Find a vacation cruise that suits you
SOUTHAMPTON, England — It was a send-off fit for royalty as the Band of the Welsh Guards, dressed in majestic red tunics and bearskin hats, paraded onto the dock.
The customary marches were played before the soldiers struck up a surprising refrain from Rod Stewart’s “Sailing.”
“We are sailing, we are sailing.
Home again, ‘cross the sea …"
The regal serenade took place May 3 as Queen Mary 2, joined by sister ships Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria, set sail together to celebrate Cunard’s 175th anniversary. The cruise line’s roots date to 1840, when the Britannia began her first trans-Atlantic crossing on July 4.
Who could have imagined that a mail ship would evolve into a worldwide cruise industry hosting more than 22 million passengers each year aboard more than 400 ships? With a myriad of destinations and an incredible amount of onboard activities, cruises appear to offer something to please everyone except those who suffer from severe seasickness.
Once they’ve sailed, most people do it again and again. Cruise Line International Association says 62 percent of passengers have taken multiple cruise vacations, an average of four per person.
So why, then, has only one in five Americans ever set foot on a cruise ship?
“Most people are never going to cruise, and the main reason is they don’t really understand what it is,” said Bob Levinstein, CEO of online marketplace CruiseCompete.
Levinstein said many people worry that cruises are too expensive. The average expense per person is $2,200, including airfare, the cost of the cruise and onboard expenses such as cocktails and spa treatments, according to the cruise association. But people willing to shop around can find some astonishing deals.
For example, Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas will depart Miami on Dec. 14 for a four-night Bahamas cruise that gives passengers a full day in Nassau plus nine hours on Coco Cay, the line’s private island. Prices begin at $179 per person, and that includes transportation, a stateroom and all the food you can gorge.
“On a ship, you’re getting a lot more for your money,” said Pat Dugan of Newton, N.C. He has taken nearly 30 cruises with his wife, Betty.
“It’s very good value for the money,” she added. “You have everything there you could want.”
Levinstein said those who’ve never cruised also worry they’ll be bored. That myth is easy to dispel.
He said “a tremendous amount of choices” await aboard the ships of cruising’s six biggest lines: Carnival, Celebrity, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess and Royal Caribbean. They carry the vast majority of Americans who cruise.
To differentiate themselves, the companies try to wow potential customers with unique attractions. Now-common water slides and golf simulators seem almost passe compared with the newest offerings.
Want to play croquet on the high seas? Head to the top deck of Celebrity’s Equinox, where a lawn of real grass awaits.
Care to crash into some of your fellow passengers while driving a bumper car? That experience awaits aboard Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas.
Themed cruises also offer people the opportunity to indulge in a passion or to pursue a new hobby.
Food Network fans can expand their culinary knowledge aboard Celebrity’s Reflection. On Nov. 14, it will begin an Eastern Caribbean journey with six “Top Chef” contestants on board to share their secrets.
Holland America features “Dancing With The Stars: At Sea.” Passengers on various ships enjoy shows featuring celebrity dancers. Guests can take to the dance floor for a few lessons.
There also are cruises catering to chocolate lovers, beer aficionados and quilters. Nudists can get an all-over tan during trips organized by a company called Bare Necessities.
“We’re talking about a choose-your-ending sort of a book,” Levinstein said. “You’ve got a choice of an infinite number of experiences.”
While the Queen Mary 2, the last true ocean liner, spends much of the year making seven-night crossings between Southampton and New York City, most ships pull into a port every day or two, allowing people to go ashore to explore. This is particularly true in the Caribbean, the most popular destination for Americans.
Many passengers opt for organized shore excursions. (They’re not included in the cruise price.) Cruise Critic, a website with lots of useful information, has a list titled “Best Shore Excursions in 30 Caribbean Cruise Ports.”
Among the suggestions on oft-visited islands are the Mount Gay Rum distillery on Barbados, feeding stingrays on Grand Cayman and helping crew a yacht during a St. Maarten regatta.
Ships vary vastly in size. For those seeking a cozy experience, Blount’s Grande Mariner and Grande Caribe carry just 88 passengers each. In contrast, Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas can handle 5,400 passengers, plus a crew of 2,400. That’s like putting every man, woman and child in Gettysburg, Pa., on a single ship.
While the bigger cruise lines offer journeys within financial reach of the masses, a number of high-end companies with far more intimate ships await the well-healed accustomed to true luxury.
A seven-night sailing from Vancouver to Seward, Alaska, aboard Regent’s Seven Seas Navigator in July or August costs at least $5,600 a person. That, however, includes airfare and shore excursions.
Various lines also court the elite with around-the-world trips. As the Queen Mary 2 arrived in Brooklyn on May 10, Kayelynne Northcutt of Sea Lakes Ranch, Fla., stepped ashore after more than four months at sea. Her world voyage had included stops in Dubai, Singapore, Sydney and Cape Town.
The eight suitcases she had brought included 17 gowns for the frequent formal nights. On her final day at sea, Northcutt flirted with the idea of remaining on board as the ship returned to England.
“I’d stay on,” she said, “but I miss my dog.”
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