Trip Coach: April 29, 2008
Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of CruiseCritic.com, answered your questions about the latest in cruise ships and booking strategies.
Carolyn Spencer Brown: Hi. I'm Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor in chief of Cruise Critic, an interactive Web site that focuses on cruise travel, from ships to destinations. There are already a healthy number of questions here -- thank you -- and I'm ready to tackle your answers.
And continue to fire away -- if you have an opinion on any of the answers (or questions for that matter) feel free to chime in. We'll add your voice to the conversation!
Branchville, N.J.: Greetings! Having never been on a cruise ship, I'm wondering if, for quiet evenings alone in our cabin, my husband and I may bring aboard a few bottles of wine. If not, do most cruise ships have liquor stores where you may purchase a reasonably priced bottle? Thanks for your advice! Karen P.
Carolyn Spencer Brown: Hi, Karen P. This is one of the most contentious issues in cruising because most lines have now levied restrictions on how much booze you can bring onboard (Carnival even tried for a time to restrict bottled water! -- that didn't last long).
They say it's for safety reasons (so that underage passengers are drinking alcohol unmonitored) and they say it's because it makes luggage too heavy and thus too strenuous for baggage handlers and okay, I'll give them a little of the benefit of doubt.
I think ultimately they want you to drink their liquor in their bars.
However, if you're reasonable and moderate, you can pack wine or liquor (carefully) in your suitcases, at least a bottle or two, to enjoy in your cabin or on your balcony. However, they do have the right to confiscate and I can't promise they won't (haven't heard too many stories about folks who've had that happen). I've brought a bottle of wine onboard in my carry-on, on NCL a few years back, and that was taken away and returned at cruise's end, but that's the only time.
I've also brought a bottle, again, nothing that would raise alarms, on from shops in ports and have not been hassled.
Some lines do sell liquor onboard that you can take back to your cabin. You won't get duty free prices though.
Curious: what are other readers' experiences on this issue?
Beaufort, S.C.: My two sisters and I are looking for a cruise of South America which will include a teeny bit of Antarctica. Does such an animal exist?
Carolyn Spencer Brown: Hi, Beaufort. Great question. Weird answer to follow. Here's the thing. If you want a "bit" of Antarctica you can book a trip on any of the mainstream, big ship lines but know this: what they describe (and I quote this from Princess Cruises' Web site) as "Antarctic Wildlife: See great colonies of penguins, seals and abundant sea birds as you float nearby a dazzling icescape of remote Channel Islands" is the at sea equivalent of a "drive by". The ships are too big to actually get too close to land but you can still get a feel for the general environment.
If this is what you want, look for a cruise that goes "round the horn" (either from Buenos Aires to Santiago or reverse).
If you want a more in-depth cruise that actually does let you get off the ship and explore, try lines like Lindblad and Hurtigruten. They're lots more expensive but¿it's one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences for some.
Wethersfield,Conn.: What is the latest news on the Barefoot Windjammer cruises? Where are the boats?
Carolyn Spencer Brown: Windjammer's demise was truly sad -- and bad for people who want to cruise in a uniquely small ship, low key way. Officially the company is kaput. The company has not been sailing since last year -- but its never come out and said "we're out of business" either. But it is out of business; the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which regulates Sellers of Travel in Florida, tells us that Windjammer Barefoot Cruises is no longer licensed to sell travel there and that effectively puts the kibosh on rumored plans of a renaissance.
The ships have been impounded. Crew members ultimately did not receive the money they were owed -- at least not yet -- and they've scattered¿.
Oddly, and quite frankly very irresponsibly, the company's Web site is still up and looks like, for all intents and purposes, the line's still sailing. Don't buy anything!
In the meantime, there are other options out there, none quite like Windjammer but still¿. You can try Maine Windjammers and, though a bit more upscale, Star Clippers has a trio of gorgeous ships that sail in Europe, Asia and French Polynesia.