Let's Go Cruising

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If you have read any of my previous travel articles you know that cruising is, in the end, the best travel value. Why? Your lodging, all meals onboard ship, and entertainment are paid for up front and included in the price of your cruise. Approximately 90 percent of your vacation is paid for before you leave home. It's much easier to budget this way.

I strongly suggest this is the one method of travel that necessitates seeing a travel professional, sitting down with them and discussing your thoughts regarding a cruise. The agent will find out what your lifestyle is and will recommend the ships that best suit you.

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One of the author's personal favorite cruising areas: the Norwegian Fjords, which he recently visited on one of his favorite cruise lines, Voyages of Discovery.

Ships come in all sizes today. The small ships carry 90 to 350 passengers, medium ships offer accommodations for 350 to 1250 and large ships will sail with up to 3,500 passengers. Which is best for you? Your travel agent will help you decide.

I have discovered over the years that people over the age of 50 usually prefer the small to medium size vessels because they offer more intimate, club-like service. I find it's nice to sit down at the dinner table and the waiter remembers after the first night that I want iced tea waiting for my arrival. Also, when the ship is in port it is usually easier to get off and on without long lines which is often the case with the large ships. However, the large ships offer wider variety of activities, more entertainment opportunities, more outdoor sports, etc.

Some people are concerned about the riding ability of ships. Don't worry. Today, cruise ships ride well in most sea conditions. After a day or two you become accustom to the gentle movement and, at night you are rocked to sleep like a baby.

Where do cruise ships go? The seven seas! Many of the great cities of the world are located on or near a seaport. Popular destinations are Mexico, the Caribbean, Panama Canal, Hawaii, Alaska, Mediterranean, North Sea Countries, Asia, South America and on and on. What interests you?

The grandest cruise of all is an Around the World voyage, which takes more than 100 days. There are various routes offered today that will visit more than 30 ports of call. This is the easiest way to see the world in luxury. You only fly to and from the ship and leave the driving to your captain.

For most of us, time and budget are considerations, so you must choose which areas are of most interest to you. First-time cruisers often pick Mexico, Hawaii, the Caribbean and Alaska. Ninety-eight percent of first-time cruisers discover the joys, ease and luxury of cruising and then often plan to cruise once each year thereafter. There is no cooking or housekeeping for the lady and the man doesn't have to be a tour director. You let "others" do all the work. This is a real vacation!

I personally prefer the medium size ships. You get to know other passengers and the service is more personal. This year we spent two weeks last spring on Holland America's Veendam out of Tampa visiting 10 Caribbean ports and last month we returned from Voyages of Discovery's wonderful 600-passenger ship, the Discovery sailing out of England to several ports in Norway including the Fjords, and Scotland. The Discovery is British owned and most of the passengers are English. They make for great traveling companions as they are very friendly and interesting. And, they are interested in you. You'll like the continental food, the extra attentive service and expertise of the British officer. This fall, the Discovery will sail in the Mediterranean, Adriatic the Aegean Sea, Black Sea and North Africa. The ship travels the world at different times of the year including the Antarctic during our winter.

Tahiti anyone? This island group offers one of the most beautiful tropical settings found anywhere in the world. There are several ships offering cruise opportunities here. The Pacific Princess of Princess Cruises visits Papeete, Huahine, Rangiroa, Bora Bora and Moorea at different times of the year and Regent Seven Seas Cruises has stationed their Paul Gauguin there as well with a similar itinerary. Several cruise lines sail their ships from the West Coast to the South Pacific visiting the very lush islands in this vast area, plus New Zealand and Australia.

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On smaller ships, the staff gets to know you and your personal preferences.

One rather different trip you might consider is a 13-day rail and cruise adventure put together by Train Holidays in Oakland, Calif. You fly to El Paso, Texas for an overnight, then, board the Chihuahua al Pacifico Railway for a rail tour into the Copper Canyon with overnights in several locations and ending with a short cruise on Holland Americas' Oosterdam visiting Puerto Vallarta sailing to San Diego. The departure is Oct. 27.

River cruising? An Indian Summer cruise aboard the American Queen visits various towns and cities on the Mississippi River as the steamboat puts into port often during your voyage. If you have never experienced American river cruising you might give it a try. Your travel agent will give you brochures to tempt your travel desires.

My personal favorite cruising areas would include the central Mediterranean, Norwegian Fjords, Tahiti, Caribbean, Alaska and Hawaii.

Be sure to ask your travel agent about ship positioning cruises that occur in the spring and fall of each year. These are usually from the U.S. to Europe and vice versa. Fares are very reasonable and the pace is slow and comfortable.

For many years now cruising has been my favorite form of vacation. Try it, you'll be sold!

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