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Douglas Ward, Cruise Expert, Shares His Ship Wisdom

Posted: 12/11/2012 7:00 am

Douglas Ward is the author of the just-released Berlitz 2013 Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships (now in its 28th edition), an invaluable resource to anyone planning a cruise. Ward also serves as president of the Maritime Evaluations Group, an American company that has published yearly reports cards on some 300 cruise ships each year, since 1980.

He has a long history of working aboard cruise ships. His first job at sea was as a leader of a small jazz and dance band in first class aboard Cunard Line's Queen Elizabeth, then the world's largest passenger ship. Over a period of 17 years, and in various roles, he worked for nine different cruise companies, lastly as cruise director.

Here are some of Ward's reflections on cruising:

Over your 47 years in cruising, how many cruises have you taken?

Although I keep a log, I don't always do a complete cruise these days (some are simply too long for me to fit into my busy ship schedule). I have, however, either taken over 1,030 full or part cruises to date, although I think a more accurate way of describing the amount of travel is in days -- it's now more than 5,800 days at sea (using a calculator, that amounts to more than 15 365-day years), plus numerous shipyard visits and stays aboard new or refitted ships for one or two nights for naming ceremonies.

Which itineraries are among your favorites and why?

This is difficult, because my answer today could be the Norwegian or Chilean fjords -- simply for the scenery, peace and quiet. But tomorrow, it could be the Antarctic Peninsula, and the next day it could be Papua, New Guinea. Overall, however, I think that anywhere in the Mediterranean is enjoyable -- for the different cultures, traditions, history, architecture, food and the sheer variety of experiences available in a short period. I also love cruising in Southeast Asia -- again for the difference in cultures, food, traditions and customs.

What type of cruises would you recommend for couples celebrating a milestone anniversary or big birthday, and why?

It depends whether the couple likes large resort ships, romantic sail-cruise ships, expedition ships or perhaps a river cruise. Today there are so many choices. However, for something different, I suggest a cruise under sail aboard Sea Cloud or Sea Cloud II -- because these ships are simply different to most cruise ships. Perhaps another nice experience would be aboard the small ships SeaDream I and SeaDream II -- where you can sleep under the stars (pajamas are provided -- and you get to take them home) on Balinese Dream Beds. For a celebration aboard a large resort ship, perhaps booking the Sophia Loren Suite aboard MSC Divina, a lavish owner's suite aboard Oceania Cruises' Marina or Riviera or take a transatlantic crossing aboard Queen Mary 2 would do it.

What are the four or five biggest rip-offs cruisers can avoid? What precautions do travelers need to take to avoid spending more than they've budgeting for a cruise vacation?

  • Watch out for onboard currency conversion rates, which can be higher than those quoted by banks and other credit card companies.
  • Don't pay additional gratuities (e.g. for spa treatments or at a coffee bar) if a gratuity has already been added to your bill.
  • Expensive transfer buses in some ports, such as Athens, Barcelona, and Civitavecchia (the port for Rome).
  • Bottled mineral water can cost as much as $4.50 a bottle (on celebrity cruises).
  • It's nice to take navigation bridge tours, but it is worth $150 per person like it costs on Norwegian Cruise Line and Princess Cruises?
  • The cost of bingo cards is rising dramatically. The major cruise lines charge a lot to play bingo (Norwegian Cruise Line, for example, charges $40 for a block of four cards.

In order to budget wisely, I suggest you add 20 to 25 percent of your cruise cost for extras.

What article(s) do you always pack in your bag when you cruise?

I always pack my preferred personal toiletries, a good book for bedtime, a tube of super glue (for luggage repair, etc) and a small screwdriver (for my spectacles).

What do you sometimes forget to take?

The right adapters and conversion plugs for my computer/shaver/digital camera battery, etc. Oh, and a comb (for my hair)!

What are your pet peeves? What do you wish cruise lines could do better?

My personal pet peeves vary according to the cruise line, type and size of ship, the comfort factor and degree of luxury the line is trying to deliver. However, my Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships lists over 50 of them (including many from other passengers -- my readers).

One major pet peeve is the fixed-head bathroom showers aboard some ships (such as the ships of Princess Cruises and many standard cabins aboard Cunard Line's Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria). Showers affixed to the wall mean that it is difficult to wash one's "underparts" -- that is, unless one stands on one's head (my wife totally agrees with me on this one, as do many women who write to me)!

What has been the biggest advance in the cruise industry over the last decade?

From a marine viewpoint, it is the introduction of "pod" propulsion, rather than the conventional propeller/rudder combination. The main reason is because pods (they hang like a giant outboard motor -- weighing about 170 tons -- under the ship enable it to turn in its own space if necessary. A second reason is the virtual disappearance of vibration with pod propulsion systems.

From a product viewpoint, it is the wider choice in dining venues, whether included in the price or at extra cost, and the introduction of open seating, which allows passengers to choose when and with whom they would like to dine.


The 700-page print edition of the 2013 Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships includes information on new ships coming in 2013. The eBook 2013 Berlitz Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships is available from Amazon and Apple. The Berlitz Cruise Ships app for the iPhone and iPad is available from Apple. For additional information, click here.

Irene S. Levine, PhD is an award-winning travel writer and member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW). You can follow her blog for travelers over 50 at More Time To Travel or on Twitter.

 

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