Two Cruise Experts Dish About Their Years at Sea

October 30, 2014 | By | No Comments

Cruise ship on the horizon - photo courtesy of Alexander Erdbeer/Shutterstock

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to spend months out of the year on a cruise ship? Now imagine getting paid for the privilege. If that sounds like the life for you, you can be jealous of Douglas Ward, author of the annual “Berlitz Cruising & Cruise Ships” guidebook, who spends about 200 days a year onboard ships, and Carolyn Spencer Brown, Cruise Critic editor in chief, who sails a respectable 90 days a year reviewing cruise ships around the world.

The two cruise experts met up for a chat to share some of their favorite (and not so favorite) memories from their years at sea, as well as comment on the industry and offer their best cruise tips.

On Getting Started

Cruise Critic: How long have you been cruising, and how did you get your start?

Douglas: My first journey was in July 1965. … So that’s a few weeks ago. That was on the old ocean liners, the original Queen Elizabeth, and doing transatlantic crossings. I was actually a bandleader, in first class only. We had five bands onboard, mostly for dance music, a little light jazz, cocktail music, things like that.

The writing came quite a lot later, in about 1979 or 1980, when I went to live in the U.S. Passengers were saying, “There isn’t any way to compare these ships. There’s no information anywhere.” So with some passengers, we opened an association and produced a newsletter, originally called “Cruise Digest Report.” It was all about the ships — a very, very detailed introduction to the ships.

We also issued a report for the members of our association. We did comparisons [of the different cruise lines]. Somebody, it must have been one of our members, sent that to Berlitz in Switzerland. The managing director, who was American, phoned me and said, “Would I make it into a full-scaled book for publication?” To cut a long story short, he badgered me for about a year. After a year, I said, “OK. I’ll do it.” The first edition was published in 1985. So that was nearly 30 years ago.

Carolyn: Just so you know my background, I get sick on anything that moves on water. From sailboats to a naval destroyer docked in Norfolk that never even left the pier. So boats are not probably a logical vacation option for me.

In 1996, I was travel writing, and I was working freelance for the “Washington Post.” A new editor at the Post was very, I thought, prescient in that he recognized that cruising at that time was turning a corner, with some real verve and energy coming into the cruise market. [But because not so many people cruised at that time, he] wanted to reflect the same ignorance about cruising from its cruise writer that the new-to-cruise market had.

So he offered me the cruise beat, and I was a little bit underwhelmed, primarily because of the seasickness issue. But also because I didn’t cruise, I’d never cruised, I never thought about cruising. I watched “Love Boat” religiously but still never made that connection that that was something I wanted to do.

My first cruise was on Celebrity Zenith to Bermuda, and we hit a tropical storm, so that made everything just peachy on the seasickness front. Three weeks ago, I got the neatest thing — a lovely letter and a photograph from someone whose table I shared on that cruise. He said, “If I recall, you hadn’t decided whether you liked cruising or not. I guess it stuck.”

Read on for the full interview

    Steal of the Week: 53-Night World Cruise on Quantum from $8,999

    October 30, 2014 | By | No Comments

    piggy bank cruising
    Everyone is looking for the deal of the century. So how do you choose the one that’s right for you? Check the Lido Deck each week to get the scoop on our favorite deals — then grab the phone and pack your bags.
    THE DEAL: Online Vacation Center has just reduced the price of its 53-night world cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas to $8,999 per person for a balcony cabin, sailing from Cape Liberty to Shanghai on May 2, 2015. Your cruise fare includes roundtrip air and a three-night post-cruise hotel stay in Shanghai.
    WHAT WE LOVE: Where to begin? Quantum is set to debut in mere days, becoming Royal Caribbean’s newest addition to the line, and hailed as the first-ever “smartship.” With a bevvy of dining and entertainment options — from skydiving and bumper cars to disappearing noodles served in Wonderland — you may very well require weeks onboard to experience it all. While we could wax poetic on all of the ship’s new and innovative features, we’d be foolish not to focus on the itinerary: port stops span 11 countries and include cities such as Barcelona, Rome, Athens, Dubai, Cochin, Penang, Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City and Hong Kong, and a three-night stay in Shanghai once you disembark extends your trip even further. And did we mention transfers, taxes and roundtrip airfare are also included? If you have the time, the budget and are curious about Quantum, this is the sailing you need to be on.
    WHAT GIVES US PAUSE: Time and money are always two things we could use more of, and this sailing requires both. While we consider the value to be tremendous, you are still shelling out $18,000 per couple for a two-month vacation, which could be a new car or a chunk of college tuition. If all the time onboard gets you hooked on the ship, you will have to make quite the commute to sail it: Quantum calls China its home immediately after your sailing.
    HOW TO BOOK IT: For all the nitty-gritty on this deal (including that pesky fine print), click here.
    Compare flight prices with our sister site TripAdvisor’s meta-search tool.
    * Looking for cruises for under $75 or even $50 a day? We’ve got ‘em listed on our Cheap Cruises page.
    * Get great cruise deals — and exclusive member offers — delivered weekly to your inbox.

      Can I Bring a Doorbell/Hammock/Pigs in a Blanket Onboard My Cruise Ship?

      October 29, 2014 | By | No Comments

      Questions and Answers sign - photo mstanley/Shutterstock

      As Cruise Critic’s news editor I’m always reading through our message boards, keeping up with what our readers are talking about and concerned with. At least once a week I come across questions regarding what can and can’t be brought onboard a cruise ship. Most are straight forward. Can I bring a curling iron? Can I bring my medication in a plastic bag? Can I bring a box of wine or a bottle of vodka?

      But sometimes the item in question catches us off guard. Below are seven items it never occurred to us to consider taking on a cruise before.

      Question 1: We know coffee connoisseurs often stress about finding a good cup o’ joe, yet I was surprised to see NeilD ask about bringing his own Keurig mini coffee maker onboard.

      Answer: All cruise lines ban electrical and household appliances like coffee makers, blenders, toasters and hot plates. The only exceptions are items for personal grooming, like curling irons and hair straighteners.

      Read on for the full forum Q&A

        Wanderlust Wednesday: British Virgin Islands

        October 29, 2014 | By | No Comments

        British Virgin Islands - photo courtesy of CUBCRUISER71/Cruise Critic Forums

        Every Wednesday, we’ll be taking you on a journey around the world to some of the most interesting places our members have trekked, swum or merely witnessed from afar while cruising.

        Whether these photos inspire you to plan a relaxing escape or walk on the wild side, we hope they ignite your senses and give you ideas for your next cruising adventure. If you have a photo you’d love to share, send it to us at or post it in our member photo gallery. Feel free to send us your Twitter handle. Maybe you’ll get a shoutout next #WanderlustWednesday!

        Although Tortola is one of the less cruised Caribbean destinations, it’s regarded as one of the more desirable among seasoned travelers. The sea is clear and calm, making it ideal for diving, snorkeling and yachting. Plus, its central location allows cruisers to easily explore other British Virgin Islands on day trips from its shores. Thanks to Cruise Critic member CUBCRUISER71 for submitting this photo of Holland America’s Zuiderdam docked in Tortola.


        Find interesting places to visit based on region.
        Everything you need to know about planning a cruise.
        Explore Trip Reports of unique itineraries.

          Decreasing Your Creases: How to Get That Wrinkle-Free Look Onboard

          October 28, 2014 | By | 11 Comments

          Freshly pressed clothes - photo courtesy of Africa Studio/Shutterstock

          It’s a common problem for me when I travel, and now I know I’m not alone. How do I keep myself looking presentable when I’ve stuffed a week’s worth of clothing into a small suitcase?

          It seems no matter whether I carefully fold, gently roll or even use a three-suit garment bag, my clothes come out looking like they were wadded up in a corner for a week before I put them on.

          As usual the Cruise Critic forums have come to the rescue. This thread is overflowing with ways to keep your togs tiptop.

          Suggestions range from sublime to the (intentionally) ridiculous.

          Stay wrinkle free with our members’ expert tips

            Member Review of the Week: The Perfect Excuse

            October 28, 2014 | By | No Comments

             Saint John, Canada - photo Courtesy of Elena Elisseeva/Shutterstock

            Each week, we choose five cruise reviews written by our members, and showcase one as the Member Review of the Week. In the spotlight this week is Cruise Critic member Love2Dance4Me!’s recent cruise to Canada and New England on Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas.

            Overall Impression: A work-related convention at sea was the perfect excuse for Love2Dance4Me! to escape the office for a few days. Having recently sailed on Grandeur’s fleetmate Enchantment of the Seas, she had her bouts of deja vu, especially in the dining venues. The itinerary, however, was new to her, though she admits a Canada/New England cruise would not have been her first choice. Still, Love2Dance4Me! made the most of her time in each port, returning with new memories and friends.

            Onboard Highlight: The Cruise Critic meet-and-mingle, where Love2Dance4Me! finally got to meet virtual friends from the roll call in person.

            Port Highlight: A private tour through Saint John — although six hours was not enough time to see it all!

            Don’t Miss: Touring the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village. It’s not offered as a shore excursion, so you have to rent a car.

            Watch Out For: If you’re traveling with kids or just keen on a more energetic ambience, keep in mind this itinerary and time of year might not be the best.

            More: Read Love2Dance4Me!’s full review for more details about the onboard entertainment and excursions.

            For their efforts, Love2Dance4Me!, Tom Barnes, Leepam, Mrearl and ibfern receive Cruise Critic logo items.

            Read more reviews or write your own cruise review

              5 Discoveries From Our Paul Gauguin Cruise Through Tahiti

              October 27, 2014 | By | 6 Comments

              Paul Gauguin Cruises' flagship vessel, Paul Gauguin - photo by Colleen McDaniel

              Tahiti is the experience of a lifetime for many people, myself included. So when the opportunity to sail Paul Gauguin Cruises’ flagship vessel, Paul Gauguin, arose, I jumped at it. I hit the Cruise Critic message boards and member reviews to learn more about the line and the ship, and I started forming that mental picture of what to expect on my Tahiti cruise. When the departure day finally arrived, I felt armed with great information. Still, I have made a few discoveries along the way.

              1. Getting There

              What I expected: Paul Gauguin’s travel department handled booking of my airfare and transfers, which always provides me an added sense of relief, knowing that if something goes wrong, the cruise line will make sure I get to the ship. We were to fly out of Newark to L.A., then connect in L.A. for a flight that would land in Tahiti. With more than a 3-hour layover in L.A., I was cautiously optimistic there’d be few hiccups.

              What I discovered: Two things: First, if you book with two different airlines for a flight to Tahiti, and one of them is Air Tahiti, chances are you’ll have to go through check-in (bags, TSA screening and all) twice. Second: Paul Gauguin’s travel department is just plain excellent. As soon as we pulled out of the gate in Newark, the captain informed us that a light was indicating something was wrong with the engine on the right side. Ultimately, it led to almost three hours on the tarmac while the engine was fixed and tested, and our big layover window evaporated. We called Paul Gauguin’s travel department to get advice on what to do, and they offered a number of suggestions. We landed in L.A. about 45 minutes before our next flight was to leave (“No way I make it,” I thought), picked up our luggage at the baggage claim about 20 minutes later and headed to the check-in, where we were greeted by Judie, a Paul Gauguin representative, who was waiting for us. She assured us the flight would wait, ushered us through the process, and with a flat-out sprint, we made it to the gate at 3:13 for our 3:15 flight.

              Read on for the full list

                Where in the World is Cruise Critic?

                October 27, 2014 | By | No Comments

                Adam Coulter on map

                Cruise Critic staffers set sail every week, traveling the globe to bring you the latest cruise ship trends, port sneak peeks and onboard observations. Here’s where we are this week.

                (Got questions about any of the ships we’re boarding or ports we are visiting? Ask us in the comments!)

                Ship: Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas

                Where: Southampton/Isle of Wight

                Who: Adam Coulter, U.K. Editor

                Why There? It’s our first chance to get onboard arguably the most exciting new ship in the past few years.

                We Can’t Wait: Where to begin? I’m probably most excited about getting into North Star — the pod-like contraption attached to the top of the ship. But then again, there is simulated skydiving, bumper cars, virtual balconies, 18 Dynamic Dining restaurant options, robot bartenders, the versatile and hi-tech Two70 entertainment space… I’m only onboard for two days, but I’m going to do and see as much as possible — and report back!

                  keep looking »
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