Thoughts On Selecting A Cruise

New To Cruising?

Anchored at Santorini

If you are new to cruising and are thinking about what you should book next you should first decide what you are looking for in that cruise.

Everybody seems to be cruising. It’s actually gaining in popularity every year, but all cruises are not alike and it’s important to understand what to expect. Consider, you’re looking for a calm, relaxing, short ocean cruise and you don’t want to find yourself surrounded by a noisy party crowd that celebrates way into the early hours. Be careful or you could select the wrong itinerary.

Anchored at Akaroa, New Zealand

Often the character of a cruise comes less from the cruise line or a particular ship and more from the passengers a particular cruise attracts. With many cruises, the passenger character changes with the seasons. Summer is school vacation season so if you would prefer to avoid children on your cruise, summer Caribbean and Alaska cruises probably aren’t your best choice. Not sure you would be happy with a wild, party crowd on your cruise? The shorter winter time Caribbean Carnival cruises are probably not the best fit. Also, if you have children and you would like a cruise with an active children’s program avoid those wintertime longer cruises. They tend to attract a more mature passenger and less families. On a number of the longer cruises that we’ve taken, if there were any children onboard they actually belonged to the crew.

Next to the Sydney Opera House
A Grand Lobby Onboard Carnival

If you are thinking of booking a cruise from a distant port, which is becoming much more popular lately, you need to also consider some additional possibilities. In the case of Royal Caribbean they are working at opening up new international markets by stationing some of their ships in Asia and South America for extended seasons. While you will always find a passenger compliment that represents a good number of countries some of these sailings can have very few English speaking passengers. We had friends that sailed out of Japan with Royal Caribbean and there was only one other English speaking couple on board. The good news for them was that most of the crew spoke English and they ate dinner with the Captain almost every night. It seemed he also didn’t speak Japanese.

Surfing the Royal Caribbean FloRider

Cruises out of New Zealand and Australia are growing in popularity and also very popular with the locals so you will have an opportunity to make a bunch of Australian or Kiwi friends if you choose those itineraries. Cruises out of

Royal Caribbean Ice shows

Southampton naturally attract a large number of Brits and Canadians are frequent Alaska cruisers out of Vancouver, so there are opportunities to make some new international pen pals.

We have friends that are frequent Disney cruisers and they claim that while there are a lot of children on board, Disney is very good at providing and enforcing adult only areas. Much better, in our experience, than other cruise lines.

While Carnival is famous for its Caribbean party cruise atmosphere, its Alaska cruises aren’t usually anything like that. Royal Caribbean is very good for families with an excellent kids program. Early in our cruising we had trouble getting our youngest to leave the kids program. The teen also had a great time in the teen hangout. One thing that we find we really enjoy about Celebrity is their lecture series. We’ve listened to lectures by the director (retired) of the Kennedy Space Center, a government official (retired) that spent decades in Asia and professors on dozens of subjects.

There is also a world of cruise lines out there and while a number base their operations on serving American cruisers there are lines that have been focused on Europe, Asia and other regions. For examples, with Carnival, almost all your fellow passengers will be American, giving Carnival cruises a real American feel. On Costa and Azamara, passengers are usually from a number of different, mostly European countries. MSC historically has been another line focused on the European market but is now reaching for a share of the American market. It is based in Italy, but now with a U.S. office in Florida and a number of Caribbean itineraries.

Carnival with packed Pools & Hot tubs

Cruising is a truly international business, Ownership and managed can be headquartered in one country, with a crew from dozens of countries and passengers from all over the world. It is recognized that Cunard is a British company and it was founded in the UK and still has its headquarters there, but its ships are registered in Bermuda. It’s owned by a Panamanian corporation (with headquarters in Miami), and while officers onboard are still mostly British, crew members come from around the world.

A Celebrity Christmas

Most travel agents that specialize in cruising are a good source for recommendations about what to expect on various cruise lines and itineraries. We strongly recommend you select a travel agent and develop a relationship. It won’t cost you anything additional and can help to save you money and grief.

Disclaimer – While we have now taken over fifty cruises, as far as firsthand information is concerned we can only speak about cruise lines and ships we have sailed. These include Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Carnival and Viking River Cruises. Loyalty programs have rewarded us enough benefits that we return often attracted to that extra value. We have booked an NCL cruise next year primarily because it offered an itinerary we couldn’t get through our preferred cruise lines which provides some insight into why these companies are doing the things they are.

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Cruise Port Grand Turk

Port of Call Grand Turk

The Turks and Caicos are a group of small islands stretching out into the Atlantic on the southeast edge of the Bahamas chain. They are part of the British West Indies and a British Territory. Most cruise lines have over the years developed “private islands” where their ships usually anchor for a day of beach activities for their passengers. Grand Turk is a twofer. It has good docking facilities right in the middle of great expanses of beautiful beach.

 

Where the Ship Docks

Grand Turk is equipped with a modern new dock right next to a nice shopping village with all the usual outlets. A short walk down the pier are also restrooms, food venues and and tour options.

 

Currency

The official currency of these islands is the U.S. Dollar and credit cards are usually accepted.

Transportation

This is a small island and there are a few taxis that offer an opportunity to tour the island. There is also a tour “tram” that travels around the island for about $30.

Attractions

Grand Turk is a very small island and the real attractions are the beaches and water sports. It wouldn’t be inaccurate to characterize virtually the entire island as a beach with the highest point being only about twenty feet above sea level. There are a number of snorkeling and scuba diving options as well as other water sports.

The salt ponds around the island provided a living in the past harvesting salt for export but are now more valuable as home to a number of birds with the most famous being the endangered pink flamingo. There are tours that provide an opportunity to visit ponds for bird watching with one being the Tram.

Good Web Sites for More Information

Carnival Cruise Grand Turk Tours

Getting To Florida Ports For That Caribbean Cruise

With Caribbean Cruising season fast approaching here is a guide to how to get to those Florida ports. Regardless if your coming by train, plane or automobile there are ways to save money making that final connection to your cruise ship.

Florida Cruises – Getting To The Port…

Florida has become one of the largest destinations in the U.S. for people taking cruises. While passengers come from all over the U.S. and even the world a large number come from the Southeast and especially Florida. The close proximity to the Florida ports offers a number of advantages to cruisers from the region but it also presents some interesting challenges. The following is as complete a rundown on how to get to your cruise ship regardless if you come by planes, trains or automobiles. Okay, maybe not trains.

Miami from the Port

Florida has four major cruise ports; The Port of Miami, Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale, Port Canaveral at Merritt Island (sometimes called the Orlando port) and Tampa. Each one has its own environment that makes getting to your cruise ship different for each port.

 

Flying In

Tampa

The port is some distance from the airport but there is generally a fixed taxi fare for the trip of about $25 (plus luggage fees and tip). There are also a number of shuttles as well but expect to pay between $15 and $20 per person for these. A cruise ship transfer at last check was over $15 per person.

Disney Cruise Shuttle

Orlando

The nearest major airport to Port Canaveral. Expect to pay over $100 for a taxi to the port which is a 47 mile trip. There are a number of shuttles that charge as little as $15 per person. Booking a transfer thru your cruise line can cost above $35 per person. At last check Disney offers a bus service from Orlando airport and hotels at Disney World to their cruises at $35 per guest.

Ft. Lauderdale

Port Everglades is only about 2 miles from the airport and while the airport taxi stand will usually quote a flat fare of $20 to the cruise ship if you go with the meter on, it should cost less and if you are going from the ship to the airport it should cost about $15 with tip (no delay exiting the port because of security). The cruise ships also offer transfers but they average $16 per person, which for two people makes a taxi the better choice.

Miami

If you are going from the Miami airport to the cruise terminal, current taxi charges are a $27 flat-rate fee. That’s not per person. So if you are traveling with a family of four, that’s just $7 per person (or $14 round-trip) — not a bad deal. Buying a transfer from your cruise line will cast around $17 per person though or $68 for four.

Rental Cars (In City)

Often people will fly into the port city a day or two early and if that is the case it is a good idea to rent a car. Depending on the city rentals can be very inexpensive and give more flexibility on how you get around. Be sure you check with the agency and make sure you can drop the car off near the port.

Miami

It is common in Miami for rental car agencies to allow a rental to be picked up at the airport and dropped off somewhere else in Miami. At between $25 and $40 a day this is a very economical way to get to the cruise port with the advantage of seeing some of Miami in the process. In the case of Avis and Budget*1 they both have drop-offs near the port with free shuttle service to your ship, which saves the cost of a short taxi ride.

Tampa

While it is possible to also pick up a rental car at the airport in Tampa and drop it in the city, there are no drop offs really near the port. When we come in to Tampa on a cruise it usually costs between $10 and $20 to get a taxi to the nearest rental car location.

Port Everglades

Ft. Lauderdale

Because the port and airport are so near each other, unless you plan on spending some time in the area before your cruise, there is little reason to rent a car. It is also worth noting that Avis and Alamo have free shuttles from their airport locations to Port Everglades and back (you must have a copy of the rental car reservation to board the shuttle though).

Orlando

It has become popular to rent a car for the one-way trips between Orlando or airport and Port Canaveral and the rental agencies have been very accommodating in recent years. A recent check showed three agencies (Avis, Budget and Alamo) offering cars between $50 and $75 per day for the one-way trip including free shuttles to the ships in Port Canaveral.

One Way Car Rentals

Even if you live within convenient driving distance to a port, sometimes port parking can become an expensive proposition. This is especially true if the cruise is longer than seven days. Except for the Orlando – Port Canaveral connection, one-way drop-off fees can make renting a car very expensive. The one notable exception to that is if you live near Orlando. Because Orlando is the number one destination in Florida the rental car companies are always trying to balance their inventories and are usually not charging drop-off fees between Orlando and major Florida cities. Renting a one-way car is our normal method of getting to and from Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Tampa and Orlando. We have rented cars for as little as $29 from Orlando to Ft. Lauderdale. One trick is to make reservations way in advance and check the rate a few more times before the cruise.

Port Canaveral

Buses Etcetera

Back in the day buses were good, inexpensive transportation between cities and there still is a number of options for economical fares. MegaBus offers a one-way ticket from Orlando to Ft. Lauderdale for $26. The problem with them as with most bus service is that you have to get to their terminal and to your destination at the other end. This can be a major additional expense impacting the economy of bus transportation. We should also note that some people live in communities with active travel groups that normally arrange charter buses as part of a cruise package

Parking Near the Ports

Most parking structures inside the various ports are owned and operated by the ports and, on average, are fifty percent higher than private services near the port. Over the years there have been some interesting fights between these venues. Mostly it has been the ports trying to make it difficult for the private lots to compete and survive. Generally private enterprise finds a way.

Port Canaveral

Parking at the port garage inside the port is currently $17 per day and they charge for each portion of a day (that means full fare for the day you arrive and the day you leave). There are at least four dedicated private lots with shuttles near the port that average under $10 a day based on 24 hour days. There are also companies that contract with some local hotels for parking spaces and provide van service to and from the port.

Miami

Parking at the Port of Miami currently is $20 per 24 hour day with a daytime rate of $7. Because the port is located right in the heart of downtown Miami it is difficult to find reasonable rates nearby. There are a number of companies offering reduced rates but it would be recommended that you investigate where these lots are and how much security they provide.

Ft. Lauderdale

Parking inside Port Everglades currently is $15 per day but offers a location right next to the ships. Because the port is located near the airport there is a great deal of parking available in the area. There are official remote lots associated with the airport with shuttle service to the terminals as well as more than a few private lots not far away. Again it would be recommended that you investigate where these lots are and how much security they provide before reserving.

Notes & Links:

*1 Avis at Port of Miami with Shuttle to Cruise Ships. Address: 99 Southeast 2nd Street, (Cruise Ship Passengers Only), Miami, FL,33131. Phone: (1) 305-379-1317. Hours of Operation: Sun 8:00 AM – 2:00 PM; Mon – Fri 8:00 AM – 6:00 PM; Sat 8:00 AM – 4:00 PM

Miami Budget location with a free shuttle to the port. Since this option is becoming very popular and there are a number of ships sailing, especially on weekends, dropping off cars can become very congested at these locations. Patience is a virtue…                                                    89 SE 2nd St, Miami, Florida.

A Parking option at Port Canaveral

Shuttle from MCO to Canaveral 

Alamo Port Canaveral 

Cruise Line Loyalty Programs

Five cruise ships docked in Nassau

If your future plans include more then an occasional cruise, you might want to consider focusing your bookings on a particular cruise line because of the loyalty programs they offer. Benefits can include discounts on or even free internet, laundry, photos, cocktail parties and fancy coffees. Some lines also offer cabin upgrades and priority treatment with boarding and tender usage.

Owners Suite Vision of the Seas

Picking Your Cruise Line – There are a lot of similarities between the major cruise lines but there are also differences that make some more suitable to your particular needs. They all feature good dining options from main dining room dinners to buffets to specialty restaurants and good entertainment and shows, but the things that set them apart is often related to the passengers they try and attract.

Most lines cater to families but a few are stand outs because of their children’s programs. Two of the best are Disney and Royal Caribbean. There is also the price range that varies from one cruise company to another. At the economy end of the price range are Carnival and Norwegian. Stepping up a bit in price are Royal Caribbean, MSC, and Princess followed by Holland America and Celebrity, which are a bit higher still. At the other end of pricing you will find Cunard, Disney and Oceania with Silver Seas and Seabourn being the ultra exclusive lines.

Besides simply price, there are a number of other things to consider when picking a line. Following are some observations we have made regarding a couple of cruise lines:

Carnival – Besides being the price leader, we have found Carnival to be a favorite with young adults. Especially in the Caribbean, these ships have a non-stop party atmosphere. We have not cruised with Carnival outside of the Caribbean so other itineraries may be less that way. The food and service have generally been good and the cabins a bit roomier then many.

Royal Caribbean – Good value in a cruise line and really focused on families. It has one of the best kids’ programs at sea with great entertainment options. Many of the ships have basketball courts and climbing walls and a couple have ice skating rinks and Flo-Rider surfing. Some of their newest ships have simulated sky diving and an amusement park style area.

Celebrity – Features a step up in service and appeals to a more mature cruiser. We like this line because of the enrichment programs, which include lectures and classes. Celebrity also offers a number of longer itineraries and more exotic destinations than some of the other lines.

MSC Cruises – Has been trying to “break into” the U.S. Caribbean market with true two-for-one pricing and has also offered to match your frequent cruising status from another cruise line. We have not, as yet, cruised with them.

Disney – The name alone says kids & family and you won’t be disappointed. From movie themed areas to Disney characters the whole ship is a Disney experience. One feature that really appeals is an evening dinner rotation that moves your group to a different style restaurant each night and your table staff goes with you. Oddly Disney is also really good at providing adult only areas that are more strictly enforced than other lines.

Plans and Perks – If you plan on cruising on a regular basis, even as infrequently as once every year or two, you should still join a cruise line loyalty program. Royal Caribbean’s is The Crown & Anchor Society and it’s free to join. If you don’t join you won’t earn the points. In their case, once you reach Diamond status you get a dedicated lounge on board with specialty coffee, some free internet, a free photograph, a special gift and a free cocktail party each evening. Priority boarding and other perks are also offered.

 

CruiseLife8
Royal Caribbean Flo-Rider

Carnival Cruise Line has their VIFP Club with members-only promotions, invites to cocktail receptions while you sail, priority boarding & more. Like most programs, the more you cruise the more you get.

Celebrity has the Captain’s Club  and when you reach Elite status you get access to the Captain’s Club Lounge for daily coffee house style breakfast and evening Cocktail hour. Other features are complimentary 90-minute Internet package, some complimentary dry cleaning and laundry on every sailing, a private shipboard departure lounge serving continental breakfast, priority tender service in tender ports of call and more…

If you’re going to cruise anyway, you would be wise to commit your loyalty and begin accumulating some perks.

One additional note, Celebrity is part of the Royal Caribbean family along with Azamara and frequent cruise status can be extended in a one-time transfer between these cruise lines.

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