Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cruising: A Matter of Dollars and "Sense"

Our cabin on the Westerdam
 "I'd say this view is worth the $8,000 we paid for the cruise!" the guy next door told his roommate the morning we were docked in Istanbul. "But 12 days will be enough, I'll be ready to get off."
Note: I am not an  eavesdropper. I was in the midst of my ritual 'morning-coffee-on-the-balcony' when I overheard the pronouncement.  Our cruise neighbor, we were learning, liked making proclamations and other bodily noises while on his deck, perhaps not realizing -- or caring about -- how sound carries.   

I am certain his bodily noises would have intensified had I leaned around the partition and told him that his view cost  more than double what ours had on this "Black Sea Medley "cruise.

On my balcony I'd also learned: He'd nearly missed the ship because of a delay at the airport.  No problem, he'd said, because ". . .some sweet talkin' to Holland America and they would have rented a chopper to get us to the next destination."   (Hmmmm. . .. don't think so, read on. . .)

A few days later. . .

While chatting with another (U.S.) West Coast couple;  our conversation followed a typical pattern of "cruiser talk":
Enjoying the cruise?
This your first cruise?
(Then,clearing the throat) . . .and so, what did it cost you?
Their response to the price we had paid was: "That was per person, right?!" 
When learning that it was the total cost, the lady blurted, "We paid $12,000!!!"

They were new to cruising and had sought the advice of a travel agent. Her husband said they'd only wanted a 'place to sleep' as it was the ports of call - not the cruise ship luxuries - that had appealed. The agent convinced them to book a mini-suite.

And then. . .

Over sail-away drinks, (those libations consumed while watching the ship leave a port) a man told us his cruise woes began when an East Coast storm caused flight delays. He'd missed the ship and spent his first 'cruise night' in an Athens hotel. The next day he had to fly from Athens to Kusadesi, Turkey to catch up with our ship.

"I missed an entire stop" he lamented, adding that next time he will allow an extra day to get to his port of embarkation. (Note: HAL didn't hire a helicopter for him.)

We had a spacious deck - well used on sunny days
 Even with 'good deals', cruising is a chunk of change when you consider all costs associated with it; but there are ways to save "Dollars and Sense". Here are our suggestions for doing so:

1.  Web surf - it is free and easy. Check out various cruise lines and itineraries.

2.  Decide what's most important: the routing and ports of call or the cruise ship amenities.

3.  Do a bit more research: * Read on-line reviews such as those on Cruise Critic.
* Check out the shipthat interests you on the cruise line's web site - look at floor plans and on-board amenities; read the links to the ports of call on the itinerary.

4.  Get price quotes - even for the same cruise. We use CruiseCompete.com. When comparing prices make sure the price quotes are for the same category cabin. (size of room and location on ship). (We are researching a 2011 fall cruise for which we've seen three different prices already)

5. Ask about on board credits or other booking incentives.

6.Talk to others who have cruised; consider their opinions and recommendations.

7.  Use a travel agent if you aren't comfortable making cruise arrangements over the Internet. But use one that knows cruising first hand. Note: some now charge for advising you on options but usually apply the fee to your travel purchase. (It's okay to ask: If they've cruised in the part of the world in which you are interested? How much cruising have they done? Which lines have they cruised on?)

8. Think over the options they give you; you don't need to book on the spot. We've often had a cruise on hold for a few hours or overnight to give us time to check out airfare (using frequent flier miles requires some flexibility in travel dates, for instance).

9. Consider logistics and costs of getting to and from the cruise. (We've passed up some great cruise deals because of difficulty or cost of getting to the ship.)

10. Plan your travel to arrive a day or at least an evening before your cruise, especially if crossing time zones You'll have a cushion against delays (and costs associated with them) and you'll get a jump on curing jet-lag.

HAL's Westerdam in Piraeus, Greece
I invite those travel professionals and cruise enthusiasts out there to add your recommendations for saving dollars and 'sense' by using the comment section below.  

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