Trip Coach: Jan. 17, 2006

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Douglas Ward answered your questions on cruising

Douglas Ward: Hello, thank you for joining me. I'm Douglas Ward, author of the BERLITZ Complete Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships, and President of the Maritime Evaluations Group. I am pleased to help, and ready to answer your questions.

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Philadelphia, PA: My husband has always wanted to go on a cruise - something neither of us has ever done - and I'd love to make it happen for his 40th birthday in late June. Unfortunately, he prefers not to fly AND we are limited in funds. We've checked for cruises of any length leaving out of Eastern seaboard ports (i.e., Philly, New York, Baltimore, even Norfolk) in June or July, and they all seem to be too expensive. Is there any way we could expect to get a cabin (we don't care if it's inside and small) for less than $500 per person if we waited until a few weeks before the sail date to try and book?

Douglas Ward: Hello Philadelphia,
Trying to find a cruise for $500 per person in June or July from eastern seaboard ports is going to be difficult, unless you opt for a three- or four-day cruise from Port Canaveral or Miami. Also, do bear in mind that government taxes, port fees and other charges can add about 10 percent to any seemingly low-cost cruise fare deal, like those you might find on the internet. Also note that shore excursions, drinks and gratuities would typically add 25 percent to your cruise fare. However, try looking into one of the shorter cruises from Philadelphia or New York to Bermuda -- a delightful destination.
Booking late is not really advisable for the peak summer holiday season (June, July, August), because you may end up with nothing (even interior cabins may be sold out), in which case it's difficult to make plans. My advice: try to find a little more money (about $800 per person, plus spending money) and you'll end up with a better cruise and vacation experience. Think of Philadelphia -- you can't even get a decent hotel room for $500 for a week!

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Charlotte, North Carolina: We have never taken a cruise before. We prefer the mountains to the beaches. We like history/museums. What is a good cruise to be our first cruise?

Douglas Ward: Hello Charlotte,
If you don't mind flying, try think of a Mediterranean cruise. In a 7- or 10-day cruise you could visit several countries, with different architecture, fine museums, different cuisines, languages, and mountains (as a backdrop to the French and Italian Riviera, for example). If you want to stay closer to home, and like mountains, think of Alaska. A cruise in Alaska can provide a good insight into the region's nature and wildlife. But do note that shore excursions (particularly helicopter or float-plane flightseeing) can be expensive.
You can also find active excursions, volcanoes and small mountains in the Caribbean (St. Lucia, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico come to mind), but the history and museum part of your first cruise could be rather limited. I would definitely go back to my original suggestion -- Southern Europe/Mediterranean.

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Vienna, VA: Love these chats!
I would like to take my family (consisting of 5 adults and 4 children - 6yrs to 1 1/2 yrs by next summer) on a cruise for about 7 days. Which are the most family friendly cruise lines/ships with the best children's activities (hopefully with no extra charge)? Probably the 1 1/2 yr old won't have an activity away from the family, but the one that's almost 3 should be able to have some ship-sponsored daily activities to keep her occupied for a short time while her parents relax. Thanks for your help.

Douglas Ward: Hello Vienna,
This is easy. If you and your family like Disney-ish things, think about a Disney Cruise Line cruise. The company's two ships are large, and are basically divided into three sections: one for adults only, one for families with children, and one really for children only. The onboard activities are really well organized (there are about 40 children's activities hosts), and there really is plenty to do for adults as well as children.
Otherwise, I would recommend the ships of Carnival Cruise Lines, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Royal Caribbean International (all of whom cruise the Bahamas, Caribbean and Mexican Riviera regions) are very experienced with families and children. It would be best to sail aboard a ship that is large (over 1,200 passengers) because the larger resort ships simply have a wider range of public rooms, facilities and activities.

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Plainville Georgia: My spouse and I want to cruise Alaska in May 2006. What line and other features; air fair from Atlanta needs to be considered--should we do a land tour also.

Douglas Ward: Hello Plainville,
In 2006, there will be a choice of almost 40 cruise ships sailing in Alaska. May is rather early in the season, but the weather is usually good, clear and crisp. If you like large ships, the cruise lines with the largest number of ships (and therefore more choice) are Holland America Line and Princess Cruises. Both lines are very experienced and also own or control much of the ground transportation in Alaska.
If you have time, please do consider a land extension, perhaps with a train ride through Denali national Park and a couple of overnight stays at lodges. However, be warned that this means lots of packing and unpacking -- something you only have to do once aboard a cruise ship.
Douglas Ward

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Joliet, Illinois: We recently completed a Mexican Riviera Cruise on the Norwegian Star of NCL. The ship has a mechanical problem with its propulsion system so that it cannot sail at its design speed of 25 knots. Because of this, NCL changed the itinerary of the cruise and offered a token ($50 pp) credit as compensation. We wanted to cancel or receive a credit towards another cruise. NCL refused this request. Was this request unreasonable?

Douglas Ward: Hello Joliet,
Ships, like cars, do have mechanical problems from time to time. As a consequence, they may need to reduce speed and change itineraries accordingly. These changes are made by cruise lines such as NCL in the best interests of all concerned, but principally in the interests of safety. If you read the Ticket Contract, you'll find that the cruise line can make itinerary changes in accordance with the prevailing conditions. Weather, safety, passenger evacuation, mechanical considerations - all have to be taken into account. I know that this can be disappointing when you are on vacation, but the fact is that I think NCK acted correctly, and the compensation offered was reasonable in the circumstances.
Note that if you had cancelled (as you had wanted to) you would have been responsible for your own return air fare and any other costs incurred in getting yourself home. I think you made the right choice in staying for the rest of the cruise. At least your vacation was still a vacation, and not a complete disaster. you could, for example, have been waiting for one or more days to get flights and make other necessary arrangements.
The chances of this happening again are probably very low, so take it in your stride and enjoy your next cruise with NCL.
Douglas Ward

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Mansfield, OH: My husband and I have tix to St. Petersburg Russia, Aug 6-22. While we are there,we'd like to find a cruise to visit Finland, Sweden and maybe Denmark. Any pointers on how to find something?

Douglas Ward: Hello Mansfield,
There are no actual cruises from St. Petersburg (a lovely city particularly for its architecture and palaces). You could consider taking one of the large cruise-ferries that sails overnight between St Petersburg and Helsinki (some also call into Tallinn). Not exactly a cruise, but the ships have very good facilities, including duty-free shops, sauna, several dining spots, and overnight accommodation. Try Silja Line.
Douglas Ward

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Lexington, SC: My mom is 58 and has always wanted to go to Alaska. She has talked a lot about doing a week long cruise to that area with land excursions. She's had a not so great last year and a half - both her younger brother (suddenly) and father passed away. Given everything that has happened recently, I'd like to make this trip happen for her in the next year or so - and suprise her. This is something she has always wanted to do, and she has always put it off for one reason or another. For one, my dad dislikes traveling and doesn't really want to go. But I will - and I think that now is the time to do it! You never know what life is going to throw your way....

Our dates are flexible, so we could plan to go during the best time of year. I don't know much about what is out there in the way of cruise options that really allow someone to experience Alaska - the landscape and the wildlife, etc. We aren't looking for super luxury - but a great experience. Any ideas/suggestions would be much appreciated! Thanks!!

Douglas Ward: Hello Lexington,
In 2006, there will be a choice of almost 40 cruise ships sailing in Alaska (most sail from either Vancouver or Seattle, and most operate 7-day cruises). May is rather early in the season, but the weather is usually good, clear and crisp. If you like large ships, the cruise lines with the largest number of ships (and therefore more choice) are Holland America Line and Princess Cruises. Both lines are very experienced and also own or control much of the ground transportation in Alaska.
You could also consider Norwegian Cruise Line, whose value for money is excellent.
If you have the time, do consider a land extension, perhaps with a train ride through Denali national Park and a couple of overnight stays at lodges. However, be warned that this means lots of packing and unpacking -- something you only have to do once aboard a cruise ship.
Douglas Ward

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Dallas, Tex.: We will be taking a river cruise and disennmbarking in Neuremberg and want to transfer to Prague. How do we get there? Train? Bus?

Douglas Ward: Hello Dallas,
If you disembark in Nuremburg, you'll find that train and bus travel is easy, and inexpensive. If you booked your river cruise with a company based in the USA, they should be able to provide you with information regardin onward transfers.
Douglas Ward

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Los Angeles, CA: I am heading to Tahiti for a cruise this March (Princess lines -- March 30 departure) (Tahiti and Cook Islands). What are some must do excursions? I am 28, female, traveling with a good friend, who is also 28 and female.

Douglas Ward: Hello Los Angeles,
Tahiti is best known for its beaches, so scubs, snorkeling and swimming are excellent. If you have booked your cruise already (perhaps aboard Paul Gauguin, for example) the cruise line (Radisson Seven Seas Cruises) should provide you with a list of available excursions. Note that if you take any of the ship's organized excursions, you will be covered by the company's insurance. If you do it alone, you should make sure that your own travel insurance covers you for such things as rental cars, etc.
Remember that Tahiti is a French territory, and that the Gauguin museum is a must-see for art lovers.
Douglas Ward

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Memphis, Tennessee: Can you recommend a cruise line where the activities on the cruises are geared towards us "baby boomers"? My husband and I are not especially interested in late-night partying, disco-dancing, heavy drinking, silly games, etc, but would prefer a cruise with an "educational" theme - perhaps wine tasting, antiques, history, etc. Thank you!

Douglas Ward: Hello Memphis,
If you are looking for a cruise more suited to baby boomers, try Oceania Cruises (their three ships carry 700 passengers each), Radisson Seven Seas Cruises, Seabourn Cruise Line, or Silversea Cruises - all of which have smaller ships (less than 500 passengers). Lecturers, food and wine voyages, and other special interests are what these cruise lines often feature.
If you want a real in-depth learning experience, try Sean Hellenic (a British company) that specializes in history and archeological cruises, with university professors who really know what they're talking about. You won't get credits, but you'll get a learning enrichment vacation that will last alifetime.
Douglas Ward

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Bend, Oregon: Cruise lines have not advertised their cruise itineraries for 2007. How can we book a Mediterranean Cruise to be taken in 2007? Will booking this early help to obtain discounts or better group rates?

Douglas Ward: Hello Bend,
Cruise lines are just now beginning to announce cruises through the end of summer, 2007.
Booking early has the advantage of you being able to select your cabin in the location you want, and most lines offer deep discounts for early bookings. Group rates tend not to be quite so discounted as bookings for individual passengers. But do start looking now to find the best deals. Note that Mediterranean cruises are hot this year, and many lines have already sold out, so 2007 could also provide to be a very busy year for the 80 or so ships in the region.
Douglas Ward

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Alameda, CA (San Francisco): my family and I are going to take an Alaskan cruise this summer -- we have never cruised before -- and money is a
concern. We'd like to keep it around $1200 or so. Is it best to get a round trip itinerary (Seattle to Seattle)? What are the cannot-miss excursions? Thank you!

Douglas Ward: Hello Alameda,
Most Alaska cruises are of seven days duration, and most are from Vancouver. If you take a one-way cruise (between Vancouver and Anchorage, or Whittier, for example) you'll have to figure in one-way air tansportation on top of your cruise fare. Most cruise lines, however, offer packages that include these arrangements.
Seattle-Seattle cruises tend to be 10- or 11 days, so you'll need more time than cruises that sail from Vancouver.
If you take a one-way cruise, you'll certainly get to go to a couple of the more unusual ports, where there will be less tourists, and less hype to shop.
The excursions that many find exciting are the flightseeing excursion by floatplane or helicopter, because they give you a close-up look at the mountainous terrian. Helicopters can land on glaciers, and give you an awe-inspiring experience when you step onto the glacier. However, these tend to be expensive (about $250 per person each). Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau is one example.
In some ports, there are extensive nature trails - good if you like to walk, and these are free, or low cost (if guided).
Douglas Ward

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Miami, Florida: Mu husband and I both get motion sickness, and I am somewhat claustrophobic, so we have avoided cruises. We were thinking of going to Alaska and friends all said we would have no trouble with ship movement. Is there a particular cruise line that has larger rooms to accomodate my claustrophobia? We are retired and can go any time of the year but do not want to go when it is real cold.

Douglas Ward: Hello Miami,
You can only go on an Alaska cruise between May and September, so it's summertime. Many large cruise ships (such as Norwegian Spirit, Norwegian Star, Norwegian Sun) have large suites (up to 5,000 sq.ft.), so there's plenty of space. Space costs money, of course, so the larger the suite, the more it will cost (but the larger the suite, the more will be included).
Holland America line also has ships with large suites.
Both Holland America Line and Norwegian Cruise Line have reasonable prices.
Douglas Ward

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Eureka Springs, Arkansas: We went a cruise mid-December on the Century and found a really old crowd and the boat not up to standards. We are booked on the Zenith for late-November and are concerned it will be much the same. We are in our fifties so we aren't young but the crowd was really old and very cranky. We spent all our time trying to get a seat by the pool from people who saved twelve chairs for invisible friends who never arrived. It wasn't conducive to a relaxed vacation. Are we going to meet the same difficulties and do the crew respond to no one drinking by the pool to no one cleaning by the pool? I was disappointed and don't want the same problems.

Douglas Ward: Hello Eureka Springs,
Zenith is a reasonably large cruise ship that is now getting a little old. However, the crew aboard Celebrity Cruises' ships are well trained, and service is to a high standard. Many of the crew will be from eastern Europe, and are very pleasant.
You should certainly not have the difficulties you experienced on a previous cruise. Indeed, the managers aboard celebrity Cruises' ships (Zenith is the company's smallest ship) are alwys available to help you, and they really do care.
I hope you have a better vacation experience this time.
Douglas Ward

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New York, NY: What is the best cruise line and best way to plan a last minute (up to one week in advance) cruise for a couple in their late twenties?

Douglas Ward: Hello New York,
Late Twenties? You didn't mention where, but I presume you are talking about the Caribbean? If so, try the ships of Norwegian Cruise Line for a good cruise experience and lots of younger fellow passengers. The line is hip and helpful. Otherwise, try Royal Caribbean International - also good for the active, younger set.
Douglas Ward

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Queenstown, MD: I understand that you can disembark in St. Petersburg, Russia without a visa as long as you are on a ship-sponsored tour. But is this wise? Shouldn't all visitors have a visa for their own protection?

Douglas Ward: Hello Queenstown,
A Russian visa is necessary for anyone traveling independently. Ship obtained visas are fine, however, and the organized excursions are well put together.
If you disembark the ship in St. Petersburg and go somewhere else (such as Moscow or Irkutsk) then it will be necessary to obtan a visa. If you disembark and go straight to the airport for a flight out of Russia, then it is probably not necessary to obtain a separate visa (your passport may be stamped IN TRANSIT).
Douglas Ward

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Bakersfield, CA: My husband and I would like to go to Antarctica a year from now. We're looking for a cruise/tour that stops at the Antarctic peninsula for about 4 days. Whom do you recommend we travel with?

Douglas Ward: Hello Bakersfield,
The best cruises to the Antarctic Peninsula are operated by Hapag-Lloyd Cruises (Hamburg, Germany), and Quark Expeditions (Darien, Connecticut). They have the right ships, and have been operating superb expedition cruises for many years. I have done about six of these Antarctic voyages, and always find them to be nothing less than wonderful.
Douglas Ward

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Nacogdoches, TX: When is the best time to book a cruise for the week before Christmas to get the lowest price? We plan to cruise out of Houston or Galveston, TX. Thanks.

Douglas Ward: Hello Nacogdoches,
It's always best to book ahead, so that you get the accommodation grade and location you want. I would not, therefore, leave it to the last minute, but make sure that I booked by the end of October/beginning of November.
Douglas Ward

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Carey, Ohio: First time cruising, here is my Q:
how do you get off the ship quickly, after the cruise? We can roll our own luggage off, no problem. (We are sailing to Alaska with Holland America this May 2006)

Douglas Ward: Hello Carey,
To get priority disembarkation, book a suite. Typically, disembarkation is done by color codes, with the cheapest cabins on lower decks disembarking last.
Douglas Ward

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Northbrook, IL: We are in the early stages of planning a trip to Greece. Are there any 3 to 5 day cruises of the Greek Isles that can be boarded on Santorini? Any other islands?

Douglas Ward: Hello John,
No. Best to sail from Piraues (the port for Athens), where there will be a decent choice of ships (try Louis Hellenic Cruises, for example).
Douglas Ward

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Chapel Hill, NC: We are sailing to Alaska (Inside Passage) with our children and grandchildren in July, 2006. What 'must do' shore excursions are reasonably priced? Most that we've seen cost as much as 1/4 of the cruise fare.

Douglas Ward: Hello Chapel Hill,
Inexpensive or no-cost excursions are those involving walking the nature trails or riding mountain bikes. However, perhaps a trip on the White Horse railway is a must in Skagway, iuf your ship is going there.
Stay away from the flightseeing excursions - they are typically about $250-$300 each (for a 30-45 minute flight).
Douglas Ward

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San Diego, CA: I would like to take my wife on a cruise over the Christmas holiday next fall. We would like to go to the Mediterranean Sea and see France, Italy, Greece, etc. Are there any cruises that cater to mostly older adults and are handicap equiped? We are in our sixties and my wife has had a small stroke. Thanks for any input.

Douglas Ward: Hello San Diego,
Try the ships of P&O Cruises or Saga Holidays. Both British cruise lines cater well to those with physical handicaps. Both have specially equipped cabins for the physically challenged (Saga is for over 50s only).
Douglas Ward

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Mountain Home, Arkansas: If you book 2 cruises back to back on the same ship and have the same cabin for both cruises do you have to leave the ship after the first cruise and go thru check in again for the second cruise. Thank you.

Douglas Ward: Hello Mountain Home,
If you talk to the cruise line first, you should be able to book the same cabin for both cruises, and they will normally take that cabin out of the sales inventory. Otherwise, it is a bit of a pain to change cabins. Finally, if the cruise line agrees, get it in writing.
Douglas Ward

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Baltimore, Maryland: When is the best time to get the best deal for booking a Caribean cruise for Thanksgiving week, we will need at least 4 cabins?

Douglas Ward: Hello Baltimore,
Cruises during peak periods (including Thanksgiving) sell first, and generally sell out, so the earlier you book, the better the chance of getting the accommodation and location you want. Getting four cabins at the last minute would normally be almost impossible. Getting them next to each other, or even on the same deck would be impossible.
Douglas Ward

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