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Alright, now that we’ve covered the When, Where, and Who of cruising (see Parts 1 and 2 of this series), we can go over the Which (picking a ship).

Which?

With so many ships to choose from, how do you begin to sort through them all? Thanks to dedicated past cruisers, there are a plethora of customer reviews and photos out there regarding what each and every ship on each and every cruise line has to offer. So, there’s absolutely no reason to go into the selection blind.

Here are some factors you may want to take into consideration when determining what kind of ship is ideal for you:

  • Size: This is actually a huge factor because there is a direct correlation between a ships size and the kind of amenities it can offer you.
    • Bigger ships (2,000-4,000+ passengers) will offer you tons of variety in terms of dining and entertainment. Since the current cruising trend is toward larger ships, the facilities tend to be newer, using state of the art equipment in the casinos and theaters. However, as a result, the crowds on the ships are bigger and it may be harder to find a deck chair or secluded area to relax. The ports that you can visit are more standard and limited, as smaller, more exotic locations don’t have a pier or terminal big enough to handle gigantic vessels. Also, you may get a vague feeling of being part of a heard, as it’s harder for the crew to make the experience Uber-personalized with so many passengers on board.
    • Medium ships (1,000-2,000 passengers) are able to offer the amenities that cruises are known for while making you feel like you are being personally catered to. There are always several dining or entertainment options, but not so many that you can try somewhere new each night. Facilities such as the spa or gym are present, but they will be smaller and have fewer options than the big guys. Since there is less to do than on a large ship, the atmosphere is less party-like. However, very few cruise lines are debuting new ships of this size, so the facilities on board are likely more outdated and staterooms will probably be smaller.
    • Smaller ships (fewer than 1,000 passengers) offer highly personalized service with shorter lines, a relaxed pace, and delectable dining options. In fact, many smaller ships even have Michelin-level restaurants on board. Luxury is typically emphasized, so the ships will have up-to-date amenities and top-notch enrichment programs. As a bonus, items like alcohol and gratuities, which usually cost extra on larger ships, are often included in your cruise price. No hidden costs. However, as a result, these tend to be the priciest of cruises. Also, due to the atmosphere on the ship, there probably aren’t any children’s programs. In fact, some ships will discourage bringing children aboard. Since there’s limited room on board for facilities, features like pools, gyms, and spas will be tiny, if they’re there at all.
  • Makeover: When was the ship built or refurbished? Generally, we all like things that are new. Worn out carpets, ratty bedspreads, and lackluster dining rooms don’t win raving customer reviews. Recently refurbished ships will offer technology such as wifi or iPads that you can use in your stateroom to order room service or check your spending account. You know a recently built ship will have the latest in theater and sound equipment, plus the newest in gaming for the casino.
  • Amenities: Remember that even though a cruise line may be known for its onboard surf park, water roller coaster, bowling alley, or ice skating rink, it doesn’t mean that each and every ship from that line has those amenities available. Likewise, you may have heard rave reviews about a certain alternative restaurant, only to discover that it’s not on the ship you selected. Do your homework. If you have your heart set on a certain experience, it will help to rule out a number of ships.
  • Attitude: Yes, we’re already gone over the general attitude and feeling of each cruise line; however, each ship has its own personality. Certainly, the Norwegian Epic (4,100 passengers) has a completely different feel than the Norwegian Sun (1,936 passengers). Go online and look up what people had to say about the ship and about fellow passengers on board. Try to find reports from people who are taking a similar itinerary at a similar time of year as you want. Those will help give the most accurate picture, in terms of population, crowds, and atmosphere. Just remember to read the reviews with a grain of salt… some cruisers are delighted by everything because they’re just happy to be on vacation. On the flip side, there’s just no pleasing some people.

Well there you go, faithful readers. Take these factors into consideration and you’ll be well on your way to the cruise of your dreams. Happy sailing!

Alright, now that we’ve covered the basic When and Where of cruising (see Part 1 of this series), we will now explore how to figure out the Who (picking a cruise line) of cruising.

Who? 

Selecting the cruise line you want to patron is kind of like selecting a college. You can pick one based on its reputation for parties, sophistication, affordability, or its focus on a specialty that’s right up your alley. Sound daunting? Don’t you worry, there are no standardized tests required before boarding your cruise.

Take a moment and look at the cruise line’s marketing brochure. Do the photos feature young folks dancing through the night? Silver-haired passengers in formal wear? Children splashing about? This is a good clue as to the kind of vibe the company is going for.

That being said, here’s a quick rundown of the major cruise lines and what they are best known for.

  • Carnival: Your cruise director really earns his or her wages on this line. There are lots of entertainment options throughout the day, night, and wee hours of the morning. This, plus the affordability of the line, results in a younger clientele who are ready for a fun time. There are also more families since cheaper prices enable many people to bring their kids along for the vacation.
  • Celebrity: This line focuses on posh sophistication. Entertainment options are more likely to include guest lecturers and cooking classes than late-night discos or belly-flop contests. Generally, the ships offer top-notch cuisine and superb service. The line spends a good deal on keeping the ships looking and feeling modern, which results in a higher quality experience and higher price tag.
  • Disney: Naturally, this line is Uber-family friendly. Disney has succeeded in bringing magic to the seas. They have excellent, high-quality programs for children of all ages, including teenagers. The “Disney-ness” is both obvious and elegant; costumed characters roam the ships but the designers have made sure that the overall theme is classy ocean liner instead of overwhelming amusement park. Since the line expects families to vacation together, the staterooms are larger than average. However, all the magic comes with a steep price tag.
  • Norwegian: NCL is an excellent generalist. They offer a little bit of everything at a reasonable price. They offer premium dining experiences for an additional cost, decent children’s programs, and a flexible dress code. On formal nights you’ll see anything from plain front shorts and Hawaiian shirts to tuxes and cocktail gowns. NCL offers top-notch entertainment, performing well-known musicals and hosting genuinely clever comedians from Second City. The variety of bars and night clubs ensures that there’s always a party going on somewhere.
  • Oceania: Prepare yourself to be immersed in a luxury experience. Since you’re paying top-dollar, well-trained staff provides gracious service, the décor is full of beautifully polished woods and thick carpets, and there are specialty restaurants that don’t require an additional fee. The menus are prepared by a James Beard Foundation trustee known for being personal chef for three French heads of state. (Oh lá lá!) The passengers on these lines tend to be over 50 and, though it does not discourage children from coming aboard, there are very few families since there are no children’s programs.
  • Princess: Princess is great at providing you with options. You’ll never feel as through you’re being diverted into the same eating and entertainment pattern as everyone else. The line offers flexible dining plans, an array of alternative eateries and chef’s table experience (for a fee), plus numerous enrichment classes ranging from cooking to digital photography to pottery. This is another reasonably priced line that offers something for everyone, so passenger demographic is wide and varying, depending on the itinerary and time of year.
  • Royal Caribbean: This is another good all-around line. The food isn’t superb but will please just about everyone with its buffets, flexible dining, and alternative (for a fee) restaurants. Ships can offer a variety of active options, such as rock climbing walls, mini golf courses, ice skating rinks, zip-lines, and/or surfing. For entertainment, there are flashy productions in the theater, great live music through the ships’ many venues, and amusing audience participation game shows. Like with NCL and Princess, the affordability of the line means a slightly younger demographic and fuller ships.
  • Windstar: Want a relaxing, country club experience? Then Windstar is for you. The dress code is always “casual elegance,” even during dining hours. These smaller ships don’t have a gamut of entertainment options with gaudy productions or embarrassing game shows. Instead there may be talks about the next port of call or lavish buffets that never come to a close. Each vessel offers a water sports platform with complimentary snorkeling, windsailing, paddle boating, and water skiing. The passengers of Windstar tend to be active adults who are willing to pay a higher price for a quality, peaceful experience.

Tune in next week when I discuss the “Which” of cruising (selecting a ship) in the final part of this series.

 

My wife and I decided to do this short trip to Germany for a few reasons: My wife’s brother Matt is studying in nearby Salzburg, Austria and it was his birthday weekend; I had a few vacation days I needed to use; Germany is awesome.

We have been to Europe multiple times before, and it is starting to become apparent to us that the best way to see things is to get a hotel in the middle of the city within walking distance of attractions and transit. We have stayed in hotels that were less expensive but farther outside of the city, and in the end it was very inconvenient to have to take a metro back to the hotel at night, adding a lot of extra time and expense to the trip.

For this trip to Munich, we picked a hotel called “Va Vidi Hotel” that we got for around $90 a night with tax. It was about a 5 minute walk from the Hauptbahnhof or “central station” in Munich. Very convenient.

From the airport we purchased a ticket that would let us get into the city, use any of the trains for 3 days, and get back to the airport again. This cost about 52 euro. It is a good idea because just the tickets to and from the airport are 40 euro, and for the extra 12 euro you can use the trains as much as possible.

 

We only had a few days because my wife couldn’t take a lot of time off of work, so we tried to do things that we could walk to or were close to the city.

The first night after we got there we went to the Hofbrauhaus, which is a very famous beer hall. The atmosphere here is really unique, very loud and rowdy, lots of yelling and singing, and of course great German food and beer! We also enjoyed walking around in the old town area and seeing some of the large retail areas featured here.

The next day we went to the Dachau concentration camp. This is located in the small town of Dachau, about a 20 minute train ride on the S2 line. Once you get off the train, you can take a bus to the camp, or walk. It is probably a half hour walk one way, but the weather was very pleasant, so we didn’t mind. There is a trail with information about the concentration camp and photos along the way.

You could easily spend 5 hours at Dachau. There is just a lot to see, and a museum with tons of information. We didn’t want to be there all day, so we were only there for maybe 2 hrs. It is a sobering experience, but a must see for any history buff. This is probably the most famous concentration camp, and an extremely important and significant place in the world in the last century.

After we went back to the city, we walked around the Viktualien Markt area for a while. This is a large market with lots of fresh food and restaurants. We ate at a small restaurant in that area for dinner.

The next day we went on a walking tour of the city that was pretty informative and gave us a good idea of the old history of the city, as well as some of the significant moments in the Third Reich that happened here. It took about 3 hrs, but was worth it.

We spent the rest of the day wandering around and visiting small cafes, eating pretzels and drinking some beer, checking out a local St. Patrick’s day festival, and eating dinner at another restaurant.

 

 

 

 

In conclusion, we had a great time in Munich even though it was only for a few days. This was my second time going to Germany, and I can heartily recommend it as a great destination. The cities are very clean, organized and efficient. The people are friendly and helpful. The food is fantastic and the beer is legendary. Germany is a must visit for anyone interested in a European vacation.