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Sights To Sea: The Basics Of Booking A Cruise

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By Mia Bolaris-Forget

There are many five-star resorts around the globe, and each has something undoubtedly unique to offer, but, as far as DH and I are concerned, if you want to feel like and be treated like royalty, then we highly recommend you choose a cruise.

Other than the “cramped” quarters when showering, adventure on the high seas in more than likely guaranteed to make a splash.

But, for many “land-lovers” the notion of being out there, nowhere in the middle of the ocean can be intimidating, as can be the whole concept of booking such a getaway. Below are some of the most common reservations and what you need to know before booking.

· Is using a travel agent necessary? While there are ample online resources available, experts suggest that those who’ve never been on or booked a cruise before may want to sit and meet with a professional who can address all your concerns and question. And, they add that regardless if you booking route you choose, some things to look into include:

o The type of cruise that’s right for you

o What are the entertainment amenities and do they include clubs and lounges or piano bars, theatres, and big-band style entertainers?

o What type of shore excursions are offered and are they included and/or how much extra do they cost?

o Are babysitters available if you should need one for the kids?

o What types of activities, if any, are available for children, tweens, and teens? And, is there any suitable entertainment for young adults?

· Consider and investigate dining options and how you’re expected to dress: Most cruises, note experts, offer a variety of dining options for every taste. From informal but extensive buffets to cafes and specialty restaurants and formal dining rooms there is something for everyone. Note that cafes and buffets are typically more casual and are open for business typically 24/7 with the exception of those short intervals where they are changing shifts or switching food/menus. Specialty restaurants and formal dining are usually more “structured” and require you to dress up, though you DO NOT need a tux or gown, though you can opt to got either or both on what is typically referred to as “formal night”. You may also want to keep in mind that some cruises have several sittings for supper and they offer you the option of sitting where you want or opting to be seated, usually at the same table and with the same group of people each evening…which is a great

way to make “friends”. Also, even formal dinners in the dinning lounge are usually “all you can eat”, while restaurants serve you only what’s ordered off the menu and may not be included in the package price. Last but not least, the dining room is also highly recommended for those who want white glove treatment and/or who have special requests and dietary needs.

· Preparing for travel: Lots of couples may wonder what exactly to pack on a cruise since they may not know what a typical day entails or what to expect. Experts suggest the following:

o Pool shoes and some sort of cover-up for walking from poolside to your cabin, the spa, the café, etc.

o Weather related items. Keep in mind that a New York-Caribbean cruise in the winter may offer a few chili nights (and days) at sea, while a trip to Alaska in August means having handy some rainwear.

o While you “can” opt to do your laundry on board or have the ship’s personnel lauder it for you, it’s probably cheaper and easier to wait to wash when you return home. Make sure you bring enough clothes for the duration of your trip (without “over-packing” of course), otherwise opt for the coin-op laundry on board or in port.

o Consider packing an alarm clock if you think you’ll need one. While most ships do offer wakeup calls, experts note that not all staterooms have clocks, since you’re really not suppose to care much about the time.

o While they “do,” offer some free amenities such as shampoo, conditioner, and on some ships moisturizer, these packages are usually small and may not be your brand. If you prefer specific products, its best to bring your own….and that includes razors, motion sickness pills, aspirin, etc. Remember, while these items can be purchased on board they tend to be pricey.

· What are you paying for: Usually packages include the room, food and some drinks (mostly non-alcoholic beverages) and possibly one glass of wine, beer or soda at dinner. These “freebies” are typical for luxury liners but not for others who may charge $6 per day for unlimited soda and beverages. Those on a budget will also want to take advantage of the free entertainment including activities that take place at the pool, gym, and on board. Typically most, though not all, activities in port require an extra fee. But, if you do want to take advantage of island adventures experts suggest booking with local vendors offering tours in each port, rather than booking on board, since they may be more eager to offer a better price or “discount”. However, if there is something specific you want to do and don’t know if there’ll be an opportunity to book in port, splurge and book on board. Not only will you be ensured a spot on a particular tour, but, if you get lost or are running late, the ship will have a record and most likely won’t leave without you.

· What’s typical tipping protocol? While some luxury liners “frown” upon tipping (though you can leave an envelope at the concierge desk or with a restaurant maitre d) at the end of the trip, others suggest specific amounts. According to experts, some ships offer prepaid gratuities or they designate a certain service charge for dining room personnel, as well as for the cleaning staff, primarily the person who cleans your room. On average a stateroom attendant get $3.50 per day; dining room staff about $5 to $10 per day, an amount shared by the waiter, wine steward and maitre d. Remember that when it comes to prepaid gratuities, you are charged per person in your cabin or party for each day of the trip. And, that means even if kids never join you for dinner in the formal dining room, staff will be tipped based on the presumption that they did. With that said, experts suggest putting off tips until the end of your cruise, though you can always offer something extra on the spot to those who offer you and your family exemplary service.

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