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Three Girls and One Boat: A Royal Caribbean European Cruise

There's hardly been a better time to round up the girls and head out to sea. Go for no reason at all, celebrate a birthday or throw a bridal shower, but whatever you do, just go already.

Women love to just hang out. We thrive on the simple things: gabbing, eating and obsessing over our weight. It's no surprise, then, that a cruise makes for an ideal girls-only getaway. On a ship, there are lots of places to hang out, no end to the eating opportunities, and spas and gyms to indulge in. Not to mention, beaches, bike rides and cool historical sites in port. With some great deals on Caribbean, Bahamas, Bermuda and Alaska cruises this summer and fall (see the Deals column in this newsletter), there's hardly been a better time to round up the girls and head out to sea. Go for no reason at all, celebrate a birthday or throw a bridal shower, but whatever you do, just go already.

Me, I've cruised with plenty of friends over the years. From the small and deliciously yachty SeaDream I in the Caribbean to the big and bustling "take me to Vegas" Grandeur of the Seas in Europe, I've been there, done that, and know what it takes to make a girls-only vacation work.

The biggest challenge, of course, is sharing a cabin that will likely be smaller than your bedroom back home. When my two best friends and I signed up for a Europe cruise to Naples, Livorno, Barcelona, Villefranche, and Malta aboard Royal Caribbean's 1,950-passenger Grandeur of the Seas, it meant a week camped out in a 190-square-foot cabin that offered a pair of twin beds and a pull-out couch. The bathroom was compact, but we had a balcony and a surprisingly generous amount of storage space. Moments after we walked through the door, we staked out the place, divided up the drawers and hangers, and emptied suitcases filled with black stretchy clothes. Unpacked, we jumped headlong into our girly week at sea.

The Grandeur, it turned out, like many mega ships, was a fitting tribute to our college days. A sea of Vegas-y chrome, pastels, and attention-grabbing 3-D art screamed 80s. We felt right at home and spent hours milling around and engaging in one of our favorite sports: people-watching. We hit the pool deck to watch other passengers embarrass themselves in goofy games like the "Men's Hairy Leg" contest. Before dinner, our daily ritual was cocktails in the airy seven-deck atrium to check out the fashion scene and guess who was wearing a recycled bride's maid dress. The three of us spent time dancing with Gloria Gaynor and the Village People in the pulsating disco, and afterwards, we'd do readings of Cosmo before nodding off for the night.

We not only shared lots of fun, but more important, shoes, sequin tops, moisturizer, evening bags, and snide remarks about passengers' hair styles. We sipped Daiquiris and cheap wine together, shared a pack of cigarettes, and rolled our eyes in unison at our wacky dinner mates. We hadn't spent this much quality time together since the dorm freshman year.

Still, there are more utilitarian benefits to a cruise with three friends than loads of good times. For one thing, you've always got a built-in back-up. If one roommate is crabby and wants to head back to the cabin early, you've got friend number two waiting in the wings. If you can't bear to wear that black dress one more time, you've got two other wardrobes to browse through. Let your fingers do the walking through two other sets of earrings, hair clips, and strappy sandals. If you forget your curling iron, conditioner, or camera, chances are one of your two friends didn't. While cruising with your husband, children or mother has its own unique pleasures, chances are you wouldn't want to borrow a skirt from one of them.

Of course there's a dark side to all this sisterly love. Two cabin mates triples the chance of the odd mood swing or imagined insult, but nothing a bit of planning and a lot of blind-eye-turning can't fix. Heading for the balcony or a secret chaise lounge up on deck is a great way to diffuse a potential snit fit, while the ancient art of ignoring works well too. To head off any preening-related bickering, it's vital to pre-arrange shower appointments way before dinner to keep the evening on schedule. And be prepared to wait your turn. There's typically one weak hair dryer in the bathroom and only one or two electrical outlets for appliances you may bring.

Clutter can also be an issue, since three adult women collect a lot more stuff than one or two. It's best to throw up your hands and not care that shoes will be everywhere along with strands of hennaed, highlighted and graying hair stuck to the sink, shower, brushes, and pillows. Tchotskes times three means newly purchased postcards, t-shirts, and books will litter the desk and nightstands. Expect a growing pile of menus, port maps, and flyers for jewelry sales and spa specials to take over the top of the TV and the bathroom floor.

Minor inconveniences aside, I'd do three in a cabin again in a heartbeat. It's loads of fun, not to mention a bargain. Three is cheaper than two when it comes to splitting a cab to port attractions and going half-sies on Pina Coladas by the pool. And of course, the price of the cruise itself will be lower. The third and/or fourth person in a cabin generally pays only half of the regular fare, so splitting the savings among all three knocks a chunk off each person's share.

But don't expect a great bargain on a palatial suite, you gotta go standard to save, and luckily lots of ships' standard cabins can accommodate three or four adults with pull-down bunks and/or pull-out couches; and many have sanity-saving balconies. Standard cruise ship cabins range in size from about 100 to 200 square feet. And believe me, every foot counts when there are three or four of you. At a relatively roomy 180 to 190 square feet, Carnival and Holland America offer some of the largest standard cabins in the biz. If price isn't an object, then spring a for a mini suite or full suite, and enjoy upgrades like bathtubs, more closets, a sitting area with a couch, and a stocked mini bar.

No matter how squishy you may feel in your cabin though, remember it's only the bedroom. You'll have the rest of the gigantic ship, from the sunbathing decks to the spa, internet center, caf¿s, and all of those happening bars and lounges, to call home for a week. Your cabin is just a place to hang your hat (and that new bikini).

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