Dreaming of a
leisurely cruise? You're not alone. Last year, nearly
10 million people went on cruises, an increase of
19.4 percent over 2003, according to the U.S. Maritime
Before you book, you've got a lot
of decisions to make. Destinations range from Alaska
to the South Pacific. Cruise ships run the gamut
from the cozy -- those ferrying no more than 150
to 300 people -- to the gigantic, with more than
These ships offer a bewildering variety of amenities,
from dozens of restaurants and bars to activities such as virtual
golf, rock climbing walls and innumerable pools, hot tubs and spas.
The cruise lines and ships
According to Ellen Bainer, a certified travel consultant with Indian
River Travel in North Palm Beach, Fla., there are more than 15 major
cruise lines, including luxury cruise lines such as Seabourn, premium
lines such as Royal Caribbean International and specialty lines
such as Cruise West, plus offering different ships and experiences.
Carnival, for example, has a fleet of 22 big ships and specializes
in cruise experiences with lots of extras, including casinos, nightclubs,
gyms and pools.
If you want to go on a cruise, but aren't sure what
type of cruise would suit you, check out the Cruise Wizard at SureCruise.com,
the discount cruise booking Web site formerly known as 02cruise.com.
It asks you questions, focusing on your preferences for atmosphere,
ship size, dress code and family-friendliness, and gives you a couple
of cruise lines that best meet your requirements.
"While the cruise lines try to maximize their
potential audience by projecting the most broad-based appeal possible,
the truth of the matter is that a cruise line that delights one
individual could make someone else miserable," says Evan Eggers,
president and co-founder of SureCruise.com. "Matching a vacationer's
personality to that of the cruise line and ship is crucial to having
an enjoyable trip."
Just because a cruise line advertises to attract certain
passengers doesn't mean that the reality always lives up to the
hype. Dennis Genord went on a Caribbean cruise with his wife, 2
1/2-year-old daughter and members of his wife's extended family
a few years ago.
What was billed as a family-friendly cruise soured quickly when he found out the activities for children --
including the playroom and pools -- were off-limits to children
"Our daughter was two months shy of 3 and there
was no tolerance for her doing anything," he says. "We
couldn't bring her on the top deck because the railings were spaced
too far apart or on any of the decks that had pools, because she
didn't understand that she couldn't swim."
The lesson: Check out exactly what family-friendly
means before you book, Genord advises. This "trust, but verify"
attitude applies to other activities too. If you're determined to
stay fit on board, check into the fitness room. While you may be
imagining a huge gym equipped with state-of-the-art equipment, the
reality may be a couple of old treadmills and bikes stuck in a stuffy
room on an out-of-the-way deck.
The range of possible cruise destinations is mind-boggling. Those
looking for a weekend getaway can take a three-night cruise to the
Bahamas. Four-night cruises will get you to Cozumel, Mexico and
Key West. Favorite destinations for seven-day trips include Alaska
in the summer, the Greek Islands, Brazil, the eastern Caribbean
islands, Jamaica, the Grand Cayman Islands and Mexico.
For the truly adventurous, world cruises of 106 days
or more aren't unheard of, but are extremely expensive. A decent
cabin on a Regent
Seven Seas world cruise would cost around $50,000 per person,
says Bainer. For that price, you'll circumnavigate the globe, setting
sail in January and returning in April. If that sounds too long
or expensive, grand circle cruises offer a 50-to-60 day sea excursion
around a continent, such as South America. Note: these cruises are
often broken up into smaller trips that last only 15 to 20 days,
so read cruise descriptions and check maps before you buy.
Expect to cruise for at least seven days if you desire
an exotic itinerary, says Bainer. Plan to book these trips in advance.
If you want to go on a world cruise, book in May the year before.
If you want to take a European cruise during the summer, don't wait
until May to book it -- you might not have many, if any, cabin choices.
Bainer suggests working with a travel agent to book these last-minute