Cruise Vacations: Debunking Travel Myths
Take a cruise and learn the truth behind vacation myths.
Aug. 19, 2009 — -- In this slumping economy, sailing off for exotic locales might seem outside most people's budgets. But that's just one myth that even many seasoned travelers believe about cruises. There has never been a better time for cruise deals and discounted travel packages. And you only have to unpack once.
So, we set sail on Holland America Line's Mediterranean Romance Cruise -- Venice to Barcelona -- to help bust the biggest myths about cruising, and to visit some of the world's most beautiful ports.
Not all of them. You can take your family on a cruise to the Caribbean, Mexico or even the Mediterranean for $42 per person per day, according to Rich Tucker of the award-winning travel Web site, CruiseDeals.com. And that includes all meals and shore transfers. "There has never been a better time to book a cruise than now," Tucker said. "The cruise lines are bending over backward to get your business and are offering some of the best prices we've seen in years. On average, cruises are being offered at 20 to 30 percent less than last year's prices."
To find amazing deals, sign up for CruiseDeals.com's free "Seamail" alerts. And consider its Travel Guard insurance policy. "If you need to cancel the trip for any reason, including losing your job, you'll get a 75 percent refund," Tucker said.
How do you know when you need travel insurance? Steve Dasseos, founder of The Trip Insurance Store, a boutique travel insurance company, said, "If you have the potential for a big financial loss by cancelling your cruise for any reason, you probably should get insurance."
But not everyone needs the same kind of travel insurance, which is why you should consult with a broker, Dasseos said. "If one is going to the Caribbean, that's one kind of insurance; if you're going to Mongolia, that's another kind of insurance," he said.
The kinds of travel policies that cruisers may want to mix and match are cancellation (you lose your job), interruption (you miss the flight to the port) and health (you get sick on the trip). And don't forget about travel agents when you're looking for a great cruise deal. Across the United States and Canada, 17,000 travel agencies belong to the Cruise Lines International Association, a group that represents 24 major cruise lines. Check out its Web site to find a local travel agent who specializes in cruises, and to find the hot deals that the association offers daily. Right now, through 2010, association agents are offering outstanding packages on their European cruises, including two-for-one pricing, free airfare from North America and "Kids Sail Free" plans.
Cruises have a variety of activitues for families, such as this culinary arts class for kids. Credit: Photo courtesy of Holland America Line Inc.
Children have become valued cruise customers, too. Royal Caribbean has a range of programs tailored to children of all ages: from Crayola art camps to a Fisher-Price preschool program, to surf school, to a supervised teen's lounge. Club HAL on Holland America Line offers programs for kids from 3 to 17, including pizza parties, arts and crafts classes, teen disco and karaoke. Club HAL also offers kids-only shore excursions on some of their cruises.
They don't have to be. Most cruise lines have taken note that people want to eat healthier at sea. Carnival Corp., the largest cruise line in the world, offers lighter dishes, with menus listing nutritional stats, such as calorie and fat gram counts. Healthy cruising on Norwegian Cruise Line includes dining, fitness and sports.
Courtney Recht, a spokeswoman for Norwegian Cruise Line, said, "Norwegian Cruise Line promotes a healthy lifestyle to all its guests through various healthful culinary options on board and the broad range of activities that are available daily. Our dining rooms feature menus with dishes that are low in calories and fat, with the content of each printed directly on the menus. A healthy cruise on Norwegian is also possible with a workout in our modern fitness centers."
Cruise ships have also become more responsive to special dietary needs, offering low-sodium, low-cholesterol, low-fat, Kosher, vegetarian, gluten-free and vegetarian options, as well as meals designed for diabetics. Holland America's Stephen Schuetz, manager of culinary operations, said that nearly a third of the guests on a recent Mediterranean cruise aboard the MS Oosterdam made special dietary requests in advance through their travel agents at the time of booking.
"We've got their standing orders on the computers in our galley kitchens," he said.
Ah, the best laid plans . . . When it's just too hard to pass up that fabulous dessert, there's always a visit to the beautiful Greenhouse Spa and three laps around the deck, which equals a mile on the MS Oosterdam.
Many cruises stop by regional ports: Three gondolas off of the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy. Credit: Photo by Tom Dwyer, Special to ABCNews
The average cruise ship generates about 30,000 gallons of human waste and 255,000 gallons of nonsewage gray water every day, according to Oceana, an international nonprofit organization working to save the oceans. But in the past decade, the cruise industry has been working to clean up its act -- largely in response to stricter pollution laws in U.S. and foreign waters, but also because its very success and survival depends on it.
Leading the way is the Cruise Lines International Association. Its membership of two dozen major cruise ship lines supports the adoption of aggressive recycling programs and green technology. If you're committed to sailing green, consider booking your cruise with an association member.
Our Mediterranean itinerary took us to the great cities of Venice, Rome, Florence and Barcelona, as well as two bustling Sicilian towns and a few sleepy Greek islands. In the old days, shore excursions were quick shopping trips and then back to the ship. But our favorite shore excursion was a full day guided tour called "Roman Holiday," following in the footsteps of the classic movie starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.
From historical sites like the Coliseum to the gelato shop made famous in the film, we got to experience Rome up close and personal. The "Roman Holiday" excursion cost $230 and included a wonderful four-course lunch in an exquisite villa-turned-restaurant.
Customized excursions are also available, and most cruise lines now offer assistance in booking these day trips when you book your cruise. Crystal Cruises, a luxury cruise line, is leading a new trend, the overnight excursion, in which passengers can get off the ship in one port, spend a few days on land sightseeing and then meet up with the ship at the next port. Another twist on the excursion is Princess Cruises' "Ultimate Ship Tour," which offers a behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of the ship, for $150 per person.