The very word ‘cruise’ used to evoke images of luxury, class, exclusivity and passengers, let’s say, of a slightly older generation.
Well, you can still have the luxury, if you like – but everything else about cruises has changed as they have, in recent years, been one of the main growth areas of the travel industry. More and more people now – families, honeymooners, culture seekers, and not just the ‘blue rinse and pink gin’ generation – are discovering that a cruise vacation can have just about everything you could wish for.
The Cruise ships themselves are very much a part of the experience you’ll have on this type of vacation. Because of the tremendous growth in cruising in the past twenty years, the major lines have all added new vessels to their fleets and upgraded the older ones. What used to be known as floating hotels have now become floating resorts. Obviously, not all cruise liners can have the 3 swimming areas, whirlpools, rock climbing wall, miniature golf course, skating rink and multitude of other facilities that are offered by the Royal Caribbean’s giant new vessel, ‘Freedom of the Seas’ - launched in April, 2006 and capable of carrying 4370 passengers each trip – but all of them do provide passengers with plentiful facilities and lots to keep themselves amused – from keep fit to quizzes. The numbers of Hospitality Staff on each cruise will astonish the first-time cruiser!
And then there’s the food! There might be a couple of hours somewhere between 2 and 5 in the morning when it’s more difficult to get food, but I very much doubt it. What is even better, though, is that the quality of cuisine on offer is usually totally astounding, with plenty of variety and splendid service. Most cruises will have one or two dinners that are listed as ‘formal’, but nowadays that will just mean a collar and tie, although the women do tend to be as glamorous as possible.
Another aspect to consider is choosing your suite. You can have anything from a standard ‘inside berth’ – i.e. with no sea view – to a luxurious celebrity suite that will probably even have a balcony as well as every conceivable luxury.
As you would expect, there are a number of different companies offering the cruising experience today. Amongst the largest of them are The Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises, Princess Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Holland America, Carnival Cruises and P and O, but there are also smaller companies that can offer more unusual, frequently smaller and more intimate itineraries.
Cruise ships usually operate on ‘roundabout’ courses, returning to the port of origin. In this way, you can see, for example, many of the islands of the Caribbean, cruise around the Mediterranean or even up to Alaska. Sometimes, though, you might start your journey in one port and then complete it in a different place. Cruises around the Mediterranean or the Caribbean often do most of their sailing at night and then go into a new island or port during the day so that you can discover it for yourself – if you can force yourself off the ship, that is!
Finally, pricing. Well, this can be as varied as the type of cruise itself. You could have a three night cruise with an inside cabin for 6 – 800 dollars or you could pay 8,000 dollars for a Royal Suite on a two week luxury package. There really is something for every budget available.
My own favorite cruise was on a Celebrity Cruises vacation from New York to Bermuda and back. Here, as well as visiting an idyllic sub-tropical paradise, we spent lots of time at sea, so could fully delight in the cruising experience itself. Celebrity Cruises promise to ‘Exceed your Expectations’ and, believe me, they certainly did just that! A memorable experience.