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Many of us only have time for a three- or four-day cruise.  And, if you’re flying to the port of embarkation, you may use up some of the valuable sea days burned out from the ordeal of just traveling to the ship.   Air travel, which was once a no brainer, is frequently an obstacle:  delays, cancellations and lost luggage are all too common.

lost-luggage.jpgOn a recent four-day cruise I met a couple who were very unhappy first time cruisers.  After a flight from Montreal to Orlando and a change of planes, their luggage didn’t arrive.  Of course, ships depart whether you have everything or not.  They had purchased many clothes for their first cruise and now had to replace everything.

Here’s my advice for having an anxiety free vacation.

* If at all possible, book a pre-cruise hotel and arrive in the port of embarkation a day early.  The Canadian couple would have retrieved their bags if they opted to fly a day earlier.  Just about any airline glitch — lost bags, delays, cancellations — can be resolved if you have an extra day to deal with it.  Priceline is my discount hotel of choice because I always seem to get a good deal.

* If you’re taking a cruise under five days, plan on packing everything in a carry- on bag.  Presto, the worry about luggage arriving disappears entirely!  Yes, it will take creativity to pack everything you need in a smaller suitcase, but you can do it.

* While cruise lines do sell air/sea packages, I recommend purchasing your own airfare to insure you have a non-stop flight.  So many people who buy air from the cruise lines end up with connecting flights, which would make anyone’s stress level rise.  I get the best air prices by using Kayak, a website that does a deep search of every airline’s inventory.  In terms of buying the cruise, however, consult a cruise specialist at a cruise holiday site.

* You must still get from the airport to the pier or a hotel.  Research the approximate time and cost of a taxi.  In Fort Lauderdale, the port is only a ten minute ride but taking a taxi from Miami airport to the pier can take 45 minutes and cost a fortune.  The simplest, and usually, least expensive way to go between airports and ports is by buying a cruise line transfer, which your travel agent can arrange.

* Take a stack of singles for tips.  The port’s baggage handlers can be very nasty if you don’t tip them well for carrying your bag from the bus or taxi to the ship.  Sure, it’s highway robbery but forking over a few dollars saves a lot of aggravation.

* If you must check a suitcase, be sure to have a change of clothing in your carry-on bag. And, never pack anything in your suitcase you can’t stand to loose forever, such as jewelry, medication, your documents and eye glasses.

* I’ve eliminated a lot of stress by wearing ear plugs on a plane.  Screaming baby? No problem.

* You can arrive with wrinkle-free clothing by laying items flat in a dry cleaner’s bag in the suitcase.  Trust me, this works!

Do you have tips for taking the torture out of traveling between home and the port?

Oh god … in the cruise industry there’s always something. Now that passengers aboard two Princess ships have Norovirus, it’s time to re-run this helpful article.


I can’t imagine how awful it is to get violently sick on my vacation and wondered why cruise ships seem to be associated with Norovirus most often, at least in the media.

So I asked Brian Rosenthal, MD, MPH (Master of Public Health), who teaches at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York.  He’s also an avid cruiser who has sailed the world aboard all types of cruise ships.

As a public health physician who has sailed aboard dozens of cruise ship,  Dr. Rosenthal’s advice is timely.

AC:  Who is responsible when passengers get sick aboard ship?

DR: There are times when an infectious agent has been isolated on a ship and the cruise line is responsible.  An example is Legionnaires Disease, which is rare.

And, there is always the potential for bacterial food contamination such as e-coli but due to the CDC’s stringent inspections, it hasn’t been reported in many years.  Cruise Lines have become very vigilant about waterborne and shipborne diseases so the reported incidences is rare.   People used to get sick on ships all the time but we just didn’t know what the organisms were.  Now that we know, the media has a heyday with it.

But in the instance of Norovirus, passengers bear the brunt of passing the disease along.

AC: Why Do Outbreaks of Norovirus Happen Aboard Ship So Often?

DR. I don’t think this is a new illness but that we’re hearing about it more often.  I’m sure the outbreaks aboard ship aren’t any higher than they are on land.   There just hasn’t been much coverage of the disease on land.

The thing about ships is that because you’re in a confined space the rate of exposure is statistically greater.  Contrast Disney World.  People aren’t staying in the same hotels or eating in the same restaurants as they are aboard a cruise ship.

AC:  How Can We Avoid Getting a shipborne illness?

DR: There are certain universal precautions that are even more important when you’re aboard a ship.  As important as washing your hands, you have to learn to KEEP YOUR HANDS AWAY FROM YOUR EYES, NOSE AND MOUTH. This is a normal human condition.  If you sit at a restaurant and watch people eat for five minutes you’ll see what I mean.  Most viruses are not spread by hand to hand contact alone.  They are spread by hand  to hand to mouth (or eyes or nose).  If you had it just on your hands, you wouldn’t get sick.

Shaking hands with the Captain or anyone else won’t get you sick assuming you have no cuts on your hands.  Of course one must be careful about where one puts one’s hands.   If you’re able-bodied, don’t use the banisters or railings if you don’t need to.   This is true in any public space, not just ships …. Train stations, malls. 

If you have children it’s an entirely different matter.  All kids put their hands in their mouth — that’s what children do.  And when they play in groups beit a nursely school or a ship, it’s problemmatic.  If your child does become sick, take a lot of precautions that he or she is the only patient in the family.

And, it is as important that you wash BEFORE you eat as it is after you go to the bathroom which is why the hand sanitizers in food lines are a great idea.

AC: Does the Fear of a Shipborne Illness stop you from Cruising?

DR: Absolutely not!  Everytime out go outside your home is a rish.  You must weigh this against the benefits of having a wonderful time and sharing experiences with family and friends.

pig-save-money.jpg In a volatile economy with high unemployment  many of us are cutting back expenditures in order to to stretch budgets further.  And in order to afford a vacation, it may  be tempting to pick a ship because it has the cheapest price.

What we tend to forget is that our time is the most precious commodity of all.  To spend precious vacation time on a ship where we dislike the food, service, our accommodations or fellow passenger is being penny wise and pound foolish.  In the end, it’s a huge waste of money.

For example,  I’ve seen complaints about MSC Cruises from dissatisfied passengers.  The company touts itself as a “premium” cruise line and too many travel agents parrot that description to clients attracted by low ticket prices.  Keep in mind that ”premium” is strictly an advertising term first introduced by Celebrity Cruises in the mid 1990’s.

Now plenty of people enjoy MSC’s ships but chances are they weren’t over-sold a bill of goods or think the $50 per person, per day price tag translates into refined dining and great creature comforts.  The best agents will undersell a ship so high expectations don’t spoil your vacation but there aren’t enough of them to go around.

This year your vacation budget may be lower but you still want to take a cruise.  Here are my suggestions for cutting costs while still having a wonderful cruise vacation.

1)  Some cruising regions are more affordable than others. In 2011/12,  the price of a cruise will largely be affected by cruising region.  You’ll find the lowest fares on Caribbean, Bahamas and Mexico itineraries where there is an over-capacity of ships.  Add to that, there’s an oversupply of ships making three-, four- and five-day cruises; you’ll find some of your best deals here.  But last year Europe bombed so prices should be much lower this year; again, it’s over-capacity.

2)  There’s a good reason why homeland cruising continues to be popular.   With cancelled and delayed flights on the rise, not to mention high fuel surcharges, you can save an enormous amount of aggravation and money by sailing from a nearby port.  For example a million people sailed from the three ports of New York (Manhattan, Brooklyn and Bayonne, NJ) and you’ll find three cruise lines offering year-round cruises to the Caribbean.

3) The very best travel agents can frequently steer you to bargains you never knew existed and, with some cruise lines, offer you a lower price than competitors.  If you don’t have a wonderful agent, ask friends for referrals.  However you do it, find an agent who has lots of experience in the cruise industry.  It can make all the difference in getting the biggest bang for your buck.

4)  The newest vessels typically command the highest prices so opt for one that’s been around for a few years, especially if you prefer one cruise line over another.  The food, service and entertainment will be the same and, in most cases, cabin sizes don’t vary by category.  Allure/Oasis of the Seas are still getting top dollar as is NCL’s Norwegian Epic.

5)  As any cruiser knows, it’s easy to run up a hefty tab aboard ship.  Since cruise lines consider on-board spending to be their primary source of revenue,  expect to be bombarded with ads urging you to attend art auctions, purchase items in the gift shops and buy overpriced spa treatments, gamble and buy shore excursions.  Before you board the ship, decide which expenditures to eliminate and, in the case of shore excursions, research shore-side activities you plan on your own.

6) In terms of family vacations, it’s nearly impossible to top a cruise in terms of affordability.  Cruise lines don’t charge for wonderful, fully-staffed children’s programs that will keep the kids entertained throughout the day.

Do you plan on economizing on vacation plans this year?  If so, how will you cut back?

While you can’t visit the Alps, Grand Canyon or Yellowstone Park by cruise ship, many of the world’s most intriguing places are best explored by waterborne conveyance. The perfection of a cruise is that when you travel by ship you can be as enriched and fulfilled as you desire, or pursue each day at a snail’s pace.

Let your imagination wander and cast your net on a few spectacular places you probably never thought of cruising to, but should. These are at the top of my list!

Galapagos. A cluster of islands so isolated that many of its creatures can be found nowhere else on earth, this is where Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution was conceived. From the giant tortoises that bear the Galapagos name, to the marine iguanas and “Darwin” finches, the Galapagos Islands afford visitors the chance to observe a living laboratory of adaptation. Travel in comfort aboard Celebrity Xpeditions to this cluster of remarkable islands.

The Panama Canal. While the full Panama Canal transit is between Florida and Mexico, I prefer the partial transit sailing round-trip from Fort Lauderdale, with more time to explore Costa Rica and the jungles of Panama plus Caribbean ports, Cartagena, Columbia and Grand Cayman. Both Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean offer frequent sailings.

Arabian Peninsula and Bahrain. Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas sails round-trip from Dubai with port calls in Fujairah, U.A.E.; Muscat, Oman; Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.

Sea of Cortez. Lindblad Expeditions has 30 years of experience exploring Baja California so you’re almost guaranteed to have an up close and personal encounter with gray whales, dolphins and other aquatic life. Join naturalists and experts aboard the 62-passenger ship for a once in a lifetime voyage.

The Danube River. Uniworld Cruises makes visiting Germany a pampered experience. Sail from Nuremberg on Main/Danube Canal Transit visiting Regensburg, Deggendorf, Passau, plus Melk, Austria and Vienna, Austria

Rio de Janeiro to Buenos Aires. Visit the two greatest cities in South America aboard Holland America’s Veendam with port calls in the Brazilian ports of Buzios, Ilha Grande, Santos (Sao Paulo) plus Montevideo, Uruguay.

Iceland,Greenland, Scotland – Sail between New York and Dover, U.K., stopping in some of the least known ports in the world. Greenland is renowned for its beautiful fjords and scenic towns while Iceland’s rugged coast, waterfalls and small villages is a memorable stop.

South of France by riverboat. Sail along France’s scenic Saône and Rhône Rivers with Viking River Cruises past some of the most beautiful vistas the French countryside has to offer while exploring Burgundy and the lavender fields of Provence. Visit Gallo-Roman ruins in both Vienne and Arles; walk the cobbled streets of Arles and visit the historic Papal Palace in Avignon,

Caribbean aboard a (almost) private yacht. Sea Dream Yacht Club’s 112-passenger small cruise ships sail to the Caribbean’s most exclusive ports of call including St. John St. John, U.S.V.I.; Saba; Gustavia, St. Barts; Anguilla;Virgin Gorda, B.V.I and Jost Van Dyke, B.V.I as you sample extraordinary cuisine, lovely amenities and a pampered voyage normally only available to owners of private yachts.

Tahiti & South Pacific. Yes you can cruise through the Hawaiian Islands but why not aim for the ultimate, a Paul Gauguin cruise in Tahiti or the South Pacific. On a one-week cruise you’ll visit Raiatea, French Polynesia; Taha’A, Society Islands; Bora Bora, French Polynesia and Moorea, French Polynesia.

In increasing numbers, families are exploring the historic, heritage and cultural appeals of Europe aboard a cruise ship. Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean report that the number of younger passengers grows each year along with an increase in the number of families with children. And, when Carnival Cruise Lines and Disney Cruises position ships in Europe, it’s a good sign that family cruising in the Mediterranean is here to stay.

Alex Gaynor celebrated her tenth birthday on a Royal Caribbean ship docked in Mykonos, which will certainly be a memorable experience. Travel writer Luisa Frey Gaynor decided her daughter was old enough to appreciate what she was seeing and to spend long days of touring.

“I’m a big proponent of learning outside the classroom,” Luisa says. “I can’t think of a better way to bring history and cultures to life than taking kids to Europe. Cruising in Europe is a perfect way to see the historic sites because you have all the kid comforts, such as youth programs and kids’ menus, while taking full day tours to see the attractions of many countries.”

Cruise lines are accommodating families by revising children’s scheduled activities so they open before tours depart. In some ports, younger children may stay aboard ship while their parents take teens ashore for the full day. Among the most popular family excursions are a full day in Rome and Florence and those that focus on the antiquities of Greece and Turkey. Mediterranean itineraries present the opportunity of alternating an intensive day of sightseeing with a more relaxing day at the beach.

Increasingly, cruise lines are offering new shore excursions targeted at families. For example Princess’ “Family Adventure with Boat Trip” in Istanbul is a private yacht trip along the Bosphorus stopping at the Blue Mosque , a Turkish tea house and shopping excursion to the Grand Bazaar. The “Family Adventure Ephesus and Beach Club” includes a tour of the ancient ruins followed by an afternoon at a private beach club. Special family swimming outings are available in many Greek ports while during a port stop in Naples, a beach break is combined with a tour of Capri.

While most families choose the Mediterranean because there are so many recognizable sites, other areas are growing in popularity. For example, Carnival’s newest ship, Carnival Splendor, will debut in Northern Europe this year with an itinerary that features an overnight stay in St. Petersburg, which will be popular with passengers of all ages.

The best part of taking children to Europe on a cruise ship is that history comes alive in a way they never experienced before. Teens studying ancient Greece or Rome will find a trip to the Parthenon, Coliseum or the ruins of Pompeii will leave an indelible mark. As Luisa Frey Gaynor points out, “The best part of taking your children to Europe via cruise ship is that history comes alive in a way they never experienced before.”

And when they return to the ship after a fun day ashore, your children will have a great deal to share with new-found friends at the vessel’s youth facility. And while it’s wonderful to visit the world’s greatest historic attractions, it’s comforting to come back to food you know and sleep in the same bed. Probably the biggest advantage to taking children on a Europe cruise is the relief from moving hotels and adjusting to new food.

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