The Afar Guide to

Cruise Control

There’s nothing like seeing the world by sea. On calm days, the world moves past slowly, inviting you to take snapshots in your mind. On rough days, you are one with Mother Nature, experiencing with every roll and pitch the pure power she possesses over our world. In port, you can choose to linger in luxury and indulge in shipboard amenities, or disembark and interact with locals on the ground. Unlike flying, which transports passengers at 30,000 feet, cruising is more accessible, more face-to-face with the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of every place along the way. Short of exploring a countryside on foot, it is perhaps the most immersive way to travel.

Ports of Importance
Some cruise ports are better than others—especially when they offer neighborhoods, experiences, and scenic places to explore on your own.
Cruise Differently
Whether by renovated fishing vessel, historic schooner, or private yacht, small cruises are great for flexibility and accessing rivers, lakes, and narrow passages.
10 Ways to Get the Most from Your Next Cruise
Every cruise, and cruise operator, is different, but one thing is the same: it pays to plan ahead. Here are some suggestions for both your onboard experiences and offshore excursions.
Order room service. Most cruise prices include all meals—as well as room service. While this might eliminate the sensation of splurging on breakfast in bed, the fact remains: If you don’t feel like leaving your stateroom for a particular meal, you don’t have to.
Get tippy. Think of your cabin steward as the valet, bellhop, room service delivery person, and butler—wrapped into one. Not only is it customary to tip these workers; it is expected.
Stay local. Shore excursions can be fun (and pricey), but the best way to experience port towns during a cruise is to explore independently and seek out authentic, local experiences. “Stroll picturesque farmers' markets, try the local fare at a café, or enjoy drinks and dancing into the night,” says Larry Pimentel, President and CEO of Azamara Club Cruises. “There really is no better way to experience a destination than through its people.”
Power up. Especially if you like to travel with a small army of electronic devices, inquire about the energy situation aboard your ship, as many smaller vessels cut shipboard power at night. One alternative is a solar charger.
Pack sparingly. Be selective when packing for a small cruise. Many of the more intimate ships measure Gross Register Tonnage (GRT) differently from large lines, which means you could pay extra for heavier bags.

Get the shots. Just because you’re on a cruise ship doesn’t mean you’re immune to illnesses and viruses associated with a particular area. Check the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the inside scoop on suggested vaccinations and immunizations.
Bring backup. Even if it seems like overkill, you’d be wise to bring extra accessories on cold-weather cruises. Robin West, manager of expedition operations and planning at Seabourn, notes that backup gloves, in particular, can come in handy. “It’s a good idea to have an extra pair in case you lose [your primary pair] or they get wet,” he says.
Fight the sick. If you’re prone to seasickness, don’t be shy about taking Dramamine (or wearing motion-sickness wristbands); in rough seas, smaller ships tend to pitch and roll more significantly than larger vessels.
No kidding. Heads up, family travelers—most of the smaller cruise ships discourage child travelers, and some go so far as to prohibit passengers under the age of 18.
Define casual. The notion of “casual attire” can be somewhat subjective. On smaller luxury cruise ships, it usually means khakis and polo shirts. It also means no baseball caps (which you probably wouldn’t want to wear at sea anyway, lest they blow away).
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Matt Villano, Cruises Curator

Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. He writes regularly on the subjects of family travel and cruising, and serves as senior editor of the Expedia Viewfinder from Expedia.