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Travel reflections: cruising vs. other options

We have been asked how we liked cruising. We decided to answer the question by comparing the cruise experience to other travel experiences we have had.

Carol and I travel first class and there are several types of travel arrangements we have tried. The first is hiring a travel company (we used A&K) to plan a custom trip. The second is a private jet tour. The third is a luxury line cruise.

Getting from place to place

The worst experience of the three methods can be on the custom tour because you are captive of the commercial airlines - often a modern torture chamber where travelers experience the self-inflicted indignities of this form of travel: endless security lines, overcrowded club facilities, delays, etc. On the custom tour you have to go from your sleeping accommodations to an airport and back again repeating this seesaw again and again. Having to use commercial airlines today can make portions of, or all of, the whole trip hell. It doesn't even matter if you're flying first class and staying in 5-star hotels.

The private jet set up is better in this regard. You still have to use commercial travel to get to the jet to start the trip but from then on, security screening, Customs and Immigration, etc., are relatively painless from port to port because everything is handled for you, including filling out the immigration and customs forms. On the other hand, the private jet only gets you to the nearest big airport. To get to where the sights are it is sometimes necessary to fly a smaller charter plane or go commercial, or take a bus, or some combination of those. So travel by private jet is not a totally accurate description of how you get to the places you've come to see.

The cruise is far better on that account. You have to use commercial air to get to the ship but once aboard you are home for as long as the cruise lasts. You leave the ship and take a bus or private car for a tour and return to the ship. As one fellow passenger on our recent cruise put it, "it's nice to have our hotel move to the sightseeing spots."

Accommodations:

Both the private tour and the jet tour provide the option of first class hotels every night, as many different hotels as there are locations to visit. The cruise has you in your cabin for the duration.

The jet tour is problematic in this regard, however. CC and I each travel with a small bag and a large bag. We ship the large bag to the first stop on the itinerary no matter what type of travel we are doing, and we also ship the big bags back home again at the end of the trip. Because of the hassle of dealing with the large bags when it is necessary to switch from the private jet and travel by commercial air(for example, in Bhutan only pilots of the national airline can fly into the country because of the mountains and tricky winds), you're limited to a small bag. That might have to cover you for at least two days Amusingly; it becomes a big deal when you can get to your big bag again.

On the private jet trip, the staff on board takes care of getting your bags from the airport to the hotel and back. On the custom tour, the guides basically leave you to handle your own bags at the airport. On the ship, you unpack and only repack at the end of the cruise. This ranked high as far as Carol was concerned.

The quality of the accommodation depends on where you are. We like staying in top quality rooms so in both the custom and the jet tours we get considerable variety and often a neat, funky room. On the cruise, if you are in one of the better suites you are in comfortable, if utilitarian, rooms all the time. Carol hated the furniture in our ship suite.

Dining:

On a custom tour you are largely on your own. The food is as good as the restaurant you choose.

On the jet, you travel with a chef so your lunches are gourmet and the evening meals are arranged by the tour.

The cruise allows you to eat in port if you choose but it is not clear why you would want to. There are several opportunities for meals throughout the day on the ship, ranging from snacks to gourmet tasting suppers. The food on the trip has been varied and excellent regardless of which of the several dining rooms you choose to eat in.

Service:

The service is uniformly excellent regardless of which type of tour you are on. After all, that is what you are paying for. The difference is in the amount of service provided by the tour itself.

In custom tours you pay for door to door and guide services. The service in the hotel and dining facilities depends on the provider.

On the jet tour, the tour staff is with you at the hotel and eating areas so, although these services are provided by someone other than the jet tour company, there are people to intercede for you if you need them.

On a cruise, the ship provides everything. Seaborn's service level is over-the-top. There are some 360 staff aboard to service ~450 passengers. As in the TV Show CHEERS, everyone knows your name. Your wine glass is never empty (as with the food, it is in the price of the fare).

Availability of specialized services is important. For example, both the jet and the cruise travel with their own doctor (and they came in handy).

Cost:

It is hard to compare costs. Again, the different tours have different amount of service included. Roughly, the custom tour is half the cost of the cruise and the jet about 150% of the cruise cost.

The cruise and custom tours allow variation within the package depending on room and other factors. The jet tour is a one-size-fits-all package. The jet travel pricing structure tends to bring together people who can afford the higher price tag.

Sightseeing:

The jet is clearly the best way to see far flung places, each substantially different from one another, in the shortest period of time. Each day is a brand new experience with little or no overlap from the day before.

The custom tour could be set up the same way. However, we never tried to put together our own version of a private jet trip and I suspect that the cost to do so would be substantial. Instead, our custom tours were designed to see the sights in a particular part of the globe, mostly a single continent. Consequently, the sights were not as varied as the jet tour but, because we tended to travel across countries on the same continent, the planned stops were more or less unique

The cruise is less varied as far as sightseeing goes. You are limited to what the nearest sightseeing area is, say a night's cruise away. Although the towns and villages we have seen on the present cruise are different in some particular fashion, they are very similar in general. You are, by definition, limited to coastal or near coastal cities.

In summary, you are buying different things depending on the type of tour you want.







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