Any cruiser worth his salt should make the Cruise Critic website a favorite/bookmark. The site contains reviews of all the cruise ships that Americans generally patronize. It has information about the ports, a search engine to find a future cruise. You can go on the site to find a last minute deal or cheap cruise. They have short cruises to nowhere and multi-month cruises around the world. They have articles about how to prepare for a cruise, planning, questions to ask a travel agent. The "News" section has short articles about what's new that you might find in the travel section of a newspaper or blog post. Message boards answer questions of a general nature such as river cruising, what to pack, or how to take good photos. Cruisers write reviews of their trips after they return home which can give a good general impression of what life is like on that ship.
Roll Calls were started for individual cruise lines so you can "meet up and chat with" other Cruise Critic members on the same cruise on-line before you sail!. The Roll Call is the place where members can get to know one another before they sail, and exchange tips and information about their particular line, ship, Ports of Call, shore excursions/tours, transportation, etc. We have found that even when we have booked a cruise far ahead of time, someone else has already started the roll call. The one for the Emerald Princess cruise we will begin tomorrow is 58 pages long. It's a fast read and filled with posts about how excited people are and questions about the weather that are better answered elsewhere, but regular skimming provides nuggets of information that even experienced cruisers like us find helpful. People discuss how to get to and from the embarkation port as well as ports on the itinerary. Cruise critic members sometimes seem somewhat phobic about taking a shore excursion sponsored by the ship and make arrangements for private tours. We are often satisfied with what the ship has to offer and have seen a trend where excursions off the beaten track are part of the mix. They are a great choice when we have visited that port previously. But we have hooked up with two groups for private tours in Falmouth and Rotterdam and will give that approach a try this time.
Typically cruise critic members arrange for a "meet and greet" get-together usually on the first day at sea. Some cruise lines actually sponsor them and raffle off free trinkets at the party. Over 200 folks are registered for the meet and greet on the Emerald Princess cruise and we have found them somewhat frustrating because they are so big and it's impossible to find someone specific. They are noisy and chaotic. We are planning to meet the Falmouth group for lunch on one of the sea days. It will be fun to make some new friends who like days at sea as much as we do.
Someone determined that many of us who will board ship tomorrow were staying within walking distance of the Raw Bar restaurant and 26 of us met there tonight. It was fun to share information, plans and previous experiences face to face. Some regular correspondents were delighted to meet folks they only knew by their Cruise Critic "handle." Most folks came to Lauderdale a day or two early as we did. You could tell the folks who just flew in by their haggard post-airport faces. After a day or two at sea, we'll all be looking pretty mellow and we're hoping that we will run into some of our dinner companions again. I don't know quite what it is about Canadians. Whenever we meet them, we like them. This was the case again tonight.