Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 24, 2021
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Cruising Attitude

How about a Miami or LA cruise
on your next long weekend?

Great food, a place to relax, things to do and see, a nice bed and plenty of excitement if you want it: mini-cruises offer all that's required of a great vacation. With workweeks getting longer still, short vacations have become all we can afford, in terms of time and money. These three- or four-day cruises, which usually span the weekend, have become increasingly popular as they provide short-but-intensive getaways that are just long enough to rejuvenate your spirit before getting back to your busy life.

Where to?
While most mini-cruises are offered only on the East Coast, there are a few that depart from Los Angeles. Carnival and Royal Caribbean International (RCI) have identical three-day west coast cruises. Ships leave Los Angeles Friday afternoon, spend Saturday in port at Ensenada, have a day at sea on Sunday and return to Los Angeles Monday morning. While ticket prices may be similar, the cruise lines use very different ships. RCI's Viking Serenade was built in 1982 and designed as the world's only cruise ship/car ferry. This explains why it looks more like a barge than a cruise ship. A $US75-million refit in 1991 replaced the car deck with passenger cabins, added a three-storey atrium and renovated existing public rooms and cabins. In May 2001, Carnival shifted the Ecstasy over from the Caribbean where, for the past 10 years, it was running seven-day cruises.

Itineraries expand once you hit the East Coast. Carnival offers three-day cruises from Miami and Port Canaveral; RCI from Miami, Port Canaveral and San Juan; Disney from Port Canaveral; and Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) from Miami. With the exception of RCI's San Juan run, all of these cruises include a port call in Nassau and either a day at sea or a day at the cruise line's private island.

Four-day cruises are harder to find. Carnival's embark at Miami, Tampa and Galveston, while those offered by RCI depart from Fort Lauderdale. Port calls include Key West and Cozumel and there is always a day at sea (Carnival's cruise from Galveston has two). The Fleet

The Fleet
Weekend cruise ships vary far more than their itineraries, but don't expect rock-climbing walls, ice skating rinks or Johnny Rockets outlets on any of them (even cabins with verandas are few and far between). With the exception of the Disney Wonder, these ships were all built in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Carnival's sister ships, Jubilee and Celebration, sail from Tampa and Galveston. Built in 1986 and 1987, they reflect the company's showy, brassy style, with their brightly coloured walls, spectacularly lighted ceilings and floors and liberal use of neon lights. Fodor's guide hits the nail on the head when describing their design: "the result is overwhelming and is guaranteed to keep your adrenalin flowing from the time you get up until you collapse into bed."

Carnival has also deployed four of its six Fantasy-class ships, which were built in the early '90s. They are significantly larger than the earlier generation of ships and are identical except for their decor. Designed by Joe Farcus, they reflect his style of overstatement, fantasy and fun. The Fantasy, built in 1991, is probably the brightest and boldest of the group. Referring to its mock Hollywood sets and more than 24 kilometres of neon tubing, one journalist described a tour of the ship as being like walking into a giant jukebox; another wrote that its decor is best described in wattage.

East Coast weekend cruisers with RCI choose between two types of ships. The Nordic Empress, which sails out of San Juan, was designed with three- and four-day cruises in mind. It is a combination of art deco and futuristic designs. With a dazzling nine-storey atrium full of glass, chrome and a cascading waterfall, it has the only three-level casino in the cruising world. Unlike ships slotted for longer cruises, there is no library, cinema or card room, spaces that are considered unnecessary for shorter itineraries.

RCI also uses its first generation of megaships for weekend cruises. The Sovereign of the Seas was built in 1988 as a prototype and was shortly followed by two identical sister ships, the Majesty of the Seas and the Monarch of the Seas. When the latter appeared in 1991, it had the largest passenger capacity of any ship afloat.

Unlike Carnival's Fantasy-class ships, which have distinct personalities and themes, RCI intentionally designs its ships to be identical. While they are understated in comparison to Carnival's glamour, they still maintain their share of glitz and glare.

NCL deploys the Norwegian Sea for its weekend cruises. Completed in 1988, it is relatively spartan in comparison with other ships built at the time. The pool deck, for example, has more all-weather carpeting than teak decking, the Crystal Court (a two-level lobby) is amazingly modest and public spaces border on the stark. Considered less attractive than other ships in the NCL fleet, the company has been offering huge discounts just to fill Norwegian's cabins.

Next to the rest of the ships in the mini-cruise market, the Disney Wonder stands in a class of its own. Built in 1999, it has all the amenities of a new ship and the largest number and variety of cabins with verandas. While it's the largest ship offering three- and four-day cruises, it holds fewer passengers than Carnival's Fantasy class and RCI's early megaships. As a Disney ship, its design and theme cater to children, but it also has adults-only areas and activities (see Doctor's Review, January 2001, for a review of the ship). The Bottom Line

The Bottom Line
As with all cruises, you'll no doubt undergo what's referred to as "sticker shock" when you reach the costs page of the brochure. Prices begin between $US479 and $US699 per person for the cheapest cabin on a three-day cruise (not including airfare). Of course, you'll rarely have to pay the brochure price, as early-booking discounts run between 32 and 56 percent and can be even greater depending on the ship, the time of year and the cabin. Discounts listed in August 2001 included three-day cruises for as low as $US164 on NCL, $US249 on Carnival, $US279 on RCI and $US399 on Disney.

Costs increase dramatically when moving from an inside to an outside cabin and again to a cabin with a veranda or to a suite. Unfortunately, discounts offered on the more expensive cabins are smaller than those given on cheaper ones, though substantial savings can still be found. The Trade-offs

The Trade-offs
With relatively minor differences in itineraries, there are still a number of factors that should influence your choice of cruise. While it will be limited if you can't cruise without a veranda, cost is often the greatest factor and has more to do with the type of cabin you want than the ship or cruise line. Keep in mind that despite similar pricing, not all standard cabins are the same size. Carnival and Disney's standard cabins measure between 17 and 20 square metres, which is as much as 50 percent larger than cabins on NCL and RCI.

Strange as this may seem, the location of the swimming pool might also influence your decision and is of particular importance if your itinerary includes a day at sea. Except for Carnival's ships, swimming pools are located in the middle of all ships, forcing passengers to congregate in a central, crowded area. Carnival's ships have two pools, one in the centre and one at the rear, and provide an alternative for passengers who want to swim or lay in the sun, away from all the activity.

Regardless of your cruise needs, there is a ship out there that fits your idea of a great, short cruise. With a little research and some planning, you can be sure to book one that leaves you with nothing but time enjoy yourself.


This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.