After reading our article about how to get started in your travel journey, (which you can read here!), did you decide that you want to look into a cruise?
Hundreds of cruise ships are available to you. How do you know which one is the right one for this vacation? What about the hundreds of itineraries available? Within that cruise ship, what stateroom do I want? This article should help you find some answers to these questions, raise other questions, but most of all, will open your mind to the possibilities. Keep in mind to stay flexible on everything.
First, go back to the first article in this series to determine if cruising is right for you and how to begin budgeting. Budget is huge in determining the cruise line, and then the ship in many cases. It will determine the itinerary, section of the world, and whether you can fly to Dubai to begin your cruise, whether you can cruise on a foodie ship, luxury top of the line ship out of Tahiti, or a mega ship around the world, or something closer to home. Your travel agent will help you answer some of these questions.
Why cruise? You can sleep while the ship travels and avoid long bus rides, island hopping on flights, and see lots of different places on one trip and with one flight. Unpacking once is a wonderful option. Initially, I started cruising to see a variety of islands so I could figure out which one at which to stay. I fell in love with cruising and get bored at resorts now!
Determine how many days you are able to take off for your cruise. Lots of factors go into making that decision. 1) time off from work; 2) children left behind or out of school; 3) pet sitters; 4) how far you have to fly– spending $1000 to fly for a 3 day cruise may not make much sense unless you really need a getaway or can only go that long; 5) what you want to see – you may need more time off and possibly a longer cruise to do Hawaii, Curacao, and many other areas of the world; 6) whether you want a short drinking cruise, a world cruise, a 10 day cruise that usually does not have many kids on it or something in-between; and 7) family cruise for a week.
Take into account who is coming with you. A family cruise can be different from a romantic cruise, which is different from a group cruise. What you plan to take away is important in determining the next step, and whether it is rekindling the marriage, teaching your children some culture, reuniting with old friends or your extended family, and creating memories along the way.
Next, determine the type of itinerary you want, such as a mega cruise ship that sees parts of Southern Europe vs a river cruise through the Danube or the Rhine; one that goes along the Mississippi in a river cruise or one that does the Canada/New England coast. Do you want that once in a lifetime Alaska cruise, or a luxury cruise that hits islands in the Caribbean. Only you can decide what you hope to see during this cruise, what you want your family to experience, and your takeaway memories; however, a travel agent/counselor can be very helpful during this part by describing what you might experience in a variety of destinations.
Now that you know who is going with you, how many days, budget, and where you are going, let’s work on cruise ship. Budget and itinerary will determine if it is a small, luxury ship with all the amenities, a mega cruise ship with lots of activities and entertainment, or river cruise with beautiful scenery. If you do your own research, note that most cruise lines show base cruise prices and add gratuities, insurance, taxes and fees later. Some allow you to choose alcohol or other amenity packages. Be certain to note inclusions in figuring which meets your budget/expectations. Your travel agent will help with all this.
Within each cruise line are numerous ships. Carnival alone has 30 ships. Do you just choose the one that fits your itinerary? Not necessarily. This is where having some flexibility comes in handy. For example, if you decided on the Alaska cruise, lots of cruise ships do that route. This is where a travel agent comes in handy as well, particularly one that has been and specializes in that area. You can just choose any ship, including the cheapest, and still enjoy the scenery. However, if you want the most for your money, you want one that offers lots of extras, such as photography classes so you get the picture you can hang on your wall back home; or has local rangers that come onboard and give talks, answer questions, and tell you where you have the best chance to see wildlife; or one that brings on local celebrities such as Iditarod champions. Some offer alcohol packages within their cruise price. Some offer amenities such as free wine at dinner, robes for use onboard, tote bags, towels, onboard credit, gambling money, etc. Not all of these are advertised sales. Some are just basic inclusions you need to know or will find during your intensive research. Again, use that free travel agent to book this for you at no cost to you, and that person will help you find just the right cruise ship and room.
Some cruise ships are built for certain areas, such as those in the China market, and those in the Australia market, or the one that sails around the islands of Hawaii, and the inclusions and amenities match it.
Also, just because one cruise line was great for your friend, doesn’t mean it will be for you. They may have had a great rekindling of romance or had their best friends along and partied the whole time, but the cruise ship was awful and they didn’t notice. Their cruise may have been for family and yours is to party. Theirs may have been to sun and island hop, but yours is to see the ancient ruins in Rome and Greece.
Carnival is a great ship to party, even the dining room is a party atmosphere. Norwegian is also great for parties with some wonderful late night themed parties with lots of great dance music. Both of those lines have newer ships with lots more physical activities available for lots more fun than ever before. There are quiet areas on all the ships, even libraries on some if you prefer that atmosphere, always pools and places to get that tan, and food everywhere. Often the Carnival rooms are a bit bigger, but Norwegian has packages to include alcohol and other amenities in ways that are not offered on other lines. Norwegian has great group amenities as well. Carnival offers lower pricing with non-refundable deposits. Some of their older ships have had trouble with breakdowns, so be careful about what you choose. Older ships on all the lines have had problems from no AC in the room and non-functioning toilets, to fire or breakdowns enroute. Research those while you are looking around to make sure the one you are looking into has been refurbished, or is a newer ship, but not necessarily the newest to avoid glitches they have not worked out.
Norwegian is the king of solo cruising at the moment. They have entire sections for solo cruisers with studios and a lounge just for them. They have a dedicated solo cruise director that helps set up activities. If you enjoy spreading out your wings and doing whatever you want, whenever you want, this is for you! I have had a blast on these myself!
Royal Caribbean used to be the one for the most physical activities, so if you do not keep up with changes which occur regularly, you may not realize it no longer owns that market. It does, however, continue to be the best option for family because there is such a wide range of options and activities onboard to please everyone. They also have the best shows in my opinion, with full Broadway shows such as Mama Mia, Cats, Grease, and Hairspray. They have had Olympic divers in their aqua show that includes diving 70 feet into 17 feet of water while the ship is cruising. I’ve seen Olympic skaters in their ice skating show. They put the wow factor in their program on their newest ships.
Celebrity seems to appeal more to the sophisticated crowd with activities and shows to match. Like Princess, they have learning enhancements and options you won’t find on other cruise ships such as glass blowing, with Princess having a photography class in Alaska and local rangers and even star gazing.
Holland America seems to cater more to the older crowd, with better-cushioned lounge chairs to match. They also have wonderful learning enhancements, particularly on their Alaska cruises.
Disney is the obvious choice if taking your kids. However, be prepared for a much higher cost. You get so much more for your money, tho, that it is worth it, if it is in the budget. The special activities, the restaurant experiences (including Crush coming to visit on the wall and interacting with your kids), the characters, the stories told by everything onboard, will bring memories to last a lifetime.
Choosing the room on the ship can be pretty simple.
(1) decide if you want interior (no window); ocean view (port hole to square window that does not open); or balcony with a walkout and table and chairs;
(2) within those areas, a variety of categories narrow it down to location, size of the room and budget;
(3) you may be a light sleeper, so avoid rooms under restaurants, pool deck, near elevators, or bottom decks;
(4) if prone to motion sickness, you need to be close to fresh air, so a balcony or on a deck that leads to outside;
(5) if leading a large group, you may want a large suite, with a large balcony for parties. Some can be catered with small groups or up to 30 people on a balcony. I have been on both, which are pretty cool.
Bottom line, budget, itinerary, time away and who comes with you will help you decide which cruise line, ship, and cabin style you want for your cruise. Your travel professional will help you with their education on the destinations, personal experience, and client experience.
This was written by Denise Hangsleben with Travel Your Way