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Linda Coffman: The Cruise Diva

"Linda Coffman, aka "The Cruise Diva," is one of the travel industry's foremost experts on cruising."
~
TravelChannel.com

Linda responded to questions posed by The Travel Channel viewers during Cruise Week in April 2003. Following is a condensed transcript.

Question: If you book a land tour on board, and the tour for some reason is late for the departure, does the boat wait? If not, how do the people re-board? Who pays for it?

Answer: Yes, if you book a shore tour through the ship's excursion desk and are delayed, the ship will wait for you. In the rare case that the ship has to leave the pier, arrangements will be made for you to meet the ship. A likely scenario would be that the ship would anchor offshore and passengers would be tendered to it to reboard.

I've taken 40+ cruises and have only had occasion to run into this situation twice. Once we were delayed and the ship waited for us. The other time we were anchored offshore at a port that required tendering. A storm blew in and sea conditions made it unsafe to continue ferrying passengers back to the ship. We had to move to the nearest port to dock and passengers were shuttled to meet the ship. No one was left behind.

If you arrange a private tour and are late returning, the ship may leave without you. When touring independently, you are responsible for being back on board in time and, if you miss the ship, you have to pay to get to the next port to reboard. In foreign ports where you want to explore areas that are relatively far from the ship, I recommend ship's excursions for safety and peace of mind. Just a hint... your daily program should have the name and telephone number of the "port agent" listed in it. If you have a problem ashore, you can call on the port agent for assistance. Always carry that information with you when going ashore.

Question: If you get sick on board, is it treated as a regular hospital visit, billed to your medical insurance coverage? What if it is due to some ship-related illness?

Answer: I'm glad you asked this question. Medical care is available on cruise ships, much like that which is available at an outpatient clinic, although there are overnight accommodations for more serious problems.

If you are examined by the ship's doctor, be prepared to pay for your office visit. Unless you carry very comprehensive medical insurance coverage, you probably are not covered for treatment aboard a cruise ship, or in any foreign country, for that matter. Check before you leave home and be prepared to pay for any treatment you require and file your own claim later. If your medical coverage is through Medicare, you will not be covered outside the United States. It is worth noting that ALL ships of foreign registry are considered to be "outside the United States" by Medicare; however, this point is not explained clearly in the Medicare Manual.

When booking a cruise, your travel agent should inquire whether you wish to purchase a special travel insurance policy that covers illness and injury in addition to other hazards. If the agent doesn't ask you, you should ask him. Some independent insurance carriers offer very comprehensive policies at attractive rates and nearly all cruise lines offer their own line of insurance. Compare the coverage and rates to determine which is best for you.

And don't forget to pack an adequate supply of any prescription medications you regularly take. The ship's pharmacy may not have what you need. If they do, great. But don't expect the ship's doctor to hand over pills without examining you. After all, if you were on a land vacation, a physician unfamiliar with you wouldn't be likely to give prescription medications because you said you needed them.

If there is an outbreak of illness on your ship, the cruise line may offer complimentary medical treatment as several of them did when many passengers became ill with Norwalk Virus last year. Those instances of on board illness are usually rare and are often handled on a case by case basis.

On the other hand, it's been my experience that if you are injured on the ship or on a shore excursion you arranged through the cruise line, then medical treatment is usually offered without charge. Again, that is determined by the policies of the individual cruise lines and may vary. That's another good reason to purchase insurance--it's better to be safe than sorry!

Question: I like to go exploring, but I don't want to feel rushed or be worried that I may be late. If a boat is in port for 8 hours (arrive ~ 8am, departs ~ 4pm) how much real time ashore is there? What is the average time to get off, and on, assuming those wanting to get off at the same time?

Answer: If your ship arrives in port at 8am, you will probably be able to debark the vessel within a half hour or so. However, the ship must "clear" before anyone goes ashore--in other words, local officials come aboard to make sure all paperwork is in order and, in some ports, to examine passengers' passports. Depending on the port of call, this can be a very brief or drawn-out procedure. There's really no way to anticipate how long it will take, particularly if your fellow passengers hold up the process by not reporting to immigration officials as required.

If your vessel calls on a port where it cannot dock, the passengers on scheduled shore excursions are usually the first to go ashore in the ship's tenders. Everyone else queues for a numbered "tender ticket" (first-come, first-served) and then waits to be called to catch a boat ashore.

All passengers are required to be back on board the vessel at least a half-hour before scheduled departure. In a perfect world, an 8am to 4pm port call is realistically a maximum of seven hours ashore.

Question: Do I need to bring my own hair dryer and clothes iron? If so, do most ships have US-related electrical conditions, 110 volt outlets? Also, does one's room get made up each day?

Answer: First... irons are a no-no on cruise ships! The worst disaster at sea is fire and the use of irons in cabins is viewed as a terrible fire hazard. Instead of an iron, consider a travel steamer or send wrinkled garments to be pressed by the ship's laundry for a modest fee. Some ships have self-serve laundry rooms with ironing stations.

Most modern cruise ship cabins have hair dryers and your travel agent can find out for you if yours is equipped with one. For your other small appliances, such as a battery charger, curling iron, or electric shaver, there are 110-volt outlets. However, there is usually only one outlet in the bathroom (for shavers only) and one in the stateroom near the desk or vanity table. If you have to plug in more than one item at a time, you might want to bring along a small power strip.

Your cabin will be made up twice each day. The steward will make the bed, leave fresh towels, and tidy things up in the morning. While you are at dinner he will turn down the bed, bring more fresh towels, and leave you the program for the next day and a mint on your pillow. Get ready to be spoiled!!!

Question: What is the average additional amount of money spent per person, per day on extras they use(i.e. services) or consume (i.e. liquor) on board, above the booking price? Do not include souvenirs or things they take home.

Answer: Cruise lines may have statistics regarding on board spending averages, but I've never seen them published.

My observation is that spending on additional items that are not included in the basic cruise fare is a very personal matter, based on individual lifestyles. For instance, at a table for eight... one couple might order a bottle of wine with dinner each evening, another may drink iced tea, a third couple might order soft drinks, and the fourth may prefer to drink water. Some passengers like to be pampered in the spa, while others have fun playing Bingo.

My husband and I enjoy a late evening liqueur in a quiet lounge, but some of our friends get a kick out of the excitement in the casino. Odds are that some of us are going to come out ahead spending-wise (depending on Lady Luck).

Each individual has to consider their vacation budget and watch their on board charges accordingly. It's a good idea to get a print out of your charges at least once or twice during your cruise to make sure you haven't exceeded what you can afford. There are many shipboard activities that cost nothing additional and it's possible to spend very little while still having a great cruise experience.

Another consideration is the all-inclusiveness of your cruise. More "extra" items are included in the fares of the luxury cruise lines, such as Silversea, Radisson, Crystal, and Seabourn, than on other cruise lines. When computing the total cost of a cruise, sometimes it doesn't cost more to sail on a luxury ship when you look at the bottom line.

Question: I love to cruise, but the sailing schedules offered by many cruise lines don't always seem to fit my schedule. Are there any cruise lines that offer greater flexibility?

Answer: I understand your frustration. While you can leave almost any ship after a few days, you have to pay for the entire cruise.

However, there are some alternatives to the traditional one-week schedules that most people associate with cruises. Cruises now embark from more port cities throughout the US than ever before and it's not necessary to travel to Miami or Fort Lauderdale to take a cruise. Depending on where you live, you might find you are within driving distance of such ports as Galveston, New Orleans, Charleston, Baltimore, and others. In addition, many cruises are offered in varying lengths, from three, four, and five days. You may be able to squeeze one into a long weekend.

Silversea Cruises' "Personalized Voyages" offers the greatest flexibility. A Personalized Voyage allows passengers to create their own cruise vacation itinerary by enabling them to embark and debark from a wide selection of enticing Caribbean, South American, and European ports. Your cruise ship is essentially a luxurious floating hotel that takes you where you want to go and you pay for only those days you actually spend on board. 

In addition, "The World" of ResidenSea. She's a gem and is returning to North America soon. According to a recent announcement: The World's new itinerary in May, June and early July take guests and residents from Hawaii to Los Angeles, sailing down the coast for sun and surf throughout the Mexican Riviera; back up along the California coast and Oregon, visiting destinations such as Los Angeles, San Diego, Catalina Island, Monterey, Sausalito, San Francisco and Astoria; then north to Victoria and into British Columbia, with a round-trip voyage from Vancouver calling in Nanaimo, Campbell River and Tahsis. After calling in Sitka and Kodiak in early July, The World will resume its original 2003 itinerary on July 11 in Anchorage, Alaska.

Question: Linda, I'm a big fan of your website, CruiseDiva.com! I was browsing recently and came across your link to ShoreTrips.com, the online shore excursion company. When I was checking to see what excursions were available for Grand Cayman and what times they left and returned, I noticed that they schedule according to "Island Time." I was wondering how that worked with respect to "Cruise Ship Time," like, if my ship departs from Tampa, FL, and arrives at 7:00 am in Grand Cayman, what time is it really on the island? I know that Grand Cayman is 1 hour behind Tampa, so if we arrive there at 7, is it really only 6 am? Or do the ships change the clocks accordingly? I don't want to miss the boat!

Answer: Thank you! It is so rewarding to have such nice feedback on my web site.

Ship time vs. local time... it's such a cause for confusion. A lot depends on which ship you are cruising on, the itinerary, and the time of year (whether the US is on standard or daylight savings time). Most of the ships I've sailed on adhere to the time zone they are in and the ships' clocks have been set forward or back to adhere to local time. Passengers are also advised to change their watches to the 'correct' time--there is usually a reminder card on your pillow before you go to bed. However, not all ships do that! As you noted, some ships stay on "ship" time, which can be different from "island" time.

Here's where it's tricky... Florida embarkation ports are on Eastern time (and Eastern daylight savings time). Grand Cayman is in the same time zone so during standard time (last Sunday of October until the first Sunday of April) there is no problem, mon. However, during daylight savings time, Grand Cayman will be one hour behind Florida because Grand Cayman doesn't observe daylight savings time.

If you arrive in Grand Cayman at 9am and your ship DOES NOT make the local time adjustment, it will be 8am ashore when the US is on daylight savings time. If Cozumel is on your itinerary, it is in the Central Time Zone, but DOES observe daylight savings time on the same schedule as the US. Therefore, Cozumel is always an hour behind Florida (and it's the same time there as in Grand Cayman during daylight savings time).

The best way to insure that you return to the ship on time is to check and double check what time the ship is observing before you go ashore and make certain your watch is correct. Allow yourself plenty of time to get back on board, especially in Grand Cayman where tendering is mandatory. Local tour operators are accustomed to the ships' schedules and will lend a hand with timing when you book your excursions. I hope this is clearer than mud!

Question: I'm wondering -- out of all of the cruises you have been on, which one has been your favorite and why?

Answer: Goodness, selecting a favorite cruise is like a mother picking her favorite child. Some cruises stand out, though. Our first was on Norwegian Cruise Line's SS Norway and we fell in love with the ship. So much so, that Mel and I have sailed on her three times.

The most romantic cruise we've taken together was on Windstar's Wind Surf--the itinerary (Lisbon to Barcelona) was fascinating and the ship is a delight with intimate spaces and warm, personal service.

I sailed last year on Silversea's Silver Shadow from Rio to Buenos Aires and the ship and itinerary were exceptional. The service was top-notch and the food (including Thanksgiving dinner) was just out of this world. The suites are beautiful. Last year I also sailed with a group of online girlfriends on Royal Caribbean's Enchantment of the Seas. We had a marvelous time!

Personally, the BEST cruise is the one I'm looking forward to!

Question: I'm interested in spending as much time in a port as possible. Are there some cruise lines that offer more time in port with overnights than other lines?

Answer: Yes, there are! And you bring up a good point--a cruise is a wonderful way to travel to numerous destinations. Everything is taken care of for you and you aren't constantly unpacking and repacking so it's possible to concentrate on the ports of call. When I research a cruise, one of the first things I do is evaluate the itinerary. Then I read guidebooks to determine whether a particular ship spends enough time in port to see the places that are the most appealing to me.

While a day might be all the time that is needed to explore a tiny island destination or a small port in Alaska, there are other destinations that demand more time. Two of my favorites are Venice, Italy and St. Petersburg, Russia. It's just not possible to experience Venice in a day and, although most cruise ships spend two days in St. Petersburg, seeing the most fascinating sights can be a mad blur of rushing from one place to another to take it all in. Silversea Cruises has extended their port calls in St. Petersburg to three days this summer, affording guests more time to sightsee at their leisure.

Overnight port calls offer another attractive option--the ability to dine ashore, attend a show, or take in the nightlife. This is especially desirable in South America where a tango show is a must-see in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Your options for overnight port stays are generally broader on luxury lines that cruise to far flung worldwide destinations. Look over the itineraries offered by Silversea Cruises, The World of ResidenSea, Raddison Seven Seas, and Windstar Cruises. Even some segments of world cruises feature overnight port stays. In the Caribbean, some ships overnight or have late night departures in Cozumel and Aruba, which allows passengers to sample the clubs. A rare late night sailing from Key West is a sublime treat for viewing the legendary sunset.

Bear in mind that sometimes itineraries must be altered due to weather or other unexpected problems. That can work to your advantage, though. One time we couldn't leave port because of a nasty storm, but we were delighted to have an extra day in Rome as a result. I hope this gives you some ideas.

Question: I have received conflicting views when I ask people who have taken a cruise before if they suggest using the cruises excursions or planning your own adventure?

What do you suggest? Are there things to watch out for when planning your own excursions outside of the cruise company? I have heard several people say it can be much more enjoyable to do it on your own.

Answer: Tours can be a large expense, so you want to select them wisely. Shore excursions range from a simple half-day bus tour for less than $50 per person to exotic adventures and helicopter flights that can run $200 and higher per person. Some tours are cheaper if you arrange them yourself, either by contacting a tour operator ahead of time or hiring a guide when you arrive in port. In the latter case, the per person cost can be cut even further if you share your guide and transportation with another couple or group.

Whether you book a shore excursion on the ship or explore your port of call independently depends on you and your comfort level in unfamiliar surroundings. It helps if you speak the local language.

I don't hesitate to suggest touring on your own in most Caribbean islands--many taxi drivers are accustomed to acting as impromptu guides. A taxi or van can certainly be more comfortable than a bus and you might get a lot more insight into your destination from your driver/guide.

On the other hand, if what you want to see is quite a distance from the pier, you might want to book a ship's excursion for safety and to insure you return to the ship on time. If you're on your own and are delayed, the ship will sail without you. In some ports of call it's just advisable to stick with a ship's tour. For instance, you don't want to go wandering around in some locales on your own.

A private guide who comes highly recommended can offer a very satisfying experience, you can set your own agenda, and often see a lot more than you would with a ship's shore excursion. Striking off on your own with a guidebook can be a satisfying adventure and many port cities around the world have efficient public transportation systems that aren't difficult to navigate.

These are some of the pros and cons, but only you can determine what is the right choice.

Question: Hi, I saw a show on the Travel Channel that featured this amazing cruise ship. The part that sticks out in my mind is this area in the belly of the ship that was designed like a public street, with shops and restaurants and areas for the people to dine "outside" as if it were truly out in the open. It also had a dance club that was completely sound-proof. It also had a private island it visited. I also remember that some of the estate rooms were on this "street" so people could look out over it for their "view." I've been searching everywhere for the name but can't find it. Please tell me you know the name of this ship! I have to know! Please help!

Answer: The ship you saw is Royal Caribbean's Adventure of the Seas. Isn't she incredible? Her facilities also include an ice skating rink and rock climbing wall.

Modern cruise ships are often built as "classes" of vessels and are nearly alike. Other sister-ships to Adventure of the Seas are Explorer of the Seas, Navigator of the Seas, and Voyager of the Seas. They are the largest cruise ships ever built, virtually small cities at sea. The ships have many of the same features, but are not identical--each ship is slightly different in decor. I hope you are able to experience a cruise on one of these amazing ships some day.

Question: We are taking our 7-year old daughter with us on our first cruise this summer (Carnival Cruises). Do you have a packing list (including recommended clothing) for children? What sorts of toys, if any, should we bring with us?

Answer: What a treat for your young daughter! Camp Carnival is one of the most comprehensive programs for junior cruisers and she should love it. Cruise line youth programs are manned by counselors carefully screened and chosen for their ability to relate to children; most have a background in education or early-childhood development. Their function is to provide a safe environment for age appropriate play and learning—-a "day camp" at sea. Activities vary, but the emphasis is always on fun and many of the enjoyable pursuits offer an educational bonus--science and astronomy programs, arts and crafts projects, history and geography of the ports of call, to name just a few. I've seen children cry when their parents pick them up at the end of the day to get ready for dinner--they don't want to leave!

It's always a good idea to bring along your daughter's favorite small toy or game for times when she is not participating in Camp Carnival, especially if you are flying to your embarkation port. Airports are pretty boring for kids. You might also purchase a few one-use cameras for her to snap her own photos. It's never too early to start a travel scrapbook that she will treasure for years to come.

While I have an extensive packing list for adults, as well as suggestions for baby items, I don't have a specific one for children. What I suggest is day-by-day planning. I always make a chart with columns for each day. I list whether it is a port day or sea day and then fill in what I will need--shorts and tee-shirt, bathing suit, shoes, etc. Then I determine what I want to wear each evening, based on how many formal, informal, and casual nights are specified in the cruise documents. Planning for your daughter will be similar to planning for yourself. Formal nights are a great opportunity to get a family portrait taken when you are all dressed up.

One thing you might do that makes daily planning a bit easier is fold and stack each day's outfit together, including undergarments and socks. Then put each stack into a zipper-top storage bag and seal it. Mark each bag with the day-of-the-week and your daughter will be all set with pre-selected outfits. It makes unpacking a simple matter (just leave everything in the bags and pop them in drawers) and your daughter can help you, which will involve her in the preparation. Do take along at least two bathing suits so she'll have a dry one handy. Carnival ships have laundry rooms if you want to pack a bit less and take advantage of them. I hope these ideas are helpful.

Question: I would like to find a cruise that not only takes my family of four to exciting places, but also teaches something about the culture and the ports. I heard that there is one for Hawaii. Does anyone know the name of this cruise and any other cruises like it? I don't want to be limited to just Disney Cruises for my family.

Answer: Unfortunately, the cruise line that immersed its passengers in Hawaiian culture was American Hawaii Line and they are no longer in business.

However, Norwegian Cruise Line's beautiful Norwegian Star sails throughout the Hawaiian Islands year-round. Numerous other cruise lines' ships make port calls in Hawaii and some offer a series of regularly scheduled sailings that begin and end there as well. A cruise through the Hawaiian Islands gives passengers a taste of paradise and to explore a bit further, you may want to consider a pre- or post-cruise stay at one of the land resorts. The Norwegian Star has an extensive "Kid's Crew" program of activities for children and the facilities are among of the nicest I've seen on any ship. Some of the activities offered have a Hawaiian theme.

In addition to Hawaii, you might want to consider an Alaska cruise for your family. If you do, be sure to select a cruise line that still features native Alaskan naturalists as part of their on board cultural and lecture program.

Question: My first cruising experience was wonderful! Can you recommend any cruises in which you've seen a larger percentage of singles on board? Or is there a time period or destination to which more singles travel? (Over the age limit please!)

Answer: It's really difficult to say whether any particular cruise will have a high percentage of singles on board. Passenger demographics are hard to predict. Although there are age restrictions (and "chaperone" requirements), Spring Break is a popular time to take a cruise for the young, single set.

While the "single supplement" charged by most cruise lines makes solo sailing expensive (often 150-200% of the double-occupancy rate), some high-end cruise lines offer more attractive fares for singles. Look for cruises that with no single supplement, or one that is low, and you'll find other singles taking advantage of it. A good travel agent can keep an eye open for these offerings. Watch Crystal and Silversea in particular.

On the other hand, if you don't have a sailing companion and don't mind sharing a stateroom, some cruise lines will match you with a roomie. You might even get a cabin all to yourself if no roommate is available. If you go to a search engine such as Google and enter the term "singles cruises" you will find numerous travel agencies that advertise cruises for singles.

My personal experience has been that Silversea attracts a lot of single cruisers in all age ranges. Here's an offer I received from Crystal Cruises that is sure to attract single cruisers... "Sailing solo has never been so sweet. In addition to supplying extra Ambassador Hosts to serve as dancing and dining partners, Crystal Cruises has waived the single supplement for most stateroom categories and is offering special savings and future benefits for those sailing on the luxury line's October 19 Fort Lauderdale to Buenos Aires cruise aboard Crystal Symphony."

Question: My husband and I are taking our first cruise on a Royal Caribbean ship and were wondering how dinner seating is assigned.

Answer: Great choice for a first cruise! Dinner is served twice nightly on Royal Caribbean vessels, either Main Seating or Late Seating at approximately 6:00pm and 8:30pm, respectively. Your travel agent should ask your preference when you book your cruise.

At check-in, you will receive your assigned dining time and table number. There is no guarantee that you will receive your preference, but cruise lines try very hard to accommodate all passengers. To iron out any problems in dining assignments, the Maitre'D will be on hand the day you embark at a time and location specified in the daily program of events.

In addition to the main dining room, casual dining alternatives are available on Royal Caribbean ships in the Windjammer Cafe, which features a partial buffet with a limited dinner menu. Depending on your ship, there may also be other alternative restaurants that require dinner reservations on a day-to-day basis. I hope you enjoy your cruise and become a frequent sailor.

Question: I would like to go on an Alaska cruise and would like to know what would be the best time to see the shore when it isn't fogged in. Any suggestions from past cruises?

Answer: As you may know, Alaska cruises are seasonal from May through September. I've cruised the Inside Passage in late-May and early-June. At that time of year there is still a lot of snow on the mountain tops and the weather can be quite brisk. When the snow caps begin melting and streams fill with the run-off, the waterfalls hugging the shoreline are even more impressive a bit later in the season.

It's nearly impossible to predict the weather and any fog or mist you might encounter. One area in particular that really lives up to its name is Misty Fjords. Named for its climatic conditions, precipitation tends to soften the distant views which appear as though under a constant mist. The scenery is still magnificent, although avid photo buffs may be somewhat disappointed in picture-taking conditions. You are liable to encounter brilliant sunshine, fog, mists, and even rain--all in the same day. One thing you can be certain of is that the weather will be changeable. For instance, In Ketchikan, with average annual rainfall measuring a whopping 160 inches, it’s either getting ready to rain, is raining, or it’s just stopped raining.

For maximum warm weather, I tend to lean toward the months of July and August. However, spring is generally considered more beautiful and the savings on cruise fares are greater in early spring and late fall.

Question: We are going on an Alaskan cruise May 17th on the Norwegian Sky and I have been given conflicting answers on whether I should take summer or winter clothing. Could you please help?

Answer: You should take what could be called "transitional" clothing for an Alaska cruise in May. You won't need a down parka (it's not the north pole!), but summer clothing will be too light. Comfort is your first concern. The secret to being comfortable on an Alaska cruise is "layers" of light clothing in natural fabrics. You can add or remove layers as the weather dictates. Silk undergarments are the ultimate in warmth and luxury next to the skin. Top that with a cotton turtleneck or shirt and finish up with a sweater and wind breaker. Bottom wear can be jeans or docker-type pants. Warm socks and shoes that fit well and keep water and cold at bay are a must.

In late-May and early-June I found nylon "wind-suits" with a light cotton lining were ideal. They fit the bill for comfort (elastic waistbands!) and warmth. With a turtleneck and light sweater under the jackets and, if necessary, a pair of leggings under the pants, they were even warm enough for glacier viewing days.

Anorak-style jackets with a hood are just about perfect outerwear. I highly recommend a rubberized or Gore-tex slicker or poncho if you have one. They don't take up much suitcase space and really cut the wind. You'll want to be outside at a deck's rail as your ship slips silently into a passage and you suddenly encounter small icebergs and finally, a surprisingly blue-tinted glacier. It can be an hours-long experience and for that, a hat that covers your ears and gloves are must-haves.

Formal evening wear is more likely to be heavy on brocades and silks and light on strapless evening dresses for the ladies. Less is more... think pearls, not sequins. Men deck out formally in tuxes or dark suits and a lot of navy-blue blazers will be sported at dinner, even on casual nights. On those casual nights, nice pants or skirts and sweaters are very appropriate for women; mix and match and add accessories to stretch your wardrobe.

Don't forget to pack an umbrella, binoculars, and lots of film and extra batteries for your camera. You're in for a spectacular experience in Alaska!

Question: I am going on the ship Triumph from Carnival next Saturday and I wanted to know a if you think it is a good ship to cruise on?

Answer: Yes! Carnival Triumph is stunning and features all the amenities you expect on a modern cruise ship. The decor is tasteful throughout and there are a variety of lounges, high-energy entertainment, and virtually non-stop activities. The 15,000 square foot spa is fantastic and the outdoor spaces on the Lido Deck are more expansive than on some other ships this size. Plus, Carnival Triumph boasts a 200 foot long water slide--one of the longest at sea. You'll also find the largest standard cabins on Carnival ships and the Triumph is no exception.

Question: What is the family oriented cruise line for a cruise to Jamaica? Kids ages 14-14-12 plus two adults.

Answer: If you mean Disney Cruise Line, their western Caribbean itineraries do not include Jamaica. Several other cruise lines that call on Jamaica and are especially family-friendly include Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Line.

Your children may enjoy climbing Dunns River Falls while in Jamaica. It's not difficult, although you should be prepared with old sneakers or "water slippers" to protect your feet during the climb. Some catamaran excursions include a stop at Dunns River Falls along with a beach and snorkeling interlude.

Question: We are cruising the western Caribbean on the fascination in may. Since we booked with Carnival, I have heard that other cruise lines are much better. Please tell me it isn't so. We are very excited. Would love to know your expert opinion. Also, any suggestions for excursions in Key West and Cozumel? Love your website.

Answer: "Better" is in the eye of the beholder! What one person considers best, might not suit another person at all. Carnival Cruise Line didn't get to be the world's largest cruise line by not satisfying passengers.

In Key West you really don't need to take an excursion. Getting around couldn’t be easier on the Conch Tour Train or Old Town Trolley. Catch the Conch Tour Train in Mallory Square for a 90-minute narrated tour up and down Key West’s most interesting streets. It’s a great way to learn about the area and its famous residents, but it doesn’t stop. The Old Town Trolley is more flexible, allowing riders to get off and explore on their own and then catch another trolley later. Watch for the signs near the pier or throughout town to board the trolley. The Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society Museum and Hemingway House are two interesting sites.

In Cozumel, San Miguel is so small that walking is the easiest way to have a look around. You’ll find a Tourism Office on Plaza del Sol that distributes information and maps. Just outside San Miguel is Chankanaab Nature Park, where visitors find an archaeological park with reproductions of Mayan dwellings, a salt water lagoon, offshore reefs, and underwater caves to explore. With a wide white-sand beach and full facilities, it’s a favorite spot to spend the day scuba diving or snorkeling to discover the sunken ships offshore.

Located near Playa del Carmen is the Ecological Theme Park, Xcaret, a 250-acre site that includes Mayan ruins, lush landscaped grounds, a botanical garden, and underwater river ride through a series of caves. It’s somewhat touristy, but a nice place for families to spend the entire day.

Because of the distance to the Mayan ruins you can tour from this port stop (and the advantage of disembarking the ship in Playa del Carmen), shore excursions are the best ways to reach Chichén Itzá, Tulum, and the ruins at Cobá, a half hour drive northwest of Tulum. I hope you have a wonderful cruise!

Question: Is it unwise to book a Caribbean cruise in September when Hurricane risk is highest? What usually happens if there is a storm?

Answer: The official hurricane season consumes a full six months of the year, from June 1st until November 30th! While it is something to ponder in terms of comfort and convenience, I wouldn't let it stand in my way of scheduling a cruise during that time frame. Changes are, you'll never have a problem.

Hurricanes build slowly and pick up speed, but by using modern technology forecasters are able to predict and track them to a certain degree. However, even the most up-to-the-minute devices aren't perfect. Impossible as it is to say with one hundred percent certainty exactly where they will hit, at least the National Hurricane Center is able to issue advance warning to those in harms way. On board your ship, course alterations are made as necessary to avoid storms. If a hurricane has a tryst with one of your Caribbean port stops, you might alter course to a different (and possibly more interesting) port.

I've sailed on Caribbean itineraries many times during hurricane season and never experienced a storm. I hope this sets your mind at ease.

Question: We are looking into taking the Disney Cruise with some friends in summer '04. Is it best to go through Disney for the reservations or a travel agent? Are there saving or other benefits one way or the other?

Answer: Contrary to what conventional wisdom might suggest, cutting out the travel agent and booking directly with a cruise line won't necessarily get you the lowest price and best service. Cruise line reservation systems simply aren't set up to deal with tens of thousands of direct calls from potential passengers; however, they will usually take your reservation and ask if you'd like to assign your booking to a travel agent. Without an agent working on your behalf, you are on your own if a problem arises. Also, if the cruise line lowers the fare for your cruise, it will be up to you to discover it and request the lesser amount yourself. A good agent will do that for you.

If you don't have a travel agent, you may wish to search for one on the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) web site at www.cruising.org. Travel agents who are affiliated with CLIA have completed a demanding training program, including touring or sailing on a specific number of ships. They've made it their business to know all they can to serve their clients' needs.

Question: I am getting married next June and I was wondering what cruise is the most suitable for honeymooners. We're looking for lots of fun but not too much noise, exciting excursions, excellent food and of course the best rooms!

Answer: Congratulations on your upcoming marriage! CruiseDiva.com recently highlighted our choices for the Five Most Romantic Ships and you might want to read that article to get an idea of the various romantic aspects of cruises and specific ships.

My choice would be any of Windstar Cruises' vessels and Wind Surf is my favorite. My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed our cruise on Wind Surf and agree that it was our most romantic. I would highly recommend it.

For a larger, traditional ship, why not consider a "Love Boat"? Princess ships are beautiful, offer a variety of dining options, and their excursions are top notch. Although larger in size, they feature intimate spaces and comfortable staterooms.

Question: I am currently living in Hawaii. My family is coming to visit and wants to take a cruise of the islands. The only cruise line that departs and returns to Hawaii is NCL. We have only cruised on RCCL. Is NCL a good line and is their Hawaiin cruise worth the money? I have heard good things and bad things.

Answer: Naturally opinions vary and I've heard positives and negatives. However, I personally have taken over a dozen very satisfying cruises on Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL). In many regards, NCL is similar to Royal Caribbean, but NCL features "Freestyle Cruising" which is more laid back--the dress code is "resort casual" and no formal clothing is required (however, there is an optional "formal dinner"). Plus, you can choose to dine in any of the restaurants at the time convenient for you. It's a much less structured cruise vacation. 

One of the biggest complaints about a Hawaiian cruise on the Norwegian Star is that she has to make a "detour" to Fanning Island in order to satisfy the requirements of the Passenger Services Act and that detracts from the time the ship can actually spend cruising the Hawaiian Islands. On the other hand, any cruise through Hawaii features a mere sample of what the Islands have to offer.

Fares are presently very attractive and you may want to look into booking your family cruise soon. Be aware that all passengers need passports due to that Fanning Island port call. For a peek at the Norwegian Star, you might want to look over the illustrated preview on CruiseDiva.com. In addition, there are several Norwegian Star cruise reviews you may wish to read.

Question: I've been looking for a cruise that departs from New York and I'll I've seen are cruises that go to Canada. Are there any cruise lines that offer cruises to other places than Canada? Or any closer ports to New York? Florida is a heck of a drive from Michigan!

Answer: Norwegian Cruise Line's (NCL) Norwegian Dawn will soon begin sailing year-around weekly cruises from NYC to Florida and the Bahamas. If you can consider Baltimore as an embarkation port, Celebrity Cruises' Galaxy offers 10- and 11-night Caribbean cruises departing from there at least through the end of 2003.

Otherwise, your non-Canada itinerary choice is pretty much limited to weekly Bermuda cruises during the summer season. Popular cruise lines such as NCL, Royal Caribbean, and Celebrity have regular weekly sailings from both NYC and Boston. Some lines, such as Carnival and Radisson Seven Seas Cruises, will have a few select dates on their schedules. Other cruise ships sometimes make a stop in Bermuda during trans-Atlantic crossings.

I hope you find a cruise within comfortable driving distance. We enjoy making the "road trip" to our embarkation port a fun part of the total vacation.

Question: Recently, the Travel Channel had an Alaskan cruise which offered a train trip through a national park. Can you tell me the name of the cruise company and the ship's name? Or, can you recommend an Alaska cruise that offers passage by both ship and train. I am looking to cruise in August. Thanks

Answer: Yes, that was Royal Caribbean's ship Radiance of the Seas and the national park is Denali. The focal point of Denali is Mount McKinley, commonly called by its original Native name, “Denali,” meaning “the great one.”

Other cruise lines that offer land-and-sea tour packages are Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, and Celebrity Cruises. I recommend that you get brochures from those cruise lines and compare the features they offer to determine which will be the most personally satisfying experience for you.

Question: Hello, I will take a cruise this summer, but don't want to carry my passport. Where can I take a cruise without my passport outside the US? I heard Puerto Rico? Thank you.

Answer: Yes, you can certainly take many Caribbean cruises this year without a passport. Americans currently need a certified birth certificate and a government-issued photo ID (such as a driver's license) as proof of citizenship for most Caribbean itineraries, including Puerto Rico.

There has been some talk that passports will be required for all travel at some future point, possibly as early as 2004. If you have a passport, use it. It is the ultimate form of identification and will speed you through airport and cruise port check in. Once you are on your ship, leave your passport in your stateroom's safe. You will likely need a picture ID when you go ashore, so you can carry your driver's license. It's always a good idea to carry a copy of your passport photo page with you at all times and also leave a copy of it with a friend or relative at home.

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