Sunday, September 30, 2007

Do You Have to Pay for the Water on a Crusie?

If you've started researching cruises online, or you're reading books on the subject, you've probably learned that those "all inclusive prices" aren't quite as all-inclusive as you were hoping. Sure, your cabin, your basic meals, and the cruise itself are included, but you'll find yourself paying for quite a few extras.

But surely not the water, right?


If you don't mind drinking tap water, your water is free. It is potable, but it's common for the water to have a strong chlorine taste, so it may not appeal to you.

You may find bottled water in your cabin, but don't assume it's free. Just like with a mini fridge in a hotel, you'll probably be charged if you drink it. Likewise bottled water available elsewhere on the ship will likely come with a price tag, unless you're on a luxury cruise ship where such things are usually included in the (much) higher price.

You should be able to find a card somewhere that lists the price of water and other beverages.

Cruise Myth #7: You Can Get the Best Deals on the Internet

The Internet is a great way to learn about cruises (especially if you visit cruise blogs like this one!) and get a feel for what's out there and what price range various trips fall into, but it's not necessarily the cheapest way to book a cruise.

It's certainly the most convenient--you can book your whole trip without leaving your house or even calling anyone on the phone--but you can often find better deals elsewhere...

Believe it or not, travel agencies can often get you a better deal.

You'd think that because they're getting a percentage this wouldn't be the case, but agents are well-connected, often receiving daily faxes and e-mails from cruise lines and tour operators. This means access to deals that change faster than websites can.

In addition, a lot of travel agencies belong to travel consortiums such as Ensemble or Virtuoso. These guys book blocks of cabins to get cheaper group rates from the cruise lines, and then they pass along the savings to their clients.

Also, if you've cruised with a certain line before, you're often eligible for discounts because you're a repeat cruiser. It can be hard to figure out how to take advantage of that over the Internet, but your travel agent will know just who to call.

So, just because websites promise great deals on last minute cruises, don't assume they're listing the best possible deals out there for everyone. Often, those who plan ahead and book with an agent can get even better deals than folks who book online!

Helicopter Glacier Trekking in Alaska

When was the last time you walked across a glacier?

When you think of cruises and shore excursions, you may think of warm tropical beaches and hikes through rainforests to ancient ruins, but for those who don't mind cooler weather, there are lots of great shore excursions if you take a cruise to Alaska.

For example, you can sign up for a helicopter tour that will allow you to see Alaska's glaciers and rugged natural wilderness in a way you never could from land. Many of the tours allow you to get up close and personal with those glaciers, even stopping to take a stroll across the frigid ice.

"Helicopter Glacier Trekking is the most exciting way to explore the scenic wonders of the glaciers flowing from the Juneau Icefield. Begin with a 25 minute scenic flight over mountain peaks and glacier features, such as icefalls and crevasses. You will land on one of the glaciers located within the 1500 square-mile Juneau Icefield and meet your professional glacier guide who will teach you basic mountaineering skills (no experience necessary) and the proper use of your equipment. You will be outfitted with top quality mountaineering gear for your adventure, such as outerwear (jackets, shell pants, and gloves), hard-shell mountaineering boots, harness, ice axe, and crampons. Your guides will lead you on a personalized hike that is both adventurous and easy, into areas of the glaciers not normally visited."

The only downside is that this tends to be a pretty expensive shore excursion, and if you weigh over 250 pounds, you'll have to pay for 1 ½ seats, but hey... how often do you get to ride in a helicopter and tramp around on a glacier?

More information at Alaska Tours.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

How Much Do You Have to Tip on a Cruise?

Unless you’re sailing on one of those rare “no tipping” ships, you’re expected to tip on a cruise. Alas, tips aren’t included in the prices in the brochures.

The cruise lines are happy to offer guidelines for tipping however (in fact, most just add tips right onto your bill).

Expect to pay about $70/week or $10/day per person (about half that for children). This covers tips for your room steward, bus person, and waiter. (This doesn’t, however, include tips for tour guides on shore excursions.)

You can go down to the reception desk at any point in your cruise and change the amount of the gratuities being charged to your account. Please keep in mind that crew members are paid low wages and depend on tips for their livelihoods.

Friday, September 28, 2007

5 Exotic Cruises Your Friends and Family Haven't Been on

If you've taken a cruise, or know someone who has, chances are the destination was Alaska, the Caribbean, or maybe Hawaii. If you're in Europe, the Mediterranean is the number one destination.

But what if you've been those places, or you're more interested in going somewhere there are fewer crowds?

You don't have to pick another mode of travel. Cruising can get you all sorts of interesting places. Here are some less-frequently-cruised destinations that might interest you:

Cruising Tahiti and the South Pacific

While most of us have to travel a lot farther to get to Tahiti than to Hawaii, the islands down here are worth the trip. You'll find fewer (and smaller) cruise ships servicing this area, but if you're trying to avoid crowds, that may suit you just fine.

This is paradise.

You know all those images you have in your head of clean, unspoiled tropical beaches without hordes of people milling around making noise? Tahiti and the other islands in the South Pacific (AKA French Polynesia) have them.

The water is clear and crystal blue, volcanic peaks add interest to the beautiful blue skyline, and thousands of species of tropical fish await scuba divers and snorkelers beneath the waves.

When you're sunburned and need to get off the beach, you'll find plenty to see and do in ports such as Bora Bora, Moorea, and Huahine.

Australia and New Zealand Cruises

I have friends in Australia who would no doubt smirk at the idea of their homeland being called exotic, but for those of us in the northern hemisphere, Australia and New Zealand are a long ways away. That makes them rarer vacation destinations, but if you have the time and can handle a long flight, they're well worth the trip.

If you enjoyed the breathtaking, unspoiled scenery in the Lord of the Rings movies, you'll definitely appreciate New Zealand. In Australia, you can find everything from desert to glaciers, big modern cities to rustic towns. And, yes, there are crocodiles! (You shouldn't have to worry about finding one in your cabin though.)

Cruises often run two weeks down here, and are more relaxing than some of the week-long (and long-weekend) party cruises of the Caribbean. The main cruise season is from November to April, so if you're tired of the winter blues up north, head down under for the warmth of the summer sun.

Costa Rica Cruises

Central America has much to offer from tropical rainforests to beautiful beaches to towering mountains. Known for its thousands of species of butterflies, Costa Rica has a wondrous variety of wildlife to observe as well.

Thanks to its delicious climate, you can find cruises to Costa Rica year around. While many mainstream cruises offer Costa Rica as a port of call, you'll be able to examine Central America in more depth if you choose a trip that focuses on the Costa Rica area.

Week- or ten-day-long itineraries often visit Cartagena, Colombia, Panama's San Blas Islands, and Puerto Caldera, Puntarenas, and Puerto Limon in Costa Rica.

If you're wondering if Costa Rica is safe to visit, the country has actually been called the "Switzerland of Central America" (not for geography but for its emphasis on peace and education). Though some of Central America's countries are known for unrest, Costa Rica is a safe place to visit, and since 25% of its land is protected in national parks and reserves, it's a wonderful destination for hikers and nature lovers.

Antarctica Cruises

Yes, you can indeed take a cruise to Antarctica.

You can see seals, penguins, albatrosses and more amongst the icebergs as you tour the Great White Continent. Don't expect a lot of crowded ports with noisy vendors bartering their goods here. You'll see nature at its finest while you visit tiny islands and real life scientific research stations.

The cruise season in Antarctica is short (this is not a place you want to be when the weather is bad!), running from only January to February, so plan ahead. Most cruise ships depart from Argentina, with some leaving from Chile or the Falkland Islands.

Cruising the Amazon

No, we're not talking about the bookstore. You can take a cruise right up the Amazon River, gazing at the rainforest and its exotic birds and animals. The ship itself serves as the perfect viewing platform for observing wildlife, but you can also expect to make daily stops to explore the interior.

You'll learn lots about the local cultures, too, as many indigenous peoples still call the Amazon River Basin their home.

Most Amazon River cruises run from four to nine days, so you can schedule whatever you have time for.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Cruise Myth #6: You'll Get Bored

If a cruise sounds boring to you, you may be imagining some transatlantic crossing where you're looking at nothing but ocean all day every day.

The majority of cruises sail in small areas, and visit new ports almost every day (on a weeklong cruise, expect to spend four of your six full days in a port with only two days where you're onboard the ship all day as you sail to the next destination). Every new port is an opportunity to sightsee, explore new cultures, take an exotic shore excursion, or shop until you drop.

Tons of Things to Do on Board

Even when you are at sea, there's so much to do on board (especially the big mega ships), it's unlikely you'll have time to be bored.

Head to a show, take in a movie, hit the pool, gamble at the casino, listen to an educational lecture, take a cooking class, work off all that good food at the gym... Chances are the big ships have more to do than your hometown, and everything is within walking distance!

Some people take those transatlantic crossings on purpose, just because they enjoy all the activities on board a cruise ship.

Boredom? Not likely!

Cruise the Mississippi River on the Historic Delta Queen Paddlewheel Riverboat

Thinking of taking a cruise vacation? Don't limit yourself to destinations at sea. Several companies offer riverboat cruises that provide a unique way to see the heartlands of a country.

For example, you can experience river travel as Mark Twain once did, cruising the Mississippi River via a paddle-wheel-powered ship. Itineraries explore destinations up and down the Mississippi, Ohio, and Tributary Rivers.

The Delta Queen

For a taste of the authentic, book passage on Majestic American's Delta Queen:

"Built in 1926, gleaming with four decks of teak and original Tiffany-style stained-glass windows, the Delta Queen accommodates just 176 guests, all in outside staterooms. Unique touches abound, including a rare ironwood floor gracing the Orleans Room, the heart of the ship's nightlife, and an 1897 steam calliope that was once salvaged from a sunken showboat and sold to a circus. You'll even find the very same ship's bell that sounded out landings for the steamboat Mark Twain rode downriver in 1883."

Cruises on the Delta Queen run 4 to 11 days, with prices ranging from about $285 a day for an outside cabin (there are no inside cabins) to $445 for a suite.

Depending on the month you book, some cities you might expect to cruise through are Memphis, New Orleans, St. Louis, Little Rock, Chattanooga, and Birmingham.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

List of Luxury Cruise Ships

The word "luxury" gets attached to a lot of products and services today, so it doesn't always mean much any more.

In the cruise world, this can be especially true. It seems as if every cruise line calls its ships luxury.

If you are looking for true luxury cruise ships, make sure to go with a line that specializes in giving a first class experience. By nature, these ships are refined, elegant, and pricey. They don't pander to the masses, so you won't find that constant-carnival, party-all-night, Vegas-like experience on these ships (and their customers wouldn't have it any other way).

List of Luxury Cruise Ships

Line: Crystal Cruises
Ships: Crystal Serenity, Crystal Symphony

Line: Hapag-Lloyd Cruises
Ship: Europa

Line: Hebridean International Cruises
Ship: Hebridean Spirit

Line: Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Ships: Seven Seas Mariner, Seven Seas Navigator, Seven Seas Voyager

Line: Seabourn Cruise Line
Ships: Seabourn Legend, Seabourn Pride, Seabourn Spirit

Line: SeaDream Yacht Cruises
Ships: SeaDream I, SeaDream II

Line: SilverSea Cruises
Ships: Silver Cloud, Silver Shadow, Silver Whisper, Silver Wind

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Cruise Myth #5: Cruise Ships are Crowded

If you hate crowds and don't like strangers constantly brushing up against of you, you may have dismissed a cruise vacation out of hand. After all, those cruise ships jam hundreds--or thousands if you're going with the big mainstream lines--of folks on board.

Doesn't sound very peaceful and tranquil, does it?

Well, there are certainly times when the ship is going to feel crowded, but experienced cruisers tell me they've always been able to find little nooks to get away from the crowds and just enjoy a book or do some writing.

Many cruise ships--especially the big ones--are actually designed specifically so they won't feel crowded, even with all those numbers on board.

If you want to get an idea of how crowded a ship will feel (and you like math), you can divide its tonnage by its total passenger capacity. This gives you passenger-space ratio (and a number with which you can impress friends and family members with your cruise-trip-planning knowledge).

Or, you could just book a cruise aboard a small ship.

These lines rarely have more than 100 passengers on board. Of course, you won't find as many diversions, but all those shows and activities can add to the lots-of-people-in-one-spot busyness factor, so you probably won't miss them if you're an anti-crowd person.

Cool Links for Travel Lovers

While most of my blog posts focus on providing information about cruises, I thought it'd be nice to do a news and links post once in a while. So here's a look at some interesting news and fun travel links from around the web:

Eco-Travel News reports on whether it's possible to book a "green" cruise (Eco-friendly traveling is a great topic for a blog, don't you think?) in this post on cruises' eco-consciousness. (It sounds like most cruise ships do a fairly decent job policing up after themselves, but for a truly green cruise, you may do better avoiding the mainstream lines and booking passage on a smaller ship.) Full story was originally at The Christian Science Monitor: Is It Possible to Take an Ecofriendly Cruise.

If you've ready my profile, you know I'm hoping to take a cruise down to the Caribbean. Of course, I had to check out this cool podcast from Caribbean Free Radio. For a taste of the local life, take a listen.

If you want the inside scoop on cruising, check out John Heald's Blog. He's the Carnival Freedom's Cruise Director, and he's got some great stories and pictures of life on board the ship.

Word to the wise (or those who want to be wise travelers anyway), Chris at Nomad4Ever tells us why we should Never Trust a Money Changer. Using your ATM at a respected bank is the safe way to go.

And lastly, I was browsing through the archives at World Hum, and came upon this priceless gem: How to Use a Squat Toilet. If you're leaving the Western world for your travels, this is worth knowing.

5 Family Cruise Ideas Everybody Will Enjoy

Thinking of taking off on a family cruise?

It's important to choose a ship and a cruise line that has great ways to entertain kids and adults. Fortunately, it's not hard to find an excellent family cruise these days.

Ships built in the last decade or so are often packed with amenities for the young ones. Examples include kids-only swimming pools, video arcades, teen centers, and playrooms with ball bins, climbing mazes, and computers.

And, of course, there are babysitting services for when mom and dad want to get away (hey, just because it's a "family cruise" doesn't mean you want to spend every waking minute with a child on your hip!).

Here are some ships and cruise ideas you may want to look into if you're planning to take the whole family on your next vacation:

1. Sail with Disney

I know, I know: duh.

Of course Disney caters to family cruises. It's what they do best!

If you sign up for a cruise with the Disney line, you can expect a good time for kids of all ages (and mom and dad too):
  • Restaurants have excellent children's menus.
  • Fountain sodas are free (other cruise lines charge for them).
  • Shows are family-friendly (think "musical medleys of Disney classics").
  • An indoor movie theater is there for rainy days.
  • Nurseries and playrooms are segmented by age, so kids can find plenty of peers with whom to play.
  • Adults can escape to the 18+ end of the ship for a jazz bar, dance club, and sports/karaoke bar.
All Disney itineraries visit Castaway Cay, Disney's private island in the Bahamas. Here kids can explore a "giant whale-dig site," adults can get drinks and massages at beach-side cabanas, and the whole family can rent bikes or head into the surf for water sports.

2. Visit Hawaii on NCL's Pride of Hawai'i

Hawaii is a popular cruise destination for west coast families. Fly to Honolulu and hop on board to have a blast while experiencing the delicious tropical climate. Norwegian Cruise Line's Pride of Hawai'i is a very family-friendly ship.

Amenities include:
  • Treasure hunts, magic shows, and sports competitions for younger kids.
  • Playrooms and teen centers.
  • Special kids programs to keep children entertained on sea days (though most Hawaii cruises just go from island to island so you don't spend many days strictly at sea).
  • Spas, gyms, dance lessons, bingo, basketball, and wine tasting for adults.
As an added family perk, kids under 2 travel free.

3. Book a Cruise on the Royal Caribbean International (RCI) Freedom of the Seas

RCI's Freedom of the Seas is a large modern cruise ship with tons of family activities. I think you'll agree that kids and adults will enjoy many of the offerings:
  • giant water park
  • ice-skating rink
  • rock-climbing wall
  • professional-sized boxing ring
  • huge hot tubs that hang over the side of the ship
As you might guess, RCI cruise ships are popular with 20- and 30-somethings and up. 3- and 4-night cruises tend to attract the party crowds, so if you're looking for wholesome family fun, a week-long itinerary might be best.

4. Head to Alaska for a Week with Princess Cruise Lines

A little mellower than RCI, Princess Cruises still offers plenty to keep the kids entertained on a family vacation. The company is known for its Alaskan cruises, and their Grand-, Diamond-, and Coral-class ships all have nice indoor and outdoor facilities and supervised activities for children.

If you want your kids to have a learning experience, there are educational programs that teach children about oceans and marine life. On trips to Alaska, rangers and naturalists also offer talks on native culture, glaciers, Alaskan history, and the Iditarod sled-dog race.

5. Small Ship Sailing with Windjammer Barefoot Cruises

For the most part, you have to stick to the major cruise lines and the big ships to find family friendly offerings with lots to do for kids. One exception is Windjammer Barefoot Cruises.

If you think cruise ships are stuffy and formal, this outfit will put that image out of your mind. You can roam around in any attire you want (bathing suits at the dinner table are just fine), and I've heard you can even sleep on the wooden decks at night if you want.

Not all of their cruises are family friendly, but there are some special "Junior Jammers" programs (aboard the Legacy and the Polynesia) in the summer. These are for ages 6-17, and youth counselors offer complimentary summer-camp style activities during the days. There aren't any babysitting services though so be prepared to watch your young-uns in the evenings.

Oh, and the drinking age is 18 on board, so if you're trying to lure your college-age kids along on a last vacation with the whole family, that fact (for good or ill) might be win them over.

As you can see, there are plenty of family cruise opportunities out there. Just about all the mainstream ships offer supervised activities for children, and there are even things for them to do on some of the smaller ships. Take the kids along on your next vacation, and have a good time!

Source: Cruise Vacations For Dummies

Monday, September 24, 2007

Cruise Myth #4: Last Minute Cruise Bookings Offer the Best Rates

It used to be a given that if you waited until the last minute to book a cruise, you'd often get the best rate. Cruise lines know they'll lose money if they sail with empty cabins, so they are eager to get passengers aboard.

This is still true, and you can get excellent rates by booking a last minute cruise, but you have the poorest choice in cabins, since all the best ones have naturally been taken. It can also be tough to get a last minute airfare deal. Oh, and those who book last also are last in line when it comes to getting cabin upgrades.

Also, though you can get a good rate, you're not likely getting the best rate when you book at the last minute.

In fact, the people who book as soon as the cruise becomes available (those who reserve the first 20%-40% of the cabins) usually get the best rates of all.

Most cruise lines even have policies these days that would require them to go back and issue discounts to passengers previously booked if they slashed their prices drastically at the last minute.

So, while it's certainly possible to find a good deal if you can travel on a whim and leave at the last minute, you're actually better rewarded by booking early.

Choosing a Caribbean Cruise Vacation

Though cruises are increasing in popularity all over world, the Caribbean cruise vacation remains one of the most popular.

The islands are known for their white sandy beaches, clear turquoise waters, warm weather, lush gardens, swaying palm trees, and just about anything else that comes to mind when you think of the tropics.

And what better way to see the gorgeous Caribbean islands than by ship?

Instead of flying to one specific island and spending your whole time there, a cruise gives you the opportunity to see several islands in one trip. And, of course, the cruise itself is half the fun. (Okay, maybe more than half. Today’s mainstream ships feature everything from rock climbing walls, to comedy routines, to wine tasting classes, to beer gardens, to skating rinks. And, of course, there’s the pool, lots of lounge chairs, and endless yummy things to eat.)

There are several types of Caribbean cruise vacations to choose from. Most cruises leave from Florida, but it’s also possible to find ships departing from Galveston, Texas, and ports on the east coast.

Short excursions of three or four days, typically wrapped around a long weekend, are popular with those who live in or close to Florida. For those of us who have to fly to a cruise port, the one-week trip usually makes more sense.

You can choose to cruise to the eastern Caribbean, the western Caribbean, or the southern Caribbean. Any of these areas makes for a wonderful vacation.

The eastern Caribbean frequently features stops at the Bahamas, Grand Turk, Puerto Rico, San Juan, the Virgin Islands, and the Dominican Republic. The islands here are relatively close together, so this can be a great cruise vacation for you if you prefer less time at sea and more time on the beach (or shopping and seeing the sites on the islands).

A western Caribbean cruise vacation may visit Mexico, Cozumel, the Yucatan, Jamaica, Roatan Island, Honduras, and the Cayman Islands. Here, the ports of call are father apart, which translates to more sailing time. But since you often hit the Mexican mainland, too, the shore excursions tend to be more varied with visits to Mayan ruins and hikes in rainforests typical.

A southern Caribbean cruise often means taking more than a week for a vacation or flying to an island for departure (as opposed to taking off from Florida or another U.S. State). This part of the Caribbean tends to be less crowded, so if you’re looking to visit some more out-of-the-way spots, the southern islands may be an ideal vacation for you. Typical ports of call are Barbados, Antigua, Tortola, Puerto Rico, and the Grenadines.

No matter which Caribbean cruise vacation you choose (eastern, western, or southern), you’ll most likely have a lovely time and enjoy the beautiful seas, the diverse sites, and of course the delicious tropical climate.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

How Cruises Are Different from Other Vacations

If you're trying to decide whether or not to book a cruise, you may want to look at all the ways cruises are different from other vacation options. Those differences are likely what will make you a fan (or convince you that cruises just aren't for you).

1. The most obvious difference is that on a cruise you sail from destination to destination instead of hopping a plane, train, bus, or renting a car.

Most people don't get excited about traveling by plane, bus, etc. since it involves being squeezed into a seat next to a) squirming kids b) someone who hogs the arm rest or c) someone who wants to chat with you the whole time. You have little to do but read, daydream, and try to ignore your obnoxious seatmates until you arrive at your destination.

With a cruise, you have your own private cabin to call yours, and--better yet--the whole ship to wander through and explore while you are in transit. There are tons of things to do to keep you entertained, such as casinos, swimming pools, fitness centers, fine dining, massages, comedy shows, classes, and more.

2. With cruises, you're usually limited to coastal destinations.

Though some cruise lines offer excursions that will also take you inland for part of your vacation, for the most part, you're not going to be climbing any Alps to look for mountain goats. It is possible, however, to find river cruises in many parts of the world. For example, there are a couple outfits that sail the Mississippi River in the U.S. using replicas of the
old steam-powered paddle boats that Mark Twain rode on.

3. You get to visit several cities, but only have to unpack once.

This may very well be the coolest part of cruises, at least in my eyes. Speaking as someone who did one of the big Rick Steves see-all-of-Europe-in-three-weeks tours, packing and unpacking every two days can get a little old!

4. Prices are "all inclusive" and cover the majority of your expenses.

When you pay for a cruise, the ticket prices includes your cabin, meals, entertainment shows, and of course the cruise itself. However, you can expect the cruise lines to try and sell you lots of extras. And, for example, drinks and shore excursions aren't included (but you can explore on your own if you want to save money).

5. You don't get to spend a lot of time in any one place.

If you like the idea of staying somewhere for a week or more and really getting a feel for that one town, then you may not enjoy a cruise. Cruises are all about visiting one destination for a day and then moving onto the next place.

These are just some of the ways cruises are different from most other types of vacations. Let's hope this helps you decide whether the cruise life is right for you.

Cruise Myth #3: You'll Get Seasick

You may not have considered a cruise vacation because you're worried you'll get seasick and be miserable all the time.

As someone who is prone to getting carsick, I completely understand. While it is possible you might get queasy on board a cruise ship, most people report that they have few problems.

Today's ships, especially the large mainstream ships, have stabilizers that keep the rocking of the sea to a minimum. After all, they wouldn't want you sitting down to a fine meal in the dining room only to have your plates skidding off the table!

Most of the time, you'll barely be aware you're in the water.

Also, a lot of cruise itineraries stay in relatively calm waters such as protected seas and inside passages. If you think seasickness might be a problem for you, consider a trip that hugs the coast or skirts through something like Alaska's inside passage for your first cruise.

But chances are seasickness will be the last thing on your mind, and you'll have a wonderful time on board.

Hey, you can always take some Dramamine along for emergencies.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Cruise Myth #2: You'll Get Fat!

Well, there can be some truth to this cruise assumption, so maybe it's not entirely a myth. There is plenty (and I do mean plenty) to eat on a cruise. If you go in with the mindset that you want to get the most for your money, even if that means eating until you explode (or at least suffer gastrointestinal distress), then yes, you may very well gain 5 pounds in the week you're on board.

However, this is not a requirement.

Today's cruise ships have changed with the changing attitudes of many health conscious vacation goers. There are food options for everyone. Yes, you can get the French fries and deep-friend chicken sticks, but there are also lighter portions of healthier foods, including vegetarian options.

Also cruise ships have lots to do besides eating, and all of the large, mainstream ships have fitness centers. Expect weight rooms, fitness classes such as yoga or pilates, and lots of cardio machines such as treadmills all available for your use 24 hours a day.

Also, just about all ports you visit offer shore excursions for the physically active. You can go for hikes, go kayaking, go mountain biking, or sign up for a horseback riding adventure.

If staying in shape is important to you, it's absolutely something you can do while on your vacation. In fact, you'll have lots of time for physical activities since you won't be at work!

Cruise Myth #1: Only Retired People Take Cruises

Back in the day, when cruises first made their appearance, they did cater to the wealthy and retired, but that is definitely not the case any more. People of all ages are cruising, including families with children (Disney cruise lines are popular with this group) and singles.

There are cruises for virtually anyone no matter what your interests.

Short cruises in the Caribbean or down to Mexico (often wrapped around a long weekend) are particularly popular with young adults who want to get away and party, party, party for a few days. If you want adventure, you can find ships that will make stops in the perfect spots for SCUBA diving, rock climbing, kayaking, hiking, and other active pursuits. If the idea of learning something new on vacation excites you, you can find educational cruises featuring guest lecturers who will share the history of the region or even help you become a pro at digital photography.

By now, you should see that this cruise myth is definitely false. There are plenty of things to do on cruises for people of all ages, and cruising is one of the best vacations you can get for your money (and you don't have to spend a ton to have a really good time).

Friday, September 21, 2007

Cave Tubing in Belize

Oh, I totally want to do this one. I've been tubing down regular rivers, but I've never tubed through a cave!

For the "tubing" novices, this is the fine art of flopping your backside into an inner tube and doing nothing but socializing with other tubers and taking in the scenery while the current carries you downstream. If you're looking for a rigorous physically challenging shore excursion, this one isn't for you, but if you're on vacation to relax, tubing is a perfect way to do it.

(Hey, you can always hit the treadmill in the gym when you get back onboard the cruise ship.)

Here are some details on the Belize cave tubing excursion:

"Located about 33 miles on the Western Highway are some of Belize most popular caves and experience of a lifetime. After a 6 mile off road drive into the rainforest, we will arrive at the fabulous Cave's Branch of the Sibun River .

After briefing by your guides, and an exploratory walk through the broadleaf rainforest you splash into the cool water of the Sibun River aboard your inner tube, caving light on your forehead, and float lazily downstream for an hour and a half.

Enjoy the cave formations of this Cretaceous Period limestone cavern, formed by the Sibun River , long before the dawn of humankind." (from Kelly Tours)

I love caves, so this one goes on my list of shore excursions I must take someday.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Does the Price of a Cruise Include All Expenses?

Cruises are a good deal as far as vacations go because the price of the cruise includes a lot: meals, room and board, many of the activities aboard the ship, and of course the voyage itself.

However there are lots of extras that generally aren’t included (though more expensive luxury cruises include a lot more extras in their ticket prices).

Here are some of the things you will have to pay for that are not included in the price of the cruise:

  • Tips
  • Drinks, including sodas and bottled water
  • Phone calls
  • Email
  • Massages
  • Dry cleaning
  • Babysitting
  • Dining at alternative restaurants on board
  • Airfare (unless you sign up for a package that includes cruise and airfare)
  • Souvenirs
  • Photos
  • Sometimes port taxes and charges (these are usually included but double check)
  • Shore excursions (you can choose to save money by sight-seeing on your own, but activities aren’t always by the dock, so put aside cash for taxies or buses)
As you can see there are quite a few extras that aren’t included in the price of your cruise, but a lot of these items are optional. Just be prepared when someone wants to charge you for that poolside diet soda!

The positive news is that you still get a lot for your money with a cruise, and with all the deals available, you’ll rarely pay even as much as is listed in the cruise line’s brochure.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

10 Things to Do in Aruba

If your cruise ship is heading to Aruba or you’re just planning a vacation to this southern Caribbean island, you’ll be looking for things to do in Aruba while you’re there.

Though small, the island has plenty to offer. Of course, there are beaches but there are a lot of fun historical destinations and there are plenty of scenic sites to take in as well. Here’s a great list to get you started:

10 Things to Do in Aruba

1. Ride a Horse Through the Gold Mine Ruins

In 1824, gold was first found in Aruba. Though it’s long gone, you can tour the old ruins via horseback. The Gold Mine Ranch has group and private tours available with prices starting at $55. Children and beginning horse riders are welcome.

2. See the Caves in Arikok National Park

Arikok National Park covers an impressive 20% of Aruba and features a cool series of caves. The Fontein Cave has brownish-red drawings left by Amerindians as well as graffiti etched by early European settlers. The 300-foot Baranca Sunu cave has a heart-shaped entrance, which has earned it the nickname the Tunnel of Love (it’s dark inside, so rent a flashlight to explore this one). The Quadirikiri Cave has two large chambers and a 100-foot tunnel that leads to a nesting area for bats. Roof openings in the main chambers allow sunlight in, so you won’t need flashlights for this one. Photos from the park at Trip Adviser.

3. Hit the Beach!

True, there are lots of things to do in Aruba, but it's hard to imagine visiting without taking some time to relax on at least one of the beautiful beaches. A favorite with cruise tourists is Palm Beach, which is famous for calm waters and is located in front of the major resorts. Try Baby Beach, located in Seroe Colorado at the SE end of the island, for a tranquil swimming cove. For terrific snorkeling, visit Arashi Beach, which is just south of the lighthouse near the NW tip of Aruba. More on Aurba beaches at Frommer’s .

4. Birdwatch at Bubali Bird Sanctuary

If you enjoy watching wildlife, you'll want to check out the winged inhabitants of the Bubali Bird Sanctuary. There are 80 migratory species including egrets, herons, gulls, skimmers, and cormorants. For information on more species and lots of great photos, visit Aruba Birds.

5. Shop Until You Drop at Caya GF Betico Croes

In Oranjestad, Caya GF Betico Croes is the chief shopping street. Here you can find duty-free boutiques selling items from around the world: jewelry, French perfume, German and Japanese cameras, English bone china, Swiss watches, and more. Watch out for aggressive vendors, which are especially noticeable on cruise-ship days.

6. Climb up Hooiberg for Great Views

This 541-foot tall peak at the center of the island can be reached via its 562 concrete steps. From the top, you can see twenty miles to Venezuela on clear days. More information on Hooiberg at Wikipedia.

7. Rent a Moped

For $30-$40, you can rent a moped and explore remote areas of the island. Note, Aruba traffic can be confusing for foreigners, so it’s probably not a good idea to use a moped as your sole means of transportation on the island.

8. Take a Submarine Ride

We’ve talked about plenty of land-based adventures you can partake in when visiting Aruba, but have you ever thought about exploring the water? Red Sail Sports’ Atlantis Submarine offers tours of the island’s coral reefs, shipwrecks, and don't forget the tropical fish. It costs about $100 for an hour ride, and you get a dive certificate as proof that you’ve delved down to 150 feet in depth. (If you’re coming in on a cruise, chances are there’s a shore excursion that sets everything up for you.)

9. Play for the Big Money at the Casinos

If you’ll be staying overnight in Aruba, you may be looking for things to do after dark. If gambling is your cup of tea, you could visit the Crystal Casino, the Alhambra Casino, or the Seaport Casino. The Aruba casinos aren’t as over-the-top as what you’d find in Vegas, but the colorful lights and constant sound and motion will still evoke the carnival-like feel. The 8,000 square foot Alhambra has an interesting Moorish theme.

10. Get up Close and Personal at the Ostrich Farm

If you don’t have an ostrich farm at home but wish you did, now’s your chance to visit one. The Aruba Ostrich Farm lets you see and touch these giant birds. They even like to be hand-fed. Learn about their behavior and natural instincts as you watch them stroll around the rugged Aruba landscape that is a perfect environment for them.

That’s it for this list of 10 things to do in Aruba. If you’ve tried any of them, leave a comment and let us know how it went!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

What is Freestyle Cruising?

Do you like to dress up?

If you answered no, then freestyle cruising is for you.

Some people really like to dress up, but I hate it. I work from home, and I don’t have to interact with clients face-to-face, so my wardrobe consists of t-shirts, jeans, and sweatshirts. I’m convinced the desire for this loose, laid back attire is the reason I became self-employed. The free-to-do-what-you-want-when-you-want-and-sleep-in stuff is all well and good, but it’s really about the clothes.

Since I don’t get excited at the idea of shopping for clothes (I know, I’m an embarrassment to womankind all over the planet), I wouldn’t even know how to shop for formal attire. I have this vision in my head of walking into some fancy-smancy place and getting kicked out, just like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, but alas I don’t have Richard Gear’s no-limit credit card to save me.

But I digress (actually I’m not sure I ever was on topic).

This post is about freestyle cruising and what that means.

Basically, freestyle cruising means you don’t have to go to the set dining times that are arranged on most cruise ships. You aren’t assigned a table, and you don’t have to get to know the same people every night if you don’t want to. You can go to eat whenever you want. And best of all, you don’t have to dress up.

Oh, you still can if you want to, but nobody is going to stare at you or make you feel awkward if you stroll into the dining room in shorts, flip flops, and a tropical shirt. (To me, I can’t imagine wearing much else on a Caribbean cruise vacation!)

Besides, I haven’t factored shopping for new clothes into the money I need to earn to pay for my first cruise.

So, in short, freestyle cruising means:

  • no dress code (no formal attire needed)
  • no restrictions on when you dine

The cruise line that’s famous for its freestyle cruising policy is Norwegian (can you guess who I’m looking to book with?).