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Tom Sheridan's Port Guides

Cruise: Planning Your First Cruise

By Thomas Sheridan

It's difficult to find the location of the cruise ship dock relative to tourist sites and public transit. The solution is to create maps and combine them with photos, public transit routes, and links to the best websites. Tom's website, www.TomsPortGuides.com is uniquely useful for self-guided touring from a cruise port. And it's FREE.


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Cruise vacations are becoming increasing popular for a good reason. Cruise ships are like luxury resort hotels that transport you to different ports to explore the world.

On sea days, you can enjoy your resort hotel (ship). FREE amenities include food, entertainment, a gym, movies, lectures, games, dancing, card playing, swimming pools, etc. You pay for drinks, the casino, duty-free shopping, spa services, bingo, laundry and dry cleaning.

On port days, it’s time to explore the port area. In some ports, you can walk off the ship for self-guide touring. However, in most ports, you’ll need to plan an excursion with the ship, a private tour, or use public transit. It’s difficult to find information about where ships dock, location of public transit, and location of tourist sites relative to the port. See www.TomsPortGuides.com.

Tips on planning your first cruise:

Pick a destination and check cruise line schedules. Pick a cruise line for your demographic preference.

  • If you’re traveling with young children, Carnival’s “Disney Theme” of family cruising is a good choice.
  • Cruises to the Caribbean are usually casual. During “spring break” there may be college students partying on the ship.
  • Transatlantic cruises between Florida and Europe tend to have a lot of old, retired people like me because there are many days at sea. Younger cruisers are more interested in visiting ports rather than relaxing on a ship.
  • Demographics of a ship can change depending on where it is sailing. We cruised the Greek Isles on a Costa ship with 2500 passengers. Seven languages were spoken; only 50 passengers spoke English as their native tongue. Bingo was announced in six languages. We could not meet or talk to anyone at open seating breakfast and lunch because we only speak English. We sailed on the same Costa ship in the Caribbean and 95% of the passengers spoke English.

Consider how you wish to take your meals.

I prefer Princess ships because they offer a choice of fixed seating dinner (time/location) with a small group, anytime dining where you can meet people and share a table, and buffet restaurants open around the clock with excellent food. If you like the formality of dressing for dinner every night, Cunard might be a good choice. Most cruise lines are less formal than Cunard, although most cruise lines have a few “formal” nights on the ship.

To meet people on your cruise before you sail, join the roll call blogs on several websites such as facebook or one of the websites that caters to cruisers. By reading and participating in the blogs, you’ll get an idea of who will be on the ship so you can spot people you’ll want to meet. The conversation in many of these blogs focuses on hiring private tour companies (which are less expensive than the ship’s excursions) to take personalized tours from the port. We have been on many private tours, really enjoyed them, and made lifelong friends as a result. For us, meeting people and making new friends is one of the major advantages of cruising.

Bargain prices on cruises:

  • A 3000 passenger ship costs ~ $ 500 million to build, and it burns one gallon of fuel every 50- 80 feet it travels. The people who prepare the food, waiters, hotel staff, etc. are under contract. The ship carries an 18-day supply of food and drink. From a practical standpoint, all costs of operation are fixed regardless of the number of passengers on the ship.
  • Cruise lines want to fill the ship to make money selling artwork, shore excursions, drinks, photos, gambling in the casino, spa services, duty-free shopping, etc.
  • The most expensive cabins sell out first. The problem is filling up the less-expensive cabins. The best bargain is an inside cabin with no windows. Inside cabins are available as low as $ 100/day/person = $ 200 for a couple plus $ 25/day tips for the staff on the ship. That’s a low price to stay at a luxury resort hotel/ship with incredible amenities included.
  • Ships are rarely full; keep an eye out for bargains on all categories of cabins, particularly, in the few months before the ship sails. To take advantage of the best bargains, you’ll need to schedule air fare quickly to the ship’s departure and arrival ports.

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