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Why Fly When You Can Take A Cruise Instead?

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CRUISE
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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 easy drive of a cruise ship port? In fact, most Americans do. Heck, some of you reading this live with walking distance. Carnival Cruise Lines, alone, sails from Baltimore, Boston, Cape Canaveral, Charleston, Ft. Lauderdale, Galveston, Honolulu, Jacksonville, Los Angeles, Miami, Mobile, New Orleans, New York, Norfolk, San Diego, San Juan and Seattle. In addition, Princess and Holland America depart from San Francisco among other ports and NCL from Tampa and elsewhere. And judging by your comments on these pages and others, you're not all that enamored of flying anymore. So why fly? Why not take a cruise instead?

People who know me are surprised that, although I created a site called Airfarewatchdog.com, I'd much rather take a cruise (or an Amtrak train) than fly somewhere. And living in midtown Manhattan, as I do, I can actually walk to our cruise terminal or drive or take a subway to terminals in Brooklyn and New Jersey. In fact, I've just returned on a two-day cruise to nowhere on Celebrity's newest ship, the Silhouette, and I drove 20 minutes to Bayonne, NJ to get on board. And how did I spend my summer vacation? On a cruise from Athens to Venice -- yes, I did have to fly to get there -- on Seabourn Cruise Line's newest ship, the Quest.

The advantages of cruising over flying are many, and I'm not just talking about free food and more legroom. Foremost, there's the value for money. Although airfares and hotel room rates are up, 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, and a lot less than many airfares. Try getting meals, entertainment and lodging for that price any other way.

Last year, the ultra-luxurious Seabourn was offering one-week cruises in Europe, including round-trip airfare from the US, 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. So sign up for email alerts from Seabourn and other cruise lines or you might miss out on a great deal.

And how was my summer cruise on Seabourn? In a word, perfect. Whereas when you fly, there's always something to gripe about -- uncomfortable seats, less than enthusiastic staff, bossy TSA agents, crowded airports, bad or no food -- it's a different world on-board a cruise ship. Usually when I stay in a hotel, I can find one little thing to complain about, but honestly, on my Seabourn trip I was so blown away by the quality that I actually wrote the captain a thank you letter. I hope he shared it with the crew.

And yet, surprisingly, only 20 percent of Americans have ever taken a cruise. On my most recent voyage, I brought along a friend who was in the 80 percent 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, 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.

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 with their basketball courts and climbing walls. Infants and toddlers 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 hotels fan? Seabourn or Crystal. Hate crowds? Check out Sea Dream Yacht Club with 112 passengers served by 95 staff. 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.