This is Cruise Week -- a time when 26 cruise lines, and the companies that represent them, offer substantial discounts on cruise fares and extra goodies to those who book between now and Oct. 27.
Cruising is popular and getting more so. Since 1990, cruise vacations have been the fastest-growing segment of the travel industry with projected annual increases of 7% through 2020. Put more simply, in 1990, 3.7 million people cruised. Last year, more than 20 million people set sail. By 2020, that number is expected to top 25 million.
Analysts attribute the growing popularity to many factors including a more mobile and affluent population, new ships with ever glitzier attractions, more ports in or near North American cities, etc.
After almost two-dozen, I have come up with my own top five reasons why travellers should give cruising a spin.
Cruising offers a great bang for your travel buck with accommodations, meals and snacks, and port-to-port transportation included in the basic cruise fares of big-ship lines. The entry price is hard to match on a land tour, especially in places such as Europe, where a high-euro, expensive hotels and rental cars, and pricey restaurants can be the norm.
One down side are extra charges for soft drinks, bottled water, specialty coffees, alcohol, etc., which can add up. One solution is to look hard at the beverage packages now offered by many cruise lines and factor these into the bottom-line.
Increasingly, upscale cruise lines are becoming more inclusive. These fares cost more up front but bear examination. The additional luxury on board, excellent dining and the inclusion of wines and spirits, soft drinks, espressos, cappuccinos and the like can make a luxury cruise comparable to a mega-ship cruise. Some lines even host complimentary outings for guests and things like a free port shuttle.
Airfare is not normally included in cruise fares but premium cruise lines often offer discounts on flights.
A person could cruise for many years and never visit the same place twice.
A Caribbean itinerary provides a taste of many islands instead of just one. Ditto for European and Mediterranean cruises, which can take you to a handful of the world's greatest cities and most iconic destinations -- all in one week.
Craving adventure? You'll find it in Alaska, Antarctica or the Arctic region. From South America to the South Pacific, from Australia-New Zealand to Asia, you can explore a good chunk of the world by cruise ship.
Want to see more? Book a pre or post land tour for in depth exploration.
The success of a cruise really hinges on matching a passenger to the right ship, and this is where its worth consulting and booking through a cruise specialist.
Big ships -- with their big attractions -- surf simulators, climbing walls, water coasters, ice-rinks, kids clubs -- are ideal for families and multi-generational groups. Children, parents and grand-parents can all do their own thing aboard these floating towns, which usually include multiple restaurants, several swimming pools, theatres, discos and luxurious spas. Extroverts may also enjoy the busy atmosphere of a mega-ship, which might accommodate more than 5,000 guests and 2,500 staff.
On the other hand, more reflective folks, sophisticated travellers and those without children will likely prefer the ambiance of a smaller ship. Some of these have special programs for children during peak holiday times while others are more geared to an adult experience with fine dining, celebrity speakers, wine tastings, language classes, and more.
My favourite ships are in the small to medium range -- say 200 to 2,000 passengers - with enough diversions to keep me occupied but also enough quiet spaces to curl up on a sea day and watch the world go by.
The ease of cruising is often described by the statement: "You only have to unpack once."
But what makes cruising truly easy is, once aboard, all the travel logistics are taken care -- no cars to rent, no trains, planes or buses to catch, and precious little vacation time wasted in transit as you journey from country to country.
Travel from port to port often occurs in the evenings. Have a massage, sip cocktails, enjoy dinner, a show and a good night's sleep, while the ship transports you to your next adventure.
Less developed parts of the world also lend themselves to cruising. First-time travellers can be overwhelmed by exotic destinations, but knowing they have a home away from home to return to every night can ease the culture shock.
5. Adventure, culture, romance
During my journeys, I have:
-- Sailed past, flew over and walked on glaciers AND volcanoes.
-- Watched black bears catch salmon in a northern river.
-- Followed in the footsteps of gold miners, and panned for gold.
-- Sailed from Argentina to the Falkland Islands, and around Cape Horn to Chile.
-- Visited the KGB Museum and the Kremlin in Moscow, and The Hermitage in St. Petersburg.
-- Cooked with celebrity chefs.
-- Enjoyed atmospheric sunsets and candlelit dinners.
-- Explored the great cities of Europe.
-- Toured the Ferrari factory in Italy.
-- Transited the Panama Canal.
Cruising offers it all -- and more.