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EDITORIAL

The 10 Commandments of Cruise Drinking

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On dry land, I’m not really much of a drinker, especially at home. But put me on a ship and… well, let’s just say that I’ve yet to meet the beverage package I didn’t get my money’s worth out of. When a friend recently asked me what it is about setting sail that triggers my inner partier, I claimed that the salt in the ocean air leaves me parched. That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it. And it was while enjoying a beverage or four while gazing out at the sea that I decided we cruise drinkers — a cousin of the day drinker — needed a set of guidelines which we could pass on to newbies. And thus, the 10 Commandments of Cruise Drinking was born.

1. Thou shalt tip your bartender.

I know, I know, if you have the alcohol package, gratuities are already included. But if there are two people on board I think deserve something extra, it’s the person who makes my bed better than mama ever did and the one who puts umbrellas in my cocktails.

2. Thou shalt partake of the drink of the day.

 On my first cruise, I spent the entire week sipping the same thing I do back home. Only on the last day to one of the people I’d met on board point out that as delicious as a bourbon and coke might be, there was a whole world of beverages just waiting to be explored. Now, no matter what the drink of the day might be, I give it a try.

3. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s drink.

Rather than be jealous of that red, white and blue concoction the person two barstools down is drinking, remember the most quotable line from When Harry Met Sally and simply say to the bartender, “I’ll have what she’s having!”

4. Thou shalt not consider olives a food group.

There’s nothing I love more than sitting at the bar, looking out at the ocean while chatting with whoever winds up sitting on the barstool next to me. But trust me: If you don’t occasionally wander over to the buffet and seek sustenance, you’ll eventually fall off that barstool. I’m not saying that I’m speaking from experience, but I am totally speaking from experience.

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5. Thou shalt remember to hydrate.

Water, water everywhere… so make sure to have some to drink. You know how they say everything’s better on a cruise ship? Pretty sure hangovers might be the one thing that doesn’t apply to.

6. Thou shalt not sprawl.

While many passengers walk up to a bar, order their drink and walk away, others enjoy sitting for a spell. Since space at the bar can sometimes be at a premium, it’s just plain rude to put your towel on the barstool to your left and backpack on the barstool to your right. Besides, if you make room for someone to sit there, you might make a new friend. And more important, that new friend might buy you a drink.

7. Thou shalt not be rude to the bartender.

Quickest way to make sure you’re not at the top of a bartender’s list? Snap your fingers at them or shout “Hey, you!” Patience and a smile will get your further than demands and a snarl.

8. Thou shalt be ready to order.

When things are slow, it’s fun to talk to the bartender, see what he recommends, ask questions. But if there are others clamoring for his attention, don’t be that person who doesn’t know what they want to drink. My motto here: “When the bar’s a hoppin’, don’t make the tender be stoppin’.”

9. Thou shalt not smuggle booze on board.

I know a lot of folks will just ignore this one in much the same way many ignore the whole “honor thy mother and thy father” commandment on that other list (despite that one literally being carved in stone). But those same heathens will probably also skip out on tipping their bartender.

10. Thou shalt know when to say when.

You know that guy who is obnoxiously loud, stumbling down the halls and throwing up in the elevator? Yeah… don’t be that guy.

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Creating The Ultimate Cruise Ship

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Cruisers tend to fall into two different categories. There are those who are loyal to one line, whether because of its rewards program or the fact that it “fits” their particular style. Others jump from line to line, often deciding which ship to sail on based on the amenities — from restaurants to ropes courses — it happens to offer. And it is those in the latter category for whom we’ve decided to create the ultimate cruise ship.

Imagine if you could take the best features from each ship and meld them into something of a Frankenship. What would you take from the various ships you’ve sailed over the years? We compiled some of our favorite elements to create our dream ship. Read on to see what we’d steal from Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Princess ships… then hit the comments to add your own elements!

The Ultimate Cruise Ship

Ship Design, Interior
We’re not naming names or pointing fingers, but too many ships have public spaces that are basically indistinguishable squares and rectangles. By thinking outside the literal box, Royal Caribbean’s public spaces offer unconventional shapes and eclectic designs that make exploring a delight. (It doesn’t hurt that many of those spaces are filled with unique, occasionally downright odd, artworks.)

You never know what you’ll find on the Royal Esplanade.

Ship Design, Exterior
Norwegian changed the game with their Waterfront area, putting passengers on their megaships closer to the ocean they love thanks to venues which offer indoor or outdoor seating. And it’s not just the restaurants. Want to sip a drink at an outdoor table while listening to the jazz band playing in fat cats? Thanks to the fact they pipe the music outside, you can. So popular is this format that it’s definitely become a trend, with ships like Carnival Vista and MSC Seaside among the latest to offer their spin on it.

Dining venues along The Waterfront offer beautiful sea views.

Cocktail Bar
Every ship offers specialty drinks at their watering holes, but Carnival elevated the game with the introduction of the Alchemy Bar. Don’t come here looking for a glass of wine or a beer. This hot spot is all about hand-crafted cocktails that are, as the menu says, “mood enhancers developed by our mixologists.” Don’t see something on the menu — which is almost as much fun to read as the drinks are to consume — that’s to your liking? The bartenders will make something specifically for you, with or without alcohol. (But if you don’t find the Cucumber Sunrise to be the most refreshing thing you’ve ever consumed on a cruise ship, there might be something wrong with you!)

The Alchemy Bar has the cure for what ails you.

Wine Bar
Over the past few years, many cruise lines have introduced wine bars. But Holland America put a unique spin on the concept by introducing Blend on the ms Koningsdam. Passengers are offered the opportunity to bring out their inner Angela Channing (and bonus points if you get the TV reference) by creating their own vintage. After learning a little bit about wine and creating their signature label, guests can then take their bottle of vino to dinner!

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Entertainment Venue
Every ship has a theater, but Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas is the only ship currently sailing out of the United States in which you’ll find the jawdropping Two70 complex. During the day, the two-story aft-facing space offers to-die-for views and a great place to snag lunch (thanks to the attached Cafe Two70). But at night, the space transforms into a theater space combining live performers and technology for a one-of-a-kind experience that redefines the concept of cruise ship entertainment. (We suspect Eden, the dining and entertainment complex which will be unveiled when Celebrity Edge debuts in 2018, will give Two70 some competition in this category!)

Entertainment offered in Two70 is as jawdropping as the venue itself.

Asian Restaurant
There are a fair number of so-so Asian restaurants on cruise ships. And then there is Carnival Cruise Line’s take on the standard, JiJi’s Asian Kitchen. From the simple-yet-elegant design to the limited-but-perfectly-curated menu, this place gets everything right. The pork belly melts in your mouth, the Kung Pao chicken has just the right kick and the house cocktail — a green tea martini — goes down almost too easily. It’s impossible to imagine our Ultimate Cruise Ship not finding room for this gem.

Carnival Sunshine

Nanjing Style Duck. photo credit: CCL

Unique Dining Experience
In some of the categories we’ve listed, there’s room for debate. But this one is, as far as we’re concerned, a slam dunk for Royal Caribbean’s Wonderland. From the magical menu to the unusual presentation of each course, this is a foodie’s paradise. But be warned: dishes like Tomato Water and Liquid Lobster won’t be for everyone. This is not a place for picky eaters or children, despite the Alice in Wonderland theme. But if you’re adventurous and ready for a meal you’ll never forget, this is definitely the spot for you.

Believe it or not, this is what passes for a “salad” in Wonderland!

Beverage Package
There’s no clear winner here, so instead, we want to pick-and-choose elements from the drink packages offered by a few lines. While we’re not big fans of Carnival’s 15-drinks-a-day rule, we love that it includes things like coffees, milkshakes and smoothies. (The fact that those cut into your 15 drinks a day are where the problem comes in.) And while Norwegian’s drink package is ridiculously priced at over $100 a day (and does not include nearly the selection that Carnival’s Cheers! package does), the vast majority of cruisers are able to get the package as a “free” perk when booking.

Bed
That’s right, we’ve thought of everything… including the place where you’re going to rest up for the next day’s activities. And honestly, there was no choice but to go with Princess Cruise Line’s Luxury Bed. They consulted a sleep-expert when developing it, for heaven’s sake! So loved is this bed that people actually come home from cruises and order one for their own home.

What features, venues or other attributes would you insist that your “ultimate cruise ship” come equipped with?

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EDITORIAL

5 Reasons To Plan Next Year’s Holiday Cruise Now

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If you get annoyed by the fact that many stores put out Christmas decorations right after Labor Day, you might want to stop reading now. Because we’re about to advocate that you start planning your 2018 — or even 2019 — holiday cruise right this minute. It might sound insane, but read on and we’ll tell you why it just might be the best holiday-related decision you’ve ever made. At least the best one since the year you wisely realized that Tickle-Me-Elmo was going to be a massive seller, bought 500 of them and made a killing on eBay.

Why Book Your 2018 Holiday Cruise Now?

holiday cruise

1. It ain’t easy getting everyone on the same page.

Now, we’re making the assumption that you’re going to want to spend the holidays with friends and/or family. If you’ve ever organized a family vacation, you know how tough that can be. Aunt Judy doesn’t want to go to a port she has to fly to, and your sister Regina refuses to take her kids out of school a day early. (Even though, let’s face it… one more day in the educational system probably won’t help those two.) It’s going to take a while (and a whole lot of patience) to pull this together, so… better get started.

2. Give people time to save.

You’ve already got a special savings account dedicated to your cruises. Every week, you have money transferred from your checking to your savings account. No, not the normal savings account. The one that you only use for cruises. But the rest of your travel mates might need a little time to save up for the holiday cruise, so booking a year in advance gives them a little leeway.

3. Suddenly, Christmas shopping is a lot easier.

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You know how impossible it is to figure out what to get your brother-in-law? The one who hates every gift he has ever gotten? Once you’ve decided that the family’s going on a cruise next year, you can give him gift certificates that can be used on board. Birthday? Check. Anniversary? Check. Or, better still, everyone going on the trip can agree that the trip is your gift to one another and that nobody’s buying anyone anything for the next year!

holiday cruise

Is there anything better than a ship all decked-out for the holidays?

4. Two words: Cyber Monday.

If you must, feel free to go out and risk being trampled by the Black Friday crowds. But if you ask us, nothing beats the amazing Cyber Monday deals you can find by hitting your favorite websites. Plus, you don’t even have to get dressed to do so. (Unless, of course, you’re doing your Cyber Monday shopping at the office… then it’s probably advised to wear at least a little something.) Count on just about every cruise line offering Cyber Monday deals, making it a great time to book the family vacation for next year.

5. You deserve it. 

Instead of spending all day cooking a turkey that will be eaten in 10 minutes and complained about by your cousin, why not give thanks that someone else is doing all the work? And why spend Christmas Eve whipping up endless batches of eggnog when you can have bartenders making mudslides? A holiday cruise is the very definition of win/win: Everyone gets to have a great time, and nobody has to do all of the onerous chores which go along with hosting.

holiday cruiseForget cooking a pie… let someone serve it to you!

Have you ever taken a Christmas or Thanksgiving cruise? What was the best part? 

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EDITORIAL

In Defense Of Cruising

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“Seriously? You’re going on another cruise?” Someone in your life has probably said it, their voices filled with incredulity, as if your favorite pasttime is as impossible to understand as quantum physics. And yet again, you find yourself having to mount an argument in defense of cruising… even if doing so is sort of a waste of time. Because the only rational response is also the vaguest: “Try it… you’ll like it.”

I took my first cruise just over three years ago. It wasn’t motivated by any great desire to give cruising a try. In fact, despite loving the ocean and growing up borderline obsessed with The Love Boat (or maybe just Charro), I’d never actually considered hitting the high seas as a vacation option. Truth be told that first trip wasn’t actually about cruising, it was about escaping. I was about to turn 50 years old, and figured the best way to avoid any and all markings of the milestone would be to go somewhere, alone, and weep into a few cocktails.

So much for the idea of aging gracefully.

As I was debating where to go, a friend complained about how traffic on the Henry Hudson Parkway always got snarled on days when cruise ships were docked at the pier in midtown Manhattan. I’d love to say that I did a lot of research in order to decide which ship I’d take where, but… I’d be lying.

5 Reasons To Cruise For Your Special Occasion

I knew I didn’t want to fly before or after the cruise, which meant sailing out of Manhattan. The good news is that when New York City is your homeport, you can get on a ship almost any weekend. The bad news, and it’s not really all that bad, is that your options are rather limited. It happened that the Norwegian Breakaway was doing a 7-day sailing to the Bahamas the week of my birthday, so while necessity may be the mother of invention, convenience was what gave birth to my obsession.

A few days into the trip, I was instant messaging with my best friend back home. “Dude,” I said to him, “this is amazing! I’m having the best time I’ve ever had!”

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Without missing a beat, he responded, “Drinking. Gambling. Eating out. What, exactly, did you think you wouldn’t like about cruising?” It was the kind of moment that would inspire Homer Simpson to utter, “D’oh!” while slapping his head comically.

Mounting A Defense Of Cruising

By the end of that first week, I was hooked. I’d had an amazing week, met some incredible people, eaten at an array of great restaurants, danced until dawn, swum in the bluest waters I’d ever seen and — despite having done all this and more — found time to relax in a way I hadn’t in years. Before I was even off the ship, I’d booked another cruise. And then another.

Ever since, I take at least two cruises a year, and spend the months in between each trip planning the next one. To bastardize an old country song, I think about cruising once a day, every day… all day long, and this proves endlessly amusing to some of the people in my life who don’t “get” my obsession.

Every now and again, one of those people will — I assume simply to amuse themselves — try and push my buttons. They’ll ask the questions every non-cruiser asks those of us who know what they’re missing. Of course, I have the standardized answers that we all have at the ready. (“Actually, it’s not expensive when you look at what’s included and compare it to the price of a land-based vacation.”) And if they really want to have a serious discussion, I’m more than happy to share my thoughts on everything from food (“I’d say Royal Caribbean’s Wonderland is one of the best dining experiences I’ve ever had, on land or at sea.”) to balcony preferences (“Once you go aft-facing balcony, you never go back.”).

I’ve even managed to convince a couple folks that they should give cruising a try. (Not my best friend, but hey, I’m workin’ on him… )

I’m sure cruising isn’t for everyone, and statistics show that there’s a vast swath of the American public who’ve never been on a ship. If they want to hear me explain why they should set aside their preconceived notions and give it a try, I’m more than happy to do so. But they can’t blame me if my enthusiasm results in them coming down with cruise fever. After all, it’s incredibly contagious!

Do you have people in your life who just don’t “get” your love of cruising? 

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