If you are looking to take a relaxing vacation with your family, loved one or simply by yourself for some peace and quiet, a cruise is definitely one of your top options. If this is going to be your first cruise, there are a number of issues that you need to define to help you with your planning.
Firstly, who is it that is going on this cruise with you? Whether it is your husband, your kids, or you are planning on spending some quality “you” time, everyone is welcome on most cruises. However it is easy to find a cruise that is mainly adult, or some that are more focused on providing entertainment for kids, from toddlers to teenagers.
Financially, you need to decide how much money you want to spend, and figure out a realistic budget for yourself. Usually, approximately 100 US dollars a day is sufficient, not including the cost of getting to the cruise ship itself. Make sure you find out exactly what is included in your fare; some extras that used to be thrown in are now an additional charge. There are a couple different ways to save, like taking advantage of the early bird fares and booking in advance. Also, while it’s risky, for those of you with flexible schedules, booking last minute can save you a bunch as well.
So, what’s the most affordable way to get to your cruise ship? The most likely, and popular, ways are driving or flying. A cruise can be a great finish to a road trip, where you can stop off whenever you please and explore several destinations on the way to your fabulous vacation to be.
Some cruise lines can give you a flight and cruise package, which is easier, and less stressful way to plan your trip, plus it usually includes the pricey transfers from the airport to your cruise ship. In addition, most cruise lines usually take care of your luggage, which means they can transfer it directly to your cabin—a huge bonus for people that hate lugging around heavy bags—which, let’s face it, is the vast majority of us.
The next big decision for you is to decide when it is that you want to travel. Obviously you will want to go somewhere where the chance of hurricanes is limited in the fall; however, keep in mind cruise ships will alter their destinations accordingly. Timing wise, if you are planning on only spending a week on vacation, you are limited to the sunny areas, such as Mexico, most of the Caribbean, or the Bahamas. Other possibilities, depending on your starting destination, are Hawaii, Alaska or even Europe.
If you are travelling without family and have a flexible schedule, the fall and spring and usually the cheapest times, because kids are away in school, and the weather is generally a bit chancier. In the more tropical areas, the temperature does not change too much, but what does change is the amount of precipitation. A bit of warm rain won’t hurt you, but it can be a bit of a pain. Keep in mind that most places have their rainy season in the winter, and the dry season is the summer.
When choosing where to cruise to, a good starting point is figuring out what sort of activities you want to do, because each destination comes with a distinct ambiance. There are always many water sports available on the ships, such as snorkeling and pool activities and more energetic things such as scuba diving. Port calls often take you to the “tourist” sites, such as museums and ruins. If you decide to venture off on your own, be careful of ‘friends’ that will willingly show you the so called good stores to shop in, because they are working off of commission with those stores. Usually a polite no thank you is good enough. The cruise line will give you a list of activities for the port stops that are offered. Keep in mind that there are limited availability of some of the tours, so book in advance if it’s something you really want to do.
If you are nervous about your first cruise vacation, an excellent thing to is make sure you get a cabin you are going to be comfortable in for your cruise, because it is going to be your ‘home’ for the duration of your vacation. Keeping in mind that they do vary in prices, most people select the cheapest room available so they have more spending money. Sometimes there are deals for upgrading to a better cabin if you book early enough.
Make sure you know the ship’s plans because sometimes if you are only doing a one-way trip, the sightseeing may only be on one side of the ship, so you will see nothing from your room. If small spaces bother you, a cabin with a balcony may be good for you—although it’s pricier, you get the luxury of stepping outside and enjoying the view.
The last question most people have is food related. The apprehension some people feel about cruising with set dinner times is quite often unnecessary. You get to pick your dinnertime yourself, either an early seating, which is usually around 6, the late seating, around 8pm, and an open option, where you are given a time frame of a few hours. There are benefits to all of them. If you choose the late seating, there is always the possibility of missing certain shows or entertainment. The early seating means that any excursions you do need to be planned to allow you enough time to get back and ready for dinner. The open seating may be the best option for families—we all know how unpredictable life can be with kids!