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Thanks to the Internet those planning a cruise have direct access to the advice and experience of experienced cruisers and the experts. And while cruise ships have changed dramatically over the past 15 years I’ve been writing about them, certain questions keep popping up over and over. Based on my experience, the most frequently asked questions are about booze and cigarettes while others are fairly predictable, especially from first time cruisers. Below you’ll find the topics that concern cruisers the most below in order of the frequency they’re asked, plus a few that are never asked these days and several funny queries.

HOW CAN I SNEAK ALCOHOL ABOARD SHIP TO USE IN MY CABIN? I probably get this question once per week. The answer is you can’t. Carry-on bags are checked at embarkation and your alcohol will be confiscated until the day you get off. Some people tell me that carry alcohol aboard in plastic containers like shampoo bottles which to me seems hardly worth it. However, many cruise lines do allow you to bring wine and/or champagne, some levy a corkage fee. Check cruise line websites to see if any restrictions apply.

WHICH SHIPS ARE NON-SMOKING OR, WHICH HAVE THE MOST LIBERAL SMOKING POLICY? Oceania Cruises and Royal Caribbean (including the Celebrity and Azamara cruise divisions), consider themselves practically smoke free. On RCI’s ships, aside from one bar and a small area on a higher deck, smoking is forbidden even in staterooms and on balconies. Oceania will actually kick you off if you’re caught smoking anywhere but one tiny area on deck. But there is no cruise ship that is completely smoke-free.

WHAT IS THE BEST SHIP? There is no universal “best ship” and the best criteria for picking a ship is your personal lifestyle and interests. For example, if you have children Royal Caribbean’s Voyager-, Freedom- or Genesis-class vessels (like Oasis of the Seas) will be the best ship. But if you’re a nature lover, the best ship may be a small Lindblad vessel, Star Clippers (authentic clipper ships). Perhaps an upscale cruise experience suits you better: if so, head for a European riverboat or small cruise ship like Sea Dream Yacht Club.

WHERE CAN I GET THE BEST DEAL? The short answer: not by booking directly with the cruise line. Your travel agent is always the source for the best deals and you may discover another cruise line has a terrific sale and wine up on a ship or stateroom you never thought you could afford.

In the Caribbean and Mexico it’s easy to decide what you want to do ashore, although some excursions, like snorkeling, are better arranged by the cruise line. Spend time on the internet exploring the options in each port of call. However, it’s almost impossible to see Alaska on your own so budget in excursions when planning your voyage.

HOW CAN I SAVE MONEY ABOARD SHIP? Pre-cruise planning is the best way to control onboard spending. You simply decide which expenditures you’ll skip (Spa? Casino? Wine with dinner?) before departure to cut down on impulsive expenditures.

WHAT CLOTHES SHOULD I TAKE? With the exception of Norwegian Cruise Line and Oceania Cruises, the major cruise companies suggest formal attire twice per week on a one week cruise. Men, if you want to wear a tux, ask your travel agent if your ship rents formal ware; otherwise, a dark suit is fine. I advise women to forgo buying clothing they’ll never wear again. Dark pants, a tunic or a blouse can be dressed up with accessories like scarves and glittery jewelry.

QUESTIONS NO LONGER ASKED: How can I sit at the Captain’s Table? The days of having a chance to shake the Captain’s hand at his cocktail party and envy those who are invited to dine with him are, sadly, past because ships are too big. The exception: aboard pricey small vessels carrying fewer than 1000 passengers where you’ll still see the Captain dining in the main restaurant. Is everyone old? Due to the publicity surrounding new ships and their facilities for families and active cruisers, most people realize that there’s a wide range of passengers sailing on ships today. Is there a difference between Carnival and Royal Caribbean? Royal Caribbean is the leader in launching the largest ships in the cruise industry with amazing facilities like rock climbing walls; ice skating rinks and machines that simulate surfing. This cruise line stands apart from all others with its unique on-board programs.

FUNNIEST QUESTIONS: How do ships float? My answer: “Ships float because people believe they do. If one person aboard ship doubts it, it will sink.” Who is Bill W and why do all his friends go on cruises? Someone with many cruises under his belt kept noticing “Friend of Bill W” in the daily activity schedule and asked this question. I explained that Bill W is Bill Wilson, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous; you’ll find AA meetings scheduled aboard nearly every ship afloat.

Harmony of Seas 1When she debuts in May, 2016,  Royal Caribbean International’s new Harmony of the Seas will amp up the adventure  when the world’s largest cruise ship debuts Splashaway Bay,  an interactive aqua park for kids. The Ultimate Abyss, the tallest slide at sea touting a 100 foot dramatic plunge, The Perfect Storm trio of water slides and Splashaway Bay are the latest in a thrilling collection of activities that will make Harmony of the Seas the ultimate family vacation experience starting next summer.

Harmony of the Seas will be the first in a new generation of Oasis class ships where groundbreaking architectural innovations are combined with breakthrough technologies of the Quantum class. The ship will spend her inaugural summer season visiting Europe’s most popular cruise destinations on seven-night Western Mediterranean itineraries calling on Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Spain; Provence, France; Florence/Pisa, Rome and Naples, Italy.  In November 2016,  Harmony will arrive to her home port of Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. offering seven-night Eastern and Western Caribbean sailings.

Splashaway Bay will be a vibrant waterscape for kids and toddlers with sea creature water cannons, winding slides, a gigantic drench bucket and a multi-platform jungle-gym to keep everyone entertained for hours. Guests of all ages will get the ultimate heart-pounding thrill ride on the Ultimate Abyss, a 10 story slide that begins in the Pool and Sports Zone at the aft of the ship down to the Boardwalk neighborhood below. Spiraling five decks above the lushly landscaped, open-air Central Park in the center of the ship, water slides Cyclone, Typhoon and Supercell come together as The Perfect Storm, inviting travelers to slide into an incredible adventure. Thrill seekers can test their mettle in Supercell, featuring a champagne bowl swirling guests around as they descend into their approach towards a big splash finale.

The Via Bar

The Via Bar

Harmony of the Seas will be home to the seven distinct neighborhoods for which Oasis class of ships is known and feature technological advancements now synonymous with the award-winning cruise line. Revolutionary features include the Bionic Bar dancing robot bartenders on the Royal Promenade; Virtual Balconies in many interior staterooms offering sea and port views; the Royal WOW Bands with RFID technology to simplify the guest experience; and VOOM, the fastest internet at sea found exclusively on Royal Caribbean ships. Catering to every craving, Harmony will offer the most dining options at sea, including new specialty restaurants Izumi Hibachi & Sushi, Sabor Taqueria and Tequila Bar, and Wonderland Imaginative Cuisine, a whimsical setting where Royal Caribbean chefs twist their culinary kaleidoscopes.

Harmony of the Seas will span 16 guest decks, encompass 227,000 gross registered tons, carry 5,497 guests at double occupancy, and feature 2,747 staterooms. The Oasis class is an architectural marvel touting Royal Caribbean’s exclusive seven neighborhood concept, including Central Park, Boardwalk, the Royal Promenade, the Pool and Sports Zone, Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Center, Entertainment Place and Youth Zone.

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?

As one who spends an enormous amount of time trolling online cruise agencies to check out the best deals, I can tell you that it is a great deal of work. And, because prices change constantly it is nerve racking as well.  So when a new reverse auction company turned up promising to make bargain hunting much easier I perked right up.

MyBestFareFinder bring deals right to your inbox and eliminates the need to hop around the Internet searching for the best cruise prices.  After registering at the web site you simply fill out a form with your preferences (itinerary, ship, stateroom, departure date, etc.). After it is submitted, travel agents will bid for your business by offering the lowest price.

What is especially appealing is there is no fee and or requirement to buy anything.   Your personal information, such as email, never appears until you decide to book with a specific travel agent.   And, MyBestFareFinder screens all travel agents who sign up to participate in the reverse auction to insusre they are legit.

You’ll start receiving no-obligation offers in a few hours to a few days.   After a half dozen so quotes arrive by email from travel agents eager to get your business, it’s pretty safe to assume you’re getting a terrific deal.

As an added perk, you’ll find a travel agent who is more likely to be experienced in selling cruises.

Happy bargain hunting!

Typically a cruise line expands by building a new vessel or two.   However Crystal Cruises has announced it will add two new types of luxury cruising experiences — yachts and riverboats — as well as it’s own airline.   In addition, the cruise line announced plans to build three new ocean-going cruise ships, the first to commence service in 2018.   Previously Crystal has maintained a loyal following by offering world-wide itineraries (including an annual world cruise) aboard the 100,000-ton Crystal Symphony (922 passengers) and Crystal Serenity (1,070 passengers).    As part of the company’s expansion three new ocean-going cruise ships are on order, the first scheduled to enter service in 2018.

Crystal Yacht Cruises

silver windStarting December, 23, 2015, the 62-passesnger, 3,000-ton Crystal Espirit will make it’s maiden voyage in the Seychelles Islands.  The all-suite yacht will feature  two-passenger submarine, four 10-passenger zodiacs for special excursions and a 12-passenger Wider 32-foot super yacht tender for special boating adventures.  Additionally, at their guests’ fingertips are water skis, wake boards, kayaks, jet skis, fishing, scuba, and snorkel equipment.

 Crystal Esprit will sail on seven-day voyages in the Seychelles Islands, Dubai and Adriatic Coast during 2016, 2017 and 2018 on the following itineraries.

  • Seychelles Islands – Mahé, Victoria; St. Anne Island, La Passe, la Digue; Baie Ste. Anne, Praslin; Laraie Bay, Curieuse Island; Anse Saint Jose, Curieuse Island; Cousin Island; Aride; Big Sister Island; and Desroches Island)
  • Dubai  – Khasab and Muscat, Oman; Doha, Qatar; Sir Bani Yas Island and Abu Dhabi, UAB)
  • Venice, Italy/Dubrovnik, Croatia – Rovinj, Sibenik, Trogir, Vis, Hvar, and Korcula, Croatia
  • Dubrovnik, Croatia/Venice, Italy – Kotor, Montenegro; Split, Zadar, and Opatija, Croatia; and Piran, Slovenia
  • Dubrovnik, Croatia/ Athens, Greece – Kotor, Montenegro; Corfu, Parga, Itea, Hydra, and Navplion, Greece)

Crystal River Cruises

 The spring of 2017 brings more growth with Crystal River Cruises. Featuring expertly curated itineraries, Crystal River Cruises will offer the hallmarks of the all-inclusive Crystal experience – six-star service, world-class dining, and enriching shore-side adventures.  Spacious suites with exquisitely designed interiors and elegant public rooms will punctuate Crystal’s entry into worldwide river cruising.

 Crystal Luxury Air

Also in 2017, Crystal’s brand of Six-Star luxury will soar to new heights with the launch of Crystal Luxury Air, becoming the first in the luxury travel industry to offer extravagant around-the-world trips on the world’s most advanced twin-aisle Boeing 787 Dreamliner.  The plush aircraft, which typically seats 300, will fly 60 guests in fully reclining business class seats to coveted destinations to which major airlines do not offer nonstop service.  Each approximately 28-day itinerary will visit 10-12 remote and/or sought-after locales, with accommodations at some of the world’s finest hotels and resorts; cuisine prepared by celebrity chefs inspired by the destination; and world-class cultural entertainment.

 Ocean Vessels: “Crystal Exclusive Class” – Late 2018

 Crystal returns its focus to the seas, with three new “Crystal Exclusive Class,” cruise ships with the first expected for delivery in late 2018.  The all-suite, all balcony ships will accommodate 1,000 passengers and feature “Crystal Residences”.    Situated on the top deck of the new ships will be 48 unique homes, boasting their own private restaurant, reception and facilities, and much higher ceilings (9 feet) than residences on any other cruise ships or yachts; and equal to most land apartments.   Other  features being introduced on Crystal’s new vessels are:  400 square feet minimum for the suites – nearly doubling the size on other luxury vessels; increased ceiling heights by one foot to 8 feet in all suites and decks; raising the bar on personal attention and service with 1,000 crew members on the ships to provide  one-to-one crew-to-guest ratio and intrepid yacht-like amenities including submarines, helicopters and zodiacs.

For reservations and additional information, contact your travel agent or Crystal Cruises

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