For a quick getaway, try a short cruise

You've thought about taking a cruise, but you're not sure you want to invest the time and money to go far away. A three-to-five-night cruise is a good way to find out if cruising is for you.

"People want short getaways today," says Diana Meinhold, manager of Travel-Related Products and Services for the Automobile Club of Southern California. "If you live near the port," she says, "you can take one of these cruises over the weekend, arrive back at the dock early Monday morning, and go to work the same day. So you don't even have to take a vacation day. These cruises out of Los Angeles and Miami are increasingly popular."

Norwegian Cruise Line is widely credited with creating the first short cruises in 1966. Now short cruises are so popular that 1.7 million North Americans took a cruise of five days or less last year according to Cruise Lines International Association. This year the figure is expected to rise to nearly 2 million passengers on the more than 1,300 short cruises offered to the Bahamas, Mexico, and Hawaii.

"The ports are not always exotic," explains Ms. Meinhold, "but they do give you a taste of something different, with minimum hassle."

While Miami, Port Canaveral, and Los Angeles account for the bulk of short cruises, you'll find ships leaving from New York, New Orleans, Vancouver, B.C., San Francisco, and Tampa, Fla., among other ports. These short cruises aren't limited to ports in North America, however. Costa Cruise Lines, Orient Lines, and Royal Olympic offer quick getaways in Europe. It pays to ask a travel agent for a complete rundown.

You can even sample a short cruise at Walt Disney World. The Disney Magic and the newly launched Disney Wonder combine short cruises with optional stays at Walt Disney World. Each cruise offers a stop at Disney's private-island resort in the Bahamas.

"We find a lot of people take these short cruises repeatedly," Meinhold continues. At different times of the year, you'll have different weather, you'll meet different people. Even the same itinerary can be a different experience."

Depending on the time of year, you can sometimes take these cruises for as little as $100 a day, per person, including meals, activities, and entertainment - a good value, when you consider that most hotels charge at least $100 to $200 a night for the room alone.

If you live within driving distance of the port, you pay the cruise-only fare, and can often book on relatively short notice. If the cruise departs from a distant port, consider combining it with a longer stay in that destination.

When looking into a short cruise, ask a knowledgeable travel agent for help. Some cruise lines emphasize a party atmosphere more than others, and prices can vary widely. Check the itinerary in advance. Disney's three-night cruises, for instance, don't include what for many families is the best part - a day at sea; the four-night cruises do. Also, some short cruises are portions of longer ones that may be better taken in their entirety.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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