Planning a cruise? Some say they’re the perfect vacation. Unpack once, yet visit multiple destinations. Endless dining opportunities, nightly entertainment, and outstanding service. All you have to do is show up.
Your dream cruise starts when you decide to go. I offer 5 super tips to make it even dreamier…
- Start by choosing the line that meets your needs. Every cruise line has a personality and a target demographic. If you’re looking for quiet adult time, the Disney “Big Red Boats” are not for you. Likewise, you might want to avoid Carnival, although the partying 30-somethings can’t think of a better way to go to sea. A great place to start is Cruise Critic: Self-proclaimed as “The Ultimate Cruise Guide,” it really is comprehensive. There are reviews of every possible line, as well as each ship. There are active forums where avid cruisers give advice on every aspect of their trip.
- Don’t go by price alone. This is very important. Websites such as Vacations to Go list hundreds of bargains and the claim that you can “save up to 82% on Last-Minute Cruises.” It’s a really good place to do some research about your favorite destination and type of cabin. And yes, there are bargains. But before you commit, dig a little deeper. What’s included? Wine with dinner? Internet? An excursion? Consider price vs. value.
- Do NOT book online! I’ve said this before, but it’s even more important for cruises. Go to a cruise expert or travel agency. Why? These folks know everything…the best cabins on every ship and which ports deserve your attention. Cruise lines award them with freebies to pass along to clients. They already have upgrades, plus alcohol and specialty restaurant vouchers to hand out. They have pre- and post-cruise land package bargains. Go ahead and click around on the internet to get an idea of cost and itinerary. But go to a human for your booking. If you’re a member, visit AAA or Costco for assistance. At the very minimum, talk to a representative at the cruise line.
- Stay away from the excursions listed on the cruise line’s website, says Pauline Frommer. They are expensive, because the cruise lines get a cut from every passenger who signs up. The cruise line will scare you by saying only “their” excursions make the ship wait if you aren’t onboard at the time of departure. Frommer recommends CruisingExcursion.com or ShoreTrips.com for less expensive (up to 60% cheaper!) and less crowded excursions. Both companies guarantee to get to back to the ship on time–or they will get you to the next port for free!
- Start to collect a stack of $1 and $5 bills. They will make your servers, bartenders, baristas, musicians, and nearly every other staff member very happy. And when they are happy, they will remember you. Cruise staffers live for tips. Yes, a gratuity is tacked on to everything you buy. But an extra bill or two is theirs, in real-time. Hand out a small tip to your favorites and they may surprise you in return. By the end of the week, you will be treated like royalty.
It’s a great time for cruises. New ships are being added every year, so there is a glut of cabins, especially in older ships. There are more itineraries and ports than ever. With a little bit of planning, you can create the cruise that is perfect for you.