Here are some of the hot topics on the message boards in recent weeks:
Subject: High Cruise Line Airfare Costs
There's a discussion going on about the relatively high airfare costs sometimes charged by the cruise lines in conjunction with the cruise fare, vs. currently available fares from the airlines. The original post asked why this is so.
There's no one answer, of course, but the main reason is that cruise lines book their seats with the airlines way in advance. They also book certain numbers of seats on specific air routes based on historical passenger travel patterns.
There was a time when airlines loved the cruise industry, and air fares bundled into air/sea rates may have been more favorable. Over the past several years, this has changed -- and cruise lines now may be charged airfares that are often higher than a traveler could book themselves. A great example is that right now a January roundtrip ticket between Fort Lauderdale and New York La Guardia is $155 with both Jet Blue and American. I seriously doubt that any cruise line is offering a fare this low. (In addition, cruise lines often book their guests on routings with one or more stops as opposed to non-stops.)
The good news is that if you have an air ticket booked through a cruise line and there are air travel problems (delays, cancellations, etc.), the cruise line at least knows where you are and may be able to help out. If you book the air yourself, you're on your own.
The best thing to do is check the air cost being quoted by the cruise line and then shop around. The differential may be worth the additional risk, even during winter months when delays are more frequent.
Subject: Europe 2005
As we head into the New Year, one of the hot destinations is Europe. But one big issue seems to be the shrinking value of the dollar versus the euro.
The dollar is near its all-time lows versus the euro, and there are no expectations that this is going to improve any time soon. Since I was in France, England and Italy for hotel stays as recently as October, I can tell you that shore-side prices there have gotten out of hand, largely due to the declining value of the dollar.
Taking a cruise is a financially sound strategy for traveling to Europe next summer. There are more ships from the major cruise lines than last year (Celebrity just announced that it will put a fourth ship there in the summer), and embarkation points and itineraries are more varied than ever. So there are plenty of options to choose from, and you'll be paying for the trip in dollars upfront -- and all your on-board costs will be in dollars as well, including shore excursions.
But do not let the rate of exchange prevent you from trying local foods and beverages or even special shore-side events and activities on your own. This is part of the excitement of experiencing different cultures and having new adventures. These costs will still be a reasonably small portion of your overall vacation expense and you'll have a more internationally flavored time.
Subject: On-board Complaints
Reading through the Practical Advice portion of the CruiseMates website is a good way to see what's on people's minds these days. My favorite part is the GRIPE section, and reading what constitutes an event that ruins a cruise.
There's a book called "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff. And It's All Small Stuff." Well, that's a lot of hooey, isn't it? There are major issues in life that need to be dealt with. But on a cruise, where virtually everything is going to be just great, some people get all riled up by things like the lack of chocolates at turn-down, or a slowly served coffee, or someone hogging a deck chair. Fine; but if you do have a legitimate complaint on a ship, deal with it instead of letting little annoyances damage your overall experience.
The best thing to do it if you have a problem is, first, make a timely, realistic assessment of how serious it is. And then talk to the right person. A stateroom issue should first be addressed with the room steward. A dining problem should first be addressed with the waiter. After that, go up the chain of command by department. If that doesn't work, go see the hotel director and make your complaint known -- in writing if you need to or want to. I love listening (at times) to other people complaining about travel-related horrors. It makes being in a very crowded airport seating area waiting for a late-departing plane -- after having gone through an hour long security line -- that much easier to take (oops, did I really say that?).
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.
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