Baskets, Booze and Bamboozlers

Hi Tim, I plan to take my family (wife 39, myself 39, son 15, son 13 next year) on our first cruise next summer. I'm already reading several sites and newsgroups to figure out the best ways to go about this. I'd like your ideas on the best cruise line and ship, and the best place to go for my family's dynamics. Also, which cabin type is the lowest that you think would be suitable for the family (due to cost, we'd have to be in the same cabin)? Cost is a factor; I'm not poor, just not rich. The cost would also affect where we'd go. We want to take a seven-day cruise, and we live in a mid-Atlantic state so we'd probably be best served leaving from Florida. When do you believe is the best time to book a cruise: as early as possible, a couple months prior to the cruise, or sometime in between. Sorry for all the questions, but we are brand-new at this. Thanks, I like reading your Q & A page. Dave

Hi David, I'd be glad to help out in any way I can! I take it you are talking about summer 2001? First off, I'd recommend a ship with larger cabins such as one of the newer Carnival, Princess, RCI or Celebrity ships. All have accommodations that are quite spacious, and Carnival, Princess and RCI even have some cabins designed specifically for families. However, these family cabins or family suites tend to fetch top dollar and sell out quickly, so you might have a hard time getting them.

On the flip side, any of the standard cabins can easily accommodate a family of four. It might seem a bit tight at first, but since you truly don't spend much time in your cabin, you'll be OK. If you can afford it, you might look at taking two inside cabins side by side, or an ocean-view and an inside cabin across the hall from each another. All of the above-mentioned lines have great programs for kids, "tweens" and teens, and should provide a great venue for a family vacation. My order of preference would be: 1st Tier Royal Caribbean's Voyager/Explorer of the Seas Carnival Destiny, Triumph or Victory Grand Princess 2nd Tier Enchantment of the Seas (Royal Caribbean) Century (Celebrity) 3rd Tier Any of the other Royal Caribbean or Carnival ships, or NCL's Norway The first-tier ships are brand-new or just a year or two old, and are truly floating resorts. The Voyager/Explorer even offer ice skating and rollerblading rinks, rock climbing walls and 50's style diners. The kids facilities are PHENOMENAL! I know for a fact that you, your wife and your teen sons would have a blast. The Grand Princess is not far behind, and the Carnival ships are pretty darn impressive too, just not as "cutting edge." If there is not a tremendous price difference between the Voyager/Explorer, take either of these ships. You won't regret it! The second and third tier ships are pretty good too. They certainly won't disappoint, but you just can't compare them to the first tier. As for when to book, I'd suggest right now, as space for the summer months (especially triple and quad occupancy cabins) can sell out quickly. It seems every family wants to cruise the Caribbean in the summer these days, so demand is high--and as occupancy levels rise, so do prices. All of these ships travel to either the Western or Eastern Caribbean. I've personally found the Western Caribbean to offer a bit more in the way of water sports and activities, while the eastern itineraries offer a little more land-based sightseeing and shopping. If this helps, start shopping these ships for pricing and availability. If you need help making a decision from there, I'd be glad to offer an opinion. Also, if you need more details or I've missed something, don't hesitate to write back! All my best, Tim

Hi Tim, We are booking a cruise for next February. We have always booked on Princess. Our friends want to book on Costa. They have never been on a cruise before. Do you think we would be happy on Costa? Thank you! Connie

Hi Connie, My preference would be to go with Princess. I feel they present a much more consistent and superior product in terms of food, service and overall product delivery. I've had some wonderful cruises on Costa, but I've found this to be a cruise line that people either love or hate--with little in between. If the price differential is not great, stick with Princess. Tim

Tim, I ordered a fruit basket for my daughter on her cruise from Well Wishers from this website. The basket was pathetic. It had two apples, one orange, one pear, two bars of cheese, one prepackaged pack of crackers. Having paid almost $60 for this basket, I'm very disappointed. I'm trying to contact this company, but it doesn't have an e-mail site or website. Can you help me locate them? Bonnie

Dear Bonnie, You can call their customer service department at 800-423-6525. I've always found them to be extremely helpful. In fact, when I called to report an unsatisfactory basket one time, they refunded me in full, no questions asked, and even sent a replacement basket to the passengers after they returned home, free of charge! In the unlikely event you do not receive total satisfaction, you may wish to contact your local Better Business Bureau. Tim

Dear Tim, I know that drinks can very expensive on cruise ships. When we are in port, are we allowed to bring back rum or whatever their specialty is in that port? Are we allowed to drink this while on the ship? Thanks for any information on this subject. Dave and Melody

Dear Dave and Melody, While many cruise lines reserve the right to confiscate liquor brought on board and hold it until you disembark, very few ships actually enforce this policy. You may bring liquor aboard but bear in mind that you must consume it in your cabin. Tim

Hi Tim, We are considering booking a Sky Suite on the Celebrity Infinity, and see that you can request a laptop computer for use in the suite. Is there a per-minute charge for being online, or is this complimentary for booking the suites? Godiva

Dear Lady Godiva, While the laptop is gratis, Celebrity will indeed charge you their normal connection fees for using the Internet connection from your cabin. Personally, I would refrain from using the in-cabin laptop because you may be prone to use it more often, and rack up a hefty charge from the comfort and convenience of your suite. Tim

Dear Tim, I recently got a letter regarding the settlement of a class action suit against Carnival for fraudulent port charges. We get a small voucher good toward a future cruise. My question is this: I sailed on three different occasions during the period covered, so will they send me vouchers for each of the sailings, or do I need to supply receipts for all of the cruises? I do have the receipts. Your help is appreciated. Cora

Dear Cora, Under the terms of Carnival's settlement, you should receive vouchers for each of the cruises you sailed on during the covered settlement period. There is no need to provide them with receipts as proof of sailing. Tim

Dear Tim, I called Cruise.com and BestPriceCruises.com and requested quotes for a Royal Caribbean cruise out of Galveston in November. I immediately got quotes from Cruise.com. I told them I was getting a group together, and asked if I would receive a free berth after 15 people (8 cabins). They said that I would. I then called BestPriceCruises and asked for the same information. They also said I would receive a free berth after 15 people (8 cabins). Since BestPriceCruises was a little cheaper on the quote, I chose them to do my bookings. I called several times to add passengers' names. After all these bookings, they now tell me I cannot get a free berth; they said they cannot get the group benefit. I called Cruise.com and they promised that they could. It's been less that a week since I booked and now if I cancel, each person would be penalized $75. I am just sick. I feel violated and cheated. I called today and told my agent how I felt. I asked to speak to her supervisor and she said he wasn't in. I said that I wanted him to call me as soon as he comes in. I also called BestPriceCruises another time, and just talked to the person that answered. I asked her if I would receive a free berth with more than 15 people and eight cabins. She assured me that I would. Can you help me with some direction here? I really liked my agent, but now I don't trust them. Melody Mulanax

Dear Melody, Yes, the information you originally received from BestPriceCruises is correct. The "1 for 15" is standard policy at Royal Caribbean, and you are entitled to that free berth. If you are getting the runaround, don't hesitate to cancel your booking and dispute the $75 per person fee with your credit card company. If BestPriceCruises did not deliver on their promise, the credit card company should stand behind you. You may also wish to call Royal Caribbean directly and see if they will simply transfer the bookings over to another agency. I trust the cancellation penalty is being charged by the agency and not the cruise line? And in the future, make sure to get everything in writing, especially when booking groups where amenities, concessions and free berths may be involved. You may wish to refer to my article "Safety in Number or Holiday of Horrors" which deals specifically with booking groups. Tim

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