Subject: Re: Wanted: A primer on Cruising
Greetings, Ziners:

We've discovered cruising is (1) an ideal way to see certain parts of the world that are difficult to access by land, and (2) a terrific way for multiple travelers with different interests and/or of different ages/physical capabilities to share the same vacation experience when destination is of secondary importance to simply being together and having fun. Cruising can also be (3) a good value when the bottom line is important.

One of our favorite cruises that achieved all three pros of cruising was an inter-generational family cruise to Alaska. That trip will forever remain one of the travel memories of a lifetime in the minds of the 70-year-olds as well as the children who enjoyed it!

My best tip for prospective cruisers is: Just as you do with land trips, research, research, research before you book! First, go to the library and check out a travel guide dedicated to cruising generally. Berlitz and Frommer's are two commendable sources. Second, get current, specific information and tips on itineraries, cruise lines, specific ships within cruise lines, what type of cabin best meets your needs, etc., at the #1 cruise discussion forum on the web (free), . There are many helpful FAQs, reviews and articles at Cruise Critic, too.

When it comes to pricing, note that the prices listed in the mouth- watering brochures you may pick up in your travel agent's office are NOT the real prices. They are like hotel rack rates--no one pays them. You will get the best pricing, better cabin availability options and superior customer service if you select a travel agent who is a true cruise specialist. Most agents specializing in cruises handle just cruise bookings--nothing else; thus, their expertise + bargaining power with the cruise lines is an unbeatable combination. If you allow your regular travel agent to handle your booking out of loyalty, you will be frustrated (and likely miss out on pricing and other benefits) because you will quickly discover that as a result of your research, you will know far more than your agent!

We are preparing to take our 8th cruise since we tried our first one in Dec. 99 (beware, cruising can be addicting!). This time, it's a transatlantic that will bring us home from a 3-week land tour in Europe! Crossing the time zones from Amsterdam to Boston will give us a string of 25-hour days. What better way to beat jet lag?!

Happy travels, by land or by sea....

Diana Ball near Houston, TX