Here’s a few observations to help you select a cruise that will be both memorable and enjoyable.
1. Work with a Travel Agent
When evaluating cruise options it’s best to work with a travel agent, who can help you assess your options at the same price as working directly with the cruise line. Typically the agency will also provide you with a booking credit which can be used on the ship for shore-excursions, spa services, etc. Additionally the agency can provide guidance based upon their experience with a particular cruise line, as well as arrange any custom shore excursions you may require. Travel agents can assist you in selecting pre- and post- cruise hotels, often at a discounted rate, and unlike discounted online services, afford you free room upgrades when available.
After selecting the country or region you’d like to visit, carefully study the ports of call – particularly if you plan to explore the area on your own, and if shore excursions are not included in the cruise price. Oftentimes they’ll be a dual reference for example for Le Verdon/Bordeaux, (some smaller ships actually go up the river so you are in the port of the actual city, while larger ships may dock in Le Verdon, which is approximately 1 – ½ hours away and will require a bus transfer to get to the city).
Cruises itineraries can be from point a to b, or a to a. Neither is necessarily better or worse, but you may be able to see more with an a to b cruise. However if flights are not included in your cruise package flights will likely be more expensive to fly into one city and out of another (aka open-jaw).
Sea days (i.e. days onboard with no port stops), are appreciated by cruisers as a respite between busy days of visiting on shore. However the enjoyment of these days will be contingent upon the entertainment options onboard the ship, where you’re located – i.e. they’ll be less basking by the pool in Alaska, as well as your general desire for a fast versus slow paced vacation.
3. Cruise Lines
Evaluating Cruise Classes and Pricing
Cruise costs vary substantially across cruise lines, and are ranked from Luxury to Budget with several classes in between. The pricing of the cruise will be based upon a multitude of factors including the size of the ship, the passenger density (luxury cruises offer more space per passenger), the quality of service and the ratio of staff members to guests, in addition the size and modernity of the rooms and vessel, quality of the food, entertainment and shore excursions.
When assessing the true cost of a specific cruise, it is imperative that you carefully examine what costs are included. Often even deluxe cruises have many additional costs, some that may not be apparent including payment for soda and alcoholic drinks (typically about 1-1/2 times or more than you’d pay on land), tips for dinners, drinks, room attendant etc. Also when traveling during peak season, flight costs should be factored in as well, as I noticed flight costs to Europe closer to $2000 from NYC vs. $1000 or so as they were in recent past (for direct flights booked 6 months in advance).
Cruise lines often offer good discounts 9 or more months in advance of the cruise. Even better rates are available last minute for cruises that are not sold out.
Many cruise lines offer children’s activities which are convenient for Carribean and other cruises suitable for parents accompanied by children and multi-generational vacations. However, on some of the more densely populated cruise lines, this may also mean that Jacuzzis will be rarely available for a relaxing visit. Typically the cruise line, cruise length and destination will influence the cruise demographics. It is best to verify this information in advance of your booking to ensure you will feel comfortable on the cruise.
If you are not a smoker, after years of inhabiting smoke-free restaurants, bars, hotel rooms and other public spaces, you may find yourself hypersensitive to second hand smoke fumes. Many cruise lines have tried to balance the requirement of both smokers and non-smokers by setting rules to ensure that all have an enjoyable experience. The policies have become progressively more restrictive to locations where smokers may light-up, though the Italian cruise lines, Costa etc. still have fairly open rules.
What’s important to you?
Cruises provide an opportunity to unpack once, and visit sites in one or more countries, which may have been logistically challenging on your own. Additionally the cruise experience and opportunity for camaraderie with other passengers is unique.