Planning A Cruise

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Holland American Lines photos

Holland America Lines is one of the more upscale cruise lines in author Ken Brooks’ opinion. In addition to Holland America, Brooks includes Celebrity and Princess Cruises as slightly more upscale. Higher quality cruises are those offered by Oceania, Azamara, Silversea, Crystal and Seven Seas Cruises, Brooks says.

It’s that time of year to start making plans for your next cruise to begin this spring or summer. There are some great deals out there from various cruise lines and they seem to get better with each week.

First, where do you want to go — Mexican Riviera, Alaska, Panama Canal, Caribbean, Mediterranean, Hawaii? Or maybe the more distant shores of the South Pacific including the Tahitian Islands, New Zealand and Australia are calling. You can do a Greek Island cruise, or perhaps the Scandinavian countries; the Baltic area, or you may prefer South America.

There are more than 350 cruise ships giving sightseeing pleasure in luxury and safety to millions these days. Why not hop on board and take advantage of all the good things cruises offer? All your meals on-board are included, your lodging, entertainment and fine service. The crew does all the housekeeping, cooking, driving the ship and that leaves you with one thing ... relaxation! They do the work, you do the vacation.

Personally, I don’t know of any other form of holiday that allows you to be totally carefree. And the price of your airfare and cruise fare adds up to about 90 percent of the total cost of your trip. You know before you go.

Some people who have never cruised tell me they are not interested because they believe they will be trapped in small quarters with nothing to do while on the ship. Well, how about games, movies, lectures, time in the spa, swimming pools, hot tubs, and casino action to name a few. Some ships even offer rock climbing, ice-skating, and golf driving.

For me, it’s a great time to do some reading and to relax while the waves gently pass by the ship. I prefer a cabin with a private balcony where I can sit and soak in the solace of the ocean and to contemplate my navel.

I always enjoy having breakfast on the balcony: sitting there in my robe with the daily paper and activity sheet, which is placed under the room door early every morning.

If you have never cruised, try it, you’ll probably come back for more at least once a year.

So what cruise lines and ships best suit your lifestyle? I prefer the smaller to mid-size ships that can render more personalized services. Those in the 500- to 1200-passenger range can do this best.

Do you want an on-board ambience that is more formal in the evenings or would you prefer a country club style where men do not have to wear neckties for dinner in the dining room? There are some very fine upscale lines that are more laid back in wardrobe requirements now. Oceania Cruises comes to mind, but there are others.

There are lines that can pretty much offer you your lifestyle in various price ranges.

When you visit your travel professional requesting brochures look at the photographs and observe the clothing being worn by the models. Are the men wearing ties anywhere? That’s a clue. What are the ladies wearing in the various situations seen in the photos?

The mass-market cruise lines include Royal Caribbean Cruises, NCL, Carnival, and Costa, to name a few. These companies offer good value, luxury, and interesting ports of call in the popular price ranges. Their ships are mostly very large holding 2,000 passengers and more. The food is good, plentiful and the activities on-board are vast. Be prepared for announcements of art auctions, daily drink specials, and the like, such as informing you the casino is open, etc. This may not bother you.

Up the scale just a bit is Holland America Lines, Celebrity and Princess Cruises. Further up the ladder you’ll find Oceania, Azamara, Silversea, Crystal and Seven Seas Cruises.

There are also specialty cruise lines. Some provide exploration ships that take you to such places as the Arctic and Antarctica.

Disney Cruises have two wonderful ships that cater to the entire family. Much to do for the children and at the same time Mom and Pop can have a relaxing time. Disney offers the best to both age groups. The staterooms are large and very family friendly.

Cunard Line is known worldwide as a perfect product for trans-Atlantic passage with its Queen Mary 2. The company also recently commissioned the new Queen Victoria, which is mostly utilized in cruising. Cunard is also constructing a new Queen Elizabeth 2, which should be placed in service sometime in late 2010.

There are some interesting cruise lines based in Europe. Among them are Voyages of Discovery who use their 600-passenger Discovery to cruise the world. You can get on and off where you desire. I have enjoyed this ship on several occasions and find their mostly British passengers very interesting and experienced travelers. It’s almost like being in a private club. Many of their guests stay on board two and three months at a time. The ship often calls on areas of the world most ships do not.

Another British Line is Fred Olsen Cruises. They utilize older, classic ships that were once the Vistafjord, Royal Viking Sea and Sky, the Royal Odyssey, Royal Princess and now have other names. Since they are older, they do not possess the many new trends now found in modern ships, but these are classics to be enjoyed.

You can cruise on ships with ethnic advantages. Some will enjoy Italian flagged vessels that give you pizza, pastas, Italian music and entertainment with warm smiles. A true taste of Italy at sea. These cruise lines include MSC Cruises and Costa.

Several years ago I cruised from Florida down the Atlantic stopping at Devil’s Island then into the Amazon River for a cruise up this vast river to Manaus. We even went fishing for piranha. After catching them, they cut off their heads, placed them on a grill and we ate them. They were good too!

Be sure to take the shore excursions offered. They tend to be expensive, but look at it this way: You may only come this way once, so why not see things?

Some of my favorite areas to cruise are: Alaska, the Caribbean, the South Pacific, the Mediterranean and Scandinavia. One of these days I plan to go around the world on one single voyage. These usually take 103 or more days. I have been around the world several times but, always using air. I just want to board a great ship, unpack once and LIVE as it shows me many lands and people. I’ll sightsee during the day, and then come back “home” to the ship and relax and anticipate the next port of call. What could be better?

River cruising is also very enjoyable. This is most popular in Europe as well as China. I also look forward to the time when I can cruise through central and Eastern Europe taking sightseeing trips to the exciting cities along the route.

The oceans and continents are your travel oyster. Examine the brochures, choose your cruising area, then book the cabin of your choice and anticipate a great trip. Planning is half the fun. Ask your friends who have been there before and get their opinions. These can be informative and welcome.

The Web is a great place to begin hunting, then make sure and see a travel professional for their advice. They get daily information regarding fares and special deals.

I’ll be sailing in the Caribbean this month for 11 days and visiting five ports. Oh, what a life!

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