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  • Writer's pictureMui R

Cruising - In the Know

A cruise is something that many of us consider a dream vacation - that "someday when I'm rich and have lots of time" dream. But cruisers today don't need to wait. Cruising has become a very affordable vacation, with a wide range of choices, and cruising is an excellent value. Everything from the long-weekend getaway to the 7- or 10-day cruise to 12- or 14-night cruises to the ultimate world cruise is available. You can take the kids or get away from them; relax or stay active the whole trip; find a quiet spot or party till the wee hours. Whatever your idea of the ideal cruise, there is a ship to fit your needs. As cruise specialists, we at GalaxSea Cruises of San Diego can help find just the right cruise for you.

There are many questions that we hear from nearly everyone, so we've put together this guide to some of the most frequently asked questions. Cruising is one of the most popular vacation "destinations", and with so many cruise lines and the huge number of ship, it gets harder for a first-time cruiser to decide which will suit his or her needs best. To begin with, your agent will want to know what type of cruise you want. Do you want to party or prefer a quieter atmosphere? Are you traveling with a family or do you prefer a cruise with fewer kids onboard? Do you want a large ship with all the activities, or a small, more intimate ship to get into smaller ports of call? For most major lines, it's not only the line's reputation that you have to think about but that of the individual ship. Within the same line, you will generally find lower prices on the older ships and higher prices on new ships. This is why it's very important that you find an agent who is knowledgeable about cruising when you plan your vacation.

The old adage "you get what you pay for" is generally true of cruise lines and ships as well. Yes, there is a difference between budget, moderate, and deluxe- in the quality of the ship, service, entertainment, and food. If those little things - getting good service the first time you ask, better soundproofing in the cabins, being offered freshly ground pepper for your salad, etc. - are important to you, then don't go for the lowest price. You'll be disappointed (and then you'll yell at your travel agent!) Cruising is the best vacation you can possibly have if you pick the line and ship that fits you, and only a "very nice" vacation if you don't. It's much harder to find a bad cruise if there is such a thing than a bad land vacation - although we can't do anything about the weather and the airline flight home. So let us know when you contact us what's most important to you so we can help you choose the right ship. We'll be happy to explain to you the differences in ships, itineraries, etc., and we'll do our best to be sure that your cruise goes as smoothly as we can possibly make it.

Q: Can I Save Money By Booking Directly with the Cruise Line?

A: No. If you call a cruise line or check out their websites you will find the currently available specials. However, the cruise line will not be able to offer you any special group prices we may have locked in earlier. Nor will it always show all of the promotional rates on its site. We can always get you any special you may have received in the mail or seen advertised, as long as space is available, and we can often even find you a better rate! Nor do we charge extra for our service.

Q: Who takes a cruise?

A: Just about everyone! Almost all lines have children's programs - most starting at age 3 but there are some for younger children- with great activities for the kids so that parents have time to themselves. (See more about this later). Generally speaking, longer cruises tend to draw an older crowd, with families tending to cruise mostly during summer and school breaks on the shorter 7-night cruises.

Q: Are all ships alike?

A: Absolutely not! Even within the same cruise line, different ships will have different personalities. This is probably the main reason that going through a cruise specialist to book your vacation is so important. Price should not be the sole determining factor when you choose a cruise.

Q: How do I find out what ships and cruiselines are good?

A: We will be happy to compare ships and cruiselines for you based on our experiences as well as feedback from our clients, and this also gives us a chance to get a better feel for what your preferences are.

Q: Where do cruise ships go?

A: Just about everywhere. The most popular destinations for first-time cruisers are probably the Caribbean and Alaska because they're close, but you can sail to Europe, the Mediterranean, Canada, Mexico, and the Far East. Take a river cruise in Europe (Rhine, Douro, Moselle, Danube) , on the St. Lawrence, down the Nile. Cruise to Australia and New Zealand, Africa, Tahiti, through the Norwegian Fjords. Many destinations will have land packages that can be added to your cruise as well.

Q: How long does a cruise last?

A: Cruises will generally be 7-nights for itineraries like the Caribbean, Alaska, or Mexico. Longer cruises to the Panama Canal, Europe, and the Far East tend to be 10- to 14-night itineraries. For those who have time on their hand, the cruise of a lifetime- World Cruise which lasts for a couple of months!

Q: Am I safer booking with a local agency?

A: We have been in business since 1994, and have happy clients from all over the world. We provide great service and expertise, and we are only an email or phone call away from anyone. All credit card charges are handled by the cruise lines, not through us, so your money is safe. And since most lines have now gone to e-tickets rather than paper tickets, even getting your documents is very easy, though you'll still get confirmations and other information from us. We’ll be in touch throughout the period before the cruise to notify you when it’s time to look at things like excursions or flights, remind you that final payment is almost due, and check with you before you leave to be sure that everything is the way you want. You can't get much more convenient than this! No traffic and no hassles.

Q: Will I get seasick?

A: If you aren't prone to motion sickness, then you probably won't have a problem. If you are prone to motion sickness, then this is definitely a concern. You might want to consider only the newer ships, which have the most sophisticated stabilization systems. And of course the larger the ship, the less it will move. But there are many aids on the market for this, ranging from the "Sea Bands", which help by pressing on the acupressure point in your wrists, to medications. We do recommend that if you plan on using even over-the-counter medications check with your doctor before you buy them.

Q: What about the kids?

A: Cruising is great for families! Cruise lines go all out for the children - scavenger hunts, "mocktail" parties, games, movies, costume parties, etc. Programs are broken down by age group so that your teens aren't stuck with the younger crowd. Most programs start at age 5, but a couple of lines begin as early as age 2. And some have to babysitting services on board, too. Parents love it because they have time for themselves (often more than expected, because even when there are no activities planned, the kids have made new friends and are off somewhere with them). There are even some lines with specials for single parents traveling with children.

Q: How many can go in one cabin?

A: Many cabins will hold up to four people, with a couple of lines having a few cabins which will hold five. Putting more than two passengers in a cabin will bring your price down, but it can feel crowded, especially on ships with smaller cabins.

The larger family suites may accommodate as many as 9 guests in a room- Royal Caribbean Wonder of the Seas- The Ultimate Family Suite! Don't forget connecting cabins will allow you to join up 2 rooms typically next to each other, but on the Royal Caribbean Quantum Class ships, you can join up to 3 staterooms (Junior suite, balcony, and inside cabin)

Q: What if I'm travelling alone?

A: Unfortunately, single travelers get charged extra for having a cabin to themselves. Rates range generally from 125% to 200% of the double-occupancy per person rate. There are often special activities for singles, and some lines have male hosts on board to act as dancing partners.

Q: Will I be bored?

A: Only if you let yourself be! There are activities throughout the day, ranging from the ever-present Bingo to dance lessons, pool games, swimming, aerobics, etc. The daily newsletter/ app will lay out all the activities that are available for you to choose from. You really need to let your cruise counselor know what you like to do before you book your cruise. We want you to have the best vacation possible, and we can help you decide which ship best fits what you are looking for, whether that is basketball or bridge or being a pool lizard soaking up the sun.

Q: Do we get to see much of the ports?

A: Most of the time, your ship will be in port for the major part of the day at each port, though overnight stays are becoming more available, especially on cruise lines with smaller ships. The cruise lines have chosen a variety of shore excursions from which you may choose which you can purchase on their website, or you can wander each port on your own (be sure to watch your time as you do not want to be late going back on the ship). Shore excursions range from city tours to museum visits, zip-lining, golf, snorkeling, walking tours, etc. True, you are not going to be able to get an in-depth look at each port, but a cruise is a great way to get a taste of a new place so that you can decide where you would like to spend more time later on a land vacation.

Q: What types of cabins are there?

A: You have a choice of an Inside Cabin, Oceanview Cabin, Balcony (Verandah/ French Balcony) cabin, or Suite. An Inside Cabin is one with no window and is usually very small; an "ocean view" cabin is typically larger and has a window (which cannot be opened and is typically on the lower decks). Typically Balcony cabins are essentially ocean view cabins with a door or sliding glass door to a small balcony outside facing the ocean. There are balconies that do face the inside of the ships like some on Royal Caribbean ships overlooking the Promenade or Aqua Theater. French Balconies are typically for river cruises where the balcony does not extend outside the room. And those luxurious Suites will be a good bit larger, some with lofts or second bedrooms, plus they will have extra perks on board as well as designed suite deck areas for all suite guests to enjoy.

Inside Cabins with no window are the least expensive (though Royal Caribbean does have “virtual windows” on some ships), but in my opinion, the relatively small amount per cabin that it generally costs to move up to an Oceanview Cabin is well worth it. If you went to a resort, you wouldn't accept a windowless bedroom; why would you want one on board your resort-at-sea? And if you are prone to either motion sickness or claustrophobia, an Inside Cabin can be a problem. Of course, a cabin with a balcony is even better, and unless money is a determining factor, this is our personal choice. Having that door or wall of glass makes the cabin seem much larger, and it’s so nice to sit outside and have your morning coffee while you listen to the ocean.

Q: Is there medical care on board?

A: Yes. All ships have small medical facilities on board with limited "office" hours. A doctor is also available other times in emergencies. Medical service is not included in the price of the cruise, so expect a bill from the doctor. Also, be advised that services while on the cruise may or may not be covered by your regular insurance.

Q: What if I'm in a wheelchair?

A: Almost all ships offer special cabins for those passengers with physical disabilities. These are limited, so book them well in advance. Also, ships vary widely in accommodations in the public areas of the ship, so find out as much as possible before booking. One plus: crew members are usually extremely helpful.

Q: What about tipping?

A: On most ships, tipping is expected. Some lines do have tipping-not-required policies, and several are now doing promotions that include gratuities, but otherwise, each passenger can expect to tip about $15 to $18 per day. This is split between the cabin stewards and wait staff in the various restaurants. The recommended amount is automatically added to your onboard expense account unless you have paid for them in advance or you have booked a promotional rate that includes gratuities. For your bar bill, though, tips are usually already added in, so you don’t have to add that to each bill. If you use a porter to help with luggage either before or after the cruise, then $1-2 per bag is suggested.

Q: Will I gain a lot of weight?

A: Good question. One of the first things people think about when they hear the word cruise is the food. And yes, there are several chances a day to eat! Not just breakfast, lunch, and dinner (several courses, remember), but the always available ice cream bar or snack bar or coffee & croissant area. There is also room service - 24 hours on some ships. But lines now also offer lighter, more healthy choices at all meals. And there is always a great selection of salads, fruits, and vegetables. Plus, you can walk, jog, do aerobics, work out on the Nautilus equipment, swim, dance, or sightsee away those extra calories. The spa café will have a lighter and healthier menu for those watching their figures.

Q: What about insurance? Do I really need it?

A: This obviously depends a lot on your circumstances, and we go over the options with you in detail after you make a reservation. We very strongly recommend trip cancellation/interruption insurance. While it mainly covers cancellations due to new medical emergencies, a death in the family, or other very limited situations, we too often see something totally unexpected happen at the last minute. In addition, there is coverage if you get injured or ill during the cruise, or you or your luggage are delayed getting to the ship. Cruise lines are very strict in their penalties; without insurance, a "letter from the doctor" is not going to get your money back, and we consider insurance a minimal extra expense when balanced against what you could lose.

This is a very complicated issue. Many cruise lines have policies that let you cancel for any reason and get back a partial "future cruise credit". In addition to travel protections policies offered by each cruise line, we also offer one company that will cover cancellations due to pre-existing medical conditions if you take the insurance no later than when you make the final payment for the cruise. This is very important if you or anyone in your family already has a serious medical condition. Again, we will go over options with you.

Q: Do I have to dress up? (The "I wear a suit to work and I'm not going to wear one on vacation" question).

A: Many lines have foregone the formal night and gone to “Evening Chic. A lot depends on the cruise line you've chosen as to how formal is "formal". But if not having to dress up is of major importance, then make sure you choose a line that is more casual. Most now offer a casual sit-down dining option or have room service delivered to your cabin that night (room service is free except for the tip)

Q: What about doing laundry onboard?

A: All ships have dry-cleaning and laundry service on board, and some ships have self-service laundries in addition.

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