Friday, March 23

Hate the Idea of a Cruise?

Thats a common feeling from people who have never cruised before, but stop for one moment to think of your dream holiday... is it something like this?
Rather than spending a whole week in the same place, how would you like to wake each morning to a new destination, a new adventure? Imagine all your travelling is done at night while you enjoy a slap up meal, drink at the bar or even while you sleep. Imagine varied entertainment, great duty free shopping and a wide range of excursions. Imagine a place where kids are never bored, adults are never bored and there you have it... you've just described a cruise!

So whats stopping you now? Is it the price? Well you can get a week cruise in the med for the same price as a week in Ibiza now! try lines such as Ocean Village, Thomsons, Island Cruises and MSC for some really good deals, they are definately out there!!!

Alaska Cruises - whats the attraction?

There are some remote corners of the world where the best, and often the only way to travel, is by ship. Alaska is one of those places.
Its very hard to imagine a corner of the USA that isn't peppered with MacDonalds outlets, convenience stores or roads. Alaska's sheer wilderness is breathtaking. Dense forest clings to the mountains right down to the rocky shoreline, where you'll sometimes see a brown bear foraging as your ship glides silently by.Bald eagles perch on branches overhanging the glassy water, keeping a watchful eye out for fish. Pods of humpback whales breach alongside the ship, their shiny skin encrusted with barnacles. If you watch the shoreline for long enough you can spot sea otters, sea lions and even wolves.

Although the wildlife is the main attraction, Alaska has other faces too. The native culture comes alive in the arts, the language and the colourful totem poles you'll see at every stop.The Alaskan architecture is reminiscent of the Gold Rush days, with saloon bars and the like.
Everywhere you go, there's a real frontier feel, perhaps perpetuated by the fact that life in Alaska is tough. Juneau for example, is the capital, but its only accessible by sea or air. There are no roads and no rail links, only a buzz of float planes and helicopters taking visitors up to the glciers for hiking or sightseeing.
The glaciers are one of Alaska's biggest thrills, creaking their way down permanently snow covered mountains to the ocean, shearing off huge chunks that fall into the water with a 'thunderclap' sound.

One of the most spectacular sights is Glacier Bay, where 12 glaciers converge into one magnificient fjord. Only two ships per day are allowed here and a National Park ranger boards each one to tell the passengers about the amazing scenery.
If you prefer to get up close and personal with a glacier, visit the Methendall Glacier near Juneau - there are walking trails through the forest and on a hot day you paddle in the freezing water of the glacier lake while chunks of ice wash up on shore round your ankles.

Fast facts
When to go:
May to September
What to pack: Fleece, sunglasses, binoculars, zoom lens and walking shoes
The upside: Fresh air, active days, amazing scenery
The downside: Small ports can get busy and prices on the ground are high

Suite Tallking - choosing your cabin

The moment you walk through the door to your cabin could be the moment that makes or breaks your cruise. Hopefully you will be pleasantly surprised but unfortunately that is not always the case.The size of your cabin or the view of a bright orange lifeboat through your window when you were expecting to see the ocean are just some of the reasons you could be disappointed. Cruise brochures have clear deck plans to show where the categories are but things can get lost in translation between the booking process and the cruise itself. It is up to your cruise agent to give the right sales advice before you book but it is advisable that you take the time to ask the right questions and double check that you are fulfilling all your requirements.

What cabins are available?
Firstly you must decide what type of cabin you want. Do you want an inside cabin with no natural light, an outside cabin with a porthole or a non opening window, a balcony cabin or a suite? Your budget will usually dictate your choice however there are times when paying the extra is well worth it. For example, would you really want to wake up in Alaska and not be able to look out at the incredible scenery? It can work both ways too - for example, is it worth booking a balcony cabin on a transatlantic crossing in winter when it may be too cold to make full use of it? Sometimes cruise ships will offer passengers a "guarantee" cabin, which means you are paying for a category rather than a specific cabin. A guarantee cabin can be less expensive than choosing a specific cabin, but it might not give you the location you desire. You are taking a chance and leaving it up to the cruise line to assign you a cabin in a given category. But, by choosing a guarantee you have an excellent chance of being upgraded to a slightly higher category, usually within the same cabin type (inside to inside, outside to outside, verandah to verandah etc.). Beyond that, while it does happen, it's rare to be upgraded to a higher cabin type.

From time to time, a cruise line has a ship in which a certain category of cabin has sold out or is in an "oversell" situation, meaning that more cabins have been sold in that category than actually exist. The cruise line can hardly downgrade someone who has paid for their cruise, so they select certain passengers at random and upgrade them to whatever has more availability. That's where a guarantee category can be a good deal; as for the random selection, it's just the luck of the draw that can make certain people very happy indeed.
Location, location, location!Inside cabins are the cheapest option but as with all other cabin types, the higher you are the more you will pay. If you are on a budget but you cannot bear to have an inside cabin, why not ask for an outside with a restricted view - these are usually partially blocked by lifeboats but they do at least let natural light in.Being near a lift may be handy for those who have difficulty in walking but they can be noisy at night. Other areas that can be noisy are below the pool deck, below the buffet or near the disco so please bear these in mind especially if you are a light sleeper!! Noise isn't the only factor when choosing the location - if you suffer from sea sickness then the lower and more central your cabin, the better as that is the most stable place to be when sailing through choppy waters.If you are looking for a bit more privacy when in port, cabins at the front or back of the ship are a better option, they are usually bigger too.

Balcony cabins
Once you have had a balcony cabin you may not want to give up the luxury! The attraction is fairly obvious, somewhere private to sit in the sun, a place to read or snooze as well as the view and sound of the ocean.Balcony cabins are a fantastic choice when sailing to destinations of great beauty such as the Norwegian Fjords or Alaska but we aware that some ships have tiered decks that allow people above to peer down.

Suite decision
Suites are out of the reach of many budgets but those who do decide to take the plunge will not be disappointed. Suites come in all shapes and sizes but most have a separate sitting area and big bathrooms - many with a bath and shower, some even have a second toilet. Most have a separate changing room/area, double sized balcony and the latest in technology - dvds, plasma etc.If you choose to cruise with Crystal in a Penthouse suite for example, you get a personal butler while those who in a top-end suite with Silversea get a valet, free laundry service and plenty of champagne. NCL's newest ships have Garden Villas which have 3 bedrooms, a private courtyard with pool, hot tub and sun deck.

Travel enough and you’ll make your choices instinctively. Until then, make a checklist based on things that are important to you in terms of comfort etc and then seek further advice from a travel agent before booking.

Cruise Gratuities - To tip or not to tip?

The art of tipping can seem like a minefield to the British cruiser unlike our American counterparts. Therefore it can get quite confusing when we take a cruise trip to know what is expected of us when we tip. So when it comes to tipping onboard a cruise, what exactly do we do? Are there any fast rules or steady guidelines?

Well the first thing to remember is that the practise of tipping varies greatly amongst the many cruise lines. This can range from a required added service charge to no tipping at all. Therefore it is very important that you know the policy of the cruise line before you cruise so you can budget accordingly as these tips can exceed £100 per cruise! Most tips on cruise ships really are just service charges. This is why many cruise lines have moved towards adding a flat fee to your onboard account rather than make the amount you tip entirely optional.
Traditionally, all tips used to be given to the stewards and dining room staff on the last night of the cruise in an envelope. Some cruise lines for example Royal Caribbean and Celebrity still follow this custom whereas other cruise lines add the one lump charge to your onboard account. This has been introduced to compliment the new ‘freestyle’ way of cruising developed by some cruise lines.
As cruising has become more international, cruise lines have acknowledged that it would be easier for passengers not used to tipping, to add this charge to the onboard account, such as a restaurant or hotel would. Also with fixed seating times, shared tables and pre booked dining rooms being a thing of the past and with different waiting staff each evening, it would make tipping confusing!

It is worth noting that some of these charges added to your onboard account can actually be adjusted up or down according to level of service received and with some cruise lines you can actually opt out of this added charge. This is usually done by filling out a form at the purser’s desk, as some people prefer to give their money directly to the individual who has given them good service. These service charges only cover stewards and dining staff.

For bar staff, cruise lines usually add a 15% charge on your bar bill automatically. You are not obliged to give anything extra, but a little something may bring its rewards, especially on a crowded day by the pool!So how much will you have to pay? The majority of cruise lines work out that tipping averages £5-£10 per person per day. Broken down this is around £3 for dining room staff, £1 for Bistro and £2 for the cabin staff. The service charge added really is a minimum for the service that you receive. Most cruisers tip on top of the charge added to their onboard account, but this is purely to the passenger’s discretion. Many cruisers wish that all cruise lines would adopt the "no tipping expected" polices of top end lines such as Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, and Silversea. However, it looks like service charges are here to stay.