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By PAUL MOTTER
How is a cruise ships different from any other travel destination? It is mobile and can change its location seasonally to follow the sun. Every spring, dozens of cruise ships re-position from the Caribbean and other tropical itineraries to their summer destinations of Europe, Alaska and Canada.
I have already cruised in Europe twice this year, having just returned from the Western Med, aka "the Riviera." And while the ships are wonderful and the destinations are as exotic as ever, I have to reiterate that the air service on the East Coast is as bad as ever.
Our flight from JFK last Sunday was delayed by over three hours, and then we sat on the tarmac for three hours more. A recent airport study rates New York's JFK as the "latest" airport with 42.4% of all flights delayed, Chicago is number two (42.3%) and Newark NJ is number three (39%). Looking west, Oakland and San Jose airports rank among the fastest.
For this reason I am saying, "Go West Young Man or Woman." Especially if you haven't booked a summer cruise yet, you love last minute bargains, and you want to avoid the worst of air travel. The offers for Alaska cruises are getting sweeter by the week, and there are also fantastic Hawaii cruises available.
Consider this 7-night Hawaii cruise with AIRFARE INCLUDED for the best price I have ever seen; $799 per person. Even balcony cabins with air are just $999 per person (see this offer in our listings to the right).
How about a balcony cabin on a Princess cruise going for only $699 per person? This cruise starts in Vancouver and ends in Whittier Alaska where you can choose to add a land tour or fly directly home. Alaska land tours are readily available from all of the major cruise lines.
There are plenty of other Alaska and Hawaii cruise bargains available. Just be sure to pick the ship, cabin and itinerary that is right for you. For more information see our collection of articles on Alaska cruising.
If you want to see Hawaii, there is hardly a better way than the ships of NCL-America. All three ships visit Honolulu, Maui, Kauai, and the big island of Hawaii.
You will see the beauty of the Napali coastline (picture above), the active volcano and coffee fields of the big island, the laidback lifestyle of Maui and the excitement of Honolulu with its shopping, nightclubs, museums and Waikiki Beach.
Imagine the cost and travel logistics of trying to see all of these Hawaii attractions any other way and the advantages of a Hawaii cruise are readily apparent.
Keep in mind, however, that an NCL-America cruise is not like a typical Caribbean cruise. NCLA is the only cruise line allowed by U.S. law to offer 7-day cruises confined solely to the Hawaiian Islands. Other cruise lines must sail four or five days from the mainland just to get to the islands. The reason is NCL-America ships are U.S. flagged and crewed by U.S. Coast Guard certified U.S. seamen (and seawomen, of course).
This does change the experience a little bit, especially for very experienced cruisers. NCL-America crewpeople are all American, and it is a little odd at first to hear your waiters and room stewards talking to you in their "All American" accents. However, the crew is very well trained in a special school run by NCL in Piney Point, MD, and they are ready and willing to please.
No matter what, this is Hawaii and you are in port every day. There is no better way to see the islands.
This is the last season in Hawaii for the newest NCLA ship, Pride of Hawaii. While the first two ships, Pride of Aloha and Pride of America, have their distinctions, Pride of Hawaii is the newest, largest and most representative of the trademarked "Free-style Cruising" that NCL is famous for. With ten different restaurants on board and a wide variety of exotic entertainment options, this ship will probably give you the best cruising experience in Hawaii in 2007.
There is one more West Coast cruise option to discuss, the Mexican Riviera. Carnival just announced its first year-round deployment of a ship, Carnival Elation, sailing to Mexico from beautiful San Diego.
San Diego is a very special city, and if you have not seen it then it is definitely worth a visit. We were talking to Europeans just last week who said it is their favorite U.S. city when including their children. From the nearly perfect weather 365 days/year to attractions which include arguably the finest zoo in the entire world, the original SeaWorld, a bustling downtown and great beaches and museums.
Royal Caribbean will be moving its first Voyager-class ship, Mariner of the Seas, to the West Coast as well. Sailing out of Los Angeles beginning in February of 2009, this ship is a destination unto itself. This is will be huge boon to cruise lovers who may not be crazy about flying. These are ships to be experienced, and I predict it will be a big hit on the West Coast.