The Truth About
Sally and Ivor ready to depart
HIS summer you’ve been
blasted by those countless emails offering "blowout" deals
on cabins—sorry, they call them staterooms now—with balconies
and all sorts of onboard credit. Cruises with hot and cold running
food and just about everything but belly dancers.
They scream "last minute
bargains" and a multitude of other come-hithers should you ever
have expressed an interest in getting a cruise deal online or
on the phone.
We happened to find ourselves
in Seattle and decided to book a cruise to Alaska. So we set
out to find the truth: Will the top cruise lines give
away cabins? Are these deals pure hype or can you really make
a killing should you decide to race to the gangplank just before
the ship pulls anchor?
Of course, you don’t
need a degree in travel to realize that the cruise lines prefer
to lock you into your cabin long before they set sail especially
since during the past economic hard times those cruise
lines have taken a bit of a bruising although smoother waters
So we did the Internet
searches and spoke to friends who offered all sorts of guidelines
but discovered shopping that way put us in tricky waters.
After bouncing from cruise
line to online bookers and beginning to feel a bit shell-shocked,
we finally settled for a travel agent. "Find us the best last
minute deal you can."
And she did. We booked
an interior passage Alaskan seven-day trip, a balcony stateroom
on deck 8, forward on Norwegian Cruise Line’s 2,700 passenger
It cost us $1,324 per
person. The ship sailed to Juneau (Alaska’s capital),
Sagaway, Ketchikan, and Victoria, Canada, plus a magnificent
stop at Glacier Bay where you could almost reach out and touch
the ice as the captain circled the bay. The scenery is so magnificent
it was sometimes hard to realize this was the real thing and
we were not watching some wraparound Disney widescreen travelogue.
The Pearl offered freestyle
dining—eat whenever you fancy in two main dining rooms —as well
as seven additional restaurants you can dine for a cover charge
ranging from $10 to $25. There was also an almost nonstop buffet
in the Garden Cafe where stations served almost every variety
of food, from ethnic categories like Indian and Asian fusion,
to good old American standbys as well as mammoth breakfasts.
Along the way we spotted
whales and bears sunbathing. We skipped the organized
land tours —we'd done that before— but they are plentiful.
On our ship we could go rock climbing, bowling (not my cup of
tea), buy art, gamble or shop in the somewhat questionable tax
free stores and learn whether or not diamonds are a girl’s best
You can try acupuncture.
We noticed that besides the spa treatments there are all the
services of your neighborhood plastic surgeon or dermatologist—Botox,
Restalyn or Juvederm. No wonder people come off rested.
The Alaska stops are
fascinating. We loved the quaintness of Ketchikan and our Canadian
stop in Victoria—that wonderful little bit of England forty
years ago. Afternoon tea and cocktails at the famous Empress
Hotel left us wanting more.
Oh sure, the ships are
inclined to nickel and dime you to death with charges for Internet
usage, drinks, spa treatments, exorbitantly priced happy
photos, cappuccino or carrot juice, all with a 15 percent service
charge added, but it has the considerable benefit of removing
that "How much do we tip?" scramble at the end of the cruise.
The service was superlative from a staff that was heavily Philippine
but included people from Indonesia, Malaysia, India and the
Caribbean, as well as many European officers. And if only
the passengers were as neat and charming as the staff the whole
thing would have been perfect.
Passengers on the NCL
need have no fear of the much talked about flu-like diseases
that sometimes plague cruise ships. They've made disease prevention
into a game. There's a cute steward at the entrance and exit
of the dining rooms with a spray bottle to wash your hands:
"Happy, happy , washy washy" they chant. Silly but the NCL ships
have never had an outbreak.
Cruise for astonishing views
We asked our travel planner
and veteran cruise guru, Martha Jaffe, whether all those people
who spend hours on the web trying to snare the bargain rates
"Most cruisers book a
long way ahead of time, and you can save money doing that,"
she said. "Of course, early bookers snare the best cabins."
We will say that you
can drive yourself silly bouncing from one website to the next,
so probably the best way to go is still to find a travel agent
you trust and let the agent do the work.
While she agrees that
cutting it down to the wire can result in bargain travel,
she does warn, "Don’t be too clever. The cruise lines
want every cabin filled but if you cut it too fine you can find
yourself stuck on dry land."
Martha Jaffe, Travel
Planners International in Ventura, California, booked our cruise.
She can be reached at 805-642-6034, cell: 805-218-3324.
Rock climbing on board
Gilbert and Wanda
Au from Oahu in Hawaii know all about cruising. They’ve cruised
65 times with the NCL. We met them on the Norwegian Pearl at
a dinner with the Pearl’s knowledgeable Finnish-born hotel manager,
Kaj (pronounced Kai)Turunen who has been running five-star
hotels on sea and shore for 30 years. Here are the Au
overpack. And we did find—though we somewhat regret it—that
cruising has become casual. No need for a new gown for every
your homework when booking to learn which cabin offers the smoothest,
liquid bandage instead of bandaids.
worry unnecessarily about overeating. Pace yourself and don’t
go overboard. Concentrate on small portions, with lots of fruit
and vegetables, and drink in moderation. We noticed that at
buffets guests go wild—and overload.
and children do particularly well at buffets. Children because
they can see exactly what they want and vegetarians because
Chinese, Thai and Indian food is readily available and has lots
of veggie dishes.
are a delight—but try not to overdose on sugar.
tip. Some of the most extraordinary deals can be had on repositioning
cruises where they are moving the ship from one base location
to another and make fewer land stops. (check out
Only trouble is you might have to fly one way from California
to Miami, and then hunt for a modestly priced one-way ticket
from Barcelona home. And that could be pricey. Happy sailing.