The New York Times The New York Times Travel September 29, 2002  

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  Welcome, cruisemates

Surfing Your Way Out to Sea

By SUSAN STELLIN

Travelers using the Internet to plan a cruise vacation will find a wealth of Web sites to help with deciding on a cruise and comparing prices and even getting advice from other travelers about shipboard life.

Yet most cruisers, particularly those embarking for the first time, will probably end up relying on a phone call to a travel agent before making a purchase, since cruise Web sites only address travelers' most basic questions.

In terms of finding a cruise, there are dozens of sites that let visitors search databases of information from multiple cruise lines. They also handle booking and usually offer phone numbers for customers who need more hand-holding than the Web site can provide.

At http://www.icruise.com/, visitors can select a destination, the month they plan to travel, the length of the cruise and a price range. The site displays a list of cruises from multiple companies that fit the selected criteria.

Surfers can select a listing to get more details on a cruise, like information about cabins, but the descriptions tend to be limited. For instance, the site lists ports of call for each cruise, but does not give any description of what there is to see or do.

http://www.cruise411.com/ works in a similar way, with a somewhat more user-friendly search feature. You don't have to enter a price range, which reduces the possibility of getting "no results" for surfers unfamiliar with cruise pricing, and the site also provides a bit more information about cruise itineraries.

A third site in this category, http://www.cruise.com/, offers travelers a few additional search options, like the ability to search for luxury cruises or sailings on a small cruise line. Cruise.com also has a "let us beat your quote" feature; visitors can submit a quote from another company to see if Cruise.com will offer a lower price.

In addition to sites dedicated to selling cruises, online travel companies best known for air travel like Orbitz, Expedia and Travelocity have all recently beefed up their cruise sections. All three sites let visitors search for cruises by destination and tend to offer more detailed information about each cruise. For example, Expedia lets prospective passengers click on the name of a port of call for a description of local points of interest and activities.

For those more interested in networking with other travelers, a handful of sites like http://www.cruisemates.com/ provide articles on subjects like what to pack plus message boards organized by topic and detailed reviews from travelers who have cruised on various ships.





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