A Cruise Full of Characters

April 15, 2014 | By | No Comments

disney wonder ship photo
What better birthday gift for a 7-year-old girl than a Disney cruise? That was the thinking when CharlottesMama booked a Western Caribbean cruise on Disney Wonder — the first-ever cruise for the family.
The long roadtrip from Minnesota to the port of Galveston went off without a hitch. A late seating with another family that had daughters the same age worked out perfectly (room service snacks tided everyone over until dinner). CharlottesMama’s daughter loved the line’s Oceaneer Club, leaving the couple some time to themselves.
Read on for more of CharlottesMama’s impressions.

    Contest: Win a Prime Viewing Spot for Queen Mary 2 Anniversary Sail

    April 14, 2014 | By | 74 Comments

    There are few ships as iconic as Queen Mary 2. With its trademark red and black funnel, the Cunard flagship has drawn oohs and aahs at 182 ports around the world for a decade now, sailing more than 419 voyages since its christening by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in January 2004.
    More fun QM2 facts:
    *If stood on her stern, the 1,132-foot vessel would be taller than the Empire State Building and more than three times higher than St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.
    *The ship took more than 1 million hours to design and eight million hours to build.
    *The number of passengers in the past decade have exceeded 1.3 million, as well as 2,000 dogs traveling in the vessel’s kennel.
    *The ship has served over 58 million meals and 21.9 million cups of tea – enough to fill three Olympic swimming pools.
    In honor of its anniversary – and next year’s 175th celebration of the Cunard line – the liner is gearing up for a special Southampton gathering in May with its fleetmates, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth. Queen Mary 2 will then set sail on its traditional transatlantic route to New York City for even more festivities.
    For those who can make it to New York, Cruise Critic is offering a special opportunity. On Friday, May 16, Cunard Cruise Line will host guests aboard Bateaux New York, carrying guests on a three-hour harbor cruise to watch the QM2 as it departs New York.

    This contest gives you and a guest the chance to join the festivities onboard Bateaux, with cocktails, canapés and stunning photo ops.

    To enter, tell us your favorite memory of Queen Mary 2 – or one that you’d like to have. A winner will be selected randomly on April 28 at 12 p.m. Note: This prize does not include transportation to New York or the pier.
    If you are selected, we will need your name, email and cell phone number. Winner and guest must be 21 or older, have valid IDs to board Bateaux and be available to board at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, May 16. Bateaux will return to Chelsea Pier at 8 p.m.

    Editor’s Note: This is not a cruise onboard Queen Mary 2.

      Where in the World is Cruise Critic?

      April 14, 2014 | By | No Comments

      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!)
      cruise-inspire-tauck
      Ship: Tauck‘s MS Inspire
      Where: From Amsterdam to Brussels
      Who: Dori Saltzman, News Editor
      Why There? MS Inspire is Tauck’s first river boat in the Inspiration class, which is notable for having only 130 passengers on a longship set-up. Considered part of the luxury end of river cruising, Tauck’s Inspire also has 22 300-square-foot suites, with upscale features such as 400-thread-count sheets and Molton Brown bath products. For 2014, Inspire will sail a variety of Rhine and Moselle river itineraries.
      We Can’t Wait: This will be the first sailing of Tauck’s newest boat, which features a handful of unique lower deck “loft” cabins with larger windows — that actually open! (besides fresh air, these windows will allow lower deck passengers much more natural light than you’d normally get in this cabin class).
      Ports: The U.S. Virgin Islands, all three of them (St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas).
      Who: Chris Gray Faust, Destinations Editor
      Why There? The Virgin Islands receive an astounding number of cruise passengers per year. In 2013, 626 ships stopped in the islands, with nearly 2 million visitors coming from the vessels. We will be updating all of our port profiles and writing features to help our members get the most out of their stops here.
      We Can’t Wait: St. Thomas is more than just a duty-free shopping Mecca; the hub of the Virgin Islands has beautiful beaches and natural attractions for those who hate the idea of spending time in a store. I’ve also never been to St. Croix, and am interested in exploring the Danish history of its towns, the snorkeling in its clear waters and the foodie culture that has emerged.

        Cruise Critic Live! Chat with TV Personality Genevieve Gorder

        April 11, 2014 | By | No Comments

        Every Thursday at 3 p.m. (Eastern), Cruise Critic Live! takes a look at all the things to love about cruising, from favorite destinations to amazing dining experiences to the latest and greatest new ships on the oceans and rivers. We also welcome outside experts including cruise line CEOs and newsmakers.
        Next week, we’ll be joined by special guest TV personality Genevieve Gorder, who is consulting on the decor choices for Quantum of the Seas, Royal Caribbean’s next new build. She’ll be joined by the veteran cabin crawlers on our staff to answer your questions, so make sure to bookmark the page.
        Can’t make the chat on Thursday, April 17 at 3 p.m.? Please feel free to submit questions ahead of time, and we’ll make sure to get your answers. The chat will be archived, and available, after it winds up.
        *Follow along on Twitter at #CruiseCriticLive.
        *Read the transcript from this past Thursday’s chat about saving money.

          Destination Spotlight: Tulips of the Netherlands

          April 11, 2014 | By | No Comments

          There is, perhaps, no more stereotypically Dutch landscape than what you’ll see on the way to the Keukenhof Gardens, The Netherlands’ most famous fields of tulips. Windmills, both modern and vintage, dot the roadside, and the water they help manage is everywhere. Over half of The Netherlands, or “Low Countries,” lies at or below sea level, and the Dutch have been masters of draining their land with elaborate dykes, canals and pumping stations for over 400 years.
          The payoff on this trip, though, is the flowers. A mild winter means that rolling fields of velveted, technicolor tulips, daffodils and hyacinth welcome us to Keukenhof.
          Mid-April is even better; it’s prime flower time at the moment (and our News Editor, Dori Salzman, is there right now). Cruisers coming by ship or by riverboat will flock to Keukenhof by the thousands for the two-month season that runs from March 20-May 18.
          To see photos from Keukenhof, click here.

            Live From….Emerald Sky: Hits & Misses

            April 10, 2014 | By | No Comments

            Emerald Waterways
            In all the hoopla of this year’s river season – here at Cruise Critic, our team has gone from one christening ceremony to another – this week’s latest launch has the biggest potential of all. That’s because the shining new ship, the 190-passenger Emerald Sky, belongs to Emerald Waterways, the first cruise line to be created in more than five years.
            Emerald Waterways, which will debut two custom-built vessels this year, is part of Australia’s venerable Scenic Tours. That company offers everything from land tours to five star-style luxury riverboat cruises. In fact, its Scenic Tours river line aims to be one of the most luxe and inclusive in the field.
            In contrast, Emerald is the first cruise line afloat to raise the bar on cheap and cheerful river cruising. Typically the three-star lines that target price-conscious cruisers use older ships with few amenities and ever fewer balconies. But Emerald is entering the category with state-of-the-art ships that include boutique-style designs, young-at-heart innovations like a swimming pool that’s transformed into a cinema at night, and cabins with upmarket touches, like balconies that transform into conservatories with a touch of the button.
            And all at a price point that’s some 30–40 percent below the higher end Scenic (and other competitors).
            Emerald Waterways
            Of course, you do get what you pay for. One of the reasons Emerald Waterways (which will go by Evergreen Waterways in its native Australia market) offers lower fares is because there are fewer included amenities. While a standard tour is offered in every port, in-depth or unusual outings levy a fee. Coffee, tea and water, as well as wine and beer with dinner are included; all other drinks, from martinis to draft beer to soda, will require you to sign a chit. Movies accessed through in-cabin televisions, are 15 euro apiece.
            Having said that, this is a line worth considering by travelers who’d prefer a more a’la carte approach, and want to decide what extras they’re willing to buy.
            Two days before its Amsterdam launch, Cruise Critic received a sneak peak at Emerald Sky. Here are our hits – there were certainly plenty of those – and misses.
            Hits
            Ambience. We loved the light and airy ambience of Emerald Sky; think IKEA crossed with a design hotel. The ship has clean lines, with décor that is comfortable and cozy, yet unfussy.
            Cabins. While typically compact and a similar size to those on other river lines, cabins come in a handful of configurations. The cheapest, as with all river lines, are on the lowest deck with windows placed high up on the wall. But there are also roomier and brighter options, with plenty of balconies spread over two decks. Storage is excellent (with lots of drawer space), beds are firm and comfortable, the television system is state of the art, with British channels and a handful of American ones, such as CNN. And we’ve mentioned the balconies; in Panorama “suites” (this is just one room), the floor-to-ceiling window drops down halfway in nice weather. In Grand Balcony Suites, the next category up, you have a dedicated verandah that can be closed off for just a bit more space. The Owner’s Suite features two-room suites with sit-out balconies.
            Emerald Waterways
            Pool! Those of us who like to spend time hanging out on the ship will appreciate this gorgeous, blue mosaic tile pool. It’s located off the aft, with a retractable roof, and it’s big enough to actually swim in. There’s a lovely bar tucked in the corner.
            While our brief visit didn’t include an evening at the cinema, the space transforms at night, when a floor covers the swimming pool and comfy deck chairs are moved in. Movies, which company executives estimate will play only on some nights during a cruise, will range from destination-centric fare (“The Sound of Music” near Salzburg, for example) to recent hits.
            Misses
            Bathrooms. Standard balcony cabins are in the 180 ft. range – pretty common, size-wise, with other river newbuilds. In our Panorama Suite cabin, though, the bathroom, while efficiently designed, featured a tiny, tiny sink with no room for anything (there is ample storage behind mirrored walls). I have to admit: On a nippy Amsterdam morning, I missed the heated floors that some river lines are offering.
            Itineraries. With only two ships in the fleet – Emerald Star joins the cruise line in June – the new cruise line only offers Rhine-Main-Danube itineraries. On the other hand, these are perfect first-time routes for new-to-river-virgins.
            Make sure to check out our coverage of Emerald Sky’s christening (with Twiggy as godmother adding some star power) and behind the scenes looks at creating an all-new river cruise line.

              Steal of the Week: Holland America’s Summer on Sale

              April 10, 2014 | By | No Comments

              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: Holland America Line is offering free or reduced fares for third/fourth berths and children 17 and younger, as well as a $50 beverage card and reduced fares. A seven-night sailing onboard Statendam, departing on May 25, 2014, starts from just $499 per person for an inside cabin.
              WHAT WE LOVE:  So what if you’ve missed wave season; cruise lines have begun rolling out promotions through the year. With Holland America’s “Summer on Sale,” you can partake in the “kids sail free” trend, including free or reduced third and fourth berths (as long as they sail in the same cabin as first and second passengers). In addition, a bonus beverage card lubricates the deal with $50 worth of drinks. Sail next month from just $71 per person, per night onboard Statendam. Summer destinations span Alaska itineraries, which the line is well known for, along with Canada and New England, and Europe.
              WHAT GIVES US PAUSE: With many promotions comes varying terms and bonuses. If you’re looking to book now, there’s no reason not to take advantage of this deal; however, there will always be a sale behind it and it may be offering more of what you’re looking for. Consider if a beverage card is something you will put to use, if not, perhaps a future offer will provide onboard credit. If you plan on traveling in a group of four, or bringing the kids or grandkids along, this is your time to book these select itineraries. If you’re traveling solo or as a pair, reduced fares will have no effect on your price.
              Love saving money? Learn how you can save on your next cruise with our #CruiseCriticLive! chat today, April 10, at 3 p.m. EDT.
              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.

                Hot on the Forums: Sail for the Ship or Destinations?

                April 9, 2014 | By | 12 Comments

                Why do you cruise?
                If you’re reading this on a sun-soaked balcony with a glass of something suitable in hand or sailing towards exciting unchartered territories, it might seem a stupid question.
                But rather like the age-old chicken and egg conundrum, do you cruise to see the sea – and the ship – or do you adore popping into port? Which comes first when you’re booking a cruise?
                I used to think cruising was about seeing different places – as many as possible in fact – and the ship was my transport and floating home, and a very pleasant one at that. But, after clocking up a few nautical miles, my perspective changed. And let’s face it; some Caribbean islands are pretty much the same, however decent the rum punch.
                Previously hidden ship geek tendencies started to emerge. Instead of whetting my appetite with guidebooks, I began poring over cruise line websites, gleaning as much advance information as I could about my vessel of choice. I started to give the excursion desk a wider berth, choosing to spend more days on board. (And secretly pleased I did on my last trip to Santorini when the cable car broke down, leaving hundreds of passengers stranded at the top.)
                My shifting perspective has been confirmed in the forums, where members such as N747KT report the joy of days at sea and, with apologies to Scarlett O’Hara, not giving a darn about the ports. For Aquaphobic, back-to-back transatlantic crossings in January on Cunard would top the cruising wish list.
                Of course, sometimes a compromise has to be reached. “If I had my way, I would love to have a different port to visit every day with no sea days,” posted Johnrich

                So over to you – do you cruise for the ship or the places you visit?
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