Live Talk Transcript: Cruising

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Cruise Critic editor Carolyn Spencer Brown answered your questions on cruising

Planning a vacation calls for tough decisions--where to go, what to do and see, how to please the kids and yourself at the same time.

But there's an easy solution.

Cruising.

On a cruise, there's fun for every family member: kids and teens have special events; adults have a huge range of activities, day and night. So the whole family has a fine time at each member's level of interest.

It's foreign travel without the worry--you take your hotel with you, the Captain does the driving and the ship's personnel becomes your personal staff, freeing you to experience new activities while you sample the culture of foreign destinations around the world.

The hardest part about taking a cruise is picking the right ship and itinerary for you--let me help guide you through the hundreds of ships out there and point you in right direction to find the best deals.

Carolyn Spencer Brown answered your questions Tuesday, July 20, at noon EST.

Carolyn Spencer Brown, one of America's leading cruise journalists, is editor of Cruise Critic (cruisecritic.com), the industry's most prominent outlet for consumer-oriented cruise travel news and information.

Brown formerly covered the cruise industry as a staff writer for the travel section of The Washington Post, where she also wrote about numerous other facets of traveling, as a contributor to "Coming and Going," the newspaper's weekly travel news column, and as author of other news, trend- and destination-oriented features. As a cruise journalist, Brown also has extensive freelance experience; her work has appeared in national magazines and major newspapers. Prior to accepting the editor's position at Cruise Critic, she had been a major contributor to the web site for the last four years. She was responsible for launching Cruise Critic's daily news column, now a web site staple, and has written everything from cruise reviews to feature stories.

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Carolyn Spencer Brown: Hi, everybody, welcome to Budget Travel Online's weekly live chat. As you can see from the intro above, this week we're talking about cruise vacations and I'm happy to answer as many of your questions as I can.
Please feel free, though, to submit your own answers to other folks questions--advice, warnings, and we especially anecdotal stories. Don't be shy!
Okay, here we go.

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Atlanta, GA: My husband and I are very interested in taking a cruise. My husband is afraid that I will book a cruise ship that is not suited to our personalities (We've heard boredom stories). How do I gather info re: the ships target age group, activities and social actives/environment without the help of a travel professional (or do you suggest that I hire one)?

Carolyn Spencer Brown: Hi, Atlanta. Well, a really good travel agent will "interview" you to get a sense of your likes and dislikes and then help you to make an informed decision. On the other hand, it's your vacation - and ultimately you're the one who really cares if you've picked the right ship. One trick I like to use is to ask people: what type of car do you drive and what type of hotel chain do you prefer? If you can write back and let me know - I'll offer a recommendation!
Beyond that&one good way is to research, as much as possible. Our site'' great for that, others are too. Read professional reviews, read reader-submitted reviews, and feel free to post questions on the message board. A good guidebook to check out - can'' remember the name of it - but it'' by Douglas Ward (and that'' all you need to know! He updates it every few years). Hope that helps.

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Newark, DE: I will be cruising for the first time, leaving on Halloween night, for the Southern Caribbean! Is it best to plan and/or reserve my adventures before getting on the ship or should I wait and see what is offered?

Carolyn Spencer Brown: Newark, I'm a big fan of booking -- or at least planning -- for shore tours, whether it's through the ship or through independent operators -- in advance. It's a bummer when you get onboard and find out the one tour you wanted in Kona (okay this is my recent experience), a chocolate tour, is sold out and waitlisted...and there's no way.

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Brooklyn, NY: We are living in an era of megaliners. The ships seem to be the destination. Are there smaller ships, say of 40,000 - 50,000 tons (or smaller) available to the "average income" cruiser? It seems the smaller ships cater to the high-end cruise market or to the European market.

Carolyn Spencer Brown: Hi, Brooklyn. While the jumbo-sized cruise ships are indeed the ones getting most of the media attention (basically because they're newer, glitzier, etc.) there are other options out there. One of my favorites in the mid-size category (and we're talking about 700 passengers) is any cruise line using one of the former Renaissance Cruises R-series vessels. You may recall Renaissance had eight basically identical 30,000-ton, 700-passenger ships - all built in 1998 - 1999 - when the company folded after September 11. They feature(d) a design at the time that was so innovative major cruise lines are still catching up (affordable balconies - and lots of them, all open-seating dining, alternative restaurants).
The ships have been sold or leased to a variety of operators. Probably my favorite has been Oceania Cruises''Insignia (they also have Regatta, a near copy); fabulous service and food. They spend winter in the Caribbean/South America and summer in Europe. Princess Cruises operates two of the former R-class ships - Tahitian Princess sails year-round in French Polynesia while Pacific Princess ranges from Australia/New Zealand to Alaska. And I also loved Swan Hellenic. This is a one-ship cruise line, based in the U.K., that emphasizes educational cruising and I had a terrific sailing on that.
Beyond that, what you'l' find (pretty much) in the 40,000 - 50,000 ton category is mid-sized - and what we call today middle aged - ships that may not have all the bells and whistles of newer vessels. They might also be a bit more&shabby chic (sometimes not all that chic). You may not be able to get a balcony, there may be no alternative restaurants, etc. It's'a tradeoff of course - because for the most part cruise lines are putting their money into the newer vessels.
But in this case I'd 'ake a look at a handful that are still quite popular. Royal Caribbean recently gave its Empress of the Seas (48,000-tons, 1,600-passengers) a major overhaul (it's 'ow got a rock climbing wall and an alternative restaurant). Limited balconies. Holland America's 'rinsendam (38,000-tons, 784 passengers) is another ship that's 'otten a makeover. And of course the luxury-minded cruise lines tend, with the exception of Crystal, to fall into your category - one of the nicest cruises I ever took was on Radisson Seven Seas Cruises' P'ul Gauguin (18,000 tons, 384 passengers!).
Does anyone out there have a favorite mid-sized ship to recommend?

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Toronto, Canada: I'm on a strict low-cholesterol diet. How easy will it be to get food that will ensure that I can stick to my diet on board ship?

Carolyn Spencer Brown: Toronto, it's actually a lot easier than you'd think. You can still indulge in way-too-hearty (and way-too-much) food on cruise ships but all the majors offer healthy-oriented menus. Low-carb is a big thing right now as well. I'd recommend you look into lines such as Holland America, Crystal and Celebrity in particular; but they're all trying to accommodate more health-ful eating patterns to some degree.

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Greenwood, SC: Why aren't there more all-inclusive cruises that include your beverages as well as meals? The last cruise we were on I couldn't relax because I felt like I was nickeled and dimed to death with our drinks. I was charged close to $5.00 for every bottle of water, soft drink, beer, and glass of wine. Our tab and the end of the cruise included more drinks than anything else. And heaven forbid you try to put a six pack of Coke in your suitcase. They will confiscate it immediately!

Carolyn Spencer Brown: Hi, Greenwood (SC). There is no such thing as a totally all-inclusive cruise, alas (even the luxury lines that include alcohol or gratuities still usually charge for stuff like spa services and shore excursions). But some are more inclusive than others.
There'' a reason for that. If you look at many cruise fares, well, they''e pretty inexpensive ($399 for a seven day Caribbean cruise? It'' cheaper than staying home). So cruise lines, particularly those of the big ship variety, have to make it up somewhere else.
If you don't'want to be nickel and dimed (and I feel your pain), you'l' want to look at what it is perhaps my favorite-of-all-time cruise experience - on either of SeaDream Yacht Club's'two 110-passenger "y"chts"."Everything, including room service caviar (with all the fixings), gratuities, house-poured wine, cocktails, and free use of bikes and watersports toys, is part of the fare. And the fare's'pretty reasonable for what you get. I call that great value for money. Other lines to look at include Radisson Seven Seas and Silversea. In a test program, Windstar is starting to offer an occasional (relatively) all-inclusive cruise.
If luxury cruising isn't 'n option, two pieces of advice. First: beware of cruise line bring-aboard alcohol policies. Many of the majors now confiscate liquor you bring on board. It's 'ighly controversial. Passengers hate it. I hate it. I understand the rule about not bringing your own drinks into public areas - absolutely - but penalizing folks who want to drink a glass of wine on their balcony while they watch the sunset? Ridiculous. Ridiculous, that is, unless you're'abusing the system (rolling on kegs of beer or cases of wine).
Okay, I'm g'tting off my soapbox now. Point is: If you buy a bottle of wine in port the security screeners may (or may not - the worst part is it's n't predictable) confiscate it. Check out our recent story, "At "our Service: Cruise Line Alcohol Policies" (h"tp://www.cruisecritic.com/tips/tipsarticle.cfm?ID=99) on the subject.
Re sodas, you have two options. If a ship offers a soda card - this is when you pay about $4 a day and can drink unlimited sodas - that's a 'ood value. Otherwise, I do what a lot of folks do: I buy six packs in port and bring em on. So far there's no'rule prohibiting that.

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Chicago, IL: I am looking at going on the fall foliage cruise with Carnival from NYC. I will be traveling with a senior, an 11-year-old and a 2-year-old. How do you feel about this? We got a price for all 4 of us in an inside cabin for $2060 (without air).

Carolyn Spencer Brown: Hi, Chicago. I think you're going to be a little cramped in that cabin -- but, depending on the length of the cruise (how long is it) as long as y'all have a great attitude and just use the cabin to sleep -- you're going to have a blast!

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Cambridge, MA: Hi: In your opinion, what is the best website or source to book cruises at the lowest prices. Thank you.

Carolyn Spencer Brown: Cambridge, good question, I can't answer that one. We don't book cruises but many of our advertisers do -- so I'd suggest trying a couple of them and seeing which one works for you....

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Sicklerville, NJ: Carolyn, you recently cruised on the NCL Pride of Aloha in Hawaii. I read your review, which was very balanced. What is your opinion on the so-called, mandatory, "resort fee" ($10/day, per person) that NCL charges on that cruise? I think it is outrageous, and should be eliminated.

Carolyn Spencer Brown: Thanks for the nice comment, Sicklerville (hey, where, by the way, is Sicklerville?&our office is near Princeton). The resort fee on Pride of Aloha is, I'll grant you, a little bizarre, but Norwegian Cruise Line's president has gone on record as saying, essentially, it replaces the overall gratuity.
Even if it'' not technically a gratuity (the way that NCL pays staffers onboard that one ship - because of its American flag status - is so different from any other cruise line, including NCL, that it'' just a complicated issue). What I disliked more - and did say this in the virtual wrap up I wrote on Cruise Critic - was the spa'' mandatory resort fee charge.
That was appalling as I thought the spa itself was completely mediocre - and nobody bothered to explain it to me so that I did not, in the end, wind up leaving a tip (and as a 20 percenter I was embarrassed about that afterwards). Also, I did not appreciate being auto-charged a $2.50 "d"nation" "o Honolulu's'Bishop Museum. Ask me and I'd'happily make the contribution. But to just ding me for it - tacky tacky tacky.

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Wilmington, DE: Hi! Could you give me your opinion on the Carnival cruise line, specifically the Destiny. We were planning on cruising to the Southern Caribbean and were thinking of this ship. Thank you!

Carolyn Spencer Brown: Wilmington, I cruised on Destiny a few years ago -- had fun, loved our cabin (Carnival's newest ships have some of the biggest standard cabins in the industry). Another in the Carnival mega ship family include Carnival Conquest...both definitely have something for everyone.

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East Greenwich, RI: Would you advise cruise passengers to advise the cruiseline if they had a bad stomach in the 48 hours prior to boarding the ship or during the cruise? Princess ships doctor would not accept my wife on the Dawn in Alaska because she had a bad stomach 36 hours before boarding. This was even though we had a doctors note saying it was not the Norwalk virus. Princess had no plans in place as to how to handle us as a result of being not allowed to board. Ruined our "dream" vacation.

Carolyn Spencer Brown: East Greenwich, what happened when they refused to let you board? Did they refund your money or give you credit for a new cruise?
This is a touchy issue because cruise lines are so much more vigilant and careful now regarding the threat of Norovirus (it's an easily spreadable and quite horrid virus that has plagued the cruise industry - --ot to mention hospitals and schools).
I think perhaps they could have been more sensitive...but they have the very real worry that a sick passenger can pass this on to, say, 2,000 other sick passengers! And that's a nightmare.
Has anybody else been turned away?

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Chicago, IL: I recently took a 14-day cruise which cost my family of 4 over $10,000. After it was too late to cancel without penalty, the cruiseline informed us that their ship had one of four engines out of commission and they were deleting a port of call and changing the itinerary times for the others. What rights do I have? I chose this cruiseline because it had the most ports of call and least amount of sea days. It turned out to be an itinerary with double the sea days and an average amount of ports of call.

Carolyn Spencer Brown: Chicago, I regret to say you have no recourse. Cruise lines, in the midst of a lot of legal mumbo-jumbo, give themselves an out on the contract that's printed across the back of your cruise documents. What you experienced is one of the risks of cruising, alas. There's no guarantee - whether it's weather or mechanical malfunction - that you will actually go to the port of your dreams.
I'' urge folks to beware of setting sights too high on visiting one particular place (and this definitely applies to couples who plan to get married on an island during a port of call or people who want to meet up with families at a destination). Beware of the fact that ""tuff happens.""
I will say - and you don't'mention this in your query - that if it's'mechanical cruise lines tend to compensate passengers (usually with onboard credit) - did they?
If it's ' weather related issue you just have to suck it up. It's 'egrettable, certainly (I was on a ship in the Caribbean recently that was slated to be the first to call at Montserrat since the volcano disaster and we were so excited to see it&but weather was so bad the ship couldn't 'et in and we wound up at St. Kitts instead. Still had fun but...).
Chicago, let us know who it was - and what they offered passengers as a result of the changed itinerary&

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Livingston, NJ Dear Carolyn, My friend and I are going on a Mediterranean Cruise with Princess cruise lines this September 2004. I am a little nervous about the port in Casablanca, Morocco. It was not until after the fact in booking this trip that I was told that there was a terrorist attack in this port last year in May. I have mixed feelings about getting off the ship when we arrive at this port. Please give me your advice on what to do? Also, are the other ports that we are going to safe, which are Barcelona, Spain, Gibraltar, Cannes, France and in Italy: Messina, Naples, Florence and Rome. I appreciate your expertise on this!

Carolyn Spencer Brown: Hi, Livingston. While there are no guarantees - in cruising, in life, wherever - I wouldn't worry about Casablanca. Trust me on this: cruise lines really have sophisticated security programs and they will not go to a port if they don't deem it safe. In one example, after 9-11 the Eastern Mediterranean virtually disappeared off itineraries for the next year or so because of the perception (or possibly the reality) that those ports of call weren't safe. Also, the latest raft of ISPS port security rules take the commitment of safety even a little bit further; read our story, Trendwatch: Security on High Alert (http://www.cruisecritic.com/interests/intarticle.cfm?ID=48) on the issue.

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Columbia, SC: My husband and I are booked for a cruise with several other couples a few months from now. What is a neat idea or treat for surprising the group we travel with?

Carolyn Spencer Brown: This is a fun question, Columbia! Depending on the ship and itinerary, there are a bunch of things - and I'm going to also throw this out to participants in today's chat. I'd love to hear your suggestions.
*You could plan a really fun shore outing&rent a limo, make a reservation at a fabulous restaurant, take in some sights.
*You could arrange a private cocktail party. A lot of ships have rooms they'l' make available (you pay for drinks and hors d'o'uvres) - or if you have a suite, you can order the fixings from room service (there's'a charge).
*Arrange for dinner in a private dining room? Depends on the ship&could be fun, particularly if you could pick the menu et al.
Guys? Help me here!

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New York, NY: What are some of your travel tips for cruising with very young children? I'm interested in cruises that have organized services for babies and toddlers. Thanks!

Carolyn Spencer Brown: We've got tons 'o tips NY, NY -- best bet is to go to Cruise Critic and type, in the search area, family. We have a number of features that are written by cruise journalists who have kids...and so they know of what they speak!
Would love feedback from y'all if there are specific suggestions....

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Bronx, NY: My husband and I are first-time cruisers anxiously anticipating going on a cruise - we're in our late 30's - would you suggest a particular cruise line to start with?

Carolyn Spencer Brown: It helps, Bronx, to have more specifics about your likes and dislikes but I will say good all-around choices would be Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Princess. If cuisine really really matters, then I'd go with Celebrity. And I'd aim for the newer ships in these fleets as they have the most activities, restaurant choices, etc.
Good luck.

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Toms River, NJ: Carolyn, I'm a regular poster and reader of the board. Board is a great source of info. What do you think about taking the NCL Crown out of Philly to Bermuda next April with 2 kids, ages 6 & 11. We were on the Dawn last month and loved the Freestyle dining.

Carolyn Spencer Brown: I haven't been on the NCL Crown (and we're trying to get on it to review it but haven't had much luck) but from what I know about that ship, Toms River, is that it's world's away from Norwegian Dawn. It's older, smaller, not as...contemporary.
But if that doesn't matter, by all means go for it!

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Washington, DC: Hi, How do I go about finding out if it is better to be on the Port side or the Starboard side of a cruise. My husband and I are doing the RCL Southern Caribbean, I've called them at least 3 times, no one seems to know the answer! We want to be on the side that has the most people watching, i.e. the side that embarks/debarks. Thanks much!

Carolyn Spencer Brown: To be honest, WDC, it doesn't really matter...and where it does matter (if you want your cabin to be facing the ocean while in port or vice versa) you'll never nail down because even captains don't always know whether they'll go straight in -- or back in -- depends on various factors. If you're sailing, for instance, a roundtrip San Juan trip, you'll get the sunset going south (if you are on the starboard side) or get it north (if you are on the port side)....

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Poughkeepsie, NY: I want to take a cruise to the Caribbean, specifically to St. Johns to see the Virgin Islands National Park. I've noticed that not many ships, if any, stop on this island. It's right next to St. Thomas, so I assume there is a way to get there. What is it? And what is the best ship(s) to do this from? Thanks. P.S. I am a first-time cruiser that gets very seasick.

Carolyn Spencer Brown: The only ships that stop in St. John (and notice it's St. John and not St. John's -- the latter refers to Antigua) are small ones -- like Windstar and SeaDream Yacht Club ships. If you're on a tour that goes to St. John, some cruise ships will anchor first thing in the morning and send the tours ashore by tender. I used to live in St. John and could watch, every Wednesday morning, as a Holland America ship did just that!
Otherwise, it's not all that hard to get to St. John. Simply hop in a safari cab bound for Red Hook; there's a ferry there, leaves on the hour, takes 20 minutes, costs $3 and is a gorgeous ride. Just make sure you plan ahead to get back to the ship on time!
PS There's also a ferry that leaves from downtown Charlotte Amalie but it sails through rougher waters....

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Denver, CO: If you were given $10,000 to use for one 10 day cruise, would you choose a top cabin on a premium line (i.e. Royal Suite on Celebrity) or a regular cabin (i.e. balcony on Crystal) on a Luxury line? Why?

Carolyn Spencer Brown: I love this question, Denver, are you going to pony up afterwards?
I'd pick - --nd I don't have kids or there'd be a different answer - -- regular cabin on a luxury line. I like smaller ships, personal service means a lot to me, I'm big into fine dining and I don't particularly care about nightlife (and so on and so forth).
But: if I had kids I'd make the other choice...so we could have the kids program - an-- other options.
Does that help?

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Decatur, GA: Hi, We are going on a 4-day cruise to the Bahamas in August on the Sovereign of the Seas. Will we be out of place if we wear formal clothes (including tuxedos) on the formal night? Or is a 4-day cruise like this more casual?

Carolyn Spencer Brown: It's more casual but I believe there's still a formal night. Read your travel documents really closely when you get them, Decatur, and it'll tell you if there's a formal night. And you will be a mite...over-elegant in that tux...but who cares..........

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Islamorada, FL: For Columbia...Many of the cruise lines offer having your (or a friend's) cabin decorated with banners and streamers. This is booked through the same office that delivers flowers and candy to passengers. Why not have your fellow travelers' cabins secretly decorated before they arrive onboard?

Carolyn Spencer Brown: Love that, Islamorada, thanks!

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Kansas City, MO: I was told that prior to 9/11 travelers could show up at a cruise line and if the ship was not fully booked you could get good deals on a cruise. Is this still the case? Also, what is the secret to saving as much money as possible for a family on a limited budget, but would still like to take a cruise?

Carolyn Spencer Brown: Alas, Kansas City, that is a possibility no more. These days cruise lines are required by law to submit passenger manifests within 24 - 48 hours of departure so&it's a no go. In fact, many cruise lines quit taking reservations even prior to that - two - four weeks beforehand.
In terms of getting the best fare possible, cruise lines these days are also doing everything they can to convince passengers to book early - as in six months to one year prior. So the best values - free balconies, upgrades, free air - come early in the game. If you''e getting a good price on a last minute cruise it'' probably on a less desirable ship (and in a least desirable cabin).
So, the secret is (at least for now): start shopping around about a year out and just keep an eye on "s"les"."That's'especially true for school holiday seasons by the way. Otherwise, plan to cruise during "o"f seasons" "not sure if you can do that with your kids) - September - early December in the Caribbean (and then again in early January); late April/early May and September for Alaska, etc. Good luck!

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Las Vegas, NV: Hi, I'm looking for a relatively inexpensive vacation for my 6-year old daughter and myself. We're close to LA, so something out of Los Angeles would be great. I want to go somewhere warm (ocean), like maybe the Bahamas or the Caribbean. I've never taken a cruise or been outside the United States. As I am a single mom, I have a limited budget, but I would like something fun to do with my daughter. She loves the water also. Could you offer any suggestions or lead me in the right direction?? Thank you so much for your time.

Carolyn Spencer Brown: Hi, Las Vegas. Glad you're thinking about cruising. I have good news and bad news. First the bad news. It's very hard (long trip, more expensive) to get to the Caribbean from Los Angeles - pretty much the only way to do that is to sail through the Panama Canal.
Otherwise, you'' just have to shop for great airfares from Las Vegas to the East Coast (your best bets would be ships that sail out of Miami or Ft. Lauderdale). The good news? From Los Angeles (or San Diego) you''e got the option of the Mexican Riviera (most typical ports are Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta), which is really starting to take off.
By that I mean - while the Mexican Riviera has long been on cruise lines' 'ists of itineraries, they'r' just now starting to assign newer, bigger, better-equipped vessels to the region (for instance, Disney, in its first ever foray to the West Coast, is going to sail its Disney Magic there - though I can promise you that one won't'be a bargain). I'd'check into Princess, NCL and Carnival&.
There are plenty of seven day (and shorter) options and this is definitely a kid-friendly trip. And great for watersports lovers&.

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Fort Lauderdale, FL: What amount of money would be appropriate to tip when requesting a large table for 8 on a week long cruise (RCCL, Explorer of the Seas)? We are an extended family and want to sit together and also want a good table location. Thanks.

Carolyn Spencer Brown: This is a terrific question, Ft. Lauderdale, and for the answer I went to one of our correspondents, who's working on a best-ways-to-tip piece for us. Here's what he says:
""n their pre-cruise registration the family of eight should indicate they want a table for eight and indicate that they want to sit together, listing all names on all registrations. Assuming the line does the right thing, they will find themselves at the same table for eight. This will cost them nothing.
"O"ce on board, they should take their table assignment cards to the dining room to see if they like the location of their table. If it meets their approval, they have what they want for free. If they do not like the location, they can go to the maitre d' and request a table change. Assuming it is possible, he/she will accommodate the request. The only time I offered money at this stage of the game, it was politely refused. The time to remember favors is the last night. If they were moved to a nicer table, $40 would be a nice tip on top of the service charge added to their bill." "

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Anonymous: Is there such a thing as a discounted Disney cruise?

Carolyn Spencer Brown: Every line has sales, so yes, Anon, there is such a thing. Don't expect much of a discount during school holiday periods (Xmas, Summer, spring break) but in off times...hunt away.

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San Antonio, TX: Hello. In April, 2004 my husband and I purchased a balcony cabin on a cruise ship out of Miami, with RC lines. We got a pretty good deal compared with the prices now. The cruise is in late September. We now want to take our two young adult children and want to book an inside cabin. The price are really much higher. My question: Is it possible to get a good deal on a September cruise at the last minute? Where can I get the best prices? How do we negotiate the best prices, is it possible to negotiate with the Internet cruise companies? Thanks for your help!!

Carolyn Spencer Brown: It's pretty hard to negotiate with anyone, agency wise (or cruise line wise); it's important to shop around of course. What you -- and others who have written today about not seeing good deals on last minute voyages -- are seeing is that cruise lines are really trying to sell cabins as far out as possible. That's when you're going to get the good deal.
So if you wait too long - --ou might still get a bargain (we have a last minute cruise bargains newsletter you can sign up for - --t goes out weekly and it's free) but you won't the best cabins....

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Richmond, VA: This is for Cambridge, MA. One of the best sites that I have found for discount cruises is http://www.cruisecomplete.com/. You select a particular cruise that you want to do, and the cruisecomplete will ask multiple travel agents to give quotes on the cruise.

Carolyn Spencer Brown: That's a great tip, Richmond, thanks a lot.

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Healdsburg, CA: We have traveled throughout Europe and have taken a couple of cruises around coastal Europe (Rome - Barcelona, London - Stockholm). We've heard that river cruises are a good way to see the interior cities and such. Can you advise?

Carolyn Spencer Brown: Hi, Healdsburg - used to live there, it's one of the most lovely places in America! River cruising is this once quite-small (and in all honesty it's still small, compared to ocean cruising) niche of travel that's growing incredibly these days.
So much so that we''e just launched a first-ever dedicated section that focuses only on river and canal cruising. In fact, tomorrow we''e going to feature a new review and ""ish you were here""feature from one of our writers who just returned from a Po River trip in Italy. The neat thing about it is that the ports at which they called - --ologna, Parma, Verona, Mantua, and Padua - are the kind of places that ocean ships never go to. And in fact the more usual way is to rent a car (or take a train) and schlep your stuff from city to city. And of course on a cruise - you just pack and unpack once.
Other places in Europe that are prime for river cruising? The Rhine (Germany), Danube (Austria/Germany), Rhone (Provencal France), even Russia, Portugal, the Netherlands, and, really new and hot trend-wise, this year, Eastern Europe. Thanks for writing.

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Westerly, RI: Can you suggest the best cruise lines for cruising with teens aged 14 and 15?

Carolyn Spencer Brown: Hi, Westerly. With climbing walls and ice-skating rinks, Royal Caribbean's Voyager-class ships (Adventure, Explorer, Mariner, Navigator, and Voyager Of The Seas) is a super choice for older kids.
I cruised on Adventure of the Seas recently, and can assure you that it is nearly impossible to be bored with so many activities onboard, a teens-only nightclub and lots of food! Another plus: teens are separated into two groups on these ships - --2-14 and 15-17 - --hich means the activities will be more age appropriate (but also means your kids might be split up).
Another choice: Princess' newest ships, Diamond Princess and Sapphire Princess. Here, kids 13 - 17 are grouped into one teen group, Off Limits, and have access to a teens-only disco as well as a host of other activities. I just returned from a cruise onboard Sapphire Princess, and only much older teens - I'-- say closer to 17 or 18 - se--med to be too old or too "cool" for the ship's scheduled activities (most nights I saw them loafing around in the buffet or near the pools looking a bit bored).

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Denver, CO: No, I'm not going to pony up for the $10,000..... But that's what we routinely spend for our 11 to 14 day cruises. No kids. We have so far chosen the top cabins on premium lines for the space. I love having two rooms /vs only one in a regular cabin. Celebrity also provides the Butler service that we really enjoy.

Carolyn Spencer Brown: Gotcha, thanks for the inspiration, Denver.

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Saint Cloud, FL: Does the Cruise Industry in general show interest in boards like CC and others as a means of feedback and improvement? What other sources does the cruise industry use to gauge customer satisfaction?

Carolyn Spencer Brown: Yes! Saint Cloud the funniest thing is that the emergence of message boards like those on Cruise Critic have actually opened up a whole new job description - cruise lines actually have created positions for employees who simply monitor the boards and then pass along relevant comments, criticisms and the like to the appropriate staffers.
It goes even further than that&but we also know that cruise line executives - all the way up to president and CEO-level folks - not only watch the boards but also occasionally post on them!

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Glassboron, NJ: My husband has recently had double-knee replacement surgery. We would like to take a cruise in August with our two sons, ages 10 & 12, preferably from Philadelphia or Baltimore. What sort of handicapped accommodations should we and can we seek in order for my husband to travel comfortably? He is currently walking with a cane but will not be fully mobile until late Fall. Thank you.

Carolyn Spencer Brown: All ships, Glassboron, especially if they call at any American port, are required to maintain certain standards when it comes to facilities and accommodations for folks who are disabled in some way or another.
In your case, I'' take a look at newer ships - they tend to have more of the bells and whistles. But regardless, ships like Royal Caribbean'' Grandeur of the Seas, and Celebrity'' Galaxy (both go out of Baltimore this fall) are fine choices. In Philly, regulars are Norwegian Crown and Celebrity Horizon - these are considered older ships. Probably fine, but I'' trek the extra few miles to Baltimore myself. Plus I think your kids will have more fun on those.
Now here's'a thought. Not sure how far Cape Liberty (Bayonne) is from your neck o the woods&but Royal Caribbean's'Voyager is sailing out of there this summer. That would be a fantastic trip for your kids&and y'a'l would enjoy it too!

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Toronto Canada: We are going on a cruise southward down the Pacific coast from Victoria, BC to San Diego in September. What will the waters be like, rough or relatively calm, at that time of year?

Carolyn Spencer Brown: Toronto, I haven't sailed that route - so, fellow passengers, what say you? - but will say that I've heard from folks who have&and that it can be pretty rough at any time of the year. Anybody out there have a tale to tell?

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Murrells Inlet, SC: Carolyn: I have heard that some cruise lines have one hour sales or one day sales. Is this correct and if so when are these sales posted? Thanks.

Carolyn Spencer Brown: Great question, Murrells Inlet. We haven't heard of anything like a one-hour sale...but there are some sales that are just in effect for a day or so (especially for last minute deals). Honestly, like airlines, there's no real rhyme or reason as to when and if this is going to happen!
The best way to stay on top of cruise bargains is to sign up for Web e-mail services. We've got one (it's called "Last Minute Cruise Sails" and is weekly and free); others do too...like TravelZoo.
Also, many travel agencies, like cruise.com and cruisebrothers.com, also send out weekly deal e-mails to cruisers who've signed up on their Web sites.
Good luck.

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Boston, MA: We would like to take our children (boys, ages 5 and 8) on a 4-day cruise next February. Disney cruises seem to get the highest grades for children, but are also among the most expensive. Do you have any more reasonable suggestions? Thanks.

Carolyn Spencer Brown: Hi, Boston. Disney's definitely the original but I also like Carnival, Princess and Royal Caribbean -- plus they have more ships and so...more availability. I'd go for the newer vessels in these fleets, though, as they tend to have the best kids play areas...and programs.

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Houston, TX: Do you see other cruise lines having get-togethers similar to the Meet & Mingles on Royal Caribbean, or the Celebrity Connections? I am a Cruise Critic addict, and it seems that those of us who have an actual meeting to look forward to interact more, and in the process, get better prepared for a cruise.

Carolyn Spencer Brown: Hi, Houston. While the only "officially sponsored" parties are on Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, we encourage our community members to meet each other on our ROLL CALL forums -- and plan a special gathering on their own.

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Berwick, PA: On a transatlantic on the QM2, is there a difference in dress between Queen's Grill and Brittania? E.g. if it's casual night, do people in Queen's dress really "casual" (no tie) or do they "dress up" more than that?

Carolyn Spencer Brown: Actually we're just getting ready to launch our QM2 review...and generally, our reviewer tells me, Brittania's ambiance, dress and otherwise, is like that of any new mega ship (from Princess to Celebrity) while Queen's Grill is a bit more elegant....
Thanks, Berwick.

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Topeka, KS: Do you know where I can find a menu for a Norwegian cruise out of Houston in August? My kids are interested in knowing what is available before they head to the dining room. thanks.

Carolyn Spencer Brown: Well, Topeka, ordinarily I'd just suggest that you call the cruise line and ask - but I'm thinking that would be fruitless. Why not go onto our boards, find the NCL board, and ask your question there&that way someone who's recently sailed on Norwegian Sea (that's the ship, right?) might have it handy. Good luck!

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Portland, OR: I am looking for river cruise between Moscow and St. Petersburg during June 2005 with a few days at each end in Moscow and St Petersburg. I've found a couple of different ways to go. A travel agent recommends Viking, but no one seems to know anything about other companies. Help! Questions: What about booking the same cruise through General Tours or directly through the company? Russia in June? We can't leave before mid-June; the weather looked good to me then, what do you think? I know we want to see the circus and the ballet, what more? Maybe more obscure...any historic houses? Anything special we should take on the trip, clothing or supplies? Thanks so much.

Carolyn Spencer Brown: Hi, Portland. We haven't reviewed this itinerary (yet) but there's a thread on our boards (look under special interests, then click on river cruising).
In the meantime, most of the cruises out there actually overnight (at least one sometimes more) on either of the route so you get that couple of days in Moscow and St. Petersburg. I know that, beyond Viking River - --hich is the leader in this area and has been sailing this route for a while - --eilmann is offering cruises. The ships, I understand, are a little bit fustier than the norm - --t seems river cruise lines are spending to build swankier models on the major rivers in Europe like Danube, Rhine, etc.
I'd book through the company unless the tour operator offers something special. Just simpler...
Has anybody done this trip?

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Towson, MD: Can cruise lines adequately accommodate food allergies? I have a 5-year-old daughter with milk and nut allergies and have had great success at DisneyWorld. Do you know if their cruise line would be more attuned to food allergies than another cruise line?

Carolyn Spencer Brown: Probably though you'd really have to contact them (or ask your travel agent). I'd start with Disney since you've had good luck with them. Anybody got some advice for Towson?

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Santa Rosa, CA: Hi Carolyn! I'm a first-time "Cruiser Wannabe". I'm a single woman over 40 and would enjoy going on a cruise. Are there cruises which offer something for singles who want to meet people, yet are not a meat-market atmosphere? Are there "theme" oriented cruises which are sponsored by say, the Sierra Club? Thanks for answering this email. All the best!

Carolyn Spencer Brown: Hi, Santa Rosa, thanks for writing! Of all the cruises I've taken I've probably taken 90 percent by myself. And except for the first one (got a pass from a crew member but I handled it) I have NEVER had a problem. The nice thing about cruising is how easy it is to meet other people...on shore excursions, at dinner, at onboard activities, and such.
I'd probably suggest you check out a line like Celebrity for a first time...it's definitely not a meat market...Princess (not a Grand class ship but a smaller one) would also be a good choice.
There are theme cruises...it's impossible to keep track but if you are a member of an organization, check with them.
We're going to be posting a new story on how to travel solo - it d--als with avoiding the dreaded supplement, meeting folks, choosing the right ship, etc... It'll launch in August...so check back.

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York, PA: I would like to book a cruise for October/November on Royal Caribbean's Navigator. I checked with 3 different travel agents and they have all said it already booked up except for the suites. How can I get a "good" deal and still cruise in the fall? Are any last minute deals available to "fill the ship" like within a two week period from now?

Carolyn Spencer Brown: York, I asked Melissa, Cruise Critic's associate editor (and bargains guru) to handle the answer to your question. Here's what she says:
"York, sorry to hear you are having trouble booking a fall cruise! Rest assured, you can find a good deal - --specially if you are willing to be flexible with your travel plans and dates. Even if Navigator of the Seas is booked up, there are similar ships sailing similar itineraries you may want to consider. For example, Royal Caribbean's Radiance of the Seas is sailing a seven-night Eastern Caribbean itinerary from Miami on November 7, starting from $669 (according to Royal Caribbean's Web site).
If you are willing to pack your bags at a moment's notice (and it sounds like you are) be sure to sign up for Cruise Critic's Last Minute Cruise Sails newsletter, which features great rates on cruises departing within the next 60 days. One of this week's deals is actually a seven-night Western Caribbean from Miami onboard none other than Navigator of the Seas - ba--cony cabins start from $899."
I think (this is Carolyn again) I addressed the last minute question earlier...as I said, you can get good deals, still, but may not have much choice in cabin category.
Good luck!

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Mountainside, NJ: I'd like to take a cruise to Antarctica. Which ship has the most landing on the White Continent with Zodiac's? And ratings of the two ships: The Marco Polo and Discovery?

Carolyn Spencer Brown: Mountainside, I haven't sailed on Marco Polo. But I do know that Discovery, the only ship in the Discovery Cruise Line's fleet, uses Zodiac-like boats to land on the "white continent". That cruise line, by the way, was founded by the guy who also founded Orient Lines - under which sails Marco Polo (that line is now owned by NCL, by the way).

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Omaha, NE: My wife's children from her previous marriage are 14 years old. We have had no correspondence with the father in 10+ years. Are we able to take them on a cruise or not without his consent? Then can you recommend a cruise suited to 14 year-olds?

Carolyn Spencer Brown: Can't answer that one, Omaha, sorry. I know that you could not probably have them fly out of the country without permission -- written -- from the father. I'd suggest you consult a lawyer...tough one....

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Amelia Island, FL: We want to cruise the Greek Isles next Spring. Should we book now for the best deals or wait awhile?

Carolyn Spencer Brown: Hi, Amelia Island. I'd start shopping around. Even though last-minute bargains are a great way to save money on airfare and hotel stays, when you're cursing that far from home you have to take airfares and hotels into consideration, too. We did a check, quickly, and it looks like per diems on lines ranging from Holland America - Celebrity are about $140 - $180 per person per day for inside cabins.
The other thing worth noting: April is more expensive in the Eastern Med simply because there aren't as many ships there as in May (they're still crossing the Atlantic from their Caribbean winters). So there's less availability to start with.
You might also check out Costa...it is one of the few to offer year-round trips (or almost year-round) to the Eastern Med.

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Norcross, GA: My sisters and I are taking our first cruise in September. We are all over 55, usually stay at Holiday Inn-type hotels. We have booked on the Sensation, Carnival Lines. After doing more research for land tours, I am not sure this is the right cruise for us. It seems like a very young crowd sails on Carnival. Do you see any problems?

Carolyn Spencer Brown: Would you believe, Norcross, that Carnival is the "preferred" line for AARP (American Association of Retired Persons)? That's pretty surprising, eh? Which goes to say -- you'd like Carnival...especially their newer ships, especially those in the Carnival Spirit class, like Pride, Miracle, Spirit. Still have all the effervescence of Carnival...but a bit more upscale than it used to be.
The youngest crowds tend to sail on cruise lines' short itineraries (three four and five day)...go for longer ones, too.

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Denver, CO: A tip for the single cruise - Many of the lines have "Gentlemen Hosts." They provide dancing partners for the single women and are very popular. If I were to take a cruise alone (without my husband) I'd definitely look for one that offers the Gentlemen Hosts.

Carolyn Spencer Brown: That they do...and the hosts made the evenings pass a bit more pleasantly on a transatlantic sailing on Holland America's Maasdam. HAL has them, Crystal has them, Silversea...is another. Thanks, Denver.

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Toronto, Ontario: There has been a lot of talk lately in the cruise community about Norwegian's new American flagged ship, Pride of Aloha, which has recently started doing 7-day all-Hawaii cruises. Since you recently returned from cruising on this ship, could you tell us how you would rate this ship, especially in the area of service, and if you think this is going to be a viable product for NCL?

Carolyn Spencer Brown: hmmm. Toronto, I just got back from the Pride of Aloha's inaugural (wrote a virtual report -- which is our way of saying a day-by-day journal -- it's on our homepage). And we're publishing a review by a different writer next week.
In a nutshell, the ship is great, the ports are FABULOUS, the service needs a lot of work - --nd I think it can and is a viable product for NCL. Nobody else is doing it. I applaud them...and hope the service issue smoothes out ASAP.

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Irving, TX: What are some of the biggest pitfalls new cruisers should watch for?

Carolyn Spencer Brown: Okay, last question. This is a great question, Irving. The biggest pitfall a new cruiser can make is not doing their homework and choosing the wrong ship for them.
It's the most complicated travel purchase imaginable-w--ich is why a good travel agent is a godsend. Not only do you have to evaluate the style of a particular cruise line but also ships can vary widely within a fleet!
So, when you're considering, read reviews, ask questions, and by all means be very clear about what you are looking for....
We have first time cruisers stories and boards by the way...it's a resource, use it!

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Charleston, WV: In the past, I have heard and read less than flattering comments about Carnival's cruise ships. Recently, I have heard that they have improved. Would you recommend a Carnival cruise? Thank you.

Carolyn Spencer Brown: okay, sorry, one more. Yes, Carnival has greatly evolved...not so much as you wouldn't recognize it (there's still lots 'o neon and fantastical design schemes) but the food is definitely better, standard cabins of their newer ships have always been generous-for-cruise-ships, comparably speaking, and their ships are really attracting a wide variety of cruisers...
So you're right on Charleston...and I'd recommend Carnival for the right type of passenger, absolutely.

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Carolyn Spencer Brown: Thanks for all the great questions -- even with the help of the mighty Cruise Critic staff we couldn't get to all of them (so, very sorry if we didn't get to yours).
We've had fun talking with y'all - --nd I hope we've helped!
Carolyn

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