Archive for February, 2007

Carnival Corporation announced today that it has signed a definitive agreement to sell its Windstar Cruises brand to Ambassadors International Inc. for $100 million.  Ambassadors International is the parent company of Majestic America Line, which owns the Delta Queen, Mississippi Queen, American Queen, and Columbia Queen.  We’ll have to wait and see what this move means for Windstar.

Cruises advertise themselves as all-inclusive but they rarely are. All I knew about cruising before our first sailing was what I saw on The Love Boat, and I was surprised when we began our research to learn that all those drinks Isaac poured weren’t just part of the cruise fare.

Most people don’t expect “free” alcohol with their cruise, but many people are surprised to learn that soft drinks, bottled water, and juice are usually not included. Some people also don’t know that they are expected to tip at the end of a cruise. Following is a very general run-down of what’s included and what’s not. This varies from cruise line to cruise line (we’ll get into that a little later).

  • Your cruise fare includes your room, your meals in certain restaurants, and the use of certain areas of the ship
  • Juice is included with breakfast, and coffee,tea and tap water are available 24 hours. Often iced tea and some sort of fruit punch are available as well.
  • Soft drinks, bottled water, and juice other than at breakfast are not included. On some cruise lines you can buy a soft drink card that allows you a certain number of soft drinks or unlimited soft drinks. Usually this is limited to fountain soft drinks, so if you want a can of soda you’ll still have to pay for it.
  • Specialty coffee drinks and fancy teas are usually not included. If you want just a regular “cup of coffee” you don’t pay, but if you want a “tall skinny latte” you’ll have to fork over.
  • Certain restaurants and eating venues are not included. Most ships have “specialty restaurants” and there is usually a fee for eating there. Eating in the main dining room is included in your cruise fare.
  • Use of the gym is usually free. Many fitness classes are not.
  • Use of the main pools and Jacuzzis is usually free. However, many ships also have a thassalotherapy pool and to use that you pay either a daily or weekly fee.
  • The rock-climbing wall on Royal Caribbean is free. The golf simulator is not. I’ve read there is a charge to use the bowling alley on NCL’s new Pearl.
  • Most cruiselines have some sort of theater for showing movies and these are usually free. (In- room movies sometimes have a charge.) The evening entertainment – usually Broadway style shows or comedians – is always included in your cruise fare. We once saw an amazing husband-wife aerial entertainment act on the Celebrity Mercury.
  • Spa treatments are not free
  • Shore excursions are not free

Now, most everything above is a generalization and it varies from cruise line to cruise line. Most of what I’ve written above is about the mass-market cruise lines which include Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Holland America, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Princess and many more.

When you move up to a luxury cruise line, much more is included. On most luxury lines, including Regent, Seabourn, and Silverseas, alcohol and tipping are also included. On these lines you won’t pay for exercise classes and some of them throw in a complimentary shore excursion. You also won’t pay for in-room movies. Seabourn even has what they call “complimentary on desk Massage Moments”. Crystal is alone among the luxury lines in that alcohol is not included in your fare and neither are tips. However, you can have soft drinks, bottled water, specialty coffee drinks, anything non-alcoholic to your heart’s content.

We’ve started a forum on our web site where we can share information about costs on the various cruise lines. We’ve posted information about the lines we’ve been on, but we’re limited by our own experience, so if you have any information you’d like to share, please post it at our What’s Extra and What it Costs forum.

I’ve been catching up on my travel reading and one of the newest trends in luxury lodging is flat screen tvs, ipod docking stations, and bose sound systems. Every time I read about those things I think, that’s the LAST thing I want is to listen to my neighbor’s bose sound system. I will admit that I am WAY overly sensitive to certain types of noise. I am the person who’s constantly pointing out, “Wow, doesn’t that [tv] [radio] [domestic disturbance] coming from [next door] [upstairs] [down below] drive you crazy?” And then the people whom I’m with, who didn’t notice it previously, thank me for pointing it out because now it’s bugging them.

Anyway, I’ve decided to compile a list of lodgings that do not have tv’s in the rooms because those are the places I want to stay. For now, I only have two: On the Oregon Coast, The Sylvia Beach Hotel (an Oregon institution and wonderful for many reasons) does not have tv’s, radios or phones in the rooms.

The other, I just read about, and while it is in not-very-gay-friendly Jamaica, it sounds wonderful. The Jamaica Inn, located 10 minutes from downtown Ocho Rios and Dunn’s River Falls, does not have tv’s, radios, or clocks in the rooms. I quote from their website: “On-property croquet, swimming pool, snorkeling, kayaks and sunfish sailing are complimentary. Windsurfing, sailing and diving facilities available nearby at an additional charge. Jamaica Inn guests can also play tennis nearby . An exercise room is located in the garden wing. Equipment includes a stair climber, stationary bicycle, treadmill and free weights.”

Here’s another place posted by a user: I know of a wonderful place – no tvs, no radios, no phones, no AC etc. – on the Big Island of Hawai’i – Hawai’i island. It is called “Kona Village Resort,” on the west (Kona) coast. Wonderful, secluded, “old-Hawai’i” feel, your own individual rooms/houses called “hale” Polynesian-style buildings, 3 fabulous meals included – is not cheap. I’ve stayed three times with girlfriends (room with one big bed) – one night, two nights, one night, over 10+years, Very friendly, on the ocean (many hale have ocean views, some on lava rock etc.) Ocean swimming, snorkeling, tennis etc., pools, massages, the Fri. night Luau is great too. Things for kids to do too, plus (two?) months in the year the kids are not encouraged to stay, so just for adults. They will pick you up at the airport, so no car needed. Check them out!

If you know of any other wonderful places where there are no noise-making electronics in the rooms, please let me know so I can post them here.

Some of you may have already read this in our newsletter, but I’m putting it in the blog also after reading a thread on CruiseCritic about formal night. Seems like we’re not the only ones who worried, worried, worried about it!

The statistics we gather when you register on our web site tell us that many of you have never cruised before. So we thought it might be helpful to run a series of articles addressing the questions we had the first time we cruised. Our biggest worry? Formal night. Some people love to dress up, and do it well. We’re learning to enjoy it actually, but I kind of doubt that we do it well. However, we’ve learned how to fit in on a cruise ship. Now, not all cruise ships have a formal night, or even a dress code, but many do and here’s how we handled it our first couple of cruises: Cruise 1 – order room service on Formal Night. Do not venture out of the room under any circumstances. Cruise 2 – Eat in the alternative restaurant. Look at all the ladies and think, “Hmmm. All it takes is something sparkly. I MIGHT be able to do that.” Cruise 3 – Buy an outfit for formal night!!!

Let me backup a little, though. For those first 2 cruises we still had to dress up, certainly more than the pajamas we sometimes wear to dinner at home. (The other night, we almost went to a restaurant with Mary still in her pajamas – luckily we noticed just as she was getting in to the car.) What we did was buy a few skirts. The best were the reversible skirts we got at Nordstrom. We each bought one, so between the two of us we had four skirts. I also bought a black skirt and black pants and a black top at Chico’s. If you haven’t discovered Chico’s and you are not a hot young thing, you really should check it out. Their clothes are extremely comfortable and surprisingly flattering for someone whose weight is no longer what it was when she was a cross-country runner. Also the sizes are 1,2, and 3, so you can pretend you are really tiny. A couple black and white v-neck t-shirts and a black sweater for me and I was set. Certainly not the most creative or stylish dresser on the ship but as far as I know no one pointed at me and said, “Look at THAT inappropriate clothing!”

In anticipation of formal night, we went to that bastion of high fashion, Sears, and bought REALLY CHEAP sparkly clothing. Mary bought a dress and I bought a top to go along with my black skirt. My top was not just REALLY CHEAP, but REALLY REALLY CHEAP. The sparkles rained down onto my body and the floor every time I took the scratchy blouse off and I had to shower before climbing into bed after formal night was done. But, dressed up with some nice inexpensive jewelry loaned to us by a friend who has more fashion sense than us, we fit in just fine on formal night. And it was totally worth going to the dining room for the amazing chateaubriand.

We have a special section in our closet for cruise clothes, and we really don’t wear them any other time, but we’ve come to love packing our cruise clothes, unpacking them on the ship and picking out what combination we will wear each evening. It’s so easy now, it’s practically GarAnimals!