Planning a Cruise Trip in Your Future? Here’s Our Guide For First-Timers Cruisers to Ensure A Great Trip
Every person looks forward to making the most out of every moment spent on vacation to thoroughly enjoy their long-awaited holiday. However, most of us feel quite overwhelmed with planning and managing expectations. We were all once a bit timorous before heading abroad and that is completely understandable. Encountering the differences in climate, culture and surroundings, for some travelers is quite intimidating and for others pretty much liberating. Cruising has become an increasingly popular way to travel because you do one booking and take care of your lodging, meals and entertainment all at once. It’s understandable that a guide for first-time cruisers is essential.
So, yes, we understand you completely: booking a cruise trip for the first time may be confusing and even intimidating. First-time cruisers are often driven by the desire to stay on board for several days, surrounded by the calming blue water. Others are attracted by the adventure of visiting remote and mysterious lands like the Spice Islands of Indonesia that are only accessible by water.
When it comes to cruises, there are so many different options to choose from it can seem daunting. From the initial choice of destination and cruise company, all the way to the small stuff such as what suite or cabin better suits your needs and fits your budget. If all this is so very new to you, let us try and help with some advice and suggestions.
Choosing Your Cruise Style
If you are not certain what cruise to choose for your first experience, here is what the options are.
Large elaborate cruise liners are the most popular choice for first-time cruisers. There are major cruise ports along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the United States and throughout Europe that offer cruising on a large variety of cruise ships. You can also find cruise ships visiting the South Pacific, Asia and Scandinavia as well. This type of cruising is perfect for those who want to enjoy one week or longer surrounded by nothing but the blue ocean. Ocean cruises are available from a few days to several weeks. Shorter voyages are usually attractive for first-time cruisers so they can try everything out. Pay attention to the cruise itinerary as some have multiple days at sea while others are in a different port every day.
Give some thought to if you want to be on the go every day or if you want some time for pure relaxation on the ship. Chances are, the ports, excursions and beaches you will visit while cruising are the best ones in the world. There are also shorter cruises to nowhere, so-to-speak, or repositioning cruises that stay at sea for long stretches while the ship is relocated to a new area for the next season such as transatlantic from the United States to Europe. These cruises are constantly sailing with docking opportunities. This type of cruise is a favorite of people that look forward to breaking the everyday routine and disconnecting to enjoy a good rest. They also tend to be less expensive.
River Cruises, especially in Europe, have become increasingly popular in recent years, although new ships are now appearing in the USA as well. They are very charming and often more intimate with ships hosting several hundred passengers rather than several thousand. These boats are smaller and the crew is adaptable to traveler’s specific needs. River cruises travel between certain destinations visiting local villages with onshore excursions and experiences. Moreover, you may be observing wildlife alongside the river as well. You will enjoy beautiful sceneries and green surroundings teeming with beautiful nature. On the other hand, river cruises that travel along big and popular cities are likely to be the most luxurious.
These types of ship are the newest trend in the cruise industry. These ships are specially constructed to withstand challenging climate and navigation conditions. Expedition cruises can be found in Alaska, Antarctica, sailing the Amazon, the Galapagos Islands, and ports in South America and Asia to name a few. Many frequent cruisers save this type of cruise for last after they have seen the mainstream ports, but you may want to explore an exotic location first.
Regardless of the cruise type, making a choice on the cruise line predetermines the nature of the cruise – adventurous, mass-market, or a luxurious one. Some cruise lines may offer different levels of experience depending on what deck you are on, with experiences ranging from basic cabin to grand suites with private butlers. On large ships, your budget will often determine the level of amenities you will enjoy on board the ship.
Adventurous cruises are suitable for those that look for unordinary experience and are ready to have some fun while exploring. Luxurious cruises are intended for people that like to leisure, relax, and take advantage of all the amenities a luxury cruise ship has to offer. Let’s not forget, there are also private cruises (yacht charters) are also available for those that appreciate quality and intimate time spent with their family or alone with their special someone.
Deciding on a Cruise Destination
Cruises visit most every destination in the world that you can imagine. The largest number of ships sail from ports in the USA to the Caribbean and Mexico, or from one area of Europe to another. In Europe, it’s easy to visit several countries in one week as the ship navigates from one coastal port to the next. You can tour multiple countries but only unpack once! Cruising is also an excellent way to reach areas that are difficult to visit otherwise. Alaska, Greece and South America are prime examples as many of the cities and islands can be reached only by ship. Asia is a wonderful region to explore by cruise ship since you need not be concerned about food quality, unfamiliar customs, or varying lodging standards.
Pick the Best Season To Cruise
One of the most common cruising questions is: when is the best time to leave for my vacation? As you can imagine, there is no single answer to this question, since it depends on many variables. If you are aiming for a certain destination that you would love to visit, it’s important to check what season is best to do so. Weather plays the most important role in making the cruise a pleasant one or the complete opposite.
For example, families usually prefer to sail in the summer, when school is out, and temperatures are warmer. Others may love cruising in the wintertime and maybe in time to celebrate New Year’s Eve or other holiday on board.
It is essential to get familiar with the different periods of peak demand (high season) for each destination, as well as moderate demand (shoulder season) and low demand (low season). Low seasons are usually the cheapest time to cruise, but it may not be the most appropriate choice weather-wise. Keep in mind that going across the equator changes the weather completely, so does staying close to it. Usually, these places have no low season, only high and shoulder season, thus these places are popular and full of tourists all year round.
In other words, as you plan your first cruise, you want to take into account several factors, such as the best and cheapest time to cruise based on your destination and your personal preferences. Be aware of predictable weather conditions like hurricanes in the Caribbean in fall, rougher seas in winter, flooding of rivers in spring, and typhoon seasons south of the equator, etc. All these factors should help shape when you will cruise.
The most common misconception about cruises is that they are a pricey vacation. However, this is not necessarily true. It’s still possible to enjoy a wonderful cruise trip without breaking the bank. All you need to do is calculate your budget properly and stick to the plan. This starts from the moment you are choosing your cruise ship and cruise package. You must be very careful and check what is and what is not included in the fee you are paying. For example, some commodities such as on-shore day trips, specialty restaurants, spa treatments on board, and cocktails will be charged additionally.
Money is another small issue while on board. Most of the cruise ships don’t accept credit/debit cards or even cash. Instead, you will be issued a personal cruise card that is tied to your credit card. You should keep this card close to you as it will most likely serve as your cabin key also. It’s a good idea to check your account balance mid-way through the cruise just to get an idea of how much money you are spending.
Many cruise lines offer cruise ship credits and special packages as incentives to book. Look for these and compare them carefully to save money on your cruise. You may find offers of cabin upgrade, free port charges, free drink packages or tips included. While it might be nice to get a better cabin, taking advantage of free drinks or tips can actually save you hundreds of dollars in vacation costs.
Don’t Forget Your Companions
Whatever you do, wherever you are, one thing is for sure, it’s people that make the activities and places better. Keep in mind that their needs regarding travel should be tended to as well. Especially if there are any little ones in your party.
In any case, you should look for the cruise lines that best suit everyone in your party. Some cruises are more suitable for families and children, while others offer a better romantic environment for couples. There are cruises that are best tailored for a friendly party getaway, spiced with adrenalin spots and late-night parties. Others are more laidback and culture-based. Don’t forget to check if the ship is equipped with the right kind of food regarding allergies and most importantly if someone in your party has mobility limitations, check the cruise accessibility.
Some cruise agencies offer exciting discounts if you register yourself as an organized group while purchasing the tickets. However this comes with some extra, sometimes unwanted responsibilities that come back to you as a leader, should there be any problems with your crew.
Be Practical With Your Time
Long cruises have a lot of opportunities for relaxation, exploration, and a balance of port time and days at sea. Not all of them are all about party and leisure. Some cruises offer short courses where you can learn and experience all kinds of things. You can come back from vacation with new sets of skills or brush off an old one. Anything from cooking classes all the way to meditation and astrology is available to you. You can spend your time learning how to take and edit photographs, listen to famous lecturers talk on a variety of different subjects from self-help and motivation to philosophy and physics. Many cruise lines offer cruises based on your favorite music style or favorite performers. Blues, Jazz and Rock and Roll cruises are particularly popular.
When it comes to cruises the choices seem endless. With the right amount of time and money invested, you will certainly enjoy the cruise of your lifetime or the first of many to come! So, get out your notebook and start a list of your preferences for the season to travel, favored destination, length of cruise, type of ship and estimated budget. Then it’s time to shop the internet on sites like Expedia, Vacations To Go, Cruise.com and others to find the best offers. Finally, it’s a good idea to visit a site like CruiseCritics.com to read reviews of the cruises you are considering as your final choice.