Cruising continues to ride a wave of enormous global popularity, particularly among Americans, who dominate with the market with more than 13.5 million passengers. So how do you choose the best possible cruise for yourself in 2014?
No easy choice to make, says Douglas Ward, since “selecting the right cruise—for the right reasons and with the right expectations—is both daunting and tricky.” That’s why Ward, as he has for the past 29 years, provides veteran cruisers and first timers alike with a navigational tool to make the most intelligent—and economical—decisions. His comprehensive and authoritative 2014 Berlitz Cruising and Cruise Ships, which will be in stores on November 1, is an indispensable book for cruisers that is, he says, “totally independent and in no way subsidized by advertising or sponsorship. It’s all about making the right choices. That is what this book always has been, and still is, about.”
Among new trends, Ward sees an upsurge in river cruising As for ocean cruising, he says, “all the regulations now in place mean that it will be increasingly difficult for cruise companies with older tonnage to keep up with the newest ships because they are more eco- and environmentally friendly and, quite simply, more efficient with regards to fuel consumptions.”
River cruising is covered extensively in this new edition, which has been expanded to more than 750 pages from last year. There’s also an array of new features dedicated to the latest news in theme cruising—from Big Band and Country & Western to culinary and astronomy voyages; a new chapter on first-time cruising; more Q&A on what the brochures don’t tell you; an enlarged cuisine chapter with more about healthy eating and self-serve buffets; updated information on new ships coming in 2014; and updated content on the major cruise lines, including Carnival, Costa, Cunard, Holland America, MSC, Norwegian, Princess and Royal Caribbean.
In a 47-year career in cruising that has seen him log some 5,900 hours at sea in more than 1000 cruises, he has earned a reputation as a fiercely honest and meticulous evaluator of cruise ships—“from large to small, from unabashed luxury and exclusivity to ships for the budget-minded, new and old”– and their services, and, most important he says, whether they meet their customers’ expectations and provide good value.
Speaking of value, Ward says, “it’s as big a factor as ever in luring new cruisers and keeping others coming back. Consider the cost of a decent hotel room in the U.S. that comes, let’s be frank, with nothing more than four walls and a roof (plus some furniture). Compare this with the fact that you can take a cruise for well below $100 per person per day with accommodations, health and fitness facilities, three meals a day plus snacks and entertainment all included. There’s no comparison. Hotels don’t move and they can’t take you to different destinations—even different continents! In other words, cruising continues to offer excellent value. Of course, if you want the best, you pay more (as in hotels). Pay more, get more.”
In addition to evaluations and ratings of 285 ships (which includes his naming a new No. 1, Europa 2, dethroning sister ship Europa after her 13-year reign as champion), the new edition covers many other issues of interest to potential cruisers (and travel writers), and several, Ward suggests, have particular topicality:
EVOLVING TRENDS. Some you may be happy about (more “theme” cruises; more sophisticated (and thus more costly) spas and well-being treatment options for the health conscious) and some you may not (more “pay as you eat” venues).
SAFETY FIRST. Last year, safety at sea in general and the Costa Concordia tragedy in particular were headline stories. How, from the standpoint of safety procedures, has the industry responded since then?
ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS BEFORE YOU BOOK: Cruise choices may be limitless, but oddly enough, Ward says, many new cruisers don’t ask their booking agent enough questions, particular when it comes to possible “hidden costs” (for example, Internet or Wi-Fi charges and recognizing that once you leave port you’re locked into the ship’s digital network—and its attendant costs) and getting specific information on exactly what and what is not included in the cruise price.
CRUISE RIP OFFS TO AVOID. Many are listed in the book, including on-board currency conversion; extra gratuities; high costs for transfer buses—and also for bottled water. And purchasing Bingo cards is far from inexpensive.
TRAVEL AGENCY GROUPS VS, INTERNET SITES: Where do the true discounts, upgrades and other benefits more readily come from? Too many cruisers, Ward says, don’t “read the small print” and they should.
HOW INCLUSIVE IS ALL-INCLUSIVE? “That’s like asking how much sand is on the beach,” Ward says, and understanding that also figures into one of the book’s primary themes—outlining ways in which the cruiser can save money. All-inclusive, for example, doesn’t include spa treatments, or dining in extra-cost ‘specialty’ restaurants.
PIER PRESSURE. As is true with the ships, some ports are better than others. You might be surprised to learn why New York’s Brooklyn berth is not only superior to its Manhattan one, but is rated No. 1 in North America.
HOW TO PROPERLY READ CRUISE PROMOTIONAL MATERIAL. What don’t brochures always tell you? Plenty. They’re certainly slick and inviting, but there are certain things you need to know. Ward says that one question he’s commonly asked is, “is the brochure price firm?” And the answer is a resounding no!
GET THE MOST VALUE FOR YOUR MONEY. Ward suggests booking early and on a lower deck, and on an older ship (among other savings tips).
Fully updated and revised and now in its 29th year, the 2014 Berlitz Cruising and Cruise Ships (752 pages, $24.99) as well as an eBook, will be available in the U.S. on November 1, 2013 through Amazon and many bookstores. The app, which is $9.99, is available worldwide from Apple through the iTunes App store. Check the website for more information.