How to Choose Your Cruise
Published: April 2009
By Heidi Sherman Mitchell
There’s an ocean of choices out there.
As the fastest-growing sector of travel, with some 11 million people boarding vessels each year, the cruise industry must relentlessly reinvent itself, adding fresh ports of call, itineraries, onboard activities, shore excursions—and ships. And as the ships become more luxurious and the destinations ever more far-flung—from Coquimbo, Chile, to Maputo, Mozambique—getting there is more than half the fun. Want to learn about art, study a language, watch penguins waddle across an ice shelf?Whatever your interest(s), there’s a voyage (or two) for you. T+L has the latest offerings for seven types of trips, plus booking tips and a sneak peek at ships that will be christened in the New Year.
THE SHIP Oceania Cruises’ Nautica
THE ITINERARY Tracing the conquests of the 16th-century Ottoman Empire, the 684-passenger Nautica sails from Athens across the Aegean, through the Bosporus, and over the Black Sea to Yalta and Sevastopol, in Ukraine, then to medieval Nesebûr, Bulgaria, finishing in Istanbul. You’ll spend days in port exploring the ruins of Ephesus and the onion domes of Odessa with specialized guides, and evenings on board kicking back in your balcony suite, dining on Jacques Pépin’s sautéed sea bream with olive tapenade, and catching lectures by renowned classics scholars.
THE DETAILS Twelve-day cruises depart July 2 and September 2; 800/531-5619; www.oceaniacruises.com; from $2,999 per person, double.
THE SHIP Silversea’s Silver Whisper
THE ITINERARY See some of the wonders of the world on the Silver Whisper. The Passage Through Antiquity cruise takes you from Dubai via the Suez Canal to Alexandria, the Pearl of the Mediterranean, where a side trip to the Great Pyramids is just a car ride away. In addition to learning about classic civilizations on expert-led tours of Petra and Luxor, you can study ancient as well as modern shopping habits in the souks of Oman and the supersized malls of Dubai. A few bonuses: every stateroom has a balcony, the passenger-to-crew ratio is almost 1-to-1, and on such a small ship, you’re sure to rub elbows with celebrity guest lecturers, such as Egypt’s director of antiquities, Dr. Zahi Hawass.
THE DETAILS The 15-day Passage Through Antiquity cruise departs March 25; 877/215-9986; www.silversea.com; from $8,695 per person, double.
Southern Africa and Mount Kilimanjaro
THE SHIP Crystal Cruises’ Crystal Serenity
THE ITINERARY Between segments of the Treasures of Sun and Sea world cruise, test your fitness with an adrenaline-spiked journey up the highest freestanding peak on the planet. Crystal has partnered with Micato Safaris to take you from Nairobi through the bush to Marangu, where you’ll hike four hours a day in grassland, desert, rain forest, and ice fields. As one of Micato’s pampered campers, you’ll never have to pitch a tent or cook a meal, plus you’ll see the Big Five in their natural habitat and take in the view from the top of the world. On the ship, reward yourself with dinner at Crystal’s outpost of Nobu, or a tasting with the Society of Wine Educators.
THE DETAILS Fourteen-day Treasures of Sun and Sea segments depart February 14 (Buenos Aires to Cape Town) and March 3 (Cape Town to Dubai); 800/804-1500; www.crystalcruises.com; from $7,392 per person, per segment, double; Conquering Kilimanjaro excursion $7,250 per person, double.
Alaska and Denali National Park
THE SHIP Princess Cruises’ Sapphire Princess
THE ITINERARY From Vancouver, head up the Pacific to Alaska’s Ketchikan, Juneau, and Glacier Bay National Park, where icy peaks silently slip past your balcony. In Whittier, disembark into a glass-enclosed Denali Express railcar that whisks you through the Alaska Range and Hurricane Gulch in time for dinner at the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge. Use the extra time you have, compared with other cruise lines’ itineraries (thanks to the fact that Princess owns the railcars here), to take a helicopter flight over the glaciers, white-water raft in Denali National Park, or simply watch the majestic caribou brooding over the vast emptiness.
THE DETAILS Seven-day Alaska cruises with the three-day Direct-to-Wilderness rail trip run from May through September; 800/774-6237; www.princess.com; from $1,399 per person, double; cruise only from $649 per person, double.
THE SHIP SeaDream Yacht Club’s SeaDream I
THE ITINERARY On this voyage, food is the focus, with gastronomic excursions nearly everywhere you dock. In Portofino, guests are invited to visit the romantic Hotel Splendido, where a sommelier and chef guide them through a private olive-oil tasting and a lunch of regional dishes (braised local lobster and scampi, fillet of rabbit with ham and sage). On another day, the ship’s chef takes a small group ashore to purchase fresh herbs, then teaches them to prepare a pesto dish, which is served for dinner that evening. (The cost of this extra?It’s free.)
THE DETAILS Seven-day voyage from Monte Carlo to Rome departs June 23; 800/707-4911; www.seadream.com; from $6900 per person, double.
THE SHIP Regent’s Seven Seas Mariner
THE ITINERARY Before you set sail from Hong Kong, take a five-hour class at the Chinese Cuisine Training Institute, where you’ll learn the different techniques of Cantonese and Szechuan cooking and prepare dishes under the supervision of the school’s instructors. On the voyage, when you’re not exploring exotic ports, you can switch to European specialties crafted by Cordon Bleu–trained chefs in the Signatures restaurant, or stay local in the Latitudes dining room, where Indo-Chinese recipes get a modern update (try the prawn curry with lemongrass). Don’t miss the opportunity to sample the street food of Bangkok, with an expert guide to navigate you through everything from pad thai to khao soi.
THE DETAILS Twelve-night Hong Kong to Bangkok cruise departs October 10; 877/505-5370; www.rssc.com; from $6,746 per person, double.
HIGH SEAS SOCIETY
THE SHIP Seabourn’s Seabourn Legend
THE ITINERARY Mix in at Monte Carlo, Marseilles, and St.-Tropez. Step off the ship onto sugar sands and perfect your tan while watching sheikhs and celebrities alight from their yachts. Or venture farther inland, with a shore excursion to the Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine region, the hillside town of Eze, or the rustic village of Grimaud. And since you’re in the most stylish place in Europe, why not head to a château for a reception set up just for Seabourn guests?In your A-lister’s gift bag: one free Exclusively Seabourn shore excursion.
THE DETAILS Seven-day Yachtsman’s Riviera cruise departs April 21, July 21, September 1, and September 29; 800/929-9391; www.seabourn.com; from $6,265 per person, double.
THE SHIP Star Clippers’ Star Flyer
THE ITINERARY The Star Flyer has just made French Polynesia its year-round home, which means you can sail to the magical ports of the South Pacific the way Captain Cook, Herman Melville, and Paul Gauguin did—aboard a masted ship. The mega-yacht has acres of teak-lined decks and carries just 170 passengers through the translucent waters near Bora-Bora. After gallivanting on virgin sands, lounge in the netting hanging from the bowsprit and watch green gumdrops of land come into view. Take a break from the sun with a lobster barbecue on one of the Society Islands
THE DETAILS Seven-night Society Islands cruises sail weekly; 800/442-0551; www.starclippers.com; from $1,845 per person, double.
THE SHIP Eclipse, sailed by Abercrombie & Kent
THE ITINERARY Introduce the young environmentalists in your family to blue-footed boobies, penguins, and other creatures during specially arranged family excursions. The oceangoing Eclipse was built for 100 passengers, but a retrofit in 1999 brought the luxury up a notch, allowing for just 48 passengers in 27 outside cabins. From your stateroom, you can watch sea turtles meander through the shallows. On land, naturalists guide groups of 12 on walks up the rocky islets, where they get close enough to touch the animals (living in isolation with no predators, they are extremely friendly). On board, children’s activity coordinators arrange scavenger hunts, evening events, and learning activities. On the menu: pizza, PBJ’s, and, of course, movies (think: Shrek and Finding Nemo).
THE DETAILS Eleven-day Wonders of the Galápagos trips, each including a seven-night cruise, depart year-round; 800/554-7094; www.abercrombiekent.com; from $5,360 per person, double.
THE SHIP Holland America’s Westerdam
THE ITINERARY This classic cruise comes and goes from Fort Lauderdale. Such convenience is a big selling point, and the beaches the ship calls on can’t be beat: Grand Cayman, Cozumel, Grand Turk, and Half Moon Cay—a private island owned by the cruise line, where your kids can live out their Treasure Island fantasies. The ship itself was built for families, with a teens-only lounge, a creative-play area for younger kids, and enough room on the decks for heated games of dodgeball. Trained crew members keep young passengers busy on days at sea, with balloon volleyball, kids’ Olympics, and a teen casino. Among excursions, a big hit with parents is the dune-buggy tour on Grand Turk.
THE DETAILS Seven-day Caribbean itineraries depart weekly; 877/724-5425; www.hollandamerica.com; from $649 per person, double.
THE SHIP Via Australis, operated by International Expeditions
THE ITINERARY The Via Australis, carrying 125 passengers, departs from Punta Arenas, Chile, and sails down to Magdalena Island, where an active colony of Magellanic penguins lay their eggs each year. Farther south, near the Marinelli Glacier, guests go ashore to watch elephant seals, sea lions, and dolphins play in the surf. If you love birds, this is the trip for you: Andean condors, black-browed albatrosses, and flightless steamer ducks are all easy to spot from your outside cabin. Have photographer Eliot Cohen share the secrets to snapping that perfect shot, or ask the captain to deploy a Zodiac so you can land on a deserted beach.
THE DETAILS The 11-day Patagonia Epic Voyage of Exploration and Discovery itinerary includes an eight-day cruise and departs March 5; 800/633-4734; www.ietravel.com; from $3,948 per person, double.
THE SHIP Clipper Odyssey, operated by Intrav
THE ITINERARY If you want a coworker’s jaw to drop, just rattle off the animals you’ll see on this trip: Javan rhinoceroses, blue panthers, silver-leaf monkeys, and more than 250 species of birds. You’ll also see the Komodo dragon, one of the weirdest wonders of the animal kingdom; view the smoking peak of Bali’s Mount Batur; and walk among the stupas of Borobudur, a sprawling ancient Buddhist temple on Java. The 126-passenger ship feels and functions like an oversize yacht, with chefs happy to re-create your favorite dish, spacious rooms (all with ocean views), and lectures by distinguished naturalists.
THE DETAILS Fourteen-day Exploring the Mysteries of the Java Sea cruise departs October 15; 800/456-8100; www.intrav.com; from $6,560 per person, double.
Antarctica by Icebreaker
THE SHIP Kapitan Khlebnikov, run by Quark Expeditions
THE ITINERARY Carrying just 108 passengers, this upscale icebreaker’s double hull crunches through the floes to reach mostly uncharted waters of the Antarctic Sound. One day, it crosses the Drake Passage, passing the island where Ernest Shackleton’s crew set up camp; on another, passengers travel by Zodiac to land on the earth’s southernmost continent. Between swimming in the indoor pool and attending workshops with artists, guests learn about Emperor penguin biology in preparation for the cruise’s highlight: a walk through the Snow Hill Rookery, a colony of 4,000 penguins discovered by the Khlebnikov’s crew in 2004. Still not enough to brag about?Sign up for a predeparture tour of Patagonia’s Tierra del Fuego National Park with its impressive glaciers, followed by a traditional Argentinian asado.
THE DETAILS Fourteen-day cruises depart from Ushuaia, Argentina, on November 6 and November 18; www.quarkexpeditions.com; 203/656-0499; from $14,595 per person, double.
Papua New Guinea
THE SHIP Orion, operated by Tauck World Discovery
THE ITINERARY Marble bathrooms, Escada amenities, and flat-screen TV’s probably don’t come to mind when you picture a cruise through the Trobriand Islands and Papua New Guinea, which helps explain part of this cruise’s appeal. The remarkable cultures you’ll encounter, however, may make you rethink all those luxuries. Embarking from Cairns, Australia, you’ll sail up to Papua New Guinea, where you’ll stop in at Deboyne Lagoon to snorkel past a World War II-era Japanese Zero plane preserved just below the sapphire surface. On Kitava Island, you can snack on yams with aboriginal tribespeople, travel by outrigger canoe through the fjords of Cape Nelson, and then sail to Watam Village, which had never been visited by a ship until this year. A performance by fire dancers brings the whole journey to a dramatic finale.
THE DETAILS The 15-day voyage departs October 9; 888/237-0229; www.tauck.com; from $8,490 per person, double.
Don’t get lost at sea. Follow these tips from the president of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), Terry Dale, to help plan your trip.
Know what you want from your vacation Whether it’s expert lectures, great kids’ programs, many days at sea, or cultural sites, make sure everyone you’re traveling with is satisfied with the itinerary and the features of the ship before booking.
Find an experienced travel agent There is a wealth of options out there, and certified agents keep up with all of them and are educated about special cruises. A specialist can suggest itineraries, specific ships, and even room categories. You can find qualified agents on the CLIA Web site, www.cruising.org. Or, log on to travelandleisure.com/alist for T+L’s 2006 list of cruise experts.
Size matters The mega-ships offer lots of activities, but smaller ships can provide more personalized service, so choose accordingly.
Splurge on a balcony Of course you should look at the cost of the outdoor space, but generally it’s worth it. A balcony opens up the world to you even before you disembark—and nothing beats sailing into port while sipping a cocktail on your private deck.
Be loyal It’s better to cruise with a line you’ve cruised with before, since there are unbeatable deals for repeat guests.
Book early Gone are the days of last-minute deals, so book no later than six months before you sail—especially if you’re thinking of Alaska, Europe, or exotic ports. Most cruise lines offer early-booking specials.
Think through your schedule Nearly every line lets you reserve shore excursions and spa treatments online, and these extras often fill up early. For onboard activities, such as a personal-trainer session, try to pick a day at sea. A word to the wise: Don’t overschedule yourself—sometimes there’s nothing more satisfying than reading that book that’s been on your night table for months.
Prepare for departure A lot of voyages depart in the morning, leaving you with little time in port and a lot of pressure to get to the dock on time. Do yourself a favor: Preboard online and arrive at your port a day in advance.
They say there’s nothing new under the sun, but in the year ahead there will be plenty of fresh attractions at sea. Here, five christenings and one relaunch that are the talk of the cruising world:
Departing on its maiden voyage in April 2007, the Emerald Princess will have nearly 900 staterooms with balconies, as well as five swimming pools.
Bibliophiles take note: the Royal Princess (which, like the Emerald Princess, debuts this spring) will have a library of 4,000 books, one of the largest at sea.
Costa’s latest ship, launching in May 2007, is for anyone who won’t travel without a trainer: its fitness center covers two decks, and there are four pools (two with retractable roofs).
Liberty of the Seas
Also come May, Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas welcomes a new sister. The Liberty of the Seas will have 15 decks and hold more than 3,600 passengers and 1,300 crew members.
Cunard’s newest ship debuts in December 2007, with capacity for a grand total of 2,000 guests—nearly all of whom will have outside berths.
This über-luxe ship may not be new, but early this November it did emerge from a two-week, $23 million whirlwind makeover with all of its public spaces handsomely redone.