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About the Expert

Linda Coffman is former senior content editor for and hosted's cruise page for two years. She has contributed articles to Cruise Travel and Porthole. Linda has sailed on more than seventy cruises. She is the creator of Cruise Diva.

Given the large number of cruise ships steaming around the world these days, it's easy to pay a lot of money for a trip only to find that your standards of privacy, luxury and comfort aren't met.

So Netfolio asked Linda Coffman to tell us the steps you can take to ensure that you have a good time:

Use a CLIA-approved travel agent
A regular agent can't keep up with the changing rates and specialized offerings on cruise ships. Cruise Line International Association (CLIA)-approved agents have been trained and certified as master cruise counselors.

Resource: Cruise Lines International Association will help you find a CLIA-approved agent in its database.

Set sail with people your age
Many people who seek relaxing cruises book passage aboard a ship only to be bombarded by conga lines and loud pool music.

Unfortunately, cruise-line reservation operators either won't be candid with you about the average age of passengers on the ship or they don't know the answers.

Good rules to remember:

  • Older folks tend to be attracted to more traditional vessels such as the Cunard Lines (800-528-6273).
  • People under age 35 tend to be attracted to adventure cruises.
  • Itineraries attract different types, too. A longer and more port-intensive itinerary attracts a more mature passenger mix. Short cruises attract younger crowds.
  • The time of year also makes a difference. In the summer, you'll find families with many children on cruise ships. Elderly people tend to travel in the fall.

Book an ocean-view cabin with a balcony
Even if you plan to spend little time in your cabin, it can feel claustrophobic if you don't have at least a porthole. A balcony gives you a sense of complete privacy and solitude that you may not be able to get easily on most large ships.

Find your cabin on deck plan at the cruise line's Web site before you pay the deposit. Be sure it's in a desired location.

Here are my tips:

  • Stay in rooms away from stairwells and elevators. And don't select a room above or beneath public rooms such as the gym or the galley.
  • If you are worried about seasickness, request a room on a middle deck and in the middle of the ship. Upper decks and cabins at the bow or the stern exacerbate the problem.
  • Ask that your beds are set up the way you desire. Most cabins have twin beds that can be combined to make a queen, but you need to let the cruise line know that ahead of time.

Book your cruise as early as possible
Ideally, you want to book at least six to nine months in advance to get the best selection of cabins.

If you can't get what you want, consider booking passage on a "repositioning" cruise. These two-week vacations are available when vessels relocate from the Caribbean to Alaska or Europe in April, and from these areas to the Caribbean in November. They're great if you want many days at sea and stops at unusual ports.

Consider taking out cruise insurance
There are more risks on a cruise than many other vacations.

Typical problems:

  • Your regular health insurance plan many not cover you if you must go to a hospital in a non-US port.
  • Since cruises are often booked six months or more in advance, you may suffer unseen circumstances that prevent you from going. Cruise lines strictly enforce their cancellation policies.
  • If your plane to the port city is delayed for any reason, there's no reimbursement for missed days aboard ship by the air carrier or cruise line.

The cost of travel protection insurance is based on the price of your vacation. Typical coverage for a $1,500 to $2,000 vacation is about $200 per person. You want a comprehensive cancellation-interruption policy that offers reimbursement for cancellation penalty prior to leaving home, plus out-of-pocket compensation.

Sources: You can buy such a policy through the cruise line or through a third-party program. I have had good service from Travelex (888-457-4602).

Ask to sit at a table of eight for dinner
When you book your cruise, request a large table with enough people to find someone you like or avoid people you don't like.

Most ships have two seatings for dinner: One at about 6pm and the other at 8:30pm. Early seating attracts older passengers and families with small children. It's a bit rushed but the seating allows you to take in the show on many larger ships.

Late seating is more adult and leisurely. On port-intensive cruises, the late seating lets you relax after a day off the ship and enjoy sunsets without rushing to get dressed for dinner.

Know when to sign up for excursions
Sign up for ship-run shore excursions rather than private tour companies when you take European cruises. Destinations such as Rome, Paris or Berlin are quite far from port. If you are on a ship's excursion, the ship is guaranteed not to leave without you.

On Caribbean cruises, I don't sign up for tours. It's more leisurely to hire a taxi and explore on your own.

Disembark very early or very late
If you're on a larger vessel, the aggravation of long lines to get off the ship can spoil a relaxing vacation. Instead, ignore the request to leave your room at 8am. Stay in your cabin as long as you can and take a taxi instead of the cruise-sponsored bus to the airport.

© 2000 Netfolio, Inc. ~ Reprinted with Permission

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