SOMEWHERE IN THE PACIFIC: The Star Princess, one of the many ships in Carnival’s armada of cruise lines, is on its way to Hawaii. A walk to the aft end of the ship on deck 14 allows you to survey miles of rolling Pacific.
And, yes, you read that right, deck 14. It’s nearly 14 stories above water, and there are still more to go. I exercise in the ocean view gym on deck 15. And we may visit the Skywalker lounge on deck 18.
My wife and I are on a long-overdue 15-day vacation — time for us to read, talk, sip champagne or wine and listen to music. And we don’t miss cellphones, computers or news. With only four brief stops in the actual Hawaiian Islands, it’s almost a misnomer to call this a Hawaiian cruise.
And no, I’m not morphing into a travel writer. I just want to report that cruising, if you have never tried it, is a good thing. More people ought to do it. While the industry statistics tell us that more than 14 million people took cruises in 2010, with most originating from North America, the figure gains perspective when compared with the 39.7 million people who visited Las Vegas. The world is big and wonderful, so there are places to go and things to do on the ever-growing fleet of cruise ships.
That same 14 million passenger figure also throws some light on the abundantly reported cruise ship disasters. My bet is that an actuary would prefer cruising to flying.
Cruising works because the economics can be almost anything you want them to be. Skeptical?
I was, too. For decades my wife and I have preferred independent, unscheduled trips to relaxed places like Belize, Florida and Mexico. Cruising on a big ship, locked up with thousands of strangers, didn’t hold much appeal. Sounded kind of icky, in fact.
But we became converts when we took our grandchildren on cruises to Alaska and the Western Caribbean. Kids love ’em: lots of personal freedom, the odd thrill of a ship’s cabin, special places for kids, pools, miniature golf, outdoor movies, and what appear to be unlimited supplies of pizza, hamburgers, soft drinks and other youth fuels. To our amazement, they even enjoyed the more formal meals in the tablecloth dining rooms, and the girls loved the experience of afternoon tea.
We liked it, too. We never felt crowded: There are lots of places with few other passengers. The dining is good. Breakfast in your cabin is sublime. And it’s fun to walk the esplanade, enjoy the spa or just hang out.
It also turns out to be entirely cost-competitive with typical land vacations. Suppose, for instance, that you want to take a week of vacation in Florida, Southern California or the Caribbean. A nice, but not luxurious, hotel will set you back about $300 a night when taxes are included. (Some will spend less, but it’s easy to spend more.) Add the rental car, another $40 to $80 a day. Then start thinking about breakfast, lunch and dinner. With no effort, the basic daily costs for two will run nearly $500 a day — $250 a day per person.
To compare the cost of cruising, go online to www.vacationstogo.com. This website has a worldwide database for all the major cruise lines and a set of filters that allows you to choose your destination, stateroom type, ship rating, cruise length, cruise line and other factors. When you have the kind of trip you want, click a few more buttons and the cost per day will be shown. Click on “Price Per Night” and the list will be rank ordered. Here are some recent search results:
• Seven-day Alaska cruises, originating and returning to Seattle next summer, had many ocean view staterooms available from $108 to $150 a night per person. Many balcony staterooms were available for less than $200 a night per person.
• Seven-day Western Caribbean cruises originating from Houston this winter produced a long list of balcony staterooms from less than $100 to $200 a night per person.
• Seven-day Eastern Caribbean cruises originating from Florida this winter produced a long list of balcony staterooms, with some under $100 a night. Most were under $150 a night per person.
Since cruise rates include all meals, cruising vacations can easily go head-to-head against more typical hotel-based vacations. Just thinking ...
Questions about personal finance and investments may be sent by email to scott@scott burns.com.