o avoid getting stuck on the wrong ship, it pays to
do some online research before booking a cruise. The cruise
lines' own sites offer plenty of information about their own
products — you've got to love the live-from- the-bridge feeds at
the Princess Cruises site (www.princess.com) — but for
impartial reviews from both experts and the public, you need to
A good source of first-hand, unvarnished reviews is
cruiseopinion.com. Besides providing full reviews, the
site asks cruisers to rate their experiences on a scale of 1 to
100 in 42 categories. When I visited, it listed 3,987 reviews.
Holland America's Noordam, for example, had 31 ratings, with an
average score of 96 in the Good for Seniors category, and 69 for
Good for Families.
Many sites that offer reviews are selling cruises, which
raises questions about impartiality. An exception is
CruiseMates (www.cruisemates.com), an online magazine
with an overwhelming amount of material, including news and
reviews from the site's editor and creator, Anne Campbell.
Cruise enthusiasts are invited to rate ships, submit reviews,
ask questions of the CruiseMates staff and converse in the chat
room. With the Meet on Board feature, you can make friends by
e-mail first, then over poolside martinis later.
Among several sites that try to help consumers make informed
decisions with reader-generated rankings and reviews of
practically everything under the sun, including cruises, are
epinions.com (www.epinions .com) and deja.com. At
Deja, the public is invited to rate lines rather than individual
ships; when I visited, Seabourn was ranked top over all.
If you have any specific questions, several sites try to
answer them. At allexperts.com, you can send questions by
e-mail to volunteers with expertise in various fields. I chose
the cruise expert Curtis Thorson, based on his profile and
approval ratings from former questioners, and asked him for
seasickness cures. Three hours later, I received a thoughtful
reply suggesting I try Bonine, an over-the-counter medication
for motion sickness.
When you book a cruise, the vendor should be a member of a
professional organization. The Cruise Line International
Association site, www.cruising.org, allows you to search
for travel agencies affiliated with it by name, ZIP code or area
-- JOHN BARTON
Copyright 2000 The New York Times