Drive to your cruise

Published 9:47 pm Wednesday, September 10, 2008

As airlines cut back on the number of flights and their passenger dissatisfaction grows, the idea of driving to a nearby port and hopping onboard a cruise ship is becoming more attractive. Just imagine avoiding the hassles of the airport and airline experiences by arriving at your departure point via surface transportation. Unpack once then start enjoying the cruise experience with Las Vegas style entertainment, fine dining or 24 hour pizza buffets, casino gaming and sightseeing at various ports of call. All of this and much more awaits onboard your vessel as you begin your vacation at sea.

Instead of the traditional flight for sunny south Florida departures today many of the major cruise lines have redeployed their fleets to alternative U.S. ports. Sure Florida originating cruises are still available but cruise ships now depart from ports in Baltimore, Charleston SC, New York City, Jacksonville FL, New Orleans LA, Gulfport MS and many other coastal cities. Many of these locales are within an easy days drive from the Tri-State and even with $4.00 a gallon gas they offer an affordable alternative to air travel.

Whether I am escorting a group or traveling on vacation the air experience always has concerned me. No it’s not the safety issue of air travel rather it is the time factor. Departing and arriving with enough time to transfer from my arrival airport to the cruise ship’s departure port is always a concern. Depending on the volume of air traffic delays and late arriving passengers the ship may elect to wait but there is no guarantee that you will catch the boat. This is where I believe that the driving option really factors in.

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From a scheduling perspective for a Florida cruise departure I allow myself a minimum of 6 hours travel time by air unless I catch a great deal out of Huntington’s Tri-State or Charleston’s Yeager airports which saves me an hour to an hour and a half. My calculation includes a 2 to 2 1/12 hour drive to the airport, an hour plus to check once you arrive there then a couple of hours travel time. Add in another 6 hours and the sum is 12 hours, 12 hours of driving time. All of the Mid Atlantic departure ports can be reached within this 12 hour window plus Jacksonville FL is within reach.

When traveling by air your schedule is dictated and controlled by others. Flight delays and cancellations are the norm in today’s air travel environment. With the driving option you control the pace of your trip instead of the airlines. Sure there may be traffic delays, road construction or car problems but again you’re more in control of possible solutions behind the wheel.

I always recommend departing a day or two early so you arrive well in advance of the ship’s scheduled departure time. Spend a night or two enroute to the ship’s departure point then on the morning of your sailing depart mid morning for the pier and arrive relaxed instead of stressed out from a day of hectic air travel. For those of you wanting to travel by air I still suggest a one night pre cruise hotel stay. This allows some “wiggle” room for passengers and their bags to arrive in time to make the sailing.

Concerning group cruise travel (20 plus travelers) I have priced out a few departures and discovered that motor coach transportation is cost effective. The bus has frequently been around $100.00 per person cheaper than air and again allows for plenty of pre-departure time lee way. The extra airline fees for luggage, meals, assigned seats and other features have not been factored into my calculations so taking the “‘cruise coach” for a group seems to be the way to go.

Regardless of your mode of transportation you can it all or do nothing at all on a cruise vacations. So reduce the stress of travel by arriving early and enjoy your sailing.

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