Cruising is an exciting and adventurous travel excursion. Whether you are on your honeymoon or planning a vacation with friends and/or family a cruise can be a relaxing and rewarding experience that offers the opportunity to explore many parts of the world. Cruise Critic’s very own Carolyn Spencer Brown has some tips to help jump start your cruise and to help you score an awesome cruise bargain.
One of the best by-products of working at Cruise Critic for 14 years (and covering cruise travel for The Washington Post and other media outlets for another six before I joined the website) is when pals of pals of pals — most of whom have never cruised — call for advice.
“We’re thinking about going to Alaska,” one friend, a cruise neophyte, told me hesitantly, “but we have no idea how to get started. We don’t know what kind of cruise we’d like.”
This is the point where my absolute enthusiasm for cruise travel can roar into overdrive because truly, today more than any other time in history, there is a cruise trip for every style of traveler.
Love the idea of a floating resort where kids can go to camp and mom can hit the spa? Mainstream lines offer fantastic family- and adult-friendly options. Want to travel with eight of your best pals along one of France’s canals, visiting wineries and dining at Michelin-starred restaurants? A barge cruise should be on your bucket list. If butlers serving caviar while you trawl around the world’s most exotic ports of call (or even just chilling in the Caribbean) is tempting, yep, the luxury niche of cruising has got you covered. And for those in search of treks through jungles or across glaciers, or mountain biking and fjord kayaking, opt for expedition cruises in which ships are merely the backdrop, the floating hotel, to the places you visit.
But a rundown of ship-by-ship, destination-by-destination choices — well, those aren’t the first things I’d discuss when dispensing advice. Neither is a recommendation that my pal go see a travel agent. We’ll get there, but not just yet.
The most important thing a prospective cruiser has to figure out for himself first is: “What is my travel style?” Akin to understanding your own lifestyle, what is this cruise about for you?
Travel styles can vary depending on life’s circumstances and the cruise that best suits should match up with the purpose. A trip you’d choose for a multigenerational family reunion could well be — and probably should be —a lot different from a special celebration with your significant other, or even a solo trip.
Choosing a destination and narrowing down an itinerary to the ports you want to visit, for many new-to-cruise travelers, is another significant factor when choosing a cruise. Here’s some surprising information according to a poll we took on Cruise Critic. We asked our members to vote on how they choose ships and a whopping 49.25 percent voted, “The cruise destination guides my pick of ships. No [ship] preference at all.” So understanding where you want to cruise will help guide your ship selection.
There’s a third important consideration. What’s your travel budget? It’s important to have an idea of what you want to spend. We recommend weighing two factors: the nightly cost of your cruise and ancillary spending. For big ships, voyages that start at about $75 to $150 — per person, per night, based on two people sharing the same cabin (so the total is $150 to $300 per night) — are a good value. That’s especially the case when you factor in your meals, entertainment, cabin service, kids’ clubs and travel between ports of call. You can certainly pay more, much more, if you are interested in small ship cruising — whether along the rivers of the U.S. or Europe, around-the-world cruises that last for months or treks to exotic places like the Galapagos and Antarctica. You’ll also spend a lot more if you decide to splash out on big suites on large ships. And don’t forget to factor in the ancillary costs you potentially can ring up, such as airfare to the port where the ship departs, shore excursions, cocktails, spa treatments, alternative restaurant service fees and casino gambling.
By this time on advice-laden phone calls, I’ve likely missed a staff meeting at the office or the most recent cable news channel dispatch, and I’m now ready to give the last — and maybe most important nugget of advice: Once you have a handle on your cruise style, preferred destinations and budget, it’s time to take all that important self-awareness and head off to a travel agent that specializes in cruising. He or she can then not only guide you into the dock of booking a trip (and the great majority do not charge travelers for their services), but can also handle all the pesky details. You’ll have a pro in your corner to make sure your first cruise is one of many.
By: Carolyn Spencer Brown, Chief Content Strategist, Cruise Critic