Travel made Easy: Ocean cruises, part 1

Ocean cruising is one of my absolute favorite vacations. I love the feel of the ship, watching the ocean, making new acquaintances onboard and exploring incredible ports. I’m differentiating ocean cruising from other types of cruising such as river cruises. For a mobility challenged traveler, ocean cruising can be a relaxing, stress-free vacation. But just like river cruising, ocean cruising is not for everyone.

Let’s start with why a cruise. A cruise ship is a resort on water. Add to that the thrill of sailing on the ocean, the rave reviews from friends who cruise, confirmation you will not get bored and cruising sounds like the perfect vacation to a busy person. Once you get to the ship, everything is there for you: a room/cabin, restaurants, entertainment, pools, shopping, spa services, and cultural experiences or beaches in the ports. You pack and unpack only once. This works for the mobility challenged travelers as well as everyone else.

Based on my own travel experiences, when deciding to cruise, I consider the time of year, the number of sailing days, the itinerary, the cruise line and then the cabin location/type and shore excursions. An advertised low, low price grabs my attention but doesn’t grab my money until I consider the other factors I’ve listed here.

A big part of the itinerary choice is the weather. The largest number of cruise ships sail when the good weather will bring the largest number of cruisers. For instance: Europe from May to October; Alaska from May to September; the Caribbean from November to April. There are ships in Europe and the Caribbean year-round but as a chance of a hurricane or bad weather goes up, the cruise prices will go down.

Personally, after years of cruising, I prefer cruises longer than seven days, shorter than 14 days. For a first-time cruiser, if you are not certain cruising is for you, pick a three to four day-cruise. I like mid-size ships (700 – 1400 passengers) as opposed to large ships (3000 – 4500 passengers). This is again personal preference. I feel I can walk around the mid-size ships without a problem. For the mobility challenged traveler on the larger ships, considering the size of the cruise ship, think about whether you are up to walking from the cabin to various points on the ship. If this seems daunting, consider renting a scooter to use on the ship even if you don’t use a scooter at home. There are companies that specialize in scooter rental on ships so that the scooters fit through all cabin doors. The scooters can be delivered to and picked up from the departure/return port. Cruising is a vacation. Make it easier on yourself.

There are a lot of things about ocean cruising that travelers should know, not the least of which is that all cruise lines are not created equal. In my experience, cruise lines have personalities. Some cruise lines are known for non-stop fun; some are known for their educational programming; some have Broadway-style entertainment; some have piano players in a small lounge as the after-dinner entertainment. Matching the cruise lines’ personality to what you need or expect will ensure an incredible vacation.

Where do you want to go on this cruise? Probably, not too surprisingly, Alaska is the one cruise destination most “non-cruisers” say they want to visit. But before you make the final decision on the itinerary, look at how many of the ports are docked and how many are tendered (where you take a smaller ship from the cruise ship to land). To board a tender, you may have to: climb down a flight of steps to a landing and board a smaller ship (100 – 200 passengers) on what could be choppy or rough waters. There have been times when I wanted to go ashore but choose not to because the boarding of the tender was beyond my capabilities. If the ship is so huge that it doesn't dock except at the beginning and end of the cruise, consider if getting off the ship in ports is important to you. Also, a word of warning: Cruise ships may be scheduled to dock at a port but because of weather, too many ships in port or other reasons, the ship may offer tenders instead of docking. Only you can decide which destination is the best destination for your travel.

In Part 2, I’ll go over cabin type, cabin location, shore excursions and seasickness.

Travel Tip: Consider the “personality” of the ship before you decide on a cruise. Matching your personality to the ship’s will make it a perfect vacation.

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About Kate DeLosso

Kate DeLosso is a travel professional with over 20 years of experience traveling the world on land and by ship, visiting over 30 countries with an emphasis on travel in Asia. Kate DeLosso Travel is a home based travel agency that helps individual travelers and groups explore the US, Europe and Asia. A number of years ago, Kate had stroke and had to re-learn how to walk, type and drive a car. With a mobility handicap, she became aware that travel was “different” for people with physical challenges. One of her missions has become to share the knowledge accumulated after 20 years of traveling the world as a mobility challenged person. Kate DeLosso is a Certified Travel Counselor, Special Interest Travel Specialist and an Accredited Cruise Counselor and founder of Kate DeLosso Travel. She has lived and worked in Chadds Ford since 1999.

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