How to Plan Your First Cruise
Going on a cruise can be a great way to take a vacation. However, it can be a bit of a complicated process. Especially, if it is your first cruise.
Select Your Cruise
When going on a cruise, you will have plenty of selections to make. Do you want to go to Hawaii, Alaska, the Caribbean; etc? And which cruise line will you embark on? Your choices include Disney, Carnival, Norwegian, and many more. You can also opt for a smaller cruise through various companies like Discovery Voyages, The Boat Company, Avalon Waterways, and others.
After you pick your cruise line and destination, you will need to decide on the type of cabin you want. For the larger cruises, you can choose a tiny cabin in order to save money; however, if this is your first cruise then you may want to indulge yourself a bit. Why not try for a larger room or even a suite. If you purchase your tickets early enough, you can often save a lot of money on the bigger rooms.
Take Carnival for example. If you book about eight months or so in advance, then you can purchase an ocean suite room for around four thousand dollars (2011 price). The room can hold four people, and it has a balcony for you to watch your surroundings on. Smaller cruise lines will generally have decent sized rooms as well; however, they are less likely to have large sized suite rooms. And smaller cruise lines are generally more expensive than their counterparts (many times two or three times as much).
What Size is Right for You?
Depending on the type of cruise you choose, your experience will differ. Should you pick the larger cruise lines, then you will be on a bigger ship with around two to three thousand people on board. These larger cruise lines will generally have more luxuries such as a spa, better entertainment, exercise rooms, perhaps a mini bar in your cabin; etc.
A smaller cruise boat will generally not have as many extras and will focus more on the scenery. Photographers may prefer the smaller cruise experience because they will be up close and personal with nature. A family of four with children would probably prefer the larger cruise in order to prevent their children from becoming bored (unless the kids are nature nuts).
Where do you buy your tickets from? You have plenty of options. You can use sites like Expedia, Orbitz; Priceline. Other possibilities could be booking through a travel agency, or through the cruise line directly via their website. All of these companies will claim to offer the best deal if you buy through them, so you will need to shop around if you want the best price.
If this is your first cruise, you are probably better off purchasing directly from the cruise line or via a travel agency.
Many of these cruise lines will also allow you to purchase plane tickets through them as well, and they may even pick you up at the airport and transport you to your ship. Also, Cruisecritic is a good website with lots of information about the various cruise lines. They inform you about the entertainment, dress code, and many other factors about each ship. As for the total cost of your tickets, you can expect to pay more the longer you wait. Also smaller cruises tend to be more expensive than their counterparts. And do not forget to factor in the cost of plane tickets, hotels rooms, excursions, trinkets; etc.
The larger cruises will feature excursions, which will take you on tours of certain areas. Many times this will happen when the ship docks at a port, but sometimes it will happen when the ship is still at sea. An example of this would be the Tracy Arm Fjord for the Alaskan cruise. You see, the big cruise ships can only venture so close to the glaciers; thus, an excursion is offered on a smaller boat that offers you an up close look at the glaciers and wildlife. When the excursion is finished, you are returned to your ship. These excursions generally cost around one hundred fifty to two hundred dollars per person, and you should reserve your excursions a few months in advance of your cruise.
If you do not book an excursion in advance, then you are unlikely to find one available when you board your ship. Of course, when the ship docks at a port you can still go explore the area on your own; however, these excursions have a tour guide who is familiar with the timing of your cruise. So you are unlikely to be stranded in some foreign city should you go on an excursion. If you go by yourself though, you might be late. And if you are late, then the ship will leave without you. Oh, and smaller cruise lines do not have excursions mainly, well, because the entire trip is one giant excursion.
When to Arrive
Cruise ships are not always timely. There can be mechanical repairs needed, a weather event may delay the ship; etc. So you should always check ahead with the cruise line to ensure that everything is running smoothly. You also may want to arrive one day in advance of your cruise just in case there is a delay with your plane (assuming you fly). This way, even if there is a delay with your flight, you will still be able to make your cruise on time.
What to Pack
Where you go will determine what you pack more so than anything. Obviously, if you are going on an Alaskan cruise you will want to pack an extra jacket or two and perhaps some gloves. A warmer cruise to say the Caribbean will demand warmer attire. But no matter what type of cruise you are going on, there are a few basic necessities that transcend climate.
Anti nausea medication comes to mind should you become sea sick. If you are going with a group of people, then you may want to purchase some ear plugs to cancel out any noise they may make when you want a nap. Sun screen should be used if you are going to be outside much regardless of the temperature. And if you are a guy, then you may want to pack a pair of slacks; if you are a girl, then a decent dress will suffice for the evening dress code (if there is one).
Many of these larger cruise lines will have a dress code, but this usually only applies to eating at the restaurants. Fortunately, these days the rules of dress have been taken down a few notches; however, in spite of this, many cruise lines still prefer you to dress formally for dinner on certain evenings.
If you want to escape having to dress up for dinner, Carnival and Norwegian do not seem to have much of a dress code. Carnival requests that you dress up once or twice on the voyage, but they will not force you to. Also, most Carnival ships have a restaurant that is dedicated to people who prefer “casual attire”. Though, you will still need to wear a decent shirt, jeans, and shoes (minimum requirements). Sorry nudists.
In preparation for your trip, you may want to have someone pick up your mail for you. This will prevent your mail from being stolen or damaged due to the elements. Mail boxes have a knack for not closing at the most inopportune of times. Another option is to simply have the post office hold your mail while you are gone. Just go to the USPS website, and fill out the proper form.
As you can see, planning a cruise will take a bit of work and research. This is especially true if it is your first cruise. In the end though, you will not regret it. And if you do regret it, then at least you can say you have been on a cruise. ©JR All Rights Reserved