Berlitz Guide for 2013 Arrives

| Thursday, 20 Sept. 2012

The new Berlitz Guide to Cruising was just released on Sept. 15.

For those who don't already know, The Berlitz Guide to Cruising is undeniably the cruise industry "bible." This is solely due to the dedication of its author, the "hardest working man in the cruise review business," Doug Ward. Doug spends more time on board various cruise ships than any cruise writer I have ever known, met or heard about.

In the preface to his 2013 update to The Berlitz Guide to Cruising Doug writes, "To date, I have completed 5800 days at sea (meaning days aboard various cruise ships, not necessarily out at sea), participating in more than 1020 cruises and 157 transatlantic crossings."

Wow. That adds up to over 15 years cruising. I have only sailed across the Atlantic five times, and that probably seems like a lot to some people. Of course, like me, Doug also worked aboard cruise ships. In his book he mentions that he "worked for eight different cruise lines in various roles." One of those was the Cunard Queen Elizabeth (the original one built in 1939, not the one in service today) and I would bet that many of his crossing were done while in service.

I have had the honor of spending many hours talking with Doug, so I know that he worked as a musical director on ships - in the entertainment department, as I did. Doug also likes to relate the story of being employed by EMI Music in the UK and having the job of transcribing some of the very first Beatles songs into musical scores.

But Doug has been writing the Berlitz Guide to Cruising since 1985, and his knowledge of the cruise industry is his most characteristic trait. Speaking with Doug, one senses that he lives and breathes the cruise business.

Have you read or do you own any Berlitz Guides to Cruising? Tell us here: Cruise Deals Forum

Revelatory Information in the 2013 Berlitz Guide

While Doug's ability to compare individual ships is undeniable, what I personally find most interesting is his unbiased opinions on how cruising has changed and where it is going in the future.

In the section entitled "What to Look for in 2013" Doug writes, "Today, more than 50 ships measuring over 100,000 gross-tons are in service, with more on their way." That is a great way to begin what he describes as the "new economic realities" of cruising.

I recall when the first post 100,000-ton ship was introduced, Carnival Destiny in 1996. It only held the title "world's largest cruise ship" for a few months before Grand Princess came out at closer to 110,000-gross tons. Royal Caribbean would soon introduce Voyager of the Seas at an astounding 128,000-tons and we cruise writers were rife with questions about port facilities - only Miami had the port that could accommodate it. Next year Voyager of the Seas will be sailing in Asia and the 220,000-ton Allure of the Seas will be sailing out of Fort Lauderdale.

Today, as Doug further writes, "Given the economics of scale and shipbuilding costs, the new 'optimum' size for the large resort ships appears to be about 140,000-tons, with a capacity of about 3500 passengers."

So we see a term Doug now uses often, "large resort ships" with certain trends he offers us "at a glance..."

  • More charging for extras
  • More multi-generational cruising
  • More single parent cruising
  • More themed dining, dining packages, 'pay as you eat' venues, healthy spa menu choices, etc.

I do not want to give away everything he says, I want you to buy his book, because he digs into an area I also like to write about; "value for money" in cruising. In the section he calls "The Truth about low Fares" he says, "...although bargains still exist, it is important to read the small print." He notes that "a highly discounted fare may apply only to certain dates and itineraries..."

He continues, "Your cabin choice, grade or location may not be available. You may be limited to first seating at dinner aboard a ship that operates two seatings... Port charges, handling fees, fuel surcharges or other taxes may cost extra."

But is cruising still a good value? "It's never been better," he writes, "thanks in part to an economic downturn that forced cruise lines to offer more incentives - such as onboard credit, cabin upgrades and other perks in an effort to keep their ships full." He points out one common benefit of cruising; "The price of your vacation is protected by advance pricing, so you know before you go that your major outgoings have already been set. A fuel surcharge is the only additional cost that may change at the last minute."

How to Get the Best Deal

Doug recommends that cruise consumers "find out what's available by reading newspaper advertising and checking the Internet, then find a travel agent that specializes in cruises." He further explains, "A good agent will get you the best price, as well as upgrades and other benefits you won't be able to get on your own."

The reason for this is a bit controversial in travel agent circles, and although Doug does not directly address the controversy, he hints at it. He writes, "Big travel agency groups and consortiums often reserve large blocks of cabins, and smaller independent agencies can access extensive discounts not available on the Internet. Because cruise lines consider travel agents as their principle distribution system, they provide special discounts and value-added amenities that aren't provided to Internet sites."

Where is the controversy? It is that cruise lines pay higher commission percentages to travel agents that sell more cruises, but many of those big agencies are still using those profits to reduce to cost of cruises in the form of rebates, or as Doug mentioned, other "added incentives".

Despite efforts by cruise lines to level the playing field, some travel agencies still use some of their "profit" to buy onboard credit or upgrades for their customers - making them more competitive in the field of travel agents. The truth about modern age of cruise agencies is this; size counts, at least when it comes to predatory pricing.

Now I could also argue that you will get better service from a smaller travel agency with more time to focus on you as an individual, but that is just not always true. In the cruise business there is a lot to be said for experience. Those who sell more cruises do so because they are better at handling all of the details involved in selling a cruise. (To be clear, these last three paragraphs are mine, not Doug Ward's.)

15 Cost-Cutting Ploys

The next section of Doug Ward's Berlitz Guide is the part the cruise lines probably do not want you to read, so I will not give it all away. Doug names 15 different ways in which the cruise lines have been able to reduce cruise fares and here is a sample:

  • Reduce menu selections
  • Reducing food portions
  • Removing trays from the buffet so you can't carry as much food
  • Cutting speed between ports (to save on fuel)

How to Add Value to Your Cruise

Here I see Doug offering ideas that are new to even me. He recommends booking cruises early for the best cabin choice and location, but also for the best chance at getting an upgrade when they are offered closer to the sailing date.

He notes that newer, highly publicized ships have a "premium" price, so the best value comes on older ships. But he also recommends booking a lower category (cheaper) cabin on a better ship, so you pay the same price but you get better food and entertainment.

Doug recommends drink packages for families, and also joining the frequent cruiser clubs offered by the cruise lines for added perks like free Wi-Fi, onboard credit and private cocktail parties.

Buy the Book

I just bought the 2013 Berlitz Guide to Cruising in Kindle form at Amazon for just $9.99. At that price it is a steal. The paperback edition is listed for $24.99, but sells for $15.99.

This just goes to show you that "E-cruising is in" - which happens to be the name of yet another chapter in the book, but you have to buy the book to see what it says.

Have you read or do you own any Berlitz Guides to Cruising? Tell us here: Cruise Deals Forum

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