It is indeed daunting to navigate the sea of options with cruise lines rolling out new offerings every year. If you are thinking of going on your first cruise holiday, a good starting point is figuring out your needs as a traveller and the kind of vacation you are looking for.
Here are some things to consider to help get you closer to booking your first cruise.
What is your Budget?
Cruise holidays come with a whole range of sizes and price ranges. As a general rule, big ships with more than 1,500 passengers have more features, more amenities and are more budget-friendly. On the other hand, smaller ships with just a few hundred passengers can offer more intimate and even personalised experiences but they come at a higher price. They are also able to stop where the big liners are unable to, allowing you to avoid large touristy crowds.
It is also good to keep in mind that the price covers your cabin and all meals plus onboard entertainment. However, many things like bar drinks and sodas, premium dining, spa services, and shore excursions are offered on cruises at an extra charge.
The timing of your cruise vacation is also a big factor that determines its price, weather conditions and the crowd you will be encountering. Consider sailing during the school year if you prefer not to encounter many children during your time aboard.
For budget travellers, cruising during the off-peak can be cheaper by more than half compared to the peak season. For example, the cheapest months for Caribbean cruises are from September to early January, due to hurricane season and rough seas in the winter. Take advantage of this if you don’t mind a possible itinerary change such as missing a port or cancellation of the cruise because of a storm.
Sailing in the Caribbean is more expensive during the spring or fall but you will be able to take advantage of excellent snorkelling and scuba diving opportunities in the region.
Popular itineraries closer to home include exploring the South Pacific Islands which have year-round tropical climate. But you may want to catch the dry season from May to October for extra insurance. The Australian coastline is another year-round cruise destination but expect a larger crowd in the warmer months in October to April. Definitely take advantage of the summer season if cruising New Zealand’s coast fjords appeals to you as the warmer temperatures are ideal for nature themed shore excursions.
Cruising during the holiday season is also more expensive but many cruise lines decorate their chips for the holidays and have special on-board activities planned, which can make a memorable experience.
How many days can you get away for?
Most cruises are in the four to seven to 12-days but for those who are looking to dip your toes in, there are also two-day cruisers to nowhere. These cruises are great for first-timers or switchers looking to try out another cruise line. Meanwhile, longer cruises will give you the chance to experience the ship as well as the destination. If you have the time, many popular lines offer epic journeys. While these journeys are usually at least 100 days, you’ll see most continents and visit up to 90 destinations.
Do you have a destination in mind?
There are cruises sailing the Pacific Islands, Mediterranean, Asia, Australia, Canada, Alaska, the Arctic and the Caribbean. If you are looking to just embark from your closest port, your options might be limited. Depending on where you live, you might have to catch a flight to embark on a cruise that visits your dream destinations.
Choosing your cruise line
Different cruise lines have distinct lifestyle niches. This translates into different facilities and services provided onboard. Carnival’s focuses on mass-appeal food and entertainment, Celebrity Cruises aims at the spa and gourmet traveller with five course menus, Royal Caribbean target active families with amenities such as the tallest slide at sea, surf and skydiving simulator, glow in the dark laser tag and more, Oceania Cruises focuses on food and lines like Seabourn, Silversea and Regent Seven Seas offer luxury and bespoke experiences. Go ahead and pick one that appeals most to your travel party.
What accommodation should I book?
A single cruise ship can have up to 30 different cabin categories, so you would most likely be able to comfortably accommodate a travelling party of any size. Cabins are double occupancy but lots of lines now offer solo travellers options like singles cabins with their own personalised space. Norwegian Cruise Line was one of the first to pioneer the concept.
But you also have to consider that if you’re travelling with your family, lines like P&O Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line offer lots of interconnecting cabins. If you’re looking for a bit more space, suite categories offer a seperate living area with a large bathroom. And for the creme de la creme on large ships, most now offer a ship-within-a-ship area, a VIP space where guests can stay in well-appointed accommodation. These areas usually have their own dining room, spa, pool, private access and comes with butler service.
Other considerations include looking for a midship cabin if you have someone in your group prone to seasickness. Also, if anybody is sensitive to noise, it would be helpful steer clear of facilities such as the pool, lounge and nightclub at the decks above and below your selected cabin.
How early should you book?
Most cruises can be booked anywhere from 18 months to one week ahead of sailing. Many cruise lines come out with their best fares when itineraries first go on sale, and then raise the rates as the ships sell out. They may also slash rates at the last minute to fill empty cabins. Look out for these deals starting 90 days before sailing.
Booking early would also give you more choices when it comes to cabin location which is important on Alaskan and Mediterranean cruises where the taking in the view is central to the experience.