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Getting ready to cruise through spring

With a new season on the horizon, the tide is changing for cruise trips, Li Jing discovers
There are few ways to escape the capital more effectively than climbing aboard a boat and setting out to sea. With luxury cruise liners resembling floating five-star hotels with access to endless sunset views, it is no wonder that business is booming for cruise companies. According to the China Cruise and Yacht Industry Association (CCYIA), the number of outbound travelers from the Chinese mainland hit 790,000 in 2010, up 20.1 percent from just a year earlier. METRO asked three industry insiders to share their memories of very different cruises.
The short trip
Ding Ding
Title: Marketing manager of Byecity Travel website
Cruise: Five-day trip to Hong Kong, Sanya and Halong Bay
Ship: Classica, Costa
Cost: From 2,399 yuan.
As a medium-sized cruise liner, the 52,926-ton Costa Classica is a ship that meets most expectations.
At 220 meters in length, the Classica was built in 1991 by Fincantieri Shipyards. She can hold 1,308 passengers and has a crew of 590, with 654 cabins.
The liner is home to two restaurants, seven bars, two swimming pools and four whirlpools.
This five-day route is suitable for anyone wanting to warm up after Spring Festival. It stops at Hong Kong, Sanya and Halong Bay in Vietnam, and because of the short distance, is reasonably priced.
Prices start at about 2,400 yuan but a little more (3,500 yuan) will secure a room with a sea-view. It also includes the visa fee and port charges for entering Vietnam.
Hungry people need not worry as there is a stack of food on offer. Travelers are allowed to consume five dinners every day, available from morning to night.
'The waiting staff bent over backward to accommodate us,' said Ding. 'If we didn't like a dish, we simply requested something else and it was provided.'
Ding said the experience was 'a totally different feeling'.
'The sun was warmer and so too were the smiles,' she said.
When visiting ports, travelers should remember to exchange their money before leaving the ship for ease.
They also have the option to either jump onto a port excursion, organized by the ship, or arrange a private trip with the assistance of cruise staff members
'This helps everyone, especially senior citizens, to get the most out of their trip,' Ding said.
Another draw for the trip, she added, is the ease of visiting Hong Kong, since 'a tourist visa to Vietnam can give access to Hong Kong for a day of shopping heaven'.
The medium trip
Zhang Minwei
Title: Cruise department manager of Beijing UTour International Travel Service
Cruise: Seven-night Mediterranean cruise
Ship: Grandeur of the Seas, Royal Caribbean
Cost: From 6,965 yuan
Launched in 1996, the 74,000-ton Grandeur of the Seas is a whopping 280-meters long. The liner is decked out with a spa, six whirlpools, outdoor jogging track and a selection of bars and restaurants.
Mid-ship, visitors will find a seven-story space with glass lifts that overlook the sea. At the top is the sun-filled Viking Lounge, which enjoys 360-degree views of the sea. Out on deck there is a swimming pool with whirlpools, a rock-climbing wall, sports courts and a solarium with a retractable glass dome.
The Grandeur of the Seas can hold up to 2,446 passengers, all of which get to eat at the dining room and not at alternative restaurants, as is the case with most newer ships.
'This was my first time to stay in an inside cabin, but it was fine,' Zhang said. 'The only thing I didn't really like was not knowing if it was dark outside or what the weather was doing.'
One of the best things about the seven-night cruise is the seemingly endless ports of call. Departing from Spain's Palma De Mallorca, the liners visits Cannes in France, La Spezia and Palermo in Italy, and then Palma in Majorca.
'There are relatively few Chinese travelers on this ship, so Chinese visitors should equip themselves with basic English,' Zhang said. 'The Mediterranean sea was intoxicating, peaceful and calm, like an immense duvet.'
Zhang said Asian and Mediterranean cruises are distinct in color and smell.
'The postcard scenes on this cruise will make you feel as if you have been swallowed by a glossy photo. It is a heaven for shutterbugs,' she said.
For smooth sailing, visas should be acquired before the cruise begins. Currency exchange is available onboard and rates are subject to change without notice.
The long trip
Song Maimai
Title: Representative of Seattle Tourism
Cruise: Seven-day from Seattle
Ship: MS Westerdam, Holland America Line
Cost: From 4,924 yuan
Seattle is a 10-hour flight from Beijing and as such is one of closest cities in the United States to China.
As a port with a history of running cruises that spans several decades, Seattle has a developed cruise industry and offers a range of lines.
One of the ships to depart from Seattle is the massive 82,500-ton MS Westerdam, owned by Holland America Line's Vista Class.
This liner began service in 2004 and embraces the latest industry and environmental technologies, such as a diesel-electric power plant for optimal energy efficiency and an Azipod propulsion system.
She is the biggest of the three ships at 285 meters. The Westerdam does not set a record for number of passengers, with only 1,916 onboard at maximum capacity, but 85 percent of its staterooms have ocean views and 67 percent have private verandahs.
Art is an important factor on the Westerdam, with a collection that showcases Dutch heritage in the New World. Paintings of historic Dutch ships, such as Henry Hudson's Halve Maen (Half Moon) and various sculptures and statues are displayed throughout the ship. Contemporary pieces include an original Andy Warhol portrait and sculptures by Sedona artist Susanna Holt.
'It is a floating gallery,' Song said. 'The ship's interior is classically done and, as a result, the passengers were slightly older than on other ships.'
Whales, puffins and tidewater glaciers are just some of the draws of the possible routes.
'I went face to face with a gigantic wall of ice that filled my view for miles in every direction,' Song said. 'It was amazing.'
The liner travels through Seattle's beautiful Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, on the way to Alaska's deep green islands, ice-blue glaciers and frontier towns.
Source: China Daily
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