I have in my past columns highlighted a particular ship or cruise line. At a recent show for seniors and baby boomers, I found myself speaking with many on the differences in various cruise types, whether it is the difference in the cruise line or the general experience.
I thought that maybe I can shed some light on what would make one more appealing over another. We'll see if I can. Please note that these are general observations and not the rule, as there are too many variables in travel to be absolute.
We field numerous questions regarding the new, big ships, Oasis of the Seas (and the soon to debut Allure of the Seas) and the Norwegian Epic. All are immense in size and generally go to the same Caribbean islands with alternating eastern and western Caribbean itineraries.
What makes them different is the on-board experience. So if you are tired of going to the same islands, you may be interested in just experiencing the ship.
There are so many venues and things to do that maybe you don't necessarily want to experience the island again, just stay aboard and enjoy the quiet (this is what I do many times). They are unique in the on board experience.
What makes one cruise line more appealing than another?
At our agency we deal with all cruise lines and our clients' preferences are what determines which line, ship and sail date; however when we discuss these preferences, it allows us to make suggestions that may benefit the client.
Some of our clients like to sail only on Princess, while others are Holland America or Royal Caribbean fans. Others still want the best fare, no matter what the cruise line.
The more popular lines in the American market are (for the mass-market) Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Costa, (premium lines) Princess, Holland America, Celebrity, Disney, MSC, (more upscale and luxury) Azamara, Oceania, Crystal, Cunard, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, and SilverSea. Each line has its own personality in general. MSC, for instance, although the name might be known to most Florida-based cruisers, they may not be to everyone's taste. MSC has a very European flair with both its on-board activities as well as their cuisine.
Announcements are made in many languages on board and that does not sit well with many Americans (lets face it, we can be a spoiled bunch); however, their ships are beautiful, they may have more activities and entertainment that would be appealing to a worldwide audience, not just American cruisers. Those who might enjoy music by a large orchestra, or string quartets performing in the afternoon may want to take a look at MSC as an option. If you are well traveled, specifically in Europe, you would probably enjoy MSC. The ships are lovely and their entertainment top-notch. You will find a large number of Europeans and South American folks on board.
Holland America traditionally has been big for the senior market. However, many boomers are enjoying the traditional cruise experience of Holland America. Princess is in the top group for the baby boomer crowd, but is also up there for family travel, along with Royal Caribbean and Carnival.
The time of year your cruise will have an enormous impact on your experience. If you cruise in the middle of the summer, be prepared for a full ship with many children on board. If you like the exciting night life, you may not want to sail to Alaska in the off-season with the senior crowd, as the entertainment seems to go to bed as early as their senior guests.
Off-season and reposition cruising has huge benefits in price and availability. For example, in November, 2011, Holland America offers a 20-day Canary Island Crossing cruise from Civitavecchia (Rome) to Fort Lauderdale for as low as $2,499 per person (plus tax and airfare) - and if booked by Oct 31, the airfare is $399 from Fort Lauderdale. Holland America also offers Caribbean this off-season (November and December 2010) from $399 per person for seven days.
Short cruises mainly sail to the Bahamas. These are a great getaway for a girls' weekend, romantic holiday or for small group gatherings. Three-night cruises over the weekend are usually booked by folks that only have a couple of days to get away but also for folks who cannot afford more. The four-night cruises are usually during the week and have a wonderful value in the off- season. Sometimes the four- night mid-week is less expensive than the three- night weekend cruises. Supply and demand.
A good travel consultant would try to match the client to the cruise looking at cruise line and ship to fit the needs and desires of the client. If you are contacting a cruise line directly, they of course are only going to be touting their own ships and sailings, not always what would be the best fit.
Online agencies may point you in the direction that they are trying to fill their current inventory, not necessarily for the clients' interest.
Whatever your interest, there is a cruise for you.
Having a conversation with a travel consultant would be helpful in finding the right cruise for you. Remember, the lowest fare does not always mean the best value.
Patty Toppa is a travel consultant with Gadabout Travel. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.cruisetraveltours.com.