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USA Cruise Ship Tips

About Cruising in the USA

Nearly 10 million people will go cruising from US ports this year. Most of them will embark in the state of Florida and will head for various destinations in or around the Caribbean Ocean. Miami is the most popular cruise port in the USA with Cape Canaveral and Jacksonville Florida close behind. Destinations include the tropical islands of the Eastern and Western Caribbean or the exotic ports along the coasts of Mexico, Central America or South America.

Alaska is another favorite cruise destination during the summer months. The beautiful scenery of the northern Canadian and Alaskan coasts with their vast wilderness areas and accessible wildlife draw many tourists to this fascinating sub-Arctic region. The cruise ships depart from the ports in Seattle Washington and Vancouver Canada.

Cruises are very popular in the Hawaiian Islands. Since the various tourist attractions of Hawaii are scattered about several different islands, cruising is a popular way of visiting the many sights.

Types of Cruises

There are cruises for those going solo, looking for luxury, seniors or families. There are cruises for mystery novel lovers, adventure lovers, singles, honeymooners and more. Holiday cruises are gaining in popularity as well. Cruises vary in cost, length, ship style, size and number of passengers. What should you consider when selecting your cruise?

Who Is Going? Although most cruises offer fun for everyone, some are better for certain groups. Younger couples like Royal Caribbean for its fun atmosphere and reasonable costs, families with children enjoy Disney cruises and older cruisers looking for more luxury and less crowds like Crystal.

Carnival Cruise Lines © Carnival Cruise Lines
Cruise ships offer endless onboard activities to keep travelers of all ages entertained throughout their cruise.

When Do You Want To Go? Summer and winter are the most popular cruising seasons because children are out of school and people pretty much know where they want to be when the heat or the cold comes. If you choose to cruise in the fall and early spring, you'll find great prices because of lower demand although you do risk disruptions due to hurricanes during the fall months.

Where Do You Want To Go? Cruises are going everywhere now, so you'll probably be able to find one that leads you to your destination. The most popular destinations fall under the following categories:

  • Alaska
  • Hawaii
  • Southern, Western & Eastern Caribbean
  • Bermuda

How Long Do You Want To Cruise? Cruises can last from three nights to a few weeks A lot of people choose a shorter cruise for their beginning cruise, but not everyone.

How Much Do You Want To Pay? When pricing a cruise, airfare is usually not included. The cruise-only prices can range anywhere from four hundred to several thousand dollars depending on the amenities of the ship, length of stay, destinations and season. The average cruise is $500 a person. As a general rule, you should reserve $75-100 a day for miscellaneous expenses in addition to the cost of excursions. Remember, the total cost of a cruise including all expenses and add-on excursions can end up two or three times the published price.

Trends

Building on the popular themed cruises for romance fans or singles, niche market cruises for people like book lovers, wine aficionados, adventurers and sports enthusiasts are gaining steam. Once a slow time in the cruise industry, more people are choosing to leave the worries of home behind and take a holiday cruise. Another trend is offering more for your kids. Ships have expanded from day care type services and games to nature programs, language classes and port excursions.

Cruise Lines

There are over 20 cruise lines in North America, but most people travel on these leading lines.

Carnival Cruise Lines is the leading cruise company and has long held the brand of "fun ship" which is why it attracts a lot of young couples, singles and party groups. Considered one of the most innovative cruise companies, Carnival has made industry acquisitions to cater to the short cruise and luxury seekers.

Celebrity Cruise Lines, is considered a leader in premium cruising and focuses on high end service. Their cruises are more attractive to the luxury set and not so popular with the little ones. Celebrity is all about the amenities. Extreme detail has been placed in the little things to make a stay on their ships luxurious.

Crystal Cruise Lines is known for the "best cruise line" awards they receive year after year. European style service and classic decorations define Crystal and separate them from the average luxury cruise line. They offer several unique features including the highest guest to staff ratio and guest space ratio at sea.

Cunard Cruise Line is the world famous cruise ship known for its only vessel, the luxury Queen Mary 2. The key word here is high class and very expensive. Royalty, millionaires and film stars ride this ship around the world because of its reputation for service, privacy, cuisine and pampering.

Disney Cruise Line is the cruise of choice for families with young children. The line only has two ships, the Wonder and the Magic, but both can handle almost 3,000 people. The young program leaders have a myriad of activities, on board and off, for kids and carefully plan them around specific age groups.

Holland America has been around for more than 130 years and their 12 five-star luxury ships cater to very discriminating customers. Sizes range from 800-passenger capacity to 2,000 and the decoration styles range from contemporary to classic European.

Norwegian Cruise Lines was the first line to introduce Freestyle cruising where you have a variety of dining choices from casual to formal in several different restaurants. It's also unique in that it offers Homestyle cruising, where you can travel around and port at several stops around the U.S.

Princess Cruise Lines continues to be one the leading cruise lines in America. Princess is a massive fleet with over 15 ships in whatever size, style or level of accommodations you would like. Their ships fit from 700 to 2600 passengers and offer the latest in innovative amenities.

Radisson Seven Seas © Radisson Seven Seas
A water-sport platform off the back of a Radisson Seven Seas cruise ship allows travelers to kayak in a protected backwater bay.

Radisson Seven Seas is one of the leaders in the small to medium-sized ship industry. Radisson is a six-star fleet and very upscale. Each of Radisson's six ships averages between 200 to 700 passengers, and has a unique feature that makes them attractive to particular tastes.

Royal Caribbean has most of the largest ships in the world and is reasonably priced to fit anyone's budget. The company is considered the "middle America" cruise line because of its appeal and is a big draw for those interested in very active, adventurous cruises. The fleet of 25 ships also has the most innovate amenities in the industry.

Accommodations

Most accommodations on your average cruise ship are a lot smaller than an average hotel room. When selecting, consider how much time you plan to spend in the room, how many people will be in it and how long your trip is. The more you're willing to pay, the bigger room you can get. The average cabin contains two to four beds, one dresser, one closet and a bathroom with a toilet, sink and shower.

Dining

Ships pride themselves on the décor and class of their dining rooms. At your table, you'll have a variety of soups, salads, appetizers, entrees and deserts to choose from. Among American staples, there will be a variety of international choices. Most ships also have a kid-friendly menu and every ship has room service. You'll also find many ships have a 24-hour snack bar.

Breakfast is served in the dining room or on an upper deck if you wake up too late. Lunch is generally more flexible in schedule and most dining rooms don't require a dress code for this meal. Afternoon Buffet is common on most ships and usually starts around three in the afternoon. Most ships have several restaurants and/or bars where you can get meals and snacks throughout the day as well. The midnight buffet is a legendary trademark of the cruise industry. At the average buffet you'll find numerous hot and cold salads, various chilled seafood, several types of hot and cold finger foods, cheeses, fruits and bread and rolls. You find a variety of hot entré dishes and usually a table completely devoted to deserts.

Cruise ship © MSC Cruises
On warm climate cruises such as the Caribbean and Hawaii you'll find scuba diving, snorkeling, water skiing, swimming, boating, kayaking, fishing, sailing and other water sports.

Activities and Entertainment

The list of shipboard activities is endless. For fitness and health you'll find most ships offer a variety of fitness, spa and salon services as well as walking paths around the decks. There are also great clothing, jewelry and personal items stores and boutiques. There are a variety of poolside activities as well as free classes and lessons of all kinds. Most week-long cruises have one semi-formal night and one traditional formal night. In addition, on board entertainment includes extravagant dance shows and comedy skits. Most ships now have movie theatres where you can watch recently released films and each stateroom will have a television with movies and some network shows.

There are a variety of bars and nightclubs on the ships in several themes with different forms of entertainment such as jazz, flamenco, disco, pop, blues, live entertainment, lounge singers, bands or more. With the exception of Disney, most every ship has a casino and some are very grand in style and theme. Most ships create activities and programs for children divided into four groups: toddlers, juniors, pre-teens and teenagers. Kids play games and contests, watch movies, go on scavenger hunts and much more.

Excursions

Although you never have to leave the ship to have a good time, excursions offer even more activities and fun. On warm climate cruises such as the Caribbean and Hawaii you'll find scuba diving, snorkeling, water skiing, swimming, boating, kayaking, fishing, sailing and other water sports. On land, various tours and adventures will take you hiking, bike riding, horseback riding and hunting. There are always sightseeing bus and walking tours that give you a nice overview of the entire island or city. Air activities such as hang gliding and helicopter tours are usually in very limited supply, but if you have the money, well worth it. If you aren't interested in the excursions, shopping is always an option.

Cruising Tips

  • Book your excursions online to save money. Check with the following associations to make sure the booking agency is legitimate: ARC, IATA, ASTA, ARTA, CLIA or NACOA.
  • Book your cruise either six months before or at the last moment (if you're willing to risk it).
  • If you don't have to worry about kids being out of school, book in the off-season.
  • If you book with a group, you can usually get a group discount.
  • Set a daily budget and keep track of your spending on the boat. You'll have to pay your account at the end of your cruise and the total can be shocking if you don't keep track.
  • When deciding on excursions, think before you buy. If you only want to see a particular attraction, you might rent a car or take a taxi and avoid the price of all the extras.

Read the Reviews

Because there are so many cruise choices, reading the reviews can make the difference in deciding which line or itinerary is best for you. There are several websites devoted to critiquing cruise lines for their service, destinations, room quality, activities, food and more. You can also get a lot of tips of which excursions are the best and which to avoid. Most major travel websites have a cruising section that includes tips, reviews and news. There are also sites devoted exclusively to reviewing the cruise experience.

Written by: Angela Winters
Top Photo Credit: © Crystal Cruise Lines
Photo Description: Crystal Cruise Lines Harmony at Hubbard Glacier Alaska.