When is the best time to book a cruise?

It’s a question that I often get asked, when is the best time to book a cruise? There are several factors to consider before you lock yourself in.

1) Do I care where my cabin is located? – The best cabins get booked first, so if you really want that cabin that is mid-ship and around deck 10 you will need to book early. I would say at least 8 months before departure.

2) Do I wait for a sale? – The simple answer is yes. Cruise lines have to fill ships which sail on a new voyage almost every week. The bigger the cruise line the more cabins they need to sell. Therefore cruise lines are willing to come out with a sale, either reduced prices or onboard credit, at least every month. I would subscribe to an e-newsletter and wait for a special to be released on the cruise I’m interested in.

3) Which cruises are usually reduced closer to the departure date? Generally the cruises outside school holidays which have multiple departures are reduced closer to the departure date. There are a lot of cruises to New Zealand, so over the past couple of years its always best to wait for prices to be reduced. Cruises that are unique or are re-positioning cruises often sell out fast and prices don’t fall.

4) What happens if the price goes down after I book? It can be frustrating if you book then the price goes down. Most cruise lines don’t refund the deposit, however if the discount is more than the deposit you might decide to cancel and re-book at the lower price.

5) Are cruises cheaper through the cruise line – I would not book your next cruise direct through a cruise line as you will always be able to get a better price through a travel agency or website.

The final words of advice are wait for a sale and make sure you are happy with the price before you go ahead. Its very hard to predict what will happen to prices in the future, however cruises are excellent value.

Holland America Oosterdam in Melbourne

The Holland America Oosterdam has arrived in Australia for its summer season. I was lucky enough to walk around the ship while it was in Melbourne. Each of the Holland America ships are themed, the Oosterdam honors Explorers of the 19th and 20th century. Upon boarding the ship we viewed a few cabins and the first impression was a sense of space. Most of the cabins have a shower over a bath in the bathroom and room for a couch in the main cabin.

Oosterdam

We were then shown around the ship and it was interesting to learn about a few of the activities that set them apart from other ships.

Culinary Arts Center features intriguing programs

Offers a groundbreaking experience that combines a love of food and wine with unique and engaging programs. There is a theater-style venue and state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen for the following experiences:

Hands-on cooking classes:
Unleash your inner chef and learn new culinary skills alongside award-winning chefs and culinary guests.

Appearances by special guest chefs:
Some of the world’s leading culinary experts will join you on board for live cooking shows, book signings and special menu offerings.

Winetasting and mixology:
Delight your palate with innovative food and wine pairings handcrafted by visiting vintners and Holland America Line cellarmasters. On selected cruises, take home Food & Wine recipe cards and wine tasting notes along with copies of the magazine.

Regionally inspired workshops:
Discover the secrets and unique traditions of regional cuisine, from the flavors of Alaska to pasta making in the Mediterranean. Local market tours are available in selected ports of call.

Another interesting extra is the “Dancing with the Stars at Sea” experience. You are able to participate in complimentary dance classes based on dance routines from the smash hit show “Dancing with the Stars.” This is your chance to learn the basics or new steps. You can also compete in the Dancing with the Stars: At Sea competition. Following an early elimination process, finalists will have the opportunity to take to the main stage with Holland America Line professional dancers. One Cruise Champion will emerge, based on the highest combined point total from our panel of three judges as well as audience participation.

We ended the tour with dinner at The Pinnacle Grill, a Holland America standard. With only 144 seats getting reservations early is a must. There is a $20 cover charge to dine in the Pinnacle. The food was excellent and I would recommend up to two nights dining in the restaurant.

The overall impressive I received of the Oosterdam is of refined elegance without the sometime stuffy tradition of a Cunard ship. The Oosterdam is in Australian waters until April.

Visit www.cruiseoffers.com.au for the latest deals.

Expedition Cruising – A Journey to the Kimberley

After having traveled on several of the bigger cruise ships, most recently on the Oasis of the Seas, a 225,282 tonne, 5,400-passenger floating island, it was a nice change of pace to be on the Orion – a smaller 100 passenger ship. I boarded the Orion in Broome for a 10 night luxury expedition cruise along the Kimberley coast to Darwin. After I was shown to my cabin, a spacious suite with quality furnishings (all cabins on-board are suites), the cruise started with an enjoyable sail away party as we left Broome and commenced our journey along the Kimberley coast. The first night’s dinner was also a pleasant surprise with the menu created by award-winning Sydney chef Serge Dansereau of ‘The Bathers’ Pavilion’ fame.

Each day we explored and discovered another part of the epic beauty of the Kimberley. We were able to get up close to wildlife, secluded beaches and river inlets on Zodiacs, led by an expedition leader who talked about the history and geology of the area. There were many highlights during the cruise, the wonderful staff and facilities on-board the ship, the spectacular waterfalls and the fascinating indigenous rock art. There were a number of optional activities including fishing and sightseeing flights. The fishing trips were a great success with most passengers catching a number of fish, which were brought back to the ship for dinner. The optional flight over the Mitchell falls in a helicopter was a fantastic experience. We landed on top of the falls and enjoyed spectacular views and a refreshing swim. There was also an complimentary flight over the famous Bungle Bungle ranges.

I have previously traveled through the Kimberley by land, so it was a great experience to cruise along the coast and see the world’s last unspoilt land in a different perspective. I would recommend the cruise to anyone looking for a more active and adventurous holiday but still travelling in luxury.

Visit www.cruiseoffers.com.au for the latest Orion cruise deals.

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A comedy cruise on the P&O Pacific Pearl

P&O Cruises offers a range of short cruises with different themes such as comedy and food & wine, which is perfect for the first time cruiser. I decided that comedy would be a good distraction for three nights while the ship sails up the Australian coast to nowhere. My first impression of the P&O Pacific Pearl was very good, cabins were spacious with nice wood furnishings, the public rooms also has a good open feel to them. As a first night treat I was booked into the Celebrity chef Luke Mangan restaurant ‘Salt Grill’. For a nominal fee you are treated to first class restaurant food in an excellent environment, definitely a  must do. Each night they had a range of comedians in the main theater, a highlight was Peter Rowsthorn from Kath and Kim fame. For those that wanted to kick on, the night club in the Dome was a highlight. Each day there were many activities to attend, from trivia sessions to driving a V8 car simulator. It really was up to you how little or much you did each day. The staff onboard was excellent, a nice touch was the towel animal that appeared on my bed at night. Overall I would recommend a short cruise with your family or a group of friends, a fun three days.

Visit www.cruiseoffers.com.au for the latest P&O cruise deals.

P&O towelP&O balconyP&O atrium P&O pool P&O dining room

Royal Caribbean’s ship Quantum of the Seas

Royal Caribbean cruise line dazzled cruise aficionados with details of its forthcoming Quantum of the Seas ship, which will be the first at sea to offer attractions like bumper cars, simulated skydiving and an observation capsule called The North Star, with a bird’s eye view 300 feet (91 meters) above the water.

“Without a doubt, Quantum of the Seas is a game changer with technological innovations never imagined aboard a cruise ship,” said Stewart Chiron.

Quantum will launch in November 2014 and will homeport in Cape Liberty, in Bayonne, N.J., with winter sailings to the Bahamas and Caribbean.

Royal Caribbean executives said The North Star was inspired by the London Eye. The capsule can hold 14 people and is attached to a crane-like arm.

The skydiving attraction, called RipCord, uses a powerful wind flow to keep participants aloft while floating and spinning over an outdoor deck. “You’re not touching anything but the air,” said Adam Goldstein, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean International.

An indoor complex called SeaPlex will host basketball, table tennis, trapeze instruction and bumper cars. The space converts to a dance floor for roller-skaters, with a DJ hovering above in a see-through pod. Another space, Two70, has a 270-degree panoramic view and will host aerialists and other performances.

Quantum of the seas

Cabins have modular features like interior doors so that adjacent bedrooms can be connected for large families or multi-generational groups.

Not everything on Quantum is new to the industry. Norwegian’s Epic ship introduced rooms designed for solo travelers, which Quantum will also have. Disney’s Dream and Fantasy ships have “virtual portholes” for windowless staterooms offering live views of the sea, and all of Quantum’s interior cabins will also have “virtual balconies” consisting of LED screens with projected ocean views.

Tickets for Quantum’s first sailing will go on sale to the public June 4, with Royal Caribbean regular cruisers getting an early shot at tickets starting May 27. Prices were not announced but cruise lines typically charge more for new ships than for other cruises. Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., said there would be no extra fees for many of the ship’s attractions, including The North Star and skydiving.

Royal Caribbean also owns the largest cruise ships in the world, the Oasis of the Seas and the Allure of the Seas, which carry more than 6,000 people apiece. Quantum will carry 4,180 passengers.

For all of the best cruise deals visit www.cruiseoffers.com.au.

Queen Mary 2 in Melbourne

While the Queen Mary 2 was in Melbourne I was lucky enough to enjoy lunch and a walk around on this lovely ship. The first impression is the size of the ship. At 151,400 tons and  nearly four football fields in length it is an imposing ship. When walking onboard it is like stepping back in time. Cunard, the owner of Queen Mary 2, is aiming to bring back the classic age of cruising back. Highlights of a cruise onboard include afternoon tea served in the Queens Room, the Royal Court Theatre, where you can enjoy nightly Broadway style shows and dining in one of the restaurants onboard. Each cruise includes a number of formal nights when you get to dress up in black tie.

Queen Mary 2‘s facilities include fifteen restaurants and bars, five swimming pools, a casino, a ballroom, a theatre, and the first planetarium at sea. There are also kennels on board, as well as a nursery.

Visit www.cruiseoffers.com.au for the latest cruise deals and itineraries

Carnival Spirit Arrives in Australia

When the Carnival Spirit cruise ship sails into Sydney Heads today, winding up a 16-night voyage from Hawaii, its contingent of Australian passengers will be visible. Many will be on the vessel’s top decks, drinks raised, leading a welcome-to- Australia party. “The Aussies are ready,” says the senior vice-president of guest operations for Carnival, Mark Tamis. “They’re going to bring the ship in for us.”. Carnival, the world’s biggest cruise company, has spent $US7 million ($6.9 million) stripping the vessel of American apparel to fit with the needs of Australian passengers, including installing Australian power points and switching the on-board currency to our dollar. The changes extend to the drinks menu. VB, New and Carlton Draught is on tap, bottles of Pure Blonde and Crownies are in fridges. The “sav blanc” is from Marlborough, the “cab sav” from McLaren Vale. Advertisement Fat Jimmy’s, a barbecue on the ship’s highest deck, is tipped to be the hot spot on board this summer. Here, passengers can order slow-cooked pulled pork, smoky chicken breast or Black Angus beef sausages, with salads, jacket potatoes and onion rings. A few steps up – literally and gastronomically – is the Spirit’s Nouveau Steakhouse, the only restaurant on board that attracts a surcharge ($35 for four courses). The steakhouse is worth every cent: prime cuts are wheeled to your table prior to cooking, seafood options include lobster tail and ahi tuna tartare, and service is excellent. Another change is the launch of theme nights. Beyond the usual fancy dress parties that are held on cruises, Spirit staff start the fun at dinner. Meals and drinks match the theme, and waiters break into choreographed dance moves. Then the party moves to the pool deck, with live music, themed cocktails, games and giveaways. Breakfast aboard Carnival Spirit. Interestingly, when Carnival asked its Australian Facebook fans to vote on favourite themes, locals expressed the same preferences as American passengers: Mexican fiesta and Caribbean beach party. Pack your sombrero and practise your reggae moves; these party styles are set to be held on every cruise. Spirit’s most advertised attraction, Green Thunder, is billed as the world’s steepest waterslide at sea. It lives up to the hype. The almost vertical drop induces shock and awe in equal measure.

Best spots on board

Head for the ship’s Serenity adults-only retreat before everyone else works out where it is. Just before sunset is another ideal time to curl up on a cabana or have a spa at Serenity. Plus, Serenity’s outdoor bar is open later than most (until 3am or 4am, if people are still buying). At breakfast, fresh omelets are also available at La Playa Grille buffet’s back counter – where the queue is shorter. For lunch, be pampered by waiters in the Empire Restaurant (12-1.30pm). At dinner, choose “any time” seating or help yourself at La Playa Grille. The Green Thunder waterslide is busy between 11am-3pm, or try it on port days, when most people are on land.

For all of the latest deals visit cruise offers

Rhapsody of the Seas gets a new look

After five summer seasons in Australian waters, Rhapsody of the Seas has enjoyed a month long refurbishment in March 2012. All of the cabins have been redecorated from floor to ceiling and has raised the vessel to a more sophisticated level to appeal to passengers who wanted affordable cruising but were propared to pay a little extra for finer cuisine and exclusive retreats. There is also extra dining options, more entertainment and new carpets, curtains and furniture. New specialty restaurants are Giovanni’s Table – serving Italian food – the Chops Grille steakhouse – and the Park Cafe, which serves light and healthy food.

The Rhapsody of the Seas returns to Australia in October and there are some wonderful specials including free upgrades and buy one get one 50% off. Visit Cruise Offers for all the latest specials.

What are the highest rated ships?

Each year Berlitz releases their comprehensive annual ranking of cruise ships. This year Hapag Lloyd’s Europa retained its number one spot for the 13th consecutive year. The reviews are compiled by British cruise critic and author Douglas Ward, who has been reviewing cruise ships for 28 years and has spent over 6000 days at sea. He takes into account 400 items including accommodation, cuisine, entertainment, spa/fitness/recreation and service.

SeaDream I and SeaDream II were the next highest scorers, followed by Seabourn. The Queen Mary 2 dominated the large resort style ships followed by joint runners up Celebrity Solstice, which will be based in Australia this summer and Celebrity Equinox.

Please visit Cruise Offers for some great specials.

Countdown to the Pacific Dawn

1 week of fun & relaxation, here I come!

I am counting down the days to my cruise on the Pacific Dawn this weekend!

My tickets are in my travel wallet, my shore excursions are booked and my skin is ready for a tan (spf 30+ will be involved).

Luke Mangan’s Salt Grill is on my list of things to experience, hello juicy steak.  After a night burning up the dance floor in the Dome you will most likely find me chilling out in Oasis.

When back from my wonderful week I will give you an update on the ship and all the great facilities and activities.

Bon Voyage!

Alicia

Cruise Offers
Cruise Specialist