Interview With Douglas Ward- Author of Ocean Cruising & Cruise Ships 2005
Today Bookpleasures.com & Sketchandtravel.com is pleased to have as our guest, Douglas Ward, author of Ocean Cruising & Cruise Ships 2005, now into its twentieth year of publication, published by Berlitz Publishing. Thank you Douglas for accepting our invitation to be interviewed. Norm: Douglas could you tell us something about yourself and why did you want to write a book about cruising and cruise ships? Douglas: I had worked aboard passenger ships for 17 years before forming an association of cruise passengers, who were looking for more comparative information about cruise ships and cruising. So was born the idea for the book, which started with 120 ships and 256 pages. Today, after 20 years, the book has grown to include 256 ocean-going ships, 656 pages, and half a million words. Norm: I noticed your first book on cruises and cruise ships was published twenty years ago, and you have been updating your book every year. How do you go about gathering material every year for these updates and how long does it take you to update your annual book? Douglas: First, it takes me a minimum of three hours a day, every single day of the year, just to keep the book refreshed, up-to-date, and accurate. I also travel extensively, as much as 250 days each year. So, of course, I write while I am traveling, visiting, and sailing aboard the world’s cruise ships. Norm: What makes cruises so appealing to honeymooners? Douglas: Cruises take the hassle out of planning a honeymoon, particularly with regard to language, cuisine/meals, entertainment, and so many other things that go towards making a honeymoon a fine, affordable vacation, and a complete escape from the pressures of life ashore. Actually, it’s also a good way to find out how a newlywed couple cope with living in a small space. Norm: Are you seeing more weddings performed on cruise ships lately? What should cruisers know about cruise ship weddings? Douglas: By nature of their (out of the ordinary) appeal, more weddings are being performed aboard cruise ships today, simply because there is so much help at hand. The larger cruise lines have personnel dedicated to handling weddings and honeymoons, and the instant support of other personnel in cruise line head offices to draw from. Weddings can, in other words, be tailored completely to the individuals concerned (and without the interference of well-meaning parents and other family members who can create stress and pressure on couples about to undergo, what is for many, the most important ceremony of their lives). Norm: With so many cruise possibilities, how does one go about choosing a cruise and what should people take into consideration before deciding on any one cruise? Douglas: Choosing a cruise successfully depends on one’s personal requirements and expectations from a vacation. First-time cruise goers would be well advised to talk to an established cruise booking specialist, who will be able to help you to choose the right ship and cruise, for the right reasons, taking into account your personal tastes and socio-economic considerations. There are so many choices today that there should be a ship and cruise to suit even the most demanding and finicky of people. Perhaps the first decision, however, should be to establish how many days you can take for your vacation (including travel days to get to/from the ship), and then think about the area you would like to cruise in. The most popular regions include the Caribbean, Alaska, Europe, Norwegian fjords and Baltic ports, and southeast Asia/Australasia. Those with more time who want more involvement with nature should consider visiting Antarctica or the Arctic regions (you would ideally need about three weeks). Then there is perhaps the ultimate in long distance cruising – an around the world cruise, which typically would take three to four months (most ships offering complete around the world cruises – there are about 15 in 2005 – sail between January and April – away from winter). Norm: Have you had any bad experiences on a cruise, and if so, please describe them. Douglas: I have had many bad experiences, but most of them cannot be written about, and most have been aboard ships and cruise lines that no longer exist, or have changed their names. However, there have been a few nasty transatlantic crossings (I have done 152 of them), when the weather can throw some unexpected wrenches into what otherwise is perhaps a wonderful, serene way of traveling between the Old and New Worlds. Norm: After deciding on a particular cruise, how do you plan for the cruise and what important elements should you keep in mind? Douglas: Make sure you choose the right size ship for your needs. Do you want to be with 100, 500, 1000, or 3000 other passengers? Do you want to experience cruising under sail; cruising with specialist lecturers; be aboard a ship with spa facilities, large-scale production shows (a la Las Vegas), lots of gaming, or shopping opportunities? Whichever cruise you choose, try to make the travel arrangements as simple as possible. Sometimes, the mere act of getting to and from your chosen cruise ship (or embarkation point) can prove frustrating. If you are a first-time cruise goer, try not to do everything on your first cruise – it could end up being more like an endurance test. Norm: Can you tell our readers something about the different cabins that are available on cruises and what to look out for? Douglas: First-timers would be best advised to book an outside cabin (a cabin with an outside view) rather than an interior (no view) cabin. So, when you wake up, you won’t be disoriented, and you’ll be able to see what the weather is like, which helps you decide what to wear each day. Typically, the more space you want, the higher the cost. Large suites with private balconies cost the most (some can measure up to 3000 square feet), while interior cabins that measure as little as 70 square feet will, of course, feel incredibly small. Typically, you get what you pay for. The average cabin size aboard today’s larger cruise ships (they are really floating resorts) would be approximately 180-200 square feet. Norm: What type of clothing should I bring aboard? Douglas: Take clothing suited to the area you will be cruising in. Remember that ships are air-conditioned, so clothing that is layered works well. If you choose to cruise in cold weather regions, take suitable outer clothing, particularly for excursions ashore (Alaska is an example). If you take a Caribbean cruise, you really could pack light (cottons and natural fibers being the best, as many Caribbean islands have a high humidity factor for much of the year). Most of the (large) resort ships have a very casual dress code, while others (particularly ships that offer cruises longer than seven days – the industry standard) feature more formal dress codes. Tuxes are only really needed aboard Queen Mary 2 when doing a transatlantic crossing; otherwise, you can dress down and comfortable. Norm: Is there always a doctor and clinic aboard the cruise ships? Douglas: Almost all cruise ships carrying more than 50 passengers have a fully qualified medical doctor and nursing assistants, which also take care of the crew. Some of the larger ships have several doctors, surgical specialists, small operating rooms, full x-ray facilities, as well as extensive pharmacies. In other words, today’s cruise ships would be able to cope with most medical emergencies. However, if you take medication, remember to take an adequate supply (and if you have to fly to get to/from your cruise ship, take medication in your carry-on luggage – just in case your checked-in luggage doesn’t quite make it on the same day, or to the same port you’re flying to). Norm: Can I make telephone calls from the cruise ship? Douglas: Almost all cruise ships are equipped with direct-dial satellite-linked telephone systems (and Internet connectivity). A few ships even have special aerials that let you use your mobile phone, although most ships lose mobile connectivity when more than a mile offshore. The cost of a direct-dial satellite call varies between about $4 and $10 per minute, so don’t use the telephone unless you have to – the charges can add up quickly. Norm: What is the usual check-in schedule before the cruise takes off? Douglas: Most cruise ships start embarkation about four hours prior to sailing. You would normally complete all paperwork and go through passport and security checks in a passenger terminal before being allowed to board your cruise ship. Today’s check-in procedure is relatively painless, although it can take some time if you are cruising aboard one of the larger ships, when there will be 3000 other passengers to check in (in other words, there will be lines – just like at the post office). Norm: What happens if someone has special dietary requests? Douglas: Most cruise ships can handle special dietary requests, but do give advanced notice so that chefs can order and prepare any food items not normally carried. It’s too late once the ship has sailed, so make your needs and requirements known at the time you book (this is when it’s better to book through an accredited cruise travel specialist rather than picking something off the Internet – which doesn’t answer questions well). Norm: How do you make payments on board? Douglas: An onboard credit account will typically be established when you check in prior to embarkation. When you purchase things aboard ship (drinks or wine, for example), these items are added to your account, and charged to your credit card at the end of the cruise. Norm: Should you tip while on aboard the ship? Douglas: Some ships include tips, while others automatically add a tip to your daily onboard account (particularly the major cruise lines such as Carnival Cruise Lines, Celebrity Cruises, Costa Cruises, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, and Royal Caribbean International). However, on average you should plan on about $10 per day per person. Aboard the ships of some of the more upscale cruise lines, such as Radisson Seven Seas Cruises, SeaDream Yacht Club, Seabourn Cruise Lines, and Silversea Cruises, tips are included in the fare. Norm: How safe are cruise ships and how can I find out more about a particular company’s record pertaining to its safety and cleanliness? Douglas: Today’s cruise ships are extremely safe (nobody wants to work aboard an unsafe ship), and most are clean. However, of late, I have noticed that standards of cleanliness in cabins and public areas aboard some of the very large ships leave much to be desired (this is the effect of discounting, when lines cut personnel to keep prices artificially low). In general, if the same standards of food storage, handling, and hygiene that are practiced aboard today’s ships were to be applied to hotels and restaurants in the United States, most would fail consistently! In other words, ships are clean – very clean. Norm: If you had any important advice to offer our readers that has not been covered, what would it be? Douglas: Do read the book – Berlitz Publishing’s Ocean Cruising & Cruise Ships 2005, and you’ll be more educated than most travel agents. Bon Voyage, I wish you all a wonderful cruise vacation. Thanks Douglas for your time.
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