Summer is traditionally the time most people reserve for some well deserved rest and relaxation (R & R). New Englanders and those in Northern climates, in particular, fantasize about the warmth of the sun throughout long, often harsh and seemingly endless, winters. In fact, winter is the busiest planning season for such desirable destinations as all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean, Florida, the Gulf Coast, and, everyone’s favorite—cruising to a tropical destination. This segment of the hospitality industry continues to grow annually and to expand in popularity.
“I’d feel too confined.”
“I’d be seasick.”
“I’d be bored.”
“I tried it once and would never go again.”
If any of these quotes seem familiar, bear in mind that cruising and cruise lines have changed dramatically since their inception when such voyages were reserved mostly for the upper-class members of society. Today, there truly is a ship and a cruise itinerary for every taste, budget and lifestyle. Here are a few considerations to help you get the most out of your cruise experience.
Question #1: Where to depart?
Let’s begin with the easiest choice—from what region do you want to depart and return? Are you willing to fly to the port, or will you use ground transportation? Ground is less expensive and perhaps easier, but it will limit your choice in terms of ports of call, cruise lines and ships. Should you decide to fly, which will provide more flexibility, a good idea is to plan one-night pre-cruise and one-night post-cruise at the port departure and return destination. It may be an added expense to book a hotel room, but, no matter the season, weather can be unpredictable and no one wants to “miss the boat.”
Question #2: What ship to take?
Next, consider the ship itself. Will you be more comfortable enjoying an intimate atmosphere, a peaceful experience with 200 or fewer other travelers? If so, seek smaller vessels—river cruises are a great example—relaxing and often all-inclusive. However, if you want all of the bells and whistles, modern megaships are the way to go. The newest floating resorts feature everything from ice-skating to rock climbing to karting to surfing, even to flying! There’s never a dull moment.
Question #3: Where to go?
So far, you’ve chosen a departure point and narrowed your focus in terms of size and activities. Now it’s time to decide exactly where you want to go. (Note: This may be predetermined by one of your first two choices.) In simple terms, do you want to spend time at sea enjoying the ship’s amenities, or do you want a port-intensive cruise allowing you to visit as many destinations as possible? Both are enjoyable depending on your own personality and the personalities of your travel companions.
Question #4: Which brand to book?
Last decision: Are you partial to a particular brand? Yes, cruise lines have followed the hotel model and offer multiple options. Just as Marriott, for example, has W Hotels, Edition, Sheraton, Westin, Renaissance, Courtyard, Fairfield, and numerous other levels of luxury and service, so do cruise lines. Carnival, the largest of all cruise corporations actually also owns Holland America, Costa, Princess, Cunard, and Seabourn—all very different cruise experiences.
Whew, that probably seems more complicated than it really is! Remember if you are not a do-it-yourself (DIY) person, AAA, American Express, and the local travel agents who have “remained afloat” are still great resources and offer personal assistance with the selection and booking process.
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