Whether you are a first-time cruiser or have spent weeks at sea, choosing the right cruise for the right time can be challenging.
Even after many cruises I still have to do my homework to pick the perfect cruise from all the options out there. While I might have a favorite cruise line, I choose different brands and ships depend
ing on the type of experience I am looking for. And believe it or not, price is not the major determining factor because if the price is right but the cruise is wrong, you may have wasted your money!
Here are my top five things to consider–in order of importance–when selecting your cruise vacation:
- Intention — Is this a cruise to relax? Have an adventure? Be with family and friends? Be alone with your spouse? Have a clear idea up front about what you want from your vacation so you’re not disappointed afterward if your cruise doesn’t match your needs.
- Size of ship — When I first started cruising I was convinced I was a small ship cruiser, but I’m really not! Small ships have more advantages offshore– you can cruise into smaller ports that bigger ships can’t enter, often pulling right up to the dock and saving time and hassle. But onboard, the larger the ship, the more options for restaurants, entertainment and fellow cruisers. Ironically, I find that the larger the ship, even though there are more people onboard in total, there are actually more places to get away. Even on the largest ships I usually end up wondering, “Where is everyone?”
- Cruise line — Don’t expect each ship to be all things to all people. As the number of cruise lines grow, each is developing its own character to distinguish itself in the marketplace. This is where enlisting the help of a travel professional can be invaluable. While the Internet is great for booking many forms of travel, travel agents — in particular, cruise specialists — still book an estimated 75 percent of cruise vacations. Many have been onboard the ships and attended cruise line seminars and they can provide first-hand advice. They often have access to discounts or other benefits and since the cruise lines pay their commissions, you don’t incur any fee for their services and expertise. And do your research online to find the character each line projects and believe them. If the website is full of photos of people partying, you can likely expect that to be the case on your cruise. And unless the line has clearly outlined all the options available for little ones, don’t expect your children to have plenty of age appropriate activities. Conversely, if all the photos are of children on waterslides and cartoon character breakfasts, this is probably not the best choice for a romantic, quiet vacation, even if the price is right.
- Cabin type — If you’d like to have a larger, more luxurious cabin but the luxury lines are out of reach or not suitable, look at getting a bigger cabin on a less expensive line. The larger ships often have concierge areas with roomier cabins and suites for the same price or less than a regular cabin on the luxury lines. And be your own advocate by looking carefully at the information online, especially the size of the cabin. Most cruise lines offer a layout of the cabin so you can compare cabin sizes. Consider an obstructed view cabin in a higher category that may be less expensive but offer more room.
- Destination – Wherever you want to go in the world, chances are there are cruises that will take you there. Many of the world’s most interesting places are best seen by cruise ship, like the glaciers in Alaska, or any island destinations. If you want to travel internationally and have a more immersive experience, investigate some of the international cruise lines. For example, P & O Australia is an Australia-based line that offers vacations throughout Australia and the South Pacific. Cruises are not only more affordable when compared with land-based vacations, but they can also take you safely and comfortably to some of the most inaccessible and extreme places on earth, such as Antarctica or to see the Northern Lights in Norway and Northern Scotland.