Thursday, November 20, 2008

Winter Is a Great Time to Cruise to Hawaii

I'm heading to Mexico for my cruise this year, but last year I did a week-long cruise in Hawaii and really enjoyed it.

If you live somewhere cold and rainy/snowy, winter can be a fantastic time to escape to the Hawaiian Islands, and a cruise is a great way to do it. Usually when you visit Hawaii, you spend all your time on one island, but a cruise lets you visit four or five different ports (we did four separate islands on my NCL cruise) and see some of the less frequently traveled spots.

For fewer crowds, book your cruise when the kids are in school (avoid Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year's Eve when prices are higher and ports are more crowded).

This Hawaii Cruise FAQ can answer some of your questions on cruising the Hawaiian Islands, or you're already set to go, you can visit Travelocity to check rates on last minute cruises:

Search by Cruise Destination on Travelocity

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Last Minute Cruises Offer Best Deals

Most people need to plan their vacations months in advance so they can get time off work and make other arrangements, but if you're retired or set your own schedule, you might want to look into last minute cruises.

With last minute cruises, you have an opportunity to get tremendous savings. This is because cruise lines don't want to sail with empty cabins. It's better for them to drop prices and get people on board (people on board who will spend money on drinks, casinos, shore excursions, etc.) than have empty rooms.

In my experience, the best place to find last minute cruise deals is Travelocity. I've compared the same cruise on Priceline, Travelocity, and the cruise line's home page, and always found Travelocity to be the cheapest.

Check them out if you're looking to book a last minute cruise and get a great deal.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Nile River Cruise Takes in the Sights

I'm starting to browse around online, deciding what my next vacation will be. Last year, I took a cruise to Hawaii, and it'd be nice to do another cruise (I love the whole idea of getting to visit several different places but only having to unpack once!). And I'm all about the warm destinations, so I'm scoping out Egypt.

You can book relaxing cruises along the Nile River that let you enjoy the desert sun while taking in the ancient sights.

Nile River boats range from small and cozy to spacious and luxurious (though even the big ships are small by the standards of ocean-going cruise vessels) with passengers complements running between 20 and 150 guests.

A typical Nile River cruise starts in Luxor or Aswan and runs up or downriver, stopping to visit historical sights such as...
Longer cruises of six nights may also visit the Temples of Dendere and Abydos.

If you take a Nile River cruise, you'll find lots of art and history to appreciate.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What Happens if There's a Storm When You're on a Cruise?

With hurricane season in full force in the Caribbean, it might make you think twice about scheduling a cruise for that area. After all, you must be pretty vulnerable when you're at sea and there's a storm, right?

Well, yes and no. I certainly wouldn't want to be in a hurricane while in a ship, but cruise ships don't hang out in places where hurricanes are due. Just as the weather stations are predicting where hurricanes will touch down days before the event happens, cruise ships are up on the latest weather too. If there's a big storm coming, they can and do simply steer out of the danger area.

People on land don't have as much luck. We were down in Cancun for a major storm a few years back, and it was a bit scary. I think I'd rather be in a cruise ship that could sail away from the storm than in a high rise hotel on the beach!

The worst thing that is likely to happen if there's a big storm while you're on your cruise is that you might miss some of your ports or be diverted to other ports. This can be a bummer, of course, but there are usually so many things to do on board a big cruise ship that you will still have plenty of entertainment.

Want another reason not to worry?

Cruise rates (as well as hotels, time shares, etc.) tend to be lower priced during that time of year. People scheduling their trips months out can't predict the weather but often don't want to take a chance. But if you're willing to be brave, you can get some good deals during hurricane season!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Astronomy Cruises, Oh, Yeah!

I'm not an astronomy expert, and I can probably count the times I've looked through a telescope on my fingers, but it's always been one of those things I've wanted to take classes in or at least spend a little more time learning about. So I was delighted when I found out there were such things as astronomy cruises.

What better way to get away from city lights and really see the stars than by getting on a cruise ship and heading out into the middle of the ocean?

There are a number of lines (usually not the big mainstream ones) that offer astronomy-themed cruises that feature lectures, classes, and of course chances to actually look into the night sky and see what's out there. Often these cruises will be in ideal locations at ideal times to witness awesome events such as eclipses and other galactic phenomena.

Here are some of the sites you can check out for more information on astronomy cruises:

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Do Cruise Ships Have Fitness Facilities?

If you've been looking into cruises, you've probably seen lots of articles about how you can eat, and eat, and eat! Buffets for all meals, between meal snack stands, formal dining, all-you-can eat dining, and it's all included in the price of the cruise.

Now, if you're the health conscious type--or just trying to maintain your weight--you might be a little concerned about all those temptations, but fortunately all the mainstream cruise ships come equipped with fitness facilities.

When I cruised to Hawaii, I had my choice of cardio machines (treadmills, stationary bicycles, and elliptical trainers), and there was a full range of weight machines. Also, there was a separate hardwood floor exercise room, where classes such as yoga and pilates were offered in the mornings. Or you could just go in on your own time and do some stretching.

If the gym isn't your style, you can also do some laps around the ship to stay in shape. Our cruise ship had a 1/3rd mile promenade walk on a lower deck. It was quite pleasant walking in the morning or in the evening after dinner, especially when we were cruising near the islands and we had a view of the shoreline.

So, to answer this basic question, yes there are fitness facilities on board mainstream cruise ships, and if you want to work off those extra meals, you'll have plenty of opportunity to work out!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

National Geographic Cruises Offer Adventure and Education

If you want a cruise that is more about exploration and research than simply sitting on a deck working on your tan, sipping mai tais, and competing in the sexiest legs contest, then you may dig the offerings of Lindblad Expeditions.

The small-ship outfit specializes in adventure/educational cruises that also tread lightly on the environment, striving to create an eco-friendly yet enjoyable vacation experience. The cruises are exploratory in nature, and you can expect to find out about destinations first-hand since you'll be accompanied ashore by small teams of naturalists and historians to speak about what your'e seeing.

Lindblad even has a ship called the National Geographic Endeavour that is fitted with advanced research equipment and has an advisory group from the Geographic Society, which aids in creating cruises that concentrate on research, conservation, and have interesting educational initiatives.

As you can expect, the average passengers aren't the party-all-nighters types, and you can expect to be sailing with physically active and intellectually curious folks, often in the 55+ age range. On the downside, prices tend to be hefty, but they are more inclusive than mainstream cruises, with shore excursions all included (and on some dates and itineraries airfare is also included).

Examples of cruise destinations you can visit:
  • Galapagos Islands
  • Antarctica
  • Scottish Highlands
  • Mediterranean Sea
  • Baja/Sea of Cortez
For more information, check out the Linblad Expeditions web site.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Real Estate Investing Cruises

I love the idea of cruises where you can learn something. I've seen everything from cruises with lectures on historical topics relevant to the area you're traveling in to those that will teach you digital camera skills or how to play chess (yes, my heart gets all warm and snuggly at the thought of cruise ships full of geeks).

Well, I was listening the Real Estate Guys (a radio show I catch via podcasts), and they were talking about real estate investing cruises. It sounds like they are a mix of instruction and opportunity (to network and buy). I imagine there are people there trying to sell you the latest and greatest investing strategies and deals you just have to act on right now (snort), so you'd sure have to be careful, but for someone interested in investing in real estate, a cruise sure sounds like a nice way to get an education!

Has anyone out there been on one of these cruises? If so, was it a worthwhile vacation? Were the lectures useful or was it more about people trying to sell you stuff? And if you are an investor, did you write the cruise off on your taxes as a business expense? :P

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Higher Gas Prices Mean More Expensive Cruises

With gas prices high everywhere, it shouldn't come as any surprise that the cruise industry is affected as well. Many lines have been forced to increase prices or add special "fuel surcharges" in order to accommodate the greater expense of powering these big ships.

According to a recent Newsday article, "Disney Cruises to add fuel surcharge after May 27," Disney is the next at bat.

"The fee for cruises booked after that date is $8 per passenger per day for the first two passengers in a cabin and $3 a day for additional passengers in the same cabin. Disney was the last of the major cruise lines to respond to higher fuel prices with surcharges."

Fortunately, cruises still remain a pretty good deal when it comes to all-inclusive vacation packages, but if you've been waffling about whether to book now or later, it might be best to book your cruise soon (even if it's for a distant date), since gas prices aren't looking to go down any time soon (but they are expected to keep rising).

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Dining Room Etiquette on Cruise Ships

If you're heading off on a fancy cruise, and you haven't been to a lot of formal dining occasions or upscale restaurants, you might be wondering if you'll make an embarrassing goof at the dining room table. Well, here's a short list of tips for proper dining room etiquette on a cruise ship:

  • Make sure to arrive on time (the formal sit-down restaurants on board will have posted meal hours).
  • If you order wine, offer to share it with others at the table (on many cruise lines, you'll dine with the same folks each night, and they'll probably return the favor).
  • Don't start eating until everyone at your table has been served (this, of course, is a display of good manners no matter where you're dining).
  • Use the correct silverware (if you start to feel like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, just remember to work your way from the outside in--use the first fork on the left for your first course).
  • Dress appropriately for the evening (most cruise ships send around daily bulletins, which should let you know the evening's dress code)
  • Don't smoke at the dinner table (most ships these days have non-smoking dining rooms, but if yours doesn't specify, be considerate to those around you).

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Cruise Canada's Northwest Territories via the Hay and Mackenzie Rivers

If you've already taken an Alaska cruise and you want to experience more of the culture, history, and scenery of the frozen north, then perhaps you'll dig a riverboat cruise in northern Canada. It's a chance to explore the Arctic up close.

The M.S. Norweta is a riverboat that cruises from the Hay River (located on the south shore of Great Slave Lake) to Inuvik, which is on the northern end of Mackenzie River. Total distance? More than 1000 miles.

This is a small ship, too, so if you'd like to experience more remote ports and and live in a quaint family-friendly atmosphere while you're aboard, this could be a nice change from your typical megaship cruise to Alaska.

Here's a blurb from the company's website:

"Historical, archaeological, flora and fauna, wildlife or lunch on shore - whatever the interest - the tour will travel new and ancient sites for everyone on board to experience.

Like any marine adventure, sleeping accommodation are compact but the ship has a large lounge, sundeck, and dining lounge. A combination of the scenic beauty of the North and an abundance of Aboriginal culture and hospitality will ensure the Adventure Traveller a vacation of a lifetime."

M.S. Norweta

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Do You Need Money for Food on a Cruise?

Food is a big part of a cruise vacation--it seems like every time you turn around there's someone ready to feed you. If you haven't been on a trip yet, you might have the question, "do we need money for food on a cruise?"

The answer is no--sort of.

Your meals (all you can eat) are indeed included, and you can find plenty of afternoon snacks too. What's not included are your drinks. Expect to pay for sodas, alcoholic beverages, and bottled water.

If you've got kids or you're a frequent soda drinker yourself, you can get an unlimited soda pass for about $50 (for a week). (Alas, there's no similar deal for margaritas and mai tais.)

There are also special "alternative" dining options on board most of the big cruise ships. If you want to partake in something besides the buffets and dining room options included in your ticket price (these restaurants are often themed... Mexican, Asian, Italian, etc.), then you'll pay something like $10-$30 per head to eat there. Your regular (free) dining options are perfectly satisfactory however, so you shouldn't feel compelled to eat at these places.

So, the short answer is no, you don't need money for food on a cruise, but you may for drinks depending on your preferences.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Kenya to Start Cruises to Islands of Lamu and Zanzibar

If you like the idea of a cruise in an exotic area steeped in history, you may enjoy heading to Kenya.

Previously, the country hasn't had the ships to offer cruises to its coastal islands, but according to a recent article, that may change soon.

Kenya: Ferry Services to Launch Cruise Tours mentions that they're hoping to get ships that can handle the ocean waters and take passengers on trips to island destinations such as Lamu and Zanzibar.

Some of these islands have histories of settlement dating back a thousand years. Lamu is Kenya's oldest living town and was one of the original Swahili settlements along the coast of East Africa.

So, if you enjoy a vacation that teaches you about history and lets you experience different cultures, you may want to keep an eye on the soon-to-be cruise industry based out of Kenya.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Low Dollar Makes It a Great Time to Cruise in the U.S.

For those of us in the U.S., everything from food to rent to travel is getting more expensive as the value of the dollar sinks, but if you live elsewhere and have been thinking of a vacation to the U.S., now is a great time to visit. Euros and other currencies go a long ways when converted to U.S. dollars. And if you really want to get your money's worth, think about a cruise.

Cruises include the cost of the travel (sailing from port to port), your meals, your entertainment, and your lodging all in one ticket price. Sometimes, depending on who you book with and what kind of deals you swing, airfare to your departure port is included as well.
For the best deals, look to U.S. cruises that stay within the country's waters for the most part, such as...
  • Hawaiian cruises that circle the islands are quite popular (and warm and tropical if you're looking to escape dreary weather).
  • Cruises to Alaska often leave from Seattle and are a great chance to see glaciers and the beauty of that area (though you'll have some Canadian stops along the way).
  • Less common are cruises up U.S. rivers or along the east and west coasts, but these are a great way to see the country.
Browse around to see what sounds good to you, and enjoy what your money can buy you here right now.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Fastest Cruise Ship in the World?

When I think about cruises, I tend to think of taking it slow, spending my days exploring various ports, and sleeping while the ship is chugging along to our next destination. After all, vacations are supposed to be fun and relaxing, right?

But if you want bragging rights, you may be wondering what the fastest cruise ship in the world is, so you can book your trip on board and tell all your friends how quickly you zoomed from port to port.

Well, since inquiring minds want to know this information, I looked it up. According to the Travel Channel, the fastest cruise ship is the Olympia Voyager from Royal Olympia Cruises.

"Climb aboard the fastest cruise ship in the world, with four engines each running at 13,000-horsepower, and experience cruising at 31 knots per hour (that's about 35 mph). At 25,000 tons and less than 600 feet long, the Olympia Voyager is not the largest of ships, but its speed allows for less time between ports and more time relaxing at destinations.

"The Voyager offers a variety of tours including the Mayaribbean Tour, which leaves from Houston, stopping at Playa del Carmen, Honduras, Belize and Mexico. Passengers on this trip can explore the ancient Mayan ruins, snorkel in Cozumel, or take a trip to the Xcaret eco-archeological theme park in Mexico. These destinations belie the fact that this is a Greek-themed ship with each of the boat's six decks named after Greek gods.

"The onboard entertainment - including Broadway shows and an art museum - is just as cultural as the on-shore excursions. A special enrichment program even features lectures from archaeologists, foreign affairs experts, astronomers and pianists."

So, not only is she speedy, but it sounds like the Olympia Voyager has a lot to offer too!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Next Big Cruise Destination -- Asia

Cruises to Alaska and the Caribbean are old hat. People want new and exotic places, and many countries in Asia are ready to pony up to get that tourism dollars the cruise industry offers.

In an MSNBC article about the cruise industry's solid prospects, even during the coming U.S. recession (cruising is a gloabl industry these days after all), the writer mentioned that Asia is the next big cruise destination:

"Executives also hinted at the next big destination — Asia. Singapore, Taiwan and Korea announced new cruise terminals anticipating the growth. Cruise executives say the new cruise terminals aren’t just targeted at North American cruise travelers but are also aimed at the people who live in the region."

The article also mentioned that cruises tend to be 20%-50% cheaper than land-based vacations, so if you've ever dreamed of seeing historic pagodas and Buddist temples, a cruise ship may be the way to get there.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Amazon Riverboat Cruises in South America, Educational and Exotic!

If you're looking for something more exotic than your traditional cruise to the Caribbean, think river cruise. Think Amazon river cruise in South America. Peru, to be specific.

This is where I'm thinking of heading for my next vacation. I did a Hawaiian cruise in December, and while it was fun, I'm ready to get a little more off the beaten path.

You can find many outfits running riverboat cruises along the Amazon's tropical waterway. Many feature an eco-tour bent, which is appealing to many earth-conscious travelers who want to learn while on vacation, not just get a tan.

As an example, consider one of the Amazon Riverboat expeditions from Green Tracks. Your guide will be an expert zoologist or anthropologist from the USA:

"Our tour leaders are among the most experienced Neotropical experts anywhere. All are naturalists who have studied the flora and fauna and are experienced travelers. Our leaders enjoy sharing their knowledge and make lively and interesting travel companions!"

On the cruise, you won't spend your whole time on the boat. You'll get chances to hike, bird watch, and fish for piranha too (the last thing isn't something I personally need to try--what does a piranha taste like anyway?--but hiking in the Amazon forest would be a blast!).

The Amazon cruises are a week long and run just over $2,000 (not including airfare), so check them out if you're looking for something a little more education and exotic than the mainstream cruises.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Cheap Cruises, Do You Get What You Pay for?

Every now and then I check those sites that tell you how many people are searching for certain terms using search engines, and since I have this blog on cruises, I naturally check out things related to sea-going vacations. It shouldn't come as any surprise that "cheap cruises" is searched fairly often (much more often than "luxury cruises" when I checked this month).

Everybody wants to get a good deal, and I've written a couple posts on how to save money on cruises, but is this a case where you get what you pay for?

If you find some too-good-to-be-true, last-minute deal on a website, are you going to end up in a dingy, drinking your mai tais out of a paper cup?

You might be surprised to learn that the answer is.... no. As long as you book with a reputable company (Travelocity or the like) that isn't going to disappear overnight, you should be fine.

When you book a cruise, you have access to all the same amenities as the people who are paying thousands more for a suite. I sailed with NCL (Norwegian Cruise Line) on my Hawaiian cruise, and because I could travel whenever, I booked an inside cabin a couple weeks out at a nice discount. And what I found is that no matter how much you pay for your room, you get the same buffet, the same entertainment, the same access to amenities.

So, what's the catch? Well, it's a bit like Las Vegas. You know how they ply you with all those 99 cent drinks so you'll get drunk and spend tons of money in the casino? Well the cruise industry makes a lot, if not most, of its money on the extras that aren't included in your ticket. Examples include drinks (you'll even pay for sodas on cruises), alternative dining restaurants (there are plenty of dining options that are included in the price, but you may want to check out the more exotic fare), shore excursions (I spent several hundred just on shore excursions during my week in Hawaii), and shops (yes, you can shop until you drop right on board).

You don't have to pay for any of these things, but you'll probably want to enjoy yourself some, so just keep this in mind when you're budgeting for your cruise vacation. Yes, cheap cruises can still be an awesome vacation, but plan on spending a little to a lot extra, depending on what you go in for when you're on board.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Safari Shore Excursions Are Fun Part of African Cruises

There are cruises available just about anywhere in the world, and the coastal waters of Africa are no exception. And what do you do when you touch ground on these trips? Why, take a safari of course.

It's no secret that one of Africa's national treasures is its wild game. The animals most of us will never see outside of cages in a zoo still roam freely here.

East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda) and South Africa (Botswana and South Africa) are the two best areas for photo safaris. The Seychelle Islands, a popular destination on cruise itineraries, are great for bird watching. The clear blue skies and abundant wildlife offer wonderful shore excursions for birders.

The only downside with safaris is that they are usually multi-day trips, and many argue that African wildlife can't be adequately viewed on a one-day shore excursion. Because of this, you may want to consider a land tour add-on. This is when you add a 3-4 night safari adventure on at the beginning or end of your cruise trip.

Ask your travel agent or browse online for these sorts of packages.