There’s nothing quite like looking out your “hotel” room window and seeing open sea for miles. Whether you’re a cruise regular or considering a first-time voyage, there are a number of decisions you need to make to ensure you choose the perfect cruise.
Do you love the idea of vacation where you’re always on the move but can relax the whole time? How about visiting numerous destinations you’ve always wanted to see but only unpacking once? Maybe you’re looking to travel with multiple generations of your family and need a trip that has something for everyone. If this sounds like the vacation for you and your family, then pack your bags and hit the high seas — it’s time for a cruise.
Now that you know you want to take a cruise, how do you find the one that’s best for you and your family? There are a lot of great options for cruising out there but each one has a distinct personality and appeals to different interests. The first step should be to contact a Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) certified travel professional to help you carefully consider all your options. You can go to cruising.org to find a list of qualified professionals in your area or ask your local travel agency if they are CLIA certified.
By booking your cruise through a CLIA-certified travel professional, you’ll ensure access to the best prices and incentives. These incentives can come in all sorts of forms, from an upgraded cabin to additional on-board credit to use at the spa and for specialty dining when on the cruise. There is a huge misperception that booking directly with the cruise line provides the best pricing and service. In fact, cruise lines partner with travel consultants to promote their brands and therefore ensure that travel consultants have access to the same special amenities and pricing.
Choose the Right Line
Selecting the right cruise line and ship makes a world of difference. That decision will determine if you fall madly in love with this type of travel or run screaming from the gangway. Each cruise line has its own style and price point and each ship has its own vibe that often depends on the ship’s age and amenities, crew, guest contingent and the ports the ship visits. If you stay at full-service hotels like Four Seasons or Ritz-Carlton on land, then booking an inside cabin on a budget line like Carnival or Norwegian Cruise Line might be a mistake. Likewise, if you’re traveling with small children, be sure to select a company like Disney Cruise Line that caters to families and offers special programs for kids.
Here’s a brief overview of the most popular cruise lines that work best for a variety of sailing interests:
- Best Cruises for Romance: Windstar Cruises, Paul Gauguin Cruises, Princess Cruises
- Best Cruises for Seniors: Holland America Line, Cunard Line
- Best Cruises for Families with Small Children: Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, Carnival
- Best Cruises for Families with Older Children: Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line
- Best Cruises for Fitness Enthusiasts: Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line
- Best Cruises for Budget-Conscious Cruisers: Carnival, Norwegian Cruise Line
- Best Cruises for a Splurge: Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Seabourn
- Best Cruises for Foodies: Celebrity Cruises, Oceania Cruises, Crystal Cruises
- Best Cruises for Solo Travelers: Norwegian Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Crystal Cruises
- Best Cruises for Entertainment: Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line
Where to Go
Deciding on an itinerary goes hand in hand with picking the cruise line and ship. If, for example, your heart is set on an exotic voyage around Indonesia, then you’ve got to pick a ship that offers that particular itinerary. Draw up a list of where you want to go and then cross-reference it with your short list of preferred cruise lines. That will reveal the best options. Spend some time reviewing the itineraries listed at each cruise line’s website.
Don’t pick an itinerary just because it’s cheap. Select a voyage because the ports (or the number of sea days) intrigue you. If you’re an outdoorsy type, small-ship cruising with UnCruise Adventures in Alaska or SeaDream Yacht Club in the Caribbean might be your style. If you’re interested in the arts, maybe a Mediterranean cruise calling on the major cities of Europe is your best bet. If you hate the cold weather, Antarctica might not be your idea of fun. Think about your vacation style on land and then pick a voyage that has a similar profile.
Picking a Cabin
Some people think that every cabin on a cruise ship is the same. That is simply not the case. You can choose from a variety of options from inside cabins with no windows to ocean-view rooms that are outfitted with a window or a balcony. Various cabin categories also come with different amenities. For example, Regent Seven Seas and other cruise lines offer butler service to suite passengers. Some cruise lines, like Celebrity, also offer special “spa” cabins that include certain treatments already included in the per passenger price. Think about what’s important to you and select a cabin accordingly. If you’re new to cruising or are sailing in what are traditionally rough waters, you may wish to book a cabin on a low deck, midship. This is where you’ll feel the least amount of movement, which can help if you’re prone to seasickness.
Whenever you book an overseas vacation, it’s important to research any passport or visa requirements. The U.S. Department of State offers detailed information regarding requirements of countries throughout the world. Be sure you carry the right credentials. Otherwise, the cruise line will have no choice but to deny you boarding or keep you on the ship if you don’t have the necessary visa to visit a certain area. In many areas of the world, the cruise line provides a “blanket” visa for everyone on board so you don’t have to worry about it. Carefully read your cruise documentation to see if that’s the case during your vacation