The New Days of Cruising … (a series, part 1of4)

For the next few blogs, I’m going to help those of you who are “virgin cruisers” .. or people who have always wanted to cruise but were afraid to. I was in the same boat (sorry, that was sad cruise pun) at one time. I NEVER had ANY inclination to cruise. I had heard the nightmare stories, seen the news coverage, and listened to friends and relatives who had “bad experiences” (the food on the buffet wasn’t to their liking .. the horror of it all) — but in the end, I caved – and it’s rare now that our vacations aren’t spent on the oceans.

The booking / anticipation / packing / pre-travel of it all

Deciding to cruise is the easy part, and you would “think” all you have to do is pick and date and you’re all set. NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH. Just like any ordinary vacation, cruising takes planning. There are numerous cruise-lines operating out there, each with their own perks and benefits.

  • MSC

We’ve chosen the ROYAL CARIBBEAN line. Itineraries, ship design, access to departure points, age and size of their vessels played an important role in this decision. But one thing that lead the path in choosing a “line” was their safety record.

I mean, lets face it — with thousands of people on board, “someone” is going to get sick. How a cruise-line handles illness on board is a MAJOR thing to think of, especially now that we have just recently entered the age of COVID. Aside from a virus outbreak including food poisoning, there is always the chance that you will become ill from other things — a slip and fall, sun-stroke, the dreaded hangover.

Aside from the pools decks, the restaurants, theatres, and shops – check into the ships medical facilities and what they are capable of handling. Most minor complications can be dealt with on-ship, but for those more serious instances, you want to be comfortable until the next port is in sight when you can be released to facilities there.

In the past, when a virus had taken a grip on a cruise, the ship was usually able to contain it, and while a few of those “cruises from hell” were detained at sea until things got under control, they always came back in … because they had a port to return to.

With CoVid-19 countries simply closed their borders and with sick or healthy passengers, NONE of the ships at sea had a choice but to remain at sea. It was not the fault of the cruise companies, nor the captains and crew … they too had family and loved-ones they would have liked to get home to as well.

All that said, lets move on to the “happy moments” of cruising the wonders of the blue.

… step by step

The FIRST thing you want to decide on is a date. Not all cruise-lines travel year round. Not all itineries (ports) are available year round. For example … many people want to see Alaska during the winter .. thats not going to happen. The typical season for Alaska Cruise vacations is May-September.

With the popularity of cruising, do not except your dream-vacation to happen within a few months. Chances are, you will have to plan at least a year in advance, unless you grab one of those last minute deals … where you can expect nothing more than the WORSE VACATION YOU HAVE EVER BEEN ON. In other words … DO NOT get suckered in on those “cheap rates and last minute deals”.

Once you’ve chosen your DATE, now look into the various cruise lines to decipher which ones have cruises available during that time. You’ll have a few to chose from, which makes it more difficult because you now have to decide on your ITINERARY (where you have availabilty to go). See … you don’t have the final say in your vacation location when you cruise, the cruise-lines bascially tell you where THEY will take you.

… booking your vacation

Just because you are computer savvy, and travelocity and all those travel sites make it easy to book vacations, cruising is a little more complicated than just click / accept / and pay. There are so many things the first time cruiser is unaware of … take gratiuities and all those extra expenses.

A cruise IS NOT ALL INCLUSIVE. Especially post-CoVid. Yes … cruise companies have lowered prices to entice people back onto their ships, but … and there’s the HUGE BUT … everything else has had a pretty decent mark-up. While eating in the dining and (former) buffets (more on that in another blog) and limited beverages like coffee / tea / ice-water are still FREE, other things like wifi, alcoholic drinks, specialty restaurants, and spa treatments all come at a cost. And all these “costs” are slid under your door at the end of your cruise and typically applied to the credit card you supplied prior to departure.

Right now I am in the process of putting a cruise together for August of 2021. An 11 day cruise from New York, up the east coast and onto Montreal (Canada). The cruise itself was a great price .. they lured me in with a great deal on a suite (more on that in another blog) versus an inside cabin. Where the price is quickly adding up is wifi for streaming. A basic coffee / juice / pop package, and a 3-night dinner package. With every cruise I ALWAYS get a case of bottled water – and even that has (1) gone up in price and (2) changed from a case of 12 1litre bottles to 24 cans. Drinking water out of a can … that still is not sitting well with me, but that’s the only option. The reason I ALWAYS get bottled / canned water?? Precaution basically. I still remember the Princess Cruise that was stranded at sea with no power for 3 days – no power … no water, as water is pumped throughout the ship via electric pumps.

What I’m getting at … the basic cruise was only $8000 for my husband and I, but now that I am throwing on all those “extras” … we’re getting up to almost double that. The cruise-lines do have to make up for revenue lost, so they are hiking the prices up on those luxuries you want while on their ships.

Of course, everyone cruises for different reasons, and with different budgets. I cruise because I like the idea of exploring different parts of the world, even if it is just 4-6hrs. My husband, he likes to cruise to be pampered and gets as much (additional expense) spa time in as he can.

... cruising in comfort

Once you’ve (1) picked your date (2) found an itinerary and cruise-line, the next hardest decision you’ll have to make is the type of room you’re going to be spending this vacation in. PERSONALLY, I will never (especially after the horror stories of people being quarantined for weeks) cruise in an “inside cabin”. Yes .. the prices are VERY cheap – but that price is not worth the cramped quarters. ROYAL CARIBBEAN has gone a step in the right direction by adding virtual balconies (an entire wall devoted to an LED screen showing actual footage from cameras around the ship) to their inside cabins and while these do look appealing, its just not the same as opening your balcony door and stepping out into fresh air. Inside cabins also have smaller, closet-sized bathrooms fitted with a very cramped shower, a slim commode and a bar-sized sink all crammed into a 3×4′ space. Interior room generally have a double bed and little to no room on the sides to get in/out. ALL THIS, for a very low price.

Pay the extra money and even get a junior suite (not really a suite, but a bigger room) on the outside of the ship with a private balcony. While not a whole-lot bigger, there is room to walk around the bed to get outside and more closet space and drawers so you’re not living out of a suitcase and moving it everytime you want to sit somewhere.

Make sure to do your research. Usually all websites list the size of cabins. Take that information and compare it to your bedroom and decide from there, but remember — those sizes they quote DO INCLUDE THE BATHROOM.

… all about location

Yes, cruise ships can be very intimidating when you first see them. You’ll wonder how something that big actually floats … trust me, they float …. and they rock as they slice through the waves. WAVES? Yes, there are waves on the ocean — and depending on how big your ship is, or where your stateroom is located … you will feel those waves for a while, (and be constantly reminded every time you look into the toilet). The best (and most popular) location to book your stateroom is mid-ship and mid-height. Rooms at the front of the ship will rock up and down as they cut through the water. Rooms on the higher decks of the ship will sway. I usually try to get mid-ship, 2-3 decks from the top ON THE OUTSIDE. There is a problem with this choice … make sure (using the ship deck plans) that you DO NOT choose a room directly below the pool or the buffet unless you enjoy waking up to the sounds of chairs being dragged around first thing in the morning. Another reason not to get a room under the pool is noise. If you are like me and enjoy sitting out on a private balcony, you do not want the loud and constant “boom boom boom” eminating from the DJ booth while trying to relax. And just like any hotel … try to stay away from rooms near elevators. You’re not going to hear the mechanisms, but you WILL hear all those people talking, laughing and partying while waiting for their car to open up.

I know … you thought going on a cruise was going to be easy-peasy. IT IS. IT IS worth the time and trouble you’re putting into arranging it. IT IS going to be a vacation you won’t forget.

IT IS … still months away … and so much more to look forward to. ■

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