Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cruising – An Interesting, Relaxing & Carefree Experience

                The Nautica, Oceania Cruise Line

Judging by the growth of the cruise industry over the past few years most people reading my article may have already had a cruise experience. On the other hand if it is true that only 10% of Americans have passports, maybe you have not been on a cruise. In either case read on for new information or just compare my comments with your own previous cruise experience. A cruise is really an easy way to travel. No driving, most of your travel decisions have been made for you, no unpacking every night, and good food all the time. If you use a travel agent (you should as this is the last bastion of free travel service) all of the details, flight arrangements, hassle, and thinking has been taken care of by your travel expert. It is an obvious popular way to vacation as the industry, and the number of ships, is quickly growing, while travel in general has been declining.

You can customize your cruising choice, as certain ships and cruise companies cater to individual tastes. Mary Ann and I prefer smaller ships with fewer passengers, with a lot of port stops. With fewer passengers, the ports visited do not become so overwhelmed by the visitors. Other ship options can include history emphasis, party ships, ships for children, college alumni groups, long ocean trips, and the list goes on. Recently, we completed a 13 day cruise (our third cruise) in the Eastern Mediterranean with Oceania Cruises on the “Nautica”. Many cruise passengers are older and our cruise was no exception. The average age was 68 (hooray, we were below the average), there were no children on board, and all the activities and entertainment were focused on this age bracket. The Nautica had just 684 passengers, but there were 400 members of the crew to spoil us. Oceania Cruises is a pretty high end operator and pride themselves on unusual ports of call and very few “at sea” days.

The Nautica was truly elegant, and exceedingly well run. Their business plan must be working as the company has two more ships under construction. There was a completely international crew from over 30 countries (all speaking English) and were very well trained to spoil and pamper you. The cuisine, in both quantity and quality, was exceptional. We had our choice of five restaurants, plus throw in high tea in the lounge, appetizers with happy hour, and 24 hour room service all adding up to serious eating. The cruising food formula does not let you pay for anything while on the ship, except for alcohol and wine.

Judging by the mailings I receive, the cruise industry is targeting affinity groups like universities and professional associations. Our cruise on Nautica was in that category as there were 62 Notre Dame Alumni passengers. However you select a cruise, I think it is more fun to have some friends along. We have had friends with us on two cruises, and we were alone on one. On this trip four couples traveled together and I think we all had a wonderful time. If you are not an aggressive new friend maker, traveling with a few friends just shares the fun (and the conversations). Uh, oh, I am now probably in trouble with wonder woman. I am sure I really like talking to her all the time!

Living on the ship gives you a lot of options. These included a casino, art auctions, cooking classes, computer classes, wine tasting, history lectures, martini tasting, exercise gym, spa, many choices of evening entertainment, and all sorts of deck sports including hot tubs and swimming pool. However, the main way the cruise line supplemented the cruising flat fee was to encourage shore tours when in port. Depending on the tour length, from four to eight hours, you could end up paying from $80 to $175 per person per tour. We carefully picked and chose from the extensive array of tours and selected four tours over the 13 days. At several ports where the pier (or tendering from the ship) was right in a downtown area, we just walked off the ship and explored or shopped on our own.

Even for someone like Mary Ann and I, who mostly like to travel and explore on our own, cruising once and awhile is a lot of fun and a nice change of pace. Our three cruises have been spread over 15 years, and they seem to be getting better and better (maybe that is because we are getting older and older). There are hundreds, if not thousands, of prices and choices available from the many cruise lines. Check out the brochures and cruise materials from a travel agent and start dreaming. Many of the itineraries offered these days are very exciting and in some exceptional parts of the world.

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