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On sail!

ON THE SPOT

June 22, 2008|Catharine Hamm

Question: In May, we took a seven-day cruise to Alaska on the Norwegian Cruise Line Pearl. This was our worst cruising experience. There are numerous restaurants on the ship, but several are specialty restaurants that charge an extra $10 to $20 per person. The food in the nonpremium restaurants was mushy and bland. Also, many activities on the ship began with 15- to 20-minute hard-sell pitches for merchandise or the next cruise. Is this what cruising has come to? We could have had the same experience listening to a time-share pitch, and we would have had nothing out of pocket.

Aida Resurreccion

San Clemente

Answer: But unless you were listening to a time-share pitch in Alaska, you wouldn't have seen the glorious scenery of the 49th state, and that would have been a shame.

A cruise ship is an easy way to cover lots of territory, especially in Alaska, but it comes at a price, and we're not just talking about what you paid for your ticket.

Just as we believe the airlines really like us and want us to be happy, we insist on believing that a cruise is all-inclusive. It's not. Think sodas, wine with dinner or cocktails, shore excursions, massages, never mind the fee for the primo dining experiences.

And then there's the tipping.

Further, those pitches you're listening to? They may be subsidizing your cruise, which has its own set of issues with fuel prices. NCL, among others, recently instituted a fuel surcharge of $9 a person a day for the first and second person in a cabin and $4 for the third or fourth. It even more recently increased the charge to $11 and $5, respectively.

These "complaints, while valid about the effort to generate revenue, are standard within the industry," said Jana Jones, a freelance cruise specialist who reviewed the Pearl for CruiseCritic.com. Cruising "actually has become much, much cheaper than it was five years ago," Jones said. "Cruise lines have to get the revenue somewhere. By selling bingo . . . that's where they get it."

Further, says Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of CruiseCritic, NCL has "never been considered a 'foodie' line in terms of quality, except in the higher-priced alternative venues."

So does this mean Resurreccion's complaints are without merit? Of course not. But it may be that her expectations were higher than warranted.

That's why it's important to work with a professional cruise travel agent when you're booking a trip (cruise lines have their own personalities and finding a match for yours is important) and to do your homework (besides CruiseCritic, you can also find good information at CruiseDiva.com and Cruisemates.com).

That way, you won't feel as though your ship came in and you weren't on it. Or, worse, you were.

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Have a travel dilemma? Write to travel@latimes.com.

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