Q. We're planning our first real travel experience on a cruise around Norway. I need suggestions on travel basics for dummies: how much to tip - including crew personnel; how to handle cash and credit cards; clothing, etc. Can you recommend a good guide or Web site?
A. Here are three good guidebooks that will probably answer all your questions: Cruise Vacations For Dummies by Heidi Sarna and Matt Hannafin ($21.99), The Unofficial Guide to Cruises by Kay Showker with Bob Sehlinger ($22.99) and Frommer's European Cruises and Ports of Call by Fran Golden and Jerry Brown ($21.99). All three will help you choose the right cruise and provide information on ports of call, what to do before, during and after the cruise, and more. I'd suggest going to your local bookstore and check out these guides in person, so you can decide which one you're most comfortable with. You might also check out Cruise Mates and Cruise Critic for advice from experienced cruisers. In general, tipping varies with the cruise line; most less expensive lines either add a set amount for tips onto your final bill or they provide guidelines for tipping; more expensive lines have a no tipping policy. On board, all your expenses will be charged to your credit card (you provide the card number when you check in) and no transactions, such as wine with dinner or shore excursions, are handled with cash (although you might need cash ashore).
Q. I am interested in a cruise that would take me up the east coast with stops in Boston, New York, etc. Are there cruise lines that specialize in these trips? Could you recommend where I should start looking into this type trip?
A. Although cruises like these aren't plentiful, you can certainly find them. One company is American Canadian Caribbean Line (800-556-7450), offering a 7-night coast of Maine cruise (beginning and ending in Portland, ME; prices start at $1,320) and the 5-night New England islands cruise (beginning and ending in Warren, RI; prices start at $1,195). The ships used are generally smaller cruise ships, with a capacity of no more than 100.
Bigger cruise lines like Holland America (877-932-4259), Norwegian Cruise Lines (800-327-7030) and Princess (800-774-6237) also offer coastal cruises. Holland America offers 7-, 14-, 15- and 22-day cruises, either between Boston and Montreal or between Ft Lauderdale and Montreal, with prices starting from $649. Norwegian Cruise Lines' 7-day cruises are a New York round-trip cruise going all the way to Halifax, starting from $1,718. Princess has 7-, 10- and 14-day cruises: New York round-trip, between New York and Quebec City or between Ft Lauderdale and Quebec City, with prices starting from $799.
Q. In July, my family and I went a five day western Caribbean cruise with Carnival (on the Imagination). During our return voyage back to Miami the cruise line encountered a Cuban refugee boat with 15 men on it. The Captain contacted the US Coast Guard and informed all the passengers that we needed to stay put until we could rescue them. It was 1pm when we found the refugees and we were still at sea the US Coast Guard arrived at 8 PM. My family and I were relaxing on the side of the ship where the refugee boat was floating and we were mobbed by other passengers standing on our lounge chairs and stepping on our possessions. Is there anything that we can do to compensate the 7 hours we spent idling sea, plus getting trampled, moved, and shoved by other passengers?
A. As you know, it's the law of the sea that refugees must be rescued. Apparently the law of the jungle was in operation on the ship however!
You could certainly try writing to Carnival and explain what happened; I'm afraid the most they'll give you is a voucher for a relatively small amount toward your next cruise.
Q. My husband and I took a 3-day cruise leaving from Miami. When we arrived at the airport, my luggage was missing, but my husband's arrived safely. Needless to say, I had to buy clothes (at great expense) on the ship. The airline found my luggage the next day but it was too late to be of use to me, and they refuse to reimburse me for my replacement clothes purchases. What recourse do I have? And could I have done anything to prevent this situation?
A. First, of course, you should have carried on your luggage. That means packing light. If that was impossible for whatever reason, your second line of defense would have been to crisscross the contents of your luggage with your husband's: in other words, put some of your stuff in his suitcase and some of his in yours. It would be very unlikely that both suitcases would be lost.
Second, you could have arrived a day early for your cruise. It's always a good idea in case the flight is cancelled on luggage goes astray.
Finally, it's not surprising that the airline refused to help you. Airline customer service is becoming an oxymoron these days. But there's nothing stopping you from pursuing this in small claims court. The airline might simply refuse to contest the claim and settle.
Q. My wife is a teacher and has been selected for an exchange program with a partner school in France, and we plan to spend the next year there. Baggage limitations (and my wife's fear of flying) have me curious about alternatives to air travel. I'm sure a cruise ship is an option, but that doesn't seem practical or cost-effective. Is it possible to take a (non-cruise) ship, purely as a means of transportation, or has that method of travel gone the way of the horse and buggy?
A. Actually, if you're transporting a lot of stuff (or a pet for instance), then the Queen Mary 2, which does transatlantic crossings, might not be a bad idea. It's not all that awfully expensive if you get an inside cabin and can obtain a discount of some sort. There are also freighter "cruises" but they take quite a long time, and don't expect bingo night on the Lido deck. Check out www.travltips.com.