Taking a Short Cruise, Part I
by Deb Wills, ALL EARS® Editor in Chief
This article appeared in the August 9, 2005, Issue #307 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
This is the first of a two-part series on short cruises to the Bahamas. In this installment, author Deb Wills discusses the importance of research and the points to consider when deciding on the length of the cruise that is right for you. The next installment will compare and contrast three-night cruises to the Bahamas aboard the Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International and Carnival Cruises.
If you are like I used to be, you may be wondering what all the cruising hype -- especially the Disney Cruise Line (DCL) hype -- is all about. In fact, the joke is how I went "kicking and screaming" on my very first cruise in 2000.
Fast forward to 2005. I am now a veteran of NINE cruises, seven of them on DCL (including three-, four-, and seven-night sailings), plus two recent three-night Bahamas cruises, one on Royal Caribbean International and one on Carnival Cruise Lines. I can now emphatically tell you that cruising is my kind of vacation. I just don't know what took me so long.
So what should you consider when you're thinking about taking a cruise, specifically a short cruise to the Bahamas? I think I have enough experience now to share my thoughts and tips with you.
Just for the record, the ships I've sailed on are the Disney Cruise Line's Wonder, Royal Caribbean's Sovereign of the Seas, and Carnival's Fantasy. My travel companion and I are in our early 50s with no children. We enjoy good food, good wine (and an occasional martini), relaxing and having fun.
Before any vacation I always do research. Not only do I want the best value for my money, but I want to know all about the destination, too. Planning for all those Walt Disney World vacations has taught me well. I especially want to know about the "must-sees" or "must-dos" so I don't miss out on anything special. After all, I may never pass that way again.
There are many avenues your research can take, from Google-searching the Internet, to a trip to your local bookstore for printed guides, to a call to your travel agent, to, of course, consulting with your friends and family who have already sailed. Each offers its own unique perspective on cruising.
Without a doubt, there is more current comprehensive information available about Disney cruises than all the other lines put together. That alone is impressive -- Disney has just two ships, while the other cruise lines have many and have been in operation a lot longer.
For starters, there are two printed books about DCL. The one I most highly recommend is published by PassPorter Press. OK, I admit I'm a little biased -- I am on the "PassPorter's Field Guide to the Disney Cruise Line"book review team. But the PassPorter Cruise Guide is a comprehensive guide to all the Disney Cruises, from the three- and four-night Bahamian cruises, to the seven-night Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises, and even includes special cruises, such as the Panama Canal repositioning, West Coast, and 10-day Caribbean cruises. Not only does it tell you what to do before you go, but the guide provides specific information about each ship, dining, activities and excursions. I don't plan a DCL trip without consulting my PassPorter.
The other printed book is by Birnbaum (the official Disney guide) entitled "Birnbaum's Disney Cruise Line 2006." I found it extremely lacking in information. In fact, it seemed to be a glorified version of the official website online. There would have to be extensive changes to the book before I would buy it again or recommend its purchase.
There is also plenty of information on the Internet. For instance, the Magical Disney Cruise Guide on www.allears.net has more than 80 pages of detailed information to help plan your vacation. This guide (originally written by Mickey Morgan, and now maintained by members of the allearsnet.com staff) is comprehensive and is updated several times a year. It has information on the ships, ports of call, activities, kids' clubs, dining, special needs and much more. The best part about this guide is it's FREE for downloading as an Adobe PDF file.
When you add to that mix two other outstanding websites, www.castawayclub.com and www.dcltribute.com, plus the incredibly active Internet message boards at www.disboards.com, you see that the Disney Cruise Line is more than adequately covered -- you not only have a wealth of information to read, but access to hundreds of folks who can and will answer your questions in real time. If you go to your favorite search engine and type in Disney Cruise Trip Reports, you'll also find many online diaries (some with photos) of cruise experiences. And finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the official Disney Cruise Line website at http://disneycruiseline.com.
If you are considering a non-Disney cruise, you'll find that the major cruise lines have their own websites, and you'll also find some helpful information on www.tripadvisor.com. But, by far, the most valuable website for non-Disney cruise planning is the extensive Cruise Critic website (www.cruisecritic.com). This site offers detailed information on each cruise line and ship; it also is home to comprehensive message boards about the various itineraries. I highly recommend spending some time perusing these boards. I found it the most informative site for cruising information.
POINTS TO PONDER
One big consideration when planning is whether the age of the ship is important to you. Even though many of the older ships have been renovated, there are still some important differences: 1) Older ships tend to have much smaller staterooms and very few balcony rooms. 2) Stabilizers on the older ships use less modern technology and are not as good as those on today's vessels. 3) Older ships are prone to having musty odors -- in the cabin, around the porthole, in the corners of the room, and near the plumbing.
Seriously consider flying in to your port of origin the day (or at least the night) before you sail. Arriving early may cost you an extra night's lodging, but it provides lots of peace of mind. Recently, I took the last flight of the night from my home airport to Orlando International Airport. I had a reservation at the Airport Hilton, and all I had to do was pick up my luggage from baggage claim and walk right to my room. The next morning, I departed for Port Canaveral, rested and ready to go. I've talked to others who stay right in the port area the night before -- this is a good alternative, as most hotels offer shuttle service to the port. Remember, the last thing you want to do is miss your cruise because of any airline delays.
On the other hand, you can certainly plan your return trip home for the day you get off the ship. Generally, ships allow you to disembark between 7:30 and 9 a.m., so to be on the safe side, don't schedule your return flight home until early afternoon.
THREE- VS. FOUR-
Veteran cruisers may tell you that a seven-night cruise is the perfect length, but not all of us have the money and/or the time for a seven-nighter. That's why there are three- and four-night cruises. The four-night Disney Cruise, for example, departs on a Sunday and returns on a Thursday. To me, it's the perfect getaway (I just wish it were over a weekend so I didn't have to take as much time off from work).
First-time cruisers: If you're not really sure that cruising is for you, start with a three-nighter. It's the least amount of time you can spend onboard, yet you'll still get to visit a port and get the flavor of what cruising is all about. It'll be over before you know it and, if you're like I was, you'll be looking to sign up for another right away.
Another reason a three-night cruise might be best for you is the limited time you need to spend away from home, the office, or school. The Disney three-night cruises leave on a Thursday and return to port on a Sunday. The Royal Caribbean (from Port Canaveral) and Carnival (from Miami) cruises leave on a Friday and return on a Monday. If you are quite a distance from Florida, check online -- you may find a port/cruise much closer to home.
One more consideration in choosing the length of your cruise is the itinerary. On the Disney and Royal Caribbean ships, the three-night cruises spend the first day in the Bahamas and the second full day on a private island. The Carnival cruise I took spent almost 24 hours in Nassau (in the Bahamas) and most of the final day at sea. On the three-night cruise, it feels like you are back to port quickly. The four-night cruise has the luxury of a day at sea, which gives you more of an opportunity to relax and kick back.
Cost can also be a determining factor in your cruise length. Your per-day cost will be a little less on the four-night cruise, even though your overall total will be higher than the three-night. For example, an oceanview stateroom on the Disney Wonder for the four-night sailing that departs September 25 is $692.63 per person/double occupancy, including tax and port charges. That's roughly $173 per day. The three-night cruise departing September 29 is $592.63 per person, or $197 per day.
Be careful, though, when you book ANY cruise. Sometimes the cruise line will include insurance and transfers that you're not aware of in your total. Make certain you know all the components that make up the entire price, so you only get the things you want.
This little primer should give you some things to think about that you might not have previously. Watch for the second part of this article coming in the next few weeks, in which I compare and contrast the three Bahamian cruises I've taken, along with what I liked and didn't like about each -- and, of course, who reigns supreme.
To read more about Disney Cruise Line Cruises, visit our Magical Disney Cruise Guide at: http://allears.net./cruise/cruise.htm
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.