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Cruise
Cruise
02.10.11

While land travel boasts a certain allure, there’s nothing quite like the appeal of the open seas. Cruises offer the traveler a floating home away from home while exploring the world. Check-in and unpack only once and enjoy the rest of your trip. Wake up relaxed and refreshed each morning to find the destination of your dreams outside your porthole. When you’ve had enough of foreign language, food and culture, return to your water-based address and indulge in the comforts of home. Here, we walk you through a basic overview of cruising and then examine the industry’s seven cruise line categories to help you find a style that’s right for you—whether it’s adventure, intellectual stimulation, relaxation or a good, old-fashioned conga line.

How to Choose a Cruise

When selecting the cruise that’s right for you, be sure to allow plenty of time. While there are always last-minute deals, most experts recommend booking your cruise one year in advance. A wide variety of cruise lines offer an abundance of choices. Start by thinking about what kind of vacation you’d like (family, relaxation, cultural, adventure, romantic or theme). If you use an agent, he/she will ask about your interests and budget to help narrow your options. If you search online, you’ll find that cruise websites often break searches into categories to help you get started. Typical categories include:

  • Destination
  • Cruise line
  • Departure port
  • Cruise length
  • Date

Booking a Cruise

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You have several options when it comes to booking a cruise: You can do it yourself online, directly through the cruise line or through an agent who specializes in cruises. Such agents often have access to specials and deals you can’t find on the Internet. In addition, these agents may work with groups that book blocks of cabins and collectively negotiate preferred pricing, added value and other benefits for their clients. Because agents and groups are not affiliated with just one cruise line, they can also offer more unbiased guidance to suit your personality, interests and travel style.

What’s Included

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Besides the voyage to exotic ports of call, cruise fares usually include accommodations, meals (but not soft drinks or alcoholic beverages), shipboard activities and entertainment. Beyond that, what’s included depends on the type of cruise you choose. Typically, the higher the price, the more benefits you get, whether it’s wine with dinner, a butler or an in-depth guided shore excursion. Most cruise lines offer a personal shipboard account (secured by your credit card) to pay for non-inclusive onboard expenses like shopping, casino gaming, spa treatments and gratuities. Many passengers prefer this system, which allows them to pamper themselves without reaching for their wallets.

What About Tipping?

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Remember to factor in the cost of gratuities when considering your budget for a cruise. Tipping customs vary greatly among cruise lines, so be sure to check the policy of your cruise line or ask your agent when planning. You can also get an estimate from sites such as the Cruise Tip Calculator. In the past, guests received tip envelopes for service staff on the final night of the cruise. However, with more restaurant options onboard and staff rotating between dining room, deck and tea service, it has become less practical to tip a specific server at the end of the cruise. These days, many cruise lines add a per person/per day service charge to your onboard account with the option to adjust the fee, pay in cash at the end of your trip, or opt out and tip in person. Most luxury cruise lines have adopted no-tip polices, building gratuities into the overall price instead. Even so, passengers often tip for exemplary service (this means above and beyond the service fee charged to their accounts).

Shore Excursions

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When a ship pulls into a port of call, passengers have the choice of staying onboard to relax, exploring on their own or taking a guided shore excursion. If you choose the latter, you might find yourself lunching in an Ottoman home in Turkey, traveling via helicopter to a dog sled on a glacier in Alaska, taking a diving course in the Caribbean or wandering through an Egyptian bazaar. Unless you’re traveling all-inclusive, you’ll pay extra for most shore excursions, and you’ll need to book them in advance, which you can do online, through your travel agent or at the cruise line’s excursions desk. Look for tour lists and prices in cruise brochures and websites to find those that suit your taste and interests. Independent travel agencies also allow you to book your own tours by destination, separate from the cruise line. If you go it alone, just remember, the cruise line is not responsible for what happens. Cruise ships will wait if one of their own tours returns late, but if you opt to explore on your own or through another tour operator, the responsibility falls on you to be back on board before your ship departs or you’ll be left stranded. For more information, consult sites such as Cruise Critic.

Mainstream Cruise Lines

The most-well known cruise lines cater to family and budget-conscious travelers (as well as those seeking some revelry), focusing on Alaska, the Caribbean and Europe. Highlighting shipside fun and entertainment, these lines have base fares lower than other cruise lines because they generally do not include shore excursions. These floating cities offer everything imaginable—nightclubs, live shows, deck parties, theme nights and mystery cruises. An abundance of round-the-clock onboard activities keeps passengers entertained without leaving the ship. Carnival even offers a “Cruise to Nowhere.”

Themed cruises for singles, couples or multigenerational families on these vast seafaring giants provide all manner of activities, from zip lines to retractable marinas for water sports. Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Sea, the world’s largest cruise ship, carries 5,400 passengers. Live it up for a weekend or a multiweek cruise. Mainstream cruise line options include:

Carnival
Type of Vessel: Large Cruise Ship
Destinations: Alaska, Bahamas, Canada & New England, Caribbean, Europe, Hawaii, Mexico, Panama Canal, Transatlantic

Disney
Type of Vessel: Large Cruise Ship
Destinations: Bahamas, Caribbean, Europe, Panama Canal, Mexican Riviera, Alaska & Pacific Coast, Transatlantic

Norwegian Cruise Line
Type of Vessel: Large Cruise Ship
Destinations: Alaska, Bahamas & Florida, Bermuda, Canada & New England, Caribbean, Europe, Hawaii, Mexican Riviera, Pacific Coast, Panama Canal

Exclusive Offer: Receive up to a four-category stateroom upgrade or free balcony upgrade when you book a Hawaiian cruise between February 14–27, 2011, or select Bermuda and Bahamas cruises between February 28–March 13, 2011. If you book a cruise of five days or more, you’ll also get a $50 TravelSmith gift certificate redeemable for TravelSmith retail products. For details, see our exclusive offer.

Royal Caribbean
Type of Vessel: Large Cruise Ship
Destinations: Alaska, Asia, Australia & New Zealand, Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada & New England, Caribbean, Dubai & Emirates, Europe & the Mediterranean, Hawaii, Mexico, Pacific Northwest, Panama Canal, South America, Transatlantic

Exclusive Offer: Receive a complimentary bottle of wine and onboard value booklet when you book an outside stateroom or higher category stateroom. You’ll also get a $25–$100 onboard credit per stateroom on select categories, ships and sail dates. In addition, if you book a cruise of five days or more, you’ll receive a $50 TravelSmith gift certificate redeemable for TravelSmith retail products. For details, see our exclusive offer.

Premium Cruise Lines

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The premium niche takes it up a notch from mainstream cruise lines by offering more room per passenger with a higher standard in service, cuisine and amenities—usually for a higher price. Catering to more affluent and experienced travelers, these medium-to-large vessels sail the seas with grand class and style, featuring more understated but glamorous décor. Stopping at ports around the world, premium cruises offer less-crowded shore excursions, onboard lectures and more sophisticated shipboard entertainment. Premium cruise line options include:

Cunard
Type of Vessel: Queen Mary-style Ship
Destinations: Mediterranean, Northern Europe & British Isles, Scandinavia, the Baltic & Iceland, Canaries, Madeira & the Azores, Panama Canal, Caribbean & Mexican Riviera

Celebrity
Type of Vessel: Standard Cruise Ship
Destinations: Alaska, Australia & New Zealand, Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada & New England, Caribbean, Europe, Galapagos, Hawaii, Pacific Coastal, Panama Canal, South America, Transatlantic

Exclusive Offer: Receive up to a $300 onboard credit per stateroom and a waiver of the deposit for the second passenger in the stateroom when you book select cruises before March 14, 2011. You’ll also get a $50 TravelSmith gift certificate redeemable for TravelSmith retail products. For details, see our exclusive offer.

Holland America
Type of Vessel: Classic Cruise Ship
Destinations: Alaska; Asia Pacific; Australia, New Zealand & South Pacific; Bermuda; Canada & New England; Caribbean; Europe; Mediterranean & Black Sea or Africa; Hawaii & Tahiti; Mexico; Pacific Northwest & Pacific Coast; Panama Canal; South America & Antarctica

Exclusive Offer: Receive up to a $50 onboard credit and a complimentary Pinnacle Grill Dining Experience for two on select sailings. You’ll also get a $50 TravelSmith gift certificate redeemable for TravelSmith retail products. For details, see our exclusive offer.

Princess
Type of Vessel: Standard Cruise Ship
Destinations: Alaska, Asia, Australia & New Zealand; Canada & New England; Caribbean; Europe; Hawaii, Tahiti & South Pacific; Mexican Riviera; Panama Canal; South America;
World Cruise

Exclusive Offer: This offer includes sale fares, $100 per person reduced deposit and a ship-wide savings coupon book worth up to $325 in savings on shipboard products and services. If you book one of these select cruises, you’ll also get a $50 TravelSmith gift certificate redeemable for TravelSmith retail products. For details, see our exclusive offer.

Upper Premium Cruise Lines

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A relatively new niche, upper premium ships offer a more intimate experience with superior levels of service and cuisine, and more inclusive features than mainstream and premium lines. These cruises usually offer higher staff-to-guest ratios on slightly smaller vessels, which sail into more distinct ports of call than larger ships. Carrying from 150 to 690 passengers, upper premium ships may be relatively small, but they’re big on amenities, such as onboard gyms, spas and multiple dining rooms that offer all the best of R&R. If you prefer the stability of a larger ship with some aplomb, this niche may be just the ticket. The teak-lined decks and towering sails of Windstar ships make for an unmatched regal entrance into exotic ports of call. Upper premium cruise line options include:

Azamara
Type of Vessel: Standard Cruise Ship
Destinations: Asia, Caribbean, Europe, Mexico, Panama Canal, South America, Transatlantic

Exclusive Offer: Receive a $1,000 onboard credit per stateroom and a $1,000 ChoiceAir Credit when you book an ocean-view stateroom or higher category stateroom. You’ll also get a $50 TravelSmith gift certificate redeemable for TravelSmith retail products. For details, see our exclusive offer.

Oceania
Type of Vessel: Standard Cruise Ship
Destinations: Western Mediterranean, Greek Isles & Eastern Mediterranean, Northern Europe & Scandinavia, South Pacific, Australia & New Zealand, Alaska, Canada & New England, Asia, Africa, South America, Caribbean & Panama Canal, Transoceanic

Exclusive Offer: Receive two-for-one cruise fares, free round-trip airfare, free pre-paid gratuities, a $100 onboard credit, a $100 Canyon Ranch Spa-Club credit, a $100 Shore Excursion Credit and a free welcome bottle of champagne on select sailings. You’ll also get a $50 TravelSmith gift certificate redeemable for TravelSmith retail products. For details, see our exclusive offer.

Windstar
Type of Vessel: Sailing Yacht
Destinations: Caribbean, Europe, Costa Rica, Panama Canal, Greek Isles, Transatlantic, Baltic, Holy Land

Exclusive Offer: Receive a complimentary upgrade, a $1000 onboard credit per suite or a $600 onboard credit for other stateroom categories on select ships and sail dates. You’ll also get a $50 TravelSmith gift certificate redeemable for TravelSmith retail products. For details, see our exclusive offer.

Luxury Cruise Lines

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An excursion on a luxury cruise line has no match in terms of refined pampering and elegance. Designed to offer top-tier accommodation, cuisine, service and amenities, luxury cruise ships provide passengers with plenty of space and personal attention. While some have a capacity of 700, others have space for just 100 passengers. Suites, butlers and balconies—coupled with the most diverse itineraries in the cruise industry—make luxury cruise lines the sultans of sea travel. Sail across oceans to legendary cities, ancient civilizations, far-flung islands and sun-dappled beach paradises at the ends of the earth—all while enjoying enrichment programs and exclusive off-ship excursions. Luxury cruise line options include:

Crystal Cruises
Type of Vessel: Midsize Cruise Ship
Destinations: Africa, Alaska, Asia, Australia & New Zealand, Caribbean, Hawaii & South Pacific, Mediterranean, Mexican Riviera, Middle East, New England & Canada, Northern Europe, Panama Canal, South America, Pacific Coast, Transoceanic

Exclusive Offer: Receive a $100 discount per person on any sailing. Virtuoso Voyager Club amenities apply on most sailings, which offer a choice of a complimentary shore event, a $150 per person onboard credit or a $175 per person credit toward a custom designed private shore event. Alternatively, you can select prepaid gratuities and additional onboard credit. If you book a cruise of five days or more, you’ll also get a $50 TravelSmith gift certificate redeemable for TravelSmith retail products. For details, see our exclusive offer.

Regent Seven Seas
Type of Vessel: Midsize Cruise Ship
Destinations: Africa, India, Alaska, Asia Pacific, Canada & New England, Ocean Crossings, Mediterranean, Northern Europe, South America, Tropics, Around-the-World

Exclusive Offer: Receive an onboard credit of $400–$900 per suite on select departures. Voyager Club amenities also apply to select departures, including the choice of a complimentary shore event, a $150 per person onboard credit or a $175 per person credit toward a custom designed private shore event. You’ll also get a $50 TravelSmith gift certificate redeemable for TravelSmith retail products. For details, see our exclusive offer.

Seabourn
Type of Vessel: Mega Yacht
Destinations: Arabia, Africa, India, Asia, Canada & New England, Caribbean, Mediterranean, Northern Europe, South & Central America, South Pacific, Transatlantic, Around-the-World

Exclusive Offer: Choose one of the following exclusive Virtuoso amenities when you book a cruise: A complimentary shore event, a $150 per person onboard credit or a $175 per person credit toward the purchase of a private, custom shore event. You’ll also get a $50 TravelSmith gift certificate redeemable for TravelSmith retail products. For details, see our exclusive offer.

SeaDream Yacht Club
Type of Vessel: Mega Yacht
Destinations: Caribbean, Europe, Transatlantic

Silversea
Type of Vessel: Mega Yacht
Destinations: Mediterranean, Northern Europe & Baltic; Africa, Arabia & Indian Ocean; Far East, New Zealand & Australia; Alaska & Pacific Coast; Caribbean, Panama Canal & Bermuda; South America; Canada & New England; Transoceanic; Around-the-World; Expedition (Antarctica, Arctic, Remote North, South & Central America, West Coast Africa)

River Cruising

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Popular in Europe and Russia, river cruises offer serene journeys through inland waterways and bucolic landscapes, peppered with local stops that aren’t accessible to larger cruise ships. This niche of cruising often appeals to more seasoned travelers who want to see destinations up close, at a leisurely pace. Relax in intimate dining rooms while enjoying delicious meals with regional wines. Specially outfitted for river cruising, ships range from luxury to comfortable but basic. River cruise line options include:

Avalon Waterways
Type of Vessels: River Cruise Ship, Small Cruise Ship
Destinations: China, Egypt, Europe, Galapagos

Uniworld
Type of Vessel: Boutique River Cruise Ship
Destinations: China, Egypt, Europe, Russia
Exclusive Offer: Receive a $100–$250 per person discount, a complimentary local experience and included shore excursions on select TravelSmith Passport departures. If you book and submit a deposit by March 14, 2011, you’ll also receive an additional $100 discount per person. In addition, you’ll get a $50 TravelSmith gift certificate redeemable for TravelSmith retail products. For details, see our exclusive offer.

Viking River Cruises
Type of Vessel: River Cruise Ship
Destinations: China & Southeast Asia, Egypt, Europe, Russia & Ukraine

Expedition Cruising

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On expedition cruises, travelers seeking unique itineraries with a little adventure and education thrown in can find treasure aboard smaller and more rugged vessels, which typically carry from 24 to 120 guests. These floating expeditions take passengers to destinations in the Arctic, Antarctica, the Galapagos, the Amazon and the Nile for a more robust type of adventure. Disembark on a kayak or inflatable boat to get close to nature by day, and rest peacefully in your choice of cabin by night. Expedition cruise line options include:

Aqua Expeditions
Type of Vessel: Luxury River Cruise Ship
Destinations: Amazon River, Pacaya Simiria Reserve, Peru

International Expeditions
Type of Vessels: River Cruise Ship, Small Ship, Expedition Ship, Catamaran
Destinations: Amazon River; Galapagos; Rivers of West Africa; Antarctica, South Georgia & Falklands; Papua New Guinea
Exclusive Offer: Book your family on an exciting 10-day Amazon Family voyage and receive $1,000 off the fare for children 7–18 years old. You’ll also get a $50 TravelSmith gift certificate redeemable for TravelSmith retail products. For details, see our exclusive offer.

Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic
Type of Vessels: Expedition Ship, River Boat, Yacht
Destinations: Africa, Alaska, Amazon, Antarctica, Arctic, Baja California, British & Irish Isles, Central America, Egypt, Europe, Galapagos, Mediterranean, New Zealand, Ocean Voyages, Pacific Northwest, South America; Cultural, Family & Photo Expeditions

Exclusive Offer: Receive a $50 per person ($100 per couple) shipboard credit on select National Geographic ships. You’ll also get a $50 TravelSmith gift certificate redeemable for TravelSmith retail products. For details, see our exclusive offer.

Orion Expedition Cruises
Type of Vessels: Mega Yacht, Expedition Ship
Destinations: Kimberley & Arnhem Land; Papua New Guinea; Melanesia; Australian Islands; Spice & Forgotten Islands; New Zealand & Sub-Antarctic; Antarctica; Borneo; Thailand, Cambodia & Vietnam; Inland Sea of Japan & Russia Far East

Specialty Cruise Lines

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As the name suggests, specialty cruises provide a range of themes, destinations and ships that appeal to travelers seeking an extraordinary adventure. Board an authentic tall sailing ship that drops off passengers on deserted beaches in the Caribbean, or steer toward antiquity on a yacht in the Mediterranean with an archaeologist on board. River barges in France transport up to 10 passengers to explore rustic towns and lush vineyards while an onboard chef prepares home-cooked gourmet fare with local ingredients. Exclusive and private shore excursions offer further temptation for this type of cruising. Specialty cruise line options include:

American Safari Cruises
Type of Vessel: Yacht
Destinations: Alaska, Mexico, Pacific Northwest, Hawaii

Blount Small Ship Adventures
Type of Vessel: Small Ship
Destinations: Caribbean, Central America, Northeast, Mid-America & Great Lakes, Deep South

French Country Waterways
Type of Vessel: Luxury Barge
Destinations: Canals and riverways in France

Star Clippers
Type of Vessel: Tall Sailing Ship
Destinations: Caribbean, Costa Rica, Panama Canal, Western Mediterranean, Eastern Mediterranean, Transatlantic sailings

Exclusive Offer: Receive a $100 onboard credit when you book a cruise. You’ll also get a $50 TravelSmith gift certificate redeemable for TravelSmith retail products. For details, see our exclusive offer.

Variety Cruises
Type of Vessel: Small Ship
Destinations: Greece and Turkey, Rivers of West Africa, Red Sea, Black Sea, Theme Cruises

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