What I'm about to say may not be great for the airline industry (my bread and butter so to speak), but did you know that, chances are, you live within an a six-hour drive of a cruise ship port? In fact, most Americans do. Heck, some of you reading this live within walking distance.
Carnival Cruise Lines alone sails from Baltimore, Boston, Charleston, Ft. Lauderdale, Galveston, Honolulu, Jacksonville, Los Angeles, Miami, Mobile, New Orleans, New York, Norfolk, Orlando, San Diego, San Juan and Seattle.
Disney Cruises leave from Galveston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, Port Canaveral and Seattle. In addition, NCL, Princess and Holland America depart from many of those same cities plus San Francisco among other ports. So why fly? Why not take a cruise instead?
Look, I've heard it all before:
Maybe those were valid excuses when Noah sailed his ark, but no longer.
Modern cruise ships, whether big or small, have so much going on that you may never want to disembark.
The advantages of cruising are many. Foremost, there's the value for money. Although airfares and hotel room rates are up in recent years, cruise fares have remained low. You can still find a seven-night cruise to the Caribbean from Florida for $399 per person plus tax, double occupancy. Or a four-night cruise for $199. That's $50 per person, per night. Try getting meals, entertainment and lodging for that price any other way.
A couple of years ago, the ultra-luxurious Seabourn line was offering one-week cruises in Europe, including round-trip airfare from the U.S., for $2,200 per person. Considering that the airfare alone, had you bought it separately, would have cost about $1,500 per person round-trip including tax, you were getting unlimited Champagne and caviar plus all the gourmet meals and stellar entertainment for $100 per person per day. Amazing.
And although I can't imagine that deal being offered again, never say never. (Clearly, the Concordia has brought on an ocean full of discounts and free upgrades.) So sign up for e-mail alerts from cruise lines and follow the bargains posted on CruiseCritic.com or you might miss out on a great deal.
And then there's getting to the port. If you live in Manhattan, as I do, you can literally walk to a cruise ship or take the subway (that's how I usually get there). If you live anywhere near the coasts, as the majority of Americans do, it's an easy drive. No flying! No checked bag fees! No TSA!
Plus, with every new ship, the experience just gets better and more refined. I recently toured the new 1,250-stateroom Disney Fantasy and was amazed by how it combined practical touches (such as split bathrooms, ideal for families traveling together) with whimsical Disney design, engaging entertainment and an opulent spa.
And yet, surprisingly, only 20% of Americans have ever taken a cruise. On my most recent voyage with Seabourn Cruises (my summer vacation), I brought along a reluctant colleague who was in the 80% demographic. Near the end of the voyage, he discovered (without any prompting from me) the other major joy of cruising: You get to see a lot of different places without packing and repacking.
If you hate to pack a suitcase as much as I do -- why does everything fit when you depart but not when you're returning? -- but like to see as many different locales in as short a time as possible, cruising is the way to go. Or even if, like me, you'd be happy never to get off the ship and just stare at the open sea rushing past from your stateroom's balcony, cruising is a great experience. (By the way, my cruising companion now says it was the best trip he's ever taken, and he's traveled a lot.)
Now, admittedly, cruising isn't for everyone. But unlike the airlines, which are despairingly generic these days, the cruise industry has segmented itself into market niches. Got teenagers or are you the antsy type? Go with Royal Caribbean's mega ships (such as the Allure of the Seas) with their basketball courts and climbing walls.
Infants and toddlers (or kids of any age, really) along for the ride? Disney Cruise Line is the one for you. Just enjoy being on the open ocean for days on end, attending lectures and dancing to a big band orchestra? Go with Cunard.
Younger and looking for a fun atmosphere? Carnival. Foodie and a Four Seasons Hotel fan? Seabourn or Crystal. Hate crowds? Check out Sea Dream Yacht Club (112 passengers served by 95 staff).
And let's not forget river cruising, one of the fastest growing market segments, where Viking River Cruises has long been an industry leader.
Whoever you are, there's a ship or a line that will float your boat.
And who knows, your trip might even begin with a leisurely stroll to the pier, instead of a barefoot pat-down at an airport screening line.
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