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Tag Archives: cruise travel

Secrets to the 10 most popular cruise ports

Courtesy Princess Cruises

Princess Cays in the Bahamas, along with Nassau, is among the 10 most popular cruise ports in the world.


If you’re planning a cruise in 2012, chances are high that you’ll be traveling to the Caribbean. According to CruiseCompete.com‘s annual report, nine of the 10 most popular cruise ports in the world are in the Caribbean (or close enough to count).

The website’s list, which is compiled from cruise quotes requested by potential customers, shows that Alaska is also a perennial favorite for cruisers. Several Inside Passage ports made the cut, with Juneau coming out as the most requested cruise stop in the 50 states.

With so many people wanting to go to the same places, you might worry about crowds—but you don’t need to. It turns out that even the hottest port has a few places where you can get off the beaten path. Here are some recommendations that will make you feel like you’re in the know, before you get off the ship.

Slideshow: See all the most popular cruise ports 

1. Nassau, Bahamas
Just 180 miles from Miami, the Bahamas are usually the first or last stop on an eastern Caribbean cruise (even though the archipelago is technically in the Atlantic). People love the islands — there are approximately 700 in all — for first-class snorkeling, casinos and fine dining, and it’s top four ports are Nassau, Princess Cays, Great Stirrup Cay and Half Moon Cay, it’s the most requested country in the world for cruising, according to CruiseCompete. Two of them made the list for the top 10 most visited ports in 2011, including the capital, Nassau, which is a major shopping center.

Secret: If you’d rather mingle with locals than join the crowd heading to Senor Frog’s, take the Number 10 Jitney to Arawak Cay, where you’ll find several stands serving up fried seafood. Go to Goldie’s, and order a cold Kalik beer with some conch fritters; if you go to the back porch, sometimes you’ll see workers pulling up the conch from the water.

2. Cozumel, Mexico
Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula continues to draw sun seekers who want some culture with their cruise, particularly this year when the Mayan calendar predicts the end of days. But there’s plenty of room for fun, too. Cozumel, an island off the coast, offers countless snorkeling and water-based activities, as well as gorgeous beaches: Corona ads are often shot here.

Secret: Can you stand the heat? If so, the Mayan Steam Lodge/Temazcal experience — a spiritual sauna-like ceremony that includes native rituals — may be for you. Afterward, you’ll jump into the property’s freshwater cenote (underground spring) to cool off (there are also showers, if you’d prefer to rinse off there). The four-hour excursion costs $80 per person, and includes transportation to and from the ship.

3. Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
If you’re on an eastern Caribbean cruise, you’ll probably stop in St. Thomas, as it’s one of the world’s busiest cruise ports. A Mecca for duty-free shopping, the Charlotte Amalie port has plenty of jewelry, perfume, and electronics stores; check prices at a few shops before you buy to ensure the best deal. St. Thomas can also be a good place to unwind on a beach or provide a good jumping-off point for exploring the nearby island St. John, which is quieter and less developed.

Secret: While everyone else on your ship heads for the famed Magens Bay beach, pick up some groceries at Crown Bay Marina for a picnic lunch and catch a ferry to Water Island, sometimes considered the fourth Virgin Island. Not only is the sea at the island’s palm-lined Honeymoon Beach calm, the cove is quiet — you won’t find the shops or tour operators here that you see on other St. Thomas beaches. 

4. Philipsburg, St. Maarten / St. Martin
One island, two cultures: With portions settled by the French and the Dutch, the island is one of the smallest to be governed by two countries (don’t worry, though, almost everyone speaks English). Philipsburg, on the Dutch side, rivals St. Thomas for duty-free shopping, while the towns of Marigot and Grand Case on the French side are filled with  fine and casual restaurants with French flair where you can find dishes like escargot (snails) or bouillabaisse (fish soup).

Secret: If you don’t want to join the crowds breathing jet fumes at Maho Beach, take a short cab ride to French Cul-de-Sac, where you can catch a ferry to Pinel Island (regular service starts around 9 a.m.). The uninhabited island off St. Martin has several restaurants where you can rent beach chairs, have drinks and go snorkeling; there’s a designated snorkel trail in a protected marine reserve on the island’s south side, where you can spot sea fans, urchins, turtle and rays among the coral. 

5. Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
Known for offshore banking, the Cayman Islands have a natural side beyond the shops of George Town. Grand Cayman is one of the few places where you can see the world’s most endangered iguana, the blue iguana, and thousands of tourists converge on Stingray City to watch the sea animals. Seven Mile Beach offers an uninterrupted view of the Caribbean that seems like a postcard come to life.

Secret: If you like Jimmy Buffet music, catch the Grand Cayman’s resident beach bum, the Barefoot Man (in real life, George Nowak). He plays most Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Reef Resort on the island’s East End. If you don’t have time to catch a show, pick up a CD for $16 in one of the souvenir shops in George Town.

6. San Juan, Puerto Rico
It’s hard to escape history in Puerto Rico; its capital, San Juan, dates back to the 16th century. The immense San Felipe del Morro fortress anchors Old San Juan and Ponce de Leon, the island’s first governor, is buried at the Cathedral of San Juan. If you venture off into the countryside, you’ll find beaches, rain forests and a bioluminescent bay where you can kayak.

Secret: Puerto Rico’s cuisine is infused with unique Latin flavors that you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere in the Caribbean. Why not spend a few hours learning how to duplicate the recipes at home? Flavors of San Juan teaches you how to make either tapas or Puerto Rican food in two-hour group classes that include a full meal and a recipe book that you can bring home. SanJuanfoodtours.com, advanced reservations required, $98 per person for a 2-hour group class 

7. Grand Turk, Turks Caicos
Although technically in the Atlantic Ocean instead of the Caribbean, the island chain of Turks Caicos has the glorious, talcum-powder-soft sand beaches and turquoise skies that make the region famous. While luxury vacationers flock to Providenciales and celebrities such as Bruce Willis, Christie Brinkley, and Keith Richards have homes on Parrot Cay, Grand Turk has become the country’s main cruising center, with a large terminal and new shops.

Secret: If you love stamps (or love someone who does), make a stop at the Philatelic Bureau, located on Church Folly street. The island is known for its colorful and unusual issues, which are prized by collectors. 

8. Juneau, Alaska
An Inside Passage cruise appears on many bucket lists, and no wonder. The state’s scenery, particularly its magnificent glacier- and wildlife-viewing opportunities, are unparalleled. Surrounded by mountains and the sea, Juneau, the state’s capital, is accessible only by water or air. Nature is all around you: Look for bears fishing in the streams near Mendenhall Glacier, and eagles nesting on the slopes of Mount Roberts.

Secret: Once you get out of downtown, cruise ship crowds disappear, or at least it feels that way; Alaska’s vastness has a way of making people seem insignificant. With hiking trails and a stone labyrinth garden, the Shrine of St. Therese, on a peninsula about a 20-minute drive from Juneau (take a taxi), is a reflective place to commune with nature. Visitors often spot seals, whales, and otters nearby. 

9. Roatan, Honduras
The Bay Islands, which lie about an hour north of the Honduras mainland, have become a major attraction for cruise ships, which come for the area’s colorful fish and clear, warm waters. Roatan has become the center of commercial development for the islands, and you’ll find countless opportunities for snorkeling, diving, and interacting with marine life such as grouper, moray eels, turtles, and rays.

Secret: Give your tastebuds a charge with a jam and jelly tasting at Marble Hill Farms on the East End of the island. Sample flavors include hibiscus jelly, mutton pepper jelly (made with chili cabro, this one has quite a kick) and island plum jelly made from fruit grown on the property. You’ll need to take a taxi to get to The Farm; once you’re there, have spiny lobster for lunch at their restaurant, the Crow’s Nest. 

10. Princess Cays, Bahamas
Eleuthera, one of the Out Islands, is the other Bahamas port that made the top 10. Here, you can swim and sunbathe at private beaches and resorts without safety concerns (the U.S. State Department does warn about the possibility of muggings and other crime occurring on New Providence Island, where Nassau is located).

Secret: Located on the island of Eleuthera, the private beach resort owned by Princess gives you a glimpse of how laid back life on the Out Islands can be. Most people spend their time on Princess Cays either on the beach or in the water (head to the sand early to corner a lounge chair and bring your snorkel gear to get up close and personal with the colorful corals, fish, and sponges that blanket the ocean floor). If you want to do some exploring, there’s a small local cemetery that contains the graves of some of the island’s early 1900’s residents. The cemetery is walking distance from the beach — just make sure you wear bug spray and solid shoes for the mile-long trek. 

12 tips from the world’s best cruisers

Courtesy of Princess Cruises

It’s easy to get lost amid the amenities on a cruise ship. Knowing a few tips can make the journey even more enjoyable.

1. Choose your cabin wisely

Choosing a cabin is all about location, location, location. Check the ship’s layout online before booking, and opt for a room with passenger floors above and below you. You don’t want to try to sleep right under the disco, the casino or the running track.

2. Pack smartly

Most cruise lines offer certain drinks for free — juice, lemonade, iced tea, coffee, milk, tea — but you’ll have to pay for soda. If you’re a caffeine addict, pack a bottle or two. Unlike on a plane, you won’t have to worry about paying for the added weight.

3. Plan our schedule

For fire-safety reasons, cabins don’t have their own irons. Don’t wait until the last minute to tackle your evening wardrobe. You can find shared irons down the hall in the laundry room, but lines often form before mealtimes. Opt for off-hours (like mornings).

4. Wake up early

It’s easy to lose track of time in a windowless interior cabin. Before going to sleep, tune into the ship’s bridge-camera channel for real-time videos of the front (or bow) of the boat. The screen will act like a virtual porthole, and you’ll rise and shine with the sunrise.

5. Get your email without paying roaming charges

Internet phone services like Vonage can be programmed to send transcribed voice mails to your email in-box. That way, you can check your home answering machine quickly at an Internet cafe without paying insane roaming fees on your cell. The transcriptions won’t always be perfect, but you’ll get the gist.

6. Keep an eye on your towels

Don’t assume you can save a spot at the pool with your towel. Cruise lines give you one pool towel at the start of the cruise. If you don’t have it (or a cleaned trade-in) at the end, you’ll get charged. If you let it out of your sight, you run the risk of losing it or having it stolen by a fellow cruiser.

7. Know when to prepare for rough seas

If your tablecloth is wet at dinner, you should prepare for rough seas. Restaurant staffers have been known to slightly dampen the tablecloth to keep plates and glasses from sliding.

8. Find lost bags

If the porters haven’t delivered your luggage to your door by the first night of the cruise, check what our experts call the “naughty room.” Security will store any bags containing contraband (like candles, alcohol or coffeemakers) in this centralized location until you come claim it. You’ll be able to pick up your bag on the first night, but banned items will not be returned until the end of the trip.

9. Fix up your room

Make your cabin homier by packing a small collapsible vase and a bouquet of flowers.

10. Take better pictures

If you go directly from the air-conditioned ship out onto the open-air deck (which is usually warmer and more humid in most cruise destinations), your camera’s lens is likely to fog up. Warm the camera with your cabin’s hairdryer on a low setting or briefly leave it out on your balcony so it can acclimate to the weather.

11. Ccommunicate with your cabin mates

If you even manage to get a cell signal while at sea, your roaming charges will be outrageous. To communicate with your cabinmates, leave Post-it Notes on your door detailing where you’ll be throughout the day.

12. Find your way on any ship

If you get lost on a ship, remember that most share a common layout. The lido-deck buffet restaurant, for example, will almost always be in the back to accommodate comfortable outdoor seating in the least windy part of the ship, while the lounge/theater will be in the front because wind is not a factor (there are no windows). 

More from Budget Travel  





6 ways to save money on a cruise

Angl / Frommers.com Community

A cruise ship moored at Geirangerfjord, a stop in one of the many fjords of Norway,


Cruising can be an affordable vacation option if you know how to avoid getting nickeled-and-dimed aboard the ship. We turned to three leading cruise experts for easy tips on how cruisers can spend less money next time they set sail — and still have fun.

Slideshow: See all 10 money-saving tips

1. Buy meals and spa treatments in advance

“More cruise lines are creating pre-purchase packages for meals and spa services prior to departure.” says Tiffany Neidhardt, VP of sales marketing for Cruises-N-More. “For example, Royal Caribbean just announced 25-percent-plus savings on dinner packages aboard the Oasis and Allure of the Seas as well as Radiance and Splendour of the Seas. Guests can pre-reserve dining at three specialty restaurants for just $65 per person, which saves them more than $25 each.”

2. Don’t automatically buy a beverage package

“We typically don’t recommend buying a drinks package for alcoholic beverages,” says Kevin Weisner, vice president of CruiseDeals.com. “By our calculations, most people won’t keep up the drinking pace needed to break even on these packages. However, for families that have youngsters that consume a lot of soft drinks, juices and bottled water, these are an area for potential savings.”

3. Pack light

“With the increased cost of checking bags, I recommend packing a bit lighter,” says Weisner. “Laundry services aboard cruise ships are reasonably priced, and your clothes will look fresh versus wrinkled from your suitcase. A couple could easily save $50 to $100 on luggage fees alone. That would cover a good bit of laundry, and save your back at the airports.”

4. Consider a megaship

Some megaships can accommodate more than 6,000 people — that’s a lot of cabins to fill. “Book now for the best pricing on the biggest ships at sea, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas. You can try an 80-foot zip-line across the aft of the ship. Fares have tumbled to a new low of $749 per person for inside cabins on 7-night cruises through late fall,” says Sherry Laskin, owner of Cruise Connexions.

5. Pick a shorter cruise

Can’t afford a 7-night cruise? “Cruisers can find the best values in the shorter cruise market from January through April, and not just aboard older ships,” suggests Neidhardt. “For example, Royal Caribbean has the Jewel of the Seas sailing from Tampa for four and five nights or the Liberty of the Seas departing from Ft. Lauderdale for the same length of time. Both vessels have been updated. On the Jewel of the Seas, you can climb the rock wall or retreat to a new adults-only area. On the recently refurbished Liberty of the Seas, the family can enjoy DreamWorks-themed entertainment, 3D movies by the pool, or a Broadway-style show.”

6. Cruise during hurricane season (June 1-Nov. 30)

“If you’re willing to roll the dice and cruise during hurricane season, a Caribbean cruise offers the best cruise value,” says Laskin. “For instance, Carnival has some incredible deals: a 7-night cruise aboard the recently upgraded Carnival Liberty starts at $389 per person for an inside cabin on the Sept 22. sailing round-trip from Miami. That’s under $60 per person a day.”

But please don’t forget to consider travel insurance.

More from Frommers.com


Caribbean Princess delayed by propulsion issues

An issue with the propulsion motor on Caribbean Princess will likely impact the remainder of the ship’s current itinerary, according to a statement from Princess Cruises

 As a result of reduced speeds caused by the problem, the ship arrived more than four hours late for its scheduled call on St. Maarten on Monday, and it will stay there until the situation is fully evaluated by the line’s technical team. 

 Princess has not yet released an updated schedule for the seven-night Southern Caribbean voyage, but a few folks on the Cruise Critic message boards have said the ship is still in port. 

 “We are currently on the Caribbean princess, at this point we have been told to be on board by 6:00pm for departure at 7,” says said BCFamily. “We have been told that they have significant damage to the port side propulsion engine and that they will have a revised itinerary later this afternoon.” 

 Additionally, several boards members booked on subsequent sailings and are wondering whether the necessary repairs will affect them. “We are boarding this coming Sunday,” says decibel123. “Does that mean our cruise could be cancelled? We are flying out from Montreal and did our own air transportation. Would Princess reimburse our flight?” 

Issues like these beg questions of what, if anything, the line will offer in the way of compensation. Join the discussion here, and stay tuned for more information as it becomes available. 

More from Cruise Critic:

Cruise industry leaders renew emphasis on safety

Lynne Sladky / AP

Stein Kruse, President and CEO of Holland America Line, speaks during a roundtable discussion on the state of the cruise ship industry Tuesday at the Cruise Shipping Miami conference in Miami Beach, Fla.

In their first major gathering since the deadly Costa Concordia disaster, cruise industry leaders on Tuesday defended their overall safety record and said they were confident of better days ahead.

The Concordia accident, in which 25 people died and seven remain missing and are presumed dead, occurred when the ship ran aground in January off the coast of Italy. The disaster cast a long shadow over this year’s Cruise Shipping Miami conference. The annual meeting draws thousands of people who work in the cruise and travel industries in more than 100 countries.

At the annual Cruise Shipping Miami conference, cruise executives made no mention of the accident’s cause, but said they would study and learn from it. They insisted it was an aberration.

“The industry is fundamentally very safe and we just need to do a better job explaining that,” said Stein Kruse, president and chief executive of Holland America, which like Costa is part of Carnival Corp, the world’s largest cruise company. “We are an incredibly regulated and an incredibly professional industry.”

Carnival said booking trends are running behind last year, leading it last week to slash 2012 profit forecasts nearly in half. Miami-based Carnival’s brands also include Princess Cruises and Cunard Line.

“As everyone here well knows, the Concordia incident has focused considerable attention on our industry,” Carnival Corp. vice chairman and COO Howard Frank said in his keynote address. “While most of this attention has been negative, and we are clearly seeing some setbacks in the short term, we have faced similar setbacks in the past, and in each case we have shown tremendous resiliency in bouncing back.”

Frank, who is also chairman of the Cruise Lines International Association trade group, said that in the aftermath of Concordia, despite the industry’s good safety record, cruise lines are re-emphasizing passenger and crew safety, implementing “a comprehensive, top-to-bottom review of our shipboard safety and emergency response procedures.” That will include improved emergency muster training for all passengers prior to departure.

Other high-profile incidents also have dinged the industry in first two months of the new year. Late last month, another Costa ship — the Allegra — caught fire and lost power, leaving passengers without working toilets, running water or air conditioning for three days. An outbreak of norovirus on ships on Princess and Royal Caribbean lines and the robbery of 22 Carnival passengers on a bus tour in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, added to the parade of bad news.

Handout / Reuters

The Costa Concordia, carrying more than 4,200 passengers, ran aground Jan. 13 off the coast of Italy. At least 17 people died in the accident, and rescuers continue to search for others missing.

Launch slideshow

Still, industry leaders said with 14 new ships coming online in 2012 and the continued trend toward globalization, they expect to see a record number of people taking cruise vacations this year.

The trade group is expecting 17.2 million passengers across its 26 member lines this year, up 5 percent from 2011. International business is up — about 68 percent of the passengers will be from North America, compared with 74 percent two years ago. In addition to the new ships this year, 10 more will debut between 2013 and 2015.

Still only about 3 percent of the people in the United States have ever taken a cruise, creating “abundant prospects for growth,” said Christine Duffy, president of the industry trade group.

Gerald Cahill, president and CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines, lamented that the Concordia tragedy came at a time when the industry was expected to further recover from the recession and get more people onboard without offering deep discounts. He said the company stopped all of its marketing after the accident but has now resumed, leading to an uptick in bookings.

“My perception was, most of our guests recognize — especially those who have been a cruise before — that the cruise industry provides a very safe vacation,” Cahill said. “I do think there were some people who aren’t as familiar with the industry, who were scared off by a lot of the media. There certainly was constant attention, and it did affect our business, no question about it.

“I think the industry will weather this in the United States,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll get back as much pricing probably as we otherwise would have had this not occurred, but I think we move into future years we’ll continue to get stronger.”

Vicky Garcia, executive vice president of Cruise Planners/American Express, a network of more than 800 travel agents, said bookings for the remainder of the year have remained strong, even though it’s likely some would-be first-time cruisers were scared off by the Concordia accident and the other negative stories.

“We don’t know what we missed out on in terms of first-time cruisers that may not have called,” Garcia said. “Those who we were in the process of dealing with didn’t change (their plans).”

Prior to the Concordia accident, the Cruise Lines International Association counted 28 fatalities on its member lines from 2002 to 2011, 22 of which were crew members. During that period, cruise ships carried 223 million passengers and crew.

“I do think there were some people that maybe aren’t as familiar with the industry that were scared off by a lot of what was carried in the media with the constant attention,” said Daniel Hanrahan, president and chief executive of Celebrity Cruises, a unit of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.

But among repeat cruisers, he said, “all the surveys we’ve done said people see it as an isolated incident and they’ll continue to cruise.”

Information from Reuters and the Associated Press was included in this report.

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