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August 08, 2011

Thinking About an Azamara Club Cruise? Here's What I Loved About Mine

Wendy_Perrin_Azamara_Quest
The Azamara Quest and yours truly in Trieste, Italy, last Friday. 

Does your idea of a good cruise involve:

  • * staying late in ports of call so you can experience them at night? 
  • * not being nickeled and dimed?
  • * not having to dress up?
  • * a charismatic senior staff with a sense of humor--the type of people you'd actually want at a cocktail party you're throwing?

 

If so, you should know about the Adriatic cruise I just got back from--my 18th cruise, but my first onboard Azamara Club Cruises. 

Azamara_Club_Cruises_Kotor_Montenegro
The Azamara Quest in the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro, last Tuesday. 

Our week-long itinerary, roundtrip out of Venice on the 694-passenger Azamara Quest, included four Croatian ports--Hvar, Dubrovnik, Split, and Korcula--as well as Kotor in Montenegro and Trieste in Italy.

It was an unusual cruise for me. First, there were no "days at sea"; we were off the ship exploring a different port every day. Second, I was an invited guest speaker, as opposed to an anonymous paying passenger (I'm typically the latter, of course). Third, it was my husband's and my first trip without the kids in six years. All of which meant we were predestined to have a great time.

Split_Croatia
The view from my cabin balcony when I awoke in Split, Croatia, last Monday. 

Despite the unusual circumstances of the cruise, though, I do believe that my main takeaways about Azamara Club Cruises would hold true for other people. I say this because most of the passengers I spoke with--and as an "enrichment lecturer," I spoke with plenty--felt the same way I did about the cruise line. Here are the four things we liked most:

Continue reading "Thinking About an Azamara Club Cruise? Here's What I Loved About Mine" »

June 04, 2011

Got a Hankering for an Adriatic Cruise This Summer?

 Kotor_Montenegro_Azamara_ship
An Azamara Club Cruises ship docked in Kotor, Montenegro--where I'll be on August 2. Photo courtesy of Azamara's Flickr photostream

Turned off by cookie-cutter cruises that sail to overbuilt ports and force you to cut your sightseeing short or miss the local nightlife because you must race back to the ship before it sails at 5:00 p.m.?  Me too.  Which is why I'm looking forward to sailing on Azamara Club Cruises this summer. I'll be the guest speaker on its July 30 cruise, which sails from Venice to four fabulous ports of call in Croatia (I can vouch for their fabulousness because I've been to them)--Hvar, Split, Dubrovnik, and Korcula--as well as Kotor, Montenegro, and Trieste, Italy, before returning to Venice. Unlike some cruise lines, Azamara provides ample time ashore. Not only will we hit a new port every day of the week-long cruise, but the ship will linger in Hvar till midnight, and in Dubrovnik and Kotor till 11:00 p.m.  I'm particularly jazzed about Montenegro, as I've never been there before, and am considering spending the Trieste day hopping into and around Slovenia, since I've never been there either. 

So...whatcha doin' July 30? Here's the itinerary and pricing, and here's what I'll be speaking about. Of course, the best part of being a shipboard lecturer is not the formal talks but the impromptu conversations on deck and at dinner. So consider joining me at sea and, if you've got any burning travel questions you'd like me to answer in my talks, just let me know at wperrin@cntraveler.com.

November 16, 2010

A New Tool for Booking Your Cruise Online

CruiseLabs.com

As someone who has taken 15 cruises—some booked online, others through travel agents who are savvy cruise specialists—I've always recommended that travelers book their cruise through the right human being. Why? An excellent cruise agent who has sailed several times on the ships and itineraries you're considering, and who has tight relationships with the cruise line CEOs, can provide not only invaluable expertise to help you maximize your time onboard and onshore but also value-added perks such as free upgrades and onboard credits.

So imagine how intrigued I was to hear today, at the PhoCusWright Travel Innovation Summit, that there's a new cruise booking engine out from a company called Cruise Labs. They claim that their site can answer all those complicated cruise questions that other booking sites don't—say, which cabin will suit your specific needs best, which dinner seating to choose, which travel insurance policy to buy. Apparently the site even lays out the pros and cons of each cabin, almost like a SeatGuru for staterooms. "It's like having a professional cruise consultant at every stage of the process," said CruiseLabs CEO David Tossell. 

I'm skeptical. Do you think a Web site can provide the same insider knowledge and added value that a superlative cruise specialist can?  Is there a cruise booking site that you've used with great success? Have any readers actually booked through one of these sites powered by CruiseLabs?  I'd love to hear your feedback. 

And if you're thinking of booking a cruise, be sure to read this first.

January 21, 2010

How to Maximize Your Port Sightseeing During Your Mediterranean Cruise

ts_efes_100114.jpg
Those are my kids at Ephesus, the ancient Greco-Roman city in Turkey, during a Mediterranean cruise in December 2008. Through Sea Song Tours we hired a car and driver to pick us up at the pier in Izmir and help us beat the crowds to Ephesus so we could explore it independently.

If you've read my January column in Condé Nast Traveler about "How to Have a Perfect Time in Port," you know that if your primary goal on a cruise is to sightsee in the ports of call, it's crucial to research and plan your shore time in advance. Typically the ship is in port for only seven or eight hours, so you need to use your time efficiently and wisely. It's sometimes smartest to avoid the cruise line's pre-fab group shore tours and hire a private driver and/or English-speaking local guide to pick you up at the pier, take you to the sights you want to see (helping you bypass all lines), and then return you to the ship shortly before it sails. The right driver/guide can both expedite and enhance your sightseeing, providing a flavorful and custom-tailored shoreside experience that's more rewarding -- and, depending on the country and the number of people in your party, sometimes a lot cheaper -- than the cruise line's tours. Which is probably why Louise Nunnink has written in with this question:

"Four people will be cruising out of Barcelona in February. Could you please give me the contacts for port excursions in Rome, Athens, and Izmir, Turkey?"

Louise, if you booked your cruise through the right cruise travel agent, that person should have tight relationships with precisely the contacts you need and should be arranging all of this on your behalf. I can only assume that you did not use a travel agent--or did not use the right one--and therefore now must organize your shoreside itineraries on your own.  If what you want in these ports is a customized day of sightseeing and cool insider experiences, along with efficient and reliable car transportation, my suggestion is to contact the following:

Continue reading "How to Maximize Your Port Sightseeing During Your Mediterranean Cruise" »

November 11, 2009

A Cruise Line President Who's Also a Roving Reporter

ts_Queen_Mary_2_Liverpool_091111.jpg
Peter Shanks of Cunard reported from the Queen Mary 2.

I love a CEO who blogs. And yesterday I met a new one: Peter Shanks, Cunard Line's new president.  He doesn't just blog from his desk either; he blogs from the ship. Last month, for instance, he reported from Cobh, Ireland, where the Queen Mary 2 stopped to honor the 1198 lives that were lost there when the Lusitania was sunk by a German U-Boat in World War I. 

Peter (who's such a proper British gentleman that I'd call him Mr. Shanks if I didn't think I'd be laughed out of the blogosphere for being so formal) not only guest-blogs for WeAreCunard.com but is also the British correspondent for the wildly popular John Heald's Blog over at Carnival (Cunard is part of Carnival Corp.).

Peter stopped by my Times Square office yesterday and surprised me with some fun facts. Did you know

* that Cunard is 169 years old yet has the youngest fleet at sea?

* that the inaugural voyage of the new Queen Elizabeth, which will launch in October 2010, sold out in 29 minutes and 14 seconds?

* that there are about a gazillion Cunard videos on YouTube because so many people record its ships doing momentous things like sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge or meeting up at the Statue of Liberty?

Peter also surprised me by asking for constructive criticism about Cunard's blog, which is only 14 months old and still has some growing to do. Seeking feedback from fellow travel bloggers shows a lot of cyber-smarts, in my humble opinion, and there are some super-savvy travel bloggers who read The Perrin Post, so consider sharing your input: Take a look at the WeAreCunard blog and, if you've got suggestions for enhancing it, share them here (since, selfishly, I too really want to hear your bloggy wisdom!). Don't forget to give your website URL.

October 22, 2009

Planning the Perfect Mediterranean Cruise

ts_windstar_cruise_Greece_091022.jpg
Windstar's Wind Spirit at anchor in Greece
Photo courtesy of Windstar Cruises


A reader named Terratiger is wondering which cruise line, ship, itinerary, and cabin she should choose for a Mediterranean cruise. Since a lot of savvy cruisegoers read this blog, I'd love to hear your suggestions for her. Here's her question: 
"Wendy, I'm an avid reader, both the magazine and online. We've never been on a cruise but are dying to go (or at least I am).  Our friends who have cruised many times on Celebrity say "the only way to go" is to get a room that overlooks the back of the ship.  First of all, we're not sure we like the idea of the 2,000-plus-passenger ship. Second, it appears that many of the larger rooms and balconies are in the middle of the ship. My husband says he trusts any choices I make (lucky me), so I want to get this right. We're not interested in the "dress-up" scene and not particularly interested in the dining room thing; much more our style to have dinner on our balcony almost every night, complete with great view and privacy.
We'd much rather spend what it takes to have a five-star, relaxed experience. At the same time, we would like a good value for our money. My research seems to keep bringing me back to Regent Seven Seas, Crystal and Oceania. My husband says he'll go wherever I want (again, lucky me) and I'd love to go to the Mediterranean (Greek Islands, Sicily, Dalmatian Coast). Smaller ports sound more fun to me than the big cattle-call ones. Any help you can give on cruise lines, particular ships, rooms/suites, destinations/itineraries, best times of year, etc. I really want this to be a first-class experience for us so that he'll go again...Thanks."

Aaaah, cabins on the ship's stern. I had one--with a balcony--on a Regent Seven Seas cruise through the Chilean fjords, and it afforded nearly 300-degree views, since we could see the landscape off both sides of the ship simultaneously.  And I too love those hidden-gem Mediterranean ports: My favorite cruise in the Med so far was a 14-nighter on Windstar from Athens to Monte Carlo because the ship stopped at charming, out-of-the-way islands that we might not otherwise ever get to: Kefallonia, Elba, and the like.

Continue reading "Planning the Perfect Mediterranean Cruise" »

October 06, 2009

Choosing the Right European River Cruise

Amadagio
That's the AMAWaterways ship M.S. Amadagio on the Danube River in Durnstein, Austria.

by Wendy Perrin

This question came in from reader RScime:

"We're planning our first European river cruise. The itinerary offered by AMAWaterways for Amsterdam to Basel is the most attractive, but AMAWaterways doesn't seem as well known as, say, Uniworld or Viking River Cruises. How would you rate them?  Should we go with the better named with known reputations?"

Good question. True, Conde Nast Traveler readers rate Uniworld and Viking River Cruises higher than AMAWaterways in our Readers' Choice Awards. (Here's a list of Conde Nast Traveler readers' favorite small ships.) Still, I've heard good things about AMAWaterways -- its ships are fairly new, with cabins with French balconies and bicycles for shoreside exploration -- and we did recommend it in our August issue, in our round-up of best cruise deals around the world.

I've never taken a European river cruise myself, but I can tell you that if it were me, I'd choose the ship that spends the most time in the cities I want to explore.  And I'd book the trip through a dead-honest,  well-informed, and super-connected European river cruise specialist who has sailed on all three cruise lines.  Margret Propper of Brownell Travel (you can read a description of her here) is on my annually updated list of Top Travel Specialists and can provide an in-depth and reliable comparison of the ships and itineraries you're choosing among. I strongly recommend you contact her.  Keep in mind that AMAWaterways has several sales going on right now. 

Anybody else have an opinion or advice for RScime? If you've taken European river cruises yourself, be sure to let us know which specific ships you've sailed on. Thanks!

October 05, 2009

Seabourn Cruises Flash Sale

ts_seabourn_091005.jpg

Just a quick note to say: Get a load of the Seabourn sale over at Jetsetter.  I haven't done the math to determine just what sort of a deal this represents, but on the face of it the savings look pretty good to me. The itineraries on offer are for Belize, Panama, and Costa Rica (starting at $270/night), the Caribbean (starting at $299/night), and Asia (starting at $329/night).  According to the folks at Jetsetter, these sale fares range from 13% to 37% lower than the lowest rates you can find elsewhere, depending on the sailing date and room categories. The catch:  The sale lasts only two days (it expires Wednesday at 3 a.m. Eastern Time) or until cabins are sold out.

In case you missed my post explaining Jetsetter last week, it's a brand-new, still-in-beta, invitation-only website for flash sales of luxury travel experiences. You can be invited to join Jetsetter (for free) by clicking on this custom link for Perrin Post readers.

Note that if Jetsetter offers to put you on the waitlist for a Seabourn sailing you've selected, that doesn't necessarily mean the sailing is sold out. It means that the rooms available are in other people's shopping carts for a 10-minute period while they decide whether or not to buy. If you know you want to buy, put your name on the waitlist and check back in ten minutes or so.

September 23, 2009

Next Year Might Just Be the Year You Can Afford a Crystal Cruise

Crystal_Symphony_Capetown

Crystal Cruises has repeatedly been voted the number-one large-ship cruise line by Conde Nast Traveler readers in our Readers' Choice Awards.

by Wendy Perrin

Daily deals

Have you spent years wishing you could afford to sail with Crystal but settling for lesser cruise lines instead? Well, 2010 may just be the year you can afford to upgrade.  Crystal just dropped prices by 15% to 17% on every single sailing next year, for every single cabin category. That's 15% to 17% off Crystal's already substantially discounted 2009 rates. 

The new prices are two-for-one fares that include free round-trip airfare to most destinations, shipboard credit of up to $2,000 per couple, and a price guarantee: Should there be another sale that lowers fares yet again, Crystal will refund the difference between the price you paid and the new, lower fare.

What you should know about Crystal Cruises (full disclosure: I've sailed on the Crystal Symphony as an invited speaker) is that, by supporting the cruise line, you're also helping to support the Conde Nast Traveler Five & Alive Fund, which saves the lives of children in developing countries around the world.  In fact, the cruise line raised more than $80,000 for the Fund last year.  Crystal Cruises president Gregg Michel spoke at length about it on my panel at Monday's World Savers Congress, and you can read more about Crystal's philanthropic efforts here.

As for the two-for-one cruise savings, Crystal's Vice-President of Public Relations, Mimi Weisband, stopped by my office yesterday to provide more details, which you'll find after the jump.

Continue reading "Next Year Might Just Be the Year You Can Afford a Crystal Cruise" »

September 03, 2009

Save up to 66% on SeaDream Yacht Club Cruises

SeaDream Jost Van DykeVisit unspoiled Caribbean gems--such as Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands--for 40% off during Christmas week. 

by Kathryn Maier on Travel Deals

Daily deals Dreaming of Christmas in the Caribbean?  Last month we told you about steep discounts from SeaDream Yacht Club, but now it turns out the cruise line has slashed fares by up to 66% on more than a dozen additional Caribbean sailings on prime dates this fall and winter, including one during Christmas: It's a 9-day cruise that sails roundtrip from San Juan, Puerto Rico, departing December 18. Ports include Vieques, Jost Van Dyke, Virgin Gorda, St. Barts, Nevis, and Anguilla, which is where you'll spend Christmas Day. The brochure fare for this sailing is $8,904 per person (including taxes and port fees); the discounted price is $5,403--about 40% off.

If that sounds too pricey, know that there are also two five-night sailings, departing December 13 and January 3, that are discounted to just $2,079 per person (including taxes and port fees), down from $5,680, for savings of 63%.

More details after the jump.

Continue reading "Save up to 66% on SeaDream Yacht Club Cruises" »

August 31, 2009

Crystal Cruises' Big Deal: More than 50% Off This Fall


Crystal_Symphony_IstanbulExplore Caribbean and Mediterranean ports this fall for half off. Here, the Crystal Symphony in Istanbul.

by Kathryn Maier on Travel Deals

Daily deals Wendy just got back from vacation this morning, but she's so jazzed about an unprecedented offer from Crystal Cruises that I half expect her to be out the door again soon. We've seen Crystal offer 2-for-1 fares before, and we've seen it offer $1,000 per person in shipboard credit before, but never before have we seen the two offered together . . . until now. The 2-for-1 fare in combination with up to $1,000 per person in shipboard credit is available on ten itineraries this fall. 

The least expensive of these sailings is the 7-day November 22 cruise on the Crystal Serenity, starting and ending in Miami and calling at Grand Turk, Grand Cayman, and Key West. The 2-for-1 discount reduces the brochure fare from $4,960 per person to $2,480 (plus $190 in port fees) -- and you get an extra $250 reduction because of the shipboard credit.

Looking for more unusual ports? There's a 13-day Miami to Manaus sailing on the Crystal Symphony, also departing on November 22. Ports include Antigua, Barbados, and Devil's Island, French Guyana.  The brochure fare of $7,980 per person has dropped to $3,615 (plus $305 in port fees), and you get an additional $1,000 off your bill in the form of shipboard credit.

Condé Nast Traveler approved: These sailings may sound pricey, but not when you consider that, over and over, our readers have voted Crystal Cruises the number-one large-ship cruise line in our Readers' Choice Awards.

Book by: There's no book-by date.

For travel on: Ten cruises departing between late September and early December.

Book through:  If you've read Wendy's articles on cruising, you know the importance of using the right travel agent to book your trip. Mary Jean Tully, one of the cruise specialists on Wendy's list of top travel planners, can often get additional amenities such as private shore excursions for her clients. 

August 12, 2009

Save 60% on All 2010 Silversea Cruises

Silversea
Next year, Silversea is offering 60% off every sailing, including ports of call such as Portofino.

by Kathryn Maier on Travel Deals

Daily deals Here's a deal for the record books: Silversea has slashed prices for every single cabin on all of its 2010 sailings. The first guest in a cabin gets 20% off, and the second guest sails for free, which averages out to a 60% discount. In addition, a majority of these sailings include free round-trip economy airfare from 22 cities in the United States and Canada.

"This has never been done before by any luxury cruise line," says Richard Turen, one of the cruise specialists on Wendy's annual list of top travel planners. "This is the largest discount in the entire luxury cruise sector in my memory, because it's for every sailing and all categories."

Condé Nast Traveler approved: Readers have voted Silversea one of the top five small-ship cruise lines for the past several years.

Book by: December 31, 2009. This deal is capacity-controlled, which means that the cruise line may revoke the discount once a certain capacity is reached on a given sailing.

Book through: Richard Turen, who informed us of this deal and who Wendy swears by. Not only does he negotiate extra perks for his clients from the cruise lines, but Perrin Post readers also receive the favored-client benefits of his "Royal Cruising Society."

August 05, 2009

Up to 69% Off SeaDream Yacht Club Cruises

Korcula Croatia SeaDream ships tend to call at small hidden-gem ports, such as this one on the island of Korcula, Croatia.

By Kathryn Maier on Travel Deals

Deal of the Day Did you read "Ultimate European Cruise" in Conde Nast Traveler's April issue and say to yourself, "That's nice, but no way can I afford such a splurge"? Well, now perhaps you can.  The luxury small-ship cruise line SeaDream Yacht Club has dropped prices by up to 69% on ten Mediterranean and Caribbean sailings between now and December. 

As Wendy has put it before, these are "cruises for people who hate cruises": The line's two ships are able to stop in smaller, less touristed ports than larger ships can, and each carries a maximum of only 112 passengers (who are nearly outnumbered by staff, allowing for personalized attention).

Here's an example of an itinerary we like: It's a 9-night sailing from Athens to Barcelona, stopping at Kefalonia, Sicily, Malta, Tunisia, and Menorca. The brochure rate is $9,493 per person, but with the discount the price is $3,987 per person, reflecting savings of 58%. The timing of this particular sailing is ideal: The tourists and backpackers are largely gone in October, and the oppressive summer heat is no longer an issue, says Richard Turen, one of the cruise experts on Wendy's annual list of top travel planners.

Conde Nast Traveler approved: Our readers have consistently rated SeaDream among their top three favorite small-ship lines in our annual Readers' Choice Awards poll.

Book by: There is no book-by date. This deal is capacity-controlled, which means that the cruise line may revoke the discount once a certain capacity is reached on a given sailing.

For travel through: December 2009, although most sailings included in this deal are from late August through mid-October.

The catch: These discounts apply mainly to the lowest-category cabins, which have portholes rather than picture windows. In addition, when booking these cabins, you may not be able to select a specific cabin number--although using the right travel agent (see below) can possibly get you a "category 2 guarantee" (which, in the case of SeaDream, is usually the best available pricing offer).

Book through: Richard Turen, whom Wendy has recommended before for his savvy advice, unflinching honesty, and encyclopedic knowledge of cruising. Turen is good at negotiating extra perks for his clients from the cruise lines, and Perrin Post readers also receive the favored-client benefits of his "Royal Cruising Society."  

July 17, 2009

2-for-1 Deals on European River Cruises

Viking River Cruises See Europe by river at half price through Viking River Cruises.

By Kathryn Maier on Travel Deals

Daily dealsThe unprecedented cruise discounts keep rolling in. One of the latest to cross our desks: Viking River Cruises' two-for-one deals on all 2010 sailings and an additional $400-per-person discount on international airfare. The vacation itself might be a long way off, but to nab this price you must book by July 31.

"This is the best offer, across the board, that we've seen from Viking River since its inception," said Richard Turen, one of the cruise experts on Wendy's list of top travel specialists.

Turen particularly recommends the Viking Sky's September 18, 2010, sailing. It's got an interesting itinerary that takes you through Austria, Germany, Hungary, and Slovakia, and mid-September is the ideal time of year to be in that part of Europe. The very lowest room category is sold out on this sailing, but a Category D room (the second-lowest category) is $2,556 per person, including taxes and port charges--down from the original price of $4,999.

Caveat: We typically don't recommend buying your airfare from the cruise line--here's Wendy's latest explanation of the drawbacks--so you might want to skip the $400 air-discount portion of the deal, since you can probably do better on your own.

Book by: July 31. And note that this deal is capacity-controlled, which means that once a certain percentage of cabins have been filled, the offer will end.

For travel: On every 2010 sailing.

Book through: Richard Turen, whom Wendy has recommended before for his savvy advice, unflinching honesty, and in-depth knowledge of European cruising.

July 02, 2009

Buy a 7-Night Cruise in Southeast Asia and Get 6 Nights on Land for Free

Star Clippers Thailand  See Thailand's islands by land and sea with this deal from Star Clippers. Photo courtesy of starclippers.com.

By Kathryn Maier on Travel Deals

Daily deals If you want to explore Thailand--and beyond--by both land and sea, this deal's for you: Book a seven-night Star Clippers cruise in Southeast Asia and get six additional nights on land for free.  

For the cruise portion, you have your choice of three different itineraries. Two are round-trip out of Phuket and visit numerous Thai islands.  The third is between Phuket and Singapore and also visits Malaysia. These sailings start at $2,080 per person, including taxes and port fees, and depart weekly between November 2009 and March 2010. 

All three itineraries give you four free nights in Bangkok. The two round-trip cruises out of Phuket also include two nights on land in Phuket, and the Phuket-Singapore cruises add on two nights in Singapore.

What's included in the free land packages: In Bangkok, you get four nights in a hotel, a half-day city tour, a cultural dinner show, the flight between Phuket and Bangkok, and airport-hotel transfers.  In Phuket, you get two nights in a hotel, theme park admission, a buffet dinner, and transfers.  In Singapore, you get two nights in a hotel, a half-day city tour, and transfers. The six-night land package ordinarily has a price tag of $940 to $970 per person.

Book by:  There's no book-by date; this promotion will run as long as cabins are still available. 

For travel between: November 2009 and March 2010.

Book through: Linda Allen, one of the cruise specialists on Wendy's list of top travel planners, informed us of this deal.  She can be reached at 800-422-3445 or cruisesbylinda@cox.net.

next
Prices and other information were accurate at press time, but are subject to change. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.

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