With so many travel options available, and so many cruise vacation options specifically, how do you narrow your choices and find the right cruise vacation experience for you? And how do you even know if you will enjoy a cruise vacation?
Cruising has been a popular vacation option for more than 100 years, dating back to the glamorous days of steamship travel aboard liners like Titanic and Queen Mary. Nowadays there is a plethora of cruise vacation product, with new builds from well known cruise lines competing with older, refitted ships: small luxury cruisers with as few as 100 passengers to mega cruise ships that house more than 4,000 passengers. Voyages range from 2 or 3 nights to 104-day round-the-world journeys. Choosing a cruise vacation experience can be very confusing.
It’s easy to become overwhelmed when deciding on a vacation destination in general, and the type of vacation experience you’ll enjoy most may not be immediately evident. If general well-being and stress relief is something you hope to achieve (and who doesn’t?), then a cruise vacation may offer the right mix of self-care mixed with tantalizing new sights, cultural and culinary experiences.
So, where do you start?
Whether you’re new to cruising or an experienced seaman, start by making a list of destinations you’d like to visit. Cruises are the best way to optimize a limited vacation schedule and see more than one or two cities (or countries), as your ship doubles as your hotel and transportation hub. No need to unpack and worry about getting from one place to the other, your Captain knows the way!
Best of all, your meals are all-inclusive in the cruise fare. While you may enjoy eating like a local, the option to eat onboard saves you time and money. Local fare is usually featured by Chefs aboard most ships, providing a taste of each region visited. Tip: Enjoy breakfast aboard before venturing out for the day, then look for an enticing local lunch venue before returning for a five-course dinner with wine (sometimes included) on the ship.
Do you want to travel within the U.S., or travel overseas?
Flying to an exotic port adds cost to your cruise vacation. The Caribbean, Hawaii and Alaska are good alternatives for close-to-home cruising, and many cruise lines depart from US cities like Miami, New York and Los Angeles. Others begin their journeys in Puerto Rico or other Caribbean nations, which means you’ll need to fly to/from the points of embarkation and debarkation.
Unless you are taking a “repositioning cruise”, most European and South American cruises will begin and end in other countries, adding to the cost of your cruise vacation. Some cruise lines may offer 2-for-1 or free airfares on some voyages if you book within the promotional period, making the overall cost of the cruise vacation much more attractive than booking components separately on your own.
Your destination(s) of choice will be your first filter
Are you interested in seeing as many cities as possible on your trip, or are you more interested in spending time in fewer places to really immerse yourself in the destination? Small luxury liners tend to spend more time docked in central locations within major cities, providing easy on-and-off access for independent exploration. Compare this with larger ships that must dock outside the city, adding time and expense to local touring.
Next, decide your shipboard style and experience
Do you enjoy meeting like-minded people, and want to make as many new friends as possible? Or are you more introverted, or only want to spend quality time with your significant other? Maybe you fall somewhere in between, enjoying some comraderie while still maintaining your privacy? The number of guests onboard, availability of in-room dining, choice of dining room seating, and the variety of entertainment venues onboard could make a difference.
Are you interested in learning any new skills, broadening your knowledge of a particular region, or going behind-the-scenes of popular attractions? Do you want to indulge in spa amenities, continue your fitness routine, or learn how to meditate? Would you like to learn the Chef’s culinary secrets, or how the Sommelier chooses his pairings? Your cruise vacation experience may be enhanced by onboard programming and exclusive excursions offered aboard different ships.
Shipboard experiences are vastly different among cruise lines and can have a huge impact on your cruise vacation experience. We’ve put together a quick overview of cruise ship characteristics here to help you pare down your choices. Your travel agent can also provide insight on dining options, dress codes, programming and recreational opportunities available onboard that may influence your vacation satisfaction.
What’s your budget?
In general, the smaller, more intimate the cruise line, the more you will need to spend more on your cruise vacation. Luxury cruises (e.g., Oceania, Seabourn, Silversea) start at $500 per person per day. Premium cruise lines (e.g., Celebrity, Princess) start at around $250 pp/day, while river cruising starts at $350 pp/day (e.g., AMA Waterways, American Queen, Viking River Cruises), and popular cruise lines (e.g., Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian) fares start around $150 pp/day. Keep in mind these prices vary by sailing, season, type of cabin selected (inside, outside or balcony) and promotions available at the time of booking. Past cruisers may also benefit from loyalty perks or special pricing.
For the best fares, give your travel agent some flexible dates for your chosen itinerary, or consider booking into a group cruise, which usually offers a berth in a guaranteed category plus some onboard perks like free WiFi or prepaid gratuities. Follow us on Facebook for featured promotions and special pricing.