January 22, 2012

January 22, 2012
Size Matters

Welcome to another day in my life. Today is Sunday and I hope you have been having a safe and great weekend so far. It has been another busy one for Dab the AIDS Bear and me. We would like to thank you for all the wonderful caring messages sent to Todd and me about our health. They were greatly appreciated.

Recently, I have talked about traveling on airplanes and cruise ships. And with the recent capsizing of the Costa cruise line ship in Italy, the question is what size ship is right?

Here is how to choose the kind of ship that will guarantee you a hull of a good time at sea.

I had been on the world's longest megaliner, Allure of the Seas, for two days shortly after it launched last year. As I rode a glass elevator up, up, up through the ship's expansive atrium, two women chatted about how much they loved the ship.

"You know," one excitedly said, "I have not even seen the ocean yet!"

To some, that might be the ultimate indictment of the new trend toward cruise ships such as the Allure, which could contain five Titanics. But for those women, sailing the Caribbean on a floating megalopolis (that atrium, named Central Park, boasts a tree studded, football field � size glen with a meandering path) was perfect.

I long ago decided that when you figure in the costs of lodging, food, and transportation, cruising is by far the most economical way to see the world in comfort � even with a family in tow. What is more, because cruise ships come in all shapes and sizes, if you scan the horizon long enough, you will spot a vessel that is perfect for you.


2,500 to 6,000 passengers

You should pay: $75 to $100 per day

(Norwegian Epic, Queen Mary 2, Carnival Dream, Disney Dream, Golden Princess)

The best news for vacationers is this: More cabins require more passengers, and given the current economy, that means megaship deals are getting easier to find. After reigning as one of the Caribbean's most expensive ships a year ago, Oasis of the Seas is down to just over $100 a night per person.

Target Travelers "Families take over these cruises," says Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of Cruise Critic (cruisecritic.com). "There's something for everyone."

Entertainment In the 1980s I sailed on Royal Caribbean's upscale Song of Norway, and one night's featured entertainment was, no kidding, a guy playing the entire 1812 Overture on an accordion. Today's megaship features at least one Broadway-type theater � and a show to match: Royal Caribbean has been staging the musical Chicago, and the Queen Mary 2 offers a domed star show created with NASA.

Pools Take your pick: You'll find at least two and as many as five.

Cabins Even on the biggest ships, cabins aren't much larger than the one the Marx Brothers spilled out of in A Night at the Opera. But the days of little portholes are gone � in an outside cabin, chances are you'll enjoy a nice balcony or large windows.

Dining You can still head to the formal dining room, but the biggest ships pride themselves on offering countless dining options, from sprawling buffets to poolside grills. You'll also find premium restaurants that offer a fine dining experience worthy of a big city. Three-Michelin-starred chef Georges Blanc runs Carnival's upscale eateries, while Holland America Line's Pinnacle Grills are headed by noted chef-author Rudi Sodamin.

Destinations Because of their size, megaships largely stick to ports with big facilities � places like the Bahamas, Mexico, and the Mediterranean.

Midsize Ships

1,000 to 2,500 passengers

You should pay: $50 to $75 per day

(Carnival Pride, Noordam, Queen Elizabeth, Pride of America)

Target Travelers "These boats cater to the traveler who is interested in fine dining and service � not rock climbing at sea," says Clem Bason, president of the online travel service Hotwire (hotwire.com). Before ships like the Oasis set sail, these were the megaships. Now they can be an excellent value for travelers who want to enjoy traditional cruise-ship amenities. "They're more cozy," adds Brown. "You get to know your bartender."

Entertainment Everything's a tad smaller: Rather than a Times Square theater, the stage venue on a ship like Holland America's Noordam more resembles a good Las Vegas lounge.

Pools You'll find more than one, but they can be small, and it's harder to escape the poolside games.

Cabins Most of these ships, built before cabin balconies became hot in the 2000s, have added them.

Dining In addition to the formal dining room, there are several eat-on-the-run spots. The Noordam's casual dining area is a typical buffet, though with tablecloths and linen napkins.

Destinations Midsize ships can go almost anywhere, from Bora-Bora to the St. Lawrence River.


Fewer than 1,200 passengers

You should pay: $350 to $500 per day by sea; $150 to $350, by river

(Avalon Affinity, Viking Pride, Ocean Princess, Seven Seas Mariner, Crystal Symphony, Queen of the Mississippi)

Target Travelers Sophisticated vacationers and couples enjoy the lack of hubbub on these ships. "They offer superior service, dining, and accommodations," says Bason. "They often have 1-to-1 crew-to-guest ratios [the Oasis of the Seas ratio is about 1 to 2.25]."

River ships are another type of small-boat option. For as little as $150 a day, you can ply the waterways of Europe, Asia, and Africa on sleek craft via lines like Avalon, Grand Circle, or Viking River Cruises. In the United States, Blount Small Ship Adventures and American Cruise Line sail the nation's great rivers for $300 to $570 a day.

Entertainment Oceangoing small ships have intimate theaters and cabaret-type shows. Riverboats often limit their entertainment to local performers � and in Vienna, Viking took us to a lovely Strauss concert at the Auersperg Palace.

Pools Seagoing small ships often have one very nice pool; river ships will occasionally have a hot tub.

Cabins Ocean miniships have standard-size cabins, and in recent years riverboat designers have found ways to make their tiny cabins seem larger � mini-balconies with sliding glass doors help a lot.

Dining Some of the world's finest restaurants can be found on miniship ocean liners. The menus are breathtaking � and you'll be treated as if you're sitting at the captain's table. Riverboats have kitchens that are roughly the size of a minivan interior. Your best bet: Wander ashore each night, seeking out the local restaurants and pubs where the neighbors have been eating, perhaps for centuries.

All prices are per person, per day.

So now you should have a better idea of what size cruise ship would be your fit.

Hope you have a great Sunday!

Until we meet again; here's wishing you health, hope, happiness and just enough.

big bear hug,

Daddy Dab