|Look at it this waytravel your choice of the most magnificent places on earth on a gorgeous monstrous floating fancy palace, unpack just once and wake up every morning to your favorite gourmet breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well a midnight buffet. Visit a different countrya unique cultureevery day. Marvel at the breathtaking beauty. All for one unbelievably low price.Maybe not exactly Heaven, but darn close to it!
That was 30 years ago, and I have done just that, gone on a cruise, at least once a year, almost every year since.
Choosing a Cruise
Most of what you need to know about choosing a cruise line and ship, is not much different than picking where you and the kids want to go out for dinner.
There are cruises than are really upscale and awesome. You will identify these usually by the price . . . yikes! On these sailings, fine dining is an art form. You may be graded on which fork to use!
There are those cruises where the food is fancy and service is really great (the kids can wipe their mouths on their sleeves, but you can't).
And then there are cruises that have food that is so much better than you will ever order at home, but a more relaxed atmosphere (on these, you can drink an imported beer out of a bottle with your hors d'oeuvres and the kids can draw on the table).
Finally there are bargains that offer a wonderful selection of seafood that you can eat or use as bait.
Just as using price as the determining factor for choosing the quality of restaurant at which to dine can really disappoint you, choosing the vessel or Cruise line by how much they charge will get you in trouble every time. Not that the top 5 or 6 star Cruises are ever very cheap, trust me they are not, but more than a few very popular, highly promoted Cruising party boats, are way over priced. Where you shop and when you can travel can land you a huge bargain.
What's Included in the Cost of My Cruise?
When you get a quote for the cost of the cruise, make sure you understand the bottom line.
- The cruise cost is usually quoted on a per person basis.
- If the cruise line will be providing air transportation from your home town to the port of departure, the cost of the air fare is usually quoted separately. Be clear on this point, whether the cost of air is included or not in your quote is often the easiest place for a serious misunderstanding.
- The port charges and airport taxes are almost always quoted in addition to the cruise fare, and are not insignificant (typically over $125 per person for a 7 night cruise).
- Travel insurance is almost never included in your quote unless you ask for it, as it's an optional item.
So, in summary, your mandatory costs are probably the sum:
Mandatory Costs = Cabin + Port Charges with airfare & transfers separately stated
Included in these costs are all of your food, entertainment, use of facilities, etc. If you would like to partake of alcoholic beverages, bottled water, or soft drinks (on most ships) expect to pay extra for them. At meals, juices, milk, coffee, tea are available for no charge.
Tipping will cost you about $120 to $150 for two people for a 7 day cruise. Although not mandatory, you should plan on tipping your waiter, cabin steward, and busboy. Tipping really is an expected wage that all of your assigned attendants in each department will split.
Cabin Steward$3 per guest per day
Waiter$3 per guest per day
Busboy$1.50 per guest per day
For your convenience, a 15% gratuity will be automatically added to your bar bill!
The Art of Tipping
Now pay attention and take noteshere is a guide to the art of tipping:
For example, you will tip your cabin steward $3 per guest per day. So give him $10 at the start just so he knows you are there. Next, give $20 (total, not per person) to the dining room captain or head waiter. Present this gratuity on the first day, as soon as he is introduced. Do the same with you busboy and regular waiter, $10 at the start. This will ensure your dining pleasure. At the end of the cruise, give them another tip, perhaps $10 each depending on their attention you received. Tip the Maitre D' $10 as soon as you get your table assignment. This is good insurance that he will accommodate you in the event you wish to change your seating, times, or any special requests.
These suggestions are the tricks of the trade, that only really experienced travelers use to guarantee special attention every time.
Extras Not Included
Items not included in your cruise are those of a personal nature, such as a visit to the beauty salon, photos or portraits by the ship's photographer, or trips to the ship's casino.
The cost of sightseeing excursions are also not included. Tours can vary in price from $20 to $100 or more. Options can include extended inland excursions, helicopter or submarine trips, etc.
Shopping, of course, is extra. Purchases you make from the ship's shops or from ashore are subject to U.S. Customs duty.
|When is the Best Time to Book Your Cruise?
This is not so simple.
The answer may not be "as early as possible," which is the general consensus.
It is not unusual for some cruises to sell out almost a year in advance. Although cruise lines used to offer great last minute sales, this is becoming increasingly rare as cruise lines try to honor the early booking clients by not lowering the rates.
However, in unusual times such as war or tragedies in a major regions of the world, unique opportunities arise, making advance booking somewhat iffy. Further, other matters such as oil prices, unusual weather, and unstable politics often effect costs of things that impact prices in predictable ways.
In general, the price of a cabin will go up the closer you get to the sailing date, unless something else happens. Prices can and do fluctuate, typically in hundreds of dollars in either direction. The question is "do ya feel lucky?"
Still, for the best pricing and availability, I have to suggest booking your vacation as early as possible. I recommend at least 9 to 12 months, longer if you want a balcony or suite, or need a cabin for more than two persons especially if you are planning to sail during the following;
Summer vacation (June through mid-August)
Multiple parties traveling together
REMEMBER: Even if a last minute sale does come up for a cruise that you have already booked, it is almost always possible to have your cruise re-priced to the lower cost.
By allowing for some date flexibility, you may be able to find a departure near your preferred sailing date that can save you money and provide you with great deals.
There is Everywhere
One of the real treats you will experience by choosing a cruise for your vacation is, by far, the wonderful array of great foods and beverages available virtually every minute, day or night, on all sailing ships. Most of our cruise ships have several choices of food outlets available all day long, and with few exceptions, most of them are outstanding. However, as with life, some cruise lines are much better with some things than others.
With a little research, you can discover which amenity is featured on each cruise company and within that line, which ship and itinerary has what specialty.
Foodas in quality, service, and expertiseis a defining factor for my family as you would expect. Seldom have we been disappointed on any cruise that we have taken.
Fine gourmet dining rooms, casual relaxed cafes, pizza parlors, ethnic parties, midnight buffets, room service, and pool side service. Food is everywhere.
Food soon becomes the problem. The solution: It's been said that you should buy clothing at least one size larger for the last days of the cruise. That may be the best information I will give you.
Dining Room Seating
Most ships have two sessions, called Seatings, for each of the main dining room meals: breakfast, lunch and dinner.
This does not affect the buffets, the meals served pool side, or meals in the ship's cafes or alternative restaurants.
These dining room seatings are called Main (or Early) and Late. The meals are identical in every regard except the times at which they are served.
The main seating is served at these times, approximately :
NOTE: This may vary by cruise line and itinerary.
IMPORTANT: While in port, lunch is often held as "Open Seating" and all passengers are free to eat at either seating time.
Tables are Available for 2, 4, 6 or 8
Dining room seating on most ships is assigned seating. You are assigned a table and you have your breakfast, lunch and dinner at that same table, enjoying the services of the same waiter and bus boy throughout your cruise. You can request a table for 2, 4, 6 or 8. (Tables for 2 are not available on all ships).
If you are a couple, a table for two means you will dine alone. However, if you choose a table for 4, 6, or 8, then you will be seated with other people. Most people find that dining with shipmates, whom they did not know prior to the cruise, leads to interesting conversation, and many long-time friendships and travel-mates have resulted.
I personally thought I wouldn't enjoy my family sharing a table with others, and I have often traveled alone as a featured chef, but I must tell you with or without the family, I have made lifelong friends out of some of my table mates and have yet to be disappointed.
Most cruise ships have non-smoking policies or designated non-smoking areas in dining rooms, theaters, and public rooms. Smoking lounges, and with the growing popularity of cigar smoking, cigar bars are also available on some ships. There is at least one cruise line that has designated non-smoking cabins and at least one ship that is totally smoke-free. Non-smoking ships will prohibit smoking even on the outside, open deck areas.