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Thinking about taking a cruise? 

Tom Frazier
Tom Frazier

Second of two parts

If so, you need to make lots of decisions.  There are many choices for destinations, cruise lines, ship sizes, cabin types and travel to and from the ship.  One would think that popular destinations with short cruising seasons, such as Alaska, would be hard to book.  After all, the Alaska season is just the late spring to early fall.  But many cruise lines move ships to the Alaska routes during that time, so there are always cruises available.  There are also cruises to Alaska paired with multi-day land tours before or after the cruise.  May is the driest month and wildlife starts to be very active by then.  Kids are still in school.  July and August are the warmest months but also have the most rain. July and August are peak season, so prices will be at their highest.  Several cruise lines visit Alaska including Princess, Holland America, Norwegian, Celebrity, Seven Seas, Seaborne, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Oceana and Disney. Of that list, only Princess normally sails from San Francisco, so if you want to drive to the port, the choice is easy.  The others sail from Seattle, Vancouver, Los Angeles or San Diego.  Three of the lines (Seaborne, Seven Seas, and Oceana) are smaller ships that feature more ports, low passenger count, larger cabins and all-inclusive pricing.  We’ve never tried these three luxury cruise lines, but have cruised with Royal Caribbean, Holland America and Celebrity.  All of the cruise lines have loyalty programs, just like the airlines, that offer more amenities as you cruise with them more. Cruise lines have reputations for various themes; for example, both Carnival and Disney are known as “party boats” and cater to a younger crowd.  Holland, and Celebrity are known for excellent cuisine and great entertainment.

Another decision is what you plan to do when you visit the ports of call.  At times, you may spend a few hours in port and other times you may spend more than a full day.  The cruise lines offer shore excursions, but many opt for finding their own excursions using recommendations from their Cruise Critic roll call members.  These private tours are usually less expensive and much smaller groups.  The cruise lines excursions are normally in bus-sized groups while the private tours could be in vans or cars.  Be sure to check each port to see if there are “Tours by locals” – a world-wide registry that features guides who are licensed and experts for their area.  One word of caution: if you are not back to the ship in time, the ship will not wait for you unless you are on a tour that is a cruise line tour.  In that case, they will hold departure until all tours are back on board.

Besides Alaska, there are many other popular routes such as the Mexican Riviera, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, Australia and New Zealand.  Many are year-round, while others have seasons.  We particularly like repositioning trips when the cruise line moves a ship from one area to another.  In the Spring, most cruise lines move ships to Europe so there is a Trans-Atlantic crossing.  We normally stay in Europe a few days after the cruise.  We’ve spent extra time in Italy, Spain, England and Iceland.  Our next cruise ends in Dublin but we plan to fly to Oslo. Norway for a few days.  We normally use AirBnb for these trips; that’s another area to explore.

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