Selecting a Cruise For Your Honeymoon

The flurry of wedding activity is over. Those long "to do" lists are in the past. On a cruise, the priorities are relaxation and pampering. Unpack just once, dine in a variety of settings (without a tab following dessert), kick back while your ship takes you from port to port. You set the pace. From sunset cocktails on your private balcony to a strenuous workout in an ocean-view spa, a cruise can be as languid or active as you like.

If a cruise looms large in your honeymoon plans, here are some pointers that will help you select a voyage as carefree as a tropical breeze.

Picking the ship is much like finding a mate.You want one that matches your lifestyle and tastes. Do you want to party all night? Or would you prefer a more sophisticated atmosphere?

The biggest ships have the most activities, the most elaborate shows--and the most passengers, often more than 2,000. They generally sail on one-week Caribbean cruises. Small ships, carrying fewer than 500 passengers, have the finest service. These vessels are low-key, with less elaborate entertainment. Their maneuverability lets them poke into off-the-beaten track ports. In between, the mid-size vessels have plenty of scheduled activities, a variety of entertainment and diverse, worldwide itineraries. A travel agent who specializes in cruises will know the personalities of various ships. Ask friends for recommended agents, get a feel for an agent's knowledge by making a few phone calls.

A honeymoon is no time to pinch pennies on the cheapest accommodations. You'll want an outside cabin with an ocean view. Splurge on a private balcony, an idyllic setting for early morning coffee, quiet afternoons at sea, stargazing at night. Be sure to request a queen or king bed, common on most ships, when you make your reservation. The more expensive cabin categories come with perks such as bathtubs, butler service and sitting areas.

The standard dining pattern on the big ships is two seatings. The early seating appeals to families and older passengers. The second is often more leisurely. Some lines are better than others at fulfilling a request for a table for two; some place honeymooning couples together at a larger table. Ask your travel agent to request your preference when booking the cruise. Although dining assignments are on your cruise tickets, confirm these as soon as you're onboard the ship. A card in your stateroom will note your dining assignment. If it's not what you want, head straight to the dining room to plead your case with to the maitre d'--a $20 tip helps.

Twenty-first century ships offer several "alternative dining" options. Small, specialty dining rooms have more intimate settings, more tables for two and more distinctive menus. They are available by reservation, and usually carry a modest service charge. Some ships also have casual, round-the-clock dining areas. The smaller, more expensive ships offer a single, open seating arrangement, whereby you can dine a deux one night, with a group of new friends the next. Room service on many ships includes the regular dinner menu, often served course by course.

Sybarites will love the floating spas' seaweed wraps, aromatherapy facials and couples' massage lessons. Make these--and any beauty salon--appointments quickly after you board. The slots for the days at sea and days of the captain's gala parties fill especially quickly.

On days when the ship is in port, join the shore excursions or sightsee independently. In-cabin videos and shipboard briefings give previews of the available shore excursions. Pass on the bus tours in favor of more varied and active ways of visiting a port. Hike with a naturalist or swim with the stingrays. Join a jeep caravan, a sailing, scuba or snorkeling expedition. Go kayaking or mountain biking. On your own, walk around town, negotiate a price with a cab driver for a brief tour, head to the beach.

There's no need to take a steamer trunk full of clothes. By day, casual is the word: shorts, capris, tee shirts, swim suits. A cocktail outfit is dressy enough for even the most formal dinners. On "informal" nights, dress as you would to go out to dinner at home. "Casual" evenings mean carefree linen, cotton and silk outfits or sundresses, not denims and tees. From espressos at the coffee bar to rum drinks by the pool, you'll need some extra cash. Add in shopping, a few rounds in the casino, shoreside expenditures and spa services. Fares on some ships, such as the Seven Seas Navigator and the Silversea ships, include tips. For others, figure an average of $16 to $18, per person, per day, distributed to your dining room and cabin staff. Bar tips are usually automatically added to the tab.

Don't keep that honeymoon status a secret. There are special parties for honeymooners and extra perks such as a bottle of champagne, a basket of fruit or a stateroom bouquet. And that newlywed status might be just the key for persuading the maitre d' to give you that coveted table for two.

Mary Anne Hemphill is a CruiseMates contributing editor.

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