Archive for October, 2015
Planning a Caribbean Cruise: A Traveler’s Guide
These days, cruise ships sail to a number of exotic locations throughout the world. Nevertheless, the Caribbean continues to remain the number one cruising destination. A picture-perfect “sand and palm tree” tropical paradise that the Caribbean is, it offers several opportunities to tourists, both for adventure as well as relaxation. Considering each and every rocky outcropping and sandbar, there are hundreds of large and small islands that are surrounded by the Caribbean waters. However, out of the 45 or 50 that make it onto the world map, about 25 are regularly frequented by ships, operating through various cruise companies all over the globe. Here are a few tips to help you plan a hassle-free Caribbean cruise.
Choosing an Appropriate Cruise Line
► As of now, roughly about 20 cruise lines from the US sail the Caribbean waters. These include both the big ship cruises as well as those which are smaller in size.
► Big ship cruises offer a plethora of luxurious amenities and activities on-board; however, owing to their huge size, generally only the largest ports are covered in their itineraries. So, choose such a cruise line only and only if you intend to visit just the major ports and not the more exotic ones.
► The main advantage of opting for a smaller ship is that it can get into smaller harbors, which often have more to offer than the larger ports, in terms of beauty and serenity. There is no doubt that these might be lesser-known, lesser traveled ports and harbors; however, this very thing might also put them on the list of the most beautiful ones, undisturbed/less affected by excessive human intervention. So, if you intend to explore the less-trodden paths, opt for a smaller ship and experience the sanctity of the Caribbean.
Tip: If you are traveling on a budget, opt for a bigger ship. You might avail some great discounts and luxury amenities, fitting just right into your budget. Smaller ships, owing to their “exotic” itinerary, mostly offer limited number of bargains.
Planning an Itinerary
► It is important to note that in spite of numerous picturesque islands all across the Caribbean, not every island is a cruise port. Keep this in mind while planning your itinerary.
► In-depth research is the key. While you pen down your probable itinerary, check your wish list thoroughly with respect to whether or not a particular place is accessible through a cruise ship.
► Before planning your itinerary, decide upon what you wish to do most during your vacation―whether you wish to indulge more in sailing and in adventures such as scuba diving or whether you want to stay more on land.
► As of now, Caribbean cruises offer two broad categories from which you can choose your itinerary.
The first category is of the western Caribbean islands, meant specially for those who intend to do a lot of sailing. This involves places such as Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, and Costa Rica.
The second category is that of the eastern Caribbean islands, meant for those who prefer to stay on land and indulge in some serious shopping. Destinations such as the Bahamas and Puerto Rico form a part of the itineraries of this category.
► Moreover, as mentioned above, depending on the size of the ship you choose to sail in, your itinerary will vary between big ports and small harbors.
Tip: Several cruise lines, such as the Disney Cruise Line, also offer stops at some private islands. So, if budget is not your constraint, you can opt for an elaborate itinerary like this.
Duration of the Cruise
► One of the most important aspects to look at when planning a Caribbean cruise vacation is the duration of time you want to be at sea, and whether it is feasible.
► On an average, the duration of a standard cruise ranges from one week to about ten days. However, longer cruises are also available.
► It is vital that you also consider your overall budget while deciding the total duration of your cruise as both these factors are directly proportional to each other.
Tip: If you wish to opt for a longer cruise, choose an itinerary such that there are more number of and preferably, longer port calls. You surely don’t want to end up falling sick, right in the middle of your vacation.
Best Time to Cruise
► The peak season for cruising the Caribbean waters is between mid-December and mid-April. This is the time when most cruises are jam-packed, owing to which, there are limited numbers of discounts and bargains. On the contrary, you may have to pay higher prices.
► If you plan to go during the peak season, ensure that you book your cruise well in advance, at least a year ahead. The earlier you book, the more discounts you may avail. Last-minute discounts during the peak season are available, but are extremely rare.
► On the other hand, if you wish to avoid large crowds and avail great discounted offers, choose to go in the off-season, i.e., between the months of June and November. The overall rates for cruises during this time are usually lower, sometimes even up to 50% less than the normal rates.
Note: During the off-season, the Caribbean is prone to hurricanes. Therefore, while cruising does not stop, many cruise ships are likely to change their normal routes.
What’s Included and What’s Not
► This is an important aspect that needs thorough checking before booking the trip with a particular cruise line. The number of things that your cruise package includes will determine whether or not it is a good deal.
► In general, an all-inclusive cruise fare includes: (i) breakfast, lunch, and dinner; (ii) tea and coffee; (iii) a basic room; (iv) tap water; (v) daily room cleaning; (vi) charges for entertainment; and (vii) transportation charges.
Tip: Booking a lower deck will not only save you money, but also keep seasickness at bay!
► If you wish to book an airline ticket through your cruise line, you will have to book your package that way. Otherwise normally, airfares are not included. It is essential to note that booking an airline ticket via a cruise line is, more often than not, an expensive deal, and it is rather a better idea to book one on your own.
► An all-inclusive cruise fare will not include expenses such as spa services, shopping at on-board boutiques, fitness classes, casino gambling, expenses incurred on alcohol, and so on. All these are ways for a cruise line to earn additional revenue.
► Moreover, if you wish to book guided excursions with your cruise line, you will have to inquire in detail regarding the same. Whether or not these are included in the basic fare varies from cruise line to cruise line.
Note: Thoroughly check and recheck what all is included in your cruise fare, and determine whether it suits your needs and budget, before going ahead with the booking process. You definitely do not want to land up on the wrong ship, especially after paying such a hefty sum.
Go ahead and book a Caribbean cruise vacation for yourself. However, don’t forget to obtain all your valid travel documents, documented proof of the vaccinations you have taken, travel insurance papers, and most importantly, your medicines along with the doctor’s prescription. Ask for a detailed packing list from your cruise line and pack accordingly. Ask specifically if there are any sort of dress codes for on-board events such as Captain’s Dinner, etc. So, set sail and have a wonderful vacation!
So, before you dive right in and book one for yourself, here are a few things that you’ve got to keep in mind.
Pick one that is all-inclusive
With group holidays, most itineraries are not all-inclusive, which can be a shame, as the traveler has to be mindful of what he can or cannot do. Therefore, it is better to pick a cruise that gives an all-inclusive deal, upfront. This should include all of the following―airport transfers, tips, meals, drinks, excursions, and on-board facilities like spas, specialty restaurants, pools, gyms, etc. Try to evade the “conditions apply” deals as far as possible, as it is really hard to keep a track of what you’re allowed or not allowed to do.
Screen their specialties
With their growing popularity, cruises are now catering to all kinds of travelers; gone are the days when it used to be the ‘elderly’ way to see Europe. Once you dock, there are ample opportunities for doing whatever it is you want to, be it cycling, exploring, clubbing, or simply taking the designated walking tour conducted by in-house tour guides. You’ve got to be clear about the kind of excursions that are offered, as some companies can be quite rigid about their itineraries, and not allow patrons to go off on their own, for safety concerns. If you’re more of the outdoorsy type, and the cruise offers a lot of museum visits, you know you ought to bypass it.
Don’t forget your budget and your purpose
European cruises can be quite heavy on the pocket. Does it seem any surprising that they’ve been the preferred way to travel for well-off retirees? An all-inclusive, two-week cruise can easily cost you in the range of USD 6,000 or thereabouts per person. Which can amount to nothing, provided you are the type who’d want to travel in style. But if you’re a backpacker at heart, or for whatever reason your mind’s not in it, you won’t be able to enjoy it, no matter how lavish the setting.
Know that the weather can be a complete dampener
April to October is the cruise season in Europe. But mind you, the weather in April and early May can play spoilsport at times. It can be wet and chilly, which means that you may have to spend most of your time indoors, rather than being on the deck to enjoy the views. Also, the rains may cause the water level in the rivers to rise, making it impossible for ships to pass under bridges. Conversely, in case of a drought, the low water level would also mean that ships cannot pass through. Late May to July, therefore would be more appropriate than April.
Pick a cruise that’s right for you
Rhine? Danube? Seine? No, all European cruises aren’t the same; in fact, they do cater to very different kinds of clientele.
The Rhine-Moselle-Main cruise is more about exploring the picturesque side of Europe, as it takes you along the historic corridor of the continent, viewing the most breathtaking castles, mountains, and landscapes. This cruise charts the course of the Rhine, from Switzerland to Amsterdam, into France and Luxembourg, and culminates in Germany. Fans of fairy tale landscapes and history buffs will immensely appreciate this route.
The Danube crosses the Iron Curtain, entering Eastern Europe, which offers a fresh perspective into Europe for those who have had enough of the western part of the continent. The Danube flows from the Black Forest in Germany to the Black Sea in Romania, passing through Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria, and Romania.
The Rhone cruise is made for wine lovers, since it sails through Provence and Burgundy, two of France’s top wine-making regions. You’ll have ample visits to vineyards along the way, sampling the local produce, and enjoying the gorgeous views.
The Douro is another exciting option for those wanting to explore Portugal and Spain, two very unique and distinct destinations in the western corridor. The Douro river rises in north-central Spain, and flows southwards into northern Portugal, and finally emptying into the Atlantic at Porto. Stops along the way include the Golden City of Salamanca, and the sleepy fishing hamlet of Pinhao, as you take in the vine-covered, rugged hillside along the banks of the Douro.
The cruise you pick should foremostly, reflect your choices about the kind of holiday you wish to go on. Therefore, conduct thorough research before you take your pick.
Cruising through the rivers of Europe is one of the most amazing ways to appreciate the beauty of this picturesque continent. Remember to book your trip at least 8 months in advance, though, as the best of these get filled up before you would imagine.