Monday, April 22, 2013

How to Select the Perfect Stateroom For Your Cruise

A look at the deck plan of a recently built cruise ship is enough to intimidate even the most seasoned cruiser! The rainbow of colors designating cabin / stateroom category (the terms are interchangeable) can exceed 20 on some of the larger vessels. How do you make sense of it all and pick the perfect stateroom? It’s a lot easier than it appears, once you know the basics.

Cruise ship staterooms are comparably smaller than hotel rooms, but are designed for comfort and efficiency. At the very least you can expect a bed, (often two twins that push together to become a queen), nightstands, a desk / dressing table with a mirror, a desk chair, dresser, television, and sometimes a loveseat and coffee table. For cabins accommodating 3 or 4 guests there will beds that flip down, sofa beds or trundle beds. All staterooms have a private bathroom with shower; tubs are usually standard in the suite categories. Disney Cruise Line is the exception, as its family-friendly stateroom design includes a tub.

Choosing your perfect stateroom is a matter of personal choice with budget and desired location being determining factors. Sometimes you must sacrifice one to get the other. At the most basic level, staterooms can be categorized as “inside” (no window), outside / oceanview (having a port hole or picture window), balcony / veranda (having a door that opens on to a small private balcony) or suite (a larger cabin, sometimes with more then one room). Inside cabins are the least expensive, with suites being the most expensive. Guests staying in a suite will be privy to additional amenities, depending on the particular suite and cruise line. Within each of the above categories, pricing is further determined by location. Midship cabins on higher decks will cost more than cabins on lower decks and cabins that are located forward or aft.

In recent years these four basic categories have been subdivided even further. On select ships Royal Caribbean has what they call interior “promenade cabins” with windows that look into the Royal Promenade area of the ship- a lively corridor of shops, bars and eateries. Royal Caribbean Oasis-class ships have “neighborhood view” and “neighborhood balcony” categories with views of Central Park or the Boardwalk are of the ship. Norwegian Cruise Line has studio cabins made for solo travelers on select ships, as well as the private and luxurious Haven complex. Celebrity Cruise Line and others now feature “spa” cabin categories, which give guests more direct access to the ships spa, as well as additional services and amenities.

Concierge cabins and butler service can take your cruise experience to a whole other level. The price jump is significant but many find the level of service they receive, as well as the additional niceties make it well worth the price. Among other things, the concierge can make dinner, show and spa reservations for you, and print airline boarding passes. Some cruise lines have a dedicated Concierge Lounge for private breakfasts and cocktails before dinner. Butlers will serve your meals should you choose to eat in your suite and even pack and unpack for you!

Now that we’ve covered the basics, here is some additional information you should take under consideration when selecting your perfect stateroom:

*  No cabin is “underwater”, even if you’re on the lowest passenger deck.

*  Looking at a deck plan, keep in mind that below what you may perceive to be the lowest deck, are additional decks not shown (crews quarters).
*  If you are worried about, or are prone to seasickness, select a mid ship cabin on a lower deck.
*  If you have minor mobility issues look for a stateroom closer to an elevator bank.
*  If you need an accessible cabin, keep in mind that there is limited availability, so book early.
*  Watch for public areas or service areas nearby any cabin you are considering. A cabin on a deck that is sandwiched between other passenger decks is generally a quiet area.
*  Beware of cabins directly beneath the pool deck. The set up of lounges in the early morning and / or late night pool parties can sometimes be noisy.
*  A cabin ""guarantee"" is one in which you pay for the cabin category you are willing to take, but you allow the cruise line to select the cabin for you. You are guaranteed to get accommodated in at least the category you have selected; you will never get a lower category. Do not opt for a cabin guarantee unless you can honestly say it would not matter where your cabin is located. If you are hoping for an upgrade, you are setting yourself up for a big disappointment.
*  Aft balcony cabins are sought after for a view second to none, as well as an extended balcony that can fit lounge chairs."

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A First Look at Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas

Webster defines “Quantum” as unit of measurement.  RoyalCaribbean defines “Quantum of the Seas” as a quantum leap forward in measuring the WOW!  According to Adam Goldstein, CEO of Royal Caribbean, this new build will be measurably more exciting; measurably more interactive and measurably more entertaining!

Imagine a giant glass bubble, with a guest capacity of 14, attached to a giant mechanical arm that rotates 300 feet above the ocean!  That's North Star! Inspired by the London Eye, each 15 minute ride will give guests a view like no other!

If that’s to tame for your adventure loving spirit, you’ll want to try the Rip Cord by iFly, the first simulated skydiving adventure at sea!  This 75-minute experience is done in a two-story vertical wind tunnel, where after “flight” instruction, guests will float and hover as if free-falling from a plane.

After the above adventures, bumper cars seem quite tame…until you remind yourself this is all happening aboard a 167,800-ton cruise ship! SeaPlex, a huge indoor activity venue will handle an assortment of activities  throughout the day and night, including the cars. There will be a circus school that teaches juggling and trapeze, roller skating (the ice rink has been eliminated), ping pong, and a basketball court. A food truck will be “parked” in case you’re hit with a case of the munchies.

Two70° is the “great room” of Quantum of the Seas. The space is a modern, open area living room with magnificent 270° panoramic views. In the morning it’s the perfect place to kick back and relax with a cup of coffee while taking in the scenery from vast floor to ceiling windows spanning two-and-a-half decks high. During the day, different activities will be going on. By night, Two70° transforms into its evening persona through the use of projection technology allowing for digital scenery to accompany entertainment options such as aerialist performers. And did I mention there also happens to be an ice bar serving up your favorite cocktails? You can hang out here all day and night!

The Music Hall will feature dance classes and improv workshops during the day, and will come alive at night as the heart of the ship’s entertainment.  Live bands, musicians, DJs, and theme nights make every evening exciting.  The space is home to the self-leveling billiard tables, originally found on Radiance-class ships.

On average, Quantum’s staterooms will be nine percent larger than those on the Oasis-class ships, and have a more residential “feel”.  The new modular family-connected rooms will help families or groups find the perfect layout. Suite options will include three junior suite categories, a family junior suite with a full bath and a half, and loft suites located across the stern of the ship.

Studio cabins will include 12 with balconies and 16 inside cabins. All of the interior cabins on the Quantum will feature “virtual balconies” with wall-length digital projections of real-time views of what’s happening outside the ship, whether you’re at sea or in port. You can turn the projections on and off any time you wish.

Bookings on the Quantum of the Seas will be available to Crown & Anchor Society loyalty program members starting May 27, 2013 before opening to the general public on June 4. Quantum will sail out of the New York Harbor from her homeport of Cape Liberty on 7- to 12-night itineraries beginning November 2014."

Monday, April 08, 2013

The Secret Of Booking Onboard

Picture this:  It’s a bright sunny day, and you are lounging by the pool sipping a frozen blue concoction while engrossed in the latest New York Times best selling novel. The strains of calypso music float through the air, a warm gentle breeze caresses your skin and you can’t help but feel you’ve found a piece of paradise.  But isn’t that what cruising is all about?

The only way to make your return to the “real world” the least bit palatable is to be sure you will be returning to the sea one day soon.  The cruise lines know this too, and for that reason, each line has a knowledgeable Onboard Cruise Consultant to assist you in booking your next cruise, before you even disembark your current cruise. Not only will you have something to look forward to, but when you book a cruise while onboard, you’re entitled to a couple of additional benefits!

Almost every cruise line allows guests to lock in a future cruise with a reduced deposit. Not having to tie up additional money for a cruise that may be scheduled in the distant future can be quite beneficial!  In addition, a booking bonus of free onboard credit is often offered, and who doesn’t want to take advantage of free onboard credit?

Onboard credit is like having “ship money” which you may use against any purchases made while you’re on the ship. This includes items purchased from any of the shops, spa and salon treatments, on photography services, laundry, shore excursions, beverages from the bar, restaurant cover charges and gratuities.

For those people that feel they are not ready to choose a particular itinerary for their next cruise vacation, they need not lose out on all the wonderful incentives.  Some cruise lines allow you to make a reduced deposit on an “open passage”, or in other words, a sailing to be determined at a later date.

By now you’re probably wondering why Direct Line Cruises (a travel agency) would encourage you to book your cruise directly with the cruise line. Well, here’s the best part.  When you book onboard, be sure to alert the Onboard Cruise Consultant to the fact that Direct Line Cruises is your cruise travel agency.  Then, when you finalize your booking with Direct Line Cruises, we will guarantee that the rate you are paying is the lowest rate available to you, (always less than or equal to the cruise line’s best available rate).  We will also include travel insurance for cruises that are 5-nights or longer. Lastly, you can combine the cruise line’s offerings with many of the additional amenities we may be offering on that sail date!

Everyone knows that a cruise vacation is a great value.  Not everyone knows that by booking onboard, and then having Direct Line Cruises finalize the booking, the value becomes even greater.  Now you know.  Aren’t you the savvy cruiser!

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Beyond the Beautiful Beaches of Bermuda

Spring is here (or so the calendar tells us) and that means cruise ships will embark on a new season of cruising to Bermuda from northeast ports. Bermuda cruises are popular because unlike most voyages in which a ship visits a port of call for eight hours, multiple nights are more the norm for Bermuda itineraries.  This gives passengers a lot of time to experience the island’s pink sand beaches and luminous turquoise waves. Not a beach lover? That’s ok, because Bermuda offers a myriad of activities for cruisers of all ages!

An afternoon spent at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute (BUEI) will enhance a visitors understanding of the mysteries of the ocean. This is done through interactive and exciting artifacts and exhibits that guests of all ages will enjoy. The first thing that will wow children and adults alike is the life-size replica of a 500-pound, 27-foot long squid that hangs in the entrance hall. Another thriller is the simulated seven-minute trip to the ocean floor by a modern Nautilus-X2 submarine! Kids will especially like the video-simulated shark cage that allows you to experience the charge of a Great White. Among the many other displays, the center houses an exhibit of over 12,000 sea shells, as well as investigates the mysteries surrounding the Bermuda Triangle. The BUEI is located on the outskirts of the City of Hamilton at 40 Crow Lane, Pembroke Parish. At this time admission costs are $12.50 (adults), $10.00 (seniors), $6.00 (children 6-17 years), and free for children 5 years or under.

Located 120 ft underground, Crystal Caves is one of the largest cave systems on the island. With its dramatic formations of stalactites and stalagmites, crystal-like pointed structures formed out of limestone rocks, the cave is an awesome sight! Walk the pontoon bridge across underground Cahow Lake, with a crystal clear depth 55 ft.  If you look down you see stalagmites rising from the cave floor.  Fantasy Cave, right next door, requires a much more challenging climb down into its bowels - just be prepared for the steep climb back to the top! The caves are located at 8 Crystal Caves Road, Hamilton Parish. Current admission prices are $20.00(adults), $8.00(children 5-12 years), and under 5 years are free. Combination ticket to both Crystal and Fantasy Caves are available for $27.00 (adults), and $10.00 (children 5-12 years).

Did you know that St. George was one of the first English towns established in North America? And like its contemporaries (Jamestown, Va., or St. John's, Newfoundland), St. George holds firm to its colonial roots. When you visit you'll pass the same Town Hall and Old Rectory that the settlers used. During the peak summer season, period actors roam the winding streets, simulating the old days -- there are even town criers and townspeople sentenced to the stocks. In 2000, the historic town of St. George became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Be sure to include the following on your itinerary: the Old State House (the oldest stone building on the island), King Square (where you'll find a replica of the pillory, stocks and dunking chair used for punishment) and the Unfinished Church. Bus 1, 3, 10 or 11 will take you to the village of St. George. Walking through the historic town is free, but you'll have to pay to enter some of its sites.

Bermuda Clayworks is the place to go if you are looking for exquisite and colorful ceramic items. It is the site of Bermuda's only full time production pottery.  Over the years it has evolved into a Collective Gallery with several independent studio potters and ceramic artisans working and exhibiting onsite.  The Gallery showcases vivid colored tableware, customized house plaques, salt glazed studio pottery, ceramic jewelry and sculptural and hand built artwork.  The studios and gallery are open year round and are a key cultural island attraction offering a diversity of work in the gallery gift shop.   The studio can be found at 7 Camber Road, Royal Naval Dockyard.

Dolphin Quest Bermuda offers year-round interactive encounters with magnificent bottlenose dolphins for adults, children and groups. Guests may touch, play and interact with dolphins in a unique environment, while also learning about the vital role human’s play in conserving their marine home. Located on the grounds of the National Museum of Bermuda incorporating the Bermuda Maritime Museum in the Royal Naval Dockyard. Dolphin Quest participants who make reservations in advance are not required to pay admission to the National Museum of Bermuda. Non-participants are responsible for the Museum's entrance fee (cash only) to the Museum. A number of different packages are available, which allows the creation of an individualized experience with dolphins. Duration and prices vary greatly.

Ships cruise to Bermuda between May and early October. They leave from the northeast ports of New York City, Boston, Baltimore, and Bayonne, NJ."