CRUISING IN THE GULF OF MEXICO – So let me get this straight: I booked my trip on Holland America’s Ryndam 11 weeks before departure, reserving a deluxe Verandah suite for myself and my wife, for which I paid about $1,650. But the last afternoon […]
Aboard the Ryndam — This isn’t your grandmother’s Holland America fleet. More hot bars – one featuring a flight of six mini martinis — an Italian specialty restaurant carved from the pool deck’s buffet-line eatery, smart seating in the big theater room. Also, more denim, […]
Uh-oh, there’s trouble in paradise.
Barely half an hour into the pool-deck barbecue dinner, while there is still lobster tail on the grill, lots of meat left on the roast pig and jumbo shrimp in the ice bowl, it has begun to rain on the passengers aboard the cruise ship Wind Spirit.
Not to worry. The waiters quickly appear to offer thick beach towels to those diners who feel threatened by the shower blowing across the harbor of St. Barthelemy, island escape of the super-rich. And for this evening, escape for the merely well-to-do aboard this four-masted, 148-passenger ship.
Rising above even the elements, we dine on. For our courage, we are soon rewarded with line-dancing by the waiters and bartenders — who knew there still existed a copy of Achy Breaky Heart? — followed by passengers stepping to oldies rock ‘n’ rock played by the ship’s orchestra, a two-man combo and its prerecorded sound tracks.
Life is good aboard the Wind Spirit.
Transiting the Panama Canal is a slow affair. Entering the six chambers of the locks, ships might move just 2 miles per hour, and motoring through the entire 50-mile passage can easily take eight hours. Along the way, your ship passes lushly forested hills and […]
Colon, Panama — Shortly before 3 p.m. on a mid-January day, Eric Hendricks comes aboard the 100-passenger ship Pacific Explorer. He is one of 290 pilots who take control of ships entering the canal. With him are workers who fasten cables to posts at the […]
Like marriage, your vacation is often a series of compromises. That is never more certain than when picking a cruise.
Will it be a megaship, carrying thousands of passengers but offering a spa, swimming pools and multiple dining choices? Or will it be a cozy vessel taking fewer than 100 passengers, without workout facilities and with just one dining room – but a vessel that will nuzzle the glaciers in Alaska or put you in motorized rafts to reach beachfront rain forests?
Will it be a big-name line, with lavish musical revues, comedians and a string quartet? Or will it be the little-known brand that dispenses with entertainers in favor of PBS-style documentaries and power-point presentations by its naturalists?
Do you need a hair dryer and flatscreen TV in the cabin, or can you get by with a shower stall that contains your toilet?
Long gone are the days when cruising mainly appealed to the “newly wed and nearly dead.’’ While folks in those demographics still come onboard, the vast majority of cruise ships are aimed at luring the 90 percent of American adults who have never been on a cruise.
Most fleets are designed to appeal to the middle class – with sparkly things such as rock-climbing walls, wave pools, shopping arcades, specialty restaurants ranging from Tex-Mex to sushi, and fitness areas whose dozens of machines face floor-to-ceiling windows on the ocean.
Yet other cruise lines aim for the deeper pockets of better-educated, better-traveled passengers. These ships may have planetariums, onboard acting troupes, top crystal and china in the dining room, and a visiting faculty of noted lecturers.
And then there are the small-ship lines that trade the geegaws and Broadway-style revues for basic comforts and destinations to the exotic — or at least the undeveloped. Typically a fraction the size of mass-market ships, these “soft-adventure’’ vessels appeal to those wanting first-hand experiences, not to frolic on “cruises’’ but rather to see what else is out there.
The counterpart of these slightly roughing-it excursion ships are those that also carry fewer passengers but emphasize luxury. Lavish staterooms replace tiny cabins that may not even offfer a chair. The bar in each stateroom is stocked with beverages the occupants have requested before boarding. There may be butler service, and the dining room menus promise mini-feasts.
As with most other things, you get what you pay for. The mass-market, 2,500+ passenger ships profit from volume purchasing. Per diem fares on these ships can be less than $80. Excursion ships, on the other hand, can easily cost five times that, and luxury vessels, much more.
So before you head for your first, or fifth, cruise, consider what else is out there, and what it costs.
To learn more, consult the web site of Cruise Lines International Association (www.cruising.org). This trade organization represents 25 lines with more than 97 percent of passenger capacity leaving North American ports.