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Cruising

March 2006

I just returned from a weekend FAM to visit cruise ships; three Carnival cruise ships to be exact: the Triumph, the Liberty and the Fascination.

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to view a larger version

So I will write about cruising in general and cruising the fun ships in particular.

What I used to say about schools applies to ships: “there are no bad ships, you just have to choose the right one for you”. Each cruise line targets a different market, different in age, in revenue, in culture, in activity levels. Within one cruise line there are several ships that also cater to different groups depending on the length of the cruises they offer and the port they sail from. Needless to say that their publicity campaigns are built accordingly. Carnival ships targets what is referred to as “middle America”… they are called the fun ships to bring up images or carefree entertaining vacations…

It is interesting to know that the Carnival Corporation owns several cruise lines: Carnival Cruise Lines, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Seabourn Cruise Line, Costa Cruise Line, Windstar Cruises, AIDA Costa Cruises, Cunard Line, P&O Cruises, Ocean Village, Swan Hellenic, and P&O Cruises Australia are all included in this group.

During the weekend we were briefed on the more common objections to cruising and how to respond to them.

The cost: it seems that when you compare a resort to a cruise often times for a similar level of quality the cruise is cheaper…I would have to check that out. The big difference to me is the fact that drinks are not included in your cruise price while they are in an all-inclusive resort. On the other hand, your get more and better food on a ship, plus you get to see a lot more on a cruise only if because the ships stops in many ports.

Seasickness: the larger the ship the more stable it is, also there are bracelets and patches and meds readily available to take care of any discomfort. It is useful to know that some itineraries sail through rougher seas than others.

Fear of falling overboard: it is interesting that I spent 3 days visiting ships and did not get a shadow of a tan. That is because a lot of the action takes place indoors. Then with the newer ships that offer rooms with balconies there are fewer outdoor open “promenade” decks. And the few that are left all have fairly high guardrails. Many outdoor areas such as the pools are set low on a stadium shaped surrounding so you can be lounging in the sun without being close to the edge or even seeing the ocean.

Boredom: I wonder what these people do in their everyday life that is so much more exciting. Life on board a cruise ship offers a variety of activities.  I will get back to those later but there are always several pools, a gym, a jogging track, a spa, numerous bars, a library, a casino, and a movie theatre. There are games and competition as well as classes and conferences, computer labs and nightly entertainment…and that is not even taking into account to ports that the ships take you to and everything you can do there.

Having to dress up for dinner: This one is interesting. First of all there are always several restaurants to choose from on any ship. They range from the fast food counter to the fancy schmaltzy dining room. There usually are two more formal evenings during a typical cruise. This means that if you want to eat in the main dining room on those nights people will be more dressed up, but if you don’t, then you can eat in any of the other venues. Most cruises still have 2 seatings for the evening meal in the main dining room. Once you are assigned a time and a table you stick with it throughout the cruise unless, you are sailing the Norwegian cruise line which has a totally open dining arrangements or the Disney cruise line where you change restaurants every night while your waiters follow you. For breakfast and lunch you can eat whenever and sit wherever you wish on all ships. While we are on the subject, most tables are set for 6, 8 or 10 guests, so unless you are part of a group chances are you will be sitting with strangers, which can be interesting or challenging… there are very few tables for two …

So lets pretend you have decided to go on a cruise. You need to choose a cruise line, a ship, a departure point, an itinerary, and a cabin. It is said that first time cruisers choose a cruise according to the itinerary while repeat customers will choose it according to the ship.

Ships vary in size from a few hundred passengers to several thousand. The larger the ship, the more the amenities but the larger ships sometimes cannot dock at smaller ports and thus require the use of tenders to get passengers off and back on the ship. This is a slow tedious process and when you have thousands of people wanting to get off or back on the ship at the same time it can be irritating.

The age of the ship can be a factor also… the newer ships are usually more attractive. But again this has a lot to do with taste.

Very often there will be a decorating theme carried through the ships. Here are doors from different ships:

The number of bars on those ships is astounding, and each one has a theme:

 

Some of the things I saw might appeal to some people but really did nothing for me:

Here is a shot in one of the auditoriums with a “comedia del arte” theme:

 

The “lobby” or center of the ship is often spectacular with glass elevators running along the sides. This one had a glass ceiling which makes it brighter than most.

 

Each ship has a library, which is usually a nice quiet elegant and comfortable room

At the other extreme would be the casinos: noisy and bright.

 

All cruise ships have swimming pools and whirlpools. Some, like the Carnival ships I visited, have water slides. On the ships that cater to families there are often kiddies polls also. One feature that I think is great is a pool with a retractable dome for cooler or rainy days. On the larger ships you often have a busy pool with games and animation and a quieter one at the other end of the ship.

All ships have some sort of spa and gym. The ones I saw were spectacular.

Ships usually have a jogging track that circles the ship. I saw ships that have golf practice range and even a putting green.

 

They are now installing giant screens outside so that people can be soaking up the sun or sitting under the starts and watching a movie or some sports event at the same time.

 

Speaking of screens, the computer room is usually equipped with the latest technology.

 

Kids have their own space as do teens with their own discos and bars (alcohol free of course) video games and TVs.

 

But the biggest activity on board of cruise ships is still eating! It is true that you can eat 24 hours a day! The main dining rooms are usually fancy and elegant. There are always large buffets for breakfast and lunch. Pizzerias, hamburger and hot dog stands, oriental food counters, delis, sushi bars, ice cream parlors.

Most people will choose to sail from the port closest to their home, unless there is a unique cruise leaving from a point further away. For people on the eastern side of America: New York, Port Canaveral, Fort Lauderdale and Miami are the main gateways.

The itinerary has a lot to do with the length of the cruise, which in turn influences the cost. The shorter the cruise the closer to port you will stay and the fewer the number of ports you will visit obviously. This usually means the Bahamas and a private island. Three-day cruises are the cheapest; there fore attract a lot of young people.  Six, and seven days or more allow the ship to sail further south into the Caribbean, or to Central America countries. It is good to know that typically on a 6 day cruise you would have 2 days at sea, meaning 2 days when you do not dock.  Also interesting is the fact that some companies organize theme cruises, such as singles cruises, jazz cruises, poker cruises, wine tasting cruises, opera cruises, fitness cruises and more… In those cases the itinerary matters little. Avid golfers or divers might choose a cruise that stop in islands that offer opportunities to practice those sports…

Traditionally most ships will be in the Caribbean in the winter and in Alaska and the Mediterranean in the summer. In between the two seasons is repositioning time when the ships do a few runs on a different circuit such as the northeast American coast in the fall as well as trans-Atlantic sailings. There are exceptions of course such as Hawaii, and South America, Antarctica and northern Europe.

Once you have chosen your ship and cruise, you must decide on a cabin. Here again the choice can be daunting. The least expensive would be an inside cabin, meaning is has no window or opening to the outside. Surprisingly these cabins are quite pleasant and not all that claustrophobic. My only concern would be, not knowing how to dress when you cannot check the weather.

 

Among all the outside cabins you have a variety of sizes and of “openings” from a simple porthole, to a larger rectangular window to a full-length window, to a verandah (or balcony).

When a description mentions obstructed view it usually means that there is some piece of equipment in front of the window, often it is the lifeboats. The size can go from a single person room to a family suite that can accommodate 5 people. Some of the larger suites have a dressing room, as well as a separate sitting area and a balcony.

 

In most cabins you will have 2 single beds that can be made into a king size bed, and a couch that can be made into a single bed. In some instances you have a bed that can be pulled down from the ceiling to provide a bunk bed effect and in other cases the extra bed folds back into the wall or back under the main bed.

 

All cabins have a private bathroom, most are equipped with showers a few have baths. There are adapted staterooms on most ships. This means wider doors, no raised thresholds, and open showers with a fold down seat.

Closets space is minimal but well thought out. There is usually a desk, and a TV, and, depending on the cabin, there may be a mini fridge.

Cabins are classified according to size and position on the ship. The higher the deck the more expensive the cabin and the quieter too. From what I have heard also the closer to the center of the ship the less movement you feel.

Hoping this gave you a good idea of what cruising is about, feel free to Email me with any questions…