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If you have a hankering to hit the open water, you are in luck. You can book a cruise vacation to fit almost any fancy, from a short jaunt to play the slots in the Caribbean to an educational tour of the Galapagos Islands.
One of the main benefits of cruising is that it eases many of the hassles of travel. You unpack only once, but you can visit many different places. You can take the whole family and find something for everyone. In fact, many cruises offer activities specially designed for children from toddlers to teens. The kids enjoy meeting new friends and doing things that interest them, and you get a chance to relax without worrying.
When you are cruising, you don't have to think about where you are going for dinner, and you can always walk there. Most of your entertainment and sightseeing needs are taken care of – all you have to do is relax.
Of course, some people see the self-contained nature of cruises as a drawback. If you like to explore on your own, make up your own itinerary and go where the spirit leads you – or if you get seasick easily – cruising is probably not for you.
If you are interested, you might want to start with a short cruise. This will cost you less in time and money, and it will give you an idea of whether cruising is your cup of tea.
As you plan your cruise, ask yourself some basic questions:
You can talk with a travel agent about a cruise; some travel agencies specialize in cruising. Or you can search online for cruise information. Try to narrow your search as much as possible, such as "cruises for families" or "cruises to Alaska."
- Where do I want to go? You can cruise almost anywhere there is water. You can cruise down the Mississippi River on an old-time riverboat, or cruise around the Greek Islands. You can cruise through the ice castles of Alaska or across the Atlantic. The possibilities are myriad.
- What do I want to do? Most cruises offer tons of activities on board ship, including shows, games, dancing and of course the mainstay of cruise ships – almost nonstop dining opportunities. You can choose to participate in all the activities, or you can just lie by the pool. But what do you want to see and do when the boat docks? Most cruise ships dock several times to let passengers explore the ports of call. Check out the options for sight-seeing and other activities.
- With whom do I want to do it? This is a critical question when choosing a cruise. Some cruises are designed for families, while others cater to young people looking for a party. You can take an educational cruise offered by a college or museum, or you can cruise with like-minded people from an organization you support. The cruise company should be able to give you information about who your fellow passengers are likely to be and help you find a cruise that fits your plan – whether it is a second honeymoon or a family getaway.
- How much will it cost? Cruise costs range widely and depend on many different factors, including the amenities available on board, the length of the cruise, the on-shore activities, etc. Many cruise lines offer discounts, so don’t forget to ask. And find out what the price you are being quoted covers. Most onboard costs, such as meals and shows, are usually included. But what about extras or tours in your ports of call?
Whenever you are making travel plans, especially if you are dealing with a new travel agent or booking online, be a little wary. Don’t be shy about asking questions. How long have they been in business, how did they develop this expertise, do they provide references, do they offer a guarantee if your vacation does not turn out as promised? If you get to a hotel and you don't like it, you can always change hotels. But if you are on a cruise, once the ship leaves the dock, you are more or less stuck.
When you have found a cruise that meets your requirements, all you have to do is pack, walk up the gangplank and pop the champagne. Bon voyage!