In the ever growing digital age, access to the Internet is becoming increasingly important. Laptops, smart phones and iPads mean we can access our emails, the Internet and our office desktop at the click of a button, and they are common place onboard ships these days.
Though Wi-Fi access probably won't be the main consideration when picking a cruise holiday, it may be useful to know who offers it, where you can gain access, and what the cost is when planning your holiday. Whether a workaholic or keeping in touch with friends and family, being online for some people is a must.
Internet costs onboard cruise ships can seem a little inflated and this is because ships connect to the outside world via satellite, which is more costly than the copper wires running into most homes. Connection is also weather dependent and will sometimes be turned off from the bridge. Fortunately you are on a cruise ship to relax, enjoy the hospitality and visit great destinations, therefore having access is a bonus.
Most cruise ships have offered Internet cafes or Internet access in their libraries for quite some time, but due to increased demand Wi-Fi connections onboard are increasingly popular. On some ships, such as Azamara, you can access the Wi-Fi network throughout the ship, other cruise lines access may be limited to hotspots (certain lounges or decks) and some even include access in your stateroom or suite.
If you are lucky you may be given limited free access from your suite, or for reaching a certain level with the cruise line's loyalty program, though generally you will be using the Internet on a pay as you play basis. Some cruise lines offer packages — Celebrity Cruises offer 100 minutes for $70 and 500 minutes for $250 — here is a run down of the basic costs of keeping in touch on your cruise:
One of Iglu's cruise experts, Katherine Thornley, enjoyed the hospitality of Hurtigrüten last week, here's what she had to say about the experince.
With 34 ports of call and 11 ships Hurtigruten is by far the best way to see and truly appreciate Norway’s stunning coastline, and to be fully immersed in its rich culture and history. Recently I was lucky enough to join Hurtigruten for three nights on their ship the Midnatsol on a Southbound journey from Tromso, high above the Arctic Circle to Trondheim.
Hurtigruten have been linking ports along Norway’s coast for the past 115 years carrying mail, cargo and passengers, and often the only lifeline for some of Norway’s most remote places. The ships are still today working ships boasting an interesting mix of luxury cruise, cargo ship and passenger ferry.
After a very early check-in at Heathrow airport we boarded our SAS flight to Oslo, where we picked up our connecting flight to Tromso. Looking out the aircraft window the landscape was changing, from the lightly snow covered southern Norway to a continuously thick blanket of snow as far as the eye could see, as we approached Tromso, far above the Arctic Circle.
A short coach transfer brought us to the Hotel Rica located right by Tromso’s small port, just a few hundred metres from where we would be boarding our ship. A perfect place to add on a couple night’s stay at the beginning or end of your cruise.
Sitting at our table in the big dining room, looking out the panoramic windows onto the water I had my first taste of Norway; the freshest piece of salmon I’ve ever tasted, cooked exquisitely.
Tromso is a small and very picturesque city; a few steps took us up to the main shopping street, a straight pedestrian zone lined with the typical colourful Norwegian wooden buildings, with their pointed snow covered roofs. Across the water is the Tromso Arctic Cathedral, a modern, pyramid shaped design with a huge stained glass windows, famous for its Midnight Sun Concerts in summer. Being Sunday all the shops and many restaurants were closed and we were almost the only people out and about.
Returning to the Hotel Rica we added extra warm layers of clothing ready for our next adventure — husky-sledding. A bus took us at dusk to the Villmarkssenter outside Tromso. The deafening sound of about 200 huskies howling and barking greeted us. The Villmarkssenter is completely out in nature and fantastically uncommercialised. We asked to have a try at driving the sleds ourselves and were dually presented with our own sled, pack of dogs, and some very brief instructions before being left to just hold on and hope for the best. It was an incredible rush speeding through the polar wilderness in the darkness just being pulled by these amazing dogs. Steering the sleds is not always easy as I soon found out — speeding around a curve my grip slipped and I fell off the sled, flying through the nightime sky, landing face first in the deep snow...
Once off the sleds we enjoyed a dinner of reindeer stew served in a traditional Sami tent called a Lavvo, sitting around an open fire on warm reindeer skin rugs. What a shame the Northern Lights failed to make an appearance.
By the time we arrived back to Tromso our ship the Midnatsol was waiting and we were more than ready to board, tired out after a long day and lots of clean, fresh air. Boarding is incredibly straightforward and easy, no messing around in long queues in big passenger terminals.
The Midnatsol is one of Hurtigruten’s newer ships built in 2003 with a beautiful glass atrium and stylish interior. We were allocated an inside cabin on deck four, nothing fancy. The cabin was comfortable but very small, though the en-suite bathroom had an excellent shower. I would recommend upgrading to at least an outside cabin which are just that extra bit larger, which makes all the difference. Also, being down on deck four proved to be a bit noisy as you can feel the ship’s vibration and hear the commotion of the ship loading and off-loading cargo in the middle of the night. Personally I thought this added to the whole experience of being on a ship but if you are a light sleeper definitely go for a higher deck.
We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day, the sun was shining and the air and water were as clear as glass. After an early rise we enjoyed the very substantial breakfast buffet with plenty of Norwegian delicacies and where I discovered their delicious brown cheese, which must be tried to be understood!
Our ship arrived in Harstad where we joined one of Hurtigruten’s many prebookable excurions, ‘A Taste of Vesteralen’. This four hour coach excursion is a fantastic, relaxed way to experience Norway’s dramatic and breathtakingly beautiful scenery of mountains, fjords and small villages. The excursion stops at the pretty, medieval Trondenes Kirke (church), then goes on to the Trondenes Historical Centre and continues over the bridge to Hinnoya Island. We were lucky enough to see wild reindeer and sea eagles along the way. After crossing the Gullesfjord by ferry we arrived in Sortland and rejoined the Midnatsol.
After lunch on the ship we had time just to sit back and relax never tiring of gazing out to sea watching the landscape glide by either from the Midnatsol’s fantastic panorama lounge, with two storey high windows, or from out on deck.
Next stop along the way is Stockmarkenes where we visited the Hurtigruten museum exhibiting Hurtigruten‘s interesting history and ships, not to be missed and free for passengers.
Continuing further south we arrived at the Lofoten Islands, an archipelago of islands characterised by their mountains, peaks and sheltered inlets. This is where the famous Trollfjord lies, a narrow fjord with steep cliffs on either side. We weren’t able to enter the fjord which is only 100 metres wide as the risk of avalanches in winter makes it too dangerous for ships to pass through.
All the gazing out onto the beauty of the Norwegian coastline, the fresh air and good food is tiring stuff so I retired to the cabin for a well earned afternoon nap. That evening we arrived in Svolvaer, disembarked the ship and headed straight to the ice bar which is right where the ship docks. The ice bar was amazing, more like a museum, and once a month artists create incredible works of art cut out of ice. We spent a good hour there, admiring the sculptures and knocking back lovely blueberry schnapps in ice shot glasses.
The evening was our first dinner on board the ship. The dining room is very tastefully designed and the service superb. Once again we feasted on fresh fish, cod this time. There is always only one choice on the dinner menu however the menu is displayed outside the dining room during the day and if someone doesn’t like or can’t eat something the chef is more than happy to alter the menu for them.
We followed up dinner with drinks in the cozy main bar in the midship area. Alcohol in Norway is very highly taxed and drinks are expensive. The cheapest bottle of wine goes for about 320 Krone which is about £35. The good news is that Hurtigruten let their passengers bring their own alcohol onboard to enjoy in their cabins but remember to bring it with you, as alcohol is difficult to buy.
At this point it’s worth mentioning that organised entertainment and activities, shows and casinos should not be expected onboard the Hurtigruten voyages. These trips are all about the destination, the scenery and experiencing Norway.
After a bit of a lie-in and another hearty breakfast an announcement called us up on deck for the crossing of the Arctic Circle at 66 degrees 33’ marked by a metal globe on a small rocky island. Following tradition of the Southbound journeys crossing the Arctic Circle the crew fed us a spoonful of cod liver oil washed down with a shot of brandy. Which definitely beats the Northbound tradition of having ice put down your back!
We were then invited up to the Bridge to meet the Captain and First Officer and to watch them navigate through the daunting maze of fjords and islands. This was followed by a tour of the ship.
All cabins onboard are very comfortable, the best by far being the suites. They are extremely spacious and luxurious with floor to ceiling windows, the Owner’s Suites have balconies. All of Hurtigruten’s ships have disabled cabins. The Midnatsol has a gym but it’s small so we spent most of that afternoon in the hot tubs on the top deck, which are fantastic whatever the weather, and it’s great fun running across the deck afterwards in the freezing cold wearing next to nothing and straight into the toasty sauna — beautiful!
That evening the Midnatsol left the fjords and entered completely open waters for the first time. In a ship the size of the Midnatsol you can really feel the motion of the ocean and it wasn’t my best moment as I soon became quite seasick and had to call it a night...
Sadly we had to leave the Midnatsol the next day in Trondheim for our journey back to London.
Family Cruising can be a little daunting to organise for some as there is so much to consider. Will there be suitable cabins, is there childcare or a kids club and can I still get a decent cocktail?
Cruising for adults is much easier — you choose the ship, itinerary and cabin you fancy and off you go. For families there is a lot more to consider so here are a few tips to picking the perfect family cruise.
Who To Cruise With?
There is a massive selection of cruise lines these days and they all offer something a little different. The one thing I have to say is there isn't one, perfect, family cruise line, but several cruise lines who do family cruising incredibly well.
The biggest choice of cruising is Americans-style cruising. Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Lines offer vibrant ships with recognisable children's entertainment — Royal Caribbean have teamed up with DreamWorks and NCL work with Nickelodeon. Both these cruise lines offer loads of choice for kids, with their kids clubs, famous characters and fun activities — such as rock climbing and water slides. For the adults there are Broadway-style shows, a huge selection of dining and bars (especially on both Oasis Class & Freedom Class ships and the Norwegian Epic). For young families these cruise lines are incredibly popular.
For those looking for something a little more relaxing or affordable luxury, but still fancy a bit of American glam Princess Cruise and Celebrity Cruises offer a great option. These ships are for the grown-ups, but still offer childcare and kids clubs of a very good standard, they just choose to offer relaxing venues such as The Sanctuary and the Lawn Club, as opposed to rock climbing walls and huge water slides. They offer superb cocktails bars, elegant entertainment and ships where nearly everyone dresses up for the fab formal nights. These cruise lines are best for spa days and cocktail parties.
British-style P&O Cruises remain the most popular cruise line in the UK, and for good reason. When travelling around the world they offer a home from home, they have adult-only ships and family friendly vessels, so people know what to expect onboard. Azura and Ventura are both gaining a great reputation for family cruising. They again offer kids clubs and child care, but they are quintessentially British, so expect afternoon tea as opposed to SpongeBob Squarepants.
Where To Cruise?
There are now more itinerary variations and ports on offer than ever before, so take your time and decide what is more important. Are you happy to fly, or would you prefer to cruise from Southampton? Are you looking for sunshine and beaches, ancient culture or natural beauty?
With most cruise lines, parents are no longer allowed to leave their kids onboard all day, so plan your places of interest around the whole family. There's no point doing a nine hour shore excursion if you have young children. At the same time, it's your credit card not theirs, so if Europe's cafe culture or Alaska's fjords are what you would like to see, then go for it.
Cruises from the UK or with short flights are obviously popular with families. The Med can be just as stunning and hot as the Caribbean and day trips to Ibiza or the Greek Isles offer amazing beaches, so don't worry about flying too far on your first cruise.
Choosing Your Cabin
Family cabins do exist, but are like gold dust. Next year's cruises have just gone on sale and during the school holidays these precious cabins are already filling, so if you really want a family stateroom or suite you have to book early.
If booking early isn't a choice, then don't worry, there are plenty of other options. If you are on a budget or have a young family there are a great selection of cabins that will take families. Many inside cabins have pull-down beds, though you might miss out on your double in these, and balcony cabins often offer a sofa bed behind a curtain or small partition. These sofa beds are not a £300 effort from Argos, they are American-style sofa beds, so if you need twins, they are more than suitable for two adults and comfortable at that (just remember to book on a more modern ship). For families with older children, interconnecting rooms are an option, but again need to be booked in advance.
Disney Cruise Lines offer more traditional styled ships, but this can often mean more space in their cabins and suites, as they are not trying to cram on record numbers of people. The balcony cabins are particularly great for families, though their outside and inside staterooms are both very spacious for what they are.
If money is less of an issue, suites and minis-suites are a great option. Most suites offer a living area, giving much more room for families, and somewhere to dine as well as somewhere to relax other than the lounges, pools and bedrooms.
It is worth considering your accommodation costs and cabin type before getting too excited on the destination if you are on a budget. And remember pay pennies, get bunk beds, spend sensibly to save yourself a lot of hassle.
At the end of the day cruise holidays offer more variety than ever before, so you have to look for what your family are after. For me I'd take a young family onboard a Disney cruise and once they are older I'd brave the bright lights of Royal Caribbean, once they are old enough to entertain themselves the cruising, cocktails and Spas onboard Princess would grab my attention. But what is right for me could be wrong for you, I mean you might not like cocktails!
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