Combining a cruise with a land vacation can give you the best of both worlds.
A new term but certainly not a new concept in the cruise world is "cruise and stay." To appreciate what this means, it is important to draw some distinctions between different kinds of cruises.
For many people, there isn't much of a "stay" component with cruises -- they tend to "cruise" and not "stay" anywhere except on the ship and the ports that it visits. This is because most cruisers think of a cruise as a way to get out of cold northern winters. The last thing you want to do is stay in -10-degree weather in Buffalo, N.Y., so you go on a Caribbean cruise and warm up.
But a "cruise and stay" program is designed for people who want to see a part of the world, partly by cruise ship and partly on land.
The perfect example of one of the first "cruise and stay" options is the Alaska cruise/tour: You take a cruise to see parts of the state that can only be accessed by sea (this is a lot more of the state than most people realize -- Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka); but the tour part puts you on a motorcoach or train and gets you to Denali National Park, where you can visit Mt. Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley), the highest mountain in North America at 20,320 feet.
But these days there are many other "cruise and stay" packages offered by cruise lines, because they make sense and many people booked on cruises were doing them anyway. Many people cruise and stay in Europe, for example, because in addition to the great port cities you can visit by ship, there are also many places not accessible by ship where you proably want to spend extra time. This is especially true when you spend a fair amount of money to fly to Europe.
An example is a cruise that begins in Rome (actually, the ship sails from Civitavecchia, about 60 miles away) and ends in Venice. If you only took the cruise, you would fly into Rome and spend the day getting to the ship. Rome may be printed on the Itinerary, but you are not going to see it.
Many cruises that start in Rome end in Venice, Italy (or the other way around). I have seen many people book a cruise that ends in Venice and not realize the ship arrives there at a time that only gives them enough time to get to the airport and fly home.
Can you imagine being in Venice and not seeing a single gondola? On our last European cruise, we flew into Rome and spent three nights in a hotel there. We enjoyed our 12-day cruise throughout the Greek Isles, and we disembarked in Venice, where we checked into a small hotel and enjoyed three days in one of the world's most beautiful cities.
Cruise and Stay Options from Cruise Lines You could organize all these options yourself, but if you let the cruise lines do it, you will find that many more details are taken care of. The cruise lines tend to choose the best hotels, although they can be pricey. If you can afford the price, or if you happen to find a "cruise and stay" option priced right for you, then you will see a convenience factor that makes the option much more valuable than it may first appear.
The added convenience comes from the fact that the cruise line knows exactly where you are during your vacation, and they treat your hotel stay much the same way they treat you while onboard. For example, breakfast is often included at the hotel. Several tour options will be made available to you. The best tour guides will be secured in advance to make sure you do not make a strategic mistake that could ruin your vacation.
Summing Up Cruise and Stay Vacations Any cruise can become a "cruise and stay" vacation. The question is whether you plan to do this yourself, buy a package deal from the cruise line like the popular Alaska cruise/tours, or go through a travel agent and have them organize it for you.
Buying the package from the cruise line offers you the most integrated vacation -- you have just one point of contact for everything -- but you will pay extra for this convenience. They will usually use the nicest hotels, but most of them will include all meals and tours.
Doing it yourself is the cheapest option, but it requires the most planning by you. If you have a very organized personality, you might get the most enjoyment out of this option -- saving money and making all of your own decisions. The drawback is that you could make mistakes in planning because you do not know enough about your destinations. Be sure to do as much research as you possibly can.
Travel agents can do this for you, but you will have to pay some kind of service fee in most cases. This type of vacation requires a lot of research and legwork. If a travel agent does it for you, they will be typing up itineraries and schedules for your reference during the trip. That takes a lot of time and they deserve fair compensation. Yes, they make a commission from the cruise line, but not from the airline, or from many other transfer options they make for you. If you use a travel agent you should agree in advance how much you will be paying them, and get regular updates if they are charging you a service fee based on time spent.