5 ways to stay safe while traveling abroad that you haven’t considered yet

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5 ways to stay safe while traveling abroad that you haven’t considered yet

Traveling abroad is an unforgettable experience, whether you’re going for the first time in your life or you’re accustomed to being in several different countries each year. When traveling, you always want to take steps to stay safe no matter how experienced you are. A few smart steps designed to cover each aspect of your trip will keep you connected with people who can help in case of an emergency and will keep you safe, making an emergency less likely from the outset.

Tell Friends and Family Your Plans
Send confirmation numbers, travel details, addresses, and phone numbers to a few trusted family members and friends. Make sure these people have a comprehensive itinerary for your plans, including when you’ll be taking the train to new locations as well as all the contact info for your hotels and tour groups. Every few days, send out a check-in e-mail to these people with your itinerary so that they know you’re alive and having fun!

Stay With Your Group
Signing up for group trips is a fun way to see a new area with a tour guide and other tourists. Sometimes you might be tempted to leave the group and do your own thing — but resist the temptation. Groups don’t just provide automatic companionship and information about the area — they also provide safety. Groups can travel more safely at night and on public transportation than individuals can. When you’re unfamiliar with the region or haven’t traveled much before, a group is a great way to stay safe.

Sign Up for STEP
The US Government offers the free service STEP, or the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, for Americans who are traveling abroad. A free STEP enrollment means you connect with the nearest US embassy and enroll your trip with it. The embassy knows when you’ll be out of the country, which means it can contact you more easily if the area experiences any disasters, such as bad weather or civil unrest. Friends and family members can also contact you if an emergency occurs.

Get Travel Protection
Travel insurance and travel rescue services keep you safe when something unexpected happens. For example, MedjetHorizon memberships offer medical transport and crisis rescue. Ideally, nothing but fun will happen to you while you’re out of the country, but you always want to be prepared. Staying safe and getting home in unforeseen dangerous circumstances such as disasters or medical emergencies is important.

Remain in Lighted, Touristy Areas
Every city has areas meant for tourists as well as areas that tourists should stay away from. The tourist areas are well-lit and busy, so stay close to these places. Do research beforehand if you’ll be out late at night so that you can plan your safe route home — or you can just save a local taxi number. Remaining in busy spaces is especially essential if you’re traveling alone.
Staying safe while traveling doesn’t require much extra effort, and you can put in most of this effort before you get on the plane. Make sure your trip is the best you can possibly have by giving yourself peace of mind before you leave.

Live From Oceania Marina: Hits and Misses

–By Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor

Exterior shot on Marina at sea

Cruise Critic is currently onboard Oceania’s 1,258-passenger Marina, cruising to Central American destinations like Belize, Honduras and Mexico. The ship is one of only two custom-built ships for the upper-premium cruise line (the other four are refurbished vessels from defunct Renaissance Cruises), and we love how the ship feels like its smaller R-class sisters, just with plenty of enhancements. Here’s a closer look at what Marina’s got right — and what needs a bit of tweaking.

Surf and Turf at the Polo Grill on Oceania's Marina


Specialty Restaurants

If Marina were a person, it would be an unabashed foodie. The ship’s four specialty restaurants — steakhouse Polo Grill, Italian Toscana, French Jacques and Asian-fusian Red Ginger — all feature an overabundance of menu options and no surcharge. The food has been pretty drool-worthy, too, from homemade pesto gnocchi at Toscana and pumpkin soup at Jacques to tender filet mignon at Polo Grill and miso-glazed sea bass at Red Ginger. Restaurant staff help you customize your dining experience to make it perfect, whether it’s offering an entire menu of olive oils to accompany your baked-that-day bread or letting you choose from a selection of chopsticks made from a range of materials. Only trouble is it’s tricky to get reservations if you didn’t prebook online ahead of the cruise.


Oceania’s Prestige Tranquility beds and 1,000-thread-count linens practically guarantee that you will never have a sleepless night on Marina. Snuggle into those havens of comfort, and you can’t possibly keep your eyes open. They’re wonderful after a full day of touring and eating, but can be absolutely dangerous if you lie down for “just a minute” midafternoon. We’re no expert on fancy sheets, but a 12-piece queen set with sheets, duvet and pillows will set you back $1,500, so they must be top of the line. We plan to enjoy them as much as possible while we’re still onboard.

Afternoon Tea on Oceania Cruises

Afternoon Tea

Some lines pour you a cup of Lipton, hand you a sad petit four and call the event “afternoon tea,” but Marina knows how to do things right. Every afternoon at 4 p.m., white-gloved waiters wheel carts of finger sandwiches, cakes and pastries around the panoramic Horizon Lounge, while others proffer boxes of Twinings tea. A classical string quartet plays as you head to a central buffet for proper British scones, jam and clotted cream. It’s all very civilized — and highly delicious.

Smoothie Bar

Calling all vegans, gluten-avoiders and health nuts! Oceania’s famed milkshake bar gets a healthy makeover every morning when it offers green juices and smoothies made with cashew milk, as well as “energy bowls” (such as an acai berry bowl or a chia cashew yogurt bowl). It’s a popular morning addition, especially for folks on their way to or from the fitness center or jogging track — and we can attest that the drinks taste quite good, too.

Thermal Suite

On Marina, the thermal suite is not limited to those who cough up more cash at the Canyon Ranch Spa Club. Men’s and women’s sauna and steam room areas, as well as two coed spaces with tiled heated loungers, are available to all comers. They’re a lovely spot to rest weary limbs after a busy day of touring. The thermal area is lacking a thalassotherapy pool (found on Oceania’s other ships), but we didn’t miss it.


Although neither free nor quite as fast as at home, Marina’s Internet has been quite satisfactory, and not as ridiculously slow as other ships we’ve sailed. We’ve checked email, had real-time text conversations and even watched videos on Facebook. We can’t decide if its upgraded technology or a lack of Millennials onboard that is leading to the efficient Wi-Fi service onboard.

Shower in Oceania cabin



On first glance, Marina’s bathrooms are a wow. They’re beautifully marbled, with both a standalone shower and tub with showerhead. Then you actually try to take a shower and discover the flaw. The standalone has a central rainshower head that makes the already low ceiling even lower and means anyone close to or over 6 feet tall has to duck to avoid konking their head in the shower. And the angled shape of the stall means anyone not rail thin is banging elbows or incapable of leaning down to wash their legs. The bathtub is a tad better, but you risk dousing the entire bathroom with water when you use the showerhead, and you have a large step over into the tub.  We recommend the spa if you want to shower with a bit more space.


So far, we have not been impressed with the desserts on Marina. The cookies do not entice, dessert “burgers” and “lasagna” at specialty restaurants were more creative than mouth-watering, and main dining room options have been surprisingly easy to skip. The best sweets we’ve eaten have been at afternoon tea — and the ice cream. In a way, dessert misses are a good thing, though, because we’re eating so much at dinner, we really don’t need the extra calories.

Extra Fees

We appreciate that no one is chasing you down to take your photo then sell it to you or begging you to sign up for extra-fee pub crawls or buy art at auction. But compared to other high-end lines, you can spend a lot extra on Oceania paying for drinks, gratuities, shore tours and more. The spa is pricier than many cruise ship spas (we’re paying $175 plus tip for a 50-minute facial), and the lame 45-minute yoga class we took was not worth $11. Excursions are pricey, as well. And do we really need shopping talks and pamphlets for Diamonds International and Del Sol color-changing T-shirts? Not really. (To avoid the nickel and diming, book your next cruise when Oceania is offering its O-Life Perks promotion and take your pick of perks like free Internet or a complimentary beverage package.)

Travellers over 60 share how to choose the right cruise

There are three types of cruisers: the ocean-lover, the river-enthusiast and those who love all types of cruises. But if you’re weighing up the pros and cons and trying to decided which type of cruise is right for you, take a tip from other travellers to help you choose. This vibrant bunch of knowledgeable cruisers have shared their tips and advice about river and ocean cruising to help you decide which is the right option for you. Here’s what they have to say!

1. The amount of passengers

One of the biggest differences between a river and an ocean cruise is the size of the ship. While some prefer the opportunity to meet people and be surrounded by a lively atmosphere, others are more content in an intimate environment. “River is better,” Sonia shared. “Fewer passengers on smaller ships!”

2. The staff to passenger ratio

With that intimacy comes a more personalized service, as Rhonda noticed on her recent trip. “Higher staff/client ratio on river cruises [and] less children,” says Rhonda.

3. Activities at sea

With river cruises there is often the option to disembark on a regular basis, which Betty loved during her recent holiday. “River, at least you can embark every day,” says Betty.

4. The scenery

Another drawing card for a river cruise is the beautiful scenery that you constantly travel through throughout your trip. This can provide hours of entertainment simply by watching the world go by. “Love, love, love river cruising and all we get to experience by having greater time ashore and smaller numbers.”

5. The ocean

There’s nothing quite like taking to the ocean, though, it’s so expansive and beautiful and a real drawcard for many looking to go on a cruise. “Ocean for me!” says Val. “Nothing beats being at sea!”

6. The atmosphere

It’s really all about the atmosphere on an ocean cruise, from entertainment and food to pools and parties. Maureen completely forgot that she was even on a cruise at all. “Went on [a cruise] from South Africa to Perth WA and loved it,” she said. “Crew were great, cabins great and never felt we were on the Ocean. Would do it again in a heartbeat.”

7. You can go over and over again

It doesn’t matter how many times people have gone on a cruise, the diehard ocean cruisers go back time and time again. Just like Kerrie. “Ocean cruises are my favorite, about to leave on cruise #5.”

Secrets the Cruise Lines Don’t Tell You

By Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor

Cruise ship life can be a little mysterious. Your choices aren’t always spelled out in black and white. The more you cruise, the more you pick up on the unofficial secrets the cruise lines don’t tell you — which give you more options, let you save money and generally allow you to have a better time onboard.

Maybe it’s knowing what your cabin steward is able to bring you or what the off-the-menu items are at the bar or dining room. Or perhaps it’s a tip to getting a good deal on an onboard purchase.

But why wait to figure these things out the hard way — possibly after you’ve missed your chance? We trawled through all the great advice on Cruise Critic’s Message Boards to bring you some of the worst-kept cruise secrets … at least among our readers who love to share. But whether you’re a first-time cruiser or an old sea dog, you may find there’s something here you didn’t already know.

Carnival Freedom - Posh Dining Room

Food Secrets

  • You are not limited to one of each appetizer, entree and dessert in the main dining room. You can order two entrees or three desserts if you choose. You can also order appetizer-sized portions of entrees as starters or order a few appetizers for your main meal. It’s a great way to try new foods you’re not sure you’ll like (escargot, anyone?).
  • Room service is generally free, except for service charges on certain lines. Royal Caribbean’s late-night orders bear a $3.95 fee, while all orders on Norwegian (excluding morning coffee, Continental breakfast and those placed by Haven Suite passengers) cost $7.95. Meanwhile, Carnival and Holland America offer for-fee room service menus in addition to their complimentary menus. It’s recommended you tip your delivery person, but in-room dining is not the splurge it is at a hotel.
  • Speaking of breakfast, you may have more options than just the buffet and main dining room. On Norwegian, it’s no secret that O’Sheehan’s offers tasty made-to-order omelets and corned beef hash, yet many cruisers still don’t know about it. Carnival’s BlueIguana Cantina and Royal Caribbean’s Johnny Rockets (on Oasis-class ships) are other alternative breakfast venues. Check your daily newsletter to see which restaurants are open in the morning.
  • Most people dine in the main dining room or buffet on the first night of the cruise, and many haven’t discovered the specialty restaurants yet. If you book an alternative dining venue for the first night of the cruise, you may get a discount on select lines (like Celebrity Cruises) or have an easier time getting a reservation for a popular venue. Carnival Cruise Line passengers who dine in the steakhouse on the first night get a free bottle of wine.
  • Specialty coffee at the designated coffee shops onboard comes with an extra fee, but the pastries, sandwiches and other food at these venues are often free. While some specialty items (like chocolate-covered strawberries) will have a charge, don’t assume all the small bites do. Some bars — such as Celebrity’s Martini Bar — also offer complimentary snacks; all you have to do is ask.
  • Like ice cream? Cruise lines will charge for branded licks like Ben & Jerry’s and Celebrity’s gelato. However, there’s always a free version — whether soft-serve machines on the Lido Deck or hard-serve stations at the buffet. And do your reconnaissance — Cruise Critic members report that soft-serve machines on either side of the deck can have different flavors.
  • On embarkation day, most people head straight to the buffet to have lunch and wait for their cabins to open. It’s a mob scene. But many cruise ships have alternative venues open — the main dining room or a mini-buffet in the solarium or atrium area. Ask a crew member or check your daily newsletter to find an alternative for a calmer first meal. For example, on Princess Cruises, the International Cafe, Pizzeria and Grill also are open; on Royal Caribbean ships, Sorrento’s, the Solarium and Park Cafes, Giovanni’s Table, Cafe Promenade and Starbucks are open on the afternoon of embarkation.
  • Don’t know which night to make specialty dinner reservations? The main dining room menus are planned for the week, and the purser’s desk often has access to those menus. Ask to see them so you can decide which nights are less appealing and which you don’t want to miss, and plan your cruise accordingly.
  • Pina Colada

    Drink Secrets

    • There’s no “open beverage” rule onboard. You can bring drinks from a bar or buffet to your cabin or elsewhere on the ship and no one will bat an eye. (Same goes for food.)
    • It’s often cheaper to buy a bottle of wine than a few glasses — but what do you do if you don’t finish the bottle? Cruise ship waiters can mark the bottle with your room number and save it for another night, even for dinner in another onboard venue.
    • Groups of beer drinkers can save by ordering buckets of beer. You get four or five beers in a souvenir bucket at a per-beer cost slightly cheaper than ordering individual bottles.
    • On most lines, soda is not free — but iced tea in the dining room usually is. Save on soda by buying a soda card, offering a set price for unlimited soft drinks.
    • Most cruise lines prohibit passengers from bringing beer and liquor onboard, but do let you bring a bottle or two of wine or Champagne. Some lines (such as Holland America and Princess) also let you bring a reasonable amount of nonalcoholic drinks onboard — which helps save on pricy shipboard sodas and bottled waters. Royal Caribbean and Norwegian passengers are prohibited from bringing any nonalcoholic beverages onboard, while Carnival only allows limited amounts of soda and juice as long as the drinks are in cans or cartons (and not glass containers).
    • Enticed by all those special drinks in a souvenir glass? You can refill those glasses at a discount — or ask to have the drink of the day in a regular glass to save money. Also watch your daily program for drink specials or happy hours with reduced-price beverages.
    Carnival Cloud 9 cabin

    Cabin Secrets

    • Most cabins are made of metal… and therefore they’re magnetic. Bring along some magnets (or buy some as souvenirs) and you can keep all your cocktail party invites, alternative dining reservation notices and daily planners hung up on the walls and doors.
    • Inside cabins have no natural light. At all. Turn your TV to the bridge cam station, turn off the sound and — voila! — you’ve got an instant nightlight and a way to see if the sun is up.
    • Spa cabins can often be a smart financial decision for avid spa-goers. For example, Carnival’s Cloud 9 Spa balcony cabins include access to the thalassotherapy pool, steam room and sauna. The extra you’d pay for the cabin (above a regular balcony room) is often less than what you’d pay for a cruise-length spa pass.
    • With all of the electronics we tote around with us these days, most people find cruise ship outlets to be insufficient. You can bring your own charging station or power strip (check to see if these are legal on your cruise line), but you may also want to ask your cabin steward. Sometimes there’s an extra outlet hidden behind the TV or under the bed.
    • Picky about your bedding? Some lines will provide egg crate mattress toppers, top sheets and alternative pillow types by special request. Feel free to ask, before or during your cruise.
    • Cabin designers are pretty smart about creating as much storage space as possible. Do a little exploring or ask your cabin steward for a tour. You may be surprised to find extra storage under the bed or couch, inside an ottoman or behind a mirror.
    • If you’re feeling queasy, don’t run out to a pharmacy before making some calls. Room service can bring you green apples and bland crackers (crew members swear by the apple remedy), and often you can get seasickness meds from the purser’s desk for free.
    Rock of Ages

    Entertainment Secrets

    • Casino frequenters can get a hole punched in their room card and a free lanyard from the casino staff for easy play without forgetting your card in the slot machines.
    • Many lines offer free minutes if you sign up for an internet package on the first day of the cruise.
    • Cruise ship spas often offer discounts for first-day and port-day treatments. Stop by the spa, or check your daily newsletters to find out about deals.
    • If the port talk is at the same time as your massage, don’t worry. Presentations and audience-participation shows are often re-broadcast on the ship’s channel on your in-room TV. You can still catch the recording if you miss the live show.
    • Use of the showers, saunas and stream rooms not located in fancy thermal suites is free. Showering in the spa can often mean access to more clean towels, fancy toiletries and bigger shower stalls — and prevents fights over who gets cabin bathroom access first. Using the free saunas is also a great remedy for that inevitable vacation head cold that stuffs you up.
    • If you want to see one of the big-name shows on Royal Caribbean or Norwegian (like “Mamma Mia” or “Rock of Ages”), but tickets are sold out, don’t fret. Many people reserve the free tickets but don’t show up, so if you get in line prior to showtime, cruise ship staff will let you in if seats are available.
    Tamarind on Holland America

    Cruise Line-Specific Secrets

    • Celebrity’s buffet secrets include delicious ship-made hard-serve ice cream (for free) in the buffet and made-to-order waffles with a choice of toppings. You can also order a cup of candy toppings with no ice cream if that’s your treat of choice.
    • On Holland America, lunch is discounted to $10 at the Pinnacle Grill, and free chocolate truffles make an appearance in the Explorer’s Lounge each evening.
    • Royal Caribbean’s Cafe Promenade offers high-quality coffee without the price tag. It’s no Starbuck’s, but it’s a step above what you’d find at the buffet.
    • The North Star on Royal Caribbean’s Quantum-class ships offers amazing views any time you go, but you’ll get the best views on sea days. That’s because the enclosed, glass capsule — which can rise to 300 feet above sea level — is often restricted from extending out over the side of the ship while in port.

Bottoms Up! A Guide to Cruise Line All-You-Can-Drink Packages

By Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor

Disney drinks

First it was a trend — now it’s here to stay: Mainstream cruise lines have embraced all-inclusive drinks packages. Found somewhere between the ubiquitous soda packages and the included-in-your-fare booze of luxury lines, these programs let cruisers pay one base price that covers most of their nonalcoholic and alcoholic drinks onboard. But will high prices and annoying fine print persuade travelers to go it a la carte, or will the freedom to sample brightly colored cocktails and wines of unknown provenance be too appealing to ignore?

See below for a line-by-line guide to available packages, followed by some Cruise Critic member reactions to the new and not-so-new programs.

Editor’s Note: For cruises departing from Australia, please see Drink Packages on Australian Cruise Ships.

Azamara Club Cruises

Ships: Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest

Package Details: Although Azamara Club Cruises includes select standard spirits, beers and a changing daily selection of red and white wines by the glass in its cruise fares, the line also has nine for-fee all-inclusive beverage packages. Options include the Premium Water Package ($8.95 per person, per day), Beer Package (26 brands, $14.95 per person, per day), Premium Liquor Package (90 brands, $15.95 per person, per day), Top Shelf Liquor Package (120 brands, $18.95 per person, per day) and Ultimate Liquor Package (140 brands, $21.95 per person, per day). Beer and liquor packages also include a 25 percent savings on premium wines by the glass, as well as all the beer selections that come with the beer package. There are also three wine packages: Wine by the Glass (13 wines, $29.95 per person, per day), Wine Lover Package (all bottles of wine valued at $50 or less, $180 to $350 for five-, seven-, 10- and 12-bottle packages) and Wine Connoisseur Package (all bottles of wine valued at $51 to $75, $315 to $630 for five-, seven-, 10- and 12-bottle packages). All packages feature more choices and more premium brands than the complimentary offerings.

Fine Print: Packages can be pre-purchased (through Azamara Club Cruises or your travel agent) or bought onboard throughout the length of your cruise. Charges begin the day you purchase the package. Packages are not refundable once purchased and cannot be downgraded to a lower-tier package. You can only order one drink at a time. You can order drinks through room service as part of your package.

Carnival drinks


Ships: All ships, except Carnival Spirit and Carnival Legend

Package Details: The Cheers! program has been rolled out to all ships in the Carnival Cruise Line fleet, with the exception of those sailing in Australia. The cost for the program is $49.95, per person, per day, if purchased in advance and $54.95 per person, per day, if purchased once onboard. The package allows cruisers to select from mixed drinks, beer, wine and spirits valued at $50 or less each, up to a 15-drink maximum per day. Additionally, the package includes soda, nonalcoholic cocktails, energy drinks, specialty coffees and teas, most bottled water, PowerAde, Vitamin Water, coconut water and Honest Tea. The program also includes a 25 percent discount on bottles of wine and Champagne, beverage classes and seminars, and cocktails that cost more than $50.

Fine Print: If one adult in a cabin purchases the package, all adults over 21 years old in that cabin must also purchase it. Participants can order only one drink at a time, there is a five-minute wait time required between drink purchases, and all bottles and cans are served opened. The package does not apply to drinks in souvenir glasses. A 15-percent gratuity is added to the cost of the package, and due to state laws, the package is not available until the second day of all sailings leaving from ports in New York, Alabama and Texas. Cheers! applies to onboard beverages only; it cannot be used on Carnival’s private island, Half Moon Cay. The package is not available on two-night sailings or chartered sailings, and it must be booked for the entire duration of the voyage.


Ships: All ships except for Celebrity Xpedition

Package Details: Celebrity Cruises was a forerunner when it comes to packages; it first introduced its alcohol packages in 2009. The line has gone package crazy with classic and premium nonalcoholic packages ($18 and $22 per person, per day, respectively), as well as packages for wine, soda, bottled water and even in-room bar setups. The line now offers three all-inclusive drink packages. The Standard Package ($45 per person, per day) includes any drink (beer, wine, cocktails) up to $6 per serving. This includes soda and bottled water. Additionally, the package includes a 10 percent discount on wines purchased by the bottle.

The Classic Package, starting from $55 per person, per night, includes soda, fresh-squeezed and bottled juices, premium coffees and teas, non-premium bottled water; all beers (priced up to $6 each); spirits, cocktails and frozen drinks up to $8 per serving; and wine by the glass up to $9 each.  The package also includes a 15 percent discount on wines by the bottle.

The Premium Package, priced from $65 per person, per day, includes soda, premium bottled water (Evian, Perrier and San Pellegrino), specialty coffees and teas, nonalcoholic frozen drinks and smoothies, Red Bull, specialty water from Vitamin Water, all beers, and spirits, cocktails and wine by the glass up to $13 per serving. The package also includes a 20 percent discount on wines by the bottle.

Fine Print: An 18-percent service charge is added to package prices. Packages must be bought for the entire sailing and refunds are not allowed; however, packages can be purchased onboard up until two nights are left in the cruise, at prorated prices. Packages do not include drinks purchased from the mini-bar, room service or Enomatic wine dispensing machines. Ordered packages can be modified or canceled online or by phone up to four days prior to the sailing date.


Ships: Fleetwide

Package Details: Costa Cruises’ All-Inclusive Beverages package includes a selection of alcoholic beverages (including beer and wine), soft drinks by the glass and coffee. The cost is 24.99 euros per person, per day, including service charges, and is available to adults 18+. A youth version of the package (for ages 4 to 17 years — see the fine print) costs 15.99 euros per day, including service charges, and includes soft drinks by the glass. It must be booked in combination with the All-Inclusive adult package.

Fine Print: Mini-bar products and premium brands are excluded from the package. All passengers, even kids (ages 4 and up), traveling together with the same booking number or who choose to dine together, must purchase the package.

Holland America drinks

Holland America Line

Ships: Fleetwide

Package Details: For $44.95 per day, Holland America’s Signature Beverage package allows cruisers to indulge in up to 15 beverages a day — choosing from a variety of wine, beer, spirits, cocktails (including nonalcoholic), sodas and coffee for an entire sailing. Each drink must cost less than $8. If one passenger in a cabin opts for the package, anyone who is 21-plus years old in the same cabin is required to purchase it as well. Items from the mini-bar, in-room dining and beverages on Half Moon Cay are excluded from the package.

Fine Print: An additional 15-percent service charge is not included in the base price.

MSC Cruises

Ships: All ships sailing in the Mediterranean and Caribbean

Package Details: MSC Cruises offers multiple beverage packages, including:

Premium Packages: The More-For-Less Premium Adult All-Inclusive (Caribbean sailings, $61 per person, per day) and Allegrissimo Premium Adult All-Inclusive (Mediterranean sailings, $53 per person, per day) packages each include the entire bar list, all beers, wine by the glass, premium spirits and cocktails, in-cabin mineral water and mini-bar access, energy drinks, soda, fruit juice, tea, coffee and hot chocolate, as well as items from the onboard Gelateria and Pastry Shop. This package is valid in all onboard bars, lounges and restaurants. (Drinks are not included in specialty restaurants as part of these packages, but a 20-percent discount is offered to package-holders.) Children’s packages are priced at $31 and $25 per person, per day, respectively, and they include all nonalcoholic beverages — including milkshakes, smoothies and mocktails — and items from the Gelateria and Pastry Shop.

Note: In summer 2017, these packages will be combined into one, called the All-Inclusive Premium Drink Package.

Standard Packages: The More-For-Less Classic Adult All-Inclusive (Caribbean, $45 per person, per day) and Allegrissimo Adult All-Inclusive (Mediterranean, $31 per person, per day) packages offer wine by the glass, all beers, soda, fruit juice, mineral water, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, spirits and cocktails (excluding premium brands), and ice cream (cone or cup). This package is valid in all onboard bars, lounges and restaurants. (Drinks are not included in specialty restaurants as part of these packages, but a 20-percent discount is offered to package-holders.) These packages do not include energy drinks, premium liquors, in-cabin mineral water and mini-bars, or items from the Gelateria and Pastry Shop. The kids’ versions of these packages cost $23 and $14.50 per person, per day, respectively. They feature ice cream and all nonalcoholic beverages, including milkshakes, smoothies and mocktails. They exclude in-cabin mineral water and mini-bar soft drinks. Drinks ordered as part of the standard packages in this category must cost less than $7.50 each.

Note: In summer 2017, these packages will be combined into one, called the All-Inclusive Classic Drink Package.

Cheers: Offered on all sailings, Cheers packages for adults ($20 to $22.50 per person, per day) and kids ($11 to $12.50 per person, per day) allow for unlimited beverages during lunch and dinner in the main dining rooms and self-serve buffets. Featured items for adults are house wine selections, draft beer, mineral water and soft drinks. The children’s version includes soft drinks and mineral water. These packages are not valid for drinks or discounts on drinks in alternative restaurants.

Note: In summer 2017, Cheers will be renamed the Mealtime Restaurant Drink Package.

Fine Print: If one person in a cabin purchases a package, all others in the cabin must purchase a package. If 21 or older (18 or older on cruises not departing from the United States), an alcohol package must be purchased; for passengers younger than 21 (younger than 18 on non-U.S.-based sailings), the equivalent children’s package must be purchased. Packages must be purchased for the entire duration of each voyage. Advance package purchases must be completed no later than seven days prior to sailing; packages can also be purchased onboard on the first and second days of each voyage. There is no per-day limit to the number of drinks a package-holder can order. The above listed packages do not include cigars, bottles of wine or Champagne, or drinks in souvenir glasses.

Norwegian fishbowl drinks

Norwegian Cruise Line

Ships: All ships except for Pride of America. Norwegian Sky includes a free Ultimate Beverage Package for all passengers.

Package Details: Norwegian has two beverage packages, available on all ships. The “Corks and Caps Package” costs $59 per person, per day, (plus an 18-percent gratuity) and includes a selection of fountain soda and juices, beer and wines by the glass ($15 or less). The “Ultimate Beverage Package” costs $79 per person, per day, (plus an 18-percent gratuity) and includes everything in the “Corks and Caps Package” plus liquor and cocktails (all drinks $15 or less). You can use your beverage package at all onboard bars, lounges and restaurants, and on the line’s private island.

Fine Print: The Ultimate Beverage Package is only available for purchase ahead of time on sailings of five days or more, and for purchase onboard for sailings of three or four days; the package is not available for sailings of two days or less. An 18-percent gratuity is added to your package price. Only one drink is allowed per passenger per order. All passengers sharing a cabin or using the same payment method (i.e., kids you stuck in the inside cabin across the hall) must purchase the beverage package. For kids two and up, that means buying the soda package instead. The package does not include room service, buckets of beer, super and ultra premium brands, wine or liquor by the bottle, mini-bar purchases, freshly squeezed juice, canned soda or energy drinks, specialty coffee or bottled water. Passengers looking to purchase this package onboard during the dates of March 1 through April 15 will only be able to purchase on embarkation day.

Oceania Cruises

Ships: Fleetwide

Package Details: Oceania Cruises offers two all-inclusive beverage package options. House Select, which costs $39.95 per person, per day, includes unlimited Champagne, house wine and beer with dinner and lunch. (Interestingly, it’s available when ordering room service, but it does not cover mini-bar drinks.) The second package, Prestige Select, is pricier — $59.95 per person, per day — and includes beer and premium house wine (from a selection of red and white vintages that change daily), most beverages on the bar menu and room service beverages during regular operating bar hours. Mini-bar selections are not included. Oceania already includes in cruise fares items like soft drinks, bottled water and specialty coffees.

Fine Print: Package prices include gratuities and can be prebooked online or through a reservations representative. They can also be purchased onboard at any time during the cruise (with prices prorated for days remaining). You can upgrade from Package A to B during the voyage, but you can’t downgrade. Refunds aren’t allowed.

Princess Cruises

Ships: Fleetwide (different packages are available on Australia-based ships)

Package Details: Princess Cruises’ package costs $56.35 per day, per day plus a 15-percent gratuity, and includes all cocktails, spirits, beer and glasses of wine up to $10. All nonalcoholic drinks served in cans or bottles, as well as mocktails and shakes are included, as are all coffee, tea, espresso and specialty drinks and any food items such as crepes and gelato included with the coffee card. Each purchaser of the package also receives a 40-percent discount on all bottled wine less than $100.

Additionally, Princess offers beer packages, by brand, that includes five bottles for the price of four: Dos Equis ($22.27), Heinekin ($24.15), Budweiser ($26.45) and Bud Light ($26.45). The price includes the service charge. Beer packages are not available on Diamond Princess, Emerald Princess or Golden Princess when itineraries begin/end in Australia or New Zealand.

Fine Print: Princess cruisers may purchase the package on seven-night or longer cruises. All passengers traveling in the same stateroom do not have to purchase the package.

Royal Caribbean

Ships: All ships with three-night or longer itineraries offer the all-inclusive package.

Package Details: Royal Caribbean has one alcohol-inclusive beverage package on offer. The $55 per person, per day Deluxe Beverage package includes premium coffee and tea, bottled still and sparkling water, fresh-squeezed orange juice, house and premium cocktails (up to $12 value), frozen cocktails, beers, premium wine by the glass (up to $12 value), nonalcoholic cocktails, fountain sodas with a souvenir Coca-Cola cup, a 40 percent discount on wine bottle purchases up to $100 and a 20 percent discount on wine bottle purchases more than $100. For drinks over $12, a $12 credit will be applied to the price of the drink.

Prices do not include an 18-percent gratuity that will be applied to each individual drink order.

Fine Print: The drinks package is available on all two-night or longer sailings and must be purchased a minimum of four days before the cruise ends. Only passengers who intend to use a package need to buy it. Package users may only order one item at a time for individual consumption. There is no daily limit on how many items a person may order.


Ships: Fleetwide

Package Details: Windstar’s package is only sold by the cabin and costs $116 per cabin, per day, plus a 15-percent gratuity. The price includes taxes. The package entitles passengers to unlimited cocktails (including some top-shelf brands), regular and sparkling wines by the glass (priced at $12 or less), beer, mini-bar selections and room service drink orders. (Windstar includes nonalcoholic beverages, such as coffee drinks and soda, for everyone in its cruise fares.) Bottles of wine and Champagne are not included.

Fine Print: The package is valid for all passengers sharing a cabin or suite. It must be purchased in advance or on the first day of the cruise, for the entire length of the sailing. Package holders are entitled to purchase certain ultra-premium liquor brands for $1.15 per cocktail.

Mermaid’s Tail on Regal Princess

Reader Reactions

Are drink packages a good addition to cruising or a bad one? Cruise Critic readers — not surprisingly — have a wide range of opinions on the subject. Proponents are all about the value proposition these packages offer, especially for people who buy a lot of beverages onboard. Says Docalbe, “I try to cruise once a year and bar tab is always over $1,500. $50 is ok with me ($450)…. Not that I’m a lush….” And disan points out that “the main thing is it just makes the experience a little more mindless and isn’t that what a cruise is all about? More fun and less to think about.”

Opponents either don’t see the value or worry about the consequences of unlimited booze. Judi Stein O’Brien posted this Facebook comment: “I can’t see how that’s worth it…we must be cheap drunks! This past cruise we drank and partied pretty hard, rented a tux, paid for a specialty restaurant for 2, various small souvenirs, internet, etc., and our total bill for 2 people for 7 days was less than what this package would cost us.” Others take a more extreme view, like Fred Couch, who says on Facebook, “Some people will drink themselves silly just to get their money’s worth. Just a terrible idea.”

Reader Paula Winchester rebuts that argument. “Those of you saying it would cause too many drunks? Really? Those people are already drinking on the ship with or without the package.”

Still others are on the fence, acknowledging that whether the packages are a good deal have much to do with your ordering habits and the cruise itself. Kathy says, “I do like the idea…and yes on days at sea a great idea…but on port days…could be a waste. I would definitely do this if it could be done on a day by day basis.” Member chillyw concurs, “There’s just no way I’m going to drink 8-9 drinks EVERY DAY.” (Unfortunately for them, a daily package isn’t on offer. Yet.)

And several readers have had some enlightening comments about how to get the most out of the packages.

“Not only did we get our money’s worth and more, there were other perks that we didn’t anticipate,” posts boyerd about Celebrity’s package. “Aside from no slips to sign etc., often around the pool when a frozen drink started melting the staff would ask if they could just make a new one. We tried many different types of drinks esp. martinis that we might not have bought otherwise. If we tried a new drink and didn’t like it, it was replaced with another drink of our choice without question…. We told our assistant waiter the first night about the specialty coffee and we had it served with our dessert every night…no hassles. It really added to the vacation atmosphere that we enjoy!”

Cadburysmom had a strategic plan for her Celebrity drinks package. “I waited until halfway through my Eclipse Baltic cruise to get the package,” she reveals. “More sea days towards the end and the Solstice-class ships offer a much more interesting variety to taste with the Martini and Molecular bars as well as the coffee/tea bar.”

On Your Next Cruise, How to Sleep Like a Baby


MELISSA MAYNTZRadiance of the Seas

Travel can be enjoyable, exciting, entertaining – and exhausting. A cruise is no exception, and you’ll need a good night’s sleep every night so you don’t miss any of the different activities and ports of call on the itinerary. Strange beds, unfamiliar cabins and unexpected motions of the ship can disrupt even the heaviest sleeper, however, so how can you be sure you’re getting the very best shut-eye on board?

Choose Your Cabin for Good Sleep

The first step toward good rest on a cruise ship is to be sure your cabin is in the best possible spot for good sleeping conditions. The motion of the ship, for example, is more pronounced in the extreme fore and aft locations, and if you are sensitive to that motion, you’ll want to choose a cabin in the center of the ship.

Take note of local noise as well – if your cabin is right underneath the gym, you may hear the noises of weights or machines from early morning workouts. Similarly, a cabin near a major intersection or elevators will have many more people passing by the door, often in conversation, whereas a cabin in a more isolated area will have much less foot traffic. Cabins on lower decks closer to the rear of the ship may hear a bit more engine or anchor noise, while cabins near children’s areas may hear more shouts and excitement from the youngest cruisers.

Also check deck plans when choosing your cabin. If there are many adjoining cabins nearby, you may be near larger groups of passengers, such as a family reunion or a bachelor or bachelorette party. In some cases, those celebrations can be louder than you may appreciate for good sleep.

Prepare Your Bedroom

You’ll get the best rest if your cabin is as close to your familiar, home sleeping conditions as possible. Bringing your own pillow or pillowcase along on the trip can help be sure your head rests easy every night, or you may want to bring along a favorite blanket if you’re sensitive to different textures of bedding. You can also ask your cabin steward for an extra blanket or extra pillows if necessary.

If you sleep with a fan, sound machine or soft music to serve as white noise, bring along what you need to replicate that condition in your cabin. A small travel fan can also be useful to help air circulate in your cabin and keep it cooler, essential if you prefer to sleep in a cool room.

The light level in your cabin can easily affect your sleep. Do you need a very dark room to sleep well? Consider choosing an interior cabin, or be sure your window or balcony drapes are tightly closed – a hair clip or clothespin can keep them that way. Use an extra towel to block light under the cabin’s door, and tuck a tissue into the peephole to eliminate that bright spot of light. On the other hand, if you need a bit of subtle light in your cabin, you may want to pack along a night light or leave the curtains cracked to give your cabin a cozy glow.

Get Tired

You won’t sleep well if you aren’t tired, but fortunately there are plenty of ways to wear yourself out on a cruise. Join in different activities and don’t be afraid to try something new. Consider visiting the gym or taking a good walk around the decks so you are getting enough exercise to wear your muscles out, or opt for more active shore tours. A nice afternoon nap may be a wonderful way to relax on vacation – especially napping in a deck chair on a cruise ship – but try not to nap too much if you have trouble sleeping at night.

Keeping your familiar bedtime routine can give your body clues that it’s time to sleep so you will rest more easily. Pack your comfiest pajamas or otherwise sleep just like you’re accustomed to at home. If you normally shower at night or have a regimen of beauty cream, hand lotion, tooth brushing or other tasks before bed, keep up that routine while you’re on board the ship. Do you normally read before bed, or always write in a journal? Bring along a favorite book or notebook so you don’t miss that clue to good sleep.

Avoid Overdoing – Anything!

It is tempting to do a little too much on vacation – overeating, a few extra drinks, stretching yourself beyond your limits – but when you overdo, you won’t sleep as well. Indigestion or digestive trouble can have you spending more time in the bathroom than in your bed, and if you’ve drunk too much, you may be sitting on the bathroom floor instead. A strained muscle, twisted ankle or other injury from pushing yourself too hard can keep you up at night, and so can that wicked sunburn from enjoying too much sun with too little sunscreen.

A cruise can be the best vacation of your life, and it will be even better if you’re getting the best sleep of your life on board! Taking appropriate steps to sleep well can make sure you’re relaxed, refreshed and rejuvenated every night for the next day of your cruise getaway.

Top-of-the-line luxury cruise ship sales the high seas


By Mike Kelly

The Seven Seas Explorer will ply the Mediterranean until late this year, when it will begin sailing out of Miami.

MONTE CARLO, Monaco — It takes a bit of nerve to brag that something of yours is the best, the richest, the biggest, or any other superlative that might come to mind.

But that’s exactly what Frank Del Rio has done, and he’s completely unapologetic about it. Mr. Del Rio, the CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, is so proud of his new ship, the Seven Seas Explorer, that he’s not only slapped it with the tagline “the most luxurious ship ever built,” but he’s actually trademarked that phrase.

The Explorer, the fourth ship in the Regent Seven Seas fleet and its first new vessel in 13 years, has just 375 cabins, but each one is a suite with its own private, teak-trimmed balcony. It’s on the small side as cruise ships go, with a capacity of just 750 guests, and with 552 crew members catering to them, that makes for one of the lowest guest-to-crew ratios in the business.

After its christening here in July by Princess Charlene of Monaco, the Explorer embarked on its first Mediterranean season, with 8- to 14-night itineraries and stops at such ports as Athens, Rome, Venice, Saint Tropez, and Jerusalem. Then in December it’s on to Miami for a series of Caribbean cruises.

Before the christening, Mr. Del Rio and other cruise line executives hosted a five-day preview cruise from Barcelona to Monte Carlo to show off their new baby to international media and travel agents. During the trip, those execs, plus the ship’s designers, were available for interviews.

The first question for Mr. Del Rio was an obvious one: what makes Explorer “the most luxurious ship” on the high seas?

“The space, the style, the materials used, the craftsmanship, the details, the artwork, the cuisine, the service,” he said before pausing for breath. “Our aim was to make this vessel as relevant to the luxury market 20 years from now as it is today.”

Greg Watson, one of the ship’s designers, pointed out that luxury means different things to different people. “Our aim was to create unique elements you won’t find anywhere else,” he said.

“With all the restrictions of a ship, especially one this size, these were significant engineering feats.”

“It has space,” Mr. Del Rio said. “That’s one of the most difficult and expensive things to provide on a ship.”

Costing more than $450 million to build, the all-suite ship is among the most expensive ever constructed on a per-passenger basis. And if anything could be described as “spaciously intimate,” Explorer would probably qualify.

An average-size cruise ship cabin is between 175 and 200 square feet. The smallest suite on Explorer is 220 square feet, and each suite’s balcony is at least 10 feet deep, the largest on any cruise ship, allowing plenty of room for a table and chairs.

From there, the suites increase in size, up to a 1,100-square-foot Master Suite that has a bar, two bedrooms and two bathrooms.

Oh, and then there’s Explorer’s crown jewel, the Regent Suite. This 3,875-square-foot showcase is half again as large as the average American house, and its opulence is over the top. More on that later.

We stayed in a “modest” Concierge Suite (332 square feet), which had a sizable sitting area and a European king-sized bed facing the balcony and the sea beyond. The balcony itself was roomy enough to accommodate a padded lounger as well as the aforementioned table and chairs.

The suite had a wood-paneled walk-in closet, and the spacious bathroom was equipped with double sinks, a marble walk-in shower, and a separate full-size tub. A refrigerator was equipped with a mini bar that was restocked daily with soft drinks, water, and beer. When my wife mentioned to our cabin steward that she liked a certain type of wine — voila — a bottle of it showed up that afternoon in our suite.

The ship’s common areas also are lavishly decorated. They make ample use of marble and granite — more than an acre of each was used throughout the vessel — and there are hundreds of crystal chandeliers, including in some of the pricier suites.

Throughout the ship, art lovers can also spot original works by Picasso, Chagall, and other masters, and nearly all of them were personally selected by Mr. Del Rio, an avid collector. In the main dining room, Compass Rose, passengers eat from specially designed Versace place settings.

One piece of art that’s pretty hard to miss is a dramatic three-ton, $500,000 bronze Tibetan Prayer Wheel, which stands guard at the entrance to Pacific Rim, the ship’s high-end Pan-Asian restaurant. The architects said the understructure of Deck 5 had to be reinforced to hold the weight of the massive, floor-to-ceiling installation.

Other specialty restaurants include Regent’s signature steakhouse, Prime 7, and the French-themed place called Chartreuse. Cuisine is hardly an afterthought on this ship, as evidenced by the fact that Explorer’s chefs are actually paid more than the ship’s captain — virtually unheard of in the cruise industry.

For those who like to try their own hand at own cooking, a Culinary Arts Kitchen with 18 work stations is used for lessons on such topics as healthy cooking, food and wine pairings, grilling, and cuisine inspired by each of the ship’s destinations.

Of course there’s also a spa — operated by the Tucson-based specialty company Canyon Ranch — which has eight treatment rooms and offers the usual range of seagoing spa services. A spiral staircase leads from the spa up to a fitness center with machines and free weights.

OK, time to revisit that decadent Regent Suite. It’s located at the bow of the ship up on Deck 14— the entire deck was added during construction just to accommodate the suite — and it’s billed by the cruise line as the most luxurious suite at sea. That just may be true, and at 2,900 square feet, plus another 960 square feet on a wraparound balcony, it’s certainly among the biggest cabins on any ocean liner.

The suite’s private lobby opens onto an expansively decorated living room filled with plush couches and lounge chairs, a shiny marble bar with matching stools, and a one-of-a-kind custom Steinway grand piano (price tag: $250,000). Just off the dining room is a glass-enclosed portion of the balcony that provides panoramic views off the ship’s bow.

Each of the suite’s two bedrooms has its own sitting area, and the master bedroom’s centerpiece is a $150,000 hand-made Savoir bed. (Yes, a bed can really cost that much.)

In a first for any cruise ship, the Regent Suite also has its own private spa retreat, complete with a treatment area, full sauna, steam room, a pair of heated ceramic loungers and an oversized hot tub that looks out over the ocean. Of course, unlimited complimentary spa treatments from Canyon Ranch are available.

The suite also includes its own personal butler, and a private car and driver are provided at each port of call.

All in all, Explorer is a pretty nice little ship. And it should come as no surprise that such ultra-luxury doesn’t come cheap. Entry-level suites start at $6,800 per person for an eight-night sailing, rising with the size of the suite and the length of the itinerary. But as Mr. Del Rio pointed out, that includes round-trip airfare to Europe, unlimited shore excursions, all gratuities, shipwide Wi-Fi, and unlimited alcoholic beverages.

Still, that’s not exactly a family-friendly price tag, as the cruise CEO readily admitted.

“Our intended audience are mature, well-traveled, upscale citizens of the world,” he said. “We’re not after multi-generational travel (aka families). Everybody loves their grandchildren; they just don’t love other people’s grandchildren.”

Oh, and that Godzilla-sized Regent Suite? That goes for a mere $10,000 — per day. And believe it or not, it’s sold out for the remainder of 2016 and well into next year, too.

“We’ll probably raise the price for it in the future,” Mr. Del Rio said, seemingly with a straight face.

Jason Montague, president of Regent Seven Seas, said work has already begun on a $125 million upgrade of the line’s three other ships, to bring them more in line with Explorer’s opulence.

“By the spring of 2017, we’ll not only have the most luxurious ship but the most luxurious fleet at sea,” he said.

INFO: www.RSSC.com or a local travel agent.

Mike Kelly, a former reporter at the Toledo Blade, is a travel writer and editor. Reach him at kelly.writer@yahoo.com.

What’s Your Free Cruise Perk Really Worth?

By Brittany Chrusciel, Associate Editor

Exterior shot of Carnival Valor in port

If you pay attention to those cruise line emails that flood your inbox and those bright brochures that line your mailbox, you’ve probably noticed an uptick in promotions touting “free perks” or your choice of added onboard amenities. Cruise lines — such as Celebrity, Norwegian and Oceania — are promising bonuses like a free drinks package for two, hundreds in onboard credit or even free third and fourth passengers (to a cabin) — but is there a catch? When presented with the choice, which perk or perks are the best ones to choose? (Especially considering that once you make the choice, it applies to both you and the other person in your cabin.)

We took a look at a couple of the industry’s current cruise perk promos and broke down the value by each offer category. We also provide our read on which perks offer the best deal. Armed with information on what these freebies are really worth, choosing between complimentary Corona and endless free Facebooking becomes less of a guess and more of a discussion (argument?) with your travel companion.

Fruity drink from Oasis of the Seas' Mast Bar

The Perks

Beverage Package

If you imbibe, purchasing a drinks package on a cruise might seem like a relative no-brainer. Across the board, this is the perk we see offered by nearly every cruise line that offers a value-add promotion. The offer typically applies only to the first two people in a cabin (if they are 21 or older). So what’s the actual value of free drinks for a weeklong cruise?

Less than you’d think. That’s because you might end up paying for this perk before you receive it — an unexpected stipulation for something advertised as free. The reason is an automatic 18-percent gratuity and service charge is attached to many cruise lines’ individual beverages and beverage packages — and while the package is free, the gratuities are not always.

The best-value free drink package perk we found is Norwegian’s. Even with gratuities ($199.08 for two on a weeklong cruise), you’ll save $906.92 per cabin off the cost of the line’s Ultimate beverage package. Abstain from alcohol but dig the sweet stuff? Opt instead for a weeklong soda package (valued at $86.10 for two people).

Internet Package

With cruisers looking to be more connected than ever before, free internet minutes or unlimited voyage-long internet access is the second most popular perk offered by cruise lines with this kind of promotion. Oceania Cruises includes it as its baseline free perk for the OLife Choice program — free, unlimited internet for the duration of the sailing, which is typically $27.99 per day. Depending on how you use the web — checking in with family via email or social media or spending long leisurely evenings uploading hi-res photos at sea — a free internet perk package could serve you well or come up short. Our advice is look for unlimited plans.

The best internet perk we found is Celebrity’s Go!Big offer, which includes an unlimited-use package valued at $140 per person for a weeklong cruise ($280 value for two people). Norwegian’s Free at Sea program offers $125 worth of minutes per cabin — that’s just over four hours of internet use to be shared over the course of a week. The least impressive free Wi-Fi perk belongs to MSC Cruises; that line gives cruisers a package offering only email and social media access (a value of $33 per person for a weeklong cruise).

Onboard Credit

The perk with the most freedom, onboard credit means you have money to spend onboard just about anywhere you’d like. You can certainly use it to purchase a drinks package or a shore excursion, but you could also blow it all in the shops or on for-fee extras like arcade games. The magic number for this type of perk is usually $300 per cabin; if you’re traveling with a friend (or a partner who doesn’t want to share) that means $150 per person.

The true value? There are no caveats. Onboard credit won’t charge you gratuities or a fee to use. It is, for lack of a better word, free money. Onboard credit is also the most popular perk you might find as a one-off value-add offer or a bonus for booking with a travel agent. Oceania staggers its onboard credit by length of voyage. For example, a 10-night sailing will get you $400 per cabin. Treating yourself to a back-to-back 28-night voyage? That’s $1,000 in onboard credit.

A beach lifeguard in Great Stirrup Cay with Norwegian Breakaway docked in the background

Free Shore Excursions

Cruise lines offer shore excursions to help travelers explore each destination — but the tours can be pricy (and booking several can quickly add up). Therefore, cruise lines might offer an onboard credit exclusively for booking shore tours or offer a set number of included tours as an enticement to book. Before you choose shore excursions as a perk, see how much an average excursion would cost your family and then subtract any credit. Still a deal?

Oceania’s OLife Choice offers three full excursions for two on sailings shorter than nine days; that number increases to five excursions for sailings 14 days or longer. On the contrary, Norwegian’s Free at Sea offers a shore-ex credit of $50 per cabin per port. On average, a weeklong Caribbean cruise visits about three or four ports, meaning a shore-ex credit of just $150 to $200 per cabin. (Shore excursions can cost hundreds of dollars depending on the adventure and length.)

Prepaid Gratuities

Most cruise lines automatically add gratuities or a service charge to your onboard account; for a couple cruising, the added fees come to $180 or more for a weeklong cruise. It’s not surprising that prepaid gratuities — otherwise known as free tips — are a common incentive across many cruise lines and even through travel agents. Celebrity’s Go!Big promo equates to savings of $189 per couple for a standard cabin, $196 per cabin for an AquaClass or Concierge-class room and $238 for a suite on a weeklong cruise. If tipping makes you uncomfortable or you want a more all-inclusive feel to your cruise, the value in prepaid gratuities comes as peace of mind.

Free Specialty Dining

Who doesn’t love a free meal? Norwegian’s free specialty dining perk includes three meals for two people on sailings up to nine days. This is another perk where you can expect an 18-percent service charge, which is added to all dining charges onboard Norwegian’s fleet. You’ll pay $74.52 worth of gratuities, but you’re still getting a value of $339.48 for three free meals for two on a weeklong sailing. (Passengers on cruises of more than 10 nights receive four meals each.) Looked at another way, each person is paying just $12.42 for each of the three dinners — not free but a definite savings.

Room Upgrade

Getting a cruise room upgrade is not offered as a choice on too many value-add promotions with multiple options, but it’s a common perk or incentive for many cruise lines and the focus of many cruise campaigns. Some lines will offer upgrades within the same cabin type (balcony cabin to higher-category balcony cabin), while others let you move from one class to another (outside to balcony).

Because cruise fares vary dramatically per sailing and sometimes categories can be close or far in price, the real value is not financial but what you’re getting with the upgrade — a better cabin.

Free Cruise Fare for Third & Fourth Passengers

Maybe no perk could be better than free cruise fare — except it’s not entirely free.

Norwegian’s Free at Sea promo is (at press time) offering “free” passage for additional passengers in a cabin (on select sailings) as one of its perk choices. From time to time, other cruise lines will offer free third and fourth passengers (or free kids sharing a cabin with two adults) as part of sale fares. The catch? You’re still responsible for paying port taxes and fees for these “free” passengers, which can equate to about $200 each.

If you’re trying to figure out the value of the free fares, it can also get tricky. Many times, third and fourth passengers don’t pay the full cruise fare, so the actual value can be significantly less than you’d think, based on the full amount for the first two passengers. For example, we saw a round-trip sailing around the Hawaiian Islands on Pride of America selling for $1,449 — that would be a two-person value of $2,898. However, the third and fourth passenger fares were just $449; valuing the promotion in the hundreds not thousands of dollars. (Gratuities were just $119 per person for third and fourth passengers.) Still, this is one of the nicest perks — with real savings — if you’re bringing the kids along, or splitting a cabin four ways with friends.

Surf and Turf entree from Cagney's

The Verdict?

The free alcoholic beverage package perk is, by dollar amount, the best value you can attain with one of the bonus amenities. However, if you don’t drink the hard stuff, or drink very little, you might not be able to justify the cost of the gratuities and be better served with another perk.

Internet, while handy, is only useful if you use it to its fullest capacity (optimally getting an unlimited package), but compared with an onboard credit of $300, you could simply purchase the highest-level internet package and still have some money left over for a souvenir.

Shore excursions are only a cushy perk if full excursions are included, like with Oceania. A credit, like the one offered by Norwegian, could be measly in comparison to what excursions cost in your ports of call — meaning that instead of a free tour in every port, you’ll have to pool the credit to get a couple of tours comped. For example, in the Caribbean, $200 would cover a couple of beach day excursions or perhaps a dolphin swim for one person; in Alaska or Europe, tours tend to cost more so depending on your interests, your credit might not go as far. Still, a couple of free excursions per cruise is nothing to sneeze at.

Room upgrades are a shiny incentive, but only make sense if you are getting the upgraded room at a good price. Make sure to do a little homework and price out what the average cost of the upgraded cabin is on a typical sailing to see the dollar value of your savings. If you still aren’t sure if you’re getting a deal, the true value of your cabin upgrade might be best discussed with a travel agent who can really price out what makes sense for your needs and where the perk plays into that. At the end of the day, if you feel you are getting your cruise room at a fair price, by all means book it.

While the value of other deals might be higher in terms of dollars and cents, onboard credit has no strings attached. If you’re looking for a pure freebie, with the flexibility to use it however you’d like, this is a surefire pick.

Choosing the right perk really comes down to what would make your onboard experience a better one. Even though specialty dining is a $340 value, if you don’t care much for the alternative restaurants, it’s a wasted choice. Likewise, if you prefer independent touring, don’t choose a shore excursion perk; if you don’t drink much, an alcohol package might be lost on you. The best method is to determine which amenities you would purchase anyway, and then choose the free perks that match your typical onboard spending

10 Signs You’re Addicted to Cruising


Cruise Fever, also known as post cruise depression, affects everyone in a different way.  For some it starts the moment they head back to work yet for others it begins at disembarkation and while standing in line for customs.  Here are 10 signs that you have Cruise Fever and are addicted to cruising.














1. Everyday you check your cruise countdown (via Ship Mate or other mobile app) to see exactly how many days you have until your next cruise.  If this is one of the first things you do every morning when you wake up, you are addicted to cruising.

2. You check in online for your cruise and print out your boarding passes the moment you make final payment, even if your cruise is 75 or more days away.  For some reason, this makes it feel like you’re a little closer to your cruise.

3. You begin researching your next cruise before you even start unpacking from your last one. Admit it, this is just about always true, especially after your first cruise.

4. If your friends and family members tell you that you talk to much about cruising, you probably have Cruise Fever. This also includes sharing cruise pictures and articles on Facebook.

5. When you head to bed at night, you get bummed that there is no chocolate on your pillow and your bed isn’t turned down.

6. When you go out to dinner and you miss having menus that don’t have prices listed on them.

7. If your Saturday and Sunday afternoons are spent watching the PTZtv webcams and watching cruise ships leave port, you just might have Cruise Fever. If you didn’t know that this website existed until now, you’re welcome.

8. You’re addicted to visiting cruise message boards or one of the various cruise groups on Facebook.

9. If you find yourself constantly looking at pictures and videos from past cruises, it is a sign that you have Cruise Fever.

10.  If you eat, sleep, and dream about cruising, you are definitely addicted to cruising.

Cruising 101: Choosing an Ocean Cruise Line



Cruising 101: Choosing an Ocean Cruise Line

Photo courtesy of the Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board

For cruising veterans, it may seem obvious how to choose the best cruise line for your vacation, but for newbies, it’s the crucial first step and begins by asking the right questions.

To start, ask: What is my budget and what is my traveling personality?

There are four main categories of cruise line quality increasing in cost in order of standard ones, premium ones, upscale ones and luxury ones, and in each category, there are a number of different lifestyles to be expected onboard each individual line.

The guidelines below are merely a loose primer, that for the sake of this exercise excludes boutique and adventure lines, and researching those brands in your budget more extensively will point you to the one best suited to your tastes.


Mainstream cruise brands like Carnival Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, MSC Cruises, Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean International fit into the standard quality category, and while many are similar, they do each have their own personalities that may or may not match your own. Carnival, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean are fun casual options with MSC Cruises and Princess Cruises being a bit more refined.


Celebrity Cruises, Cunard Line, Holland America Line and arguably Disney Cruise Line make up the premium category of cruise brands for offering a step up in overall quality of service, dining and more. Of course, Disney is going to be more family-friendly whereas Cunard will be far more formal and traditional. Meanwhile, Celebrity and Holland America are both known for great cuisine.


For an upscale experience, the likes of Azamara Club Cruises, Oceania Cruises and Viking Ocean Cruises near luxury quality for a lower price and are thus known for offering a fantastic value. Viking is raising the bar for this category overall while Oceania is the leader in fine dining and Azamara excels in entertainment.


Then luxury brands like Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Seabourn Cruise Line and Silversea Cruises lead the pack as the best of the best. All-inclusive is the name of the game onboard these, which are altogether very similar, with Regent perhaps being the most inclusive of the bunch.


Another question to ask: where do you want to go?

Not all cruise lines go to every desired port of call, or at least not with regular frequency. Upscale and luxury lines have smaller fleets and spread their ships around internationally, and standard and premium lines usually follow seasonal deployments in regions such as Alaska, Canada/New England and Europe while often having a year-round presence in the Caribbean. Plus, it’s good to remember that specific destinations affect fares as well. For example, Alaska commands a premium price that can tip the scales of perceived cruise line value.


One last question to ask is: Who will you be traveling with?

An elderly couple that might ordinarily sail on a luxury line might be better off on Norwegian Cruise Line when with their children and grandchildren. That way they can stay in the line’s luxurious Haven ship-within-a-ship complex while the younger generations are happily tended to in less-expensive stateroom categories.