A couple of months ago, I received an email request for a phone interview. A freelance writer, Mark Cantrell, was putting together a cruise-related article for a magazine. The topic was aimed at the benefits of a cruise vacation and then planning a cruise. I happened to be out of the country so I asked him if he could email his questions to me.
The phone call probably would have taken 15 minutes, but to answer his questions in writing took at least two hours. The good news is that now I can share my cruise planning advice here on Cruise Maven.
If you are planning a cruise for 2019 or still on the fence about why you should take a cruise vacation, here are his questions and my answers.
Why should people consider a cruise rather than another kind of vacation?
One word comes to mind; simplicity. With a cruise vacation, there’s no unpack and repack to visit a variety of destinations around the world. Everything is taken care of and you can still be as independent as you’d like to be if you just want to go out on your own in port.
Also, you can plan your cruise based on budget by selecting a specific stateroom category, dining options and shore excursions. If you plan well, you won’t feel nickel’d and dime’d.
New ships coming out in 2019
While there are a total of eight new ships launching in 2019, only three will actual have their homeport in the U.S.; Norwegian Encore (Miami), Carnival Panorama (Long Beach, CA) and Sky Princess (Fort Lauderdale). The remainder: Viking Jupiter (Europe), Celebrity Flora (Galapagos), Royal Caribbean Spectrum of the Seas (China) and MSC Bellisima (Europe and Middle East) and Grandiosa (Europe).
What will be new for the cruise industry in spring 2019?
-Extended time in ports
-More active shore excursions
-Traditional dining room dinners overtaken by open seating, buffets and specialty dining
-Fewer people dressing to the 9’s on formal night (while there still are formal nights)
-Adults-only cruise lines like Viking Ocean and the 2020 Virgin Voyages
What will be the top cruise destinations in 2019?
Caribbean is always a prime destination and longer cruises to the Southern Caribbean are becoming popular. Places like Alaska will see fewer cruise ships in 2019 while it appears that more cruises to Northern Europe and the Baltic will be added.
What are some specialized or theme cruises people might be interested in?
Next year, the first week of June, any ocean cruise that docks in northern France or any Seine river cruise that gets to Normandie on June 6, the 75th commemorative anniversary for the D-Day Invasion. Family cruise vacations (multi-generation or grandparents and grandkids) especially during school breaks, too.
There are river cruises that feature wines, ocean cruises with old rock and roll bands or heavy metal. So many theme cruises it’s hard to choose, if that’s what you’re into doing.
What are some of the most popular cruises?
Three-night weekend cruise getaways are always popular, especially from Florida. Those ships always sail full. Western Mediterranean cruises, from either Barcelona or Rome (Civitavecchia) also sell out well before sailing. An Alaska cruise is truly a bucket list item and with fewer ships in 2019, space should be at a premium.
Are river cruises gaining popularity?
Definitely. Whether Europe or U.S., river cruises are still booming. In the US, mainly growth on the Mississippi and Columbia & Snake river cruises. New river ships are launched every year, some even designed for specific rivers like the winding Douro in Portugal or the shallow Elbe in Germany.
Is it better to book through the cruise lines directly, or via a travel agent?
It’s always best to book a cruise through a travel agent. People always think they’re smarter and can get a better rate if they go direct to the cruise line. What they don’t know is that travel agents belong to consortiums and these consortiums have either special negotiated group pricing which may also include added amenities like an onboard credit, wine or specialty dining or a spa treatment. Planning a cruise is much easier with a travel agent.
How has cruising changed in the last decade or two?
Cruising has definitely become more casual in both dress code and dining options. There are more balcony staterooms these days than there were 20 years ago. Staterooms are larger, include more features (TV, non-wall mounted hair dryer, more suites with butlers, larger spas, huge water parks, and of course all the rock climbing walls, go-kart tracks, zip lines etc.
Onboard entertainment is reaching new heights, literally. Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas features daredevil diving and aerial acrobatics at the Aqua Theater, while MSC Meraviglia entertains passengers with the first-ever Cirque du Soleil at sea. Norwegian Bliss Go-Karts take guests for a thrill ride 17 stories above the sea.
What should first-time cruisers be aware of?
Planning a cruise can be a little daunting. Make sure to note and memorize the final payment date and refund dates. Miss your final payment date and the cruise line can and will cancel your booking. (Another reason to enlist the help of a travel agent is to keep track of due dates).
Be aware of hidden costs – gratuities, bottled water, alcohol and shore excursions, specialty dining can add hundreds of dollars to your cruise if you’re not prepared. If possible, head to your cruise line’s website and purchase whatever you might want on the cruise, before the cruise. Royal Caribbean offers a steep pre-cruise discount on everything from shore excursions to internet time and beverage packages.
What would you say is the absolute best thing about taking a cruise?
To be out at sea, standing on your private balcony on a moonlit night, breathing in the sea air and enjoying the peacefulness of the moment.