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10 quick tips before you sail

January 22, 2006|Mary Lu Abbott | Special to The Times

1. You can go cheap or expensive. Cruises suit many budgets and no longer cater only to the rich and famous, or people with a lot of time. You can sail for $400, $4,000 or $40,000.

2. All ships are not equal. Some are large, some small, some new and some old. Most promote themselves as luxurious, but only a few lines truly make the grade. Determine the details of a ship before booking.

3. Ship size does matter. Bigger ships pack in more amenities and activities, and entertainment and dining are available 24/7. Families with children love the action. Smaller ships are more intimate and have less regimen.

4. You can go wild or chill out. Adventures beckon at ports around the world. Hike on a glacier in Alaska, make like Tarzan and swing across the rain-forest canopy in the Caribbean, explore the ruins of Pompeii in Italy. Or claim a chair on the deck and read.

5. Cruises are not all-inclusive vacations. Budget for a lot of extra charges, including soft drinks, lattes and liquor, shore excursions, tips and specialty restaurant fees. For the extras, plan on spending at least 30% to 50% of the cruise fare. If you book a bargain fare, you might double that with on-board costs.

6. The best deals go to those who are flexible. Cruise fares are increasing, but if you can be adaptable about dates and ships, you can find bargains. Look for deals in the off season and on random, slow-selling weeks. Check dates: A fare may be $1,300 one week but discounted to $900 the next.

7. Holidays and spring breaks book quickly. Want to sail at Christmas? Are you locked into a particular week in spring or summer? Desire a specific ship and cabin on a set date? Shop and book early for the best deals.

8. Plan well ahead for Alaska and Europe cruises. These seasonal -- late spring into early fall -- destinations have limited cruising times. The prime booking period is December to March. To get the best cabins and dates, act early and look for discounts. Bargains offered later may not include dates or cabins you want.

9. The higher the cabin, the higher the price. On most ships, standard cabins are the same size and have similar decor, but you pay more for ones on higher decks. Suites are always on the upper decks and costlier. Lower decks usually give a smoother ride, but higher decks avoid engine noise. Best position: midship.

10. Consult a cruise agent. You can surf the Internet for information on cruises, but a knowledgeable agent can direct you to the best cruise for your budget and interests. The agent may be able to get you some discounts you didn't see.

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