Q. My wife and I are going on our first cruise to Alaska this May on the NCL Sun. Can you tell me if booking a penthouse suite gets you any perks such as free wine, fruit baskets, robes, etc? I have read several messages on cruise boards that indicate that you do, but I can't get any info from NCL. --Ed
A. Great question. And one I wish I could answer. Your travel agent may be able to get an answer. There may well be robes in your room, but they will be for use on the ship, not to keep. As for fruit and wine -- maybe, maybe not; it all depends on what the line's policy is at any given time, or what your travel agent may be sending you as a bon voyage gift. My suggestion: Expect little and appreciate anything you get.
Q. We will be sailing on Regal Empress in May, docking in Belize City, Roatan, Georgetown, and Cozumel. We know Cozumel and Grand Cayman and are only interested in getting to a good beach (with snorkeling) ASAP, at the lowest possible cost. We don't know Roatan or Belize City, but again, we are primarily interested in beautiful beaches and snorkeling. We have our own equipment. Is it cost- and time-effective to take a taxi to our destination? The shore excursion prices seem awfully expensive. --Karenjohn
A. It is almost always less expensive and quicker to take a taxi to the beach (especially if there are three or four of you). This way you don't have to wait for the ship's bus, and you are only paying for the taxi, not the ship's fees. However, make sure that you and the driver speak the same language, that you negotiate the price in advance, that the taxi seems safe, and that there is return service from the beach at the end of the day. You do not want to be stranded.
Q: What should I expect when going through the checkpoint on a cruise? Are they checking background and criminal history, or simply verifying that you are who you say you are? I am probably overreacting, but I would hate to be called out because my license is flagged due to an unpaid traffic ticket or something else. --Sharlotte
A. I don't think you have to worry about unpaid parking tickets when going through a pre-cruise checkpoint. They are looking for far more serious criminal histories than that.
Q. My daughter will be cruising in a few weeks with her high school band. What is the best way for her to bring money -- traveler's checks, or what? Any ideas would help. --Doug Rummel
A. I would suggest a combination of cash, credit card and traveler's checks plus perhaps an ATM card. On board, she will be able to sign virtually all of her expenses to her folio, but that folio will need to go against a credit card. Ashore, she will need a credit card, cash or traveler's checks. The latter is very safe, but not always accepted depending on where the cruise is going. An ATM is a good backup for getting extra cash, even if there is a slight fee in some places for using it. In all ports, if she is carrying cash, make sure she keeps it secure and doesn't flash it around.
Q. Reading your section today, I found your answer about Moscow interesting as we are taking the July 5 Constellation cruise from Stockholm to Dover. Since we have never been to this area, would our time be better spent going on tour to Moscow or staying in St Petersburg? Also, do you have any experience with Red October and/or Denruss, or any other independent tour operator? --Sandy Silvers
A. Boy, is that a tough question. Presuming that this is your first trip to Russia and the shore excursions being offered give you the opportunity to do both cities, I'd do them both. You'll be in for a long day to Moscow and then would only see part of St. Pete, but who knows when you'll get back that way? But that's me. Many people will probably choose to see as much of St. Pete as they can over the two days and not go to Moscow. I would take the ship's tour to Moscow, though, and not try the independent operators, just to be on the safe side. You could consider hiring a private car for the second day for St. Pete; that way you'd see more than by going with a bigger group on a bus. Just make sure you get the right visa for independent travel.
Q. Do you suppose that we in Florida will ever see any quality cruise line start a seven-day cruise from Port Canaveral (for instance) to Bermuda? I realize the Bermuda government limits the number of cruise ships, but there is no such thing as a Bermuda cruise from any Florida port -- one that spends the usual four days at the island, that is. --Bill, Sorrento, Fl.
A. I'd suggest you check the schedules; there are some transitional cruises out of Florida at the beginning and end of the season that may suit you. The timing may not be perfect, but as the ships are positioned up north, you might be able to find one that works. (Keep in mind the schedules change from year to year.) But during the summer months, you're right, all of the Bermuda cruises leave out of northern cities.
Q. I was hoping to see more cruise ships moving to the northeast ports, particularly to do innovative cruises like the one-way itineraries that the Rotterdam is doing for the early part of the summer between Boston and Montreal. (We would be on one, but the limited sailings conflict with our daughter's summer programs.) We have already been to Bermuda on three cruises and would prefer something different. Do any of the lines have plans for expanding their cruise offerings out of New York or neighboring ports for the summer - this year or next? (Unsigned)
A. Check out NCL's new Norwegian Dawn, which will be sailing out of NYC year-round. It's the first ship doing that since the 1970s. The ship's speed allows it to get to warm weather quicker than other ships making for an appealing itinerary.