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Cruising, the Good the Bad and the Downright Ugly!

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Well, you all know this is my second cruise and, I travel a TON with my husband via other methods. So what's the deal on cruises?

I seem to be the only person on earth that finds they hold a lot of flaws for the good in them. I think people should be aware of the good and the bad before they spend their hard earned vacation dollars on a cruise. I'll start with the good.

The Good

1. Cruising is relatively inexpensive at the purchase point. If you purchase a slow season cruise, leaving from a port you can get to with minimal expense, you can get meals and basics for your 1 week cruise in an inside state room for around $500.00/person. You do have to book right to get it this cheap, but there is plenty available in that price range.

2. You can see some exotic ports that you probably wouldn't fly to and you see it from the beach, not the center city which has it's own allure. There is numerous offshore tours to choose from or just explore on your own(book carefully).

3. Food is mostly included. There's usually 1 or 2 restaurants on board that will charge what they call a nominal fee ($15.00/person) for a specialty meal. Food quality is reasonable, but definitely better on my first cruise then my second, so something else to check.

4. There is usually on board entertainment of some type, casino's, crew talent shows, bingo, Spa, a decent gym with at least one fitness trainer and classes for any fitness taste, some on board shopping, and a pool, hot tub, water sports area.

The Bad

1. The original cost is by no means inclusive. To start with, parking can set you back well over a $100.00 at the port. There will be air tickets to get to your departure port if you don't live close enough to drive. If you have a lot of sea days, your bills on board can be staggering. The Casino is the favored hang around for many patrons when they're board and can't go ashore. All drinks on board are fairly pricey, even cola is $2.00 a can with a 15% tip added on top of that to your bill. Alcohol bills alone at the end of a cruise can be more then the cost of the state room for many first time patrons.

2. The first fee you're hit with on boarding is the so called standard tip charge. Some cruises allow you to adjust this based on service, NCL really frowned on that and didn't have a way to adjust it, only take it off or put it on. The standard is $10.00 each guest per day. This means if you have 3 in your stateroom it's $30.00 per room, most only have two so we'll go on $20.00/room. So they authorize $140.00 on a couple's credit card on boarding to cover this. This is tipping for restaurant and room cleaners only. If you use any other services on board you are expected to tip extra via your room card on a signed receipt. Remember no cash, they just keep adding it to that credit card you left them or cash you deposited. If you reach your spending limit they call you to the purser's office and request more cash or another credit card.

3. Any shore excursion you wish to partake in will be an average of $80.00 per person. Some are over $150.00 each, some as low $40.00 but average is around $80.00 per person. Again allow $10.00 or so for tippage to these people. They usually work really hard at making sure you enjoy yourself and you'll probably want to tip.

4. If you happen to get on a cruise with few sea days, time does go slow. The evening show seems a long wait, and it can, as I mentioned earlier, cost a lot with out you realizing the cost. If you frequent the casino (the only place on board where cash can be used), you can spend $100's to $1000.00's in a few sea days. Your bill for drinks and gym services get's tallied and given at the end of the week so use extreme caution.

5. Quarters are generally cramped, no long hot baths unless you forked over HUGE dollars for one of the very few extravagant state rooms or suites. You'll have a small shower, even in an upgraded balcony room. For all its extravagance, it is a boat, after all.

6. Spa's are on board, but they're not cheap either. A hair cut on board will run you for $80.00 plus the 15% tip. You can get some specials for treatments, watch for them, it can be less money then an afternoon in the casino.

The Truly Ugly

1. My biggest beef is the tipping system. I can have an absolutely wonderful junior waitress that goes out of her way to help get chairs, sends for a specialty cheese for the table etc.. But she'll get little funds if I don't leave her extra.

2. Days I'm on shore and don't eat at all in the ship restaurants and the waiters are all on shore having a good time too, they get my tip, as do the waiters in the restaurants I do eat at. I would much prefer to tip for service but they create a big stink if you ask to do this.

3. The NCL cruise we were just on was a full cruise and so crowded that it was a constant fight for chairs and tables on the upper deck where the buffet was. They didn't seem to have the staff to give any kind of service up here either. It was totally a serve yourself buffet. No drink service and if you were wandering looking for a chair or table, not a bus boy nor roaming bar staff ever offered to help. One day when I had been searching in vain for a chair for 15 minutes with my now cold food, I asked an officer to get me a chair, he looked a little shocked but did go do it eventually.

4. The service might not be that great. These waiters/waitresses are not vying for your tip, they know they get the same amount weekly no matter what. They must maintain a professional standard, but that doesn't necessarily mean great service. I've always had wonderful room stewards, but other's I've spoken to had poorly made beds where just the comforter was put over and the bed not pulled out and straightened.

5. The busy part again, one night it was so busy the dining room asked us to come back at 9pm (It was 6:45 when we arrived) to eat. I don't eat at 9pm. There was no restaurant on board that could seat us until around 9 so we went to the buffet as did many other patrons that didn't want to wait. (This was only a problem on the so call free style cruise, NCL). Again, my husband and I were charged $20.00 for this service of having to endure 3 meals that day in the self serve buffet, eating cold food after we found tables.

6. No liquor allowed to be brought to your room. This is obviously so they can make the huge money on liquor sales on board. Annoying to me and I don't even drink. I also called ahead to see if I could bring bottled water, as I'm very leery of drinking ship water with all the bad publicity about onboard illness, and was told no, I could buy their's on board. I do wish they would sell liqour themselves we could take to the room. Sitting on the balcony with a bottle of wine and some cheese would be a nice touch.

7. Dependant on the ship, I have found the food quality a little lacking, especially for the value they must place on their meal, estimated by the tips taken for it. My lamb was tough, my steaks were a bit tough, the buffet was always luke warm unless you hit it just out, my salad a little wilted, soups were good, etc.. It's got to be difficult to get food and store it on a ship for so many people. Again, this is probably dependant on the ship and line. It was better on Carnival then NCL but not top of the line on either. I do eat out a lot as I travel along with my husband's work, and my father was a chef, so I might have a very high standard.

8. How much uglier does it have to get? One more point. The new free style cruising attire and food offered currently by NCL really has the same rules as the standard cruises. They make it sound like you can eat dinner in your bermuda shorts while your wife dawns her evening gown, but it's not the case, you must wear pants, no tanks, t's or swim wear in the dining room after 5:30. This is the rule on any of the ships, not really any difference. Eat when you want, well you saw above how that works. Give me a seating time, dedicated waiter, and seat me any day!

Over all, if you choose the right cruise, it can be a nice experience. Choose with care, and know the real costs of the trip or you'll be surely headed for sticker shock and disappointment. Check your ship's pool size, number of hot tubs and amenities carefully. How many restaurants, pools, hot tubs, does it have compared to boats carrying similar passenger numbers? You must choose a cruise with lots of shore time unless sitting on deck with 1000 of your dearest closest friends, drinking margarita's is what you're booking it for. Do remember that each of the Margarita's will be $6.00 to $9.00 US dollars plus 15% tip.

Consider the upgrade to the balcony room if you like to sit and read and sip coffee while watching the water go by quietly. The extra cost could save you the expense of finding other ways to fill your time on a cruise with lots of sea time. Remember to include money for a nice shore excursion, lots to choose from, have a good read about them and find one that really appeals to you. The Fury Catamaran Excursion we took this time made up for most of the Ugly on the cruise.

Personally, I might take a cruise again, knowing what I'm getting into, but I don't think it'll be my main holiday for a while. I'd like to go spend a week or two at some of the wonderful places I've seen on the cruises and learn what it's really like there. Not a 5 hour stop over to say hello and wet my appetite for more. Next year we're planning to go to an all inclusive resort on one the Caribbean Islands and spend a week truly being pampered, with a large room/suite, garden variety tub, large swimming pool and hopefully a beach where we can find a quiet corner for just us. We want no hidden costs and to tip those who gives us service.




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