I remember my first cruise in 1998, aboard the Norwegian Wind.  I spent months pouring over the 1998 Norwegian Cruise Line “Alaska” brochure; in fact, I still have the tattered remains of it in my box of cruise memorabilia. 

I also scoured the internet, looking for every last scrap of information I could get on the Wind.  You see, three months before we were due to set sail, the ship was drydocked in Germany, where she was cut in half and lengthened by inserting a pre-fabricated midsection.  I was fascinated by this.  I’d only seen a few small images of the ship’s interior, and I wanted to find the latest and greatest information on our ship before we set sail.

So I turned to the internet.

In 1998, many cruise lines didn’t even have a website – let alone the Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, and blog pages that now grace almost every major line.  There were a few sites dedicated to cruising out there, but to get any sort of information required hours of trawling through old-school internet bulletin boards, MetaCrawler searches, and the like – all for some ambiguous answers and postage-stamp sized images.

Twelve years later, cruisers are fortunate to have some amazing sites dedicated to their passion; you can find images, videos, live trip reports, and have almost any question answered, right down to the kinds of linens used on the beds.

I personally like a wide variety of cruise sites – there’s some incredible blogs, photo-sites, and fan sites out there.  There are some, though, that really rise above the rest.  Not only are they informative – they’re entertaining as well.  Prepare to invest some serious time to perusing these sites; you’ll find it’s tough to turn away.

Maritime Matters
There are few sites that pack the same sort of historic and modern punch that Maritime Matters does.  Written by Martin Cox and maritime historian, collector and journalist Peter Knego, the site offers the latest in cruise news while at the same time documenting the ships of yesteryear – some of which are still in existence, but rapidly dwindling as new SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea) regulations come into effect.  Peter Knego has made it a personal mission to document as many of these classic liners as possible before they are beached on the sad shores of Alang, India for dismantling.  You’d be hard-pressed to find any site that offers the same amount of historical content as Maritime Matters.  Rounding out the mix?  A series of informative cruise reports (SeaTreks) and ship tours (Decked!) that are among the best on the internet.  Be sure to give it a visit.

The brain-child of Dutchman Bart de Boer, ShipParade is a veritable tour-de-force for cruise ship enthusiasts looking for an inside look at some of the most popular – and obscure – ships afloat.  Launched in 2000, ShipParade has grown exponentially over the years, thanks to Bart’s fantastic photography and well-written articles.  Rounding out the mix are ShipAlphabet, a section dedicated to user-submitted photographs comprising an A-to-Z guide of ships, complete with exterior and interior shots.  PortAlphabet functions along the same lines, with helpful photographs, tips and hints, and average weather patterns for a variety of worldwide ports.  Also featured is the popular Photo of the Week.  Even better?  You can now take ShipParade home with you by ordering your very own coffee table photo book.  Now that’s clever!  ShipParade is still the site I visit most – six years and counting.

Similar in theme to ShipParade, but written by Seattle-based Steve Garrod, ShipCafe is a well-put together site that features highly-detailed photo-tours of several Carnival, Celebrity, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess, and Royal Caribbean ships.  Many of the ships featured on ShipCafe are West Coast regulars, and an excellent resource for those looking to plan a cruise to Alaska or the Mexican Riviera.  Also of interest are Steve’s well-written and documented Photo Travelogues, many of which feature Euope or Asian destinations.  An excellent resource that should be in everyone’s bookmark page.

Dutch By Association
Love Holland America Line?  Then you need to check out Dutch By Association, the pseudonym blog written by a Holland America employee.  Besides being an excellent repository for all things HAL, Dutch By Association regularly features photo-tours of various HAL ships, including photos culled from sources all across the internet.  Don’t miss the latest photographs of HAL’s newest vessel, the magnificent Nieuw Amsterdam.  If you’ve never been on a Holland America cruise, this site will have you hooked in thirty seconds.  A great site written by a great guy – be sure to give it a visit.

There’s no getting around it: Cruise Critic is almost the de-facto standard in cruise community message boards.  Sure, there’s other features, like ship reviews, daily news and features, but the fact remains that most people visit Cruise Critic for one thing: the amazingly-populous cruise message boards.  Divided into sections according to cruise line, the boards are widely read by passengers, crew, and industry executives eager to keep their finger on the pulse.  Roll Call forums for individual sailings allow members, or “CC’ers” as they’re affectionately known, to meet up on-board ship.  While the boards occasionally suffer from the same negative symptoms as many on-line forums (petty in-fighting, name calling and misinformation), the overall vibe is overwhelmingly positive.  Want to know whether the bathroom in your cabin will be on the left or right hand side?  This is the site for you – and millions of others like you.

In fact, I’m due for a visit right now…


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