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CRUISE PRIMER

Rookie Sailors, Here's the Drill

Royal Caribbean International inaugurated a surf park last year aboard its Freedom of the Seas cruise ship.
Royal Caribbean International inaugurated a surf park last year aboard its Freedom of the Seas cruise ship. (Royal Caribbean International)

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By Sharyn Alden
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, October 7, 2007

This year, cruise analysts expect more than 12 million travelers -- 10 million from North America alone -- to step up the gangplank and board a ship. Many are first-time cruisers who have no idea what to expect other than midnight buffets and sunbathing around the pools.

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Before you book your first cruise, educate yourself about the quirks and perks of cruising. Here's a primer to get you started.

Selecting a Ship

Choosing a ship is a challenge even for seasoned cruisers, because there are hundreds of vessels out there. Do your homework and check with cruise specialists, books, magazines and Web sites before you decide. A good place to start is Cruise Critic ( http://www.cruisecritic.com), a Web site that offers a broad spectrum of information and frequently updated users' critiques of ships. Then try to match your needs with a cruise. Some ideas:

^ For romantic excursions, book one of Star Clippers' five-mast tall ships, which are throwbacks to the grand age of sailing.

^ If food is your passion, choose a line with high-rated cuisine, such as Crystal Cruises.

^ Like watersports? Royal Caribbean, Princess and Carnival have excellent organized watersports programs. Look for ships with retractable marinas to maximize sailing, windsurfing and water-ski opportunities.

^ Families should choose a line with activities for a wide range of ages, such as Carnival, Princess, Disney and Royal Caribbean. Then again, if you want to avoid ships packed with kids, remember that short cruises often attract young families, as do cruises that coincide with holidays.

^ If big is a big deal to you, Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas carries 3,634 passengers and has plenty of large-scale perks, such as a surfing pool.

^ If you like to think small, the 31-cabin Sea Lion, one of Lindblad Expeditions' ships, gives passengers an up-close look at British Columbia's Cormorant Island.

^ Pampering in a sedate, cultured atmosphere can be yours on many lines, including Cunard, whose Queen Mary 2 includes a Canyon Ranch spa.

^ For offbeat travel, hop on a passenger freighter, which start at about $90 per day. While the amenities are less luxurious than on conventional floating resorts, the experience is a conversation starter back home. For options, contact Freighter World Cruises ( http://www.freighterworld.com).

The Cost

Cruises run the gamut from a few hundred dollars to thousands of bucks, depending on the length of the voyage, itinerary, type of ship and accommodations.


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