Facebook twitter followgram pinterest

Archive for February, 2006

Cruise extras — are they worth it?

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On February - 17 - 2006

Cruising is one of the best vacation values going. The “all-inclusive” fare includes accommodations, meals and entertainment. But “extras” can really bloat the bill.

Cruise lines have always charged additional fees for shore excursions, alcoholic beverages and spa treatments, and now they are offering many new onboard extras – everything from artwork to wine tastings. The key to avoiding a bank-breaking bill is knowing what to expect. Here’s how to keep your budget afloat.

Porthole paparazzi

After a cruise, you might have more sympathy for Paris Hilton — what with all the flashbulb-popping ship photographers chasing you from stem to stern. Suddenly you’re a celebrity. It starts before you even set foot on the ship, with the obligatory pose by the S.S. Life Preserver. Photographers even interrupt your meals in the dining room, demanding that you say “Cheese” while you are eating some.

Sadly, unlike Paris, we have to pay to be immortalized in photographs. Prices range from $15 to $30 for each portrait. You don’t have to have your picture taken and you don’t have to buy any photo taken of you. But photos do make nice souvenirs, especially when you’re all gussied up for the formal night of the cruise. And if the picture makes you look younger and thinner, by all means buy it — whatever the cost.

Insider Tip: Bring your own camera and ask fellow passengers to snap portraits for you.

The art of spending

Last summer, John and Helen Finch, of Pittsburgh, took their first cruise, a seven-day Alaska Inside Passage cruise on the Sun Princess. Seeing attractive art every day on the ship, Helen decided to attend one of the onboard art auctions. Before she knew it, she’d paid $800 for two lithographs — not something she had planned for.

Insider Tip: You usually get better art deals on land, where you can play the competition among art galleries. On a ship, you’re a captive audience. If you really like a piece of art, take a picture of it and see if a local art gallery can find it — or something like it — for you.

Bar bill blues

Soft drinks, bottled water and alcoholic drinks can really add up, particularly at the prices charged on most ships. These refreshments are seldom included in the cruise fare (except on luxury cruises). Naturally, cruise lines prefer that you buy alcoholic drinks directly from them, but you can bring your own wine aboard to be served to you at dinner. The catch is that you will be charged a “corkage fee” — usually around $10 per bottle.

Warning: Don’t try to bring your own liquor aboard; the cruise line will confiscate it (they will return it to you at the end of the cruise). However, you may be able to sneak a flask of your favorite spirits aboard for consumption in your cabin.

Don’t forget the kids — those soft drinks add up fast. Find out if your ship offers a “soda package,” a deal that offers unlimited sodas for $20 to $35.

Insider Tip: Don’t buy the drinks that come in the souvenir glasses. How are you going to get those glasses home in one piece?

Specialty restaurants

Many mainstream and premium cruise lines now have onboard “alternative restaurants,” which offer specialty menus with prices ranging from $10 to $45 per person. Sure, the food is interesting, but is it any better than what’s served in the ship’s dining room for free? It depends on your taste and what the cruise line is offering. For example, Norwegian Cruise Line’s “Freestyle Cruising” plan offers a variety of excellent alternative dining choices, including unlimited sushi at a reasonable cost ($5-$10). For me, that’s a no-brainer.

Insider Tip: If you want to dine in the specialty restaurants, be sure to book reservations soon after you board — they go quickly.

Internet access

Most ships have Internet access, but they often charge an outrageous per-minute fee. Some cruise lines offer package deals for a fixed fee, usually around $100 for 250 minutes of Internet access. You can save a lot of money by visiting an Internet facility in port. Ask a crew member where to find an Internet cafe on shore, or check out the local public library, where you can sometimes check your e-mail for free. You can see the shipboard rates for Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival Cruise Line and Holland America Line at the Digital Seas Web site.

Insider Tip: Unless you’re trying to keep in touch back home (or you want to read Tripso every day), stay away from the Internet altogether. Remember, you’re on vacation. As for this column — just print it out!


Shipboard casinos are getting bigger and bigger, which means that more and more money is being lost at sea. If you decide to roll the dice, set a limit on how much you are willing to risk, then leave as soon as you lose it.

Insider Tip: You have a better chance of “getting the big one” on a fishing trip than you do in ship’s casino, and you know how many of those get away.

Spa services

While pampering should be part of every cruise vacation, frequenting the ship’s spa can be costly. A massage can range anywhere from $80 to $180 per hour — not to mention the 18 percent tip. Moreover, the staffs of most shipboard spas work on commission and will often give you a sales pitch for their products after your treatments. Unless you really like the products, don’t feel compelled to purchase them.

Insider Tips: Look for discounted spa specials that are offered at certain times on the cruise, usually when the ship is in port. Many shipboard spas feature products by Steiner Leisure. If you like them, check out the prices on timetospa; you can often get a better deal there than on the ship. Be sure to sign up for their newsletter offering online discounts (it’s free).

Staying shipshape

“Feel the burn” … in your wallet. Yes, pumping up with the ship’s fitness guru costs money. Kickboxing, yoga, Pilates and Spinning classes on board some ships will run $10 a class.

Insider Tip: Who needs a guru? Bring an iPod or Walkman with your favorite workout playlist and use the free exercise equipment.

Golf club storage

Most cruise lines allow you to bring your golf clubs to your cabin, but not Norwegian Cruise Line, which charges guests $40 to store them. (The cruise line says it doesn’t allow golf clubs in the cabins for “safety reasons.”) Of course, guests are encouraged to participate in Norwegian’s “Callaway Rental Club” program, which allows passengers to rent some of the latest Callaway clubs for as little as $35 per day.

Insider Tip: Pick a cruise line that lets you stow the clubs in your cabin for free. You can stash them under the bed or in the closet if it is big enough. But never stow clubs on your balcony — sea water is a killer on clubs.

Shore excursions

Shore excursion fees can be high, especially on destination-intensive itineraries such as Alaska, Europe and Hawaii. In most cases, it’s easy to arrange your own excursions and save money. One of the best ways to find out what each port is offering is to visit the port’s official tourism Web site. These sites offer up-to-date information on tour operators and pricing. You can find a comprehensive list of worldwide tourism sites at JohnnyJet.com.

There are companies that specialize in planning tours for cruise passengers. Port Promotions and Shore Trips allow you to book your shore excursions before you leave home, and the savings can be significant. For example, Port Promotions offers an Alaska package of three excursions in Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan (one excursion in each port) for $105 per person. Similar tours through Princess Cruises cost $121 per person. That’s a $16 savings per person — which can add up to big savings if you are traveling with family or with a group. If you are going to Alaska, one highly recommended money-saving book is “The Great Alaskan TourSaver.” This book offers 162 coupons for free admissions, 2-for-1 tours, flightseeing, whale watching, free car rentals and much more.

Insider Tip: Shore excursions arranged by the cruise lines give passengers a safety net: If the excursion runs late, the ship will not leave port without them. Anytime you schedule an independent trip, you lose that safety net, so be sure to leave enough time to get back to the ship before departure. Believe me, the ship will leave without you.

Airport transfers

The cost of a roundtrip airport transfer purchased through the cruise line is often $40 per person or more. The best (and often fastest) way to get to and from the ship is by local taxi. The fare is usually around $20 and the cab will take up to four people


Laundry and dry cleaning charges on a cruise can be exorbitant. For example, a T-shirt can cost $4 to wash and a pair of underwear $2. Check to see if there is a self-service launderette. That will be much cheaper — typically $3 to $5 per load.

Insider Tip: Many cruise lines set aside one day on each cruise when they will wash a bag of laundry for a set fee, usually $10 to $15 per bag (the cruise line provides the bag).

Film and sundries

Buy plenty of film and other camera supplies at home, because once on board, the price doubles. For example, the $20 underwater camera I bought on my last cruise would have cost me $9 at Target. The same can be said for pain relievers, sunscreen and many other small, personal-use items.


Except on a few luxury cruise ships, which have “no tipping required” policies, you are expected to tip your cabin steward, dining room waiter and assistant waiter. Many lines recommend that each passenger tip about $10 per day, as follows: cabin steward, $3.50; dining room waiter and assistant waiter, $5.50 (shared); and bistro service waiter and cooks, $1. Bar bills are automatically charged a 15 percent gratuity for the bartender. Special service personnel such as the maitre d’, deck stewards and bellmen should be tipped as service is rendered.

Some cruise lines offer the option of adding the suggested gratuities to your shipboard account; the accounting office would then distribute the tips at the end of the cruise. On other ships, you leave cash in an envelope on the last evening of your cruise.

Insider Tip: Sure, it’s hard to part with money — especially cash — when you’re returning home to a cold house and empty bank account. But understand that ships’ crews work very hard to make your cruise top-notch. Unless the service has actually been poor, tip the recommended amount. For outstanding service, add a little more. Then go home and save up for your next cruise.

Filled Under Advice

5 romantic cruise ships

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On February - 3 - 2006

Are you dreaming of a luxury cruise with the one you love? Exotic places, balmy breezes, starry nights and tropical drinks for two? “The Love Boat”? Maybe “The Lust Boat”?

No problem.

Cruise ships have become popular venues for romantic getaways in the past few years. Never slow to catch a trend, cruise lines have responded by offering couples an array of services and amenities to inspire romance and even some nautical naughtiness. Here are five ships that Cupid would approve of.

Windstar Cruise Line’s “Wind Star”

Wind Star gets points on the romance meter before it even leaves the dock. French-built and French-decorated, this four-masted schooner carries just 148 passengers to seductive destinations under billowing white sails.

To enhance the romantic ambiance for couples, Windstar Cruises takes a culinary approach, offering an in-room “Romance Dinner” with an aphrodisiac menu served on an elegant tray. The menu offers such tantalizing presentations as “Rack of Lamb under a Blanket of Sun-Dried Love Apples, Seduced by a Rosemary-Garlic-Mint Sauce.” Top it off with a dessert called “Fantasy of Fresh Strawberries Caressed by Decadent Chocolate Ganache with Kisses of Chantilly Cream Aroused with Pernod.” The description alone makes me swoon.

Dinner comes with an iPod Nano cued to romantic music, which plays through the cabin’s Bose SoundDock speakers. There is no additional charge for the dinner, but serious romantics can order other mood-makers for an additional fee, such as wine, champagne or even a couple’s massage.

Clearly, Wind Star has a recipe that will keep the “Do Not Disturb” sign up on the cabin door for a long time.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ “Paul Gauguin”

The Paul Gauguin cruises the waters of French Polynesia, one of the most romantic places on earth. Named for the Parisian painter who was himself seduced by the Polynesian landscape, the Paul Gauguin carries 330 passengers in luxurious surroundings and under the high standards of quality and service for which Regent Seven Seas Cruises is famous. The cuisine is created by Jean-Pierre Vigato, a Michelin-starred chef.

For a ship of this size, the Paul Gauguin has an airy design that invites in tropical breezes and eye-filling vistas. Sailing from Papeete, you’ll discover that Tahiti really does look like the Garden of Eden (Gauguin was right about that) and that Bora Bora’s lagoon truly is sublime. More beautiful still is Moorea, its shark-jaw peaks reflecting timelessly in the calm waters of the island’s spectacular bays. It’s enough to inspire a re-creation of the famous beach scene with Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster in “From Here To Eternity.”

Unique to the Paul Gauguin is a sea-level watersports platform in the stern. From here you can step directly into a kayak or windsurfer to explore an inviting lagoon — a quintessentially romantic Polynesian experience. Back on ship, lovers can return to their cabins and toast a South Seas sunset from their private balcony (available on half of the staterooms). Or they can snuggle up on the love seat in their cotton robes and — well, you get the idea.

Silversea Cruises’ “Silver Whisper”

How can you not love a cruise line that has Isabella Rossellini as its spokeswoman? After all, she is the product of one of the world’s most romantic love affairs — the daughter of Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini. For couples who want luxury while cruising some of the world’s romantic places (everywhere from Venice to Rio de Janeiro), there’s the Silver Whisper, the newest ship in the ultraluxury fleet of Italian cruise line Silversea Cruises.

The atmosphere on this 382-passenger ship is perfect for couples looking to celebrate their relationship or to rekindle romance. Wine, champagne and spirits are all free, thanks to the special all-inclusive service, and the ship has an open-seating policy in its three elegant restaurants, so an intimate, candlelit table for two is always available.

But it’s the staterooms that make the difference on the Silver Whisper. Silversea has the largest cabins at sea, and the amenities are amazing: Fresh flowers, fruit baskets, personalized stationary, Acqua Di Parma bath products, beds wrapped in 600-thread-count linens, a fully stocked bar, and Godiva chocolates are just some of the many items found in every suite. And there’s 24-hour room service, which means some couples may never leave their cabin. In fact, couples can relax with a Balinese massage for two in the privacy of their suite. Or, at no extra cost, they can take every meal in their suite — or alfresco on their veranda — served course-by-course by their own waiter. Now that’s amore, Italian style.

SeaDream Yacht Club’s “SeaDream II”

The motto aboard SeaDream Yacht Club is: “It’s Yachting, Not Cruising.” Step aboard the intimate 110-passenger SeaDream II and you’ll feel like an Onassis. The unstructured nature of life on board has a strong appeal for discriminating couples who prefer a casual shipboard experience.

The staterooms offer great amenities, including showers with multi-jet massaging sprays, pajamas, slippers and plush Turkish robes. To entice romance, the ship’s cabin staff makes creative use of rose petals and swan towel-sculptures. The food and service are exceptional and should couples wish to dine alfresco, they can do so at a candlelit table for two in the ship’s Topside Restaurant.

SeaDream II features a large retractable watersports platform, from which couples can launch a variety of watersports including kayaking, water-skiing, tubing, boarding, swimming, wave running, snorkeling, and Sunfish sailing.

But the most romantic thing on board this ship is the “Balinese DreamBeds,” amazing queen-size loungers found on Deck 6. Raised above the height of the yacht’s railings, they provide unobstructed views of the ocean. This is the perfect place to sunbathe, read, look out to sea or just snooze. And, should a couple wish to sleep under the stars, SeaDream’s staff will supply pillows and a cozy duvet. Now that’s a good night.

Princess Cruises’ “Crown Princess”

A vast, white wedge of a cruise ship as big as a city block may seem more awe-inspiring than romantic. But size aside, Princess Cruises does have some campy romantic value left over from “The Love Boat” days. And, beginning in June 2006, with the launch of the line’s newest ship, the Crown Princess, a new “Engagement Under the Stars” package will help create multimedia marriage proposals to remember.
Regular Joes can become Cruising Casanovas when they pop the question to their unsuspecting bride-to-be with a personal proposal videocast on the ship’s giant outdoor “Movies Under the Stars” movie screen. After she says “Yes,” (please, God, let it be “Yes”), the Crown Princess crew will shower the happy couple with a special romantic dinner, amenities and keepsake items to help them remember the occasion long after they return home.
After debuting on the Crown Princess, the “Engagement Under the Stars” package will be rolled out to all Princess ships that feature “Movies Under the Stars,” including the Caribbean Princess, Grand Princess and Sea Princess.

So if you and your honey are ready for romance, the cruising world is definitely ready for you. No matter what cruise you choose, it’s sure to light a fire under your relationship that will make for good times and fond memories.

Happy Valentine’s Day — whether you are on land or at sea.

Filled Under Reviews