Cruise Guide: National Geographic kid’s poll – Cruises rule

By Mike Coleman

The high seas are slowly but surely becoming an ocean playground for kids.

According to a National Geographic Kids magazine survey, cruising now ranks as the No. 1 vacation option among youth and rates as the “perfect summer trip”.

The survey revealed that 35 percent of kids said cruises were their most popular vacation choice. Trips to the beach came in second (17 percent) followed by amusement parks (17 percent), big cities (five percent), lakes (three percent) and summer camp (two percent).

The magazine recently polled 401 kids aged 8 to 14.

“More than one million children under the age of 18 took cruises with their families in 2004,” said Terry Dale, president and CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the cruise industry’s chief marketing organization.

“And, it’s easy to see why cruise vacations appeal to the whole family.”

Dale said the survey results came as no surprise to CLIA whose 19 member lines Carnival, Celebrity, Costa, Crystal, Cunard, Disney, Holland America, MSC, Norwegian Coastal Voyages, NCL, Oceania, Orient Lines, Princess, Radisson Seven Seas, Royal Caribbean, Seabourn, Silversea, Swan Hellenic and Windstar collectively accommodate 95 percent of the North American cruise passenger market.

It’s no wonder that cruising has become so popular with kids. To keep up with the demand for family travel CLIA-member lines continue to add amenities and activities for the family. Most of today’s lines feature extensive and highly-supervised children’s programs where kids are placed in age-appropriate groups. Teen lounges, video arcades, computer learning centers, toddlers’ play areas and even special shore excursions for children.

Cruise industry growth, in fact, shows no signs of abating. In the last 10 years CLIA-member lines added 100 new ships, 62 of which debuted in the last five years alone.
And who sailed on those ships? A record 10.6 million people took a cruise on a CLIA-member line in 2004. Officials predict that more than 11 million travelers will cruise in 2005 including, of course, a record number of kids.

Cruise Guide: Life onboard – Let the fun begin

By Mike Coleman

From world class cuisine to a host of seemingly endless activities, it’s easy to see why millions of travelers and significant numbers of Naples-area residents are repeat cruise ship guests.

This week, as we conclude our three-part series exploring the best way to plan and make the most of your first – or 10th – cruise vacation, we’ll take an in-depth look at life onboard today’s mega-liners and their intimate counterparts.

The price of your cruise fare includes all meals and in-between snacks, your stateroom, activities, parties (at least one hosted by the captain), entertainment, plus your voyage to some of the most enchanting and culturally-enriching ports in the world.

You won’t have to worry about making dinner or nightclub reservations, running to make flight connections as you travel from one destination to another, or packing and unpacking. You can lie back and be completely pampered. Or, go non-stop. Dine like never before. Enjoy one great show after another.
 
What to do?

Your cruise vacation will include an amazing array of shore excursions to choose from in each port, although each will cost extra. From golf and scuba diving to walking tours and shopping, even private helicopter rides to secluded dining venues are part of the mix.

Perhaps you’d like to get married at sea or renew your wedding vows. You may decide to join your spouse for a massage, make new friends, build your own Web site, learn a new language or rub elbows with a master chef during any one of the numerous classes offered onboard.

Enjoy a mouth-watering four-or five-course dinner, then leave the table without getting a bill. Take a pilates or spinning class, try a new diet or fitness program or relax in a steamy whirlpool.
 
We’re just getting started

You can participate in a host of onboard games, from trivia to bingo and backgammon to cards. Observe fabulous onboard art collections, enjoy an art auction, or both. Take in a guest speaker from the world of entertainment, politics, finance, cooking or sports, not to mention the many distinguished lecturers who will bring to life the port of call you are about to visit.

Lounge by the pool. Get a haircut. Read a good book or take a movie, on DVD or VHS tape, back to your cabin from often well-stocked libraries. Some ships even have movie theaters playing first-run Hollywood feature films.

Participate in wine tasting seminars and cooking classes. Tackle the rock climbing wall with friends or enjoy a game of basketball, tennis or volleyball with fellow passengers.

Walk the top deck. Get your nails done. People watch. Sip tea. Sleep.

At night, enjoy a host of bars and lounges, take in a production show or dance till you drop. The casino will be open late and so too will the galley (the ship’s kitchen).
 
E-mail friendly

Can’t wait to get home to tell all your friends how great the cruise has been? Why wait? Send an e-mail daily from the ship’s Internet cafe at a nominal fee.

How in the world will you keep track of all that’s happening onboard? Easy. Each night your cabin steward will slip a newsletter under your door, complete with the next day’s onboard activities. You can even tune in to your in-cabin television for more, including, in most cases, CNN.

And, while most people take a cruise in order to rejuvenate mind, body and spirit, there are instances, even on vacation, when you may be feeling under the weather. Thus, onboard doctors provide excellent first response and emergency care to passengers until they can be transferred to a shoreside medical facility, if needed.

It’s not talked about much. Nor will you see the doctor’s onboard office featured in any of your cruise brochures. But, like the great food, entertainment and host of amenities you’ve now come to expect from your cruise vacation, you can sail to Antwerp or Zadar with peace of mind.

The cruise lines, indeed, have you covered from A to Z.

Cruise Guide: Life onboard – The first few hours

By Mike Coleman

Could the glossy cruise brochures depicting your dream vacation be true? Will life on the high seas really be as fun and as exhilarating as you expect?
¨This week, in part two of our three-part series exploring the best way to plan and make the most of your first – or 10th – cruise vacation, we’ll take a look at what to expect during your first few hours on board today’s mega-liners and their intimate counterparts.
 
The purser’s office

Upon arrival, you will likely be escorted to your cabin and your checked luggage will soon be brought to your door by a crew member. While the urge to explore your new home-away-from-home is understandable these, however, are valuable minutes to ensure that your cabin is what you expected. You’ll have plenty of time later to explore the ship. If you paid for a balcony suite but are standing in a cabin with no view, contact the purser’s office immediately, by in-cabin telephone or in person. Kindness goes a long way here so be patient and work calmly with the purser your new best friend to resolve the issue.

This is also the best time to book your coming week’s spa treatment, salon appointment, shore excursion or to reserve a table in one of the ship’s specialty restaurants. While your cruise includes meals, usually at a set hour in the main dining room, it might be nice to step out of the norm later in the week and eat in a specialty restaurant. Spa and salon services, shore excursions and your specialty restaurant are additional expenses, not included in your cruise fare.

Didn’t have much time, before departure, to assess the shore excursion booklet provided by your cruise line? Not to worry. A great way to choose the shore excursions that are right for you is to review them on the airplane or have your spouse/kids read them while driving to the cruise terminal. Space is often limited, especially for the best shore excursions, so do your best to book as soon as you arrive. Note, some lines allow you to book shore excursions in advance on-line, so take advantage of the perk if you can.

If your voyage features a number of ports, it’s also nice to forgo a shore excursion on the day of your choice and spend it, virtually alone, on the ship. While family members and other passengers may be off on a day-long port visit, enjoy the decadent feeling of having the pools, fitness center, dining venues and other on-board amenities to yourself.
 
In-cabin safes

By now, while unpacking, you’ve probably noticed the in-cabin safe. When traveling you should keep your passport, travel documents, other important papers, cash and credit cards on you at all times but while on board it’s a convenient perk to have safe storage at your fingertips.

So, you’ve now made it to the ship, you’ve checked in and spent quality time making the necessary appointments for haircuts, facials, massages, port trips and specialty dining. What’s next? A mandatory lifeboat drill. As required by law, you and your family members, all passengers and crew must participate. You’ll learn where to go and what to do in case of an emergency.

By now you’re no doubt hungry. The ship is sailing toward your first port of call and dinner is around the corner. Once seated, you may be paired for the duration of your cruise with strangers. While this is often a benefit of cruising, meeting interesting people from all walks of life from around the world, prolonged, awkward banter with your new dinner mates may not be what the doctor ordered. Contact the maitre’ d your other best friend on board and politely ask to be assigned to a different table.

Chances are you’ll enjoy the new company, as you and your tablemates look forward to your first evening on board.

The real fun, like the week ahead, is just beginning.