Subject: Stateroom Location
I received an e-mail this month from someone whose stateroom was going to be above the disco. Also, there's been an ongoing discussion on the CruiseMates message board about rooms at the aft end of the ship. Let's investigate the subject of stateroom location.
Naturally, the category you book is important in determining where a stateroom is located. But it's not as clear-cut as it used to be, when the more you paid, the higher the deck you were on. Now, cruise lines are building ships with penthouses and/or suites on lower decks, in front, in back or wherever.
There's still a feeling that the higher the deck, the more prestigious it is. That may be true, but if you're looking for comfort, it's the upper decks where the ship's pitching (the up and down motion as the ship cuts through waves and such) will be most noticeable. To make it worse, the closer you are to the bow or stern, the more movement there will be. Picture a see-saw: The extreme ends of the balancing portion are going to incur the most dramatic up-and-down motion. Also, the higher up you are, the more rolling motion (side to side) there will be. So if you're sensitive to this, consider being on a lower deck. The least sense of movement will be just above the water line and mid-ships.
Lots of ships now have staterooms at the aft end. The views here are wonderful. You get to see where you've been and -- especially if the room has a balcony -- you have an enormous expanse from side to side. However, with propulsion systems located toward the rear of the vessel, this might also be the site of some vibration, especially as the ship maneuvers in and out of port. Some say there's also a smell back in this area. All I know is that in the few cases I've been in an aft room, I've loved it. And the amount of vibration has never interfered with my sleep or enjoyment.
Where don't I like to stay? That's easy: Above a show lounge or disco, near the elevators, and close to the purser's area. Even though ships are built today with tremendous insulation between decks, noise will still leak through from a show lounge or disco. And with rehearsals during the day, it's not always going be noisy just at night. Many ships protect rooms near the elevator areas from noise by installing extra baffling walls. I was on a ship recently that did not have them. Until very late at night, I could hear noise coming through my door (and it was a very lively ship). Near the purser's area, there's going to be lots of traffic. On the more luxurious ships, there's usually a door of some sort separating the areas; on most contemporary and premium ships, this isn't the case. So the amount of foot traffic, and the noise that comes naturally, may be disturbing.
I've also heard complaints from guests who are right below the casual restaurant or pool deck; the problem is early morning foot traffic, chairs being dragged about, etc. As for casinos, that hasn't proven to be a noise problem for me in the times I've been right above them. But it's no guarantee either.
At the end if the day, staying away from the high traffic areas will give you the quietest cruise experience. And being in the middle of the ship is going to provide the smoothest ride.
Subject: Europe vs. Alaska 2005
I'm revisiting this ever-contentious subject as we get into the heavy booking season.
I just read an industry report that cruise capacity in Europe will be up 17% this year. In an unusual move reflecting the popularity of the destination, Celebrity decided to redeploy its terrific ship, Century, to Europe long after most itinerary decisions were made. They certainly wouldn't be doing this if they did not feel bookings would warrant it.
Many cruise line executives I spoke to recently said bookings for Europe are going extremely well. That's terrific, and it reflects not only a rebound in consumer demand since 9/11, but also the impact of the dollar's weakness versus the euro (vacationers like the fact that with a cruise, most of their arrangements are prepaid in dollars, while on land, most are paid as they go, in euros). Discounts on European cruises will be fewer this year, and space on the more popular itineraries will go that much more quickly.
On the opposite side, there are rumblings that Alaska may have some weaknesses, and thus that discounts may be available. If this is your preferred destination, check into it and see for yourself.
On one message board recently, someone asked what kind of documentation they need to being, referring to driver's license, passport, etc. This reminded me that last year, a friend's son was denied airline boarding as his passport had expired. It was a Friday evening and nothing could be done. He missed his Galapagos cruise. On another occasion, there was a big fuss because guests did not have the proper vaccinations for a cruise along the Amazon.
Do not rely solely on the cruise line to tell you what you need. In this era of heightened security and ever-changing regulations, it's possible that you might not get the most current requirements. The three main forms of identification are a passport, driver's license and birth certificate. The passport is always going to be the preferred item. Even if you're traveling domestically, a passport is terrific: You can make copies of it and keep one in each piece of luggage, leave one at your home, one with whoever your emergency contact is, etc. On a cruise, travel ashore with a copy of the passport, not the actual passport itself, which could be lost or stolen. If you do not have a passport, check with the cruise line, destination or airline to see what you are going to need.
As for visas, some countries (e.g. Brazil) are adding requirements as a reaction to the new United States policies. If you have any questions, check the destination country's website or call their embassy (they almost all have one in Washington D.C.).
As for vaccinations, countries change their requirements based on current health conditions. Again, check with the country's official sources as opposed to asking a reservations agent or travel agent who may not have the latest info. It's your trip and a little extra checking can go a long way.
Helpful hint: For the Amazon trip, I arranged for my visa through Pinnacle Travel Document Service in Washington. They were also extremely helpful on the subject of vaccinations. They can be reached at 1-800-874-5100 or via www.traveldocs.com.
OK, I'm off the soapbox for this month. If you have any comments on these or other issues, please let me know. Send a note to my e-mail address listed above.