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Five Things to Know Before Booking a Luxury Cruise

Five Things to Know Before Booking a Luxury Cruise

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When you are ready to plan a luxury cruise, you should know your priorities.

Destinations. First, and foremost, would be to choose a destination you want travel to. Travel to Europe is too general. Narrow your travel choices down to more specific areas. Why cruise to France if you want to cruise through the Greek Isles? But, you can combine a Greek Isles cruise with ports in Turkey such as Istanbul and Ephesus. If Athens is your main interest, then you can spread your wings with travel to Egypt and Israel and still catch stops in Istanbul and Rhodes. Perhaps Paris is on your bucket list, but you prefer to travel to Paris as part of a land vacation. Why not pick a cruise that starts in Paris, spend a few days to see all the sights then taxi over to the cruise port to start your journey, which may include Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Poland, Sweden, Estonia, Finland and even a few overnights in St. Petersburg, Russia. Where else can you squeeze all these great counties into a 14 day vacation and not have to pack and unpack? Same goes for luxury cruises to Asia, Australia, and South America. Small luxury cruise ships are very creative in coming up with a mix of interesting itineraries.

Choose a timeframe. Sometimes, the choice is up to you. Luxury cruising season to South Africa, Hong Kong, Beijing, Dubai and other destinations in Asia is November through April. South American cruising season is our North America winter. South Pacific cruises generally depart January through April. One exception is Paul Gauguin Cruises, a small luxury cruise line specializing in Tahiti, French Polynesia and the South Pacific. Cruises to Europe travel between April and November. The variables are the weather conditions in various countries. Northern Europe cruises that travel to Scandinavian ports are best during the summer and early fall months.

The Price/Value Equation. Just the term “luxury cruise” sets this category apart from the big, contemporary ships. Expect more space, more staff per guest, a higher level of food and service and a very different experience. We are not talking about ordinary transportation here. Las Vegas style shows, ice skating rinks and rock climbing walls are left for the big ships. Most luxury cruise ships feature all suites, many with real butler service, most with complimentary specialty restaurants serving “out of this world” gourmet selections, and open seating dining in the main restaurant. Foodies know the difference. If you are new to luxury cruises, you will immediately join the ranks.Gratuities for the dining and cabin staff are usually included. Most include “Free Air” programs. Free air is factored into the total price, but you may choose to take an air credit and book transportation on your own. When comparing prices with large ships that advertise cruise only prices, consider the bottom line. Not that the luxury ships are comparable in price. It’s all about the experience, the accommodations and the ambience. Regent Seven Seas cruise line even includes shore excursions and free pre-cruise hotel stays. A notable exception is Oceania Cruises. Oceania falls into a separate class, “Affordable Luxury” The original Oceania ships, Regatta, Nautica and Insignia are right in the middle of the size range (684 passengers) and the new Marina and Riviera (debuting April, 2012) are somewhat larger, accommodating up to 1,285 guests, with 85{625323b24af37c24f5a97fddb81c67dba8bd357996214eb0318c02ab7c1b66cd} balcony cabins. For the more cost conscious travelers, Oceania ships have inside cabins. Oceania set the standard for “country club casual” dress code back in 2002.

Onboard Activities. Although these ships are port intensive, there is much to choose both on sea days and if you just choose to go into port for a short while. During the day, guests choose to play bridge (some even have pre-arranged tournaments), team trivia, relax and get pampered in a first-class spa, witness food and wine demonstrations, shop in boutiques, take exercise classes, curl up with a book in the library, participate in arts and crafts or just catch up on destination seminars. Evening entertainment may include sophisticated performances from soloists to full scale production shows.

Shore Excursions. With the exception of Regent Seven Seas Cruise line that includes many free excursions in a large variety of ports, cruise line shore excursions are A La Carte. Choose to explore many ports where big ships cannot dock. Some, such as Silversea, port in tiny harbors right at the pier where you can venture on your own to make a brochure come to life. Once, I traveled on a big ship to Nice, took a bus to Monte Carlo, and right in the middle of the multimillion dollar yachts, facing the Casino and the Hotel de Paris, was an Oceania cruise ship.