Cruises are an excellent vacation option for many travelers. Once an option only for the very wealthy, cruises are now one of the most popular forms of travel. Cruises offer entertainment, shopping, medical care, activities for the kids, and the opportunity to visit several countries in a short amount of time. Cruise ships themselves range in size from small vessels holding less than 100 passengers to floating cities of nearly 9,000 passengers and crew. To make sure you get the best experience, follow these tips to booking the perfect cruise.
Consider who your fellow passengers will be.
It pays to know what kind of people will be on your cruise. A small cruise through Alaska is likely to attract a more cerebral crowd, whereas many Caribbean cruise ships are 24-hour party boats. Don’t assume that the passengers themselves will all speak the same language; some cruise lines that depart from Miami cater to German and Dutch tourists, while some ships leaving from Latin and South American ports may be entirely in Spanish. There are also cruises that cater to special interests, such as singles cruises, gay and lesbian cruises, adults-only cruises, and so on.
Don’t forget the flights.
Cruise lines can book a flight to the port of embarkation for you, but these flights are often expensive and inconvenient. You can usually save money and get a better flight by booking yourself. However, if you choose to book your own flight, you will be solely responsible for getting yourself to the port—which means that if your flight gets delayed or canceled, you might miss your cruise! If you book a flight through the cruise line, they will make sure you catch up to the ship at the next port of call. If you book your own flights, you’ll be responsible for getting yourself there, so consider getting into town a day or two early just to be safe.
Ask for a group discount.
If you’re going to be cruising with a large group, such as your extended family or your child’s high school class, then you may be able to negotiate cheaper rates or special amenities for your group. Most major cruise lines have a special booking process for groups, so make sure to check their website or call the cruise line before booking yourself.
Select your cabin carefully.
Choosing a cabin is extremely important. The cabin is going to be your home for the next week or so, so make sure you pick a place you don’t mind sleeping in. It’s hard to choose a room without prior knowledge of the ship, but fortunately you don’t need to know much personally. Passengers of cruises past have a lot to say, especially if their cabin was less than ideal. Because each cruise ship is different, search for cabin information about your particular vessel before booking. You don’t want to end up with a cabin right underneath a 24-hour restaurant, after all.
Research your on-shore activities before the cruise.
Figure out what types of excursions you want to do while in each port and book in advance—and not through the cruise ship, if possible. Many passengers don’t realize that excursions booked through the ship can more than double the cost; ships book these activities through a local middleman, and while both the middleman and the ship get a cut, the excursion company itself makes no extra cash. If you get a list of the excursions and contact the company yourself, you’ll likely find yourself on the very same excursion that the ship offered, with people from the ship who simply paid a lot more than you did. Also consider doing your own activities, such as taking a taxi to the local snorkeling beach instead of going on the ship-recommended snorkeling trip.