You're in for the vacation of a lifetime! Cruising is like staying at a top-quality resort where you can do as much or as little as you want. You can join in organized activities; or hang out by the pool and listen to a band. On most ships, you can eat at the sit-down dining-room meals; or hit the casual restaurant or indulge in (usually free!) room service. But we think the best part is . . . when you wake up in the morning, your resort has magically moved to a new city or island to discover, and you didn't have to pack your bags!
We've assembled the most-frequently-asked questions and answers about cruising. You can either scroll down to browse through the entire Q-and-A, or click on a question in this list to skip directly to that answer.
A: It is practically impossible to be bored on a modern cruise ship, between the facilities, entertainment, and activities. It's equally impossible to feel regimented; if you don't feel like choosing from the plethora of options, then just choose nothing and simply relax and unwind.
Larger ships may offer facilities as diverse as trap shooting, mini-golf, jogging track, fully equipped gym and spa, cinema, pools, hot tubs, casino, shopping, basketball, tennis, and in one case, even rock climbing and ice skating!
And plenty of entertainment is generally offered depending on the size of the ship, with something new every day. You'll hear music--singers in the lounges, bands in the show room, dance music in the nightclub, maybe even a steel drum band playing by the pool. You'll might see shows--like Las Vegas style extravaganzas, acrobats, magicians, hypnotists, and headliners. And it's all included in the price of your cruise.
In addition, the cruise director will organize all kinds of activities, perhaps ballroom- and line-dancing lessons, art auctions, pool games, quiz shows, basketball tournaments, workout groups, golf contests, and wine tastings. In each case, you can participate or not depending on how you feel!
A: During the day, resort wear is appropriate. Shorts, blue jeans and T-shirts are perfectly OK. At night, most larger ships will offer several casual dining nights on a seven-night itinerary (men will probably be asked to wear long pants in the dining room), a couple of semi-formal dining nights (sport coat and ties for men), and a couple of opportunities to dust off your nice clothes for formal nights (suits or tuxes for men). The ship's photographers will snap lots of pictures to capture your great outfits, and you can choose to purchase the ones that turn out well! Almost all larger ships also offer casual dining restaurants and room service, meaning you never need to dress up if you don't feel like it. Smaller ships and sailing ships generally are more casual all the time.
A: If you frequently get ill from riding in a car or an airplane, then a cruise vacation may not be the best choice for you. Otherwise, you'll likely be fine. A whole host of technology is deployed on most ships to maximize your comfort, such as computerized stabilizers (which look like underwater wings) that actively counteract wave action to keep the ride as smooth as possible. And of course, almost every ship has a doctor on call to prescribe anti-motion-illness medications. If you're still concerned about motion illness, you might want to avoid a trans-Atlantic crossing and first try a more protected itinerary such as the Caribbean.
A: The cruise lines want to offer cabins to suit every style and budget, ranging from spacious suites suitable for entertaining groups, to inside cabins that are perfect for those who don't spend much time in their cabins anyway. Unlike the days of old, generally all of the facilities on the ship are available no matter what category you choose (although a notable exception is the QE2). Many newer ships offer a huge number of cabins with private balconies, which are a truly romantic addition to any cruise experience. And all of the cabins are cleverly designed to give you a surprising amount of storage space for your clothes and other belongings.
Every few cabins is serviced by a cabin steward, who will offer you service that exceeds the finest hotels. You may rarely see your steward, but you'll notice that your towels are replaced twice a day, mints arrive on your pillow, and your mail and daily schedule of events is delivered.
A: Most cabins can comfortably sleep up to four people (with two lower beds and two uppers). Some ships have cabins for five, and a few offer "family suites" that can sleep six. If you're planning to book a cabin for more than two people, however, book early; a ship will sell out for triples, quads and quints much sooner than it sells out for doubles.
A: Meal time is always a highlight of the cruising experience. In the dining room, you will be presented with a different full menu to choose from each day for lunch and dinner; you can have a five-course meal, just a light snack, and as many of the desserts as you want! Most lines offer heart-healthy and vegetarian options too.
Many ships offer two seatings: early (about 6:30 pm) and late (around 8:30 pm), and you can specify your preference when you make your reservation. Some people prefer early seating since that's when they're used to eating, and others prefer the late seating to maximize their time in port. A newer trend is optional open seating, where you can eat when you want, with whom you want.
Besides the dining room, larger ships will also offer a variety of alternative dining options, such as a pizzeria, Italian restaurant, southwest-style restaurant, gourmet room, or a pool-side buffet. Sometimes the high-end alternative restaurants will have an extra charge.
Room service is usually available if you want to eat breakfast in bed, or if you feel like a private, romantic meal for two.
Finally, the midnight buffet is a cruise tradition. Presented with tremendous flair and artistry, be sure to stay up to see it at least once!
A: Yes. You can request your table assignment in the dining room, at a table with from two to ten people. If you're traveling in a group, you can specify assignments at the same or nearby tables in advance. Of course, the dining room manager will try to accommodate your request if you want to change your table once aboard. And on most ships, you may always choose to dine in one of the alternative restaurants or in your room.
A: The beauty of a cruise vacation is that it is inclusive--your cruise fare includes first-class accommodations, all of your five-star meals, and great entertainment. And airfare arranged through the cruise line is frequently less expensive than purchasing it separately. When you add up what's included in your "no surprises" cruise vacation price, you'll find it's always a better value than a remotely comparable land vacation.
And don't forget that SureCruise pricing is generally the very best that you can find.
Extras that you may consider purchasing include soft drinks and alcoholic beverages, spa treatments, shore excursions (although SureCruise can usually arrange these for you in advance at a better price), shop items, and a few on-board activities (such as wine tastings). Some gourmet alternative restaurants will have a nominal extra charge.
A: Although the matter of tipping is entirely up to you, if you receive noteworthy service the usual tipping guidelines are as follows.
Cash gratuities are distributed in envelopes provided by the cruise line, generally on the last night of your trip for cruises less than 14 nights, and every seven nights for cruises 14 nights and longer. Certain cruise lines permit you to charge gratuities to your onboard account to make this process easier.
A: Here at SureCruise we scratch our heads about this too. The fact of the matter is that about as many people pay full "brochure" price for a cruise as pay "full coach price" for an airline seat: next to nobody. In fact, by booking with SureCruise, the price you pay will almost always be between 15% and 60% less than the brochure price. Price shop at local travel agents first if you want to, but contact us last for a pleasant surprise. In the end, you'll discover as we have that cruising is almost always less expensive than even a remotely comparable traditional vacation when you add up meals, entertainment, hotel, and other miscellany.
A: On board ship, the purser's office is like the front desk at a hotel. One of the services they generally provide is exchanging currency as necessary for each port of call. So if you bring cash or US dollar traveler's checks, you'll be able to get spending money for each port when you need it.
A: Cruise lines are quite different from one another, each having a distinct personality. Most experts group cruise lines into several major categories: contemporary (including Carnival, Costa, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean), premium (like Holland America, Princess and Celebrity), near-luxury (such as Oceania), luxury (such as Cunard, Windstar, SeaDream, Seabourn, Crystal and Silversea), and specialty (like Orient Lines and Windjammer). All of these lines deliver a great vacation experience to their targeted market. Check out our comparison of major cruise lines, or ask our Cruise Wizard for suggestions, to get a flavor for the differences among the cruise lines and ensure you make the right choice for you and your family!
A: The most important choice you will make is the cruise line, since each of a cruise line's ships will deliver a vacation experience with a similar "feel." So once you're comfortable with your cruise line selection, then check out the particular features and amenities of each ship and choose one that sounds appealing. Newer ships tend to have the latest "bells and whistles" such as the rock-climbing walls and ice skating rinks on Royal Caribbean's large Voyager, Navigator, Explorer and Adventure of the Seas.
A: USA Today offers a great resource to see what the average weather conditions are like during each month of the year for world-wide cities. Check it out here.
A: Hurricane season in the Caribbean runs from June 1 through November 30. Of course, hurricanes and tropical storms can and do form outside these time periods, though seldom. Hurricane season usually has a minimal effect on the cruise industry, since the ships can simply alter where they go (unlike a land-based resort) to avoid the storm.
Occasionally there is unusual disruption -- as in 2004 -- when several hurricanes hit the turnaround ports (where people start and end their cruises) on turnaround day. Some cruise ships had to delay their return (to the happiness of some on board most likely), and shorten their next trips scheduled for the following week. The cruise lines did a great job of giving options to people whose vacations were impacted, such as postponing their cruise to a later date, getting a refund, or taking the shorter cruise and getting some money back.
In all cases we strongly recommend travel protection that can provide benefits and compensation for covered events that surround weather-related disruptions.
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