Fodor's "Complete Guide to
Delivers the Goods
"The Complete Guide to Caribbean Cruising" by Fodor’s is just that -- complete. Written by “Cruise Diva” Linda Coffman, this 672-page softcover guidebook is chocked full of facts, figures and detail for cruisers.
But the book also provides helpful tips and personal gleanings from the author that add color and reveal "intel" most valuable to consumers.
It's the enticing combination of hard facts and personal insights that delivers the goods in this book.
So yes, if you want to know what's on this or that ship, or how many passengers the ship has, or how much square footage a particular suite has, you'll find it here.
But if you also want to know what's the best place for a quiet drink onboard or where to get the best photo op, this book has you covered.
If you only buy one Caribbean cruising guidebook, this is a great choice. Just released in its second edition, the guidebook has been updated and offers much new from its first printing.
What's New, What's Inside?
For those folks who must have “color,” there are a few more color photos than in the last edition, although they’re lumped together at the beginning rather than throughout the book (printing costs being the obvious reason).
The majority of the book is three-color with attractive duotone photos throughout.
At the start of this guidebook, you’ll find “Best of Cruising” categories. This year there are two new ones -- Best Enrichment Programs and Best Beds. Those join such favorite topics as Best Spas and Best Specialty Restaurants, giving a fun insight into the top-notch amenities and features you’ll find onboard.
Then it’s on to what Coffman calls “Cruising: The Basics.” This is a great section if you’re new to the cruise world. She outlines the cruising ropes -- such as what’s on the ships, what the voyages cost, how to evaluate cabins and how to keep in touch with family and friends once onboard.
Much information within the book is dedicated to planning the cruise, including when and how to book, getting ready for the trip, selecting a cruise wardrobe, picking luggage, packing and so on. This guidebook also thoroughly discusses the things most new cruisers want to know – the basic facts about boarding, tipping, dining, shopping, entertainment, health and fitness, days at sea, port calls, disembarking and so on.
We liked the chapter on Problem Solving, as far too few guidebooks discuss what you should do if certain things go wrong. Screaming at the crew will get you nowhere; this book explains how to complain intelligently.
As part of that section, Coffman also has created an excellent page on Cruise Manners, which describes such behavior as “control your children,” or “don’t hog the lounge chairs,” or “do not jog before daybreak (giving people in cabins just below the sports deck a decent night’s sleep).” We’d like to tear out this page, print copies, take along on a cruise, and then hand it out to the few obnoxious types one finds on every voyage. They probably wouldn’t take the advice to heart, but kudos to Coffman for trying to educate new cruisers about what’s acceptable and what isn’t onboard a ship.
Cruise Lines, Cruise Ships
The heart of the book gives detailed profiles of cruise lines and ships. The cruise line profiles offer a general sense of the particular line’s personality, as well as insight into the cruise experience you’ll have onboard.
Break-out boxes called “Noteworthy” and “Good to Know” provide tidbits and inside information the average person might not know.
On the ship side, this book takes each ship class (a grouping of ships that are either identical or very similar in design) and outlines what you’ll find – everything from the “Wow Factor” to “What Works and What Doesn’t” to the author’s “Favorites,” such as her favorite spot for a nightcap on NCL’s Dawn Class ship; incidentally, it’s the Star Bar overlooking the pool.
The ship class sections also give relative square footage for various staterooms and suites, describe the public areas, provide a ship chart with all the facts (tonnage, length, width, number of cabins, crew and so on). All charts were updated in this new edition.
We particularly appreciated the kind of information presented in brief “In the Know” sections for each line -- telling readers, for example, that all suites on a Royal Caribbean International Vision-class vessel are not created equal; family suites are roomy and great for parents with small kids, but those don’t have the goodies that other suites have, such as bathrobes to use onboard, welcome-aboard champagne, evening canapés and concierge service. This is the type of nitty-gritty detail that readers want to know.
Shore Intelligence and Fun
More embarkation port reports and port of call reports were added for this edition and the coverage of private islands was expanded. For example, new profiles include Colon, Panama; Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos; Bonaire; and Samana, Dominican Republic. Plus, the guidebook now has a new embarkation port profile on Norfolk, VA.
When it comes to ports, this book gives a snapshot look at each embarkation port, covering everything from where to park, how to get to the port from the airport, Best Bets in the destination for sightseeing, maps, and a fairly hefty listing of attractions, historic homes, museums, and so on.
It also gives tips on where to stay. Clearly this isn’t a book that can detail every single accommodations choice, as you might find in a Fodor’s book focused on a singular destination. But this book does the next best thing – offering three or so thoughtful choices of differing types of hotels or inns.
For example, in Charleston, SC, the book listed the upscale Charleston Place, the more moderately priced Hampton Inn downtown, and the Andrew Pinkney Inn, a boutique property.
The embarkation port sections also detail a few choice dining spots. All hotel and restaurant listings feature symbols. For example, red or black stars next to particular listings accentuate a “Favorite Choice” or “Highly Recommended.”
The Ports of Call sections are amazingly succinct, yet brimming with detail. Ever read a guidebook where you couldn’t see the forest for the trees? I certainly have. Some seem a muddied mess. But you won’t have the problem here.
This book gets right to the point, describing the destination’s "Essentials," what’s involved in coming ashore, a sampling of popular shore trips, "Best Bets" (like the East Coast, Harrison’s Cave and St. Nicholas Abbey in Barbados), a decent map, and an attraction-by-attraction review.
One "could be improved" idea on the port-of-call side? From our perspective, we'd like to see the publisher take one top shore trip that a significant number of cruisers are likely to take in each destination -- and then do a one-page, experiential "break-out" feature on that, perhaps a first-person piece by the author, a destination writer, or even a reader who has experienced the shore trip first-hand. Just a thought...
Assisting the Reader
While new cruisers likely will read the book cover-to-cover, experienced cruisers may gloss over the “how to cruise” information and just head for the cruise ship information and embarkation and port of call profiles. While it’s a cliché, there IS something for everyone in this book.
I have sailed with the author, Linda Coffman, on press familiarization trips on multiple ships with different cruise lines. I'm always struck by her sense of organization, attention to detail and conscientious nature. Linda always has a pen and paper in hand and is always taking notes.
Undoubtedly, all those are attributes that have helped make this book what it is - a terrific resource guide.
When friends, relatives and even my local mailman, ask me “What’s the best cruise line,” I always shudder. It’s inevitable. People ask but do not understand that a cruise isn’t one size fits all. So I always launch into a rather lengthy discussion about why there is no one best line.
I always tell folks to find a good travel agent you're comfortable with -- someone who is skilled at matching you with the proper voyage, ship and cruise line’s personality. What do you enjoy doing? What’s your cruise style? Do you want to be with 300 people or 3,000? All those things matter when picking a trip - never pick solely on a great price.
But before you head for your travel agent’s office, it's a good idea to do your homework. Know a bit about the offerings and have an idea of the types of ships and lines you'd like to discuss.
So the next time my friends or relatives start going down the “what’s the best cruise line” path of questioning, I'm simply going to send them to buy this book -- a comprehensive guidebook that delivers a good snapshot of all the cruise vacation options in the Caribbean.