If you love all year round sun, beaches and nightlife, the Canary Islands are where you should head for your summer holiday in 2015. The sun-soaked screen of the West African coast has everything to offer. The best thing about a cruise is you can enjoy everything the Canaries have to offer, without committing to one place for the duration of your trip. You can sit back, relax and enjoy all your cruise package has to offer, just a stone’s throw from the shore.

The Canary Islands

A day in Tenerife

Tenerife is the biggest of the Canary Islands and boasts a huge tourist gathering each and every year. Although it’s known as a child friendly, family resort, it’s also a nice place to take a cruise to, with its secluded beaches and hillside villages. When the ship docks, stroll into some of the many designer shops which line the port side, or take a speed boat ride to go whale or dolphin watching, which surprisingly is a year round event.

A visit to Iberia

Just off the coast of North Africa, Iberia is the perfect destination for those looking to get away from it all and enjoy some truly beautiful scenery. You can call in at gorgeous metropolitan ports such as Barcelona and capture sights such as the Sagrada Familia cathedral, cram in a little shop or relax in El Corte Inglés department store with a coffee and take in a view of the whole city.

The Sagrada Familia cathedral in Iberia

Kid friendly

Many cruises offer child friendly services on board in the form on kids clubs and crèches designed to give Mum and Dad a break whilst on holiday. Your little ones can take part in activities such as treasure hunts, pirate adventures and an arts and crafts day, all while in the safety of being on board.

Celeb territory

When you aren't sunning it on the deck or enjoying some of the in house entertainment, why not check out some the many celebrity hangouts the Canaries have to offer. Stars like Penelope Cruz and Jenson Button flock to this town for its long, hot summer days and incredible night life.

If you’re planning a trip later in the year and have checked out the cruise deals, remember to pack for the weather. The Canaries are beautiful in both summer and winter, but it’s best the pack a light jacket just in case you encounter a summer rain shower, even if you spend a lot of your holiday with a cocktail in hand, enjoying the sea views. Enjoy!

  Photos by Josemico // photographerglen // momsworking01, used under Creative Commons license.

Published in Spain

I've been on more than my fair share of cruises. I'm actually not certain how many I've been on. More than 100. To be fair, I worked on cruise ships. And yes, some days it actually was work. Really, the amount of time you spend working depends on your job. The first three years I worked quite a bit. I was a youth counselor.

The last two years I spent on ships were as a "Computer Lecturer." I taught computer classes to passengers. I was technically a crew member with "Passenger Status." It was the best of all worlds. It meant that when I wasn't working, I was playing. I got to use the pools and hot tubs, fitness facilities and eat in the dining rooms. I got to play in the ports and explore fantastic new places. Things that normal crew members aren't allowed to do. Also I was able to have a guest sail with me for free nearly every cruise. It was the perfect job. Truly.

Over five years I worked on ten different ships for two different cruise lines. It was life-changing. And eye-opening. So if you're planning a cruise, take advantage of my industry insider experience to help streamline your process.

Cruising has become a huge vacation industry. And by huge, I mean just look at the sheer tonnage afloat these days. Before airplanes, one had to sail across the seas to travel. Inter-continental traveling was a lengthy and difficult affair. One group of my ancestors immigrated from Sweden to the US in 1866. They traveled from Stockholm to Hamburg and then from Hamburg to New York. The journey from Hamburg took nearly nine weeks to complete. The ship had only provisioned for three to four weeks at sea. It was a harrowing journey to say the least. These days you can hop on a plane in New York and be in London in six hours. Current Cruise liners make the journey using massive propulsion systems in five days, laden with enough food to feed their passengers and crew for nearly double that time and stocked with amenities enough to keep even the most finicky traveler happy.

Cruising has evolved. Ships have evolved. Case in point, Titanic vs. The Oasis of the Seas.

The Titanic
(Titanic Image from the deep, dark recesses of the interweb....)

The Oasis of the Seas cruise ship
(Image courtesy of Royal Caribbean. I'm only spotlighting the Oasis because she is currently the largest ship afloat.)

The Titanic was said to have been the largest ship afloat in her day, a "modern marvel." Titanic and her sister ship, the Olympic weighed in at 46,328 tons. In 2010, Royal Caribbean line launched their new ship Oasis of the Seas, which is the largest ship built to date. It weighs in at 225,282 tons, more than five times the Titanic!

The Oasis of the Seas boasts living luxury at sea with it's Spa & Fitness center, four pools, ten hot tubs, surf machines, sport courts, mini-golf, zip line, casino, theatres, nightclub, and youth and teen centers. And don’t forget the FOOD, FOOD, FOOD. Aside from the traditional dining rooms and buffets there are also cafes and fine-dining restaurants galore.

The Oasis of the Seas cruise ship
Odyssey Restaurant on Holland America's Zuiderdam

There are more cruise ships sailing today than ever before and that translates to price drops for passengers. The most expensive suite on Titanic cost around $4500 per person, given inflation, in 2008 that would have been the equivalent of $95,860 USD! Today, depending on the cruise line you sail, you can sail a transatlantic cruise in a luxury suite (but keep in mind, a standard room isn't exactly steerage these days either!) for between $2500-$5000/person or only $500-$1000 for a basic, inside cabin.

The view out of a cruise ship porthole

With the huge number of cruise ships sailing the seas these days, it is safe to say that just about anyone can find a cruise they will love. To help streamline the confusing process of finding your perfect cruise, let's walk through a few things:

1.   Is This Your First Cruise?   First-time cruisers could potentially set sail in a bucket and love it. As you go on more cruises you become much pickier. It's just a fact of cruising. So if you've never been and don't know what to expect, I'd recommend sailing a less expensive itinerary/ship to get your sea legs. Also, go on a shorter cruise -- a two or three-day itinerary, just to see if you like it.

2.   Luxury Vs Budget Cruise (Is budget a large factor?)   If so, stick to larger cruise lines and larger ships. Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian are good bets for finding great deals. But keep in mind, with the larger, budget cruise lines you will have more passengers per square foot than on other lines.

When you book will play a big part in determining the price of your cruise. If you plan your cruise a year in advance you'll be able to ensure you get the room you want and the itinerary you want, but you'll pay full listing price. If you can wait until 60-90 days within sailing, the prices drop, sometimes a drastic 50-70% below list price.

A resource I use to help find cruise deals for friends is vacationstogo.com. Sign up for their newsletter and they'll send you weekly updates on all of the great deals happening at sea. (Again, no sponsorship on their part. And no animals were harmed in the making of this guide.)

Lastly, don't forget to figure in your airfare. If budget is a determining factor, stick to a homeport near you. If you live in Seattle, you can find cruises to Vancouver/Victoria and even Alaska that sail out of your home city. Omit airfare entirely, if possible, to help push your hard-earned cash further. If you have to fly to meet a ship, find a ship that departs from an airline hub city like LA, Miami, Fort Lauderdale or New York. Flights to those places will be immensely less expensive than flying to a small island in the South Pacific to meet a ship.

If flight price isn't really a big deal to you, try flying into San Juan, Puerto Rico or Bridgetown, Barbados to catch a Southern Caribbean cruise. They're my absolute favorite Caribbean cruises. If you're able, spend a few days in the city you're sailing out of before or after your cruise and explore.

If money is no object, try a very small luxury ship or yacht. Seabourn, Crystal and Windstar cruises are all very highly rated small luxury lines. Some of these lines include alcohol in the price of your cruise. FYI: These lines often have strict dress codes.

3.   Large Ship vs Small Ship (And Age Group)   Size does matter. If you're looking for a cheap, spring break cruise go for a larger ship in a region that is ship-dense (ie: Caribbean or Alaska in the summer). But if you want to go to places a bit off the beaten path, smaller ships are often the only ships that will take you there (because the big ones don't fit into port!)

Large ships offer more stuff. More pools. Ice Skating rinks. Rock Climbing walls. More stuff to do on those days at sea. If you're sailing with children/teens, you want a ship that has a diverse offering of things to do. Disney cruises are ALWAYS a great idea for children, but you will pay a premium to sail with Disney. Other cruise lines offer phenomenal childrens' centers and activity programs to keep your kids occupied and having fun the whole cruise. Generally the larger (and newer) the ship, the better the kids facilities.

Small ships are great for a quieter, more intimate cruise. Less people, less crowding = more relaxation time and less regiment. Smaller ships will offer more traditional cruise activities like quoits and shuffleboard and group games to keep you entertained.

Age   Specific Cruise lines cater to specific age groups. Carnival and Royal Caribbean go for the younger crowd. Celebrity and Princess cater best to the 25-50 crowd. Holland America is generally known for retirement cruising. No matter what the age target for the cruise line, every ship will offer something for all age groups.

4.   Do Ship Amenities Matter?   Some people simply like to spend their vacations reading or sitting by the pool. If this is you, you'll want to ensure you find a ship with a larger passenger to square footage ratio. Less passengers = less crowding = less crowding in ports and easier access to ammenities. Generally you can look to smaller ships on cruise lines like Holland America, Princess or Cunard for great passenger to space ratios. These are your best bet to finding a quiet hideaway.

Enjoying a nearly empty cruise ship whilst anchored in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii
Enjoying a nearly empty ship whilst anchored in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii

5.   Cruise Length   It's up to you, really. For that quick getaway you can find cruises that run 2-3 days. If you've got time on your hands, try an around-the-world itinerary (90-120 days). If seven days isn't enough you can sail two seven-day cruises on the same ship in the same cabin back to back. Personally I like 10-day cruises. In my time working on ships I met several elderly passengers who were full-time cruisers. Basically, instead of going into retirement homes, they lived on ships. Pretty great idea. And fairly cost-effective. For about the same price as a retirement home they received a luxury home with extremely attentive service.

6.   Destination & Timing   Where you want to go will often limit when you can go. Ships are generally assigned to a specific region for a season, but some can be assigned a region indefinitely. For instance, the Oasis of the Seas is currently dedicated to cruising the Caribbean. It offers several itineraries in the Caribbean. On the other hand, in 2010, the Splendour of the Seas will sail South America, Transatlantic, Europe, Transatlantic and back to South America.

Generally in the winter ships move to warm places; in the summer they sail Alaska, Europe and the Baltic. Spring is the season for Hawaii and Mexico, and in the fall you can find cruises to Canada and New England. When the seasons change, the ships reposition. Repositioning cruises are generally a bit longer and have more sea-days.

Relaxing on the beach while a cruise ship passes by

Regardless of where or when you cruise, I always recommend cruising a newer ship, or an older ship that has been dry-docked recently (within the last year). Ships are taken out of service every few years and put into dry dock. Dry docks usually mean a ship will be gutted and redone. Sometimes the ships in drydock will have major structural work done – enlargements or complete renovations to certain areas. When dry dock is over, ships return to service good as new, sometimes better.

Happy Cruising!

Published in Cruises

Located in the Gulf of Nicoya, Tortuga Island is actually comprised of two islands with a combined total landmass of only about one square mile. But despite its small size, Isla La Tortuga is one of Costa Rica's most popular tourist destinations and a great day-trip. We went with Calypso Cruises in a group of nearly four dozen, but there was also another similarly-sized group with a different excursion company further down on the island.

Map of the location of Puntarenas and Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

The island is home to a total of 12 residents. They are native Costa Ricans who subsist entirely off renting out beach chairs, jet-skis, snorkels, and other beach- and water-related goods to the flocking tourists. As such you can expect to pay a nice price for everything. They even offer wifi: $15 for 15 minutes. Undoubtedly these islanders make more than the average Costa Rican citizen, but life there is not as perfect as it seems. As one island tico informed me, it is 9 guys and only 3 girls, so "we need more girls...tell more girls to come visit."

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica


The beautiful and nearly unihabited Isla La Tortuga!

The island itself is quite charming. It is comprised of a nice beach area with smooth sand but one end does have a rather a sizable amount of coral chunks and other small rocks mixed in with the sand. There are a couple small wooden structures on the island, one used as a kitchen, another as a bar, and yes of course a final one featuring a pair of restrooms. There is also lots of picnic tables and beach chairs set up in advance, although the beach chairs cost $7-8/hr through the local islanders, not your tour company -- but I'll get back to that shortly. The island is thickly wooded. Supposedly there is a trail you can take that leads through the brush out to a very picturesque area, or so I've been told.

We booked the trip through Calypso Cruises and it just so happens that their office/dock is located literally just a few dozen feet from Pearla del Pacifico, the only hostel/hotel in Puntarenas and hands-down the best hostel in all of Central America!

Calypso Cruises will have an air-conditioned van pick you up early in the morning from a few of the nearby towns -- San Jose, Jaco, Quepos / Manuel Antonio, Monteverde -- and transport you to Puntarenas, where you will be served a traditional Costa Rican breakfast. The CC boat is a two-story 71 ft long catamaran named Manta Raya that is equipped with two giant hammocks stretched between twin hulls and two fresh water pools. The lower deck houses the bar and lounge as well as dual restrooms / changing rooms.

Casting Off...

At precisely 9am the ship leaves port and begins the hour-long trek towards Tortuga Island. Along the way you will pass by local fishing boats out on the hunt, have fantastic views of the western coast of Costa Rica, and maybe even glimpse the occasional family of dolphins that will swim alongside the boat during the final stretch before Tortuga Island. They are fast and can be tricky to photograph though. Along the way you will also be served a light snack (most likely pineapple) and have the option of buying alcoholic beverages at the usual inflated tourist rates.

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Once disembarking the ship, you will have a couple hours to swim and/or sunbath while the staff prepares lunch. The bartender and booze from the ship is unloaded and set up underneath the trees, so after a brief ten minute or so pause, you can resume killing your liver with booze. For those of you who really like to drink, I recommend smuggling in a little liquor of your own. It is very easy to do and turns what easily could be a $200 on alcohol day down to just $40 or $50.

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica


The warthog and I become fast friends

The first group of snorkelers is also taken out shortly after arriving on the island. The remaining people mingle and drink on the beach, swimming and building sand castles (or at least attempting to). Calypso Cruises provides everyone with a very basic two-piece wooden beach chair, but there are also fancy reclining chairs covered in towels and protected from the sun by umbrellas -- those are the ones that cost $7-8/hr and are rented out by the dozen locals that live on the island.

The lunch is served at the picnic tables under the shade of the trees, in the fresh breeze of the ocean. It consists of wine, a ceviche appetizer, salad, vegetables, and bar-b-qued chicken, and will leave you completely satisfied. Be on the lookout for local wildlife that could come wandering by around feeding time, most notably the wild hogs. They are nice critters, surprisingly tame thanks to all the tourists -- you can even pet them! They feel a little strange, more bristly than I would have thought, kind of like a porcupine.

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

After lunch the excursions begin. Included free are snorkeling and the banana boat, but extras like jet-skis are available only upon paying a hefty fee to the islanders. The second snorkeling expedition (provided there is enough demand) sets out after lunch, while meanwhile the banana boat is pulled out and the rides begin.

Finally as the afternoon winds down the catamaran is brought back to the shore and slowly the masses re-assemble on the boat decks. Due to the large group of people combined with the large amounts of alcohol consumed and topped off perfectly by the fact there is only two bathrooms on-board, expect bathroom lines to be in the ten to twenty minute range.

Arriving back at the docks, the fun is over. Usually at this point you would take your air-con van back to your city of origin, be it Jaco or Quepos or whatever, but we recommend instead you just walk a couple dozen feet to the east and spend a couple days at the Pearla del Pacifico (view photos). The whole trip, not counting van rides, lasts about eight hours but is definitely worth it -- if you don't mind being surrounded by tourists all day.

This guy is a bad tourist. Don't be like him.

Case in point: This nameless individual here on the left kept to himself all eight hours. I don't even know why he shelled out $125 for a ticket in the first place! I kid you not, this guy's earplugs never once left his ears! He had them on at the beach, on the boat, even while the band was playing at lunch! Seriously, WTF!?!? People, this is why I started the HoliDaze, this is why I am trying to convince people to open up their eyes and experience the world! It is people like this that confuse and frustrate me, and I'm sorry if that describes you. Get out and live! See and appreciate the world, before its too late.

Here are some more photos from the drunken cruise back to the pier at Puntarenas. And for videos, check out the HoliDaze YouTube page.

  What would you say to the guy listening to his iPod all day instead of enjoying the moment? Share your feedback after the photos.

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Published in Costa Rica

When I told my friend Josh that I had just gotten back from a cruise, he said,

A cruise! I have so many preconceptions of those. Was it filled with old people? Was the food the worst?

Many people I've talked to have the same preconceptions as Josh. And in my experience, these preconceptions of cruising may be based in reality. There were plenty of older adults on our cruise. And my husband described the food as "fancy food, done in a mediocre way." But we didn't take the trip to meet friends, and we found plenty of decent food on the ship, so I can't really complain. (Plus, we are kind of food snobs...there, I admit it.)

Here's why cruising can be a great vacation:

1.   It's easy to get there

Anywhere there's water, there are cruises, so it's relatively easy to get to a cruise ship. If you don't like to fly, you can usually drive to a port. And as a bonus, you can still visit foreign countries without stepping on a plane. Since my husband always flies internationally for work, we didn't want to spend 12 hours flying and then suffer through two days of jet lag. We wanted to spend our vacation relaxing, not getting somewhere.

2.   It's cheap

The price of your cruise includes your room, all food, and most entertainment on board the ship. For us, the cruise cost less than $100 per person per day. We ate steak or fish every night. We saw a comedian and three live dance shows. Someone cleaned our room not once, but twice, every day. Considering the included amenities, it was a steal of a deal. Just be aware that you can also spend a lot once you are on the ship. If you want to gamble, visit the salon, drink alcohol, eat at specialty restaurants or do excursions in port, you will pay extra.

3.   It's stress-free

We have never been on such a stress-free vacation. We didn't need to worry about finding parking, or making dinner reservations, or getting lost because we were on a ship. We could sit by the pool, read in the library, watch a movie in the lounge, exercise in the gym or nap in our room, all of which were extremely relaxing (except the gym part, but we only did that once). In each port, there were dozens of companies ready to ferry us around to go snorkeling, zip-lining, sightseeing, ect. Cruise ships -- and most of the ports they visit -- are financially dependent on your tourism dollars, so they will bend over backwards to make sure you have a wonderful time.

  If you’re interested in booking a cruise, I would recommend searching the big travel websites like expedia and travelocity. You can search by cruise length, departure date, departure port, and cruise line. For great deals, consider booking in the shoulder season (the beginning or end of the tourist season for that region, when weather can be unpredictable and prices are lower). And for destination advice and activities be sure to check out TripAdvisor.

Have any cruising questions, suggestions or stories?

Published in Cruises

I recently got back from a trip to Ireland. Before this trip, I had visited Ireland on a cruise. I enjoyed my time so much that I wanted to go back and explore more. I wondered how it would compare to visiting it on a cruise. As a follow up to my last blog post, Hungry for More!, here’s a recap of my experiences of cruise vs. land travel.

One Day To See It All

With only one day to see Dublin on the cruise, we got up earlier and into the city to see the sights. With tour book in hand, we walked the city all day and made sure not to miss anything. On my most recent trip, our first stop was to go back to Dublin.

Dublin, Ireland
Dublin

Walking through the city, I couldn’t believe how the streets seemed so familiar and how much we packed into the previous visit. While cruising, we saw all the major attractions and did everything we wanted to do. With this trip, since we had more time in Dublin, we were able to take a longer time in places and enjoy longer lunches and dinners. Overall, I was surprised to realize how much we saw and experienced when in port last time.

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Packing & Unpacking...Everyday

Yes, I typically pack a lot of luggage, almost to an embarrassing point. One reason I love cruising is that you unpack once and enjoy waking up in a new place each morning without carting your luggage everywhere. With this in mind for Ireland, I managed to pack less and reduced the number of luggage pieces by one to help in the daily transporting to new hotels.

Ireland countryside
Ireland countryside

Although, unpacking and packing took a little bit of time every day, I realized that a part of the experience of traveling in Ireland is the hotels. You can stay in the countryside or city, in a 5-star hotel, quaint bed & breakfast, or even a castle. Driving around, there was an excitement to arriving to our hotel each night to see what it would be like. You could spend the whole day at some of the accommodations that have on-site activities like high tea, horseback riding, and gorgeous gardens to stroll through. Most of the accommodations outside of Dublin include breakfast, and I enjoyed having an Irish breakfast each morning and seeing what the different hotels offered.

Westin Dublin hotel in Ireland
Westin Dublin

In Dublin, we stayed at The Westin Dublin. The lobby was elegant and inviting. There were many nice touches including the jogging station, flavored water in the lobby (a feature that I always enjoy at Westin’s), and fresh flowers in the lobby. After walking around all day, it was wonderful to have a comfortable place sleep.

Hotel Minella in Clonmel
Hotel Minella

p align="justify">Another Hotel we stayed at was the Hotel Minella in Clonmel. When we checked in, we were escorted to our room and asked if we wanted any complimentary tea or coffee. We accepted and enjoyed our cappuccinos overlooking the gorgeous view of green scenery from our room.

So Many Options!

When on a cruise, I love that I don’t have to plan where to eat each night and budget for meals. This is relaxing for me as I’m not reading reviews, studying menus, or looking at prices every night. However, being able to spend more time in Ireland, I decided I had to be more prepared and do research ahead of time.

Oscar's Seafood Bistro
Oscar's Seafood Bistro

Reading reviews online before leaving, I found a place in Galway called, “Oscars Seafood Bistro” where the menu changes everyday based on the fresh fish that is bought that morning from the port which is only a few blocks away. The local seafood was amazing and a reason that I love to travel.

New Experiences

Driving on the other side of the road, traveling through the countryside, and meeting locals in small villages where we stopped were truly amazing experiences. We were on our own schedule and didn’t have to worry about the ship leaving without us or getting back in time for dinner.

Cruise vs. Traditional

Galway, Ireland
Galway

What’s better? Visiting a place on a cruise or spending more time on land? In my opinion, it really depends. Cruising to Ireland first, I fell in love, and wanted to go back. This is the ideal situation for me as I got to experience all the fun of cruising while visiting a new place. I enjoyed going back and spending more time there and would go back again either on a cruise or on a land trip.

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FreshCruiser Tip:  When looking for a cruise, consider one that has a great embarkation or disembarkation port. This way, you can spend an extra few days at the beginning or end of your trip to have a little more time in a city that interests you.

Published in Ireland

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