Berlitz Cruising & Cruise Ships 2017 (Berlitz Cruise Guide) (2016)
Frequently Asked Questions
Most cruise brochures are hype over reality. We answer the questions about ocean cruising most frequently asked by those new to this type of vacation and by experienced passengers.
Cruises are packaged vacations, offering overall good value for money, with your accommodation, meals, and entertainment included. But it’s the little hidden extras that are not made clear in the brochures that you have to look out for. Some ships have ‘drinks-inclusive’ fares, while others let you choose from one of several ‘beverage packages’ on offer.
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions, covering those items that the brochures gloss over.
Hanseatic passengers exploring a new destination.
Is cruising still good value?
Yes, it is. In fact, it’s never been better, thanks in part to the economic downturn that forced cruise lines to offer more incentives - such as onboard credit, cabin upgrades, and other perks - in an effort to keep their companies afloat and their ships full.
The price of your vacation is protected by advance pricing, so you know before you go that your major outgoings have already been set. A fuel surcharge is the only additional cost that may change at the last minute.
Isn’t cruising expensive?
Compare what it would cost on land to have all your meals and entertainment provided, as well as transportation, fitness and sports facilities, social activities, educational talks, parties, and other functions, and you’ll see the remarkable value of a cruise.
What you pay determines the size, location, and style of accommodation. Be wary of huge discounts - it either means that the product was unrealistically priced or that quality will be reduced somewhere. Most discounting is done by cruise agencies competing for business. Ships are as individual as fingerprints: each can change its ‘personality’ from cruise to cruise, depending on the mix of passengers (and crew). The choice ranges from basic to luxury, so give yourself a budget, and ask your professional travel supplier how to make the best use of it.
Is the brochure price firm?
Cruise brochure prices are set by the sales and marketing departments of cruise lines. It’s the price they would like to achieve to cover themselves against currency fluctuations, international bonding schemes, and the like. But discounts attract business, and so there is always some leeway. Also, travel agents receive a commission. As a consumer, always ask for the ‘best price,’ watch for special offers in newspapers and magazines, and talk to your travel agent (they may even rebate some of their commission - something they are not allowed to advertise on their websites).
Are low fares genuine?
Although bargains still exist, always read the small print and check what’s included. A highly discounted fare may apply only to certain dates and itineraries - for example, the eastern Caribbean instead of the more popular western Caribbean. It may be subject to a booking deadline or, typically, is ‘cruise-only,’ which means you must arrange your own air transportation separately, which can prove expensive. If air transportation is included, deviations may not be possible.
Your cabin choice, grade, and location may not be available. You could be limited to first seating at dinner aboard a ship that operates two seatings, and some highly discounted fares may not apply to children. Port charges, handling fees, fuel surcharges, or other taxes may be extra.
How do I get the best discount?
Book ahead for the best discounts (they normally decrease closer to the cruise date). You may reserve a cabin grade, but not a specific cabin - ‘TBA’ (to be assigned). Some lines will accept this arrangement and may even upgrade you. The first cabins to be sold out are usually those at minimum and maximum rates. Note: premium rates usually apply to Christmas/New Year cruises. Make sure that all port charges, government fees, and any additional fuel surcharges are included in the quote.
How should I book - using the Internet or a travel agent?
You’ve found an attractive price for your cruise on the net - fine. But, if a cruise line suddenly offers special discounts for your sailing, or cabin upgrades, or if things go wrong with your booking, your Internet booking service may prove difficult to access for post-purchase questions. Your travel agent, however, can probably make special discounts work for you and perhaps even provide upgrades.
The Internet may be a useful resource tool, but it is not the place to book your cruise, unless you know exactly what you want, and can plan ahead. You can’t ask questions, and most of the information provided by the cruise companies is strictly marketing hype. Most sites providing cruise ship reviews have paid advertising, or something to sell, and the sound-bite information can be misleading. Special discounts for senior citizens, military personnel, and alumni groups are typically not available on the web, but only through cruise-booking agencies.
If you do book with an Internet-based cruise agency or wholesaler: 1) Confirm with the cruise line that the booking has been made. 2) Confirm that final payment has been received. 3) Be aware that many Internet booking agents are unlicensed and unregulated. 4) Some add a ‘booking fee’, which can be substantial.
Large travel agency groups and consortiums, such as American Express, often reserve huge blocks of cabins, and smaller independent agencies can access extensive discounts not available on the Internet. Furthermore, the cruise lines consider travel agents as their distribution system and provide special discounts and value-added amenities that are not provided over the Internet.
Do travel agents charge for their services?
Travel agents do not charge for their services, although they obviously earn a commission from cruise lines. Consider a travel agent as your business advisor, not just a ticket agent. He/she will handle all matters relevant to your booking and should have the latest information on changes of itinerary, cruise fares, fuel surcharges, discounts, and any other related items, including travel and cancellation insurance in case you have to cancel prior to sailing - perhaps for medical reasons. Travel agents are linked into cruise line computer systems and have access to most shipboard information.
Your travel agent should find exactly the right ship for your needs and lifestyle. Some sell only a limited number of cruises and are known as ‘preferred suppliers,’ because they receive ‘overrides’ on top of their normal commission (they probably know their limited number of ships well, however).
If you have chosen a ship and cruise, be firm and book exactly what you want, or change agencies. In the UK, look for a member of the Guild of Professional Cruise Agents. ACE (Association for Cruise Education), part of the UK’s Passenger Shipping Association, provides in-depth agent training, as well as a full ‘bonding’ scheme to protect passengers from failed cruise lines. In the US, look for a CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association) affiliated agency, or one belonging to the National Association of Cruise Oriented Agencies (NACOA) or the National Association of Commissioned Travel Agents (NACTA).
10 questions to ask a travel agent
1. Is air transportation included in the cabin rate quoted? If not, how much will it be? What other costs will be added (these can include port charges, insurance, gratuities, shore excursions, laundry, and drinks)?
2. What is the cruise line’s cancellation policy?
3. If I want to make changes to my flight, routing, dates, and so on, are there any extra charges?
4. Does your agency deal with only one, or several different insurance companies?
5. Does the cruise line offer advance booking discounts or other incentives?
6. Do you have preferred suppliers, or do you book any cruise on any cruise ship?
7. Have you sailed aboard the ship I want to book or that you are recommending?
8. Is your agency bonded and insured? If so, by whom?
9. Is insurance included if I book the shore excursions offered by the cruise line?
10. Can I occupy my cabin on the day of disembarkation until I am ready to disembark?
How do I get my tickets?
Most cruise lines have changed to online bookings and check-in. You’ll need to print your own boarding passes, travel documents, and luggage tags. If you go through a cruise-travel agent, they can print these for you.
Your printed documents will allow you to pass through the port’s security station to get to your ship. Only the more exclusive, upscale cruise lines, expedition companies, and tall ship lines now provide boxes or wallets packed with documents, cruise tickets, leather (or faux-leather) luggage tags, and colorful destination booklets - cruise lines operating large resort ships have all but abandoned such niceties.
Should I have cancellation insurance?
Yes, if it is not included, as cruises (and air transportation to/from them) must be paid in full before your tickets are issued. Otherwise, if you cancel at the last minute - even for medical reasons - you could lose the whole fare. Insurance coverage can be obtained from your travel agent, from an independent company, or online. Pay by credit card, if you have one (you’ll probably get your money back if the agency goes bust).
Note that cancellation insurance offered by a cruise line is a ‘one-size-fits-all’ product, so personalization is impossible. It covers only the cruise itself but not any add-ons that you may have arranged on your own, such as non-refundable air tickets.
Cruise lines typically accept cancellations more than 30 days before sailing, but all charge full fare if you don’t turn up on sailing day. Other cancellation fees depend on the cruise and length of trip. Many lines do not return port taxes, which are not part of the cruise fare.
Note that if the cruise company appears to have gone out of business, some insurance policies will not cover you unless the cruise company declares bankruptcy.
Note that cruise lines and travel agents routinely sell travel cover policies that, on close inspection, appear to wriggle out of payment due to a litany of exclusion clauses, most of which are never explained. Example include pre-existing medical conditions (ignoring this little gem could cost you dearly) and valuables left unattended on a tour bus, even if the guide says it is safe and that the driver will lock the door.
10 tips to get the best travel insurance
1. Allow time to shop around and don’t accept the first travel insurance policy you are offered.
2. Read the contract carefully and make sure you know exactly what you are covered for.
3. If you purchase your own air transportation, your insurance policy may not cover you if the airline fails, or if bad weather prevents you from joining your ship on time.
4. Beware of the ‘box ticking’ approach to travel cover, which is often done quickly at the travel agent’s office in lieu of providing expert advice. Insurers should not, in reality, be allowed to apply exclusions that have not been clearly pointed out to the policyholder.
5. Ask for a detailed explanation of all exclusions, excesses, and limitations.
6. Check out the procedure you need to follow if you are the victim of a crime, such as your wallet or camera being stolen while on a shore excursion.
7. If you are the victim of a crime, always obtain a police report as soon as possible. Many insurance policies will reimburse you only for the second-hand value of any lost or stolen items, rather than the full cost of replacement, and you may have to produce the original receipt for any such items claimed.
8. Watch out for exclusions for ‘hazardous sports.’ These could include activities typically offered as shore excursions such as as horseback riding, cycling jet skiing, or ziplining.
9. If you purchase travel cover over the Internet, check the credentials of the company underwriting the scheme. It is best to deal with well-established names and not just to take what appears to be the cheapest deal offered.
10. Different countries have different requirements for travel insurance providers. Be sure to check the details in the country where you purchased your policy.
What does a category guarantee mean?
It means you have purchased a specific grade of accommodation (just as in a hotel), although the actual cabin may not have been assigned to your booking yet. Your cabin may be assigned before you go, or when you arrive for embarkation.
Isn’t cruising just for old people?
Not at all. The average age of passengers gets lower each year, with the average age of first-timers now well under 40. But retirees do find that cruising is a safe, comfortable way to travel, and many have plenty of get-up-and-go. On a typical cruise you’re likely to meet singles, couples, families with children of all ages, honeymooners, groups of friends, and college buddies.
Father and son playing table tennis on a Carnival ship.
Won’t I get bored?
Whether you want to lie back and be pampered, or be active nonstop, you can do it on a cruise. Just being at sea provides an intoxicating sense of freedom that few places on dry land can offer. And, in case you think you may feel cut off without contact, almost all large resort ships (those carrying over 2,001 passengers) have ship-wide Wi-Fi access, Internet access, movies, and digital music libraries.
Why is it so expensive for solo travelers?
Almost all cruise lines base their rates on double occupancy, so, when you travel alone, the cabin portion of your fare reflects an additional supplement. Although almost all new ships are built with cabins for double occupancy, older ships, such as Aegean Odyssey, Hebridean Princess, and Saga Sapphire, have more single-occupancy cabins. Cruise line special offers are nearly always aimed at double-occupancy passengers first, followed by those for solo travelers.
Are there facilities for solo travelers?
Many ships have dedicated cabins for singles and special add-on rates for single occupancy of double cabins. Some companies will even find a cabin mate for you to share with, if you so desire. However, in cabins with three or four berths (two beds plus upper berths), personal privacy doesn’t exist. Some companies sell two-bed cabins at a special single rate.
How about holiday season cruises?
Celebrating the festive lifestyle is even more special aboard ship, where decorations add to the sense of occasion. However, the large resort ships can be very busy during the main holiday periods. (Don’t travel at these busy times, if you want to have the facilities of a large resort ship, but want to be able to relax.)
What about ‘Spring Break’ cruises?
If you take a cruise aboard one of the large resort ships (the most popular brands for Spring Break cruises are Carnival Cruise Lines, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Royal Caribbean International) during the annual Spring Break (usually in March, but dependent on the decisions of the school-curriculum), you should expect to find hordes of students causing mayhem.
Do cruise lines have loyalty programs?
All of the major cruise lines, and several of the smaller ones, have loyalty clubs. You can earn credits and onboard benefits unavailable to non-members, although some perks might also be available if you book suite-grade accommodation. Programs are based either on the number of cruises taken, or, probably more fairly, on the number of days sailed. There’s no charge to join, but many benefits to gain if you keep cruising with the same line.
Some companies, such as Celebrity Cruises, allow you to transfer point levels to sister a company, Azamara Club Cruises or Royal Caribbean International. Other multi-cruise line companies, such as Carnival, may also allow this across the company’s various brands. There are usually several levels, such as Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Diamond, depending on the cruise line, the number of voyages, or cruises, or cruise days.
Can I pay in cash for purchases on board?
Few cruise lines accept cash for purchases on board. Many older passengers (particularly from countries such as Germany and Japan) do not possess credit cards, and want to pay in cash. Cruise lines need to be more flexible.
Six rip-offs to watch out for
1. Internet charges. Cruise lines grossly overcharge for use of the Internet (connections are via satellite).
2. Currency conversion. Using a foreign credit card to pay this account means you could incur unseen currency conversion charges, known in the trade as dynamic currency conversion (DCC). This is because cruise lines may have a ‘guaranteed exchange rate’. When you pay your bill, the price quoted is recalculated into a ‘guaranteed’ price, which can be higher than the rate quoted by banks or other credit card companies.
3. Extra gratuities. The major cruise lines typically imprint an additional gratuity line on signable receipts for such things as spa treatments, extra-cost coffees or other bar charges, despite a 15 percent gratuity having already been added to the actual cost of the item. Example: for an espresso coffee costing $1.50, a 15 percent tip of 23 cents is added, thus making the total cost $1.73. You are then asked to sign the receipt, but one line above the signature line says ‘Additional Gratuity’ - thus inviting you to pay a double gratuity.
4. Transfer buses. The cost of airport transfer buses in some ports, such as Athens and Civitavecchia (the port for Rome). You could take the train instead.
5. Mineral water. The cost of bottled mineral water for shore excursions. Example: Celebrity Cruises charges $4.50, but then adds another 15 percent gratuity ‘for your convenience.’ Budget accordingly.
6. Bingo cards. The cost of cards for a simple game of bingo is rising dramatically. NCL, for example, charges $40 for a block of four cards.
Queen Mary 2 has kennels on board.
Is there enough to keep kids busy?
Most cruises provide families with more quality time than any other type of vacation, and family cruising is the industry’s largest growth segment, with activities tailored to various age groups. Responding to this trend, Disney Cruise Line doubled its fleet, from two to four ships, with the introduction of Disney Dream in 2011 and Disney Fantasy in 2012.
Do cruise ship pools have lifeguards?
In general, no, although the exception to this at present is Disney Cruise Line, which installed lifeguards aboard its four ships in 2013.
Do youth programs operate on port days?
Most cruise lines also operate programs on port days, although they may not be as extensive as on days at sea.
Are there adults-only ships?
Companies that operate small and mid-size adults-only ships include Cruise & Maritime Voyages (Marco Polo), P&O Cruises (Adonia, Arcadia, Oriana), and Saga Cruises (Saga Pearl II, Saga Sapphire). The minimum age may be different depending on the company, so do check for the latest information.
How can I celebrate a birthday or anniversary?
If you have a birthday or anniversary or other special occasion to celebrate during your cruise, let the cruise line know in advance. They should be able to arrange a special cake for you, or a special ‘Champagne breakfast’ in bed. Some cruise lines offer special anniversary packages - for a fee - or a meal in an alternative restaurant, where available.
Can I bring my pet?
Pets are not allowed aboard cruise ships, with one exception: the regular transatlantic crossings aboard Cunard Line’s ocean liner Queen Mary 2, which has carried more than 500 pet animals since its debut in 2004. It provides air-conditioned kennels and cat containers.
Do cruises suit honeymooners?
Absolutely. A cruise is the ideal setting for romance, for shipboard weddings aboard ships with the right registry (they can also be arranged in some ports, depending on local regulations), receptions, and honeymoons. And for those on a second honeymoon, many ships can perform a ‘renewal of vows’ ceremony; some will make a charge for this service.
Do some people really live on board?
Yes! There are several ‘live aboard’ passengers who simply love traveling the world continuously - and why not? They sell their house, put possessions into storage, step on board, and disembark only when the ship has to go into dry dock for refits.
Outdoor breakfast aboard Seven Seas Voyager.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises
10 money-saving tips
1. Research online, but book through a specialist cruise-travel agency.
2. Cut through the sales hype and get to the bottom line.
3. Make sure that all taxes are included.
4. Book early - the most desirable itineraries go soonest. If air travel is involved, remember that air fares tend to rise in peak seasons.
5. The best cabins also go sooner rather than later, so book early to get the best ones of these at the lowest prices too.
6. Book a cabin on a lower deck - the higher the deck, the more expensive will it be.
7. An interior (no view) cabin is cheaper, if you can live without natural light.
8. Be flexible with your dates - go off-season, when fares will be lower.
9. Book an older (pre-1980) ship - the newest ships are more expensive.
10. Purchase travel cancellation insurance - your cruise is an investment, after all.
A birthday aboard a Carnival ship.
Will a repositioning cruise be cheaper?
When ships move from one cruise region to another, it is termed repositioning. When ships move between the Caribbean and Europe, typically in April/May, or between Europe and the Caribbean (typically in October/November), for example, the cruise fares are usually discounted. The ships rarely sail full, and offer excellent value for money.
Pool deck on Seven Seas Voyager.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Why do European cruises cost more than those in the Caribbean?
There are several reasons for this. Almost all aspects of operations, including fuel costs, port charges, air transportation, and supplying food to the ships, are higher. Companies can make more money than in the cut-price Caribbean. Many services cost more in Europe than in the US, so the price of shore excursions in Europe is higher, too.
How inclusive is all-inclusive?
It usually means that transportation, accommodation, food, and entertainment are wrapped up in one neat package. Today on land, however, ‘super clubs’ offer everything ‘all-in,’ including drinks, although mostly low-quality brands are provided, with a much smaller selection than aboard most cruise ships. While that concept works better aboard small ships (those carrying 251-750 passengers), large cruise ships (those carrying more than 2,001 passengers) provide more facilities and more reasons for you to spend money on board. So ‘mostly inclusive’ might be a better term to use.
Tell me more about extra costs
Expect to spend at least $25 a day per person on extras, plus $10-12 a day per person in gratuities (unless they are included). Here are the approximate prices per person for a typical seven-day cruise aboard a well-rated mid-size or large resort ship, based on an outside-view two-bed cabin:
Cruise fare: $1,000
Port charges: $100 (if not included)
Total cost per person: $1,150
This is less than $165 per person per day, which seems fairly reasonable when you consider all it covers.
However, your seven-day cruise can become expensive when you start adding on any extras. For example, add two flight-seeing excursions in Alaska (at about $250 each), two cappuccinos each a day ($25), a scotch and soda each a day ($35), a massage ($125), 7 mineral waters ($28), 30 minutes’ access to the Internet for email ($15), three other assorted excursions ($150), and gratuities ($50). That’s an extra $928 - without even one bottle of wine with dinner! So a couple will need to add an extra $1,856 for a seven-day cruise, plus the cruise fare, of course, and the cost of getting to and from your local airport, or ship port.
What are port charges?
These are levied by various ports visited, rather like city taxes imposed on hotel guests. They help pay for the infrastructure required to provide facilities including docks, linesmen, security and operations personnel, and porters at embarkation and disembarkation ports.
Do cruise lines have their own credit cards?
Most don’t, but those that do include Carnival Cruise Lines, Celebrity Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Saga Cruises, and Seabourn. You’ll earn credits for any spending charged to the card. If you accrue enough points, you can exchange them for cruises or onboard credit.
15 things not included in ‘all-inclusive’
1. Dining in extra-cost restaurants
2. Premium (vintage) wines
3. Specialty ice creams
4. Specialty teas and coffees
5. Wine tastings/seminars
6. Internet and Wi-Fi access
7. Spa treatments
8. Some fitness classes
9. Personal training instruction
10. Use of steam room/saunas
11. Laundry, pressing (ironing), and dry-cleaning
12. Personal shopping
13. Professional souvenir photographs
14. Casino gaming
15. Medical services
Should I take a back-to-back cruise?
If you’re considering two seven-day back-to-back cruises, for example eastern Caribbean and western Caribbean, bear in mind that many aspects of the cruise - the seven-day menu cycle, one or more ports, all shows and cabaret entertainment, even the cruise director’s jokes and spiel - may be duplicated.
Do ships have different classes?
Gone are the class distinctions and the pretensions of formality of the past. Differences are now found mainly in the type of accommodation chosen, in the price you pay for a larger cabin (or suite), the location of your cabin (or suite), and whether or not you have butler service.
Some cruise lines, including Celebrity Cruises (not all ships), Holland America Line, MSC Cruises (MSC Divina, MSC Fantasia, MSC Preziosa, and MSC Splendida only) and Royal Caribbean International (except Sovereign- and Vision-class ships), have a ‘concierge lounge’ that can be used only by occupants of accommodation designated as suites (thus reviving a two-class system).
Private areas have been created by Cunard Line, MSC Cruises (Yacht Club), and Norwegian Cruise Line (The Haven) for occupants of the top suites, in an effort to insulate their occupants from the masses. The result is like a ‘ship within a ship.’
Celebrity Cruises has, in essence, created two classes: (1) Suite-grade accommodation; (2) Standard cabins (either exterior view or interior - no view).
Cunard Line has always had several classes for transatlantic travel (just like the airlines), but today’s ships (Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria) are classed according to the restaurant and accommodation grade chosen.
Can I eat when I want to?
Most major cruise lines now offer ‘flexible dining’, which allows you to choose (with some limitations) when you want to eat, and with whom you dine, during your cruise. As with restaurants ashore, reservations may be required, you may also have to wait in line at busy periods, and occupants of the top suites get priority.
Aboard large resort ships (2,001-plus passengers) the big evening entertainment shows typically are staged twice each evening, so you end up with the equivalent of two-seating dining anyway.
What is specialty dining?
Mass-market dining isn’t to everyone’s taste, so some ships now have alternative dining spots other than the main restaurant. These à la carte restaurants usually cost extra - typically between $15 and $75 a person - but the food quality, preparation, and presentation are decidedly better, as is service and ambience. You may need to make a reservation.
What’s the minimum age for drinking alcohol?
Aboard most ships based in the US and Canada, the minimum drinking age is 21. However, for ships based throughout the rest of the world, it is generally 18. But you should always check with your chosen cruise line.
How expensive are drinks?
Most US-based cruise lines see drinks both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, as a huge source of revenue. As an example, drinks aboard Royal Caribbean International’s Explorer of the Seas when it is based in the UK during the summer are at least twice the cost of those aboard the UK-based ships of Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, P&O Cruises, and Saga Cruises.
Are drinks packages good value?
Yes, if you like to drink. Note that they can vary hugely between cruise ships in terms of cost. Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines charges £10 per per person, per day (no added gratuity), while Princess Cruises charges $49 per person per day), plus a mandatory 15 percent gratuity.
Can I bring my own booze on board?
No, at least not aboard the major cruise lines, who will confiscate it. Some smaller lines turn a blind eye if you want to bring your favorite wine or spirit on board for in-cabin consumption.
How about service standards?
You can estimate the standard of service by looking at the crew-to-passenger ratio (provided in the ship profiles in this book). The best service levels are aboard ships that have a ratio of one crew member to every two passengers, or higher. The best ships in the world, from the point of view of crew living and working conditions, also tend to be the most expensive ones - the adage ‘you get what you pay for’ tends to be all too true.
Do ships have room service?
While most cruise ships provide free 24-hour room service, some ships charge a delivery fee for things like food and beverages, including tea and coffee. A menu of room service items can be found in your cabin. However, aboard sail-cruise ships such as those of Sea Cloud Cruises or Star Clippers, there’s no room service, nor do riverships generally have room service.
If you occupy suite-grade accommodation, you may get additional services such as afternoon tea trolley service and evening canapés, at no extra cost. Some ships may offer room service specialties, for example a Champagne breakfast, at an extra cost (Louis Cruises, Princess Cruises, for example).
Should I tip for room service?
No. It’s part of the normal onboard duties that the hotel staff are paid to carry out. Watch out for staff aboard the large resort ships saying that they don’t always get the tips that are ‘automatically added’ to onboard accounts - it’s a ploy to get you to tip them more in cash.
Do any special food events take place?
In addition to birthdays, anniversaries and other celebrations, special events, or special celebration dinners, or ‘foodertainment’ event may be featured once each cruise. Examples of this include a Champagne Waterfall (Princess Cruises) and Rijsttafel (pronounced ‘rice-taffle’), rice-based Indonesian food to which small items of meat, seafood and vegetables are added (Holland America Line).
Some cruise lines feature a British Pub Lunch (featuring fish and chips, or sausages and mash) or late-morning ‘Frühschoppen’ (German sausages, pretzels, and beer). Others still feature an old standby, the Baked Alaska Parade, also known as ‘Flaming Bombé Alaska.’ This usually happens on the night before the last night of a typical cruise (also known as ‘Comment Form Night’), although some companies have replaced this with a Chef’s Parade. Traditionally, February 1 is the official Baked Alaska Day.
Do ships still serve bouillon on sea days?
Some ships carry on the tradition of serving or making bouillon available at 11am each sea day. Examples include the ships of Cunard Line, Discovery Cruises, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, Hebridean Island Cruises, P&O Cruises, Phoenix Reisen, and Saga Cruises.
Do all ships have proper dance floors?
For social dancing, a properly ‘sprung’ wood floor is the best for social (ballroom) dancing. However, most of the newest cruise ships have marble floors - if there is any dance space at all (except for a disco). Ships with good, large wooden dance floors include Asuka II, Aurora, Britannia, Oriana, Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria, and Saga Sapphire.
Do all ships have swimming pools?
There’s no standard size, but all large resorts ships have swimming pools (none are Olympic-size - most are a maximum of just over 56ft (17m) long and 19.6ft (6m) wide). They are usually located on one of the uppermost decks of a ship for stability.
Some ships have multi-pool complexes that include water slides (examples: Allure of the Seas, Carnival Sunshine, Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Getaway and Oasis of the Seas). Some ships have ‘infinity’ pools on an aft deck, so when you swim or take a dip it looks like you’re one with the sea (MSC Divina and MSC Preziosa), and some have rentable poolside cabanas for more exclusivity.
Some ships have completely separate adult-only, family pools, and toddler pools (Disney Dream, Disney Fantasy, Disney Magic, and Disney Wonder). The family-friendly large resort ships usually have separate pools and tubs for children in different age groups located within a children-only zone, or a water park with great water-slide and flume-like experiences.
Some ships have pools that can be covered by a retractable glass dome (useful in case of inclement weather); some ships have only open-air pools, yet trade in cold weather areas in winter. A few ships have heated pools (examples include Freedom of the Seas, Independence of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas, and Saga Sapphire).
While most pools are outside, some ships also have indoor pools set low down in the ship, so that the water doesn’t move about when the sea conditions are unkind (examples include Astor, Deutschland, and Saga Sapphire).
Some of the smaller ships have only a ‘dip’ pool - just big enough to cool off in on hot days - while others may have hot tubs and no pool.
Note that when there is inclement weather, swimming pools are emptied to avoid the water sloshing around.
Do all ships have freshwater pools?
All the ships of Disney Cruise Line and most of the large resort ships (such as Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas) have freshwater pools. Some ships, however, do have saltwater pools (the water for the pools being drawn from the sea, and filtered).
How are swimming pools kept clean?
All shipboard swimming pools have chlorine (a member of the residual halogen group) added (a minimum of 1.0-3.0 ppm in recirculated swimming pools), while some have chemically treated saltwater pools. Pools are regularly checked for water flow rates, pH balance, alkalinity, and clarity - all of which are entered into a daily log.
Do any ships have walk-in pools (instead of steps)?
Not many, because of space considerations, although they can often be useful for older passengers. Some examples: Aurora, Crystal Serenity, Crystal Symphony, and Oriana.
What’s the difference between an outside and an interior cabin?
An ‘outside’ (or ‘exterior’) cabin has a window (or porthole) with a view of the outside, or there is a private balcony for you physically to be - or look - outside. An ‘interior’ (or ‘inside’) cabin means that it doesn’t have a view of the outside, but it will have artworks or curtains on one wall instead of a window or patio-like (balcony) door.
Can I visit the bridge?
Usually not - for insurance and security reasons - and never when the ship is maneuvering into and out of port. However, some companies, such as Celebrity Cruises, Cunard Line, NCL, and Princess Cruises, run extra-cost ‘Behind the Scenes’ tours. The cost varies between $120 and $150 per person.
Can I bring golf clubs?
Yes, you can. Although cruise lines do not charge for carrying them, some airlines (especially budget ones) do, so it’s worth checking this if you have to fly to join your cruise, or you may be in for a nasty shock. Some ships cater for golfers with mini-golf courses on deck and electronically monitored practice areas.
Golf-themed cruises are popular, with ‘all-in’ packages allowing participants to play on some of the world’s most desirable courses. Hapag-Lloyd Cruises and Silversea Cruises, for example, operate a number of golf-themed sailings each year, and if you take your own clubs, they will provide storage space and arrange everything.
Do mobile phones work on board?
Most cruise lines have contracts with maritime phone service companies. Mobile phone signals piggyback off systems that transmit Internet data via satellite. When your ship is in port, the ship’s network may be switched off, and you will pay the going local (country-specific) rate for mobile calls if you can manage to access a local network.
Keeping in touch with children’s whereabouts on a big resort ship can be expensive using mobile phones. Instead, use two-way radio transceivers (walkie-talkies); at sea they won’t interfere with any public-service radio frequency.
Can I send and receive emails?
Aboard most ships, e-mail facilities have now been added to some degree. Many ships have Wi-Fi, for a fee, allowing you to connect your own laptop. Several ships have an Internet café or Internet-connect center. Note that connections and downloads are often very slow compared to land-based services (shipboard e-mails link through satellite systems and are therefore more expensive than land-based connections). Attachments are not generally allowed. For many cruise companies, e-mail has now become an important revenue generator.
Poolside movie screens adorn large resort ships, like Carnival Sunshine.
Where can I watch movies?
Some - but not many - ships have a dedicated movie theater. The movies are provided by a licensed film distribution or leasing service. Many newer ships have replaced or supplemented the movie theater with TV sets and DVD players in cabins, or with giant poolside screens for 24-hour viewing.
Do all cabins have flat-screen TV sets?
No. Some older cruise ships still have bulky CRT sets, but these are replaced when a ship goes for refurbishment. The latest ships have flat-screen TVs.
Can I take an iron to use in my cabin?
No. However, some ships have self-service launderettes, which include an ironing area. Check with your cruise line.
What is homeland cruising?
The term stems from cruise ships sailing out of an increased number of ports in the US (more than 20 at last count, with over 4,000 cruises a year). While some, like Miami and Fort Lauderdale, have good facilities for checking in, many do not, and long lines are the result, particularly when 50 buses arrive at virtually the same time. Homeland cruising has great appeal for people who can drive themselves to a local (regional) port of embarkation.
Europa provides free bicycles for passengers.
What is expedition cruising?
Expedition cruises are operated by specialists such as Quark Expeditions, using small ships that have ice-strengthened hulls or with specially constructed ice-breakers that enable them to reach areas totally inaccessible to ‘normal’ cruise ships. The ships are usually converted to carry passengers in some degree of basic comfort, with comfortable accommodation and a relaxed, informal atmosphere, with expert lecturers and expedition leaders accompanying every cruise.
Carnival Paradise on the Panama Canal.
What is a Panamax ship?
This is one that conforms to the maximum dimensions possible for passage through the Panama Canal - useful particularly for around-the-world voyages. These dimensions are: 965ft (294m) long, with a beam of 106ft (32m); or below approximately 90,000 gross tonnage. Because of the locks, the 50-mile (80-km) journey takes from eight to nine hours. Most large resort cruise ships (examples: Carnival Dream, Celebrity Reflection, MSC Preziosa, Queen Mary 2, and Royal Princess) are too big to go through the Panama Canal, and are classed as ‘post-Panamax’ ships - at least until 2015, when a new, large lock is scheduled to open.
Is there a cruise that skips ports?
Yes, but it isn’t really a cruise. It’s a transatlantic crossing, from New York to Southampton, England (or vice versa), aboard Queen Mary 2.
Can I shop in ports of call?
Many passengers embrace retail therapy when visiting ports of call such as Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore, St Maarten, and St Thomas, among many others. However, it’s prudent to exercise self-control. Remember that you’ll have to carry all those purchases home at the end of your cruise.
Ships with a shallow draft, such as Hanseatic, can get surprisingly close to shore.
Do I have to go ashore in each port?
Absolutely not. In fact, many passengers enjoy being aboard ‘their’ ships when there are virtually no other passengers aboard. Also, if you have a spa treatment, it could be less expensive during this period than when the ship is at sea; some ships, such as Queen Mary 2, have price differentials for sea days and port days.
Do I need to bring my own beach towels?
No. Cruise ships have plenty of towels for both shipboard and shore use - but you’ll be charged if you don’t return them.
Can I fly in the day before or stay an extra day after the cruise?
Cruise lines often offer pre- and post-cruise stay packages at an additional cost. The advantage is that you don’t have to do anything else - all will be taken care of, as they say. If you book a hotel on your own, however, you may have to pay an ‘air deviation’ fee if you don’t take the cruise line’s air arrangements or you want to change them.
Should I book early?
The farther ahead you book, the better the discount. You’ll get the cabin you want, in the location you want, and you may even be upgraded. When you book close to the sailing date, you may get a low price, but you probably won’t get the cabin or location you’d like, or - worse still - in ships with two seatings for dinner, you won’t be able to choose early or late seating.
What legal rights do I have?
Almost none! After reading a cruise line’s Passenger Ticket Contract, you’ll see why. A 189-word sentence in one contract begins ‘The Carrier shall not be liable for …’ and goes on to cover the legal waterfront.
What are the downsides to cruising?
Much-anticipated ports of call can be aborted or changed due to poor weather or other conditions. Some popular ports (particularly in the Caribbean) can become extremely crowded - there can be up to 12 ships in St. Thomas, or six in St. Maarten at the same time, disgorging 20,000 people.
Many frequent irritations could be fixed if the cruise lines really tried. Entertainment, for instance, whether production shows or cabaret acts, is always linked to dinner times. Also, many aggressive, young, so-called ‘cruise directors’ insist on interposing themselves into every part of your cruise, day and night, through the public address system.
Gaming table chips.
Celebrity Cruises/Quentin Bacon
Where did all the money go?
Apart from the cruise fare itself, incidentals could include government taxes, port charges, air ticket tax, and fuel surcharges. On board, extra costs may include drinks, mini-bar items, cappuccino and espresso coffees, shore excursions (especially those involving flightseeing tours), Internet access, sending or receiving e-mail, beauty treatments, casino gaming, photographs, laundry and dry-cleaning, babysitting services, wine tasting, bottled water placed in your cabin, and medical services.
A cruise aboard a ship belonging to a major cruise line could be compared to buying a car, whereby motor manufacturers offer a basic model at a set price, and then tempt you with optional extras to inflate the cost. Cruise lines say income generated on board helps to keep the basic cost of a cruise reasonable. In the end, it’s up to your self-restraint to keep those little extras from mounting up to a very large sum.
Does a ship’s registry (flag state) matter?
Not really. Some years ago, cruise ships used to be registered in their country of operation, so Italian Line ships (with all-Italian crews) would be registered only in Italy, and Greek ships (with all-Greek crews) would be registered only in Greece, etc. To avoid prohibition, some American-owned ships were re-registered to Panama. Thus was born the flag of convenience (now called the ‘Flag State’).
Today’s ships no longer have single-nationality crews, however, so where a ship is registered is not of such great importance. Cunard Line and P&O Cruises ships, for example, are now registered in Bermuda, so that weddings can be performed on board.
Today, the most popular flag registries are (in alphabetical order): the Bahamas, Bermuda, Italy, Japan, Malta, Marshall Islands, Panama, and The Netherlands. This fragmented authority means that all cruise ships come under the IMO (International Maritime Organization, within the United Nations) when operating in international waters - 12 nautical miles from shore. A country (such as the US, for example) only has authority over the ship when it is either in a US port or within 12 nautical miles offshore.
How are ships weighed?
They aren’t. They are measured. Gross tonnage is a measurement of the enclosed space within a ship’s hull and superstructure (1 gross ton = 100 cubic ft).
Is anyone building a cruise ship powered by liquefied natural gas?
Not yet, but the possibility of powering a cruise ship using LNG has been under consideration for several years. One or two companies, however, are getting close. There’s already one nuclear-powered cruise vessel: the Russian Arctic expedition ship 50 Years of Victory, which debuted in 2008.
How long do cruise ships last?
In general, a very long time. For example, during the QE2’s almost-40-year service for Cunard Line, the ship sailed more than 5.5 million nautical miles, carried 2.5 million passengers, completed 25 full world cruises, and crossed the Atlantic more than 800 times. But QE2 was built with a very thick hull, whereas today’s thin-hulled cruise ships probably won’t last so long. Even so, the life expectancy is typically a healthy 30 years.
Where do old cruise ships go when they’re scrapped?
They go to the beach. Actually, they are driven at speed onto a not very nice beach at Alang in India, or to Chittagong in Bangladesh, or to Pan Yo in China - the main shipbreaking places. Greenpeace has claimed that workers, including children, at some sites have to work under primitive conditions without adequate equipment to protect them against the toxic materials that can be released into the environment. In 2009, a new IMO guideline - ‘International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships’ - was adopted.
Will I get seasick?
Today’s ships have stabilizers - large underwater ‘fins’ on each side of the hull - to counteract any rolling motion, and most cruises are in warm, calm waters. As a result, fewer than 3 percent of passengers become seasick. Yet it’s possible to develop some symptoms - anything from slight nausea to vomiting.
Both old-time sailors and modern physicians have their own remedies, and you can take your choice or try them all, as follows:
When you notice the first movement of a ship, walk back and forth on the deck. You will find that your knees will start getting their feel of balance and counteraction.
Get the sea breeze into your face (arguably the best antidote) and, if nauseous, suck an orange or a lemon.
Eat lightly. Don’t make the mistake of thinking a heavy meal will keep your stomach anchored. It won’t.
When on deck, focus on a steady point, such as the horizon.
Dramamine (dimenhydrinate, an antihistamine and sedative introduced just after World War II) will be available aboard in tablet (chewable) form. A stronger version (Meclazine) is available on prescription (brand names for this include Antivert, Antrizine, Bonine, and Meni-D). Ciba-Geigy’s Scopoderm (or Transderm Scop), known as ‘The Patch,’ contains scopolamine and has proven effective, but possible side effects include dry mouth, blurred vision, drowsiness, and problems with urinating.
If you are really distressed, the ship’s doctor can give you, at extra cost, an injection to alleviate discomfort. Note that this may make you drowsy.
A natural preventive for sea-sickness, said to settle any stomach for up to eight hours, is ginger in powder form. Mix half a teaspoon in a glass of warm water or milk, and drink it before sailing.
‘Sea Bands’ are a drug-free method of controlling motion sickness. These are slim bands (in varying colors) that are wrapped around the wrist, with a circular ‘button’ that presses against the acupressure point Pericardium 6 (nei kuan) on the lower arm. Attach them a few minutes before you step aboard and wear on both wrists throughout the cruise.
Another drug-free remedy can be found in Reletex, a watch-like device worn on the wrist. First used for patients undergoing chemotherapy, it emits a small neuromodulating current that stops peristaltic waves in the stomach causing nausea and vomiting.
Is having hay fever a problem?
People who suffer from hay fever and pollen allergies benefit greatly from a cruise. Almost all sufferers I have met say that their problems simply disappear on a ship - particularly when it is at sea.
Are hygiene standards high enough?
News reports often focus on hygiene and sanitation aboard cruise ships. In the 1980s, the North American cruise industry agreed with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that hygiene and sanitation inspections should be carried out once or twice yearly aboard all cruise ships carrying American passengers, and the Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) was born. The original intention of the VSP was to achieve and maintain a level of sanitation that would lower the risk of gastro-intestinal disease outbreaks and assist the cruise industry to provide a healthy environment for passengers and crew.
It is a voluntary inspection, and cruise lines pay handsomely for each one. For a ship the size of Queen Mary 2, for example, the cost would be about $15,000; for a ship the size of Azamara Journey, it would be about $7,800. However, the inspection points are accepted by the international cruise industry as a good system. Inspections cover two main areas: 1) Water sanitation, including free chlorine residuals in the potable water system, swimming pool, and hot tub filters; and 2) Food sanitation: food storage, preparation, and serving areas, including bars and passenger service pantries.
The ships score extremely well - the ones that undergo inspections, that is. Some ships that don’t call on US ports would possibly not pass the inspections every time. Older ships with outdated galley equipment and poor food storage facilities would have a harder time complying with the United States Public Health (USPH) inspection standards. Some other countries also have strict health inspection standards. However, if the same USPH inspection standards were applied to restaurants and hotels ashore (in the US), it is estimated that at least 95 percent or more would fail.
What about the norovirus?
This temporary but highly contagious condition occurs worldwide. Humans are the only known hosts, and only the common cold is reported more frequently than viral gastroenteritis as a cause of illness in the US. About 23 million Americans each year are diagnosed with the effects of the Norwalk-like virus (NLV gastroenteritis, sometimes known as winter vomiting virus or norovirus). It is more prevalent in adults and older children than in the very young.
Norovirus is part of the ‘calicivirus’ family. The condition itself is self-limiting, is mild, and is characterized by nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Although it can be transmitted by person-to-person contact, it is more likely to arrive via contaminated foods and water. Shellfish (most notably clams and oysters), salad ingredients (particular salad dressings), and fruits are the foods most often implicated in noroviral outbreaks.
Water can also be a common source of outbreaks - water aboard cruise ships stored in tanks, etc. A mild and brief illness typically occurs 24 to 48 hours after contaminated food or water has been consumed, and lasts for 24 to 72 hours. If you board a large resort ship after norovirus has struck, bread and bread rolls, butter, and salt and pepper shakers may not be placed on tables, but will be available on request during meals.
When an outbreak occurs, a cruise line will immediately sanitize the entire ship and will usually confine affected passengers to their cabins to stop the condition spreading. Hand gel dispensers are provided at the entrance to all eateries. Crew members and their livelihoods can also be affected, so they will want to get any outbreak under control as quickly as possible.
Are incidents on the rise? Yes, but so is the number of cruise ships and riverships. Should cruise lines pay compensation? I don’t think so. In my experience, almost all outbreaks have occurred because someone has brought the condition with them from ashore.
How can you avoid the bug? Don’t drink from aircraft water dispensers on the way to join your cruise - they are seldom cleaned thoroughly. Always wash your hands after using the toilet, both on the plane and the ship.
Most ships provide liquid gel dispensers as a preventative - at the gangway, outside the dining venues (especially the self-serve buffets) - and it is wise to use them.
What do ships do about garbage?
The newest ships are models of recycling and efficient waste handling. Items such as used cooking oil, for example is turned into biodiesel. Garbage is sorted into dry and wet bins, and the dry garbage is burned on board or compacted for offloading in selected ports. Aluminum cans, for instance, are offloaded for recycling. As for sewage, ships must be three nautical miles from land before they can dump treated sewage and 12 miles for untreated sewage and food waste.
The cigar smokers’ lounge on Europa 2.
Where is smoking allowed?
Some cruise lines allow smoking in cabins, while others permit it only in cabins with balconies. Some, such as P&O Cruises (Australia), place a notice in each cabin advising passengers: ‘A $300 cleaning fee will be added to your onboard account if we find evidence of smoking in your cabin.’ But it does allow smoking on balconies.
Almost all cruise lines prohibit smoking in restaurants and food service areas; almost no ships have smoking sections in dining rooms. Most ships now allow smoking only on the open decks. But that means when non-smokers are sunbathing on an open deck the person next to them can light up.
What about cigars?
Cigar-smoking lounges are found aboard many ships, including: Adventure of the Seas, Amadea, Artania, Asuka II, Brilliance of the Seas, Crystal Serenity, Crystal Symphony, Europa, Europa 2, Explorer of the Seas, Freedom of the Seas,Independence of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas, Mariner of the Seas, MSC Armonia, MSC Divina, MSC Fantasia, MSC Lirica, MSC Magnifica, MSC Musica, MSC Opera, MSC Orchestra, MSC Poesia, MSC Preziosa, MSC Sinfonia, MSC Splendida, Navigator of the Seas, Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Dawn, Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Gem, Norwegian Jewel, Norwegian Pearl, Norwegian Star, Norwegian Sun, Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria, Radiance of the Seas, Seabourn Odyssey, Seabourn Quest, Seabourn Sojourn, Serenade of the Seas, Seven Seas Mariner, Seven Seas Voyager, Silver Shadow, Silver Spirit, Silver Whisper, SuperStar Virgo, and Voyager of the Seas.
Ships starting or ending their cruises in a US port are not permitted to carry genuine Cuban cigars. Instead, most cigars will be made in the Dominican Republic. Remember that if you smoke a cigar in a ship’s dedicated cigar lounge, the air purification system will often not be effective enough if someone comes in to smoke a cigarette, and you may suffer the consequences of inhaling second-hand cigarette smoke.
Do accidents happen aboard ship?
Broken bones seem to be the most common, the result of passengers stumbling on stairways. In 2012, a 47-year-old woman died aboard Royal Caribbean International’s Liberty of the Seas when she fell down a short flight of stairs. Also in 2012, a 26-year-old man died aboard Carnival Cruise Lines’ Carnival Fantasy. He fell from an upper level in the ship’s nine-deck-high atrium to the lobby floor below while the ship was docked in Nassau late one evening. It was thought he had been trying to jump from one deck to another. Both of these were highly unusual occurrences.
Have there been murders during a cruise?
Generally, violent crime is much less common on a cruise than during land-based vacations, but there have been a few suspicious deaths, and a number of passengers have gone missing, mainly in the Caribbean and on Mexican Riviera cruises. A small number have been thrown over a balcony by another passenger, typically after an alcohol-fueled argument.
One problem with violence on board is that if the alleged crime happens at sea, the jurisdiction responsible for investigating will depend on the ship’s registry, so a policeman may need to be called up from some distant place.