Thursday, November 29, 2007

Which Island in Hawaii for Helicopter Tour Shore Excursion?

If you take a cruise to Hawaii, you'll have a long list of options for shore excursions. Each island you visit will have different things for you to see and do, but just about all of them offer a helicopter tour.

This isn't any surprise considering how beautiful the islands are. Each one is forged from volcanoes, each one surrounded by sparkling ocean waters, and each one full of lush scenery and unspoiled lands, some not even accessible by road. On any island, you'll see some impressive vistas if you take a helicopter tour shore excursion.

But you probably don't want to take a helicopter tour on each island. If your ship stops in four different ports, as many of them do, that would be a lot of pricey shore excursions, for one thing. And you'll want to experience some of the land-based sights too.

So, if you're planning to take a helicopter ride, which Hawaiian island should you choose?

While you'll probably enjoy yourself on any island, many people recommend Kauai.

A big part of this is because Kauai has a canyon that almost rivals the grand canyon in scope and beauty. Called Waimea Canyon, it's sure to take your breath away. Also Mount Wai'ale'ale crater is an impressive site where more than 420 inches of rain fall a year.

Also larges parts of Kauai are still wild and undeveloped, meaning no roads to them, so the only way to view them is from the air. You'll see stunning waterfalls and coasts too.

Though all the Hawaiian islands are beautiful (hey, they call it paradise for a reason), you'll really enjoy a helicopter tour on Kauai.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Luxury Cruises vs. Economy or Mid-price Cruises, What's the Difference?

If you book a luxury cruise, what are you really paying for? Are you getting a vastly different experience from someone who books a cruise on an economy or mid-price ship?

Well, let's take a look....

If it's public facilities that matter a lot to you, you can actually find some of the most modern and enhanced pools, gyms, spas, lounges, and showrooms on the big but affordable ships offered by the mid-market cruise lines (such as Carnival and Princess Cruises). You won't necessarily get better public spaces on luxury vessels, and you may even have a few fewer amenities since luxury ships have smaller passenger loads.

Will you get better service on a luxury ship?

Well, maybe. Paying more doesn't necessarily mean you'll get more specialized attention. Usually it depends a lot on the passenger to crew ratio. The lower the ratio, the more personal attention you should get. (Luxury ships have fewer passengers than economy or mid-price mega ships, but it is possible to find mid-price cruise ships out there that only take a couple hundred people at a time: see posts on mid-sized ships and small cruise ships).

What you do tend to see in luxury lines is better suites. Buying a luxury cruise will usually get you a larger cabin and a roomier bathroom with tub and shower.

Dining is almost always superior on luxury cruise ships as well. With fewer mouths to feed, the chefs have more time to offer a larger choice of dishes and make meals to order, restaurant style.

However, some of the mid-market cruise lines are known for good food, too, so you don't necessarily have to pay big bucks for enjoyable meals. Also the megaships today have alternative dining restaurants where you can be treated just as you would at your favorite eatery on the mainland (these dining experiences aren't included in the base cruise price and cost $10-$30 a head).

As you can see, it really depends on your preferences as to whether or not it's worth paying the extra bucks for a luxury cruise line. Some people swear by them, and some people have had perfectly wonderful "luxury" experiences with mainstream cruise lines.

Before you make your decision ask around and visit the various cruise forums and message boards out there (a Google search for "cruise forum" will show you a couple of the most popular) to read reviews of specific lines and ships.

Source: The Unofficial Guide to Cruises

Friday, November 23, 2007

Are Shore Excursions Handicap Accessible?

Cruises can be a great vacation, but are they still enjoyable if you have accessibility issues? And if you do find the perfect cruise for you, will you be able to partake in the shore excursions?

In the past, it was often hard to find a cruise ship that was truly easy to navigate for a person in a wheelchair, but fortunately things have changed in the last few years, thanks evolving disability acts. A travel agent can help you find a ship that's perfect for your needs, but generally you'll find newer ships are much more handicap accessible and you'll have fewer difficulties and restrictions on your on-board roaming.

However, shore excursions are run by third parties, and in foreign countries they may not be worrying about disability acts instated in your country. This means you need to be a little more careful in selecting tours to take when you disembark.

In many cases, cruise lines will have certain shore excursions marked as handicap accessible (often with a wheelchair icon) in their brochures or their online booking system. Also the trips will be rated by difficulty level (1, 2, or 3). These pamphlets with their brief descriptions can only tell you so much however, so if you have doubts or questions about anything, your best recourse is just to ask.

How will transfers be done from ship to shore (if the ship is not docking but tendering people ashore with boats, transfers can be more troublesome) and from shore to tour transport? Will the excursion itself require walking or navigating over uneven terrain? Are vans, buses, etc. equipped with ramps and handicap seating?

You will find that while many shore excursions aren't suitable for people with accessibility issues, there will likely be some interesting tours to take at each port of call.

For more on cruising with accessibility issues, browse this article.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Walkie Talkies Let You Keep Tabs on Family Members on Your Cruise

If you're heading off on a cruise for the whole family (or even just for two), chances are different people are going to want to do different things, at least some of the time. So, how do you keep track of everyone?

You have a couple of options: verbally setting times to meet up (or leaving sticky notes on cabin doors), calling each other on cell phones (most places you cruise to you'll be able to get cell reception), or picking up walkie talkies.

Sticky notes are free but cell phones can get costly, especially when you figure in roaming charges. That's why walkie talkies are popular with some families.

Many of them have ranges large enough that you will be able to talk to family members anywhere on the cruise ship, and there's no roaming charges with these puppies.

If you're worried about walkie talkies taking up too much room in your luggage, you may want to check into extra small ones, such as the wrist watch walkie talkies shown here. You can get a decent set for about $50.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Cruise Cabin Differences

When you book your cruise, one of the first things you'll do is choose which cabin you want to stay in.

There are several types of cabins, all with different price tags. Sizes range from tiny (60 square feet) to huge (5,750 square feet). Of course, there is some variation from line to line, but here are the basics you can expect for each type (price for inside cabins is cheapest and goes up from there):

Inside cabins -- These rooms come without a view. They are on the inside of the ship and have no windows or portholes. They are very dark when the door is closed, so if you are claustrophobic, you may not like an inside cabin. However if, like many people, you tend to enjoy all the ship has to offer and just use your cabin for sleeping, this sort of accommodation may work just fine for you.

Outside cabins -- The next rooms up will have windows or portholes, so you get a little light coming inside and you can get a glimpse of what's going on outside of the ship.

Outside balcony cabins -- In addition to, or instead of, a window/porthole you'll actually get a little private balcony you can step out onto. Private is relative, of course, since you'll usually be able to see your neighbors or even the people below you on their balconies. Beware the term "French balcony" in the room description, because that just means there will be doors you can open for air but you won't actually have room to go outside.

Suites -- These are the largest and most expensive living spaces on a cruise ship. They usually feature a balcony and junior suites that may or may not have balconies of their own.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Are Transatlantic Cruises Boring?

Quick, you've got to get from New York to London. What's the quickest way?

Ok, you're right. Flying. But if you hate to fly or you want to make a vacation of the trip, you might consider a transatlantic cruise.

Several lines offer them, and in a few days you can sail from one side of the ocean to the other. But, you may be asking yourself, is it boring? There are no shore excursions, and there's nothing to look at but water, right?

Whether or not you get restless on the voyage will depend on you, but today's cruise ships are anything but boring. Some of them are like mini Las Vegas towns on the water. You've got casinos, theaters, shows, lots and lots of food choices, fitness centers, classes, and don't forget just lounging by the pool in the sun (if the weather is good).

There is so much to do on board a cruise ship that some people skip the shore excursions when they take a trip anyway.

If you know you're get restless being on a ship for several days with no way off, then a transatlantic cruise might not be for you, but if you want a relaxing way to cross the ocean, then you have no reason to worry about being bored on the ship.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Pros & Cons to Cruising to Private Islands

If you're taking a cruise that visits a new port of call just about every day, you can feel overwhelmed by all the sightseeing opportunities. Sometimes it's nice to have an excuse for a beach day, where fun and relaxation are the only priorities.

That's why the major cruise lines have purchased private islands and placed them on their Caribbean itineraries. With tons of resort-style activities to do, they're a great place for couples, families, and even the solo traveler just looking to relax on the beach.

Which Cruise Lines Operate Which Private Islands?

Here's the list...

  • Catalina Island -- Owned by Celebrity Cruises, first used in 1995, located in the Dominican Republic
  • Serena Cay -- Owned by Costa Cruises, first used in 1996, located in the Dominican Republic
  • Castaway Cay -- Owned by Disney, first used in 1998, located in the Bahamas
  • Half Moon Cay -- Owned by Holland America, first used in 1997, located in the Bahamas
  • Cayo Levantado -- Owned by MSC Cruises, first used in 2005, located in the Dominican Republic
  • Great Stirrup Cay -- Owned by Norwegian Cruise Line, first used in 1977, located in the Bahamas
  • Princess Bay -- Owned by Princess Cruises, first used in 1986, located in Mayreau, Genadines
  • Princess Cays -- Also owned by Princess Cruises, first used in 1992, and located in Eleuthera, Bahamas
  • Coco Cay -- Owned by Royal Caribbean International, first used in 1990, located in the Bahamas
  • Labadee -- Also owned by RCI, first used in 1986, and located in Haiti
If your cruise includes a trip to one of these islands, here's what you can expect:

Benefits/Pros of Private Islands
  • No natives, so no crime to speak of
  • Crystal clear waters and great beaches
  • Plenty of water activities such as snorkeling and scuba
  • No one trying to hawk their wares at you
  • No reservations to make or worrying about catching taxies
  • Small boats and floating mattresses to lounge in the water on
  • Hammocks and sometimes cottages where massages are available
Downsides/Cons of Private Islands
  • As with anywhere else, you'll have to pay for most of the activities (even to rent a hammock)
  • You'll be sharing your "private island" with everyone else on the ship (up to 3,000 passengers)
There aren't too many downsides to a day on a private island though so if your itinerary stops by one, plan on enjoying yourself.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Some Cruise Lines Have Singles Match Programs

So, you want to go on a cruise, but you're single (or have a partner/spouse who doesn't like cruising). Whatcha going to do? Cruise lines base their prices on two people in a cabin, and if you get the whole cabin to your self, then you can expect to pay double. Eep.

Fortunately, there are ways to get around this.

The most obvious is to find someone to room with. Or better yet, let the cruise line find someone (same sex) for you to room with.

Some lines have singles partner programs, so you can cruise without paying twice as much for a cabin. Basically, they agree to find you a roommate to share the trip with, and you each pay the normal rate. If they can't find you a same-sex roomie, then you get the cabin to yourself, and you don't have to pay any more.

An example of one of the big lines with a singles partner-match program is Holland America:

"Single guests who agree to share a stateroom with another nonsmoking guest of the same sex pay only the per-person, doubleoccupancy rate. (If we can't find a partner for you, you cruise solo at the agreed-upon double-occupancy fare.)"

If you're looking to cruise solo, but don't want to pay the hefty charge of having a room to yourself, then see if the line you're interested in has a program like this or talk to a travel agent for suggestions.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Repositioning Cruises Can Cut Down on Flying Time

I've talked about what repositioning cruises are before, so check out that post if you're not familiar with them yet, but today I wanted to cover one of the perks.

Depending on where you live, you may be able to cut down on your flying time by booking a repositioning cruise. This is because these cruises depart from a different port than they return to.

Here's an example:

My parents live in Seattle, and they'd love to do cruises that visit Mexico and the Caribbean, but most repositioning cruises leave out of Florida (with a few from Texas and other states with ports close to the Gulf). Anyway you slice it, that is a long flight from Seattle.

However, they're looking at taking a repositioning cruise that starts in Florida but ends in Seattle (ships will do this type of thing when they're moving from one area to another, such as from doing Caribbean cruises in the winter and spring to doing Alaska cruises in the summer). This would mean my parents would only have to fly one way, and not only would they get to see the ports in the Caribbean Sea, but they'd also get to experience the Panama Canal and some of the sights on the Pacific Ocean side of Mexico.

Of course, repositioning cruises usually only happen a couple times a year and not for every cruise ship, so you do have to watch for them and be prepared to fit your schedule around them. But if this sounds like a fun vacation to you (and you're not crazy about flying), then it may be worth rearranging your schedule to take a repositioning cruise that starts or stops at a port near you.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Greece's Ancient Olympia Shore Excursion Shows Off Original Olympic Games Site

I'd really like to cruise the Mediterranean someday and visit Greece. It's one of the countries I didn't get to see when I did my Rick Steves' tour through Europe a couple years ago, but I really enjoyed Greek history when I was in school.

For those of you who are thinking of a cruise to this part of the world, too, I've been checking out some of the shore excursions.

Be prepared: when you cruise through the Mediterranean, the shore excursions tend to be more about sightseeing and appreciating history than the constant entertainment of many Mexican or Caribbean vacations.

This trip to Ancient Olympia looks like a great chance to see some remnants of Greek history:

You get to see "the birthplace of the Olympic Games and the most important sanctuary of Zeus, father of all gods and goddesses. The starting line is still visible etched on the marble in the stadium there, inviting you to run and in your imagination compete with the ancient athletes. Enjoy the play of light on the soft greenery and dappled ancient columns in this wonderful and peaceful setting." Also "visit the archaeological museum beside the ancient site. It contains most interesting exhibits such as the pediments and the metopes of the Temple of Zeus, the Statue of Nike and of Hermes."

You can take advantage of the Ancient Olympia shore excursion if your cruise ship docks at Katakolon.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Do Cruise Cabins Have Bathtubs?

Whether you're looking for a handicap-friendly bathroom, you've got small kids to bathe, or you just love a good soak, you may be wondering if cabins and suites aboard cruise ships have bathtubs.

The answer is yes--some of them.

It can vary from ship to ship and line to line, but just about all suites will come with bathtubs, and on some lines tubs are the norm (i.e. Holland America).

So, how do you make sure you get a room with a tub? The best way is to work with a travel agent and book early. That way, you're able to select your specific cabin (travel agents can help you decipher the floor plan codes so you're sure to get a good room).

It can be trickier to choose your cabin if you're booking at the last minute, traveling as part of a group, or taking part of a cabin-share or cabin-guarantee program (this is when you agree to a certain price and don't find out your exact cabin until the last minute).

Advantages of Booking Back-to-Back Cruises

For many people, a cruise by itself is a luxury to be enjoyed, but what if you could take back-to-back cruises and stay on vacation twice as long?

A back-to-back cruise is when you schedule two consecutive voyages on the same ship.

It may not be as pricey as you think, as many cruise lines offer discounts for your second cruise in a back-to-back scenario. Why? They love to get their cabins booked, and they also love to keep you coming back with discounts for frequent cruisers.

Scheduling a back-to-back cruise doesn't necessarily mean seeing all the same ports over again either. There are a lot of cruise lines that offer alternating itineraries. For example, in your first week, your ship might cruise the eastern Caribbean and in the second head over to the western islands.

Though alternating itineraries for back-to-back cruisers are probably most common the Caribbean, you can also find them in Alaska, on the Mexican Riviera, along the east coast and Canada, and even in Hawaii.

Ok, so we've got two perks so far: discounts for back-to-back cruises and the chance to see twice as many ports. Here's one more advantage to taking two cruises in a row:

You only have to fly down once!

If you booked two cruises a couple months apart, you'd have to pay the expense of flying or driving to the departure port twice. With back-to-back cruises, you get two vacations (or one extended vacation--however you want to look at it) for the price of one round-trip plane ticket.

Tips for booking back-to-back cruises

To keep things stress-free, it's a good idea to book your sailings a good six months in advance. This is a good way to ensure you can get the same cabin for both trips (who wants to pack and unpack again in the middle?). Of course, if you don't mind moving, you may be able to finagle a free cabin upgrade in as a perk of booking that second trip.

Also, consider talking to a travel agent, since they may be aware of specials that aren't advertised on websites.

For more information on this topic, check out this great article on the subject that was printed a couple years ago in Cruise Travel.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Winter is a Great Time to Cruise to Australia

If you're looking for a way to escape winter in the northern hemisphere, perhaps a cruise down under would make a nice vacation. While we're fighting snow flurries, Australia and New Zealand are enjoying sunny summer weather.

Since Australia is a big place, there are numerous climates and areas to explore. You can find everything from bone-dry deserts to snow-capped mountains to towering fjords to coral reefs when you're visiting the continent.

Australia Cruise Highlights
  • Snorkeling or SCUBA diving at the Great Barrier Reef
  • The world-famous Sydney Opera House
  • Taking a trip into the fabled Australian Outback
  • Seeing kangaroos and koala bears in their natural milieu
  • Exploring the famous Ayers Rock
  • Wine-tasting excursions that visit local vineyards and wineries
Things to note:
  • If Australia sounds like your cup of tea, book well in advance because there aren't as many cruises heading down under as in the Caribbean, and good cabins sell out quickly.
  • If you're leaving from North America, you'll lose a day going over the International Date Line, plus the flight itself takes a day, so you'll need to leave at least two days before the cruise is scheduled to begin (more is better so you have time to get over jet lag and relax).
  • Cruises are usually 12 to 16 days.
  • The prime Australia cruise season is from October to March.

Paying for Your Cruise in Advance Can Mean Discounts

There are a surprising number of ways to get discounts on the price of your cruise. For example, we've talked about special group cruise rates, booking your next cruise while you're still on your last cruise, and saving money by booking extra people into your cabin. These are all ways to get great discounts on cruises.

Now here's one more trick for saving money when booking:

According to Cruise Vacations For Dummies, you can save money by paying in advance.

"Cruise lines love to get your cash as early as possible," the book says. "So some of the pricier lines offer discounts to folks who pay their whole cruise fare ahead of time. Silversea Cruises, for example, offers a 5 percent discount if you pay for your cruise in advance."

It sounds like this particular "cheap cruise" trick may only work for the luxury lines, so I guess RCI and NCL are out, but if anyone has gotten a discount from the mainstream lines by paying early, please let us know in the comments below.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Columbia River Cruise Traces Lewis & Clark Route

When I first started researching cruises, it didn't even occur to me that there might be ships cruising waterways in my own backyard (I live in Washington state), unless you count the big megaships sailing out of Seattle for Alaska. But I wasn't thinking about river cruises, and we do indeed have some of those in the Pacific Northwest.

If you like the idea of a cruise that is more about relaxation and exploring American history than constant entertainment in the Caribbean, then a cruise that meanders along the Columbia and Snake Rivers might be perfect for you.

Portland Spirit's Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler Company offers a cool cruise that lets you explore the geography, history, and cuisine of the area:

"Step on board the Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler and experience history, legend, delicious northwest cuisine and riverboat hospitality. Our captains provide narration on Lewis and Clark, the Oregon Trail, Bridge of the Gods, and riverboats. Join us for a relaxing river cruise and enjoy the sights and history of the Columbia River Gorge."

And you get to do it in a nifty looking ship too.

This particular cruise outfit looks like it only does day cruises on the Columbia, but there are also week-long adventures that sail through both the Columbia and Snake rivers available through the Majestic America Line (the folks who do the Mississippi River cruises I mentioned a while back).

Save Money by Booking Extra People in a Cabin

Looking for ways to take the cruise of your dreams but not spend the next three years in debt from it?

Well, one way you can save money is by booking more than two people into a cabin. Cruise ships base their rates on two people per cabin, but most of the lines allow more, up to as many as five.

The first two people get the regular fair, but the extras get hefty discounts. And if the "extras" are your kids, there may be further discounts from family-friendly cruise lines.

There's no rule that says three friends can't go and take advantage of this deal either though. As long as you don't mind squeezing a bit (most people don't spend that much time in their cabins when they go on a cruise anyway), everyone can save a bit of money.

Things can get crowded in a small inside cabin, but with more people chipping in to cover costs, you might be able to afford a suite or at least a room with a view to offset the extreme togetherness factor.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Group Cruises Mean Nice Discounts

If you've love to take a cruise, but it's a bit of a stretch financially, you can save money if you get a group together.

For the cruise lines, a group is generally a minimum of 16 people in 8 cabins. If a lot of cabins are already sold out for a cruise, the line may not offer any sort of discount, but during the slow and shoulder seasons, when it's hard from them to sell all their cabins, they love offering perks to people who can bring in a number of bookings.

In fact, you can often even get a free cruise for the 16th person. (Hey, if you're the one arranging things, there's no reason that can't be you! Or you could always split the discount with the rest of the group... if you're feeling nice.)

Also, if your group is big enough, the cruise line may throw in some other free bonuses such as cabin upgrades, a cocktail party, or on-board credit vouchers you can use in gift shops and other places on the ship.

Just schedule a family reunion or convince a bunch of your friends that they need to get away for a week, and you're set!

Best Islands to Cruise to?

If islands get you excited (hey, who hasn't dreamed of getting away to a peaceful tropical island and escaping bosses and responsibilities for a while?), then you may want to cruise to some of the better ones. Which are the best islands to visit, you ask?

Well, since it's a subjective question, you'll find differing answers out there, but here are some articles you can check out from around the web:

From MSNBC: Best Island Cruises

Travelers' Digest features a list of Best Islands to Vacation on.

The Condé Nast poll voted Maui the World's Best Island.

And finally Love to Eat and Travel, has lists of the Top 10 Islands divided by region (i.e. Top 10 European Islands, Top 10 Pacific Rim, etc.)

So, what's your favorite island?

Costs of Common Extras on Cruise Ships

You've probably heard by now that those "all inclusive" cruise price tags only include your basic meals, your cabin, and the cruise itself. That's actually a pretty good deal, as far as vacation packages go, but chances are you'll want to indulge in some of the extras.

So, if you're wondering how much that massage will cost you while you're on the ship, take a look over the list below.

Typical Costs of Cruise Extras


Alternative Dining (meals in the special restaurants on the ship as opposed to eating at the buffets or in the dining hall) -- $10 to $30 per head.

Beverages and Spirits

Beer -- $3.50 to $6
Wine -- $15 to $300 per bottle
Mixed Drinks -- $3.95 to $6.75+
Soft Drinks -- $1.50 to $2.50 (or get an unlimited week-long soda card for $35-$40)


Babysitting -- $8 to $10 an hour (for two kids)
Dry Cleaning -- $2.50 to $7.50 per item
Internet -- $0.50 to $1.50 per minute
Massage -- $99 to $128 (for 50 minutes)
Phone Calls -- $5.95 to $15.95 per minute (though you can often get cell reception on cruise ships nowadays)


Shore Excursions -- $30 to $400+
Casinos -- As much as you want to spend! (no cover charge to get in though)

There you have it. A list of many of the common extras that aren't included in the price of your cruise. So, even if your tickets have been paid for, you're going to want to bring along some spending money!

Source: Cruise Vacations For Dummies

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Around the World Cruise Information

Thinking of taking a round the world cruise? Okay, I'm envious. I'm sure it will be a long time before I can take off on one of those, but I've done some research for you. Here's some basic information on world cruises:

World Cruise Lowdown
  • Round the world cruises last around 100-115 days.
  • They usually depart in January.
  • Many of these cruises are run by luxury lines, and even when lines like Holland America offer them, they're rolling out their best ships.
  • Entertainment is more sophisticated than you've probably seen on mainstream resort ships (i.e. black-tie galas, themed balls, and specialty parties).
  • The lines that offer world cruises are Cunnard, Crystal Cruises, Holland America, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, and Silversea Cruises.
  • You can expect to visit 35 to 45 different ports on 6 continents, and world cruises often touch down on ports rarely visited by shorter-term cruises.
  • If the itinerary interests you, but you can't afford the whole trip, you may be able to buy a "segment" and hop on board for 10 days to two weeks.
  • World cruises are increasing in popularity and often fill up quickly, so book early.
  • The average age of world cruises is the mid-60s.
  • All world cruises cross the equator at least twice.
  • Prices often start around $50,000 per person and go up from there (if you just want to see the world and don't care about the luxury lifestyle, check out freighter travel; you can find world cruises for less than $15,000)
  • Since round the world cruises are traditionally taken by the affluent, it is possible to get deals on great ships if you'll settle for inside cabins the rich would scoff at (prices can be as low as $150 a day).

Passports Now Required for Caribbean Cruises

In ye olden days (before 9/11 and heightened security around the world), U.S. citizens could head to Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean without needing a passport.

Alas, those days are gone.

Thanks to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, if you've got a cruise to the Caribbean planned, you will need to get a passport. This includes short weekend trips to the Bahamas too. Any kind of cruise that leaves U.S. waters will require a passport.

But if you're planning to be a frequent cruiser anyway (and many people who cruise once love it and cruise again), it's something you would have needed to take care of eventually anyway. Just remember to do all the paperwork well ahead of time, so your passport will be ready for you when your ship is scheduled to sail.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Kauai Kayak River Tour in Hawaii

If you're heading off for a cruise to Hawaii, and you're checking out your shore excursion options, there are all sorts of things to see and do on the islands. If you've always wanted to try kayaking, here's a tour that takes you up a river and through the rainforest to a hidden waterfall.

Kauai Kayak River Tour

Paddle two miles up the north fork of Wailua River to a trailhead where we begin a ¾ mile hike through the rainforest to a 125 foot waterfall."

The excursion has lunch at the waterfall before heading back downriver.

If you've never kayaked before, this sounds like a good trip for beginners: "Now if you are thinking of 'river kayaking,' white water and rapids, on a scale from 1-5 Wailua River is a '0.' So it is a nice calm way to get out on the river and enjoy kayaking and hiking to a secret waterfall."

Available through your cruise or from Aloha Tours (you can often get better rates if you book independently from the cruise ship, though you'll be responsible for finding transportation to the take-out spot).

What do the Dress Codes Mean on a Cruise Ship?

If you're preparing for a cruise, you may be wondering what clothes to take along. How do you have to dress on board the ship?

Different cruise lines have different standards (Norwegian Cruise Line is known for its freestyle cruising with relatively few requirements), but you'll always be able to relax in whatever you want for your daily activities. Where the dress codes come into place is with dinner dining.

Cruises may have formal nights, informal (or semi-formal nights), or casual nights. Here's the lowdown on each:
  • Formal nights -- This is big-time dress up time. If your ship has these nights planned, take what you'd wear to a nice wedding, i.e. tuxedos or dark suits for men, or cocktail dresses, gowns, or other fancy digs for women.
  • Informal/Semi-formal nights -- Think suits or sport jackets and ties for the men and stylish dresses or pants suits for the women.
  • Casual nights -- Despite the implications of the word casual, this probably means more than a t-shirt and a swimming suit. Consider decent pants and collared shirts for men, and dresses, skirts, or pantsuits for women.
If you enjoy dressing up, you may choose to go to every dinner in fancy digs, but if you hate dressing up (something I can sympathize with) or just don't own a lot of formal clothes, you might want to sail with the freestyle cruise line (NCL), though they still provide opportunities for folks to dress up who want to.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

What Are Megaships?

If you're deciding what kind of cruise ship you'd like to travel upon, you may have come across the term "megaship."

So, what is a megaship?

Well, it's a very big cruise ship. Okay, you want more than that.

The term megaship came into common usage in the late 90s, and it refers to ships that are at least 80,000 GRTs. (GRT stands for gross registered tons, a figure that includes the enclosed, interior, revenue-producing areas on a vessel; 1 GRT represents 100 cubic feet of space). Today today cruise ships can be up to twice that size.

Megaships carry from around 1,750 to 3,000 passengers.

They are designed to give you the all-entertainment-available mega-resort feel with all sorts of activities for families, couples, singles, and just about anybody who enjoys mainstream festivities. These ships usually include fitness centers, swimming pools, casinos, multiple dining venues, theaters, and more.

Most of the ships belonging to the popular cruise lines (Carnival, Celebrity, Costa, Disney, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess, and Royal Caribbean) are megaships. In short, these are the big boys you see in the television commercials.

Where Can You Cruise Without a Passport?

Wondering if there is anywhere in the world you can cruise to without needing a passport?

As I mentioned in "Do You Need a Passport to Cruise," in this era of heightened security, there aren't too many options left. Basically, if you choose a cruise that doesn't leave the waters of your own country, you won't need a passport (you will still need photo ID to board the ship).

For U.S. citizens, an example is Norwegian Cruise Line's Hawaiian cruises that start and end in Honolulu and never leave the islands. However, if you're from the U.S. and you're planning a cruise that visits Mexico, Canada, or the Caribbean Islands you will need a passport as of this year.

Fortunately, it isn't hard or expensive to get a passport. Here is a government site that tells you how to get a passport (in the U.S.).

It does take a little time, so make sure to get started well before your cruise departs.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Do You Have to Pay to Work Out on a Cruise?

A lot of things are included in the price of your cruise, but there are a lot of things you have to pay extra for too. If you're a first time cruiser with an interest in fitness, you may be wondering out if you'll have to pay to use the gym or go to fitness classes. Here's the lowdown:

Fitness/Gym Costs on a Cruise

The good news is that just using the gym (including weight equipment and cardio machines such as treadmills) is absolutely free.

Fitness classes, on the other hand, can be a different story. Many of the basics are free on a lot of the ships (i.e. stretching and basic aerobics classes), but expect trendier programs to come at a price.

For classes such as spinning, yoga, boxing, tai chi, self-defense, or Pilates, you can expect to pay $10-12 per session. If you're an avid exerciser, you may want to save money by buying a week-long unlimited-fitness-classes pass (available on many cruise lines).

If you're a novice to the gym (or it's been a while since you changed your fitness routine), you may even want to hire a personal trainer. (Hey, you never know when those huge free meals will convince you that it's time to start working out!)

Costs for a personal training session run around $75 to $85. (Now, there's a job I wouldn't mind having... personal trainer on a cruise ship; that's gotta beat working at 24 Hour Fitness.)

So there you have it: while classes and personal trainers cost money, you can hit the gym for free. There's no excuse to gain 5 pounds on your cruise!

Friday, November 2, 2007

How Much Luggage Can You Bring on a Cruise?

Wondering how many suitcases you can bring on a cruise? (Or maybe how many bags of goodies you can bring home from all the shops you'll visit?)

Each cruise line has it's own policies, and you can usually find out an exact amount by visiting the cruise line's FAQ page (most of them have one on their websites). But I've done the work for you for some of the more popular lines:

Amount Allowed for Suitcases/Luggage on Popular Cruise Lines:

  • Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) allows up to 200 pounds of personal luggage.
  • Princess says most of their cruises require flight so they just tell you to stick within airline policies for suitcases and weight restrictions (when you book, they tell you what the rules are for the accompanying flight).
  • Carnival Cruise Line doesn't have a luggage or weight restriction per se but also reminds you that airline restrictions will come into play if you're flying to your port.
  • Royal Caribbean allows 200 pounds of personal luggage per person.
  • Holland America has no weight limit but again reminds you that you need to comply with airlines, limousines (boy, wouldn't I like to take a limo to my cruise ship), etc. you may use on the way to the ship.

No Casinos on Cruises to Hawaii?

If you've signed up for a Hawaiian cruise, hopefully you're not a big gambler.

On most cruises, casinos are a part of the entertainment offered, and they are quite popular with some guests.

You won't find casinos, however, on Hawaii cruises, at least not if you book with NCL (Norwegian Cruise Line). They are the only outfit that does trips that start and end in Hawaii and focus on visiting the islands (usually four separate islands).

This is because the state of Hawaii has a law that says no cruise line can start or end a voyage in Hawaii if it has gaming equipment aboard.

If gambling is important to you, you can book a cruise on another line, but the other lines start on the mainland and sail across the Pacific (a long trip with more days at sea than visiting the islands).

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Pay for Ship's Shore Excursions or Find Independent Tours in Hawaii?

When you take a cruise, the price includes your meals and cabin, but if you want to go on shore excursions, you'll pay extra.

In Hawaii, you probably don't want to miss the good stuff either. We're talking about luaus, helicopter tours, mountain biking down volcanoes, rainforest hikes, cultural center excursions, and all sorts of fun adventures. But the prices can add up.

So can you save money by avoiding the cruise line's shore excursions and signing up on your own? After all, tourism is huge in Hawaii, so equivalents of all those tours must be available for folks who aren't arriving via a cruise ship, right?

Yes and yes.

Here's what a Hawaiian native suggested (someone who has been on 12 Hawaii cruises, so she knows her stuff!):

"Enjoy your cruise (likely with Norwegian Cruise Lines) it is a great way to see each of our islands. Be sure to check out the same shore excursions that they offer direct with the tour operator on line before leaving. Just FYI, like the Old Lahaina Luau is about $100. through the ship and $50.00 direct. Same luau, same seats, etc. Remember, NCL is not a non-profit company they make money where they can. Most all shore excursions can be purchased individually, don't let NCL scare you that only they will get you back to the ship on time. That's silly, these guys do this 3 times a week, they know when the ship sails, it's their business. "

Low Season Offers Good Deals and Fewer Crowds for Hawaii Cruises

If you've ever wanted to go to Hawaii, a cruise can be a great way to see the islands.

When most people visit Hawaii, they often just go to one island (often Oahu, home of famous Honolulu and Waikiki Beach), due to the hassle of flying between the islands. With a cruise, you'll get to see three or four islands, including spots that are much less crowded than Honolulu.

If you're looking to get a good deal on a Hawaii cruise, booking during the off or "low" season can be a great move. In Hawaii, the low seasons are considered late August, late November, February (minus holiday weeks), and May.

The lovely tropical climate means any time of year is great for sailing in Hawaii. Though months (i.e. January) are rainier than others, the temperatures are always warm, averaging in the 70s even in winter. Winter is a great time for whale watching, too, and since the kids are back in school, you're more likely to find the cruise ships themselves to be a peaceful retreat.