Secrets the Cruise Lines Don’t Tell You

Secrets the Cruise Lines Don’t Tell You

Cruise ship life can be a little mysterious. Your choices aren’t always spelled out in black and white. The more you cruise, the more you pick up on the unofficial secrets the cruise lines don’t tell you — which give you more options, let you save money and generally allow you to have a better time onboard.

Maybe it’s knowing what your cabin steward is able to bring you or what the off-the-menu items are at the bar or dining room. Or perhaps it’s a tip to getting a good deal on an onboard purchase.

But why wait to figure these things out the hard way — possibly after you’ve missed your chance? We trawled through all the great advice on Cruise Critic’s Message Boards to bring you some of the worst-kept cruise secrets … at least among our readers who love to share. But whether you’re a first-time cruiser or an old sea dog, you may find there’s something here you didn’t already know.

Carnival Freedom - Posh Dining Room

Food Secrets

  • You are not limited to one of each appetizer, entree and dessert in the main dining room. You can order two entrees or three desserts if you choose. You can also order appetizer-sized portions of entrees as starters or order a few appetizers for your main meal. It’s a great way to try new foods you’re not sure you’ll like (escargot, anyone?).
  • Room service is generally free, except for service charges on certain lines. Celebrity’s late-night orders bear a $3.95 fee, while all orders on Royal Caribbean (excluding Continental breakfast) and Norwegian (excluding morning coffee, Continental breakfast and orders placed by Haven Suite passengers) cost $7.95. Meanwhile, Carnival and Holland America offer for-fee room service menus in addition to their complimentary menus. It’s recommended you tip your delivery person, but in-room dining is not the splurge it is at a hotel.
  • Speaking of breakfast, you may have more options than just the buffet and main dining room. On Norwegian, it’s no secret that O’Sheehan’s offers tasty made-to-order omelets and corned beef hash, yet many cruisers still don’t know about it. Carnival’s BlueIguana Cantina and Royal Caribbean’s Johnny Rockets (on Oasis-class ships) are other alternative breakfast venues. Check your daily newsletter to see which restaurants are open in the morning.
  • Most people dine in the main dining room or buffet on the first night of the cruise, and many haven’t discovered the specialty restaurants yet. If you book an alternative dining venue for the first night of the cruise, you may get a discount on select lines (like Celebrity Cruises) or have an easier time getting a reservation for a popular venue. Carnival Cruise Line passengers who dine in the steakhouse on the first night get a free bottle of wine.
  • Specialty coffee at the designated coffee shops onboard comes with an extra fee, but the pastries, sandwiches and other food at these venues are often free. While some specialty items (like chocolate-covered strawberries) will have a charge, don’t assume all the small bites do. Some bars — such as Celebrity’s Martini Bar — also offer complimentary snacks; all you have to do is ask.
  • Like ice cream? Cruise lines will charge for branded licks like Ben & Jerry’s and Celebrity’s gelato. However, there’s always a free version — whether soft-serve machines on the Lido Deck or hard-serve stations at the buffet. And do your reconnaissance — Cruise Critic members report that soft-serve machines on either side of the deck can have different flavors.
  • On embarkation day, most people head straight to the buffet to have lunch and wait for their cabins to open. It’s a mob scene. But many cruise ships have alternative venues open — the main dining room or a mini-buffet in the solarium or atrium area. Ask a crew member or check your daily newsletter to find an alternative for a calmer first meal. For example, on Princess Cruises, the International Cafe, Pizzeria and Grill also are open; on Royal Caribbean ships, Sorrento’s, the Solarium and Park Cafes, Giovanni’s Table, Cafe Promenade and Starbucks are open on the afternoon of embarkation.
  • Don’t know which night to make specialty dinner reservations? The main dining room menus are planned for the week, and the purser’s desk often has access to those menus. Ask to see them so you can decide which nights are less appealing and which you don’t want to miss, and plan your cruise accordingly.


Pina Colada

Drink Secrets

  • There’s no «open beverage» rule onboard. You can bring drinks from a bar or buffet to your cabin or elsewhere on the ship and no one will bat an eye. (Same goes for food.)
  • It’s often cheaper to buy a bottle of wine than a few glasses — but what do you do if you don’t finish the bottle? Cruise ship waiters can mark the bottle with your room number and save it for another night, even for dinner in another onboard venue.
  • Groups of beer drinkers can save by ordering buckets of beer. You get four or five beers in a souvenir bucket at a per-beer cost slightly cheaper than ordering individual bottles.
  • On most lines, soda is not free — but iced tea in the dining room usually is. Save on soda by buying a soda card, offering a set price for unlimited soft drinks.
  • Most cruise lines prohibit passengers from bringing beer and liquor onboard, but do let you bring a bottle or two of wine or Champagne. Some lines (such as Holland America and Princess) also let you bring a reasonable amount of nonalcoholic drinks onboard — which helps save on pricy shipboard sodas and bottled waters. Royal Caribbean and Norwegian passengers are prohibited from bringing any nonalcoholic beverages onboard, while Carnival only allows limited amounts of soda and juice as long as the drinks are in cans or cartons (and not glass containers).
  • Enticed by all those special drinks in a souvenir glass? You can refill those glasses at a discount — or ask to have the drink of the day in a regular glass to save money. Also watch your daily program for drink specials or happy hours with reduced-price beverages.

Carnival Cloud 9 cabin

Cabin Secrets

  • Most cabins are made of metal… and therefore they’re magnetic. Bring along some magnets (or buy some as souvenirs) and you can keep all your cocktail party invites, alternative dining reservation notices and daily planners hung up on the walls and doors.
  • Inside cabins have no natural light. At all. Turn your TV to the bridge cam station, turn off the sound and — voila! — you’ve got an instant nightlight and a way to see if the sun is up.
  • Spa cabins can often be a smart financial decision for avid spa-goers. For example, Carnival’s Cloud 9 Spa balcony cabins include access to the thalassotherapy pool, steam room and sauna. The extra you’d pay for the cabin (above a regular balcony room) is often less than what you’d pay for a cruise-length spa pass.
  • With all of the electronics we tote around with us these days, most people find cruise ship outlets to be insufficient. You can bring your own charging station or power strip (check to see if these are legal on your cruise line), but you may also want to ask your cabin steward. Sometimes there’s an extra outlet hidden behind the TV or under the bed.
  • Picky about your bedding? Some lines will provide egg crate mattress toppers, top sheets and alternative pillow types by special request. Feel free to ask, before or during your cruise.
  • Cabin designers are pretty smart about creating as much storage space as possible. Do a little exploring or ask your cabin steward for a tour. You may be surprised to find extra storage under the bed or couch, inside an ottoman or behind a mirror.
  • If you’re feeling queasy, don’t run out to a pharmacy before making some calls. Room service can bring you green apples and bland crackers (crew members swear by the apple remedy), and often you can get seasickness meds from the purser’s desk for free.

Rock of Ages

Entertainment Secrets

  • Casino frequenters can get a hole punched in their room card and a free lanyard from the casino staff for easy play without forgetting your card in the slot machines.
  • Many lines offer free minutes if you sign up for an internet package on the first day of the cruise.
  • Cruise ship spas often offer discounts for first-day and port-day treatments. Stop by the spa, or check your daily newsletters to find out about deals.
  • If the port talk is at the same time as your massage, don’t worry. Presentations and audience-participation shows are often re-broadcast on the ship’s channel on your in-room TV. You can still catch the recording if you miss the live show.
  • Use of the showers, saunas and stream rooms not located in fancy thermal suites is free. Showering in the spa can often mean access to more clean towels, fancy toiletries and bigger shower stalls — and prevents fights over who gets cabin bathroom access first. Using the free saunas is also a great remedy for that inevitable vacation head cold that stuffs you up.
  • If you want to see one of the big-name shows on Royal Caribbean or Norwegian (like «Mamma Mia» or «Rock of Ages»), but tickets are sold out, don’t fret. Many people reserve the free tickets but don’t show up, so if you get in line prior to showtime, cruise ship staff will let you in if seats are available.

Tamarind on Holland America

Cruise Line-Specific Secrets

  • Celebrity’s buffet secrets include delicious ship-made hard-serve ice cream (for free) in the buffet and made-to-order waffles with a choice of toppings. You can also order a cup of candy toppings with no ice cream if that’s your treat of choice.
  • On Holland America, lunch is discounted to $10 at the Pinnacle Grill, and free chocolate truffles make an appearance in the Explorer’s Lounge each evening.
  • Royal Caribbean’s Cafe Promenade offers high-quality coffee without the price tag. It’s no Starbuck’s, but it’s a step above what you’d find at the buffet.
  • The North Star on Royal Caribbean’s Quantum-class ships offers amazing views any time you go, but you’ll get the best views on sea days. That’s because the enclosed, glass capsule — which can rise to 300 feet above sea level — is often restricted from extending out over the side of the ship while in port.


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For destination-intensive itineraries, excellent food, a comfortable onboard experience that lets you leave your tux and gown at home and service with a genuine smile, you can’t go wrong booking a cruise on Azamara Journey.

A cruise on Azamara Journey feels a little like coming home, whether you’ve cruised on the ship before or not (and dozens of repeat cruisers are on nearly every sailing). With fewer than 700 passengers onboard and only five decks with public spaces, it only takes a day or two before the ship feels familiar; you’ve found your favorite spot to sit in the Living Room, you know where to find free cookies at any time of day and you start recognizing faces (crew and fellow cruisers alike).

The ship’s size lends itself to an amiable onboard atmosphere as well. The bulk of the tables in both Discoveries Restaurant and the buffet are designed for two people but pushed close enough together that mealtime conversations across tables are a common occurrence. Trivia sessions, which are held three times most days, encourage team building; strangers quickly bond over themes such as nature, the body, sports and music.

Service is also friendly, as well as efficient, especially in the restaurants. If you find wait staff you like and return to them on a regular basis, they’ll get to know your favorite drink order, how you like your coffee and, if you’re like certain reviewers, which gelato flavor you need to cap off every day.

Unlike dining and bar service, cabin service can be hit or miss, with several cruisers reporting their room stewards never introduced themselves, nor pointed out some of the unique quirks of the rooms (like the USB chargers hidden underneath the reading lights). It also took us three days to get extra hangers despite asking several times. But ice buckets were always filled, towels rehung in the bathroom and the cabin kept clean overall.

Another hallmark of the Azamara Journey experience is its destination focus. One of just two ships in the Azamara Club Cruises fleet, Journey stops in a mix of standard and off-the-beaten path ports, offering longer stays and at least one overnight on each sailing. On a Greece itinerary, for example, the ship not only stopped at the island standards of Mykonos and Santorini, but also visited Skiathos and Hydra, while on a Central America sailing, the ship not only stopped at Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas, but also at Acajutla, El Salvador and Huatulco, Mexico.

The culmination of Azamara’s destination focus is the complimentary AzAmazing Evening that’s held at least once per voyage. These events are billed as one-of-a-kind and might feature events like a classical music concert among the ruins of Ephesus, a recital by three tenors on a hillside in Tuscany or a ceremonial performance by indigenous people native to Mexico in the foothills of the Sierra Madres. Another special evening that’s held every cruise regardless of destination, the White Night Party, is also unabashedly popular, judging by passenger participation


Silversea’s Silver Spirit may well represent the sweet spot in luxury cruising, exceeding at everything that matters: personal space, beautiful interior design, service, food, wine and choice of compelling itineraries. At 640 feet in length and a beam of 86 feet, the ship could accommodate far more than the 540 passengers it allows. Yet, Silversea capped the number of guests in favor of creating a ship with one of the highest space-to-passenger ratios in the business.

The line’s designers then had the freedom to create some stellar public spaces, all with a unique Art Decor flair. Look for design motifs that highlight patterns — like the chevron, scallop, flamestitch and palmette — that were popular in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s. Glass and polished metals accent softer fabrics and plush upholsteries in soothing colors that range from the blues, sea greens and golds of The Bar to the burled walnut, reds and browns that decorate Stars Supper Club. Hallways are wide and public spaces are so well laid out that you don’t necessarily internalize that you’re on a cruise ship right away.

Service is a hallmark of Silver Spirit, with every officer and crew member going above and beyond to make sure passengers are happy. The staff truly seems to enjoy being on the job, and we got the sense that the Silver Spirit family is a happy one. That leads to excellent service — from the ship’s cabin stewards, who work in tandem with your butler, to the bartenders, waiters and waitresses, the gentlemen host dance partner, and the tender crew. (The latter deserve extra props for calmly and safely delivering passengers to and from Sanary-sur-Mer despite some intense swells on the day we visited.) Silversea is one of the few cruise lines that offers butler service in all of its accommodations, and these gentlemen add to the overall cruise experience. After an intense day of touring Florence (we walked more than 20,000 steps that day), our butler had a hot bath — complete with rose-petal accents — waiting for us upon our return to our suite. Gestures like that were appreciated throughout the voyage.

For a ship of this size, Silver Spirit has a tremendous number of dining options and each one is unique and above average. The food in The Restaurant (the ship’s main dining room) is some of the best we’ve had at sea in years.

All in all, we found little to complain about aboard the ship. The water in the whirlpool tubs on the pool deck could have been warmer and the entertainers by the Pool Grill could have been a bit stronger, but those are truly our biggest gripes with the ship. We can certainly understand why some of our fellow passengers had booked back-to-back voyages. A mere weeklong cruise just wasn’t enough.

Silver Spirit Fellow Passengers

Silver Spirit, the line’s largest luxury ship until Silver Muse debuts in April 2017, seems to draw a slightly younger demographic than the smaller ships in the fleet such as Silver Cloud (transferring to Silversea’s expedition fleet in 2017), Silver Whisper, Silver Shadow and Silver Wind. On our cruise, the preponderance of passengers were friendly, well traveled and in their 50s, 60s and 70s. However, there were quite a few professional couples in their 40s enjoying the unusual six-night itinerary.

The ship hosted an informal gathering for solo travelers every night of the voyage. It’s rare to find families with small children sailing Silver Spirit due to the lack of a formal kids club or any age-appropriate activities, but it is common to see multigenerational families with teens or young adults traveling with their parents and/or grandparents. Silver Spirit draws a mostly American clientele but you may also meet a few Canadians, Europeans and Australians.

Silver Spirit Dress Code

Daytime attire is casual both onboard and ashore. Expect your fellow passengers to wear «country-club casual»-type outfits consisting of slacks or Bermuda shorts with a polo or T-shirt. Sneakers, sandals and other comfortable flat or low-heeled shoes are appropriate for exploring the ship during the day. Ladies: If you shop at Chico’s or White House Black Market, you’ll be in good company aboard Silver Spirit.

When the sun sets, the dress code will be casual, informal or formal. Your cruise documents include a schedule of the nightly dress code, and it’s reprised in the Silversea Chronicles bulletin that’s left in your room each night after dinner. Embarkation is generally a «casual» evening, which dictates pants or a skirt and blouse or casual dresses for women. Men tend to wear polos or open-neck shirts and slacks.

«Informal» evenings racket things up one notch with women wearing more dressy dresses or pantsuits and men wearing a jacket (tie optional).

On formal nights, men wear tuxedos, dinner jackets or dark suits, and women are expected to wear evening gowns or cocktail dresses. If you’re not a fan of formal nights, you can dress informally on formal night as long as you choose to dine at La Terrazza, Seishin or Stars. Attire at The Grill (aka Hot Rocks) is always casual. However, be aware that if you wish to enjoy the bars and lounges later that evening, you would need to wear an outfit that adheres to the formal night requirements. Expect one formal night for voyages of nine nights or less; 14-night cruises have three formal nights. On seven-night sailings in the Baltic, Mediterranean and Alaska, formal night is always optional and passengers may instead dress according to the «informal» code.

Silver Spirit Gratuity

The cruise fare aboard Silver Spirit includes an oceanview suite with a dedicated butler; select wines, spirits, specialty coffees and teas as well as soft drinks in all bars, lounges and dining rooms — day and night; an ensuite mini-bar stocked with your preferences and replenished daily by your butler; open-seating, no-fee dining at most restaurants onboard (there is a $40 per person surcharge at Le Champagne and Seishin); and 24-hour in-room dining. Round-trip transportation from the pier to the heart of town is included in most ports, as are most gratuities. General gratuities are included in the cruise fare, but tips are not included (and are expected) when it comes to the services of the beauty salon and spa. Silver Spirit’s onboard currency is the U.S. dollar.



There’s a reason Crystal is consistently voted a fan favorite among luxury cruise devotees. Yes, 535-stateroom Serenity is now more glamorous than ever, having emerged from a dramatic $52 million makeover as a part of a $120 million fleet transformation that began in May 2011. Those who long for the black-tie elegance of yesteryear’s cruises will find it nightly amid the charmed laughter and clinking glasses in Serenity’s dining rooms and lounges.

But there’s a whole cult of Crystal-only cruisers, as faithful to the brand as travelers who hop to every Four Seasons, and they don’t just love it for its beautiful aesthetics. In short, it’s the culture of friendly, spot-on, perpetually delightful service.

Launched in 2003, Crystal Serenity is the youngest of Crystal’s ships; near-sibling Crystal Symphony launched five years later. Most significant about the vessel itself is that Crystal Serenity has benefited from more than a decade of evolution with the cruise line. The ship, carrying 1,080 passengers — the largest in the luxury segment — is significantly bigger than its predecessors, and yet, it carries an expanded capacity of just 150 cruisers. Responding to demand, Crystal Serenity offers twice as many penthouse cabins as Symphony. There are two paddle tennis courts instead of one, as tried-and-true Crystal devotees are fiercely competitive in this arena. At heart, it’s a modern ship that incorporates plenty of classic elements, and cabins, public rooms and outer decks all feel spacious.

In 2011, the ship received a $25 million refit. New lighting, carpeting and furnishings, along with a complete redesign of cabins, keep the ship feeling contemporary, fresh and incredibly well maintained. But that was just the first phase in a dramatic $52 million makeover. Its final phase, a $17 million redesign of public areas, had just completed as we came aboard in 2014. It included a redesign of its now-airy Santa Barbara-inspired Lido Deck (think living walls, outside sofas and a global-inspired casual dining deck), as well as the ultra-luxe redesign of its penthouses and 1,345-square-foot Crystal Penthouses, which positions it squarely at the top end of the world’s best cruise ships.

Other hallmarks of Crystal Cruises — the Creative Learning Institutes, which include language classes, digital filmmaking courses and knowledgeable professors that lecture along the way — are as tremendous an added value as ever. Itineraries are all inclusive, with complimentary wine and spirits, and prepaid gratuities. There are little — but important — perks along the way, too, like same-day pressing and convenient self-serve launderettes on the two penthouse floors.

We noticed that there were a lot of passengers celebrating milestone occasions, and for them — or just those with plenty of money to celebrate — Crystal offers a myriad of opportunities to create a once-in-a-lifetime sailing. On our voyage, Crystal unveiled two posh Crystal Adventures for an overnight in Monaco during the Grand Prix. Crystal had its own VIP grandstand seats in the heart of the action, plus catered lunch and, later, VIP tables at Amber Lounge with free-flowing Dom Perignon at Formula 1’s exclusive after party. The experience started at $1,000 per person.

For newcomers, the onboard atmosphere can often feel a bit country clubby. Most passengers are of retirement age, and many have met one another before. (In many cases, they sailed together on previous trips.) We, in our early 40’s with a 5-year-old daughter along, were easily among the youngest aboard.

Crystal is attempting some minor experiments to broaden its appeal; it offers some seven-night itineraries, more dining options than before and even razzle-dazzle late evenings in the Pulse disco. Taking a page from its smaller, ultra-luxury competitors, the line is nearly all-inclusive, with drinks, tips and even airfare included in the fares. (There are fees for shore excursions and alternative restaurant reservations beyond the first one.) But, it speaks to the line’s strength that it’s not interested in rocking the boat to draw passengers at any cost. It’s a safe bet that, unlike other lines that try too hard too quickly, Crystal won’t lose its identity.

Crystal Serenity Fellow Passengers

Crystal passengers are generally an empty-nester crowd, especially on unusual itineraries like World Cruises, where longer itineraries attract those who clearly have the time (read: retirement) to take the longer sailings. In fact, we overheard solicitous staff greeting repeat passengers or those who had been living aboard even while the staff had been on hiatus. On our sailing, our daughter was one of only three children aboard (though the kids of a visiting professor and the child of a performer rotated in and out).

In the Mediterranean, you can expect about half of the passengers to be American. The rest are mostly English-speaking passengers from the U.K., Australia and South America. Crystal’s management tells us that plenty of passengers also come from Japan, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Mexico, Brazil, Germany and Spain.

Crystal Serenity Dress Code

Crystal has always been a formal cruise line, and it still is. But, as with many lines, change is in the air. While the more traditional passengers still wear long, elegant gowns, tuxedos and even formal white coats on formal nights, there are fewer formal and informal nights now. Dress is generally elegant resort casual.

Crystal Serenity Gratuity

While suggested tipping guidelines had been published for years by Crystal — $5 per day for cabin stewards and waiters, $3 per day for assistant waiters, $5 per day for assistant butlers, and so on — Crystal has recently rolled gratuities into the overall charge, which makes for far less confusion. Crystal’s inclusive cruising policy includes gratuities for housekeeping (penthouse butler and attendant, stateroom attendant), and bar and dining staff (including specialty restaurants and in-room dining staff). Naturally, you can leave a little something for over-the-top exemplary service, and Crystal Spa & Salon services automatically add 18 percent.



Azamara Quest will never be a true luxury product — not with its small staterooms and aging real estate in an industry where «newer» and «bigger» often mean «better.» But with its smart new focus on «destination immersion» and sharply expanded menu of complimentary amenities, Azamara Club Cruises has carved out an upmarket niche that should have staying power.

What Azamara Quest (and sister ship Journey) aims to deliver is, as CEO Larry Pimentel frames it, a «bucket list» of must-see destinations around the world. How? With longer stays in port, more overnights and nighttime touring. It’s a strategic move that represents a distinct departure from traditional cruising, which typically features daytime port visits and no overnights or nighttime touring. The ship also plans itineraries around popular events, docking in Rio for Carnaval, Monaco for the Grand Prix and London for the Chelsea Garden Show.

On our seven-night cruise along the French Riviera, we overnighted in both Nice and Monte Carlo. And, in other ports, we sailed away as late as 10 p.m., so there was ample time to enjoy dinner or explore the nightlife on shore. (One downside: On shorter itineraries with no sea days, there is no real sense of the sail or the sea because the cruising itself occurs in the dark. If that’s an important consideration, it’s best to rethink your itinerary.)

In addition, every cruise now features one complimentary AzAmazing Evening — a local performance, concert or sporting event staged exclusively for Azamara that showcases a region’s culture and cuisine. On our AzAmazing Evening in Sete, France, we watched a colorful water-jousting competition, a local tradition dating back to the Middle Ages, followed by an outdoor reception (with sparkling wines, octopus pie, fresh oysters and mussels) and fireworks. It was a showstopper.

As for the ship, Azamara Quest considers itself a floating boutique hotel. When it launched in 2007 with nearly 700 passengers, the ship was considered mid-size. By today’s mega-ship standards, it’s a small vessel, and that’s part of its charm. Also, what Quest lacks in stateroom and bathroom panache, it makes up for with its handsome public spaces. It doesn’t hurt either that the ship underwent a $10 million refurbishment in late 2012 that included an interior design redo of the Windows buffet restaurant, new chaise lounges on the pool deck, all new equipment in the fitness center and an upgrade of carpeting and furniture fabrics in most of the public spaces.

The food and service overall are quite good by any standard. One of the game-changers, though, are new fare inclusions — not only an AzAmazing Evening but the self-service laundry, complimentary shuttles in many ports, butlers for suite passengers, house wines, beer, selected spirits, bottled water and soft drinks. The onboard experience is far more luxurious than it was before. Both onboard and ashore, this is a ship that has reinvented itself.

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Azamara Quest Fellow Passengers

Passengers onboard were an international mix, though the largest nation represented by far was the U.S., followed by the U.K., Canada and Australia. Other Europeans rounded out the lot, although there were also passengers from the Dominican Republic, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Chile and Mexico.

A large fraction of passengers are seniors, but Azamara says the average age is 55 to 57. Onboard entertainment, from trivia topics to musical choice, is clearly intended for Baby Boomers and their elders.

Almost a quarter of passengers on a typical voyage are first-time cruisers who are seasoned land travelers. Azamara says its chief competitors are boutique hotels. Statistically, the cruise lines it draws from are, in order, Regent Seven Seas, Oceania, Seabourn, Silversea and Crystal.

Azamara Quest Dress Code

Azamara Quest’s evening dress code is always resort casual, which means slacks and nice, collared shirts for men, and sundresses, dressy slacks or skirts for ladies. Dressing to the nines is the exception, rather than the rule; we saw some stunning dresses in the specialty restaurants Prime C and Aqualina and in the Discoveries main dining room, as well as a handful of men in suits; mostly passengers dressed nicely but not necessarily fancily. Jeans are not permitted in the main dining room or specialty restaurants.

Azamara Quest Gratuity

Tips are included in cruise fares, but additional tipping is at passengers’ discretion. Spa gratuities are not included in fares. An 18 percent gratuity will be added to passengers’ onboard folio for spa services. The onboard currency is the U.S. dollar.


Editor in Chief; updated by Gayle Keck, Cruise Critic contributor

Imagine yourself in a floating country club, and you’ll have a good feel for Nautica’s onboard ambience: elegant, understated and luxurious but with a casual vibe that keeps the whole experience from being overly formal. The experience is anything but pretentious.

Ask passengers what keeps them coming back (on our sailing, more than 50 percent were repeat customers), and it’s likely that «The food!» will be their enthusiastic answer. Varied menus, five dining venues and creative cuisine that can rival top-notch restaurants all make for the best culinary experience at sea.

Nautica’s itineraries tend to be longer, with many in the 21-day range. There is usually a higher number of sea days than on the average ship, and Nautica also spends the night in some ports, allowing for longer onshore visits. The ship travels around the world and hits a wide variety of destinations. Creative and varied itineraries are another element that keeps passengers returning.

In terms of facilities, there’s virtually everything you’d find on a larger ship (Canyon Ranch spa, a casino and an excellent fitness facility), yet the atmosphere is cozy and intimate. Staff and crew routinely rotate among Oceania’s ships, so a returning passenger on any of them is likely to recognize friendly faces. That could also be because Oceania treats its employees well — and they return, contract after contract. Many of the officers, crew and staff members hail from luxury lines like Crystal and Silversea.

The line primarily offers mass sightseeing tours via motorcoach, and if there’s one area where size limits the offerings, this is it. Shore excursions also tend to be on the pricier side, compared to other cruise line offerings.

If you define luxury as polished service, outstanding cuisine, an intimately sized ship with just enough of the key bells and whistles (variety of dining options, a gorgeous spa, top-notch lecturers), intriguing itineraries and an ambience of warmth, then this ship definitely belongs in that niche. On the other hand, there are also mass-market factors that don’t necessarily hew to luxury standards: Drinks and other extras are priced on an a la carte basis, standard cabins can be small (cozy, but small) with shower-only bathrooms, and there are plenty of inside cabins.

The beauty of Nautica is its ability to keep a steady foot in both camps. Oceania is savvy in positioning its fares for a range of travelers, from those who consider suites and butlers necessary amenities to those who value luxury without the Mercedes price tag. In the process, Nautica offers exceptional value for money.

Nautica Fellow Passengers

Nautica attracts mostly North American passengers, with a handful of Brits. Depending on the itinerary, though, you’ll find a smattering of folks hailing from other countries.

On most cruises, passengers fit into the mature traveler category with a majority falling into the 65 to 75 age range. They are typically well traveled and keen for Nautica’s varied destinations. There were only a couple of youngsters on our cruise, and the ship doesn’t cater to — or encourage — children.

Chances are, passengers will have cruised before, and likely on an Oceania ship. They’ll be engaged travelers — the sort who turn out for lectures and want to understand the cultures they’re visiting. Given the Oceania’s culinary reputation, they’re usually foodies, as well.

Nautica Dress Code

Plan for country club casual and you’ll be fine (pretty flowing skirt/pants outfits for women, jackets and, okay, maybe one tie for men at night, and casual tropical wear during the days onboard). Editor’s Note: When going ashore, pay attention to Oceania’s dress recommendations, which will depend on the ship’s itinerary.

There are no formal evenings onboard, though many folks did dress for the welcome dinner.

Nautica Gratuity

Nautica’s onboard currency is the U.S. dollar. On European itineraries, it’s possible to purchase euros from reception for use ashore. For other destinations, the ship endeavors to arrange currency exchange services, either onboard or on shore. For shipboard currency exchange, the line adds a 5 percent service charge.

A gratuity is automatically added to your shipboard bill, but can be altered or removed if you wish. For sailings prior to the 2015-16 winter season, $15 per person, per day, is added for regular cabins; for suites with butler service, $22 per person, per day, is added. Beginning in the 2015-16 winter season, rates will be $16 and $23, respectively.

An 18 percent gratuity is automatically added to all beverage purchases and spa services.


Cruisers Being Punished for Shopping Around?

Consumers need to be wary of booking cruises on U.S. sites as the shipping lines reserve the right to deny boarding at check-in if they find that travellers are not U.S. residents who booked with a U.S. agent at the U.S. market rate.»
Australia with American Money
This quote, posted on Cruise Critic’s message boards by member LuckiePuris, who claims to have gotten the info on an Australian travel agent’s Web site, set off a 27-page — and counting — discussion on the topic of cross-border bookings. The thread showcases the frustrations of Australian cruise fans trying to get a great deal on a vacation at sea. Their biggest fear? Getting a great price on a cruise through a U.S.-based agency only to fly halfway around the world to the embarkation port and be told they’re not allowed to board because their home address is in Australia.

U.S. cruisers benefit from an abundance of homeports, last-minute sales and regional discounts. However, the budding Australian cruise market — which the International Cruise Council of Australasia (a nonprofit organization that trains travel agents and promotes cruising among consumers, similar to CLIA, the Cruise Lines International Association, here in the U.S.) says grew 26 percent in 2008 alone — is struggling to find affordable rates on their home turf. The savviest travelers have turned to online travel sellers in the U.S. to find the best deals, but many would-be cruisers are now finding that overseas agents refuse to book them because of cruise line policies.

Beyond that, Australian cruise travelers are simply frustrated and angry that they have to jump through hoops to get a good price on a cruise. «All I know is that they are gouging us Aussies on pricing,» says member victravellers, while Down-Unders concurs, «Whatever spin you want to put on it, the blank sheet of paper should read, Australia and New Zealand are being robbed blind.»

So why are prices so different — and can you really be denied boarding based on your nationality?

The answers are difficult to find, especially since cruise lines are loathe to talk about it; most of our requests for live interviews were answered with e-mailed company statements or terse written answers to our questions. Ultimately, we were able to speak with U.S. travel agents and exchange e-mails with several cruise lines, Australian cruise travelers and the International Cruise Council Australasia.


Why Is the Same Cruise Priced Differently for Different Nationalities?

The very root of the problem is the fact that cruise lines price cruises differently in different markets. «We had paid over $3,500 p.p. at the time for cabin…. Once on board, we discovered that nearly everyone had paid less than $1,000 U.S. for the 14 day cruise,» posts member Aussie Gal. «Of course this was never offered to anyone here in Australia.»

Even though one might think an outside cabin has the same value regardless of the nationality of its occupants, the cruise lines take a more business-like approach, treating cabins as commodities. It’s basically a game of supply and demand, and the rules vary throughout the world. «Our aim is to offer stable, good-value, competitive pricing in all markets around the globe,» says Richard D. Meadows, executive vice president of marketing, sales and guest programs for Holland America Line. «At any time, local competition, sales promotions and foreign exchange rates may affect the pricing relationship between markets.» Jan Swartz, executive vice president of sales, marketing and customer service for Princess Cruises, concurs, stating that Princess’ pricing «depends on the nature of the destination and itinerary, the demand in that market, and how much inventory we have left to sell.»

In lay terms, they’re saying that if Australians are buying cruises at higher rates than Americans are willing to pay, the cruise line has no incentive to drop prices Down Under to match those in the U.S. It’s the same reason why a loaf of bread may cost different amounts in the supermarket in your town, the next town over, across the country or in another country — even though it’s the same product — or why that children’s toy you bought for a summer birthday party skyrockets in price around Christmas.

Another cruise line concern is currency fluctuation. By selling cruises to Australians in Australian dollars, Gavin Smith, managing director of Royal Caribbean Cruises Australia, says that «Australian residents are not subject to price fluctuations caused by currency movements, which they would be if they had to continually convert Australian dollars to U.S. dollars to pay their cruise fare. This is of particular importance when considering the time between depositing a booking and making final payment, which can be many months.»

So what is it about region-specific pricing that seems to result in the U.S. getting the best deals and the Australians left hunting for a good fare? Swartz offers a revealing tidbit: «As the U.S. is our largest market in the world, it’s sometimes most effective for us to discount there to ‘top off a ship’ and sell the last remaining beds.» Cruise lines even do this kind of regional discounting to sell off cabins within the U.S. itself, with discounts only available to residents of certain states or regions of the country. By restricting the deal to a certain market or traveler type (like seniors, military or past guests), the cruise lines can offer titillating discounts without invoking price protection policies, which would force them to honor the price drop on every single booking.

Do Cruise Lines Forbid Australians from Booking Cruises Through U.S. Travel Agents?

Australian cruisers who are smart shoppers have been utilizing the Internet to compare fares and access the best savings — often by taking advantage of pricing in U.S. dollars offered by American travel agencies. Cruise Critic member molliemoo writes that she booked a cruise through a major U.S. travel agency and «we will pay approximately half price, saving over $6,000 compared to the cheapest online fare I could find in Australia. Normally I’m a fierce ‘buy local’ supporter, but this is a serious saving.»

Yet, many Australian cruisers are beginning to find that this savings strategy of booking through an overseas agency is no longer available to them. Member redrob1234 posts, «My U.S. [travel agent] told me a couple of weeks ago that he could not book Princess or NCL for Aussie & NZ residents but there was no problem with my Carnival booking…. A few days after my booking was confirmed he told me that he had just been advised by RCCL that they could no longer book cruises on their ships for all of us down-under.»

Redrob1234 is right. According to the Web site of Vacations To Go, an online travel retailer that has been selling cruises to Australians for 10 years, at least nine cruise lines are not allowing international residents to book cruises through U.S. agencies. «Some of these lines have had the ban in place for a while but only recently began to enforce it,» Vacations To Go’s chairman and CEO Alan Fox told Cruise Critic in an e-mail. «We are very disappointed that we have had to turn away so many of our Australian customers and they are certainly disappointed as well.»

The Holland America, Princess and Royal Caribbean representatives we spoke to confirmed that they mandate that Australians book cruises in Australian dollars through local agencies (Princess goes so far to say that «our North American travel agent contracts forbid them from booking residents outside of the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico»). However, Carnival — a cruise line not mentioned in Vacation To Go’s fine print — takes a different approach. Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen told us, «CCL offers worldwide pricing so our pricing is the same no matter where in the world a consumer may be…. At the end of the day, it is the consumer that makes the final determination as to how and where they will buy their CCL cruise vacation.»

Although the cruise lines talk in very strict, well-defined terms, the U.S. agents we spoke to think the issue is less black and white. While they agree that their contracts with the cruise lines forbid them from marketing their offers outside North America, they can legally accept business from around the world.

In fact, there is no law forbidding U.S. travel agencies from selling to international travelers. And while it’s true that some retailers strictly adhere to the cruise lines’ policies because they have contracts with the lines, others are willing to accept international bookings and up their sales, even if they run the risk of getting their wrists slapped by the cruise lines.

Anthony Hamawy, president of, told us that «the lion’s share of cruise lines overlook [international] bookings, though several don’t.» Here’s why most do: If a cruise line flags a booking and tells the travel agency that they can’t book an Australian resident at the U.S. rate, the line will suggest that the booking transfer over to the line’s local, in-house cruise consultants at the going rate for that nationality. In most cases, the U.S. agency will then go back to the consumers and offer them a similar cruise, at a similar rate, on a different cruise line. Instead of keeping the cruise booking (and securing the higher, regionally correct rate), the cruise line loses the sale altogether — and may have made a bad impression on the consumer who will be less likely to book with the line in the future.


Terri Burke, senior vice president of relationship marketing at Cruise Planners, agrees that there’s a discrepancy between what agents are supposed to do, according to their cruise line contracts, and what they actually do. Cruise Planners agents are trained on the nature of the agency’s contracts with the cruise lines — which allow for the sale of cruises only within the U.S. and only to North American passengers. But if the agents got a call from an Australian traveler looking to book a cruise, «the reality is that most agents would take that business.»

So if agencies aren’t taking these restrictions very seriously, why do the cruise lines take such a hard line to cross-border bookings? The cruise lines give all sorts of reasons for their strict policies. Princess’ Swartz says it’s all about strengthening the relationship with locally based travel agents. Royal Caribbean’s Smith suggests that a local agent can provide better service, saying «locally based agents will understandably provide better advice on immigration documentation issues for Australian passport holders than could ever be expected from agents based overseas.» And Brett Jardine, the general manager of the ICCA, adds that Australians booking cruises with local agents are «protected by local consumer laws should the agency become insolvent,» which they wouldn’t be if they book with an overseas seller.

However, U.S. travel agents think there’s more to the story. «Cruise lines rely heavily on their revenue management strategy and tactics,» says Burke. «They like not having to expose one price to the entire world.» If the cruise lines allow international travelers to book U.S. rates, they will lose the ability to manipulate pricing based on different markets. Hamawy agrees that it’s all about business models, saying that some cruise lines do allow U.S. agencies to market aggressively internationally — but only when the lines are looking to grow the cruise market in a specific country.


Will Australians Be Denied Boarding for Booking Through a U.S. Agency?

So will Australian cruisers who book through U.S. agencies get turned away during debarkation, solely for having Australian residential addresses? We asked Holland America, Princess and Royal Caribbean and the response was an emphatic no. No agents we spoke with ever had customers experience that kind of denial of boarding, and no Australian cruisers could find us this warning in print. The original poster of the quote at the beginning of this piece could not be reached for comment.

«I asked [the Captain’s Circle hostess] if she knew anything about passengers being denied boarding at the point of embarkation,» reader Maurice K. tells us. «She said emphatically that Princess would not deny boarding at all….I truly believe this «rumour» has been started by travel agents in Australia trying to scare people from booking with US agents.»

Member AussieGal agrees, «We have now been using T.A’s in the States since 2004 and usually we have two cruises a year. I have never been denied boarding on any of the ships we have cruised on which includes HAL, Princess, Oceania and Azamara

From what agents say, the worst thing that will happen to Australian travelers who try to book through U.S. agencies is that their booking will not go through («which rarely happens,» says Hamawy) or that it could get flagged later and need to be re-booked. Burke explains that the Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) requires agencies and cruise lines to collect certain personal information from travelers, such as citizenship and residency, to provide to the government prior to departure. Cruise lines can run APIS reports at any time to see if a passenger’s residency matches the fare code booked. This quality control effort has led to a reduction in customers booking special fares for which they technically do not qualify.

Reader Yvonne M. says she’s also had trouble with future cruise onboard credit not showing up because she booked with a U.S. rather than an Australian travel agent. However, after showing proof of the owed credit and persistent calling, she eventually received the credit she was due.

One exception to the boarding-denial rule: If guests do not do their own legwork about the proper documentation required for the itinerary, they could be turned away at the pier for insufficient documentation (such as an expired passport or missing visa).

How Can Australian Cruisers Find the Best Fares?

Jardine argues that Australians don’t need to look beyond their own country’s borders for the best price. «Australian consumers have access to plenty of great value deals that are available here to travellers interested in cruising locally as well as around the world,» he says. «Similar to elsewhere in the world, travel agents in Australia and New Zealand and cruise lines offer a wide range of incentives to Australian cruise passengers looking to buy a cruise holiday, from keenly priced deals to value-adds including onboard credit, airfares etc.» Plus, as deals in the U.S. dry up this year as the economy improves, it may be that the price disparity between international rates will lessen. Cruise Critic members say they’ve had success at finding deals through wholesalers, direct bookings and overall smart shopping strategies.

With a population not much greater than that of New York State, it’s unlikely the Australian cruise market will ever be big enough to wield as much clout as the U.S. market and manage the same abundance of deals. However, Australia is capturing the attention of cruise lines, which are devoting more cruise ships and more energy to the region. So, Australian cruisers are not without some power over the cruise industry.

The U.S. travel agents we spoke with argued that the cruise lines really need to bring their pricing practices more in line with today’s global market. Because many of the Australian cruisers who we spoke with or who posted on the message boards state that they would much prefer to book with a local agent … if only they could afford it.

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Viking Sea, the second oceangoing ship from longtime river cruise stalwart Viking, is a stunning vessel that seamlessly integrates comfort and modern, Scandinavian style. The ship’s small size means it rarely feels busy and is able to get into ports bigger ships can’t reach.

Sailing on Viking Sea feels a bit like you’ve been invited into a friend’s home. The decoration is personal and elegant without being stuffy, and you really feel like you could flop just about anywhere to relax and be comfortable. So many of the decorative touches are personal to Viking chairman Torstein Hagen that you feel like you get a glimpse of him and his taste: from photos of him as a child, tributes to his mother and generally the things he loves, such as books, music and simple, clean elements. Decor shipwide relies heavily on shades of blue, gray and white, along with light wood and materials such as leather and wool. The company made a 3-million-euro investment in art onboard Viking Sea, with feature artists including Edvard Munch and Jakob Weidemann. (You can take a nifty art tour using your mobile device and the ship’s free Wi-Fi.)

A cruise on Viking Sea focuses heavily on destinations, and passengers are entitled to one included excursion in each port the ship visits. Upgraded «premium» excursions also are offered and are excellent, but many passengers are content with the included option. Viking provides local guides who speak English and know the regions well. Onboard programming complements the excursions; lectures focus on port history and culture.

Because itineraries and time in port are so important on Viking Sea, the ship doesn’t have a casino or splashy water features. The ship is unabashedly geared toward adults 55 and older. Programming and entertainment options match the target crowd, though the production shows offered onboard in the theater are a rare weak spot that could use some revamping.

The ship rarely feels crowded, as multiple spaces for relaxing are available throughout the ship, and everyone seems to have his or her favorites. They have their favorite restaurants, as well, and with alternative options such as Italian Manfredi’s and an evening at The Chef’s Table included in the fare, you will have to make reservations to get a seat. It’s worth it, though: Dining onboard is fantastic.

Viking Sea is an innovative, special ship because of the thoughtfulness that went into every space. It’s the things you never knew you needed but are thankful to have: USB ports and outlets in the atrium seating area, in case you need to power up your Kindle or camera; blankets in the theater; heat lamps poolside; outlets bedside so you can sleep with your phone charging next to you; even bookmarks left in your books if you’re otherwise lacking. The little touches and the extraordinary service make sailing Viking Sea a delightful experience.

Viking Sea Fellow Passengers

Passengers on Viking Sea are well traveled and seek new experiences. A large number of people have cruised Viking’s riverboats in Europe, prompting their curiosity about the ocean product. Most passengers fall into the 55-and-older category. The minimum age to sail is 16.

Viking Sea Dress Code

Passengers onboard Viking Sea wear «resort casual» clothing, which in the evening means somewhat dressy, with men wearing slacks and button-down or polo-style shirts and women wearing dresses, skirts and blouses, or slacks and blouses. Viking Sea has no formal night, but some men do wear jackets to dinner, though it’s certainly not required. During the day — and anytime in the ship’s World Cafe buffet — more casual clothing such as shorts, jeans, T-shirts and capris are acceptable. Passengers tend to wear swimwear in the pool or spa area only.

Viking Sea Gratuity

Viking takes a «no-nickel-and-diming» approach to cruising, so cruises on Viking Sea are quite inclusive. Fares include free Internet, self-service laundry, access to the thermal suite, a shore excursion in every port, all dining (the exception is The Kitchen Table, which is more shore excursion than restaurant) and beer, wine and soft drinks at mealtime.

Gratuities are not included, and Viking recommends passengers tip $14 per person, per day. Tips are added to onboard bills automatically, though passengers can adjust the amount by visiting the customer service desk. Alcoholic beverage purchases include a 15 percent gratuity. Spa bills don’t include an automatic tip; passengers can select a tip rate upon completion of their treatments, which will be charged to their accounts.

How many cruise companies can build an entirely new line and style of ship, simply because loyal customers ask for it? That’s the advantage Viking Ocean Cruises — the sister line to the already established Viking River Cruises — enjoyed when it developed Viking Star, its first oceangoing vessel, in 2015.

The result is a 930-passenger ship that carries some of the spirit of river cruising onto the high seas. As is the case with the line’s river cruises, Viking Star is destination focused with port-intensive itineraries. Calls are longer than average, with frequent overnights. Cruisers receive a choice of included tours in every port; for-fee options are also available. Port talks are in-depth, focusing on sights and history as opposed to shopping opportunities.

Other inclusions lifted from river ships include complimentary wine and beer at lunch and dinner, transfers, and most specialty restaurants. Wi-Fi is free and unlimited, and it worked well in cabins and public areas. Perhaps the most stunning inclusion is the Nordic spa, which boasts a thalassotherapy pool, a steam room, a hot tub, a sauna, heated ceramic lounge chairs and a cold plunge pool, as well as the first «snow grotto» at sea.

This Nordic bent is felt throughout the ship. Viking owner (and native Norwegian) Torstein Hagen has put his own stamp on the line’s ocean ships, with modern Scandinavian decor, luxe fabrics and leather furniture, a small historical display on Viking history and family recipes at Mamsen’s, a delightful Norwegian-themed casual cafe. The attention to detail and artwork feel personal, even idiosyncratic, making the ship feel more like an intimate boutique hotel than a cruise ship.

Viking Star might not please all travelers, though. Because of the destination-intense itineraries, with few days at sea, the ship lacks some amenities to which cruisers might be accustomed. The ship has no casino and only a handful of organized activities scheduled throughout the day. Entertainment at night is inconsistent, ranging from lackluster to engaging.

Viking Oceans is unabashedly not oriented to families with young children. The minimum age to sail is 16, and no activities onboard are arranged for children.

Viking Star will be joined by the fleet’s next new ship, the nearly identical Viking Sea, in spring 2016.

Viking Star Fellow Passengers

Viking Star is designed to appeal to well-traveled, curious and value-oriented travelers in the 50-plus age group (though it will also appeal to those younger). The Viking Ocean Cruises experience is not meant for families, fans of casino gambling (no casino onboard) or those seeking constant onboard entertainment.

Viking Star Dress Code

Resort casual is the prevailing dress code, with a slightly more relaxed feel during the day. The line’s literature says that shorts, jeans and comfortable shoes are acceptable for daytime, but swimsuits and workout clothes should be restricted to the pool, gym and spa areas. There are no formal nights on Viking Star, but passengers do tend to dress up a bit in the evenings — everything from slacks and blouses to dresses for women and khakis with button-downs to suits for men. Daytime dress is allowed at any time in the World Cafe buffet area.

Viking Star Gratuity

Onboard currency is the U.S. dollar. The recommended gratuity is $14 per person, per day, and it’s automatically added to onboard bills. Passengers can make adjustments by visiting the customer service desk. Alcoholic beverage purchases levy an automatic 15 percent tip. Tips are not automatically added to spa services.


Pacific Princess offers some of the line’s more exotic itineraries in Europe, Asia and South America, including a 107-night World Cruise beginning each January from Ft. Lauderdale to Venice. The 30,277-ton, 680-passenger pair were acquired in 2002 from now-defunct Renaissance Cruises, and both are by far the smallest ships in Princess’ fleet.

With its dark wood and plush interiors, Pacific Princess resembles a stately manor house or country inn. The more intimate size facilitates friendliness; don’t be surprised if the staff knows your name and says hello when you pass by.

Unlike Princess’ larger ships, Pacific Princess does not feature a flexible dining option; there are early and late shifts at 6:15 and 8:15 p.m. But the ship does feature the line’s two popular alternative restaurants: Sabatini’s, the signature Italian venue and the Sterling Steakhouse, which offers traditional favorites and an international wine list. (Note: Due to the small size of the ship, the restaurants alternate the nights they are open.)

Accommodation-wise, 92 percent of the ship’s cabins are outside, 75 percent of which have verandahs. There are only five categories — Interior Double, Oceanview Double, Oceanview Double with Balcony, Mini-Suites and Suites — but there is significant variety within the categories, so consult deck plans and cabin reviews before booking.

Evening entertainment revolves around the Cabaret Lounge, which is equipped with a state-of-the-art sound and lighting system and presents a full schedule of options, including first-run movies, live music, variety shows and more. Live piano music is available at the Casino Bar, and the adjacent casino offers table games and slot machines. Sea days may include destination-specific lectures, and classes on photography and computer technology (all are part of Princess’ enrichment-focused ScholarShip@Sea program).






It is hard to believe that the now-venerable Crystal Symphony debuted more than 20 years ago because the ship is so fresh and light with a sleek, contemporary ambience that’s on trend today. That hasn’t happened by accident. Crystal has invested millions since the ship launched in refurbishing, upgrading and adapting Symphony as travel tastes have changed.

On this latest trip on Symphony, we noticed lots of great upgrades. Dining options have been overhauled to feature plenty of healthy fare, with many good-for-you choices available in venues ranging from the Crystal Dining Room to the Lido Cafe. Staterooms offer many creature comforts in a sleek, boutique hotel-style ambience. Symphony’s sun deck, one of the most beautiful at sea, offers plenty of space for lounging in full sunlight but also, in response to growing concerns by travelers of over-exposure, incorporates shaded spots. The Crystal Spa has embraced new treatments, such as medispa-oriented options and acupuncture.

And yet, what’s carried Crystal through the past 20 years as one of the industry’s best luxury cruise experiences is that it knows what not to «fix.» Whether it’s your first time or 20th onboard, you’ll find hallmark restaurants like Nobu’s Silk Road and the Italian Prego to be first-rate, with longstanding specialties like the former’s miso cod and the latter’s mushroom soup in a bread bowl. The ship’s enrichment programs, ranging from arts-and-crafts workshops to making movies on iPads, continue to thrive.

And there’s one more, very crucial, aspect of the Crystal Symphony experience that has not changed: Its crew offers superb service across the board, from cabin stewards and waiters to butlers and spa therapists. You notice after a day or so onboard that you feel at home every time you return from port and — as lovely as the ship is — it’s the crew that delivers that message. And why wouldn’t they? So many of the talented and well-trained staff onboard have worked for Crystal so long that Symphony is a home away from home for them, too.

Crystal Symphony Fellow Passengers

Fellow passengers are very well traveled and primarily in the 60-plus age range. While many, more than the industry average, are repeat passengers, the line is trying to appeal to a broader demographic by introducing shorter-than-usual itineraries (seven to 10 days) and marketing these to families, particularly multigenerational groups.

Crystal has expanded beyond its North American roots and attracts travelers from other English-speaking countries, such as the U.K., Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, along with groups from Asia.

Crystal Symphony Dress Code

During the day, Crystal passengers wear what the line calls «active resort wear,» which ranges from shorts and T-shirts to sundresses. At night, Crystal has two dress codes that are in effect after 6 p.m. On Crystal Casual nights, women wear dressy slacks, skirts and dresses, while men opt for open-collared and Polo shirts along with dress pants or European smart trousers. On Crystal’s Black Tie Optional evenings, suggested attire includes formal cocktail dresses, evening gowns or elegant evening separates for women. For men, a dark suit (either with a tie or without) and tuxedo are recommended choices.

Crystal Symphony Inclusions

For a luxury line, Crystal is moderately inclusive. Cocktails, beer and wine, sodas and specialty coffees are included in the fare (though only Penthouse category-and-above cabins receive free spirits in their mini-bars). One dinner at each specialty restaurant is offered at no charge (repeat visits cost $30 per person). Sixty minutes of Wi-Fi per passenger, per day, is free.

Gratuities for housekeepers, butlers and wait staff are also covered, but spa treatments do incur an 18 percent auto-gratuity.


Well before Seven Seas Explorer launched in July 2016, Regent Seven Seas was calling it the «Most Luxurious Ship Ever Built.» That is a bold statement when it comes to ultra-luxury cruising. In many ways, the ship lives up to the billing, with extraordinary features and tiny details that will make even the most discerning passenger exceptionally happy.

To begin with, the cabins — they’re all suites — are beautifully designed and feature some of the largest balconies in the industry. (Balcony sizes range from 55 to 994 square feet.) At the very top is the Regent Suite, a two-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom cabin that is so indulgent and well-appointed, passengers staying there might never want to leave.

Then, there’s the dining, with two restaurants that make their debut for the line on Explorer: Chartreuse and Pacific Rim. Food onboard is outstanding no matter where you dine, but the addition of the new specialty restaurants — included in the price — gives passengers more variety. The line’s signature steakhouse, Prime 7, remains one of the best at sea, and its main dining restaurant options, Compass Rose and La Veranda/Sette Mari, set the bar high for «standard» cruise ship dining.

The ship features more than an acre of granite and an acre of marble, almost 500 chandeliers and some 2,500 pieces of art, including works by masters such as Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall. And that’s not just in the public spaces, which are impressive. Suites feature incredible marble and stone detailing in their bathrooms and on surfaces like desks and bars.

Those looking to poke holes in the «most luxurious» claim might point to the ship’s entertainment, which is OK but not extravagant as one might expect. Likewise, the spa feels like it missed an opportunity to create a more expansive thermal suite complex, with features such as a therapy pool, fairly common on higher-end cruise ships. But complaints in general are minor.

With its over-the-top features, impeccable service and world-class dining, Seven Seas Explorer delivers a luxurious experience that feels like something special. Whether the ship is the world’s most luxurious is a judgment call, but Seven Seas Explorer makes a good case.

Seven Seas Explorer Fellow Passengers

Passengers on Seven Seas Explorer are generally 60 and above, with a heavy percentage (around 80) hailing from North America. Australians and passengers from the U.K. are common as well. Passengers are well off, with a net worth of around $2 million, and most have cruised before, many with Regent Seven Seas. Families are uncommon, though children occasionally can be found sailing with their parents and grandparents during the summer or over holidays.

Seven Seas Explorer Dress Code

During the day, passengers wear comfortable clothing appropriate to the sailing climate. Poolside, bathing suits and cover-ups (for women) are common, though swimwear is not allowed indoors. Women wear shorts and T-shirts or blouses, capris, jeans, dresses or skirts indoors, while men go with jeans or shorts and T-shirts or polo shirts.

At night, elegant casual is the name of the game. That means skirts or slacks with blouses or sweaters, pant suits or dresses for ladies; slacks and collared shirts for men. Jackets are optional, but they’re fairly common. Jeans, T-shirts, baseball caps, shorts and sneakers aren’t appropriate in any public space after 6 p.m. Cruises of 16 nights or more will include two optional formal nights, where women might wear evening or cocktail gowns or formal pants suits; men might wear tuxes or suits. Elegant casual dress still is appropriate even on formal nights. Cruises of 15 nights or less don’t feature formal nights.

The final night of the cruise allows passengers to dress more casually, but most stick with elegant casual.

Regent Seven Seas Explorer Inclusions

Regent Seven Seas is one of only a few truly all-inclusive cruise lines, and as such, a cruise on Seven Seas Explorer will be virtually hassle-free when it comes to figuring out what costs extra. Cruises on this ship include premium alcohol, wine, spirits, beer, soda, water and sports drinks, all gratuities, entertainment, dining (including at least one dinner at every specialty restaurant onboard), unlimited Wi-Fi, unlimited shore excursions and airfare. Beginning in 2017, cruises will include business-class airfare for U.S. passengers; before 2017, business-class-airfare is included for Penthouse Suite passengers and above.

The cruise also includes use of the ship’s thermal suite, regardless of whether you have booked a spa treatment. A concierge staff is also available to anyone, 24 hours a day.

Depending on cabin category booked, items such as hotel stays and transfers to the port might be included.

The onboard currency is the U.S. dollar.

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From the get-go, Holland America’s Vista Class has suffered a bit of an identity crisis. This is not unexpected from a design intended to bridge the gap between Holland America’s venerable passengers and younger couples and families.

My first experience with the class was with Westerdam, the third in the series of four. To my taste the emphasis had shifted too far toward the youthful energy extreme, what with atrium barstools upholstered in day-glo purples and yellows.

My recent sailing on the second ship in the series, Oosterdam, confirmed to me that the path to the proper balance of refinement and exuberance is a swinging pendulum, not a straight arrow trajectory. On

Oosterdam Fellow Passengers

The Vista Class ships, though paying lip service to catering to multi-generational travelers, clearly appeal mostly to Holland America’s core demographic: mature, sophisticated, well-traveled couples, the majority of whom are HAL repeaters.

Oosterdam Dress Code

Casual is the universal daytime dress code, the only variations dictated by latitude (you certainly would dress differently for St. John, USVI, than for St. John’s, Newfoundland), or by activity (as in going by motorcoach versus by motorbike). Two formal nights take place on seven-night sailings; three on sailings of 10 or more days. We found fewer gents going the full-on black tie route than we would have expected. Also, though the Holland America information pamphlet states that there would also be five «informal» — sport jacket for men — nights with only two «dressy casual» evenings, we found this not to be the case. On non-formal nights, dressy casual wear was the universal choice, with the exception of those taking dinner in the Pinnacle Grill, where jacket (with or without tie) was the rule.

Oosterdam Gratuity

The automatic tip for passengers staying in interior, oceanview and verandah cabins is $12.50 per person, per day. Passengers in suites will be charged $13.50 per person, per day.


With its mid-sized capacity and classic styling, Holland America’s stately Maasdam is a manageable and pleasant ship. After eighteen years in service, it has succeeded in retaining its youth — with a major sweep of contemporary updates in both 2006 and the spring of 2011 — but has resisted the impulse to act like a teenager. As such, the 1,258-passenger Maasdam has retained some of the traditional sensibilities that appeal to its older audience base — high tea, formal nights, ballroom dancing and displays of antiques — while adding elements to appeal to younger audiences. Such newer features include two contemporary alternative restaurants, wireless hotspots, three new hip specialty bars and an iPod tour of the aforementioned antiques.

Maasdam Fellow Passengers

While Holland America is working to move beyond its reputation as a seniors’ line, and Maasdam is one of the fleet’s designated family friendly vessels, the average age on the cruise line’s 15 vessels is about 57. Shorter itineraries and cruises during school holiday periods tend to attract a higher percentage of younger passengers and families. On Maasdam’s non-summer and longer sailings, expect a more typical Holland America devotee — a more senior crowd that appreciates the line’s nod toward cruise traditions.

Maasdam Dress Code

Two nights in seven are designated as formal nights in the dining room. For the majority of men, this translates as dark suits (there are some tuxes), and for women, the range was from the little black dress to larger, longer, more colorful affairs.

Editor’s Note: You can order «formal night» options from the ship in advance, or even buy them from the shops. (They’re cheaply made «mother of the bride» looks, but they’ll do in a pinch.)

Dress codes apply to kids, too. On formal nights, the girls were adorable in their «fancy» dresses; most boys wore, if not suits, than at least shirts with ties. The rest of the evenings are «smart casual,» that conundrum of a description that tends to create more questions than answers but in general means slacks or skirts for women and khakis and polo shirts or button-downs for men. Jeans, tank tops and pool attire are discouraged from public areas.

Maasdam Gratuity

The automatic tip for passengers staying in interior, oceanview and verandah cabins is $12.50 per person, per day. Passengers in suites will be charged $13.50 per person, per day.


A recent trip on Zaandam, my first with Holland America since the line rolled out its «Signature of Excellence» program fleet-wide, gave me an opportunity to see if HAL was maintaining its reputation of providing the high level of comfort and service that has evolved gracefully over the years.

For passengers who have traveled on any of Holland America’s Statendam-class or Rotterdam-class ships, the Zaandam (launched in 2000 and named after a town in Holland) will seem familiar. The atrium is filled with a signature sculpture. The restaurant is on two levels aft. The Lower Promenade Deck is wraparound. Most public rooms are located on three decks. And there are three banks of elevators (two on Statendam-class vessels). The deck plan is similar to Rotterdam and Amsterdam, but Zaandam and Volendam, its sister ship, lack the horsepower (and the twin funnels) of the co-flagships of the line.

Zaandam Fellow Passengers

Holland America traditionally attracts one of cruising’s more senior demographics, but interestingly, on my trip — a short repositioning cruise on the West Coast during a school holiday period, there were many more younger families with children than I have seen on other Holland America ships. Most passengers hail from North America, but there was a significant representation of passengers from Europe and Asia.

Zaandam Dress Code

On Holland America first and last nights are casual, as are nights in port. Casual means long trousers for men, collared shirts and no sneakers; and for women, neat trousers or skirt with a top, no bare midriff or exercise clothing. There are usually two formal nights per week (suit or tuxedo, gown or cocktail dress). Other nights are informal: jacket with or without tie for men and dress or dressy pants and top for women.

Zaandam Gratuity

The automatic tip for passengers staying in interior, oceanview and verandah cabins is $12.50 per person, per day. Passengers in suites will be charged $13.50 per person, per day.


Coral Princess blends the exotic (an international staff, elegant Italian restaurant, celebrity-style spa treatments) and the familiar (cruising’s ubiquitous buffets, poolside umbrella drinks and, yes, bingo). The ship is a vacation destination that offers up a pleasing amount of glitz yet makes passengers feel right at home.

The 91,627-ton ship, built just trim enough to traverse the Panama Canal, accommodates 1,970 passengers and 900 crewmembers. On our 10-day trip — from Fort Lauderdale through the Caribbean to Panama and back — the ship was fully booked. But remarkably, there was a surprising sense of spaciousness onboard, a function of both design and operational efficiency.

Coral Princess Fellow Passengers

Coral Princess’ mainly Caribbean cruises tend to draw largely American passengers with a respectable showing of folks from Canada and the United Kingdom. It’s also a noticeably older crowd. Well over half of the passengers on our cruise were 60-plus, with fewer than 230 passengers between the ages of 21 and 50. During summers and holiday periods, the number of children aboard does increase notably.

Coral Princess Dress Code

There are two formal nights on a 10-day cruise, and people dress to the nines on those evenings. Otherwise, dress is so-called «smart casual,» which translates into something you might wear to a cocktail party or nice restaurant: A silky top and pants, a skirt and pretty sweater set or a comfy sun dress for the ladies and nice slacks and a shirt (no tie or jacket required) for the men. No jeans or shorts are permitted in the dining rooms, though.

Coral Princess Gratuity

Gratuities, which are automatically charged to onboard accounts, are $12.95 per person (including children), per day, for passengers staying in standard accommodations and $13.95 for passengers staying in mini-suites and suites. A 15 percent gratuity is added to beverage purchases onboard, including wine at dinner. Spa and casino staff members don’t share in the gratuity charges (if you use these services, tips are advised).

Celestyal Crystal was the first ship to offer round-Cuba sailings (in 2013), operating seven-day Havana-to-Havana itineraries, stopping at five Cuban ports and Montego Bay, Jamaica. For three years it has operated seasonally (November to March), redeploying to the Greek islands for the summer. However, from November 2016 the ship has been based in Havana year-round due to the huge increase in demand from passengers keen to see the island before it changes permanently.

It is still one of the few lines which offers round-Cuba sailings and offers the chance to get a real feel for the island. The seven-night cruise stays two nights in the capital, allowing you to enjoy the city’s nightlife; before pressing onto Punta Frances, a pristine beach at the southern tip of Isla de Juventud; Cienfuegos, for the UNESCO World Heritage town of Trinidad; and the second city at the far eastern tip

Celestyal Crystal Fellow Passengers

Passengers are predominantly Canadian and Swedish, though the number of Americans is increasing due to the thawing in relations between the two countries. The rest of the clientele is drawn from the U.K., Germany and Japan. Americans are onboard, generally as part of an officially sanctioned, legal tour group (primarily the People to People Program). The average age is around 55 to 65, with a smattering of younger people and a handful of children.

Celestyal Crystal Dress Code

The dress code is casual, with one night suggested as elegant, but it’s not strictly enforced.

Celestyal Crystal Gratuity

The US dollar is the official currency onboard. Gratuities are included.

Cruiseaholics: Why Cruising Is Ruining the Australian Traveller

Decks of cruise ship with view of Sydney Opera House

Australian holidays are changing. Some locals are becoming so addicted to the cruise life that they’re turning their backs on land-based trips and heading out to sea. The biggest cruise fans are signing up for back-to-back voyages, getting married onboard, celebrating birthdays and divorces on ships, and even ditching the idea of a retirement home to travel the world on a floating residence.

More than 1 million Aussies set sail in 2014 and the 2015-2016 summer cruise season was the biggest on record. It seems more and more Australians are becoming cruiseaholics, accustomed to the comfort, ease and fun of cruising.

1. Cruising offers amazing value for your holiday dollar

Cruise fares are generally inclusive of almost everything you’ll need for a fantastic trip. Food, accommodation, entertainment and transportation between destinations are included in the fare. Some cruise lines have free drinks, free WI-FI and free tours. Many of the major players — such as P&O, Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line — offer Australian, New Zealand and South Pacific itineraries for less than AU$100 per person per night. Even cheaper deals can be found online.

2. Cruise ships come in all shapes, styles and sizes

What’s holiday heaven for one person is hell for another. You just have to pick the right one for you. Whether you’re after a romantic experience or people to party with, there’s a perfect ship and itinerary for everyone. From the refined luxury of the 382-passenger Silver Whisper or sailing with 3,000 new friends on Explorer of the Seas, there are plenty of choices for Australian cruisers.


Gondolas on the background of a huge cruise ship, Venice, Venezia, Italy, Europe,

3. You experience destinations in a different way

We’re no longer just flying to Europe to visit London and Paris; we’re flying in to cruise. Europe is now our third favourite cruise destination (after the South Pacific islands and within Australia), according to the latest Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Australasia report. The Caribbean, Alaska and Asia are other destinations that look and feel very different by ship. Not to mention cruising is far easier than travelling around foreign countries by car, coach or train.

4. You can sleep comfortably in transit

There’s no other way of travelling where you have a queen size bed to snooze away your overnight transit in complete comfort. All cabins have private bathrooms, air-conditioning, some have balconies and butlers, and you wake up in a new destination with zero effort. Bliss.

5. You wake up somewhere else every day

There’s nothing as exciting as looking out the window to a different view every morning. One day you might gaze upon a postcard-perfect beach and the next day to the splendour of an ancient city. With a growing trend for Australians to do back-to-back cruises, particularly on European and Asian itineraries, you can pack in a lot of destinations into a relatively short time.


The North Star on Anthem of the Seas

6. The views are inescapable

There’s no other form of travel that offers you panoramic views wherever you are — whether you’ve arrived at a port or your ship is sailing into the beautiful blue. If you’re lucky enough to cruise in Asia on Royal Caribbean’s newest ship Quantum of the Seas there’s also North Star, an incredible glass observation capsule suspended from a giant arm 300ft above sea level, which takes the 360-degree vista to a whole new level. Sydney-based Ovation of the Seas will also offer the North Star experience when it comes Down Under in December 2016.

7. It’s impossible to get bored

Pick the right ship and you’ll find something to do at any time. Beyond the usual swimming pools and hot tubs, Carnival Spirit and Legend have waterslides and splash parks, while Voyager of the Seas and Explorer of the Seas offer FlowRider surf simulators for wannabe surfers, plus ice rinks, rock climbing walls, putting greens and gymnasiums for sporty types. Action fans will also enjoy P&O’s adventure parks with zip lines, funnel climbs and other adrenaline-pumping activities. Those who just want to be pampered can hit the spa and beauty salon, while those who prefer to indulge their minds can head to art classes and lectures. Then there are the Broadway-style shows, dozens of entertainers, musicians, comedians and movies for every taste. And that’s not including all the things you can do at the cities and islands you visit.


8. You will never go hungry

Cruises are no longer all about buffets and all-you-can eat pizza. Today’s cruise ships cater to every palate and every dietary need with an endless array of food showcasing the cuisines of many parts of the world. You can eat as much or as healthily as you like, and most of it is included in the fare. For those who like to dine al fresco, Celebrity Solstice has a real grass-top deck with a Lawn Club Grill offering the delights of an outdoor barbecue. Foodies will also appreciate the fine dining in specialty restaurants (for a small surcharge, from AU$20 to $50), often in partnership with a celebrity chef. Princess Cruises’ has teamed up with Curtis Stone with shareable meals on Share, P&O has Salt Grill by Luke Mangan, and Carnival serves unbeatable burgers devised by Guy Fieri.

Multi-generational family dining at Johnny Rockets on Freedom of the Seas


9. Cruising appeals to every age and ability

Cruising’s appeal cuts across all age brackets, reflecting the broad variety of product and destinations as well as the accessibility offered by cruise lines worldwide. Cruising works well for multi-generational travel, family reunions and celebrations because the needs and interests of every generation can be met in the one place. The bigger cruise lines such as Celebrity, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Carnival and P&O all boast dozens of gentle activities for grandma and granddad, relaxation and entertainment for mum and dad, and loads of active fun for the kids. MSC Cruises even go as far as offering free cruises for children under 18 when they share a cabin with two paying adults.

10. Aussies love getting out on the water

Australia has grown to become the world’s leading cruise market in terms of growth (the percentage increase in the number of people cruising) and population penetration (the percentage of people who have taken a cruise). We love river cruising as well as ocean cruising. And this is despite the fact that the majority of the population already lives on the coast — or perhaps it’s the very reason why we just can’t enough of cruising.

Get inspired with more Cruisers’ Choice Awards 2017 Part 1 !!!!Best Mid-Size Cruises


From the minute we arrived at the Disney Cruise Terminal, until we disembarked, everything was spectacular. Disney has taken cruising to a whole new level and this vacation did not disappoint

There’s no doubt Disney Cruise Line has a soft spot for Disney Magic, the ship that gave the line a name in the cruise industry. And, as of fall 2013 — when the ship received its 15th-birthday refurb — Disney has all the more reason to celebrate.

Like its three fleetmates, Magic sports a nostalgic ocean liner appearance with a navy blue hull and red funnels (customized with Mickeys, of course). While the cabins have been refreshed with new carpet and furnishings, it retains the nautical decor prevalent on all Disney’s sister ships. (And, yes, the hidden Mickeys are still there.) But, despite these similarities, post-refurb Magic lives up to its big sister title with a number of company firsts.

Disney Magic Fellow Passengers

Mostly families sail this ship. However, a large number of people do travel without kids because they appreciate the quality of the ship, its offerings and its suite-like cabins. Disney Magic’s changing itineraries attract a higher percentage of past passengers looking to explore new places with Disney.

Disney Magic Dress Code

Dress is casual during the day and resort casual — slacks and collared shirts for men and casual dresses or capri pants for women — in the evenings, with one formal night and one semiformal night on each seven-night cruise. Although they’re optional, dress pants and jackets for men and dresses or pantsuits for women are encouraged. But even these fancier nights lean toward the casual side, with many women dressed in summer or maxi-dresses as opposed to long, formal ones. Swimwear and tank tops are not allowed in the restaurants at dinner, but shorts and jeans are permitted. In Palo, the dress code is a bit more strict; shorts, capri pants, flip-flops and sneakers are not allowed, although you can wear jeans.

Disney Magic Gratuity

The recommended gratuities are $4 per person (adult or child), per day, for the dining room server; $3 per person, per day, for the assistant server; $1 per person, per day, for the head server; and $4 per person, per day, for the room steward. All bar, pool deck and coffee bar drinks have a 15 percent gratuity added to the bill. Spa gratuities are not added and are left to the discretion of each passenger. It is suggested that cruisers tip a couple dollars for room service as it’s delivered.



If you’re wondering what exactly an «ultra-premium» cruise ship is, look no further than Marina, the first new-build Oceania built back in 2011.

It’s the kind of ship where you can book an inside cabin, but still enjoy four specialty restaurants with no additional fees and never have to wait in a long queue. Where you can book a luxurious suite designed by Dakota Jackson or Ralph Lauren, but choose whether you want to pay for a beverage package or shore excursions rather than having those inclusions bump up your base fare. It’s a ship that carries multiple types of French flour to make daytime and evening baguettes, devotes lots of onboard space to galleys and dining venues and serves a proper afternoon tea with white-glove service, scones with clotted cream and a string quartet. Where you can order a vegan smoothie or energy bowl after your

Marina Fellow Passengers

Travelers tend to fall into the older age ranges (50 and up), are well traveled (and often avid cruisers) and hail mostly from the U.S. and Canada, with Brits and Australians making up the balance. On our school break sailing, we did see a handful of kids and younger adult travelers. We found folks to be friendly, and the atmosphere not at all stuffy.

Marina Dress Code

Think casual-but-elegant throughout the ship, both day and night; you won’t find formal nights on Marina. Tank tops and swimwear are discouraged at all times from any of the restaurants, while shorts, jeans, T-shirts, sneakers and sandals are banned from all dinner venues except the Terrace Cafe. Men can’t go wrong with blazers and slacks after sunset, while women will feel comfortable in dresses, nice pants outfits or skirts with blouses. On our Caribbean cruise, we found that people generally looked nice, but not overly fancy or fashionista at dinner; we saw more skirts or slacks with blouses than little black dresses at night.

Marina Inclusions

Unlike many upscale cruise lines, Oceania’s fares are not overly inclusive. Bottled water, soda and coffee drinks are free of charge, whether ordered at a bar or stocked in your cabin’s mini-fridge. Nearly all specialty restaurants (minus La Reserve) do not have a cover charge. You will need to pay for alcoholic drinks, self-service laundry, shore excursions, Wi-Fi and gratuities.

Tips are automatically charged to your onboard account at the rate of $16 per person, per day (half to housekeeping and half to dining staff). Passengers in suites with butler service (Penthouse, Vista, Oceania and Owner’s suites) are charged an additional $7 per person, per day. You are welcome to give additional tips to individuals who go above and beyond at your discretion. It’s expected that those bringing room service will be tipped (anywhere from $1 to $5, depending on what’s ordered) as items are delivered. An 18 percent gratuity is automatically tacked on to bills for spa services, bar drinks and dinner at La Reserve.


Amsterdam pulled away to begin my seven-night cruise to Alaska, there was no better place to watch the downtown Seattle skyline fade away than from the comfort of one of the ship’s classic teak lounge chairs, glass of Champagne in hand. After all, isn’t sailing on Holland America, and Amsterdam to boot, all about reveling in the storied traditions of cruising?

From a perch on the lower promenade deck, as some of the more ambitious fellow passengers walk pre-dinner laps on the open-air deck, it was obvious that HAL’s long-standing oceangoing traditions have been blended with modern amenities and services. As part of its Signature of Excellence program, Holland America has committed to pouring more than a half a billion dollars into its fleet of 13 ships since 2003, upgrading staterooms, public spaces and shore excursions. Amsterdam showcases how the

Amsterdam Fellow Passengers

On a recent seven-night Alaska Explorer cruise, the majority of passengers were in the 50-plus range. There were also a smattering of young families with small children as well as multi-generational groups of grown children traveling with one or both parents. According to a Holland American spokesman, passengers on Alaska cruises skew older than those on Caribbean itineraries.

Amsterdam Dress Code

Attire during the day is casual, and on a recent cruise to Alaska, jeans and khaki pants were standard. Days in port saw passengers in even more casual sportswear and hiking shoes. Two evenings were designated formal, and while some passengers donned cocktail dresses, gowns, tuxedos and suits, others chose to opt out of the evening code altogether and stick to jeans or khakis. The remaining evenings called for smart-casual attire. Translation: No jeans were allowed. Passengers in the Pinnacle Grill and main dining room abided by the guidelines, but more casual attire was seen in the Lido restaurant and Canaletto.

Amsterdam Gratuity

The automatic tip for passengers staying in interior, oceanview and verandah cabins is $12.50 per person, per day. Passengers in suites will be charged $13.50 per person, per day.


The «Imagineers» (aka designers) behind Disney Wonder’s innovative spaces tell the Disney story with everything they do, paying attention to even the tiniest details. On Wonder, that means that in the Oceaneer Club kids 12 and younger enter a Marvel universe to fight bad guys and learn about their inner strength. In Tiana’s Place, an electric dining experience pulled straight out of Disney’s «The Princess and the Frog,» diners are treated to a setting that beautifully blends fairytale with New Orleans’ French Quarter. The Disney story continues even in the announcement chime and (to our surprise) the ship’s horn, which both play the first seven notes of «When You Wish Upon a Star.»

Of course, you’ll find the Disney story in the entertainment onboard as well. «Frozen, a Musical Spectacular» makes an impression in the theater and kids love all the appearances by the princesses.

Disney Wonder Fellow Passengers

Expect a solid one-third of the ship’s passengers to be children, so about 900 to 1,000 kids. That means there are plenty of family groups onboard — from single families and grandparents with grandchildren to multigenerational groups and family reunions. Embarkation ports like Galveston attract a big drive-to market, so you’ll find lots of people from the Midwest and Southern United States. Alaska cruises attract a tad older demographic, including couples traveling without children, but they’re still heavy on the multi-gen groups.

Disney Wonder Dress Code

The only dress code to be aware of is in Palo, the adults-only restaurant, which asks that men wear dress pants (jeans are OK, if in good condition with no holes) and a collared shirt; and women put on a dress, skirt or pants and a blouse. No shorts, flip-flops or sneakers. Shirts and shoes are required in Cabanas buffet. Most nights are cruise casual, but there is at least one «optional dress up» night per cruise. With that said, we found that most kids (and a few adults) spent about half the cruise in «regular» clothes, and the other half in costume. Dressing up — as a swashbuckling pirate for Pirate Night, sparkling Disney princess or a favorite Star Wars character — is encouraged. Some people never took their Mickey ears off. (Tip: If you plan on buying costumes or accessories onboard, leave plenty of room in your luggage if you want to bring them home.)

Disney Wonder Gratuity

Gratuities — given to the waiters, assistant waiters, head waiters and stateroom attendants — are $12 per person, per day. Even if you prepay gratuities or add tips to your onboard bill, envelopes are distributed on the final evening so you can personally thank your room steward and wait staff. Cards denoting the prepaid amount can be put inside the envelopes, or you can give cash, if you prefer. An automatic 15-percent service charge is added to drink orders at any bar or lounge; an 18-percent auto-gratuity is added to all spa treatments.


Accommodating 1,250 passengers, Riviera is the newest ship in Oceania Cruises’ fleet, which is made up of mostly older but beautifully refurbished and maintained vessels. (Riviera, launched in 2012, and twin Marina, launched in 2011, are the exceptions, purposefully built for the line.) Riviera, while not all-inclusive, provides an upscale cruise into ports that are difficult for larger cruise ships to reach. The ship includes a wide range of cabins, which all feel luxurious thanks to premium fabrics and materials such as Italian marble.

It’s impossible to talk about Riviera without mentioning food. That’s because dining and cuisine are deeply entwined with the ship and its programming. Cuisine is an art form onboard, with attention given to even the smallest details, from idea to execution. Menus are vast and balanced; even people who

Riviera Fellow Passengers

Passengers on Riviera are older — expect most to fall into the 65-plus category, though the age skews younger when itineraries are shorter. Most of them are American, with Canadians, Brits and Australians rounding out the mix, but passengers from many other countries often sail. You’ll also find a few families onboard during the summer and around the holidays, when kids are free from the shackles of school.

Riviera Dress Code

Passengers on Oceania Riviera go for comfort in the daytime, where swimsuits and cover-ups are the norm poolside, and shorts, tees, jeans, capris and casual dresses are appropriate in all other public spaces. (Passengers aren’t permitted to wear tank tops or swimsuits in restaurants, regardless of the time of day.)

At night, the dress code is similar to what you’d find at a country club or resort on land. Men wear dress pants or khakis and button-down or collared shirts, while women might wear dresses or blouses with skirts, capris or dress pants. Jeans, T-shirts and tennis shoes are expressly prohibited in public venues after 6 p.m. Riviera doesn’t have a formal night, so glitzy dresses or jackets and ties aren’t required, though some passengers do dress for dinner, especially in the specialty venues.

Riviera Inclusions

A cruise on Riviera includes dining at all specialty restaurants (except La Reserve), which means passengers can dine fee-free at excellent options such as Asian restaurant Red Ginger and French venue Jacques.

Your cruise fare also will cover unlimited soft drinks, bottled water, cappuccino, espresso, teas and juices. Beer, wine, cocktails and spirits are extra. Oceania offers a variety of beverage packages, including a wine-by-the-bottle package priced per bottle and house or premium beverage packages, priced per person per day.  (Passengers who purchase any beverage package get 20 percent off at La Reserve, the ship’s wine-pairing dinner experience.)

For passengers staying in Concierge Level cabins or higher, varying amounts of Wi-Fi are included, generally for one device per cabin, which is a nice perk but cumbersome in an age when passengers travel with multiple devices. Those staying in Concierge Level Staterooms and Penthouse Suites receive 200 and 500 minutes (or the equivalent data amount), depending on the cruise length. Passengers staying in Owner’s, Vista and Oceania Suites get unlimited Wi-Fi for one device.

Shore excursions aren’t included, but passengers can purchase excursion packages that provide pretty solid savings for those booking all their excursions through the ship.

Gratuities are not included, and the ship recommends passengers tip $16 per person, per day. Those staying in suites that include butler service are encouraged to tip $23 per person, per day. Passengers can pay gratuities in cash or by credit card; they will be added to onboard accounts automatically, though they can be removed or adjusted up or down. An 18-percent gratuity is added to spa services, dinner at La Reserve and all beverage purchases. Room service is included, but tips are not: Plan to tip a couple of dollars if you order.

What’s Up Down Under?


Cruise ships in Sydney Harbour

Australia’s biggest ever summer cruise season has begun! The first ship to reposition from the Northern Hemisphere was Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Solstice, which arrived in Sydney in the early hours of Saturday, October 8, 2016, followed by Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas on the 9th and Carnival Legend on the 11th. Over the next six months, last summer’s record of 330 departures will be well and truly broken.

Azamara Club Cruises

Part of the Royal Caribbean family, Azamara sent one of its two boutique ships, Azamara Quest, to Australia for the first time earlier this year. The 686-passenger Azamara Journey, which is nearly identical to Quest, will arrive in February 2017 for a short season. The ship has recently undergone a multi-million-dollar refurbishment and new features include two spa suites (adjacent to the Sanctum Spa), redesigned Club World Ocean and Owner’s suites, interactive TVs in all staterooms and the «pervasive Wi-Fi» system that’s designed to provide faster internet connectivity from anywhere on the ship.

Azamara Journey will sail six itineraries in Australia and New Zealand between February 19 and March 22. The last cruise is 18 nights and departs Sydney to visits ports in NSW, Queensland, the Northern Territory and Indonesia on its way to Singapore and Asia.

While Azamara is seen as a premium rather than luxury line, there are many inclusions in the fares: gratuities, bottled water, soft drinks and alcoholic drinks, specialty coffees and teas, butler service in suites and shuttle transport to city centres, where available. Azamara is also known for its ‘destination immersion’ experience, offering longer stays in port, more overnight stays and complimentary ‘Azamazing Evening’ events.

Carnival Spirit docked in port

Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival Cruise Line’s 2016-17 program features a record 133 cruises, ranging from three-night short breaks to 18-night cruises to Hawaii, as well as the cruise line’s popular eight- to 12-night Pacific island itineraries.

Carnival Legend and Carnival Spirit, which is based in Sydney year-round, will offer new four-night cruises to Queensland’s Moreton Island and Mooloolaba on the Sunshine Coast as well as five-night round-trips to Tasmania.

Other features of the program include six-night Melbourne Cup cruises in November 2016 and 2017, a new 10-night journey around New Zealand’s South Island in January 2017 and four cruises between Sydney and Hawaii on Carnival Legend, taking in the islands of the South Pacific and Tahiti on an 18-night journey.

Legend and Spirit, which both carry 2,124 passengers and famously feature the Green Thunder waterslides, have had the Aussification treatment that includes Australian power outlets, locally brewed beers, decent coffee and fares that include gratuities.

Celebrity Cruises

Celebrity Solstice is returning to sail its fifth local season out of Sydney with an extended schedule that takes advantage of the Easter long weekend and school holidays. The popular 2,850-passenger ship is renowned for its real-grass lawn deck and highly rated dining. It will be spruced up in late October with new cabanas, a sushi restaurant and ‘A Taste of Film’ outdoor movie and food experience.

This season, Solstice is sailing two new round-trip cruises from Sydney to New Zealand — 13 nights departing on November 2016 and 10 nights departing on April 3, 2017. The ship will call at picturesque Picton on the South Island for the first time, on April 3; overnight stays in Tauranga on three New Zealand cruises are another first for the line.

A new 12-night sailing to Queensland departs March 13, 2017 and includes calls to Newcastle, Airlie Beach, Port Douglas, Brisbane, an overnight in Cairns and scenic cruising at Willis Island.

Noordam docked in port

Holland America Line

HAL’s 1,258-passenger Maasdam arrives for the first time in Sydney on October 20, followed by the 1,972-passenger Noordam on October 25. The company is spending US$300 million (AU$411 million) upgrading suites across the fleet with new furniture and soft furnishings, improved lighting, interactive TV systems and sparkling new bathrooms in all suites.

The two mid-size ships will offer 12- to 17-day itineraries to the Pacific Islands, around Australia and to New Zealand until April. Maasdam is doing a 29-day Australia Circumnavigation, departing Sydney as soon as it arrives on October 20; segments are also available from Brisbane and Fremantle.

P&O Cruises

Australia’s longest-established cruise line goes from strength to strength. Having boosted its fleet to five with the addition of Pacific Aria and Pacific Eden in November 2015, its ships will sail out of six Australian ports during the 2016-17 season: Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Fremantle, Melbourne and Sydney, and from Auckland in New Zealand. Pacific Eden will spend its second season sailing out of Singapore in June and July 2017, operating seven- and 14-day Asia cruises.

Pacific Pearl leaves the fleet in April, to be replaced by Pacific Explorer in May; the 2,000-passenger Explorer will then become P&O’s biggest ship, until the line’ brand-new 4200-passenger ship makes its debut in 2019.

Between October 2016 and July 2017, P&O will offer 191 departures ranging from two- to 18 days, including 84 two- to four-day Sea Breaks; among the Sea Breaks are new music-themed cruises (rock and blues), the first cruise from Auckland to Napier (to coincide the city’s Art Deco Weekend on February 16-19) and more regional itineraries including four-day cruises from Melbourne to Eden.

P&O is also adding new tropical ports of call to its itineraries. In June 2016, Pacific Jewel will become the first cruise ship to call at the pristine, privately owned Conflict Islands as part of the line’s Papua New Guinea itineraries. There will be more PNG itineraries, including Pacific Aria’s 10-night Christmas cruise, departing from Brisbane on December 19.

Pacific Aria visited World Heritage-listed Fraser Island in April for the first time; Eden will call in December, on a cruise departing from Brisbane.

Upcoming special events to celebrate at sea — or in port — are the Melbourne Cup in November, on Pacific Dawn, Jewel and Pearl; Pacific Jewel’s Pacific islands Christmas cruise, departing from Melbourne; the Australian Open Tennis in January on Pacific Pearl; and Australia Day on Sydney Harbour aboard Pacific Dawn, Eden and Pearl.


Dawn Princess in port at night

Princess Cruises

Princess first based a ship in Australia for the summer of 2002 — in the coming season the line will have three ships that cruise from local ports year-round (the Sun-class Sea, Sun and Dawn Princess) and two bigger visitors. New to Australia is the 3010-passenger Emerald Princess, which will be based in Sydney from November 2016 to April 2017, while its slightly smaller Grand-class sister Golden Princess will be cruising out of Melbourne and Auckland for the season, bringing Princess Cruises’ capacity to a record 11,800 berths across its five ships.

As well as sailing Australian coastal, Pacific island, PNG and New Zealand itineraries from Auckland, Brisbane, Fremantle, Melbourne and Sydney, the upcoming program offers some adventurous new options. Sea Princess departs Sydney on January 11 on its 84-day Circle South America voyage, visiting 28 destinations in 18 countries, including Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador and Uruguay.

Circle Australia voyages on Sun Princess will depart from Sydney in October 2016 and March 2017 and Dawn Princess is offering departures from Sydney and Brisbane for its 42-day round-trip to China and Japan, timed for Japan’s Cherry Blossom season.


Royal Caribbean

The upcoming 2016-17 summer season will see almost 250,000 passengers sailing on five Royal Caribbean ships locally, including the show-stopping, new Ovation of the Seas. Launched in April this year, the 4,180-passenger Ovation will join Explorer, Voyager and Radiance of the Seas sailing out of Sydney, while Legend of the Seas will return for her second (and final) season sailing from Brisbane.

On November 30, Ovation of the Seaswill set sail on a 15-night Singapore to Sydney voyage via Fremantle, Adelaide and Hobart. It will sail 15 itineraries out of Sydney between December and February, ranging from three nights to 15 nights and visiting Tasmania, New Zealand and the Pacific islands.

As the newest, biggest and most technologically advanced cruise ship ever to be deployed to the region, Ovation will offer onboard features such as the North Star viewing capsule, iFly sky diving experience, Bionic Bar with robot bar tenders, 18 different restaurants including Jamie Oliver’s, and the FlowRider surf simulator.

Explorer and Voyager accommodate 3,114 passengers each and boast signature Royal Caribbean activities such as rock-climbing walls, ice-skating rinks and FlowRiders; Radiance and Legend are smaller, carrying 2,143 and 1,832 passengers respectively.

Tonga is a new destination for Royal Caribbean this season. Radiance will be the first ship to visit, arriving in Vava’u (Neiafu), Tonga on December 12 and Nuku’alofa, Tonga on December 13, 2016 as part of its 13-night cruise departing Sydney on December 3.

Radiance will be the first cruise ship to call at Wollongong (Port Kembla), arriving on October 30 on its seven-night Tasmania itinerary departing from Sydney on October 24. Radiance will spend the day in port, allowing tourists from Australia and around the world to explore the Illawarra’s beaches, city, towns and attractions through day trips, courtesy buses and planned activity options.

Royal Caribbean has expanded its shore excursions for Australia, New Zealand and Pacific island cruises for the 2016-17 season; 18 new experiences are on offer, from active adventures to cultural encounters.


View of Sydney Harbour Bridge from a Ponant ship


French luxury-expedition company Ponant is sending its 264-passenger L’Austral to the Kimberley to sail four 10-night voyages between Darwin and Broome in July 2017. Ponant ships have visited Australian waters before, but this is the first time the line has dedicated a ship to the region.

Launched in 2011, L’Austral is virtually identical to its three sisters — Le Boreal, Le Soleal and Le Lyrial — and its compact size and manoeuvrability allows the ship to get close to shore before launching its fleet of 14 Zodiacs. It will be the newest ship of its kind to operate in Western Australia’s vast wilderness area and is designed to be ecologically friendly: it is equipped with 3D sonar for seabed vision, a dynamic positioning system to avoid dropping anchor in sensitive maritime environments, and electric propulsion for reduced emissions.

L’Austral has 132 outside cabins, which can be configured to accommodate between 224 and a maximum of 264 passengers; almost all have private balconies. There are two dining options — casual and sophisticated — two bar-lounges plus al fresco bar, library and small pool. The crew is bilingual and the expedition team will be staffed by experienced Australian experts.


Seabourn Encore is the newest addition to the luxury line’s fleet of elegant, contemporary ‘yachts’. Following its official naming ceremony in Singapore in January it will offer a short series of Australian coastal and New Zealand cruises between January 22 and March 17. The 600-passenger ship will make nine maiden calls to Australian ports from Darwin to Geelong. Encore, which is an ‘enhanced’ version of the line’s award-winning Odyssey-class ships, will have one more deck than its 450-passenger sisters and all suites will have a private balcony. The crew to guest ratio is almost one to one and all-inclusive fares cover everything from gratuities to drinks and dining in all restaurants.

Just dropping in

Every season, there are many ships that visit Australia and New Zealand on their world voyages and this year sees a couple of notable newcomers. German company Hapag-Lloyd Cruises is sending its top-rated Europa 2 to do two cruises between Sydney and Auckland in December and January; and Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Star will visit in January for two cruises on its Asia itinerary.

Cunard’s ever-popular queens will be back; Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth are set to call at several ports around Australia in February and March. Two new ports have been added to their itineraries — Margaret River (from Busselton) and Port Arthur in Tasmania.

The luxurious Crystal Symphony will have a coveted spot on Sydney Harbour on New Year’s Eve during one of three local cruises; Silver Whisper is calling in on its world voyage and doing a 13-day cruise from Auckland to Melbourne and a 13-day cruise from Melbourne to Bali; and Silver Discoverer will return to the Kimberley for five expedition voyages in April and May.

Get inspired with more Cruisers’ Choice Awards 2017 Part 2 !!!! Large Ship

6 Celebrity Silhouette

  love to enjoy a relaxing transatlantic sailing and this delivered!

Why Choose Celebrity Silhouette?
  • Pro: Beautiful ship with thoughtful spaces and decor
  • Con: Cover charge for various restaurants can run high
  • Bottom Line: Silhouette provides a modern atmosphere on the line’s popular Solstice Class

More energetic and with more extra-fee attractions than its three Solstice-class predecessors, the 122,400-ton, 2,886-passenger Celebrity Silhouette debuted in July 2011 as the fourth of five ships in the now-iconic series. The Solstice signatures — a stable of themed dining venues, a public hub that smells of crepes and waffles, a strikingly green and grass-covered deck space, the use of glass and marble throughout — are all there. But Silhouette also reflects a handful of significant modifications to the blueprint.

The most visible are found on the Lawn Club, a half-acre of spongy grass that tops every Solstice-class ship’s stern sun deck area. On Silhouette, the public park has become something of a gated village green, and the space is much more exclusive — and expensive — to use than those planted on Solstice,

Celebrity Silhouette Fellow Passengers

Celebrity draws a wide range of upper-middle-class couples and groups, with the average age of passengers being in the mid-50’s. Especially on European cruises from Rome and Venice (the ship is a Caribbean-European dual passporter), expect a large contingent of Brits and Continentals — and a more international feel. The ratio of families with kids to couples may increase during the Caribbean season, bringing the average age down.

Celebrity Silhouette Dress Code

During the day, dress is resort casual, but Celebrity passengers tend to dress up for dinner — typically button-down or dressy Tommy Bahama-type sport shirts and slacks for men and dresses or smart-casual pants for women. Formal night on Celebrity has been replaced by «evening chic» in the main dining room. This means that men can ditch the full suit and tie in favor of a sport coat and collared shirt, with designer jeans. Women can wear cocktail dresses, sundresses or designer jeans or nice pants. In the buffet, almost any form of dress is allowed except swimwear, flip-flops, spa robes and bare feet.

Celebrity Silhouette Gratuity

Tips aren’t included in the cruise fare, but suggested gratuities are automatically added to your onboard account at a rate of $13.50 per person/per day, if you’re in a standard cabin; $14 per person/per day, if you’re in a Concierge Class or AquaClass; and $17 per person/per day, for passengers in suites. If you would like to adjust the gratuities, you can make do so through the Guest Relations desk. An 18 percent charge is added automatically to all beverage and mini-bar purchases as well as spa and salon purchases. You can’t remove these gratuities but can add to them.


7 Regal Princess

Why Choose Regal Princess?
  • Pros: Excellent dining options abound
  • Cons: Small cabins and balconies feel tight
  • Bottom Line: Modern and sophisticated decor, entertainment and dining

Senior Executive Editor; updated by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief


8 Allure of the Seas

Why Choose Allure of the Seas?
  • Pro: Caters to every type of cruiser: families, couples, adventurers, food- and wine-lovers.
  • Con: Upselling is rampant, and extra fees can quickly add up.
  • Bottom Line: If you want a fun-filled cruise with plentiful activities, you can’t beat Allure of the Seas.

The 225,282-ton Allure of the Seas was the world’s largest cruise ship — for six years — before that title was stolen by sister Harmony of the Seas in May 2016. It can carry 5,492 passengers at double occupancy or 6,452 when every berth is full.

It has two famous near-twins, Oasis of the Seas and the aforementioned Harmony, with which it shares roughly 95 percent of its DNA — including a novel neighborhood concept that divides the ship into seven distinct spaces. It also shares inward-facing balcony cabins, arguably the biggest (and best) kids program at sea, an ice rink, a bar that rises between three decks, simulated surfing, rock climbing walls and an outdoor high-diving AquaTheater.

Allure of the Seas Fellow Passengers

Families flock to Allure of the Seas, a ship that celebrates youthful exuberance in the form of surf simulators, rock climbing walls and some of the best children’s facilities at sea. But the ship also clearly appeals to active couples, mainly in their 30s to 50s. Numerous spaces, especially the foliage-filled Central Park, provide a relatively kid-free ambience. In the Caribbean, passengers are predominantly American. However, when the ship sails in Europe, the passenger mix could not be more eclectic, drawing travelers from Europe, the U.S., the Middle East, Japan, China, India and Israel.

Allure of the Seas Dress Code

Weeklong cruises consist of two formal nights and five casual nights. On casual nights, expect a mix of jeans and slacks in the main dining rooms and nicer restaurants (no shorts); elsewhere T-shirts and shorts are fine for both men and women. Many men choose to wear tuxedos for formal dining, though dark suits are more common. Women are typically found in cocktail dresses or gowns.

Allure of the Seas Gratuity

Royal Caribbean passengers are charged $13.50 per person, per day ($16.50 for suite passengers). Gratuities can be prepaid or will be added on a daily basis to cruisers’ SeaPass accounts during the cruise. Passengers can modify or remove gratuities by visiting the guest services desk while onboard. An 18 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar tabs. The onboard currency is the U.S. dollar.


9 Royal Princess

Why Choose Royal Princess?
  • Pro: Sixteen dining options provide an excellent variety
  • Con: Lacks popular aft pool found on other Princess ships
  • Bottom Line: Classy, modern ship with a traditional air

Editor’s Note: During a September 2016 drydock, Royal Princess became the first ship in the fleet to receive the line’s new livery design. Other upgrades, mostly routine, included the addition of a midship staircase and new Princess Luxury Beds, developed by board certified sleep expert Dr. Michael Breus and HGTV Designer Candice Olson, to all cabins.

Princess Cruises doesn’t set out to dazzle with gimmickry (no bumper cars at sea, ropes courses or simulated surf pools for this Princess), and it’s never wanted (or needed) to. The line opts for a more traditional style of cruising, even as it does occasionally push the bounds in terms of innovation. It’s certainly come up with some great ideas — Movies Under The Stars, the adults-only Sanctuary and the transformation of a functional ship’s atrium into the buzzing Piazza — that are now widely copied by other

Royal Princess Fellow Passengers

Princess passengers are typically sophisticated, but not stuffy. They’re mostly Americans (on Caribbean routes) and Brits (when the ship is sailing the Mediterranean) who enjoy a quality product in an atmosphere of casual elegance. Many families choose Princess; multigenerational groups (grandparents, adult children, grandkids) enjoy the dining and entertainment options and the line’s solid family programs. During the Caribbean season, the average age is mid- to high-40’s; on European itineraries, the average age skews higher (except during school holidays).

Royal Princess Dress Code

«Smart casual» is the way Princess prefers to label its general dress code, and passengers generally dress appropriately. Most cruises will have two formal nights; think lots of beaded gowns for the ladies and tuxes for the men, although cocktail dresses and dark suits are perfectly acceptable. No swimwear, jeans, tank tops or shorts are allowed in the restaurants at dinnertime.

Royal Princess Gratuity

Princess adds $12.95 per day to each adult’s onboard account as a prepaid gratuity ($13.95 for those in suites and mini-suites). An automatic 15 percent is added to bar and spa bills. Although not required, it is recommended that gratuities be offered for room service, usually just a dollar or two. The currency onboard is American dollars.

10 Island Princess

Why Choose Island Princess?
  • Pro: Comfortable, mid-sized ship; peaceful adults-only sun deck; good variety of food.
  • Con: Ship generally feels cramped; bathrooms and standard balconies are also small.
  • Bottom Line: Ideal for those looking for a traditional cruise ship experience with no surprises.

Island Princess is one of the two 92,000-ton Coral-class ships — the other is Coral Princess — that offer transits through the Panama Canal. They were custom built to do so and are the only two Princess ships in the fleet small enough to get through the locks.

A 2015 dry dock added 121 staterooms and reorganized and refurbished certain public areas of the ship to accommodate the new cabins. The Horizon Court was remodeled to improve passenger flow, and its updated design includes the addition of an Italian pastry shop. If you sailed the ship previously, you will feel like a first timer as many public spaces have changed locations: The Sanctuary sun deck is now on one deck instead of two and its pool is gone; the teen center has moved to Deck 14, while the kids club has lost its outdoor space; the fitness center exchanged its former Deck 14 location to one on Deck 6;

Island Princess Fellow Passengers

Island Princess attracts families, couples and a few singles. Although it is a ship for all ages, summer holidays tend to attract more families with children and teenagers. Our Mediterranean cruise attracted a good mix of ages, with the bulk of passengers hailing from the United States, followed by Brits and a healthy smattering of Australians. Other nationalities — including Chinese, Japanese, Canadians and Italians — made up the balance. Depending on itinerary, however, it would be fair to say that the majority of Island Princess passengers are American. Announcements are kept to a minimum.

Island Princess Dress Code

During the day, anything goes, although beachwear is not allowed in the restaurants without a cover-up. On most nights, recommended evening dress is smart casual — an open-neck shirt and trousers for men and a dress, skirt ensemble or trouser suit for women. Cruises of five nights or longer include at least one formal dining night, while cruises of seven to 13 nights have two formal evenings.

Although Princess asks that passengers observe the dress code, particularly in the main dining rooms, we saw many people flouting the rules. Men, in particular, turned up in short sleeve, open-neck checked shirts, casual trousers and sneakers. Generally speaking, ladies were better turned-out; while less than a handful wore evening gowns, most turned up in cocktail dresses or elegant trouser suits. Staff seemed to turn a blind eye to any dress code infractions.

Island Princess Gratuity

A daily gratuity of $12.95 is automatically added to every passenger’s onboard accounts, including children; $13.95 is added for those in mini-suites and suites. A 15 percent tip is added to bar purchases, dining room wine accounts and spa bills. Currency onboard is the U.S. dollar.

Avalon vs. Viking

Avalon vs. Viking

When it comes to river cruising, Viking River Cruises and Avalon Waterways have quite a bit in common. Both lines operate first-rate cruises on most of Europe’s major rivers, as well as in Asia. Both lines have just the right amount of inclusions to make the trip more enjoyable, such as shore excursions in every port and modern ships with a boutique feel. And both river lines charge about the same amount for their cruises.

So what makes these two lines, both considered moderately priced for river cruises, different? The answer lies in the details. Read on to see our look at Avalon vs. Viking.


Itineraries and Fleet

The largest cruise line, Viking has a fleet of nearly 70 vessels that includes 46 identical Longships that sail in Europe and carry 190 passengers. In contrast, Avalon has 18, including 11 «Suite Ships» in Europe that carry between 128 and 166 passengers, on vessels that are the same size as Viking’s. Avalon’s ships in Asia also carry fewer passengers than their similarly sized Viking counterparts do.

Both lines sail the Rhine, Main, Danube, Moselle, Seine and Rhone rivers, as well as China’s Yangtze, Myanmar (Burma’s) Irrawaddy, Egypt’s Nile and Vietnam’s Mekong. In addition, Viking sails in France’s Bordeaux region, Germany’s Elbe and Portugal’s Douro, as well as in Russia, while Avalon charters ships on the Amazon and in the Galapagos Islands. Both lines run Christmas market cruises.

Because Avalon is owned by Globus, which also runs land tours, your river cruise has a host of options for pre- and post-tours. Viking also offers pre- and post- options, but their expertise is really on the rivers instead of with land tours.

Choose Avalon if you like special interest cruises.

Avalon has added a number of cruises geared toward people with specific interests. Chief among these: Active Discovery itineraries on the Danube, where you leave the coach behind and explore Austria through hiking, kayaking, biking, tasting and language lessons. Other theme cruises include culinary, art, beer, wine, golf, opera, jazz, wellness, Jewish history and World War II — all complete with special lectures, excursions and activities.

Choose Viking if you want a choice of dates.

The sheer size of Viking’s fleet means that it’s easier to find the exact cruise on the exact river that you want, precisely when you want to go.

Price and Inclusions

Viking and Avalon are almost the same when it comes to inclusions and pricing, although the latter can vary depending on itinerary and promotions. Both lines offer a daily complimentary shore excursion, as well as options you can pay for; wine, beer and soda at dinner and lunch (Avalon previously only did this at dinner, but will add alcohol at lunch in 2017); enrichment onboard and free WiFi. Neither includes gratuities in the fare.

Viking Gullveig Explorer Suite


This category is where Viking and Avalon diverge paths. On its Suite Ships, Avalon rejiggered most of the cabins to give them something unique within river cruising: beds that face the water, not the wall. To complement the view, the line decided to go with sliding glass doors that open the full length of the room, creating an extensive open «French balcony» effect. It really does make a difference.

Viking’s cabins are no slouch either. All Longships have a choice of French balconies and veranda cabins, the latter having actual outdoor space. While both lines have nice-size bathrooms (and, happily, glass-enclosed showers), Viking’s come with heated floors — a bonus if you’re traveling in the offseason or on a Christmas markets cruise.

Overall, the decor on both Viking and Avalon can be described as contemporary and modern, with a boutique hotel feel. In keeping with its Norwegian owner, Viking’s ships have Scandinavian influences with lots of pale wood and clean lines. Avalon is similarly non-fussy.

Choose Avalon if you want more space in a standard cabin.

Because they have French balconies instead of outdoor space, the 200-square-foot Panorama cabins on Avalon’s «Suite Ships» feel bigger than most river cruise cabins. Although Viking’s Veranda staterooms are technically larger at 205 square feet, that figure includes the balcony. Avalon’s bathrooms also seem larger, due to the cabin’s configuration at a slight angle (to give cruisers that river view mentioned earlier). Avalon’s Deluxe staterooms on lower decks are also larger than Viking’s, with 172 square feet compared to 150 square feet.

Choose Viking if you want a true balcony or a two-room suite.

If you want to step outside your cabin and sit on a «proper» balcony, or want a suite that lives up to its name and is made up of two rooms rather than one large space, then go for Viking. While Avalon also has the 300-square-foot Royal Suite on its ships, the space is technically not true two rooms. Even at 275 square feet, Viking’s Veranda Suites are two rooms — and the 445-square-foot Explorers Suite is one of the largest in river cruising.

Enrichment and Entertainment

Both Avalon and Viking have enrichment activities and lectures that focus on the destinations visited. On either cruise, you might spend an afternoon sampling Austrian wine while your vessel sails on the Danube. Or you might hear a folk music ensemble one evening while docked. Both lines have small dance floors in their lounges, although whether or not they’ll be used depends on the passengers. Avalon has the addition of karaoke and a movie night once per cruise.

Steak entrée on Viking Gullveig



While the quality of food is subjective, both Viking and Avalon make sure that cruise passengers have a wide variety of dishes, both familiar and local to the region at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Both cruise lines serve buffets at breakfast and lunch, as well as a selection of made-to-order items. Dinners are usually at 7 p.m., and you can sit wherever you want, although tables for two are hard to come by on both ships. The meal is a four-course affair; five if it’s a special captain’s dinner. Both lines also have alternative light dining at breakfast and lunch. Wine, beer and soda are available at lunch and dinner on Viking; while Avalon excluded free drinks during lunch in the past, the line is adding complimentary beverages in 2017.

Choose Viking if you like to eat (and drink) alfresco.

Viking’s glass-enclosed Aquavit Lounge, where the line serves lighter lunches and dinners, can open to the elements in nice weather. While Avalon has a similar glass lounge, it only has snacks; the alternative dining is in the main lounge, which does not offer alfresco dining. (Avalon does have a barbecue on the top deck at least once per cruise, weather permitting.)


Choose Viking if you like to eat (and drink) alfresco.

Viking’s glass-enclosed Aquavit Lounge, where the line serves lighter lunches and dinners, can open to the elements in nice weather. While Avalon has a similar glass lounge, it only has snacks; the alternative dining is in the main lounge, which does not offer alfresco dining. (Avalon does have a barbecue on the top deck at least once per cruise, weather permitting.)

Choose Avalon if you’re vegetarian/vegan or like tasting menus.

Avalon has signed a partnership with the Wrenkh brothers, noted Austrian chefs, who specialize in vegetarian and vegan dishes. The healthy meals will be added to all Avalon ship menus in 2017, as part of the line’s «Avalon Fresh» initiative. Another feature of an Avalon sailing is a 15-course tasting menu with wine pairings, held several times per cruise. This special meal is available on a complimentary basis to each passenger once per voyage, and usually reflects regional specialties.

Onboard Amenities

Cruises on both Avalon and Viking are designed to be destination intensive, which means you won’t find a lot of extras such as casinos or pools. Neither ship is designed for families.

Avalon ships have a small fitness room with a treadmill, elliptical machines and free weights. Suite Ships also have a salon for hair services and manicures. New for the line: bikes onboard that passengers can use in port.

Viking Longships do not have spas or fitness facilities onboard, but concierges can arrange services while you’re in port. Viking does not have bikes.

Woman lounging on Avalon aft deck during sunset

Bottom Line

Both Avalon and Viking offer a comprehensive catalog of river cruises; the differences are really quite slight. The best way to decide is to look at the specific itinerary and compare ports and rates.