If you've never cruised before, choosing and booking your cruise can seem like a minefield. With hundreds of ships and destinations to choose from, how do you even know where to start? Firstly, relax. This handy guide will tell you everything you need to know....
1. Choose your destination
The first step is to decide where you want to go, and the world's your oyster here, will virtually everywhere accessible by cruise ship. The most popular cruise destination is the Mediterranean, so this could be a good choice for your first cruise, particularly if you don't have a huge budget. The second most popular destination is the Caribbean - great for anyone wanting sunshine during the winter months. Other destinations we would recommend are the Norwegian Fjords, and Dubai & the Emirates.
2. Decide if you want to fly
For those who prefer not to fly, there's plenty of choice when it comes to departures from the UK. Southampton is a very busy cruise port, and most cruises from the UK will depart from here, although regional departures are also available.
Not flying can be easier as you can drive to the ship. However, it can mean that part of your cruise is spent 'getting there' and you might not have the best weather during this time. Flying to start your cruise from somewhere like Barcelona, Miami or Abu Dhabi can open up a much wider choice of destinations and mean that you enjoy good weather from day one.
3. Set your budget
As with anything, you get what you pay for when it comes to cruising. It's vital to consider what's included in your cruise. A cheap deal might seem like a good option, but when you add in the cost of drinks, speciality dining, excursions, port parking or airport transfers, and gratuities, it can all add up to more than you thought.
Often cruise lines offer deals that include all-inclusive drinks, free money to spend on-board or other free extras. Some of the luxury cruise lines include things like drinks, excursions and gratuities as standard.
Here at Cruise118, we have a dedicated Cruise Concierge team who can help find the best cruise for your budget, factoring in everything that's included or not. Just give us a call on 0207 980 2847 if you'd like any help with this.
4. Decide when to go
When travelling in Europe, you'll probably be aware of the weather - summer is hot, winter is cooler. But if you're considering travelling further afield, the seasons can get more complex, with hurricane seasons, wet and humid seasons, and rough seas to consider. Hot weather isn't always a good thing, when you consider that places like Dubai can reach 50°C at certain times of the year.
You may want to book your cruise to tie in with certain events, such as the Monaco Grand Prix, Christmas and New Year, or a special birthday or anniversary. If the date is important to you, we suggest booking as far in advance as you can, as popular dates often sell out quickly.
5. Choose your cruise line
The different cruise lines have very different offerings, and each is suited to a certain type of person looking for a certain type of holiday. It's important to choose the right cruise line for you, if you want to avoid feeling like a square peg in a round hole.
If you like huge ships with a never-ending choice of activities to keep the whole family entertained, Royal Caribbean is a good choice. If you prefer to relax in 5-star luxury, then a Celebrity cruise may be for you. If you prefer traditional British cruising, P&O Cruises have a good offering, but if you don't mind many different nationalities on-board your ship, MSC Cruises may be worth considering as they can be quite cheap. If you like the idea of small intimate ships with everything included, the there are several ultra-luxury cruise lines that are worth considering.
6. Choose your ship
Once you've selected a cruise line that's right for you, you can pick a ship. As a general rule, the newest ships in the fleet are the largest and have the best facilities. So if you've chosen Royal Caribbean because you love the idea of travelling on a 'floating city' with the North Star observation pod, on-board sky-diving and massive water slides, you'll want to make sure that the ship you choose has all these facilities, as only the newest ships will.
Cruise ships are generally renovated every few years, so the age of the ship won't have any impact on the decor. But you will find that cruises on older ships can be much cheaper, just because the newest ships have a lot of hype around them.
7. Choose your stateroom
Staterooms, or cabins, come in all shapes and sizes. The advertised price of most cruises in based on an inside stateroom. These are the smallest cabins, and may be a good choice if you don't plan on spending much time in your room. Upgrading to an outside cabin, which also has a window, can be a good idea, as it's nice to be able to look out and see what the weather's like. You might want to check other details though, such as whether the window is a big picture window, or just a porthole over the bed, and whether the stateroom is any larger than an inside cabin.
The next grade up is a balcony stateroom. Your balcony can be a wonderful place to relax, sitting out and enjoying the wonderful ocean views, so these can be a good investment. Above this, various levels of suites are available, which offer additional space and facilities.
For families, interconnecting staterooms are often available. If there are more than four in your party, you'll need two rooms. These can sell out quite quickly on certain cruises, so larger families should definitely consider booking in advance.
8. Decide when to book
As a general rule, sooner is better. You'll have the full range of dates, destinations and acommodation to choose from. Most cruise lines will also offer incentives for early booking, ranging from discounts and on-board credit, to free drinks, internet and speciality dining.
If you don't mind where and when you go, you can sometimes find good last minute deals too. Cruise lines don't want the ships to sail empty, so they sometimes reduce the prices of selected sailings closer to departure. However, you should still book a few weeks in advance, or you may miss the boat, quite literally!
9. Choose your excursions
When you've decided on an itinerary, you can think about what you want to do at each port of call. Whilst you may be able to step off the ship and have a wonder around from certain ports, there are others where you'll want to arrange a coach to take you to see or do something exciting. Excursions can be booked with your cruise line on-board the ship, but these can be expensice. A better option would be to book with a reputable excursion specialist such as CruisingExcursions.com.
10. Get some help
With so much to consider compared to booking a regular land-based holiday, it can pay to speak to someone who's been there and done it all before. Granted, you'll want to do some of the research yourself, but speaking to an expert can make sure that you avoid some of the pitfalls and get yourself the best deal on your cruise.
Here at Cruise118, we have a team of expert cruise concierge who will be happy to assist in every aspect of planning your cruise, right through to departure and when you return home. They also have access to deals and prices that are not available anywhere else. If you have questions about cruising, or even if you'd like someone to arrange the whole thing for you, please give us a call on 0207 980 2847.