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Cruise – Frequently Asked Questions

Cruise prices range from extremely cheap sale fares (sometimes as low as $50 per person, per night, before taxes) to super-pricey rates for fancy suites on luxury lines. Remember that your cruise fare includes your accommodations, meals in main dining venues, activities (including children's programs) and nighttime entertainment -- not to mention transportation from port to port. When you factor in all of the costs you'd incur on a land vacation, as well as the great deals you can find on cruise travel, you'll discover that you can often save money by booking a cruise, as opposed to a land-based vacation.

No. Your cruise fare includes a lot (see above), but you'll pay extra for a whole host of amenities. Among them? Alternative restaurants, some coffee and ice cream bars, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages, shore excursions, spa treatments and gratuities. The luxury lines include more, but even they are never completely all-inclusive. (Drinks and gratuities may be included in fares, but spa treatments won't be.)

Cruise ships come in a variety of sizes and personalities. You'll find a myriad of variations: big ships, small ships, explorer-oriented ships, absolutely decadent luxury ships, river ships, family ships, sailing ships ... and on and on.

Well, yes -- and no. These days, cruise ships do have all the comforts and luxuries that travelers associate with on-land resorts, as well as much of the glitz and glamour of destinations (including bustling casinos and lavish production shows). However -- and this may seem obvious, but it needs to be mentioned -- you are on a ship. Rough seas can impact your itinerary, you must disembark and reboard the ship at specified times and your cabin will typically be smaller than a hotel room (unless you book the highest level of suites).

It used to be, but no way is that true anymore. Cruise ships are increasingly targeting families, offering children's programs and facilities that rival those on land. You'll find onboard water parks, teen discos, video games and a variety of crafts projects and interactive play. Singles can enjoy the camaraderie of communal meals and organized shore tours, special singles' meet-and-greets, a host of onboard activities and, on some ships, solo cabins. Hip and urban travelers will be pleased to find gourmet dining, high-tech and modern entertainment and late-night action at onboard bars and clubs.

Health-conscious and active travelers should note that midnight buffets have given way to expansive fitness centers, spa cuisine and an array of active, onboard pursuits like rock climbing and Pilates classes. And, cruise lines are even offering plenty of shorter-than-usual (three- to six-night) voyages that are marketed to working folks who simply can't give up two weeks or more for a vacation.

For seasickness, most ships are so big and well stabilized that you can hardly tell you're moving, especially in the calm waters of the Caribbean and Alaska's Inside Passage. Radar helps big ships outrun hurricanes and other bad-weather patches, but if you do happen to pass through some rough water, any queasiness can usually be relieved by an over-the-counter medication like Dramamine or Bonine. If you are very prone to seasickness, ask your doctor before you leave home for the right medication.

Ships must follow an extraordinary number of rules and regulations in place to protect passengers' (and crewmembers') safety while onboard. The Coast Guard conducts rigorous, quarterly inspections of all ships that operate from U.S. ports, looking to make sure they comply with emergency response requirements. Ships also operate under international rules, known as Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). The rules regulate everything from fire safety to navigation and maritime security. The rules also require that before the ship sails, everyone must participate in a safety drill that includes instructions on locating and putting on life jackets and finding your assigned lifeboat.

The biggest safety concerns for cruise ships are fire and running aground/capsizing. The past few years have seen some high profile and tragic incidents, including onboard fires on Oceania Insignia, Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas and Carnival Triumph and the capsizing of Costa Concordia, but these occurrences are actually quite rare, given the millions of people who cruise each year. You may be more at risk driving to the airport or boarding a plane to get to your homeport than you are once at sea.

No way! You may need a map to navigate around today's big ships, and there's something to do in nearly every corner. To get your heart pumping, play some hoops or visit the ship's gym. For intellectual stimulation, you can listen to guest speakers, participate in Bridge tournaments or attend wine lectures. There are pools for soaking and swimming, boutiques for shopping and spas for pampering. You can participate in contests, do crafts, watch movies or simply grab a book and get a tan. Or amp it up with recreational options like waterslides, rock climbing walls and ropes courses. Royal Caribbean takes the cake for unusual activities; its Quantum Class has bumper cars, roller skating and indoor skydiving onboard.

Even on small ships, there's plenty to do during times when the vessels are at sea; most notably, these cruises tend to offer strong enrichment-oriented activities. Plus, remember you're not on the ship all the time -- most itineraries include a variety of different ports of call.

Okay, we know the rumor that the average person gains about five pounds on a one-week cruise. But, for those watching calories, be assured there will be low-fat (and low-carb, dairy-free and gluten-free) options on the menus and some healthy choices at the buffets. Certain ships actually have onboard spa cafes. Most have simply done away with midnight buffets -- those longtime paeans of absolute indulgence. (After-dinner revelers can, instead, partake in hors d'oeuvres, served in late-night venues, or access 24-hour dining venues.)

Aside from eating healthy, you can also burn calories by working out in the ship's gym, speed walking or jogging around the various decks (or ditching elevators in favor of stairs), and mountain biking, hiking and kayaking in port. Some ships have basketball courts and rock climbing walls for more onboard athletics.

On most ships, you'll get some cable news network on your in-room TV. A daily news sheet may also be available, combining wire reports with stories from major newspapers. You can make phone calls from the phone in your cabin, though it's prohibitively expensive. Your cell phone also can be used to make phone calls and send text messages. (Roaming charges apply and will be very expensive.) Most ships have small Internet centers and shipboard Wi-Fi, so you can read email and surf the web. Some cruise lines are finding ways to optimize bandwidth to make it easier for cruisers to Skype and stream videos.

Mobile apps also have been making headway. These apps allow cruisers to stay in touch with family and friends onboard by exchanging messages with other app users. Depending on the cruise line app, users may be able to check out daily activities, access social media sites, browse restaurant menus, submit reviews and view their onboard accounts.