Focus On Cruising

Exploring the Wonderful World of Cruise Ships

A Step Beyond

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Just about a year ago, I had the immense good fortune to cruise on the Star Princess to Antarctica.  Sailing along the Antarctic Peninsula was an experience that touched me deeply, and forever changed the way I view the world.

I wrote extensively about my trip at the time.  If interested, you can read my blog entries here:

Post 1

Post 2

Post 3

Post 4

Cruising as we did through Antarctic waters on a large ship precluded the opportunity to set foot on the continent.  Vessels of more than 500 passengers are not permitted to arrange landings.  I regretted not being able to walk on the continent and mingle with the penguins, but the significant additional cost argued forcefully against it.

I made a mental addition to my bucket list, however, vowing that the next time (oh yes, there will definitely be a next time!) I would be prepared for the higher cost.  Now comes word that Quark Expeditions has upped the ante.  On select 12 day voyages out of Ushuaia, Quark is offering an overnight camping trip in Antarctica.  Participants, accompanied by a tour leader, are brought ashore by Zodiac to a suitable site, where they pitch two person tents and spend the night.  If the weather cooperates, they will be dazzled by a night sky that can only be experienced in the pristine air of the poles.

Incredibly, this adventure costs just $195 per person.  For this remarkably reasonable price, one gets to do what so few have ever done before – sleep on the White Continnet under the vast austral sky.

Technorati Tags: Antarctic camping, Antarctica, austral sky, Cruise line, cruise ship, Quark Expeditions, Ushuaia

Grand Old Lady of the Seas Rescued

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SS United States (background) and SS America (foreground)

The SS United States Conservancy took formal possession of the SS United States yesterday.  You can read about the original announcement here.  After years of rusting away in Philadelphia, changing hands several times, and coming close to her end on more than one occasion, the ship is finally in the hands of an organization dedicated to her survival.

Perhaps the greatest passenger vessel ever built in the United States, the SS United States still holds the record set on her maiden voyage on July 4, 1952.  Faster than any passenger vessel before or since, she crossed the Atlantic in 3 days, 10 hours, and 40 minutes.  That record held until 1990, but only non-passenger ships have accomplished the feat of besting her time.  The SS United States still holds the Blue Riband.

Built with a considerable infusion of funds from the United States Government, about $50 million of the $78 million total construction cost, she was designed to allow a quick conversion to a troop carrier in times of need.  Never called upon to serve in that capacity, she played host to thousands of passengers, among them a young Rhodes Scholar named Bill Clinton, until 1969.

The Conservancy plans to establish a public/private partnership to restore and convert the ship into a floating attraction with museum, retail, and restaurant space.

Not too long ago, I heard a famed ship historian and lecturer suggest that the time had come to let the SS United States go.  He felt that her day was over.  I come down on the other side.  I wish the Conservancy well and hope they are successful in their mission.

Technorati Tags: Bill Clinton, Blue Riband, cruise ship, floating museum, SS United States, SS United States Conservancy, transatlantic speed record

A New Beginning

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Working From Home

Today is the beginning of a new adventure for me.  I am now officially self-employed with all the opportunities and pitfalls that implies.   It is both exciting and daunting at the same time.

This is a long-held dream brought to fruition, with lots of planning and hard work along the way.  I’ve prepared for this move as best I could, but there is still an element of risk involved.

I gave up a lucrative position at one of the country’s leading travel agencies to fulfill this dream of being an independent cruise specialist.  No longer will my paycheck come with unquestioned regularity.  In addition, I’m working from home and will have to discipline myself to stay focused and work diligently.

Frightening?  A bit.

Exciting?  A lot.

Risky?  To be sure.

As I expand my business and meet new clients, the potential is there to exceed what I traded away.  Perhaps it will prove to be the best decision I ever made.  Perhaps it will end up unsuccessful.  It will, nevertheless, not be a failure.  I’ve taken the chance and grasped for the brass ring.

If, at the end of the year I’ve given myself, I conclude that I haven’t achieved the level I had hoped for, what is the worst that can happen?  I go back to work for someone else, my head held high because I was willing to take the risk.

Technorati Tags: Cruise lines, cruise ships, independent cruise specialist, travel agent, work at home

Your Questions About Cruises

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William asks…

Will a February cruise leaving from Baltimore, Maryland be cold?

I want to go on the Carnival Pride which leaves from Baltimore, Maryland on Sunday February 14th at 5:30 pm. Then the cruise keeps sailing on Monday February 15th and Tuesday February 16th. The cruise doesn’t get down to Florida until Wednesday February 17th. Will it be cold before we get to Florida?

John answers:

It will be cold. Generally, the weather in the Baltimore area is 30`s & 40`s during February. You will have a nice brisk breeze out on the water also. You will start feeling warmth as you get closer to Florida.

Hope I helped!

Robert asks…

How cold is a cruise from Baltimore in Feb? Carnival Pride?

How cold is it on the first and last day at sea? Is the pool/hot tub open?

John answers:

Very cool to cold.!!! Once out into the Gulf Stream, it gets quite comfortable. The pool may be closed on the first and last days.

Daniel asks…

How much tax would be added to the cost of a $549 cruise departing from Baltimore to Bermuda?

I am planning a cruise this summer, and would like to get the best deal. I have found Norwegian Cruise Lines offers a cruise for $549 for a 7 day cruise to Bermuda. I know there are extra costs aside from the actual cruise, such as gratuities and taxes. Does anyone know how I can calculate the cost of taxes into my budget? I would like to make sure I spend 1,200 to 1,500 on 2 tickets. Best rate possible.

John answers:

If you haven’t cruised before, you should be dealing with a travel agent who is experienced in cruise bookings. And you should already have some idea of which of the myriad of options are most important [cabin, ship, itinerary, etc].

You can research the costs by going to one of the travel websites, e.g. Travelocity or Expedia, etc. The fare you see in the list will usually be the base fare for the lowest category cabin. If you continue in your “booking”, you will get a screen that gives the total amount, including taxes, fees and port charges. Just cancel the transaction before you get to the stage of actually booking, of course.

It’s going to be difficult to stay within the budget you cite. The cheaper cabins may be already sold out, you will have the expense of getting to the port city, transfers to/from the port itself or parking fees, and then on the ship you will have the “extras”: tips of about $10 per passenger per day [do not skimp on this – those people work very hard for their meager earnings!], alcohol/soda, “alternative” restaurants, spa treatments, casino, shopping, bingo, shore excursions [whether on your own or through the ship], photos, etc. The “ball park figure” for Caribbean cruises is about $100 per person per day. Cruise insurance will also cost extra – don’t buy it through the cruise line. has comparisons on travel insurance.

The travel agencies will all have about the same prices for any given cruise, as the cruise lines really don’t allow discounting.  Different agents/agencies, however,  will throw in “perks” to get you to book with them, so it does pay to “shop around” a bit.

You can save money by not using the cruise line air [it’s almost always more expensive and less convenient and they usually don’t let you fly in the day before – always a good idea]. You also don’t need to use the cruise line’s transfers. Again, they are almost always more expensive and less convenient than just grabbing a cab, especially when you return. [If you fly in the day before, you can often find a hotel that has free transfers, though these also aren’t always the most convenient.]

Don’t plan your return flight for any earlier than Noon on the day of your return, or you run the risk of not making your flight. Some ports are better than others in this regard. But ships are sometimes delayed and you never know how long it’s going to take to get through security at the airport.

For lots of tips on cruising, you can go to, click on “Boards” or “Reviews” [especially “Member Reviews”], etc. You’ll find lots of info on any topic related to cruising from experienced cruisers.

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