This article originally appeared on Planet Janet Travels
Every year I love to attend the San Diego Travel & Adventure Show. It’s a wonderful opportunity to learn from some of the biggest names in travel. I always come away with loads of great new travel tips & resources that I can’t wait to share with you – including many helpful websites designed for us travelers.
My recent blog post Travel Tips from the Experts: Part 1 covered airline tickets, hotels & other lodging, and car rentals. And, in a soon-to-be published Part 3, I’ll highlight Tours – how to find multi-day tours plus locally-guided day tours, walking tours, and food experiences.
However, here on Travel Tips: Part 2, we’re focusing on Cruises – both ocean & river cruises. This is the best of what I learned at the Travel Show plus some additional resources I think will be helpful to you in planning for that next perfect cruise!
My Cruising Experience
During my many years of travel, I have taken a few different types of cruises – including to the Caribbean, Mediterranean & Greek Isles. In 2011, I took my first river cruise which I loved! It was with AMA Waterways on the Mekong River in Cambodia & Vietnam. (photo on right)
Plus, I’ve done two expedition cruises to Antarctica & the Galapagos that were both grand adventures. So, yes, I definitely enjoy cruises. However, for me, it’s ALL about the port stops & sightseeing opportunities – and not the casinos, glitzy shows or climbing walls!
Cruise Tips From the Experts
Even though I have some experience with cruises, I am certainly no expert on the subject, which is ever-changing. So, I was interested to hear what the show’s speakers had to say.
The cruise tips are from the following travel gurus:
- Peter Greenberg – Investigative Reporter and Producer & CBS News Travel Editor
- Pauline Frommer – Editorial Director of the Frommer’s Guides & Publisher of Frommers.com
- Wayne Dunlap – Author of Plan Your Escape® – Secrets of Traveling the World for Less Than the Cost of Living at Home
Pauline shared that it’s a very good time for cruise travelers because there’s been a real “sea change” (pun intended!) in the cruise industry. Some cruise lines (like Azamara, Oceania, Celebrity, Costa & MSC) have started adding more time in port, including overnights in some ports. Plus, new and different ports have been added to cruising itineraries – like in Ireland, Australia, Asia, and Scandinavia.
Here’s a Cruise Critic article to give you more info about overnight stays: 10 Best Cruise Lines That Stay in Port Late and Overnight.
Booking Cruises – Where to Get Good Deals
Just like with hotels, Peter Greenberg said there is currently excess cruise ship capacity so good deals can be found. However, the newest ships, which often sell out quickly, will probably not offer the best pricing.
Instead, pick cruise ships that are 3-5 years old for the better deals. They will still offer good quality and often the same itinerary as that hot new pricier ship!
Peter cautioned not to be driven by price alone, but by overall value. Plus, make sure to do your research on the individual ships – and not just the cruise line – because the fleet may offer a mix of newer and older boats with different amenities and luxury levels.
Pauline strongly recommends using travel agents (with cruising expertise) for booking cruises. Besides helping you find the right trip & ship to match with your desires and budget, they often get perks from cruise lines – and possibly free upgrades. And, it doesn’t cost anymore to book with a travel agent.
Wayne Dunlap highly recommends the website – VacationsToGo.com. He said they are a solid company and, as a consolidator, the cruises they offer can be half the regular price. The website bills itself as the “World’s Largest Cruise Agency & America’s Clearinghouse for Discount Cruises.”
The VacationsToGo site also says its “90-Day Ticker is a complete listing of last-minute cruises on the world’s best cruise lines. If you see a cruise there that interests you, don’t delay. Average availability is less than seven days and many cruises sell out within hours of listing.” They also offer early bird discounts, two-for-ones and other cut-rate promotions for more advance bookings.
The following websites can be helpful for reviews of the different ships and cruise lines along with ship stats & photos. Plus, they have some information on destinations, as well as cruise tips.
Today, river cruising is the fastest growing segment of the travel industry! Europe is the most popular destination with ships on most of the major rivers. These smaller cruise ships, usually with only 150-225 passengers, offer endless picturesque scenery and the opportunity to cruise through the heart of countries and stop at quaint villages, historic sites or major cities.
And, yes, you will most likely pay more for a river cruise. Here’s a good article on The Difference Between a River & Ocean Cruise.
River Cruise Lines by Category (per Pauline):
- Over The Top: UniWorld, Tauck, Scenic
- Luxurious: AmaWaterways, Viking Cruises, Avalon Waterways
- Budget: Emerald Waterways, Croisie Europe, Grand Circle
- Family Friendly: AmaWaterways, Tauck
Viking River Cruises is the world’s largest river cruise line, with 64 ships currently in its worldwide fleet. Thanks to its extensive marketing and links with television programs like Downton Abbey, it’s pretty much become a household name over the years. However, Viking is getting a lot more competition these days – which is always a good thing!
In her presentation, Pauline named Europe’s Danube, U.S.’ Mississippi, and Asia’s Mekong as the best rivers for cruising. Plus, her favorite cruise line in the budget category is Emerald Waterways.
Pauline said that Tauck is known for the quality of its shore excursions because they have their own guides. Most of the other cruise companies share the same on-shore guides from local tour companies. She did say that Scenic, an Australian company, has fun guides. Plus, Scenic also owns Emerald Waterways.
More and more ocean cruisers & passionate European travelers are hopping over to experience a river cruise. But, just like with a regular ocean cruise, how do you choose the right ship & cruise itinerary? Luckily, there is a relatively new guide book (published July 2016) – Frommer’s EasyGuide to River Cruising – to help you navigate those waters!
In addition, you can check out the RiverCruise.com website, a division of Vacations To Go. Just like the VacationsToGo website described above, it offers discounts on river cruises.
Shore Excursions – How To Save Money
Pulling no punches, Pauline stated there is no bigger rip-off by the cruise lines than their Shore Excursions. We’ve all seen (in photos or in-person) hordes of cruise ship passengers dutifully following their local tour guides with colored umbrellas held high in the air. These days, there are alternative options – with smaller, more personal tours for possibly up to a third the price!
Here are 3 options for Shore Excursions (per Pauline):
Per their website, Cruising Excursions offers “great value shore excursions & prices lower than the cruise lines.” They provide professional, English-speaking tour guides & guarantee to get you back to your ship on time. Plus, they offer a full refund if your ship doesn’t port for any reason. They are an independent agent offering a wide choice of tours in most Mediterranean ports.
ShoreTrips offers customizable private and shared trips for shore excursions around the world. Viator is also worth a look, with its massive selection of tours and activities. Although not aimed specifically at cruise passengers, Viator allows you to filter options for each port to “Shore Excursions.”