Welcome to the April 2009 issue of "Smart Traveler". The newsletter with tips and information to help make your traveling smoother.
10 Common Cruise Questions
Cruising newcomers usually have more excuses as to why they've
never sailed than there are ships at sea. Often, these excuses
are based on misconceptions of what a cruise vacation is really
like. If your mental image of a cruise vacation is based on
Titanic (snobby rich folks playing shuffleboard and dining each
night in gowns and tuxedos) or The Love Boat (lots of shameless
hooking up between guests and crewmembers), or if it involves
the notion of a floating, nonstop smorgasbord, you clearly need
to bring your preconceived notions in line with the reality of
To give you more insight into the contemporary cruise
experience, we have answered 10 of the most common questions
that we are asked by travelers who've never sailed.
1. Is Cruising Expensive?
The upfront price may seen high, but 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 currently find
on cruise travel, you'll discover that you can actually save
money by booking a cruise, as opposed to a land-based vacation.
2. Are Cruises All-Inclusive?
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 and shore excursions won't
3. Are All Cruise Ships Alike?
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,
family ships, sailing ships ... and on and on!
4. Is Cruising Like Going to Vegas or to a Resort?
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 like Vegas (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 debark 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).
5. Isn't Cruising Just for the "Newly Wed and Nearly Dead"?
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
craft projects and interactive play. Singles can enjoy the
camaraderie of communal meals and organized shore tours, special
singles' meet-and-greets, and a host of onboard activities. 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. Gay and lesbian cruisers are welcomed
onboard with their own meet-ups in ships' lounges. Charter
cruises—catering to gay singles, couples, and families—are also
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.
6. Will I Get Sick or Seasick?
You may have read news articles about outbreaks of norovirus
on cruise ships. Norovirus is a stomach bug that spreads easily
in contained environments, such as hospitals and schools, as
well as ships. You can stay healthy by washing your hands often
and using the hand sanitizer lotion found in dining areas and by
the ship's gangway.
As 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
Transderm patch, available by prescription. Alternative remedies
include ginger capsules and acupressure wristbands, available at
most pharmacies. Also, note that the purser's desks on most
ships can provide rations.
7. Is Cruising Safe?
Ships must follow an extraordinary number of rules and
regulations that assure 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.
Rather than sinking (a la Titanic), fire is the biggest concern,
and when it comes to fire safety, ships operate under
international rules, known as Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). The
rules require most ships to have smoke detectors, sprinklers,
and low-level emergency lighting for escape routes.
Within the first 24 hours of sailing, everyone on your ship is
required to participate in a safety drill that includes trying
on a nifty orange life jacket and locating your assigned
lifeboat, on the odd (and rare) chance that you need to use it.
However, cruise ships are like mini-cities, and you should take
the same general travel precautions you would on land. Keep any
valuables in your cabin's safe (or leave them at home), don't
open your cabin door without verifying who's there, and give
children strict rules about when they can and cannot roam the
ship without adult supervision.
8. Will I Be Bored?
No way! You may need a map to navigate around today's big
ships, and there's something to do in nearly every corner. For
intellectual stimulation, you can listen to guest speakers,
participate in Bridge tournaments or attend wine lectures. To
get your heart pumping, play some hoops, or visit the ship's
gym. 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
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.
9. Won't I Get Fat?
OK, 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 often low-carb)
options on the menus and some healthy choices at the buffets.
Certain ships actually have onboard spa cafes. And, many 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.)
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, rock-climbing walls, and rollerblading rinks
for more onboard athletics.
10. Can I Stay in Touch?
On most ships, you'll get CNN or some other 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), and from your cell phone, as well.
(Roaming charges apply.) Most ships have Internet centers and
shipboard WiFi, so you can read email and surf the Web.
About Swine Flu? Read This First!
If you're traveling in the near future, you may be
concerned about the recent news regarding swine flu.
Luckily, the travel industry has been proactive in
regard to the situation, and you should find a more
lenient (read: penalty-free) environment if you need
to change or cancel your travel plans. If you're
still planning on hitting the road or taking to the
skies, however, know that proper precautions,
common-sense practices, and good judgment can go a
long way toward keeping you healthy and
Where Are the Current
Warnings?At press time, the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has only put
out a swine flu warning for travel to
Mexico, advising against any non-essential trips
there. All other countries are currently classified
as safe for travel.
Should You Cancel or Postpone Your Trip?If
you want to postpone your trip to Mexico, several
airlines are permitting free ticket changes.
Currently, the airlines that have announced flexible
travel policies include:
If you have booked a trip to Mexico with one of
these airlines, you can request a ticket change with
no fee. Date policies and restrictions vary by
airline; contact your carrier directly to request
changes. Additionally, if the virus continues to
spread, expect more travel providers to reduce or
omit fees or expand the no-penalty policy to include
Hotels are also reducing fees for those who need
to change their travel plans, with Marriott,
InterContinental, and Hyatt among the companies
currently waiving change fees.
Pleasant Holidays, and
United Vacations are also omitting fees for
those who want to delay their Mexico vacations.
Princess Cruises, and
Royal Caribbean have temporarily decided not to
port in Mexico, and other cruise lines will most
likely follow their example.
Regardless of which company you booked with,
contact your travel agent directly if you need to
make a change to your itinerary. Hotels will
typically let travelers cancel with a few weeks'
notice without penalty; check your hotel's
cancellation policy if you are concerned. If you
would like to cancel your flight, you may be able to
apply the value of a nonrefundable ticket toward
another ticket, but there's no guarantee. Again,
check with your carrier to find out what the
policies are, and if there's any leniency given the
swine flu situation.
What You Can Do to Protect Yourself if
You Decide to Travel
According to the CDC, travelers should
"take common sense steps to protect themselves. Wash
your hands, get plenty of sleep, be physically
active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids,
and eat nutritious food." Additional recommendations
include making sure your vaccinations are up to
date, packing a travel health kit that includes
first aid and basic medical supplies, knowing in
advance where any health care centers and hospitals
are in the region you are visiting, and checking in
with your health insurance provider to ensure you
have coverage overseas (if applicable).
Tamiflu and Relenza (both prescription drugs)
have shown some effect against swine flu. Speak with
your doctor for further details or to obtain a
Once you're in country, make sure to be vigilant
of the situation and those you come into contact
with, and be cognizant of any affected areas you may
visit. Avoid coming into close contact with sick
people; limit touching your eyes, nose, and mouth;
and use hand sanitizers and tissues. Be sure to
follow local health guidelines wherever you may
The World Health Organization (WHO) has also put
swine flu resource site that includes updates,
FAQs, and more.
What to Do En Route
If you're at the airport, you may be able to
request a surgical mask to wear while waiting at
your terminal or on the plane. The staff at Mexico
City International Airport, for example, has been
handing out masks to passengers as a precaution.
Wash your hands frequently at the airport using
hot water and plenty of soap. In flight, keep a
travel-sized bottle of hand sanitizer with you, and
use it when you're not able to wash your hands.
If you're seated next to someone exhibiting flu
symptoms, such as coughing, fever, sneezing, and the
like, you may be able to speak with a flight
attendant and request a transfer to a different
seat. Keep those sanitizers handy and drink plenty
drug brings hope for jet lag sufferers
The sleepless nights, the woozy days and the foggy minds of jet lag
are the bane of any business traveler's life.
But help may be on the way in the form of a new drug that has proved
successful in resetting the body's natural sleep rhythms.
In two clinical trials, the drug tasimelteon helped volunteers whose
sleep pattern had been delayed by five hours to fall asleep quicker
and to sleep for longer.
The drug mimics the effects of melatonin. Melatonin is a
naturally-occurring hormone in humans that regulates the circadian
rhythm, or the natural human clock, that is partly controlled by
When the circadian rhythm is disrupted -- by traveling across time
zones or disrupting sleep during shift work -- the most common
symptoms are insomnia when trying to sleep and excessive sleepiness
while trying to remain awake. This is due to the inability of the
body to cope with conflicting time signals.
Melatonin improves the quality of sleep and dulls the awakening
signal in the body clock.
The studies on tasimelteon were undertaken by researchers from
Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, USA and Monash University,
They conducted two trials with 450 volunteers whose sleep patterns
had been disturbed by keeping them awake for five hours longer --
usually the time difference between New York and London.
They compared the sleep patterns of people who had been given
different dosages of the drug 30 minutes before sleep and those who
had been given a placebo. In both studies, tasimelteon reduced the
amount of time it took for them to fall asleep, and increased the
amount of time they spent asleep.
Commenting on the results of the trial, published in medical journal
The Lancet this week, Daniel Cardinali, from the University of
Buenos Aires and Diego Golombek from the National University of
Quilmes, Buenos Aires, said the results would be welcomed by "shift
workers, airline crew, tourists and football teams."
They added that the drug could be an alternative to addictive sleep
therapies such as benzodiazepines. Melatonin-like drugs only exert a
"modest sleep-promoting effect." Instead, they wrote, "they amplify
day-night differences in alertness and sleep quality." What are your
tips for overcoming jet lag? Sound off below.
Melatonin products are already available over the counter in the
USA, the researchers pointed out in The Lancet. But they are not
recommended because their potency, purity, and safety are not
regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration.
The study was funded by Vanda Pharmaceuticals which makes
tasimelteon. If approved, the drug could be on the market within
In the meantime, there are natural ways business travelers can
combat the effects of jet lag. Here are some to keep in mind before
Tips for combating jet lag
Avoid late meals and alcohol
Take cat-naps when you need to
Adjust to your destination as soon as you get on the plane
Eat on local time
Get a good night's sleep before you travel
Go for walks in daytime and get plenty of sunlight
Try to sleep at take-off when gravitational forces and a shortage of
fresh oxygen make ideal conditions for dozing off
A break in a long flight can help
Noise-cancellation headphones can block out noise and help you sleep
How to Take On Travel Trouble
Health Care Abroad
No one wants to
imagine being sick or injured on vacation -- but if the worst
happens, it pays to be prepared. A few minor precautions can save
you considerable hassle, time and money, and offer you peace of mind
if you encounter health problems while traveling.
Medical practices abroad may be very different than those in the
United States. Language barriers and unfamiliarity with your medical
history make planning for potential medical care crucial.
The following tips, contact information, medication names and
additional resources will help you find health care abroad and deal
with medical needs both minor and critical.
Start with the Consular Information Sheets
If you aren't familiar with the country you're visiting, the U.S.
Consular Information Sheets are a good place to start to see
what type of medical services will be available to you once you're
there. Select your country and look for Medical Facilities and
Collect Health Care Contact Information Before You Leave
Write down the following information in your address book, journal
or itinerary and keep it with you at all times.
Your regular doctor's office and home phone numbers in case you need
a consultation while traveling
HMO/insurance company contact information in case you need to get
approval for treatment
Embassy contact info for countries in which you are traveling
Also, ask your doctor for a contact name and number in the event of
an emergency that occurs when your own doctor is not available.
All of this information should be with your primary identification
in your carry-on luggage, wallet, purse or money belt so that,
should you be incapacitated, whoever comes to your assistance will
find it. If you have serious allergies or a medical condition such
as diabetes, be sure to ask your doctor about medical emergency
Know the Generic Names of Your Medications
Common brand names at home may not be available or widely known
where you are traveling. Knowing the generic/medical names of common
medications may help you find the over-the-counter medications you
need, and help you avoid taking the wrong medications.
It's a good idea to pack a range of travel medications in a
first-aid kit before you leave. If you need to replenish your
supplies while traveling, keep in mind the following generic
Advil/Motrin/Alleve = ibuprofen
Tylenol/Excedrin = acetaminophen
Bayer, others = aspirin
Benadryl (antihistamine) = diphenhydramine
Dramamine, Bonine = dimenhydrinate, meclizine
Pepto-Bismol = bismuth subsalicylate
Antacids = calcium carbonate, aluminum hydroxide or magnesium
Imodium = loperamide
Medical Assistance Companies
Membership with a medical assistance company buys you access to an
extremely wide range of medical and other services, from the mundane
(vaccination recommendations, doctor referrals, legal advice), to
the dramatic (repatriation, emergency evacuations, emergency cash
Plans, services and prices can vary widely, so read all information
carefully, and compare the various service levels and companies. Two
recommended medical assistance companies include:
Travel Assistance International
Locating Doctors and Clinics While
The U.S. State Department provides a list of
doctors and hospitals abroad. Also, check your guidebook -- many
include hospital, clinic or doctor recommendations.
Especially at upscale lodgings, ask the hotel concierge for
physician recommendations. Some doctors will make "house calls" to
your hotel. Alternatively, your best bet may be to contact the
nearest medical school, where you will often find English-speaking
doctors and students.
The following agencies provide contact information for
English-speaking doctors throughout the world. Membership may be
International Society of Travel Medicine (ISTM)
International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT)
Obtain Information at Your Location
If you are sick or injured, ask for complete contact information
(including a fax number) of the hospital or clinic at which you're
being treated before you call your doctor or insurance provider.
Having this information will make it easier for your provider to
process your claim and to fax pertinent documentation to your
Additional Contact Information
The following government and private agencies provide valuable
information for U.S. citizens traveling abroad:
U.S. State Department Overseas Citizens Services
(888) 407-4747 -- from overseas: (202) 501-4444
The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
World Health Organization (WHO)
(+ 41 22) 791-2111
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