Caribbean Travel hookups
There’s something celebratory about cruise ships. Perhaps it’s the gorgeous tropical destinations, round-the-clock eating, or their seeming defiance of the principles of buoyancy. The beauty of taking a cruise for a celebration is that you can focus on the celebrating: Once you book your reservations and find your way to the ship, there’s no need to think past that. No puddle jumpers from island to island. No logistics, maps, tickets, or hunting out places to eat. It’s just peaceful intervals on the open sea and then mornings when you wake up to a new seaside town. And you had to exert exactly zero effort to get there.
With ships leaving from more North American departure cities each year, it’s an easier ride then ever to paradise. There are one-night dinner cruises to 14-day journeys to fit your budget. And cruise lines have evolved ships into incredible next-generation floating resorts (so get that image of shuffleboard out of your head). There are now climbing walls, surf-simulator pools, yoga studios, and movies under the stars. You can expect to get one of the best massages you’ve ever gotten from their enhanced spas.
Simply the scale of their “boats” will blow you away: A number of these ships are nearly a mile long and 25 stories tall. It’s not unusual to find them loaded with marble atriums and shiny brass spiral staircases, a dozen elevators, multiple pools and whirlpools, a casino, Internet cafes, art galleries, ice cream shops, steakhouses, nightclubs, more bars than a college town, duty-free shopping and boutiques, all of which you’d think would sink the ship. And only occasionally can you feel the sway of the boat: These vessels are built like cities.
Where cruises differ from your typical resort is they actually move. In addition to a healthy dose of relaxation, you’ll explore the scenery and culture of the islands. Months in advance of when you set sail, you can pre-reserve onshore excursions, which include horseback riding, kayaking, scuba diving, and bus tours to famous attractions. There’s always striking out by cab or public transportation, too.
WHERE TO SPEND THE MOST TIME
Up on the top decks you’ll experience an extraordinary version of a day at the beach, minus the sand and lugging beach chairs and coolers. Girlfriends find this scene to be the highest form of decadence: You’ll stake out lounge chairs for the day and let the cute waiters fetch you frozen drinks. By midday, the poolside area fills with the sounds of a steel drum or reggae from a live band. This is time for catching up and telling each other stories.
KEEP YOUR WORKOUT ROUTINE GOING
For those of you whose idea of a vacation is getting your heart rate up (or for those concerned about keeping their waistlines down from the constant cruise feedings), there are workout rooms, fitness classes, and jogging tracks on almost all ships.
There’s not a chance of getting bored on a cruise: Every hour of the day there’s something going on. Many women find a cruise a non-threatening place to learn something new, especially in the company of girlfriends. Try your hand at ping-pang; give pottery making a go; have your golf swing analyzed; attend a wine tasting seminar; and practice your downward dogs all together in a yoga class.
MAKE IT SPECIAL
Cruise lines love to make a big deal out of your occasion. When you book your reservations, let them know how you’d like to celebrate the big day: A cake with singing waiters at dinner, champagne in your room, or a private cocktail reception for your group.
At night you may find it difficult to act your age: What better pick-me-up for a birthday is there? There are magic shows, comedians, karaoke, gambling, Broadway-quality performances, discos, and movies. After a cardia workout on the dance floor or a few hours at the slot machines, there’s latenight snacking to be done. Depending on the ship, this can vary from 24- hour restaurants, to midnight buffets, to cookies coming out of the oven.
CRUISE LINE PICKS
Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Princess, and Norwegian Cruise Line are the cream of the crop when considering itineraries and ships to the Caribbean, Mexico, and Hawaii. All have their strengths and weaknesses
and versions of itineraries. But you can rarely go wrong with any of them as they have the youngest and biggest fleets to choose from.
BEST SHIP FOR GOURMANDS
The new Crown Princess should be a top choice for those seeking highclass dining and spa amenities. Unique to the ship are an indoor Piazza with cafes and street performers. Plus it departs from a new terminal in Brooklyn, with possibly the best view of the Manhattan skyline, giving those in the Northeast the option of not having to fly to Florida. It’s also the only ship to visit Bermuda, San Juan, St. Thomas, and Grand Turk on the same voyage.
BEST SHIP FOR THRILL-SEEKERS
Experience the world’s largest ship on Royal Caribbean’s new Freedom of the Seas. With the first-ever onboard surf park at sea; whirlpools cantlevering 12 feet beyond the sides of the ship; and their largest rockclimbing wall yet, it’s a big draw for adventurers. Departing from Miami, it sails to Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Jamaica, and Haiti.
SUITES FOR GROUPS
Most ships offer suites with connecting rooms and mini-suites. But some of the latest options for a group are truly spectacular. NCrs Norwegian Jewel and Pride of Hawaii ships have Courtyard Villas-ten rooms surrounding a private courtyard with a private [acuzzi and pool, plus a sun deck upstairs. Their Garden Villas include three bedrooms with a living room, dining room, private sundeck, and Jacuzzi. The Presidential Suite on Royal Caribbean’s's Freedom of the Seas sleeps up to 14-perfect for an all-girl slumber party.
NEW CHOICES IN DINING
As an alternative to the traditional dinner seating times you’re assigned on cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line lets you choose your dining companions and times. Princess offers this option too, along with the option of eating in a smaller specialty restaurant, such as a trattoria or steakhouse, just as you would if you were vacationing in a town. And not all cruises require black-tie dining anymore. They’re leaning more toward a policy of “resort casual” attire at dinner with the option of formal evenings.
BEST OF THE EAST
If you’ve dreamt of the rugged mountains and dense rain forest of Dominica, the world-famous multicolor coral reefs of Turks & Caicos,
In my experience, the seven-night Mexican Riviera Cruises out of Los Angeles are the most popular on the West Coast. My clients usually prefer Princess Cruises because they have newer, elegant ships and offer open seating at dinner, not the traditional 6 p.m. or 9 p.m. seating every night.
- The most popular East Coast cruise is from Miami to the Caribbean on the Royal Caribbean Line. Their ships have lots of lounges where you can enjoy a variety of entertainment day and night, and women love their spas.
- My advice for first-time cruisers is to use the services of a cruise specialist to select the correct cruise for their taste and budget as well as getting the most desirable cabin at the best rate available. A cruise specialist can also make all the proper airline connections, which can be complex when dealing with a cruise. Also, a cruise specialist can be called on to resolve any issues or offer advice on subjects such as wardrobe, shore excursions, or passport requirements.
- Inexperienced cruisers who book on line may have no clue. as to where their cabin is located or what their view may be. For example, a cabin in the forward part of the ship may cause sea sickness from the roll of the ship. Or a cabin that’s listed as having an ocean view may be partially obstructed by a lifeboat.
visiting a deserted island, spying flamingoes, playing a round of golf in Bermuda, or snorkeling with stingrays, a cruise off the East Coast is your cup of tea. Now departing from more cities along the Eastern Seaboard, cruise lines offer the most choices with itineraries to the Caribbean all year round.
Routes for this region are typically divided into the Bahamas, Bermuda, and the Southern, Eastern, and Western Caribbean. This is where you’ll find postcard-perfect clear turquoise water and white-sand beaches. Highlights of these tours include private islands in the Bahamas: Norwegian Cruise Line’s Great Stirrup Cay, and Royal Caribbean’s CocoCay. In the Western Caribbean, ports of call typically include the Grand Cayman; Belize; Cozumel, Mexico; and Jamaica. Southern Caribbean places of interest consist of Puerto Rico, Aruba, Curacao, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, Dominica, and Tortola. St. Lucia, Antigua, and Martinique are part of Eastern Caribbean itineraries.
BEST OF THE WEST
A bit like the “Love Boat” of yore, a West Coast itinerary is comprised of the cliff-hanging seaside towns of Mexico, migrating humpback, gray, and blue whales, horseback riding in the Sierra Madre, and people-watching in a Zocalo (town square). Los Angeles is the main departure city for year-round West Coast routes, followed by San Francisco, Seattle, and Vancouver. Stops include Catalina Island, Baja, Acapulco, Ensenada, Ixtapa, Vallarta, and Cabo San Lucas. A few ships venture farther down the coast to Guatemala, Panama, and Costa Rica. Via the world-famous Gatun Locks of the Panama Canal, you can also pass through to the islands of the Caribbean Sea. Cruises range from 7 to 11 days.
Hawaii, Anyone? NCL is the only company to offer an inter-island cruise of Hawaii from Honolulu, as opposed to a west coast city, which tacks on extra days at sea. Three ships sail here year round, and their greatest luxury would have to be viewing the world’s most active volcano, Mt. Kilauea, at night.