with the ice carving after it melts?
  7. What elevation are we at?
  8. Does the ship generate its own electricity?
  9. Does the ship rock only when we’re at sea?
  10. Does this elevator go to the front of the ship?

What to pack

By Fran Golden

One of cruis­ing’s biggest ad­van­tages is that you on­ly have to un­pack once, even if you are vis­it­ing sev­er­al coun­tries. No need to live out of your suit­case. But stor­age space is some­what lim­it­ed in ship cab­ins and most air­lines now charge for checked bag­gage — and hit you with over­charges if your bags are heavy.

The gold­en rule: pack light

That’s not as dif­fi­cult as you might think. Peo­ple of­ten freak out about what to pack for a cruise, but the re­al­ity is you prob­ably al­ready have ev­ery­thing you need. If for some rea­son you for­get some­thing it’s like­ly to be eas­ily at hand in the ship’s store — or at shops in the ports.

The two biggest con­sid­er­ations when pack­ing for your cruise? Where you’re cruis­ing (trop­ical, arc­tic, or some­thing in be­tween) and on what ship you’re sail­ing.

Ship­board Dress Codes:

The good news is that most cruise line dress codes have got­ten de­ci­sive­ly more ca­su­al in re­cent years. Dur­ing the day any­thing goes — T-shirts, shorts, jeans, bathing suits (with cov­er-ups) — pret­ty much any­where on the ship (ex­cept if you de­cide to do a sit-down lunch in the main din­ing room, where there may be re­stric­tions). On the lux­ury lines this re­laxed am­bi­ence may trans­late to po­los and khakis, sun­dress­es and de­sign­er-wear, but the ca­su­al con­cept is the same.

What you wear at night varies by ship and where you want to dine — the rules ap­ply to the main din­ing room and dress-up al­ter­na­tive restau­rants, but not more ca­su­al eater­ies. For­mal nights, held twice on many but not all week­long itineraries, are not strict­ly for­mal — more like semi­for­mal. Men can get away with a dark suit and wom­en a cock­tail dress, but check your cruise brochure for ad­vice. Some of the ul­tra­lux­ury lines still stick to the for­mal tra­di­tion, men in tux­es and wom­en in ei­ther long or short fin­ery. For those who want to dress to the hilt (you won’t be alone), say to pose for a fam­ily pho­to, many of the big­ger cruise lines still of­fer tuxe­do rental (and there’s noth­ing wrong with be­ing over­dressed), which you can ar­range through your trav­el agent or once you get on­board. Con­verse­ly, even on for­mal nights you can choose the op­tion of din­ing more ca­su­al­ly at the ship’s buf­fet, where a Hawai­ian shirt is suit­able day and night.

Some lines have nixed for­mal nights in fa­vor of an in­for­mal dress code, which is akin to semi­for­mal, as de­scribed above. Or you may see the term coun­try club ca­su­al, which means you dress up a lit­tle more at night than you did dur­ing the day. Men may want to wear a blaz­er, with or with­out a tie, or just a col­lared shirt and nice pants; wom­en a blouse and skirt, dress, or nice pantsuit. For a no-jack­ets-re­quired dress code, nix the blaz­er, or not.

Ca­su­al nights (some­times called smart ca­su­al) will in­clude your first night on the ship — cruise lines take this pre­cau­tion just in case lug­gage is slow to be de­liv­ered. Here’s where a dress code may ap­ply, such as no shorts in the main din­ing room. The re­al­ity is you’ll like­ly see peo­ple break­ing these rules, much to the cha­grin of those who fol­low them. The ba­sic rule of thumb is pants and a shirt for men (some wear a sports jack­et) and a sun­dress or ca­su­al pantsuit for wom­en.

Sug­gest­ed at­tire for ev­ery evening is print­ed in the ship’s dai­ly sched­ule, de­liv­ered to your cab­in the night be­fore so you have plen­ty of time to de­cide what to wear.

Sun­dries:

Most ships of­fer laun­dry ser­vice and some al­so have dry clean­ing, with about a 24-hour turnaround. There will be a price list in your cab­in. Ex­pect to pay about $1.50 per pair of socks, $3 per T-shirt (it’s not cheap), and $7 to dry clean a shirt. Many big ship lines (Car­ni­valPrincessHol­land Amer­ica and Crys­tal, among oth­ers) al­so of­fer self-ser­vice wash­ing ma­chines and dry­ers.

Your cab­in will have soap, sham­poo, and of­ten con­di­tion­er and lo­tion but qual­ity varies (you may, for in­stance, on­ly have liq­uid soap). If you’re fussy about prod­ucts, bring your own. Most ships will sell you any­thing you for­get — tooth­brush­es, ra­zors, sun­screen, et­cand so on. If you like a pow­er­ful hairdry­er you may want to pack your own, as those in cab­ins tend to be weak.

All Amer­ican-op­er­at­ed ships are equipped with 110 AC cur­rent (both 110 and 220 on many). But if you are trav­el­ing in­ter­na­tion­al­ly, on a non-Amer­ican cruise line, you may want to check if you need an adapter for your elec­tron­ic de­vices (cell phone, lap­top, et al). Note that most cruise cab­ins have on­ly a cou­ple of out­lets, so if you’re bring­ing nu­mer­ous elec­tron­ic de­vices, you might want to bring along a small pow­er strip.

Pack­ing Check­list:

On all cruis­es you’ll want to re­mem­ber to bring a small day bag. On the day you board your ship, it can take up to 8 hours for your lug­gage to be de­liv­ered to your cab­in, so fill the bag with all the es­sen­tials (medicines, doc­umen­ta­tion, and so on) that you’ll need for the day. The bag will al­so come in handy when you’re out ex­plor­ing the ports of call.

No mat­ter where you’re sail­ing, don’t for­get to pack your cam­era. Bring binoc­ulars if you’re on a cruise where you are like­ly to see wildlife. Con­sid­er the shore ex­cur­sions you plan on tak­ing and make sure to bring ap­pro­pri­ate at­tire. If you’re go­ing to hit the gym, pack your sneak­ers and gym clothes. If you take any med­ica­tions, make sure you to bring them along with you.

A spe­cial tip for ladies: ac­ces­sories such as scarves and jew­el­ry al­low you to wear a sim­ple black dress more than once. Clas­sic mix-and-match sep­arates in neu­tral col­ors will al­so work well and cut down on the at­tire you need to bring.

Pack Based On Climate:

Warm Weath­er

  • T-shirts or po­los
  • Shorts, sun­dress­es, and/or ca­su­al skirts
  • Evening­wear
  • Bathing suits with cov­er-ups
  • Walk­ing shoes or com­fort­able san­dals
  • Light rain jack­et, pon­cho, and/or fold­ing um­brel­la
  • Sweater or shawl (for ship­board air-con­di­tion­ing)
  • Aqua-socks (for snorke­ling, kayak­ing)
  • Sun­glass­es
  • Sun­screen
  • Mosquito re­pel­lent
  • Sun hat
  • There’s no need to pack a beach tow­el as these are pro­vid­ed ship­board.

Cold Weath­er

  • Wa­ter­proof jack­et
  • Sweaters, fleece pullovers, or a warm vest
  • Pants or jeans
  • Walk­ing shoes (prefer­ably wa­ter­proof)
  • Warm hat and gloves
  • Fold­ing um­brel­la
  • Sun­screen
  • Mosquito re­pel­lent (in Alas­ka)
  • Evening­wear
  • Sun­glass­es
  • Swim­suit (for hot tub)

Mod­er­ate Temps

  • Light jack­et
  • Sweater
  • Shorts and pants
  • Good walk­ing shoes
  • T-shirts and po­los
  • Long-sleeved shirt
  • Evening­wear
  • Sun­glass­es
  • Hat
  • Fold­ing um­brel­la
  • Swim­suit (for hot tub)

 

9 tips for exploring a cruise port on your own

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There will always be that one cruiser who passes on cruise line-offered shore excursions in favor of exploring on their own, only to stroll off the cruise ship and realize they don’t have a clue where to go. Don’t let this happen to you.

Cruise ships get you places, and that’s part of the fun. If you’re a DIY type, striking out on your own to explore a new place can be a blast, but you still need to know things like how to get from point A to point B and back.

Here are some tips for exploring a cruise port on your own.

1. Do research in advance. Look up your cruise itinerary, pick which ports you want to explore and then check online resources for information on where to go and what to see. Tourist office websites can be very useful in this regard.

2. Make meal reservations in advance. Many a cruiser will describe their favorite island experience as lunch at a romantic ocean-view spot. But if you have your heart set on fine dining, make a reservation before you leave home.

3. Get a good map. Shipboard you’ll be given a port map, but it’s typically not at all detailed (and may just highlight shops that have financial arrangements with the cruise line). As soon as you arrive in a new port, make a beeline to the nearest tourist kiosk and get a real map. Mark a big X at the pier, so you can easily find your way back.

4. Know prices. If you plan to go shopping, particularly for duty-free jewelry, watches and other pricey goods, acquaint yourself with prices at home. That way, you’ll be able to easily spot any real deals.

5. Check taxi fares. If you are taking a taxi, see if there are government-set fares (typically posted near the pier pickup spot). If there’s no set fare, negotiate a price with the driver upfront. If you are going to a beach or other remote spot, set a time for the same driver to pick you up and return you to the ship.

6. Get local currency. Even in places where taxi drivers and shopkeepers accept U.S. dollars, museums, parks and local buses may not. You may have to hit the local ATM.

7. Watch the time. You need to be back at the ship by a set time, which may be based on “ship time” rather than local time. Make sure you understand the deadline and don’t push it (if you miss the ship you’ll have to pay a pretty penny to make your own way to the next port).

8. Beware the moped. A good rule is don’t do on vacation what you wouldn’t do at home. If you know your way around a motorbike, go for it. If not, there are less hazardous transportation options.

9. Chat up locals. Don’t be shy. Some of the best advice on what to see may come from someone you meet on a park bench. Shop clerks can be a great resource for non-touristy lunch spots.

 * Picture taken in a Cozumel, Mexico restaurant. 

10 best reasons to take a river cruise

 

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By Fran Golden

River cruising is the in-vogue travel trend, so popular that more than two-dozen new river ships will debut in 2014.

Industry-leading Viking River Cruises alone will christen 14 ships in March, with Avalon Waterways,AmaWaterwaysUniworldTauck, Australia-based Scenic Tours and Germany’s A-ROSA all adding ships in Europe next year. There’s even a new river cruise company debuting, Emerald Waterways, a value-priced sister to Scenic.

Closer to home, American Queen Steamboat Company is debuting a sternwheeler on the Columbia & Snake rivers in the Pacific Northwest in addition to its cruises on the Mississippi. American Cruise Lines operates similar routes.

Here are the best reasons to take a river cruise.

Many rivers to explore

River cruises get you to inland Bucket List places including such cities as Vienna and Budapest. Cruises on the Danube and Rhine continue to be the epicenter of the industry, but that’s just the beginning of where you can go. Popular destinations include Russia’s Volga, China’s Yangtze, the Mekong and the Mississippi. All the rage is cruising in Myanmar — with companies including Grand Circle and Orient Express. France is getting new attention, especially Bordeaux where several lines have expanded offerings.

Experience is leisurely

River cruises are not about rushing here and there. You visit key sights but there is also time to relax. You can sit under a canopy on the open deck — or on some ships soak in a hot tub or pool — while catching river views that include (depending on where you cruise) castles, farms, kids swimming, fishermen and maybe a water buffalo or two.

Ships are intimate

The size of river ships is limited by the need for the vessels to go through locks and under low bridges. Most carry fewer than 200 passengers, some fewer than 100 and some fewer than 50. The small-ship experience brings opportunity to get to know your fellow passengers — including at open-seating meals. There’s no dealing with crowds.

Time to explore

Your ship ties up right in town and you can walk to a sidewalk café or shops or markets (including Northern Europe’s popular Christmas markets) and mingle with locals or head off on the ship’s organized tours to museums, monuments and other must-see attractions. There is time to bike or hike and visit the places you came to see, and to absorb the local culture.

Better cabins

There was a time when cabins on river ships meant a choice between tight and cozy. Today’s choices include cabins with step-out balconies, French balconies, walls of glass that open and even suites. Beds are hotel-like, bathrooms comfortably-sized and amenities include flat-screen TVs.

Nicer ships

The newest ships offer surprisingly hip, contemporary environments. While space is limited, the lines have gotten clever with public rooms including adding alternative al fresco dining venues. Lounges are comfortably, and sometimes even opulently furnished. Libraries offer a quiet spot to sit with a book. Open decks afford space to hang out in the sun or shade and such extras as golf-putting greens.

Local tastes, culture

There is opportunity shipboard to snack on knackwurst and drink local beer as you cruise past Germany’s castles, drink the wine in Bordeaux and try other local flavors depending on your itinerary. Culture comes onboard, too, in the form of local folk groups and other performers.

Not a lot of extra charges

Shore excursions, wine and beer with dinner (and sometimes also lunch), soda, bottled water, and specialty coffee drinks are all included in the cruise fare. Sometimes there’s also an open bar. Bonus: internet is free.

Casual dress code

Don’t pack the tux. River cruising is casual dress at all times. Plus you only have to unpack once.

It’s for grownups

Most river ships market to an age 55-plus demographic, though travelers in their 40s would feel right at home — particularly on the newer, more contemporary river ships. Kids are a rarity.

10 Best Things To Do In A Caribbean port

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By Gina Douglas Tarnacki

A cruise to the Caribbean gives you the chance to partake in many fun and diverse shore excursions. Whether you want something action-packed or laidback, you can find your ideal activities ashore. Consider these:

Ziplining

Many Caribbean islands have ziplining parks. While in port in St. Martin/St. Maarten, visit Loterie Farm at Pic Paradis, where you’ll find not only ziplining but also an obstacle course high up above the trees.

Rainforest hike

If you’re on one of the islands that has a rainforest, consider hiking. Lush and green, St. Lucia is a prime Caribbean port for this activity. See the island’s exotic flora and fauna, and learn about the rainforest’s history and ecology — and its effects on the island — from your guide.

City tours

You may be visiting an island, but the Caribbean still has some lively and exciting cities to visit. A city tour through San JuanPuerto Rico, is ideal due to the many historic places located right in the city center. An expert guide can share the stories of the sites and help you see as much as possible before having to board your ship again.

Shopping

With local crafts and high-end duty-free stores, shopping ’til you drop in the Caribbean is easy to do. In St. Thomas, an island especially known for its duty-free shopping, partake in an excursion that takes you to some of the best shopping spots on the island.

Snorkeling

Nearly all Caribbean ports of call offer snorkeling — after all, these locations are tough to beat. The Antilla Shipwreck in Aruba is a favorite spot, as it’s shallow enough for snorkelers (not just scuba divers) to get a good look at the wreck.

Waterfalls and swimming holes

You don’t need to just swim in the sea while visiting the Caribbean. In Jamaica, visit Dunn’s River Falls (see video here) and swim in the water at its base. In Aruba, visit the Natural Pool, which is formed in the middle of large rocks in a scenic location by the island’s coastline.

Play with sea life

If you’re an animal lover, the Caribbean is going to make you love them even more, with the opportunity to see dolphins, monkeys, lizards and ride horses along the beach. At Stingray City in Grand Cayman, you can swim with hundreds of stingrays who make their home in the bay and are used to human touch.

White-water rafting

Zigzag down a river while in the Caribbean on an exhilarating white-water rafting shore excursion in the Caribbean. A popular place to do this is in Jamaica down the Rio Bueno River, which takes you through fast rapids and tropical scenery.

Local drinks

A distillery or brewery tour is a tasty way to get in touch with the local side of an island. In the Dominican Republic, try some sips of its famous rum while visiting a local distillery.

Ancient sites

The Caribbean isn’t just beaches and tropical adventures; you can also view the remains of buildings left over from ancient civilizations. Many Caribbean cruises make stops along the eastern coast of Mexico near Cancun. While there, visit the ruins of Tulum to see remnants of the way ancient Mayan civilizations lived.

Can’t decide which activity you most want to do? Don’t worry — most Caribbean cruises visit multiple islands, meaning you can enjoy a different type of excursion in each port. For adventurous and diverse activities onboard as well, check out family-friendly cruise lines such as Norwegian Cruise LineCarnivalDisney Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean.