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Vacation on a cargo ship cruise?
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So you're looking for a unique vacation something where you'll get to see a lot of sites for not a lot of cash.

How about a slow boat to China? (Or Brazil or Europe or Australia ..)

A number of cargo ship companies make their freighters available for a limited number of guests traveling to a number of exotic destinations, sometimes for less money than a conventional cruise. And don't worry, you won't have to swab the decks.

Many ships that take on passengers are more equipped than one would think. You'll have you're own room and generally some other perks including TV and movies, reading and exercise rooms. And often with less than 10 passengers, you'll likely get very personal attention including sharing meals with the ship's crew and personal tours of the "guts" of a working freighter.

Heck, some even have a pool.

There's also the enjoyment of peace and quiet on the high seas lounging on the deck all day with no real planned activities other than meals. Though, you'll have to share that deck with massive cargo containers that sometimes make for a less-than-majestic view.

Sure, it's not for everyone. There's no Elvis impersonator, bingo games or formal dinner here. These aren't five-star accommodations with turndown service. But there are interesting experiences to be had, and a look at life that you might otherwise never get to see.

But cargo ships don't take direct routes to postcard-perfect sunny destinations. Cruises range from two weeks to five months, depending on the locations and number of ports.

And when you get to these far off destinations, don't expect to land in a sea of souvenir shops on a combed white-sand beach. These freighters are hauling cargo, and they often dock in industrial ports far off from major tourist destinations.

But most ships will let passengers disembark for sightseeing depending on the length of call.

How to book: Cargo cruises will require a little more advanced planning than a traditional sea jaunt. Many require at least 4 months advanced booking. And they also aren't as easy to find as traditional cruises. Cruises are available through a select number of travel agents and Web sites, though.

Sites like FreighterCruises.com and FreighterWorld.com have huge databases of shipping companies that carry passengers, as well as shipping lines sorted by destination and duration.

The bottom dollar: A trip on a freighter will generally run you around $100 per day, which is comparable to traditional cruise although prices have fallen as demand has been snipped in the recession.

All your meals are included as with a traditional cruise line and you'll get to eat with the crew, which can be an experience all in itself. But although meals are generally hearty and varied, special diets often can't be accommodated.

But trips from the ship into towns aren't included in most packages. Passengers have to arrange their own travel once the ship reaches its various ports.

Some sample fares: Freighter World Cruises Inc. offers short cruises of nine- or 12-days all the way up to 124-day excursions, some including airfare and sightseeing in various ports. There are plenty of cheap options including a 28-day tour of the Mediterranean for as little as $3,192 for double occupancy. The 124-day journey runs as high as $17,925 for a suite.

(Source: AP August 20, 2009)

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