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Customer Concerns: Alcohol, Weather, Prices and Policies

Tim, Why do the cruise lines persist in providing passengers with their documents only after the cancellation penalty periods have kicked in? Hermann Paul

Hermann, This is because in most cases, full cancellation penalties come into effect around the time final payment is due and most documents are only printed 21-30 days prior to sailing. If you ever need -- or just want to read over -- the contract of passage, simply request one from the cruise line or your agent at any time. Many savvy agents keep copies on file in their offices.

Tim, My husband and I and some friends are going on an Eastern Caribbean cruise with Carnival in August, and we have some questions: What are the guidelines for buying liquor at the ports and taking it on the ship? (We would like to make our own drinks in our room, but we don't know if we can use liquor that we buy.) Also, how much are you allowed to purchase and bring back home? We will be in San Juan from 6 p.m. Monday until 2 a.m. Tuesday. We are wondering how safe it will be in the evening and dark? It's too bad that we are there late in the day -- what kind of stuff is there to do? Thank you for your help! Tammy and Kevin

Hi Tammy and Kevin! Regarding liquor policy, the cruise lines are pretty straightforward in their brochures, and most of them won't let passengers bring liquor aboard for consumption. However, these policies are not always strictly enforced. San Juan is basically a safe city as long as you practice common sense and don't wander off the beaten path into any foreboding areas. Frankly, unless you're into gambling, I've never found evening calls in San Juan to be enjoyable. You could check out the casinos and nightclubs at the resort hotels. What I highly recommend is sampling some of the excellent restaurants in the Condado district. Tim

Tim, Holland America Line says there is "no tipping required" on its ships. We tip the cabin steward and waiter...Does HAL pay higher wages than other cruise lines? Bobbi

Bobbi, I've never been able to get a straight answer to that question from HAL. My gut instincts tell me they pay higher wages, but not dramatically so because most passengers tend to tip the staff voluntarily. In the unlikely event you do not receive total satisfaction, you may wish to contact your local Better Business Bureau. Tim

Hi Tim, My husband and I and our two sons, ages 14 and 23, booked a cruise for Nov. 17, 2001 on the Triumph (Carnival). We booked in February, and paid a deposit for a balcony cabin on the upper deck. How does one know what is considered "early booking?" I booked through a site on the Internet (Yahootravel), because their price beat any others I could find. Also, can you give me any insight on the weather in the Western Caribbean during that time? My boys have never cruised and are so excited! I hope I have picked a good ship, and that there will be many friends of their age for them to meet. Cindy

Hi Cindy, "Early Booking" fares refer to the discount off of the standard "tariff" that Carnival publishes in its brochure. The "tariff" price is equivalent to a full-fare airline ticket; most discounts range from 20 to 45 percent off "tariff" rates, based on the sailing date and cabin category booked. If you shopped around for price and found a good one, you can be pretty sure that you got a good deal. The Western Caribbean has generally good weather. At that time of the year, it should be between 75 and 90 degrees. Technically, November is still hurricane season, so there is a slight chance you could encounter a hurricane or tropical depression. However, in my experience, I've found that region to have better weather overall than the Eastern Caribbean, with more sun and less rain. As for your sons, Carnival tends to attract a wide range of ages so they should have a good time. But nothing is guaranteed -- you could find yourself on a ship with a good age mix, or a ship chock full of seniors or young people. Anything is possible. That said, I don't think I've ever met any young people who didn't have a great time on Carnival! Tim

Tim, I will be traveling to Spain via SwissAir in late May 2001 to meet up with the Golden Princess in Barcelona. I would like to bring 7-8 bottles of California wine with me for that cruise. Will I face any problems with Customs or the ship in doing this? Michael Spencer

Hi Michael, I can't give you a definitive answer on the Customs question because anything can happen when Customs Officials are involved! Just make sure the wine is packed as safely as possible for travel, and be ready for any number of questions that Spanish Customs may have in addition to wanting to inspect the case of wine. Princess should not have a problem with you bringing it aboard. Just be sure to have your travel agent notify Princess in advance, in writing. The maitre d' should be willing to store the wine for you, although they may charge you a corkage fee; this can usually be avoided by a nice tip up front. Tim

Tim, My husband and I are thinking about doing a transatlantic cruise on Celebrity next spring. We enjoy the longer cruises and more days at sea, and have done spring transcanal cruises in the past. My question: What kind of weather can we expect on a transatlantic cruise in the spring? We love spending time on deck enjoying the sun and pool, and wonder if the weather would be warm enough to do that on a transatlantic? Debbie Humes

Debbie, The weather can be extremely tricky on the Atlantic. If the ship is taking a more southerly route, the weather is generally warm and enjoyable, with temperatures ranging from 60 to 80 degrees. As long as the sun is shining and the Gulf Stream cooperates, I'd say you're in for an enjoyable and relaxing sea voyage! Tim

Tim, We are driving up to Vancouver, B.C. and I was wondering if we could get a better deal on a 10- or 14-day cruise if we waited until the last minute. We thought there might be some last-minute cancellations, but I don't know if the cruise lines make deals that way or not. We are figuring on going to B.C. the end of May or beginning of June. Bob from Florida

Hi Bob, Last minute discounts can be hit-or-miss. Typically, when a voyage reaches final payment date and there are still empty cabins, the cruise lines usually try to "top off" the sailing with strategic discounts like cabin guarantee promotions or resident specials targeted at certain geographic areas. More often than not, these are successful in filling up the cruise. That's not to say you won't get a cabin at the last minute, but you can probably find just as good a deal 45-30 days from sailing. That's not booking well in advance, but probably better than you will do within days of a sailing. Right now, I'm seeing some great discounts and promotions for cruises in mid-May and September, but June, July and most of August seem pretty well booked with firm pricing. Keep your eyes peeled and I'm sure you'll find something at a good price...the CruiseMates Last Minute Specials and Bargains area is a great place to watch out for deals! Tim

Dear Tim, We just returned from a Celebrity Cruise to Rio. The brochure listed it as two nights/three days. The third day was eliminated. Celebrity staff said there was a misprint in the brochure, and since passengers were upset they were checking with Miami. We never got a response. Do we have any recourse? Dianne

Dianne, Technically, the cruise lines reserve the right to alter schedules/itineraries and to cancel, shorten, lengthen or substitute port calls. Is there any recourse? Yes: I would ask my travel agent to pass along my letter expressing disappointment and dismay at the "error," and ask for compensation. In most instances, the cruise lines will offer you a credit ($100-$200 per person) on a future cruise as a gesture of goodwill. You may want to refer to my feature article "The devil is in the disclaimers," which covers all aspects of cruise line fine print, along with their liabilities and responsibilities, or lack thereof. Tim

Dear Tim, I have a very 'ample' wife, Betty, who is so large she has her own zip code. We want to go on that sleek, sexy Norwegian Wind, but Betty cannot fit in the bathroom. Would the cruise line let us park our RV on deck, or maybe camp out on deck where Betty could 'hang over' the side of the ship, so to speak? Needing help badly in Walnut Creek, CA, Christopher (and Betty, currently traveling west in a boxcar after visiting her folks in Iowa)

Dear Christopher, Your quandary is certainly unique! In fact, cruise ship bathrooms are no laughing matter; most are quite small and cramped for even the most petite passengers. That said, you might want to consider one of the newer, larger "Post-Panamax" cruise ships like Grand Princess, which are extra-wide in beam. Many of the bathrooms on the Grand are quite spacious and will hopefully accommodate your wife! Sadly, no cruise ships I know of will allow an RV parked on deck, but you may want to check out the Norway. (I've seen NASCARs parked on deck so NCL may make an exception!) I hope Betty made it back safely in the boxcar, which I can only imagine was more comfortable and safer than Amtrak.


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