What’s new to cruising: part three

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

More and more of us are taking to the water for our holiday. With this in mind, we asked  travel guide publisher Berlitz to tell us what’s new for 2013 in the world of cruising

How to get the best deal
• Find out what’s available by reading newspaper advertising and checking the Internet. Then identify a travel agency that specializes in cruises. In some countries, such as the UK, they’ll be bonded if they belong to a shipping association. A good agent will get you the best price, as well as upgrades and other benefits you won’t be able to get on your own.
• Big travel agency groups and consortiums often reserve large blocks of cabins, and smaller independent agencies can access extensive discounts not available on the internet. Because the cruise lines consider travel agents as their principal distribution system, they provide special discounts and value-added amenities that aren’t provided to Internet sites.
• Cruise lines offer their best prices to those who book early. It’s worth taking the bait to get the best choice of cabin and location, and the best chance of any up- grades, in case any are offered closer to your sailing date. Booking late may sometimes get you cheaper prices, too, but you won’t get a choice of cabins and locations, so you could end up with a tiny cupboard above the galley.
• Choose an older ship – the newest, much publicized ships command a premium.
• If you’re on a tight budget, book an interior (no view) cabin on one of the best ships, instead of an outside cabin on a less fancy ship. This buys you better food and entertainment for the same money.
• A number of ships offer drinks-inclusive pricing, saving you a bundle in extra onboard costs. It works well for families with children.
• Savvy passengers join frequent passenger clubs to get maximum benefits. These offer additional perks (onboard credit, free Wi-Fi service, private cocktail parties), and further discounts for booking your next cruise while on board (at prices not available on the Internet).
• Check to make sure that all port charges, government fees, and any fuel surcharges are included in an advertised price quote.
• If you find a highly discounted cruise rate on the Internet, fine. But, if a cruise line suddenly offers special discounts for your sailing, or cabin upgrades, or things go wrong with your booking, your Internet booking service may prove quite unfriendly – many are not licensed or bonded. Your specialist travel agent, however, can probably work magic in making those special discounts and upgrades benefit you. And there’s a bonus: travel agents don’t charge for their service.

A deal to avoid: Don’t fall for one of those automated telemarketing scams, operated mainly from the United States, which tell you ‘Congratulations! You’ve won a free two-night cruise,’ or, ‘If you just answer our 10-question survey we’ll send you two boarding passes for a two-night Bahamas cruise.’ These are scams – nothing more – and are not connected to genuine cruise lines. Don’t even think about giving your credit card details ‘for port taxes.’

E-cruising is in
Many cruise lines have changed to online bookings and check-in. This makes life difficult for anyone with arthritis or typing problems, or for households without a computer, and bad luck if there’s a power outage, your router or computer gives up the ghost, or you run out of printer ink. There’s a lot to be said for letting your travel agent do it all for you. Computer-generated pre-cruise documentation looks like it comes from an automaton rather than a human. Be prepared to fill out a multi-page online personal information form. The form letter and embarkation instructions are impersonal, and the terms and conditions are in such small type that you’ll need a magnifying glass to read them. Cruise companies now make you print your own boarding passes, travel documents, and luggage tags. someone who does. If you go through a travel agent, they can print these for you. These documents will also allow you to pass through the port’s security station to get to your dock. Inevitably, though, there is more reliance on e-technology, and this means the reduction of the number of paper tickets issued by the cruise lines – but you’ll have to spend more money to print out your tickets, boarding pass, paper luggage tags, and other documents. So, in effect, many cruise lines have passed the carbon footprint buck to you, the consumer. Only the more exclusive, upscale cruise lines, expedition companies, and tall ship lines now provide boxes or wallets packed with documents, cruise tickets, leather (or faux-leather) luggage tags, and colorful destination booklets – cruise lines operating large resort ships have all but abandoned such niceties. Aboard ship, e-technology is increasingly prominent. Today, we are seeing the disappearance of printed news sheets and sports results, with news available only on in-cabin ‘interactive’ television systems.

Getting on the brandwagon
Image-conscious cruise lines are jockeying to become the ‘greenest’ brand. Size is a major factor, and so each line touts the benefits of its particular size of ship. For that reason, choosing the right-size ship for your vacation is now more important than ever. Rebranding sometimes involves a change of name. Azamara Cruises, for example, restyled itself more intimately as Azamara Club Cruises.

The 2013 Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships is now available in e-book format (£17.99), while the printed edition (704 pages) is published on 1st October (£17.99 www.insightguides.com/berlitz/berlitz-cruising). Also available now is the Berlitz Cruise Ships 2013 App (£6.99) for the iPhone and iPad which allows would-be cruise-goers to quickly search through all 284 ships according to their needs, whether for family travel, cuisine, accommodation, size of ship and many other criteria.

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