Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Free Bahamas cruise for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans

Discovery Cruise Line is offering a free one-day cruise from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, to Grand Bahama Island to all U.S. military who have served or are currently serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. The offer is good through 2007. Meals, taxes, service charges, and fees are all included (you'll need to get to Ft. Lauderdale on your own). Go to the Discovery website (www.discoverycruise.com) and fill out a simple form. You'll need to make a reservation and present your military ID to take advantage of this offer.

All U.S. military personnel should keep in mind that a number of cruise lines (including Carnival, Celebrity, Disney, Holland America, MSC, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean) offer discounts to active military and, in some cases, to retired and reserve military as well. The website www.MilitaryCruiseDeals.com is a good place to start looking.

My new eBook, "How to Save Money on Cruises -- Part II: Tracking Down Discounts"
(http://www.smartercruising.com/trackingdowndiscounts/index.html) is another good way to find out about military and other types of occupational cruise discounts, as well as those for families, singles, and many others.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Reminder about new U.S. passport regulations

As I pointed out in the December 2006 issue of the Smarter Cruising Newsletter, new U.S. passport regulations go into effect tomorrow (January 23) that may affect thousands of U.S. citizens (and others) planning to take cruises in 2007 and many more thousands planning to take cruises in 2008 and beyond.

The new regulations are part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) and are intended to buttress U.S. homeland security.

Here's the gist of it: If you need to fly out of the country to take your cruise, you're going to need a valid passport if you want to return to the U.S. Previously, you could fly to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean (with the exception of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico), Central or South America or Bermuda and get by with lesser forms of I.D. No more.

Due in part to complaints by the cruise industry and Caribbean tourism organizations, the regulations have been postponed for a year (and possibly up to 18 months) for passengers traveling to the above areas strictly by land or sea. But if you need to fly to join your cruise, and your destination is outside the United States, you'll need a passport starting tomorrow.

Go to the U.S. State Department website for more detail.

My advice: even if you're not planning a cruise for a while, begin the process of getting a passport now if you don't have one (and only a fourth of U.S. citizens do). With the new regulations in effect, applications have been rising dramatically and waits may increase; count on a minimum of six weeks or two months unless you pay a hefty fee to expedite the process.

One more note: If you're planning a cruise to Alaska this summer and will be flying in or out of Vancouver or another Canadian city before returning to the U.S., you'll need a passport.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Cruising with pirates in the Caribbean

Brrrr...with temperatures outside in the teens, I got cold just writing those last posts on Alaska cruising. If you're like me, you're probably thinking about cruising in the Caribbean right about now. If so, I thought you might also be interested in reading my cover story in the November-December issue of EnCompass magazine, Hanging With Pirates in the Caribbean. Admittedly, the subject matter -- pirates of yore -- predates modern-day cruising, but you can put together a pretty nifty theme trip for yourself by following in the wakes of the likes of Blackbeard, Calico Jack Rackham, and Henry Morgan, on islands such as Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and the British Virgins. If I come across any official pirate-themed cruises (how about it, cruise lines?), I'll keep you posted. Arrgh.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Some more notes on Alaska cruises

I just read an interesting note on Alaska cruises from Vacations to Go, one of my favorite Internet cruise discount sites. Alan Fox, the Vacations to Go chairman, points out that you can usually save money on airfare by booking a roundtrip Alaska cruise -- that is, one that sails from Vancouver, Seattle, or San Francisco, then returns to the same city -- as opposed to booking a one-way cruise from Vancouver that goes north to Seward or Whittier and stops. That's because you can avoid paying for a typically more expensive flight that returns from far-north Anchorage or Fairbanks by limiting your flying to and from Vancouver, Seattle, or San Francisco. He also points out that it's generally easier to find flights to the latter three cities, thus allowing you to book later than you might have to for an Anchorage or Fairbanks flight.

So what's the advantage to the one-way tours? For starters, you'll see a big stretch of the Alaskan coast besides the heavily traveled Inside Passage. And, as Fox notes, the one-way cruises are handy for exploring the Alaskan interior (such as Denali National Park) on your own or with a prearranged tour once you disembark in Seward or Whittier. So if a land tour is on your list, you'll probably just have to factor in the extra airfare.

Fox also adds that if you do want to take a cruise tour of Alaska -- a trip that combines a land tour with your cruise -- you should book sooner rather than later (January or February), because these tend to fill up fast and are seldom subject to last-minute discounts.

Keep in mind that anyone taking an Alaska cruise this summer can benefit from early-bird discounts available this month and, to a lesser degree, next. But if you're planning a cruise-only trip and have some flexibility in your sailing dates and cabin choice, don't despair -- you'll still be likely to find some late bargains closer to summer.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Time to (shiver) think about Alaska cruising

If you're caught in one of the winter storms currently sweeping through much of the U.S. and Europe, you may not have Alaska on your mind at the moment. But if you've been thinking about taking a cruise to Alaska this summer, now's the time to get serious about booking. Alaska's great appeal (glaciers, scenery, wildlife, etc) combined with its relatively short cruising season -- May to September -- makes for high demand. So if you're looking to sail at a particular time, you want a certain type of cabin, or you'll be traveling with more than two people, you'll want to book your cruise no later than January or February. For an overview of the upcoming Alaska cruise season, read my cover story Cruising Alaska: A Discovery for All Generations, from this month's EnCompass magazine (the Colorado AAA publication). I also recommend the website http://www.alaskacruisingreport.com/ for detailed, up-to-date info on the Alaska cruising scene.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Welcome to the Smarter Cruising Blog

Hi Smarter Cruisers,

Welcome to the Smarter Cruising Blog! My name is Clark Norton, a travel writer and publisher of Smarter Cruising, a website devoted to helping you get the most out of your money when you take your next cruise.

You can go to my website at www.SmarterCruising.com to sign up for my free monthly newsletters, which will keep you up to date on the best strategies for saving money on cruises, and to read some of my feature articles or eBooks about cruising.

Meanwhile, enjoy my blog...click on a few links...bookmark it...and check back regularly to see my latest postings about cruise deals and other items of interest to Smarter Cruisers.

And don't forget to leave a comment and contribute to some lively chat about cruising!

Clark Norton