If you're attempting to book your first cruise holiday you probably already know that it's a complicated job - there are so many questions and sometimes it can seem like there are no answers! Read on to get expert advice on how to go about booking your trip, and how to make the most of your cruise once you're on board.
Picking a Cruise Liner
While cruise ships are known for having something for everyone, it’s common knowledge among experienced cruisers that each liner has a particular area of expertise. Disney and Carnival are great for families with kids, while older couples often go for the formal dinners and cultured activities of Cunard. Royal Caribbean puts a huge focus on its high-adrenalin activities and sports classes, while Regent Seven Seas offers the ultimate in luxury cruising. Do a bit of research to make sure you book a cruise liner that suits your needs!
There are several package options available when you book a cruise, so make sure you know what you’re getting, and that it’s at the best price for you. Cruise only is standard, but if you book a Cruise & Fly or Cruise & Stay package you’ll also get a flight/hotel stay included. If ease is your priority you’ll probably want to book all these as a package, but if you’re on a tight budget it’s worth double checking whether you can arrange these extras yourself for less.
Choosing a Cabin
When booking your cabin you will be offered an inside, outside, balcony or suite cabin, so you need to know your terminology! An inside cabin is on the inside of the ship with no window to the outside, while an outside room will have an ocean view window. A balcony room will have a balcony from which to enjoy your ocean view, and a suite is larger and will have extra facilities. Cabins in the centre of the ship are more stable (which is particularly important if you’re prone to sea sickness), and you should also consider if you want to be close to (or far from) certain facilities.
Selecting a ‘guarantee’ cabin is a lottery; you are guaranteed to get at least the type of cabin you want, but because you pay a lower fare the actual cabin you receive is assigned randomly. For example, if you pay for an outside-guarantee cabin you could be lucky and end up in a balcony cabin, but you could also get a bad outside room that rocks or has an obstructed view. A risky game if you’re picky about your room, but a great way to save money if you’re not.
Cruises are known for their black-tie dinners – dressing up for dinner can be a lot of fun and not something most people get to do regularly, so if you have dinner suits and posh dresses this is the time to show them off! If not you don’t need to worry, as most cruise ships have plenty of casual dining options, but you should be aware of what dress codes apply when so you don’t wander into a black-tie restaurant in your jeans.
Alcoholic drinks can be expensive on cruises – even just in one of the pubs you could pay 3 or 4 times as much as you would at home. Drinks packages are one way to go; they can be pricey but they cover all your drinks for one flat price, so you avoid the risk of accidentally overspending. If you decide to pay on a drink-by-drink basis on your cruise card, you can request a statement at any time during your trip to check how much you’ve spent.
Many onboard activities are free, so take advantage of them! Attend entertainment and live music shows, go to a dance or exercise class, or learn something new at a cooking class or lecture. Some activities will cost extra, so you’ll have to weigh up what you can afford on your budget. You should get a daily newsletter delivered to your cabin, so you can see activity schedules and facility opening times.
At each stop on your cruise you’ll get the opportunity to go ashore for a day or exploring. Cruise ships will offer excursions and they’re sometimes attractive to inexperienced cruisers who want to make sure they get back to the ship on time, but they can be expensive. Tours booked independently can be a cheaper option, and of course you can always go it alone!
So, now we've covered all the essentials, you're fully prepared to set sail on your first cruise holiday! Remember that once you're on board, there are plenty of staff around who are there solely to ensure that you have a great trip, so don't be afraid to ask them if you need anything. The only thing you should have to worry about is how to fit all the activities into your busy schedule!