Do’s and don’t’s of Cruising

Jul 15, 2017

This is the last of this short series on cruising, specifically our family's latest one last month which I was happy to share with our readers. It was a pleasant surprise to receive quite a number of e-mails and text messages from this column's readers, and some from friends as well, who have become more curious about cruising.

Here are some simple and practical tips that I would like to share:

1. Admittedly, taking a cruise holiday for the family can be very expensive, but it is the best bonding holiday a family can have. This latest one we had was a 9-day cruise which I found rather long and, of course, more expensive. The 5-day or7-day cruises are adequate and of course cost less. Some Asian cruises are as short as three days while cruises for bridge players can be as long as 29 days.

2. For first-time cruisers, choosing more popular destinations would be more advisable. Our first ever cruise was in the Western Mediterranean which I found most enjoyable because Spain and Italy were more familiar destinations. Embarkation point was Barcelona where we had a wonderful 3-day stay in a hotel near the popular park Ramblas. Choose a hotel in the central part of the city, not near the airport which, though generally cheaper, is far from the action. Airport transfers are easy to book anyway.

Know the local currency and the exchange. US dollars are the safest, but many stores in Europe accept onlyEuros. In our Scandinavian foray though, Euros were not acceptable either. In any case, having an international credit card is safest but be sure to inform your Philippine credit card company before you leave that you are off on a trip (mention where to) or your purchases will not be honoured. This happened to us, so we learned a painful lesson, but it is a good precautionary measure against cloning on the part of the credit card company.

Also, choosing a hotel with breakfast is more convenient because late breakfasts count as brunch, so the next meal is an early dinner.

Another major consideration is the cuisine. Spanish and Italian dishes are highly popular with Pinoys and my kids together with their cousins just explored the city on foot looking for new dishes. We recently went on a South American cruise where the cuisine was mostly grilled meats which we found less exciting, less diverse over the longer course.

3. Food in the ship is overwhelming. Imagine a typical large buffet in a 5-star hotel and imagine having this for over a week, every day three times a day. Mostly, the entrees are repeated daily, so it helps to pace yourself and try out a few dishes only on a day-to-day basis lest you tire of the food. There are a number of smaller outlets that offer good selections all day for free, so it would be a good option over the overwhelming buffets every now and then. Other specialty restaurants like their French, Japanese and Italian outlets charge for their food.

4. On the ship, be sure to read the daily updates the ship gives out to know the activities for the day. There is a great variety of options that can fill your time enjoyably. We all share a passion for music so we enjoyed those nightly music sessions. Others loved the dance sessions and daily movies while many did not want to miss out on the nightly live shows in the theatre. If you have younger kids in tow, the ship has activities for them too like art and crafts lessons, magic, etc. And it would actually be a lot of fun to join some of those activities like game shows, etc.

5. The ship is huge-in this recent one, the ship was all of sixteen levels. Explore the ship. We were surprised to find new and exciting outlets nearing the end of the cruise.

6. Gratuities are now mandatory. In this latest one, it was $13.99/person/day. Bottled water is sold but drinking water is free at the buffet area, so we remembered to bring water containers to fill up for those excursions. Tipping the right service crew on your first day ensures you have a steady supply of ice and water every day.

7. If you are claustrophobic like me, it is advisable to get a cabin with a balcony, a large window or at least a port hole.

8. Shore excursions are also a big part of the cruise and you will not want to miss out on them but they really are quite costly. We chose the lesserSt. Petersburg cruise atUS$89.00 per person over the costlier US$149.00/person for obvious reasons. We intended to book all the other shore excursions so we needed to be mindful of our expenses.

Book your excursions early enough because these can get full early. Booking directly with the ship is definitely more costly than booking with private tour operators, but there is also a downside to this if you are dealing with a dubious operator. Unlike in past cruises, the cruise officials for this particular cruise made it clear that the excursions were being handled by accredited operators, not the cruise lines, and those who take the excursions are required to sign the waiver which clears them of any responsibility.

On a past cruise where our excursion was in Rome, we booked one of those vans just waiting in the dock and were lucky to find a friendly English-speaking Italian private operator who got us through the long queues at the Vatican in a breeze and brought us to a hole-in-the-wall eatery where we had a great genuine Italian lunch that was very reasonably priced.

The ship is punctual with their excursions. On one excursion, we were misinformed about the time, so we were late. A cordial ship official said we will get a refund but we were lucky because there was a hop-in/hop-out bus available (a cheaper tour) and he offered this to us for free.

If you do not wish to book any excursion, by all means, get off the boat and take a walk to explore. The long walks are invariably invigorating and good for your health after all those rich buffets. Don't miss out on the opportunity to visit a new country, no matter how short the visit is. And, of course, be sure you are back on the ship on the designated time or risk getting left behind. And, know the weather where you are disembarking so you have the proper clothes.

The best weather for us to travel is spring because the weather is pleasant and we are not saddled with thick, heavy clothes in our suitcase. On one land non-cruise trip to Germany by car a few years back, it was late autumn and we had to lug winter clothes to each city we visited. This means less space and heavier luggage with no porter to help us as we changed hotels as we changed locations. Believe me, we never did that again. But the beauty of cruising is you only handle your luggage during embarkation and disembarkation.

9. Lastly, don't miss out on those precious moments which may never happen again-take lots and lots of photos and keep the memories.

Happy cruising.

Mabuhay!!! Be proud to be a Filipino.

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About the Author

Ray Butch Gamboa graduated from the College of Arts and Letters of the University of Sto. Tomas. It was a course that should have been preparatory to a law degree, but the call of broadcasting aborted his plans.

At the age of 16, while still a student, Butch tried his hand at disc jockeying, landing a job at Mareco Broadcasting Network's AM stations DZBM and DZLM. From there, Butch moved on with his illustrious career as a popular disc jockey, riding the airwaves of Bob Stewart's middle-of-the-road music at DZXX, and ending his disc jockeying career at ABS-CBN's DZYL and DZQL.

From there, he stayed on with ABS-CBN, covering live the proceedings at the Manila Stock Exchange and eventually entered into the world of television sales as an account manager for the premier channel of ABS-CBN Channel 2.

In the early 70's, at the outbreak of Martial Law, Butch was one of the thousands of professionals who woke up jobless when then President Marcos declared the new status of the nation. With the closure of ABS-CBN, Butch ventured into different fields outside of broadcast. He tried his hand and with ease and success at export (Costume jewelry), real estate (brokerage), and restaurants (fast food).

In 1987, after the revolution, with the broadcast industry back to its free state, and with its irresistible call ringing in his ears, Butch made his inevitable comeback and pioneered in a local motoring show, producing Motoring Today on Channel 4 and co-hosting with local motor sports' living legend Pocholo Ramirez.

After 4 years, he ventured into another pioneering format by producing and hosting Business & Leisure, which was originally aired on ABS-CBN's Channel 2. The format eventually espoused similar ones in other different channels. But the clones in due course faded away leaving the original staying on airing on Channel 4 and eventually on Shop TV on Sky Cable's Channel 13.

The following year, the pioneering spirit in Butch spurred him to produce another TV show, Race Weekend, also on Channel 4, covering circuit racing at the Subic International Raceway after the motor sport's hiatus of 17 years. But when similar shows with duplicated formats sprouted, he decided to give way and ended the program after a year, although still enjoying unparalleled viewership.

In 1998, when the local automotive industry was in a slump, Butch contributed his share to help the ailing industry by producing another popular motoring-related show, this time exclusive to the automobile and its industry—Auto Focus, which became a vehicle for local automotive assemblers and importers to showcase their products and dwell on the industry's latest technological developments.

In 2003, Butch teamed up with his brother, Rey Gamboa who was a former Shell executive and presently one Philippine Star's business columnist to co-produce and co-host the TV show Breaking Barriers on Channel 13. It is a talk show that features guests who are in the news and in the middle of controversies. The program ventures to draw deeper insights into current issues to learn how they impact to our daily lives.

Today, Motoring Today on its 28th year of service to the general motoring public still enjoys its unprecedented loyal vierwership nationwide while Auto Focus, after 16 years has firmly established its niche viewership among automobile enthusiasts and on the other hand Business & Leisure is on its 24th year dishing out current business issues and lifestyle features.

Today, aside from writing weekly columns for the Philippine Star (Motoring Today on Wednesdays and Business & Leisure on Saturdays) and executive producer / host of weekly TV shows (Motoring Today, airs Sundays on Solar Sports Channel 70, Business & Leisure, airs Tuesdays on Shop TV, Sky Cable Channel 13 and Auto Focus airs Thursdays on Shop TV, Sky Cable Channel 13, Ray Butch Gamboa is currently the Chairman and CEO of Sunshine Television Production and Marketing Services Corp., President of Gamcor Management and Development Corp., Chairman of Asia-Pacific Realty Corporation, President and Chairman of Socio-Communication Foundation for Asia and Founding Chairman of the Society of Phil. Motoring Journalists (SPMJ)