Saturday, October 11, 2008

Introduction: New England Islands Cruise 2008

This is an introduction to our series of blog postings about the New England Islands Cruise we took in September 2008. The ship, The American Spirit (above) was our home for seven days.

It does pay off to put in time preparing for a trip like this, and as a result, everything went smoothly and exceeded our expectations!

The Cruise:

First, we booked our cruise with American Cruise Lines, initially by clicking their Web site:, to choose destination and cruising time. We then called their toll free number: 1-800-814-6880, to negotiate the time and any discounts available off the cruise price. We booked one of the cheapest staterooms in the 100 series, and managed a $200 per person discount for booking five months or more in advance.

Second, we booked our flights so we were able to spend an extra few days before and after the cruise. The Kayak price comparison site,, indicated that Delta Air had the cheapest flights from San Diego to Providence, so we made our reservations directly with Delta online. Note: flights offered by Southwest Air, which were not listed on the Kayak site, were more expensive than Delta’s at that time.

Third, we decided to stay at the Comfort Inn at T. F. Green Airport, because: a) its convenient location near the airport; b) its complimentary (after a fashion-see Day 1 posting for an explanation) shuttle that took us to the American Cruise Line pier in Providence Harbor (Note: A glitch occurred on the return (see Day 8 Posting); c) its reasonable rates for Seniors and American Cruise Lines passengers (see Day 1 Posting); and d) its substantial complementary breakfasts. Other amenities: a public computer in the lobby, with a printer (free copies), especially handy for printing our boarding passes for our return flight; and a free newspaper delivered to the room.

Independent Travel Days:

We scheduled independent travel days before and after the cruise, to enjoy the considerable charms of Providence, and allow for the possibility of excursions into the countryside.

A major decision was to depend on the public transit system to get around, to avoid the hassles and expense of a car rental. RIPTA, the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority was the perfect solution. Their Web site was excellent for navigating for routing maps and detailed schedules in advance. We used Google Maps, to pinpoint the nearest bus stops; there was one within a 5-minute walk of our hotel in front of Bertucci’s Brick Oven Restaurant. Double-clicking the bus stop symbol produces a window identifying the bus line (Route 20), and even providing the time of arrival of the next two buses!

We looked ahead to the attractions we planned to see. Most of the major museums and galleries had Web sites that gave us the most current information on visiting days and hours, admission charges, and details on current and future exhibits.

Other advice:

1. Travel light! We knew that the dress code for the cruise was “elegant casual”, so we were able to get by without too many kinds of clothing, accessories, etc. As a result, we were each able to pack everything into one piece of carryon luggage that would fit easily under the seat or overhead bin on an aircraft.

2. Book and monitor flights online. Also avail yourself of e-mail notification of flight schedule changes, and by all means, check in and print boarding passes online whenever possible. These measures save a lot of hassles associated with security, boarding procedures and baggage claims.

Tip-Meal Vouchers for Long Layovers: As is well-known, complimentary meals for coach passengers on many airlines, including Delta, are a thing of the past. One piece of advice given by a seatmate, who happened to be manager of an airport in Florida, suggested we approach Delta’s courtesy desk in Atlanta, and ask for meal vouchers, justified by the inconveniently long (four hour) layover. When we pointed out our flight schedules had changed due to Delta’s action, the courtesy official gave us each a $7 voucher, for use at any of the food vendors at the airport. This covered the cost of two subway sandwiches, which sated our hunger. We recommend trying this tactic when layovers exceed two hours in length.

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