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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
How do you know whether sailing is an activity for you unless you try it? Whether you've never been behind the rudder before or you've tried it before and would love to develop your skills further, there is an array of sailing adventures to suit. While the holiday you choose will depend largely on your experience, the reality remains the same – a stint on the sea is both liberating and exhilarating and with Ionian island holidays with Neilson, you can see whether you’re a sea dog this summer.
There are plenty of sailing holiday options to choose from, depending on what you want to achieve from your break on the ocean.
Stay and Sail
The Stay and Sail holiday is ideal if you wish to tread water a little and test your boundaries to see whether you’re made for sailing or not. A perfect way to enjoy both land and water-based adventures, stay and sail breaks give you the chance to spend a week in one of the beautiful beach club resorts, followed by a week aboard a yacht.
Use the week on land to learn the theory you need before spending a week learning to sail, take a refresher course to help recap on what you've already learned or spend the time relaxing in the sun with a cocktail. Once the time on dry land is over, it’s time to set sail aboard your yacht, where you can spend the days appreciating the hidden coves and quaint villages, or sunbathing on deck before snorkelling in the azure waters. Bliss.
Learn to Sail in a Week
A perfect choice if you’ve got a hankering for sailing but have no clue where to start, you can learn to sail in a week with no problem at all. Gain all the necessary skills you need to sail Europe’s picturesque coastlines and then use your next summer break to put your new found skills to good use.
Whether you’re travelling with your other half, as a group or with children, there’s a sailing holiday waiting for you. From the Mediterranean to the Aegean, Europe is full of wonderful areas to explore and there’s no better way to do it than by sailing the seas.
For more information please read further about Ionian island holidays with Neilson.
A Day Trip To Tortuga Island May Be Just For You!
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. We went with Calypso Cruises in a group of nearly four dozen, but there was also another similarly-sized group further down on the island.
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."
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.
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.
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. And 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.
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.
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.
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 $125 for a ticket in the first place! I kid-you-not, this guy's earplugs never once left his ears! He had them on at the beach, on the boat, even while the band was playing at lunch! Seriously, WTF!?!? People, this is why I started the HoliDaze, this is why I am trying to convince people to open up their eyes and experience the world! It is people like this that confuse and frustrate me, and I'm sorry if that describes you. Get out and live! See and appreciate the world, before its too late.
Take a look at the pictures below for a better idea of what all the day-trip offers and then share your comments below that. Or for videos, check out the Costa Rica section of the HoliDaze Video Gallery.
What would you say to the guy listening to his iPod all day instead of enjoying the moment? Share your feedback after the photos.
A little more than a year back, while on a Caribbean cruise, I (along with my wife and sister) decided to head over to Dunn's River Falls on my Birthanniversay (Birthday and Anniversary). Leaving behind my daughter and my parents are the wonderfully named Mahogany Beach, we took a taxi to the Falls. It's a good idea to inform the taxi driver not to leave the parking. As it happened in our case, thinking that we would take longer than we did, he decided to go someplace else in the meantime, and after waiting for him for a good 45 minutes, we eventually took another taxi back to our ship.
Dunn's River Falls is one of the primary tourist attractions in all of Jamaica, yet it was not over crowded. A ticket of US$ 20,- got us in and into a group led by a couple of guides. There are lockers inside the property to leave your valuables, and it's advised that you use them because the falls can be a bit challenging at times. Also, available on location are water shoes which can be rented for a small fee. Once again, it is advisable that you rent the water shoes as the rocks, while climbing up, are very slippery.
As a tourist attraction, the whole arrangement is well organized. There are groups of 12-15 people that are taken by two guides. It's essential that you use the service of the guides (included in the entrance fee) on your first trip up because they point out the plunge pools deep enough for you to take a back flip in and importantly the corners that should be avoided.
Carrying a video camera, the guides also make a video of your whole "expedition" up the falls which can be yours for US$ 40,-. A bit expensive, we gave the video a miss, but the guides were not at all pushy about it. They were friendly and as expected flirted with the girls, at the expense of the guys, but then that's a given almost anywhere in the world.
Dunn's River Falls is one of those attractions that you would want to say "Been There, Done That". The areas where flow of the water is too much, the climb a bit steep, or the rocks are really slippery; there are handle bars on the sides to support you. Moreover, walking in a group, a human chain is usually formed again to provide support for everyone.
Although I saw people of all ages go up the falls, I would advice the really young and the really old to skip climbing the falls. There is a good chance most people will end up with tiny cuts and scratches by the time they reach the top, but that is not to say that this is a dangerous activity.
Our climb up the Dunn's River Falls was refreshing and something I definitely recommend for everyone visiting the region. Once you have had your guided climb, you can always go back down and climb up again if you desire. There is also a small beach at the bottom of the falls which is fun for the younger and older members of the family. The organizers are not at all pushy and you are free to take or not take the photographs and videos they make without any hassles.
I would however apologize for my photographs not being of the best quality (and thus not doing justice to the Falls), but in my defense these were taken by a waterproof single use disposable camera.
For those of you that haven't already heard the tale of how I met my husband, here's a little love story about a hippy hobo and a lost lady destined for love......
9 years ago I worked offshore in China. I was a Field Engineer in the oil industry, but after a short stint on the rigs I'd had my fill - enough to last me a lifetime. I resigned unceremoniously and hopped on a plane across the world - my destination Ecuador, South America. I had a few University friends running around on the Gringo trail. It was as good a place as any to start living again.
After a reckless few weeks backpacking off track with an old uni buddy, we flirted too close to danger and were held up at gunpoint on a quaint fishing village beach. Thankfully the biggest casualties were a pair of Sketchers and my Fossil watch - my buddy fared roughly the same. But heeding fair warning we headed back to the relative safety of Quito and Gringolandia, licking our wounds and thanking our lucky stars.
The mugging was a major bummer, and it left a nasty taste in my mouth for backpacking - and unfortunately my buddy also. Feeling like I was in 'checkmate' I wandered aimlessly down a street in Quito passing myriads of internet cafs and fabric vendors, digging fruitlessly in the bottom of my local woven bag for some matches for my Marlborough Light - wishing fate would step in and lend a helping hand, which of course it did.
A fellow traveler and smoker (a trustworthy stranger in these parts) sitting on a bollard on the pavement offered his lighter, and we got to chatting. He was Canadian, and I liked the way he sounded. I needed a friend and a new travel buddy with ideas. He had great ones, and in a few hours I was accompanying my new friend to a small tourist office to book ourselves on the very next flight and boat tour to the Galapagos Islands.
Buzzing with excitement we headed back to our respective hostels to pack for the next day, passing by a small restaurant bar called H.V.H along the way. Danny, the guy that ran the joint, was outside punting the place. A band was playing that night - he indicated down the road to a small, (and oddly) suited-up dude, with blonde dreadlocks, who was hurrying away carrying a guitar that looked half his size - and the food deals were great, so I made a 'date' with the Canadian for that evening to celebrate our imminent cruise plans.
I remember my hair was braided. I remember I was the slimmest I'd ever been in my life. I remember I was wearing a pair of well worn 'Jesus' sandals, handed down to me from a friend. Faded flared jeans sat low on my hips, and a brief yellow tank top showed off my tan. It's not hard to remember as those were almost the entire contents of my rucksack. I'd neglected to buy a bigger backpack, and so the only clothes I had, save for a denim skirt and bikini, were the ones on my back - my trainers had already been nicked!
Dan gigging in Quito, 2003
I don't remember many details about my new found travel companion. His name was Mark, and together we made fun of the kooky lead singer on stage. I remember everything about that kooky singer. The suited hippy had taken off his jacket, but was still wearing a necktie, and his long wayward blonde dreadlocks were sticking outwards from beneath a Santa Clause hat - it was the first day of June. He strummed slowly on his acoustic guitar watching the audience over a pair of wire-rimmed John Lennon glasses, as he slowly and deeply bastardized the intro to the upbeat Beatles classic 'Hard Day's Night'.
It was funny - but only to start with. And then it got really really good, and I was singing and dancing in my chair to the groovy little cover-band we'd happened across. My day had turned from hopeless to happy in a few short hours. We stayed until the band took a break. And that eccentric little hippy with the big voice came and sat right behind Mark and me. Our morning flight was early, so we hadn't planned on staying later, but lulled by the band's presence in the bar we hung out a little longer.
Dan and Jo, H.V.H. Quito, 2003
He asked who we were, and it was a little unnerving to return his intense gaze. He really paid attention. After some lighthearted discourse we soon discovered that the Musician/English Teacher (hence the suit) was also Galapagos bound the following morning - school was on a break. The coincidence didn't mean much that night. The Galapagos islands are pretty big, and many boats of all shapes and sizes set out on tours each day.
But it was fun for us all to have a common journey in our sights. The singer went back to singing, and Mark and I - after listening politely to a few more covers - left the little bar. I put a meager tip in the band's collection tin on our way out - and earned a thrilling 'Thank you Josie' in a quiet low timbre. A little disconcerted I avoided eye contact and smiled goodbye.
The next morning I think I arrived with Mark, but when I got to the boarding lounge I was alone. And the velvet toned "Josie" that welcomed me was unmistakable. In the light of day, the hippy singer was less mysterious, but just as intriguing. The suit had been dropped for a Guayabera shirt over a wife-beater, thai fisher pants and some funky strap sandals that I soon learned were Chacos.
'Dan' was good-naturedly beating himself up for having just dropped his new camera lens. It was a large professional looking camera - and not a digital. Lucky for me my new standard digital camera had survived the beach robbery. This enigmatic hippy had only recently permitted himself such an elaborate purchase after banning himself previously for committing the same blunder. His self discipline was a little alarming, and not so in line with his dreadlocks. I admit I was fascinated.
Mark's arrival put an end to further discovery, and he was surprised and perhaps a little disappointed to have last night's singer in our midst once again. The flight was not seat allocated so Mark sat beside me and Dan sat behind Mark, who it turned out suffered acutely from fear of flying.
A mischievous side soon emerged from Dan, which was incredibly infectious - if a little obnoxious - and his merciless teasing of Mark was hard to resist. I was attracted by how easily he was to be around and the laughter in his eyes and lips. I didn't want to have to say goodbye when the plane touched down in the islands - not just yet.
I don't remember how he came to be in the seat beside me. But I remember him leaning over and showing me an oil related article. I thought I detected a hint of disapproval in his demeanor, and I knew then I liked him as I wanted to lie. I wanted to deny my treacherous oil background, and pledge allegiance to all hippies - in particularly this one. But I didn't lie. I told him where I'd come from, and what I'd done. He surprised me by showing intrigue. There was no hint of disapproval, just interest, and something more that made my heart beat a little faster.
When our plane landed he waited by our side. And when our pick-up truck arrived he tagged along with us in the bed of the truck, until we arrived at our unnervingly small boat. It wasn't a coincidence. The musician/hippy/photographer hadn't prebooked on a tour - he was hoping to score a last minute deal, and (as I learned much later) he already had his sights set on more than just our boat.
We all boarded, and Mark and I checked out our above deck shared quarters. I could hear Dan's voice belting out 'Hotel California' from below deck. The guy was more interesting than anyone I'd met in forever. I'd been blown away by the fluent Spanish that had come tumbling out of him when we climbed on board and introduced ourselves to the boat tour guide, and the subsequent banter and negotiations that followed between our guide and Dan thereafter. He was singing for a discounted ticket - on the premise he would provide live nightly entertainment.
Ship mates, Galapagos, 2003
(left to right: Jo, Mark, Nadav, Dan)
'Please let him stay' was all I could think over and over. The world was looking more vibrant with this man in it and I didn't want a grey shadow to fall over the great Galapagos Islands. Inevitably we all got we wanted (accept for Mark) and from then on, Mark may as well have been chopped liver. I guiltily sensed he was feeling sidelined, but there hadn't ever been any promise of romance - even though we were sharing tight quarters on a most romantic voyage.
Jo, Galapagos 2003
Dan showed no mercy to Mark, who had never been a potential suitor in my eyes. But Dan never knew that. As far as he was concerned, he'd met a couple traveling together - and berthing together, but no honor code made him step back. Much like Darwin's 'Survival of the Fittest' developed on these Islands, all was fair in love and war. It didn't matter - although I don't know if I even realized it at the time - I was already smitten with our 'off the wall' cruise crasher.
The next few days were the most magical of my life, with each dawn offering a different once-in-a-lifetime experience. We had dolphins racing the nose of our boat - just beyond our reaching fingertips as we laid bellies flat on the front bow. We swam with sea lions, turtles and penguins (on my birthday) - and even over circling sharks! One day the sea before us erupted into a thousand flipping rays - somersaulting to rid themselves of some pesky parasite.
'eccentric hippy' Galapagos, 2003
The nights offered backpacker banter and relaxation, and romance was hard to resist. After the others had retired to their bunks, Dan and I would sit at the back of our boat, watching sea lions pop-up - cheekily hitching a ride inside the towed rowing boat if they dared. The fast moving black sea was hypnotic beneath us, with the shiny fluorescent plankton catching the moonlight. We shared our stories, hopes, fears and dreams. It didn't take many nights before I kissed him first...
The week passed by too quickly, and each day was filled with laughter and love - although it was way too early for either of us to label it so. He nick-named me his 'oil girl' and it thrilled me. He comforted me when I recoiled from the Tuna bludgeoning, and made me hot lemon tea when the cold water overcame me. He hated me smoking. I loved being around him and I felt protected in his arms. I missed him for even the briefest separation...
Dan, Galapagos, 2003
But I was liberated by such a short term romance. I already had my connecting flight booked out of Quito to Cuenca, in the South of Ecuador, so we knew our days were numbered. It didn't hurt - yet - but it made our time all the more special, and I didn't want to waste a second.
Our inevitable goodbye was easy (stiff British upper lip and all) and after a heartfelt hug I refused to look back. The timing of our encounter had been perfect, and I couldn't have wished for a better pick-me-up. I would not allow myself to want more - he hadn't offered it and I already had a plane to catch.
By the time I reached the Galapagos airport I was eager to be seated and on route to the next chapter of my worldly adventure, but the Travel Agents had messed up my flights. My connecting flight out of Quito looked to already be boarding before I had boarded my flight out of the Galapagos. The time difference had been overlooked and there wasn't another flight to Cuenca until Monday (it was Friday).
I didn't want to be hanging around in Quito all weekend. My holiday romance had stayed on in the Galapagos for an extra two days and wasn't returning until Sunday, so there wasn't anything left for me in Gringolandia. I was experiencing a severe comedown after such a wonderful week, and without a new adventure to distract me from my feelings, my withdrawal symptoms were starting to hit hard. I missed my dread lock hippie dude - a lot.
Again I wandered aimlessly through Quito's central tourist grid known as Gringolandia, Marlborough in hand - hoping for fate to throw me a bone. I soon found myself logged on in Papayanet, the cornerstone internet caf and tourist trap of Gringo-Land, ironically situated across the road from H.V.H, which was all of a sudden shrouded by a painfully magical memory.
I opened my Hotmail account and my spine started tingling at the topmost email. It was from 'him'. I clicked on the message eagerly and slowly read the unpunctuated text. If my memory serves me correctly, it read something along the lines of:
heard you missed your flight...
howd you like to come hang out at mine for a couple days/weeks/months?
you could learn spanish, do some yoga, paint a little...
just a thought
So I waited nervously for what seemed like hours, on the corner of H.V.H and Papayanet, on a Sunday afternoon for my hippy hobo and his guitar case to show up. After a shy 'reunion' kiss we made our way together out of the safety of Gringolandia. Huddled side by side on a rickety bus belting techno-cumbia, I was unusually quiet - awed by the spontaneity and recklessness of my own actions, and scared to be once again off the beaten track as we headed to a very real district of Quito called La Vicentina Alta, where we would start the rest of our life ... together.
Dan and Jo, H.V.H, Quito, 2003
100 years ago the finishing touches were being applied to a beautiful new ship named RMS Titanic. She was born at the Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Her keel was laid in late March 1909. It would take two years and more than 3,000 ship builders to create what would be, at that time anyway, the largest passenger steamship in the world. She would be ready for launch in late May of 1911. RMS Titanic was a state of the art ship for the time that she was built. She had many safety features that were new, one of those being her watertight bulkheads and compartments. She could remain afloat even if four of her watertight compartments were flooded, thus leading to the notion of her being unsinkable. The White Star Line, while she was being built, even marketed her as being virtually unsinkable.
The White Star Line would spare no expense in the construction of RMS Titanic. It would cost the White Star Line $7.5 million in construction costs, an unheard of amount in the early 1900s.
The construction methods that were used to build RMS Titanic were considered to be the top of the line for the time period. Over 3 million rivets held the iron plates of her hull together, many popping and the iron plates buckling as she scraped against the iceberg. Poor quality iron has also been determined to have contributed to her sinking.
No other ship has commanded the attention than the RMS Titanic. She still remains Belfast's pride and joy and in April 2012, there will be many celebrations dedicated to her life and to those who worked tirelessly to build her.
100 years ago, a beautiful maiden was created and her name was RMS Titanic.
If you've got Mediterranean cruises on your holiday agenda this year or next, you'll find a fantastic array of itineraries that stop at some of the Med's most beautiful locations.
The Spanish coast and the Balearic Islands make up some of the most popular Mediterranean ports of call. Here you can enjoy traditional bucket and spade destinations and sun-drenched beaches, or take on a more cultural experience by spending the day in cosmopolitan Palma - Majorca's capital. This gorgeous coastal city is home to designer boutiques, cosy restaurants serving up sizzling Spanish cuisine, and stunning historical sights. Why not spend some time exploring the beautiful historic quarter, the superb gothic style cathedral, or the lovely 14th century Bellver Castle?
Perhaps your Mediterranean itinerary will include a stop in Ajaccio, an attractive Corsican port town. From here you can explore the rugged mountainous peaks and rolling hillsides of Corsica's interior, or spend some time in Ajaccio itself - a charming little spot that's home to soul-stirring sights, traditional architecture and lovely restaurants serving up delicious local delicacies.
In Italy, you can alight and join an organised coach tour to visit some of the most beautiful places in Europe. Alight in Civitavecchia and travel to Rome for a day to remember, packed with such landmarks as the haunting Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain and the stunning frescoes of the Sistine Chapel.
Southern France is another Mediterranean gem. Head to the celebrity-packed town of Cannes and St Tropez to soak up the jet-setting lifestyle and A-list yachts, sip a frothy cappuccino in a swanky cafe or browse the eye-watering prices in its designer boutiques. If that's all a bit too much, you could always just stretch out on the sands for a few hours' of real St Tropez tanning.
Whatever you fancy, there's a bit of Mediterranean cruise magic with your name on it...
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.
(Image from RoyalCaribbean.com)
(I’m only spotlighting the Oasis because she is currently the largest ship afloat. RCL is not my sponsor. I never worked for RCL. I’ve never cruised RCL.) 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, 4 pools, 10 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.
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 US $95,860! 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 ($500-$1000 for a basic, inside cabin, depending on the line you cruise).
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. Is budget a large factor (Luxury vs. Budget)?
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 children’s’ 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.
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 to you?
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 & 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.
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.
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.