Basic, Need-to-know Cruise Terms

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How cruises work--transatlantic, Caribbean, Alaskan, and Mediterranean.

The boom times of boats as the main means of getting from place to place are long since over. Except for regularly scheduled crossings of the Atlantic by the QE2--in warm-weather months only--ships other than ferries and freighters are no longer used for basic transportation, but serve instead as floating resort hotels. The fact that they sail from port to port is merely incidental to their recreational function.

To most faraway places, transportation is now supplied by airplanes, and ships perform entertaining "cruises."

Cruises range in length from the one-night to four-night variety (mainly between Florida and the Bahamas, best for first-time cruisers), to seven-night trips (the bulk of all cruises), to 10-night, two-week, and even longer journeys. Geographically, they take place all over the world, even in waters of the Antarctic, and passengers fly to and from the ports from which they embark and debark. Ships vary greatly in quality and price, but none--in my experience--is any longer of the rock-bottom variety, and even the cheapest among them provides reasonably comfortable facilities. Cabins are either "inside" (without portholes or windows) or "outside," and because few passengers spend any great amount of time in them, a wise policy for cost-conscious vacationers is to book the least expensive cabin on a high-quality ship, rather than a top cabin on a lesser ship.

Though all travel agents will book a cruise for you, an increasing number of agents are currently dealing only in cruises, and these specialists can obviously be expected to possess greater expertise and "contacts" than the others. Elsewhere in this section of the site are seven cruise brokers, or "consolidators," that specialize in selling cruises at discounted rates. Don't limit yourself to these cruise discounters, however. As so often in travel, word-of-mouth recommendation from a friend can be your best path to an experienced cruise counselor.

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