Summer Cruising

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With the U.S. dollar buying less in the world travel market, cruising becomes an even greater value today. If you are considering Europe this year, closely look at the offering from the cruise lines. Hotels are frighteningly high using the dollar. In most countries the Euro is the common currency and the exchange rate is more than $1.50 to one Euro. When you purchase a cruise, fully 90 percent of your vacation is paid in advance. A cruise vacation includes your onboard meals, entertainment and lodging. The extras are your alcoholic beverages, gratuities to the crew and sightseeing.

Where to cruise

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Cruises come in all varieties; suiting just about any taste, a wide range of budgets and can take a traveler to a wealth of wonderful destina

Alaska is always big in the summer. Many cruise lines now offer 7-, 10-, 12- and 14-day cruises and cruise tours.

The most popular itinerary would include flying to Vancouver, B.C., boarding your ship and cruising north through the Inside Passage. You will probably stop in Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan and cruise into Glacier Bay or one of the beautiful fjords for up close viewing of glaciers and wildlife. It's hard not to fully enjoy the sights of this spectacular part of the U.S. and Canada. Cruises to Alaska fill up quickly, so don't delay in booking for this summer.

Mexican Riviera cruises are popular throughout the year, with many cruise lines sending ships on this route. Most begin and end in either Los Angeles or San Diego. The 7-day cruises often stop in Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta. The longer, 10- and 12-day cruises usually also make Acapulco a port of call, along with one or two other Pacific Coastal cities.

Early in the spring and fall, cruise lines position their ships to include trans-canal voyages lasting 14 to 16 days. The voyage might begin in Florida, sail to a selection of ports in the Caribbean, transit the Panama Canal, then head north along the Mexican coast to California, or vice versa. Some lines do this almost year-round. A canal transit is always interesting.

I just returned from a 14-day cruise out of Florida into the Caribbean, visiting 10 islands. The weather was perfect. Temperatures were in the low 80s, with no rain and smooth seas. We were on Holland America Lines' wonderful Veendam, a 1,250-passenger ship; 55,400 tons of luxury, fine food, a very friendly crew and roomy staterooms.

This gave us a chance to do some island sightseeing, get plenty of rest, read some books and enjoy the fine onboard entertainment.

The Caribbean is popular throughout the year, but the best time to visit is during the winter when there is little humidity and lower temperatures. Many people are locked into summer vacations and the Caribbean is still a fine selection if you want tropics, fine beaches and restful surroundings.

Europe anyone?

The Mediterranean becomes more and more popular with every summer, and ships fill up fast. My favorite is the center Mediterranean, perhaps beginning in Venice, then sailing to Dubrovnik, a Greek island or two, Rome and Florence, Monte Carlo and ending in Barcelona, or the reverse. You can't miss with this itinerary. It's my favorite of all cruise routes in the world.

Many fine cruise lines travel this part of the world, but my favorite is Oceania Cruises. It has deluxe, feature ships carrying less than 800 guests, there is an onboard club-like atmosphere, recommended clothing is "country club casual", which means no formal nights, open seating in the dining rooms and fantastic food.

Discovery Cruises also traverses this particular route with its 600-passenger Discovery. It is informal, has a friendly crew, good food and a club-like atmosphere.

Elsewhere

For some, Tahiti, with Moorea, Bora Bora, Rangiroa and Raiatea included, is the destination of choice. Princess Cruises operates its 780-passenger Tahitian Princess most of the year on 10-day voyages on this route, which is one of the most scenic, lush, tropical places on our planet. The bluest water, fantastic beaches, friendly natives, fabulous weather and islands will knock you over with sheer beauty. It never disappoints.

Hawaii is another ever-popular destination. Some lines operate 14-day cruises from the west coast, visiting four islands in Hawaii. This involves usually nine or 10 days at sea, giving you ample time to relax and plenty of sea time.

There are cruise lines that operate sailing vessels if you desire a laid-back experience with quite a few islands thrown into the mix. These are the voyages that might be enjoyed by those with more adventurous spirits.

Riverboat cruising is gaining popularity in the U.S., as well as in Europe and China. This is something you might want to look into.

Whatever you do, I strongly recommend visiting your travel professional for information, brochures and advice. The cruise lines have Web sites where you can begin your vacation planning, but you can't beat sitting down with a travel advisor in person.

Get away with the family without breaking your budget

A family trip is a great chance to spend quality time with the kids and recharge your batteries. The key to a memorable family vacation isn't an unlimited budget; it's simply planning ahead.

Use these tips to get your next family getaway off the ground:

  • Park it -- State and national parks offer terrific activities including hiking, trail rides and wildlife watching. Save money by skipping park lodges in favor of hotels outside of the park.
  • Stay slightly off the beaten track. Major cities offer wonderful cultural attractions, but hotel rates can strain the family budget. Consider staying in a nearby suburb.
  • Save by eating at the hotel. Many hotels feature complimentary hot and cold breakfast buffets that save a bundle. Remember to book a room with a microwave and fridge, so you save on snacks for the kids.
  • Avoid the crowds. Take the back roads. Stop at smaller attractions along the way.
  • Last one in the pool. Be sure the hotel has a swimming pool to give the kids the chance for some unstructured fun and exercise.
  • Keep it simple. Keep picnic supplies handy, and eat outdoors at nearby parks, lakes, botanical gardens or major highway rest stops en route. Be flexible.

Courtesy of Family Features

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