Everything you need to know before you book a cruise trip
1. How to choose a cruise
Choosing a cruise, whether it’s your first or one of many, is a difficult task. For something that is considered so relaxing, we sure do go through a lot of stress picking which one would be best for us.
Sure, thinking about sailing off into the sunset, watching the waves and relaxing on a boat with a glass (or two) of wine, might seem like something easy or straightforward to plan, but you’ll soon learn that you have a lot of things to consider.
In fact, choosing a cruise is a little bit more complicated than choosing a resort holiday. You have ports, cruise lines, itineraries, cabins, ships and prices to all consider. We don’t mean to stress you out completely, so, we apologise. We’re here to help. Below are our top tips on how to pick the best cruise, that you enjoy and remember for a lifetime.
2. Things to consider before you book a cruise
Before diving right in (sometimes quite literally), there are a few things that you need to ask yourself. Once these little bits are clarified, we can get started on trying to find the right cruise for you. These are:
What are you willing to spend, per person? – Cruises are often all-inclusive. So, they’ll include meals, cabin, and entertainment. However, you will be charged per person, and extras like drinks and spa services will need to be paid for on top. Always read the terms and conditions, and see what you will get for free.
You never know, a price might look super high, but you could save money on the things included in the package. Setting up a budget will help you when you’re searching.
How long do you want to get away? The thing is with cruises is, you can’t really come back individually. Once you’re on the boat, you have to stay on it until it’s time to go home.
Cruises range in length from a couple days to 130-day world journeys.
Most people go away for about 5-11 days. However, yours might be a little longer or shorter than this depending on your budget and at-home commitments.
Where would you like to go? Everybody has a little bit of a preference – what place on the earth really intrigues you? Don’t worry, you can always fly to where you embark.
What kind of cabin would you like? So, just like with most accommodation, the more you pay, the more luxurious your room will be. Inside cabins are the cheapest, but they’re incredibly cramped and don’t have windows.
You can get a balcony cabin, which is super romantic and offers you a bit of luxury. If you’re not planning on spending that much time in your cabin, don’t even stress about going for the cheaper option.
Do you want to meet new people? Some people go on a cruise to make new friends and socialise with other people. On these types of cruises, dinner tables and entertainment are set out in a way where you’re forced to get to know new people.
If this doesn’t really appeal to you (we totally get it), you can go on a cruise which is for you and whoever you brought along. No forced interaction with others required.
Do you want to bring your formal clothes? If you’re more of a casual person, you might want to stay away from cruise ships that have formal nights.
What facilities would you like? Some cruises have spas, kid’s rooms, casinos…what would you really like to have?
3. When should you go on a cruise?
Depending on the cruise you pick, certain times are busier than others. For instance, if you pick a cruise that has a kid’s area on it – this will be busier during school holidays.
Not only that, shoulder seasons can offer pretty great deals compared to high season. For some, shoulder season cruise dates are much more appealing anyway. The best thing to do is to keep the lookout for deals and see if you can get the time off from work or family commitments to make it.
Remember, the weather is also a significant determining factor. Though cruises offer an array of activities to do in the shelter, you probably don’t want to visit when the weather is far too hot or cold. Also, you might want to visit when certain wildlife is at its prime – for example, taking a cruise while humpback whales and dolphins will be splashing about the waves may be relevant to you.
Most cruise ships will tell you what they have to offer at that time of year. If not, do a little research yourself. What time of year would you really like to go? You don’t want to go at a time of year that you won’t enjoy.
4. Which cruise is best for you?
Selecting the right cruise line will make or break your entire experience. Picking one which suits you and your needs. This will ensure that you will be surrounded by the right company, with the right services to make your trip truly amazing.
Every single cruise line will offer something different – you just need to find the one that will offer you the dream experience. The key is to look for a line that you feel that you could create yourself. Like something directly out of your brain.
Some cruise lines have dress codes, assigned seating for meals, while others are kid-friendly and focus on being more relaxed and casual. Also, make sure that you are the target audience for the line. For instance, Holland America’s is usually targeted at baby boomers, whereas Princess Cruises are a tiny bit more kid-friendly.
Regent Cruises are more upscale and will offer the most luxurious experiences. Whereas Norwegian Cruise is a little bit more for those sticking to a budget. You will have to dig around a little bit, trying to find the best one for you. This is especially important for your first ever cruise.
5. Where do you want to go on a cruise?
Not long ago, basically every cruise was to the Caribbean – now they can go basically anywhere. That being said, not every cruise line goes to the destination that you dreamed about, which might mean you should plan your destination before you choose the line.
The worst thing that you can do is find the perfect cruise line, only to realise that they don’t go to the destination that you had your heart set on.
Also, some lines offer better trips for specific destinations. For instance, Princess Cruises have absolutely mastered the Alaska trip, offering some of the most superb packages you can find.
Alternatively, Carnival Cruise leads the game in trips to the Caribbean.
We’d say, the best place to start when picking your trip is to decide on a destination. This way, you can be sure you’re getting the trip that you want, with a line that you desire.
Of course, some people are very open to destinations – wherever the wind (or boat) takes them type of attitude. In these cases, try to eliminate some places that you really don’t want to go to. This can be a useful, handy place to start.
6. How long do you want to be away on a cruise?
Honestly, some cruises last for 100+ days, and many people love the idea of this. It gives you escapism in a busy life and is often enjoyed by those in retirement – why not, hey?
We also understand that not everybody would want to, or would be able to go on a cruise for that long.
Cruises aren’t like an ideal holiday – you can’t pick and choose the exact amount of days to go, or book flights last minute to change your plans. A cruise is a fixed trip, and however long you choose to go for, you have to keep to that time limit.
For first-time cruise-goers, we recommend you pick a shorter trip. For whatever reason, you could not enjoy it – being sure that you can last a longer cruise requires a shorter one, to begin with.
Knowing exactly how long you want to go on your cruise for is super important, this way you can cross many cruise trips that just don’t work well with your schedule or preferences.
As with every holiday, but more so with cruises, you should always make sure you can get the time off from work, or don’t have prior commitments before booking.
Cruise lines such as Carnival specialise in shorter cruises, lasting from about 3 to ten nights. Oceania’s minimum is ten nights. This is why picking a cruise line is basically crucial to your entire experience.
7. What’s your personality?
Your personality, preferences and pet peeves play a big part in picking the perfect cruise trip for you. You could say this about any holiday.
Take for example, how people love beach holidays and sunbathing whereas others hate sunbathing and need an action-packed holiday. Similarly, some people hate adventure holidays, much preferring to spend their trip eating and sleeping.
It’s important to note that nobody’s preference is wrong or weird, and you should never feel forced into anything that you don’t enjoy or wouldn’t match your personality.
Knowing your personality is a little bit different when you are picking a cruise ship. The difference matters a bit more than when you’re choosing between a city break and a beach holiday.
Every cruise line has its own personality, and that shines through into the trips that they offer you.
We’ve put together a rapid, simple guide into the cruise lines and their personalities:
Carnival: Carnival: Fun, adventure packed
Celebrity: Quiet, style conscious
Paul Gaugin: Romantic and tropical
Princess: Relaxed and intimate
Saga: Traditional and British (you can’t get on this one unless you’re over 50)
Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines: Cosy, gentle and a little old
Cunard: Formal and proper
Disney: Do we have to explain this one?
Royal Caribbean: Adventurous and energetic
Norwegian: Cool and trendy
Seabourn: Luxury and eccentric
We hope this little cheat sheet to cruise lines will help you pick the best one for you. Sometimes, it isn’t worth sticking to a budget or destination if the personality of the cruise line won’t correspond with your own.
8. Taking your kids on a cruise?
Do you plan on bringing your kids with you on the cruise? If your answer is yes, then it just wouldn’t be fair on them to take them on a high-end trip that has assigned seating and dinner times.
Kids need a little more fun, excitement, and freedom. So, perhaps save the formal lunches and black-tie event cruises for when you’re on your own.
Also, what age are your children? Some cruise lines specialize in making the perfect trip for young families, with ball pits and adventure play areas.
Other cruises are great for teenagers – offering entertainment and activities that will keep them occupied.
As parents/guardians, you’ll know how important it is to make sure your children are happy. That’s why you should look into what every cruise line/ship has to offer before diving in. A bored child is never fun to deal with, especially at a formal dinner.
Not to mention, some cruise lines have a strict no kid policy. So, that’s something to look out for.
In the same way, if you don’t have kids, perhaps you don’t want to be around them. This might not be an issue for some people, but others hate the thought of being on a cruise line with children. So, perhaps you would want to look into no-kid cruises. Entirely your choice.
9. Do you like crowds?
Here’s the deal, some cruises are absolutely bustling, and we mean, truly busy. Crowds everywhere. This is an incredible experience, for the most part, as it gives you a chance to meet new people and you’ll never have a dull moment.
However, tying into the point about “what is your personality,” some people are a little bit more introverted or are just craving a trip where they can be on their own.
It’s true that cruise ships are only becoming bigger and bigger, which means that there will be more people on board. For example, Royal Caribbean’s Allure Of the Seas carries around 6,000 people.
That being said, there are smaller cruise ships that you can enjoy – New Alaska only carries around 80 people, giving you the chance to meet new people and be alone for a little while.
The general rule of thumb is the more significant the cruise ship, the more people it will hold. If you really hate crowds, perhaps avoid the bigger ships. That will ensure your comfort.
10. What type of cruise trip do you want?
The type of trip that you are planning could change everything. Perhaps you’re looking for a romantic trip, or maybe a luxury cruise has been your plan for a while.
It’s hard to say what the best cruise lines are, primarily when every single one caters to a specific person or need differently.
11. Is a cruise worth it?
We’d say absolutely yes – everybody should try one cruise in their lifetime. It’s an entirely different experience that will stay in your memories forever.
To travel, with a bunch of other people, along the calming waters – it’s an unreal occasion, and you’ll be sad to see it go.
Many people associate cruises with the retired, but that just isn’t the case. So, if you are wondering if a cruise is for you, there will be one cruise that is perfect for you. There’s such a wide selection to choose from.
12. Is it better to be on the front or back of a cruise ship?
The lower and more central you are, the less sway you will feel. This is the most desirable for those who are sensitive to sea movement.
For this reason, even if you have chosen a balcony room, make sure it’s at the lowest level and the most midship one you can find. This will make you feel like you’re not on a boat at all.
The higher decks and cabins that are at the front or back of the ship will sway the most. For some, this isn’t an issue, though.
13. Can you smoke on a cruise?
Most cruise ships do allow smoking on them, but only in certain permitted areas. There will be designated outdoor smoking areas – especially near casinos and nightclubs.
Certain cruise lines won’t allow smoking on balcony spots or other areas, so, just check their particular rules.
Obviously, cruise lines that are catered to children will be less smoker tolerant, probably giving a tiny little space for the designated smoking area. This could be something to bear in mind when booking.
We really hope this helped you in picking out your cruise – it can be a daunting task, especially for your first ever one.
Remember, you have a lifetime to go on many more cruises, and explore all the opportunities.