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  #1 (permalink)  
Old June 24th, 2001, 09:32 AM
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My husband and I are planning to take a cruise next year for our 25th wedding anniversary. (Most likely a Caribbean cruise, although Alaska sounds very tempting if I can talk my husband into it). Neither one of us has been on a cruise and we're finding the decision process to be overwhelming and confusing. When is the best time of year to go? Should we choose an eastern or western Caribbean cruise? What are Cozumel and Costa Maya like? Are they worth visiting? Which cruise line? I picked up 4 catalogs at a travel agency (Carnival, Princess, Celebrity, and Royal Caribbean). We seem to be leaning towards Princess - mainly the Grand or Golden. Reading reviewers' posts are helpful, but make things more confusing because everyone has their own opinions and experiences (good and bad).

The only things we have decided upon is the length of the cruise (7 days) and since we have been to St. Maartin already, we'd prefer to go someplace we haven't been, which still leaves a lot of islands to choose from.

We're not party animals, however would like some kind of night life available. Gambling - can take or leave it. Would prefer shopping and sightseeing activities.

What questions should we ask the travel agent? Has anyone ever booked a cruise on the internet? These are only the questions I can think of at this time. I'm sure I'll have more. Any advice you can provide would be appreciated. Thank you.

Trish
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  #2 (permalink)  
Old June 24th, 2001, 09:59 AM
Sue & Bill
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If your anniversary happens to be anywhere between May and September, please do Alaska. That is if you want to cruise on a specific date. The Caribbean is a wonderful place, but to experience Alaska is just about the most wonderful cruise experience. Pristine waters, glaciers, excursions to see whales, eagles.....and please use a travel agent which is experienced in cruise travel. I would not chose a travel agent from the internet or buy a cruise from the internet, but that is IMHO......My cruise line of choice is Princess. I am most fond of Regal Princess as she only carries 1500 passengers. Regal Princess might be about 10 years old but she has an ambiance that you will not find in the grand or sun class ships of the Princess line. Again, IMHO.....Whatever you choose, just have a wonderful cruise experience. Unfortunately once you have cruised, you will probably become an addict like the rest of we 'cruising fools'.......
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Old June 24th, 2001, 10:02 AM
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Hi. I understand what you mean about being overwhelmed about choosing a cruise and line. I felt the same way a few months ago when I was choosing our first cruise. I spent hrs at the bookstore, read every review I could get my hands on etc... In the end I choose the Grand for the fall/East Car. I was looking for a classy non Las Vegas type atmosphere and getting the most for my money. Just my own opinion but it seemed like Carnival was too Las Vegas like and more for the partying crowd, RCI was good for those who like to be active b/c of what some of the ships offer ie: rock climbing, ice skating etc... Princess seemed to be comparable but more elegant . I was more torn b/t choosing Princess and Celebrity. Celebrity is known for wonderful food. I was also concerned about median ages for the different cruises. The Caribbean cruises tend to be younger and we chose fall b/c less children are on the cruise. Princess balcony cabins are also very affordable.

I actually initially booked w/ my an internet TA and had alot of problems. Those type of companies may offer you a price that is cheaper than others but you pay for it dearly in service and the couple of TAs I encountered didn't tend to be very knowlegable. A good TA is important esp. when you run into problems. I checked my booking information and several things were wrong and my TA would not call me back to correct them once he had my initial deposit. I cancelled my reservation w/ that person and booked w/ another TA via someone's recommendation. This person has been wonderful. Please feel free to e-mail me if you want his name. A good TA is also very important b/c a good one will watch for price reductions so you get a refund and be more helpful about potential upgrades.

Hope that helps!
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Old June 24th, 2001, 10:42 AM
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Default Re: First Timer

I love Princess and would choose her over Celebrity and Carnival. Have not tried Royal Carribean yet. I think Princess provides excellent food, service and a wide range of ages (both young and elderly people enjoy the cruise) - it is not geared towards a specific age group and there is enough for everyone. I love their food options compared to Celebrity. I would definitely try Carnival again.

If you do the Caribbean over the summer - expect a lot of children. If you are interested in Alaska and like the size of Grand/Golden - the Star Princess (a sister ship) will be available next summer in Alaska.

I have sailed both Sea Princess and Grand before. I sort of like the smaller size of the Sun Class ships better (Sun, Dawn, Ocean, Sea) but am sailing again on the Grand in November. So I like both - the Grand is definitely bigger.

I like both East and West itiniaries. As far as West - the port of Costa Maya has very little from what I understand but it offers quite a bit. It it close to many Mayan ruins such as Tulim and I think it is close to X-Caret also. There have been few reports about Princess to Costa Maya because the pier has been damaged since Princess started docking there and the ships have been rerouted to Playa de Carmen. The Caymen Islands offers snorkling to Stingray city which is an excursion of a life time. I didn't snorkel but loved this excursion.

Cozumel is a wonderful city to go to ruins, horsebacking riding, shopping, etc. . .

The other positive about Princess is some of their ships go to their private island - Princess Cays - this is a beauitful island that is very clean. Princess spends millions per year making sure that there is no litter on this beach - it is beautiful.

Another alternative is to fly to San Juan and catch a ship there - I loved the southern routes so much better than eastern routes - but a lot of eastern routes have lots of sea days which is also nice.

I would recommend a cruise book which talks about islands and choose your ship based on the itiniary - I used "unofficial guide to cruises".

I would also recommend a newer ship - within the last 4 years or so.

If you guys like action ships - you may want to look into Explorer/Voyager/Adventurer of the Seas.

Theresa
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  #5 (permalink)  
Old June 24th, 2001, 12:44 PM
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The first cruise is definitely overwhelming, Trish. You have so many choices offered and decisions to make and you have nothing to compare them against. On our first cruise we probably didn't pick a itinerary which really matched our tastes very well and didn't pick a ship that was what we were looking for either, but everything was a surprise for us as it was an all new adventure every day! On the first cruise you really just have to make your best informed judgements and then look on it as a huge scavenger hunt and surprise party. We aren't "party hardy" people either, but the cruise lines you are considering offer excellent entertainment in the evenings at least thru 10 pm. Dancing, musicals, comedians and audience participation programs are but a few of the things that most cruises offer. Whatever cruise you pick, just relax and enjoy whatever comes your way!!!
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Old June 24th, 2001, 09:07 PM
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Default Re: First Timer

I wouldnt recommend Celebrity for a first experience. They really seem to me to be geared for cruisers who don't need much information. Its a great line with some nice touches-- but save them for when you are more experienced.

I would do a Caribbean cruise for fist time-- easier to pack-- You will definitely be hooked and will cruise again!

We have had great experiences on Royal Caribbean-- also on Norwegian.

We also enjoy port stops better on the Western than eastern-- but you can have a great time on either-- try to take a ship that has at least 2 days at sea!!!

Maybe the best bet would be to find the week you can travel-- decide where you want to go-- then look at the options-- also the better buys! If you can get a balcony cabin for the same price as an outside on another ship, that might be a better deal!
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Old June 24th, 2001, 11:31 PM
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Default Re: First Timer

Trish,

I agree with the poster who recommended going to Alaska if your anniversary falls during the Alaska cruise season (May-September). The Caribbean is very hot and humid during that time of year.

If you do opt for the Caribbean, I highly recommend looking at Princess's "Southern Caribbean" itineraries that operate out of San Juan, Puerto Rico. There are four such itineraries, each of which calls at St. Thomas and four other islands. The ships on these itineraries, MV Sea Princess and MV Dawn Princess for the 2001-2002 season, are magnificent vessels that provide more activities and entertainment than you will ever be able to take in during a seven-day cruise. Each Caribbean island has unique attractions, so you will have no trouble finding interesting excursions for your ports of call.

As to choice of cruise lines, it sounds like you would be satisfied with Princess, Celebrity, or Royal Caribbean International.

Norm.
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Old June 25th, 2001, 02:31 AM
Carole Dunham
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Default Re: First Timer

I too would definitely recommend Alaska for nothing else other than its sheer beauty. I live 5 minutes from the port of Miami and 25 minutes from Port Everglades and rarely cruise from either one. But I've sailed Alaska 7 times and will return again next year.

I would definitely NOT recommend booking on the internet for your first cruise. You will need professional help deciding just exactly what you want first time around. As you get more experienced, you can go to an internet agent who will do a basic job for you, but now you need the service a live agent can give you.

Princess and Celebrity are my favorite cruiselines. I would sail any of their ships in a heartbeat. The cruise experiences are different but both are excellent values. The only place I've ever sailed Carnival was on an Eastern Canada cruise from New York last fall. There was an older crowd onboard, no kids at all. I really enjoyed myself but would be the first to admit that Princess and Celebrity are a superior product.

If you decide to sail the Caribbean I would take the eastern itinerary. It stops in St. Thomas which is a super shopping island. St. Maarten is great too, but you get a much better custom's exemption in St. Thomas since it's American than you do in St. Maarten which is Dutch/French.

Whatever you decide, welcome to the wonderful world of cruising.

Carole
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Old June 28th, 2001, 10:39 AM
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Default Re: First Timer

Even though our anniversary is in October, we did our first cruise for our 20th in June this year to Alaska on the Ocean Princess. We did the whole 11 day cruise tour to Mt Mckinley Lodge, then southbound to Vancouver BC.

An all round excellent anniversary cruise. We booked almost a year in advance, and followed our TA's advice on almost everything: Southbound, Princess, pre-night in Anchorage, 2 nights at McKinley, pre-booked excursions, balcony cabin in center of ship, late seating traditional, rented tuxes, pre-booked all excursions, used princess for all excursions and used princess airline arrangements and hotels. The only problem we had was a late flight on America West back to Phoenix which missed the connection and got us home about 11:30 at night. Long day.

In the next few weeks I hope to get our review and suggestions on line.

For scenery and varied activities, I definitely recommend Alaska and Princess for this kind of important event.

Be prepared to spend major bucks though. It is not cheap, but then 25 years only comes once. Our 20th was our honeymoon now that all the kids are gone, so we did not scrimp on anything.
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Old June 28th, 2001, 07:17 PM
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Default Re: First Timer

Carole,
Hold on a min....A Travel agent that is online can and does give the help a first timer needs. I can think of many that take out ads on Cruisemates that will take the time needed to help anyone pick the right ship.Otherwise why would they place ads here??? Im sure you didnt mean to say that online agents wont help people that need it. Or did you???
Michael
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Old June 28th, 2001, 09:59 PM
Benjamin Smith
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Default Re: First Timer

You know, what strikes me is 25th wedding anniversary. I don't know but Carnival, Celebrity, Princess, and RCI just may not be "special" enough. But it is your first cruise.

Best time of year to go? Well, Spring Break seems an obvious time to avoid if you want to avoid crowd or the potential for rowdy teens. Then do you really want to go peak season in the Caribbean? It depends on how "crowded" you may want your ship to be. Are you familiar with the Caribbean and the street vendors you may encounter there? If you go to Alaska you will not have to deal with this, nor with some of the poverty that you'll find in some Caribbean ports, but you have a different type of water, a different environment, the Caribbean has its jewels as well, but it certainly isn't all paradise. If you consider when the ship is less full you'll have more space to yourself, and probably more attentive, more personalized, service. You also have a chance of a stateroom "upgrade" if the ship is not full.

With choosing a cruise to me it is all about you and your husband, Everybody has different ideas of what good entertainment, food, ambiance, service is. So, if you read lots of reviews, and not really deal with the positive or negative, you will see some common points brought up about the service style of ships, at least in the descriptive reviews. Most importantly, YOU make the decision based on YOUR criteria, and keep in mind it is purely subjective what one regards as great or friendly service, beautiful ships, great entertainment - these are terms commonly found in cruise reviews or when people comment about ships.

For a 25th wedding anniversary, though, is there anywhere else you may consider other than the Caribbean or Alaska? These places are both "touristy" IMO. Would you consider the Med? (expensive transportation to European ports is the downside). I'm wondering if a line like Renaissance with their smaller ships and florid and traditional look inside would feel more special for a 25th anniversary and have less of a "mass-market" feel to them. Princess and Celebrity are fine premium lines, but they still are designed to have a mass appeal to them. Ren is close to the same price, however, there are some issues in booking Ren. There's also Crystal and Radisson, they are more expensive, but from time-to-time there are deals on them.


I think you may want to just write down what you want as in the overall type of cruise you want. Pampering or entertaining or, if both, what stress would you want? What facilities are important? How important is the amount of formal and informal nights? Spas? Deck space? The overall size of the ship considering length and amount of decks and amount of varying public areas and also how many fellow passengers? Age of ship - most lines have very new ships but some feel that the older ships have a charm that the newer ships lack. How important is the cabin to you? Some people spend hardly any time in the cabins and some spend lots of time in the cabins and most have a veranda or want a fairly high level stateroom. Cabin categories are somewhat misleading as some of the exact rooms are suddenly in a more expensive category on the higher decks on the ship and to some degree, the best area for a cabin, at least in rough seas, is lower in the ship and towards the middle. Sometimes an aft (back of ship) located cabin costs more yet it is more uncomfortable in rough seas than a midship located stateroom.

One thing to be aware of is that you'll spend money on the ships. you'll spend money on beverages, tips, and all sorts of other extras that any good travel agent can fill you in on.

You may want to get videos from the various lines on their ships. There's a contrived ship atmosphere shown but you at least get a peak at the ships and you get an idea of their marketing angles.

Keep doing research, you have time, and you'll be fine once you know the particular qualities of each line and the general similarities in all cruise lines.
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  #12 (permalink)  
Old June 28th, 2001, 10:12 PM
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Default Re: First Timer

Thank you everyone for your suggestions. Although our anniversary is in October, we were planning to go sooner than that. We are told April is a good time for a Carribean cruise. We are visiting the travel agent tomorrow and I will be prepared with lots of questions.

Trish
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Old June 29th, 2001, 09:15 PM
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Default Re: First Timer

Trish

I could have written your post all but the twenty-fifth wedding aniversary.I am trying to plan our first cruise,and finding it very daunting. Good luck!

Gigi
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  #14 (permalink)  
Old June 30th, 2001, 12:31 AM
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Default Re: First Timer

Trish,

Actually, the best times to go to the Caribbean are:

>> The first two weeks of November (before Thanksgiving),

>> The first two weeks of December (before Christmas), and

>> January or the first two weeks of February (after New Year's, but before the start of "Spring Break").

During these times, yuo will find that the facilities are less crowded and the climate is ideal. "Spring Break" season extends through most of April, after which the weather can be oppressively very hot and humid. It can be pleasant enough in October, but October still has moderately high risk of a hurricane.

Norm.
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