by Mary Gallagher
photos Will A. Davis
All the hoopla after the Costa Concordia accident, a number of ships infected with Noro-virus and the possibility of pirates, makes this the year to talk about cruises at cocktail parties colored with your personal experiences; good or bad and will you cruise or not.
I for one have never been on the mega ships of today but did cruise on the “old” QE 2 for a transatlantic crossing and at the time it was a pretty big deal. I have also enjoyed the Panama Canal, Bermuda/NYC, the upper and lower Caribbean and Bahamas cruises plus barging in France to mention a few.
One should talk to travel agents, friends and do thorough research about ships and destinations. First think about how comfortable you will be confined to a small island with 4,000 people for a week or more. Personally I prefer the luxury lines like Regent Seven Seas (www.rssc.com) with three ships for 500- 700 guests. They feature the most popular world routes and a posh all inclusive experience. When it comes to river and canal cruises no fewer people than 16 thank you! A week in a small space with less could be tortuous for them and me.
Berlitz has published the Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships by author Douglas Ward for 27 years with an update each year. Mr. Ward spends 80% of the year on the sea and as much as I like cruising – fulltime may be a bit much. One of the many good things about this book is it isn’t subsidized by any advertising but instead features an independent review of the international cruise world.
The book begins by guiding you to define what you are looking for and how to find it. Now that is wonderful for first time cruisers and also if you’ve visited the usual Bahamas or Caribbean ports of call and are now thinking of expanding your experiences.
The main section profiles 285 ocean going cruise vessels. Few of us have experienced the 1,000 plus cruises author Douglas Ward has, but I have experienced enough to know how detailed and helpful this guide is.
One good place to start is to find a spectacular sale price on a particular ship sailing on good dates in a desired destination for you on web sites like www.vactionstogo.com. Then research that particular ship in the book. Of course you can talk to the booking or travel agent but it’s doubtful they have seen all 285 ships. Even with their help it’s important to do your own research.
Another area to consider is the total time you have available for this cruise experience. Do you live in Maryland and want to take a cruise out of Baltimore to Bermuda or the Caribbean for a week arriving at the cruise terminal a few hours before departure and driving directly home the day you return? Or are you interested as we were spending the week before exploring the south of France then departing from Monte Carlo for two weeks in the Mediterranean ending with four days in Rome which was our departure city back to the states.
In some cases it’s a very good idea, as in a cruise on the Rhine or the Black Sea to take an extra day or two on either end of your trip to be fresh, adjust to the time difference and perhaps a weather change.
I have always found it amazing that some frequent cruisers (frequent meaning four or more every year for many years) don’t always get out at every port. I first saw that when we stopped at the San Blas Islands on a Panama Canal Cruise and some passengers objected to the exploitation of the natives. Even on the Mediterranean many who had visited various ports frequently choose to stay on board and enjoy the spa and other features of the ship.
First time US cruisers frequently head for Bermuda or the Bahamas and there is comprehensive coverage of your choices for these destinations in Mr. Ward’s book. He also breaks down the best food, entertainment and other features so you can determine which line or particular ship would work well for you. Other categories are for singles, seniors or families.
Once you check out destinations and other features you can start to narrow the choice. How about a theme cruise? Is rock and roll or astronauts your thing? We have noticed cruising out of foreign ports usually means a large number of international guests and we found that a plus. Some people might feel more comfortable with predominantly American passengers.
CruiseCompete.com is a site that has travel agents bid for your cruise business. Recently they also released The Top 10 Cruise Lines for Specialty Dining and the Ultimate Epicurean Experience at Sea. These restaurants offer more than the typical cruise line fare. On board, some of the world’s top chefs provide a true epicurean experience. The exclusive nature of these venues means that they usually require a reservation and generally incur an additional fee to dine, so be sure to confirm details when booking.
Following is some of the information available on a few of the 10 best lines for specialty restaurants. For more see the full report is available at http://allthingscruise.com/cruise-line-specialty-restaurants.
CUNARD-ships have an assortment of specialty dining options. Queen Mary 2 has La Piazza, The Carvery, Lotus, and Chef’s Galley; Queen Victoria has Bamboo, Coriander, and Prime; and Queen Elizabeth has Jasmine, Atzec and Asado. A cover charge of $10 per person will be payable in the evenings to dine in these unique restaurants.
Queen Mary2 and Queen Victoria also offer the Todd English restaurant. Reservations are required but cannot be made until on board; there is a charge of $20 per person for lunch and $30 per person for dinner.
DISNEY -Cruises have Palo is an adult exclusive restaurant located on all of Disney’s ships. The restaurant serves Northern Italian cuisine for dinner and brunch and high tea on select cruises. Reservations at Palo can be made online or after boarding the ship; seating is limited and dining is limited to guests 18 and older. High tea is $10 per guest; Palo is $20 per guest for both dinner and brunch.
The Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy also have Remy, an intimate adult-exclusive restaurant offering the most upscale dining experience available onboard. The restaurant serves the finest in French-inspired cuisine for dinner. Reservations are required and can be made online or after boarding the ship. Seating is limited and advance reservations are recommended. Dining is limited to guests 18 and older. Remy is $75 per guest for dinner.
REGENT SEVEN SEAS-Seven Seas Navigator, Seven Seas Mariner and Seven Seas Voyager have steakhouse Prime 7 and the Mariner and Voyager also have Signatures, a French restaurant featuring Le Cordon Bleu®-inspired cuisine. Reservations can be made in advance or on board. All dining is included in Regent’s all-inclusive cruises.
SILVERSEA -specialty dining is available on all ships, except Silver Explorer, the line’s expedition vessel. The Relais & Chateaux restaurant is Le Champagne (French), plus the Silver Spirit has Seishin (Asian). Reservations can be made on board and there is a charge of $30 for Le Champagne and the same for Seishin.
To Purchase the book:
Berlitz Cruising & Cruise Ships 2012 by Douglas Ward
Available at Amazon.com and bookstores all over the world. iTunes has an app for both iPhone and iPad
Some of the many available internet sites for more information and booking are:
www.VacationsToGo.com Vacations to Go
www.cruisecompete.com Cruise Compete
www.cruisecritic.com Cruise Critic
www.rssc.com. Regent Seven Seas