Are you planning on booking a cruise for the first time? Are you wondering where on Earth to begin? Which cruise line should you go with? Are there any tips and tricks that you need to be aware of? If so, then this article is for you.
Whether you are a frequent cruiser or a first time cruiser planning on booking a cruise for the first time, this guide will help you through the process. From providing you with all the tips and tricks to the best tools, this article will demystify the cruising world for you.
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1. Understand That Modern Cruising Isn’t A Fancy Retirement Party
When you picture cruising, do you imagine old retirees laying by the pool during the day, stuffy suited and booted dinners and swaying on the dance floor at night? Like a fancy retirement party? If so, then I’m here to hit you with a surprise that the modern-day cruising experience is nothing like that.
In fact, picture a glamorous resort with all the food, entertainment, luxury and comfort. Now picture it floating on the sea. That’s what modern-day cruising is. However, unlike a fancy resort or hotel, when you are aboard a cruise you get to wake up in a new destination each morning promising you a new and exciting adventure, each and every day. Except for sea days, of course.
And I promise you, after trying this lifestyle once, you’ll realize that this is the best option for you if you enjoy multi-centre holidays. You get to wake up, go out to explore, come back, relax and do it all over again without having to pack and unpack your luggage over and over again.
However, the fun doesn’t stop on shore. Once you return to your ship, you’ll find a plethora of activities to keep you entertained. From spa treatments to theatre shows, dancing on ice, acrobatics, magic shows, concerts, rooftop cinema screenings, roller coasters, water parks, silent discos and more, there’s plenty to choose from. Of course, the entertainment on offer will depend on the cruise line that you select.
And after all the fun, comes the food. Most cruise lines these days offer informal buffet style dining in the main restaurants. In addition to a semi formal sit down dinner offering various cuisines. So you’ll have both options to select from depending on what you are feeling that night. If you want to go casual, you can do just that. And if you want to dress up, you can do just that too.
Now that you know what to expect from a modern cruise, you are one step closer to booking a cruise for the first time.
2. Know Which Cruise Line Is Right For Your Travel Style
Now, this is the most challenging part, whether you are booking a cruise for the first time or the tenth. In fact, on my first cruise, I got so overwhelmed that I picked the first cruise that I saw and booked it. And I have to say I got pretty lucky! However, there is a method to this madness. Whilst I got exceptionally lucky sailing on the Celebrity Beyond Cruise Ship, I was very aware that it could have gone horribly wrong.
To make sure that you choose the best cruise line for you, there are a few things that you need to identify first.
2.1 Identify Your Travel Style
If I was to ask you what your travel style is, what would you say? Would it be solo? Family friendly? High energy? Relaxing? Adventurous? Romantic? Whatever it is, you need to figure out what is right for you before booking a cruise for the first time.
Even if you are travelling solo or with others, you may still want a high-energy or a slow-paced cruise to enjoy. And also, just because you have a typical travel style, you may find that you want the complete opposite experience on your next adventure.
So there are a few things that I want you to consider:
- What is your budget?
- Who will you be travelling with?
- What type of atmosphere are you looking for?
- How do you like to enjoy your free time?
- Are there any facilities or entertainment that are important to you? i.e. spa, cinema, live entertainment etc.
- Do you have any dietary or accessibility requirements that need to be catered for?
Once you know that, you can then match up your requirements to the cruise line to find the perfect one for you.
2.2 Understand Which Cruise Line Is Best For Each Travel Style
- Paul Gauguin Cruise: Specialising in romantic Polynesian cruises.
- Sea Cloud: For an intimate and exclusive sailing experience in the Caribbean or Mediterranean aboard a luxury yacht.
- Celebrity Cruises: Perfect for a honeymoon cruise in the Caribbean.
Seniors Over 60
- Fred. Olsen: Whilst other ships that have made an effort to appeal to the younger market, Fred. Olsen mainly attracts Brits over 65. Here you can expect the traditional style of cruising with gentleman dance hosts and all in the evenings.
- Saga Holidays: For the active over 50s cruiser. I’m not joking, you can only book on this cruise if you are 50 and over. But you are welcome to bring a companion that’s 40+.
- Cunard: If you are after the traditional style of cruising with dress codes, formal nights and afternoon tea, then this is the OG of traditional cruises. In fact, this ship dates back to 1840 when Queen Victoria was on the throne.
- Carnival Cruise Line: As the name suggests, this is the cruise line for young cruisers seeking a fun, festival like atmosphere. Carnival is all about entertainment, nightlife, pool parties, active shore excursions and much needed relaxation areas.
- Royal Caribbean: If you are an active cruiser, then Royal Caribbean is for you. Aboard the Royal Caribbean cruise ships, you can expect climbing walls, surf simulators, robot bartenders and a wide array of entertainment.
- Celebrity Cruises: Whilst many people assume that young cruisers are all about the party life, Celebrity understands that downtime and comfort are just as important. Aboard the Celebrity Edge ships, you’ll find the perfect balance between active shore excursions, captivating nightly entertainment, rooftop parties and luxurious relaxation spaces.
Whilst these are just some examples, you also have cruises tailored to solo cruisers such as Norwegian, Virgin and Celebrity Cruises. And likewise, you also have cruise lines dedicated to family friendly experiences. These include Disney Cruise, MSC Cruises and Royal Caribbean.
You can go even further and find cruise lines tailored to active cruisers, foodies, entertainment buffs and more.
3. Choose An Itinerary That Works For You
Now that you know your travel style and which cruise lines are tailored to you, you are ready for the next step in booking your cruise for the first time. And that is choosing the itinerary that works for you. What you’ll find is that each ship tends to offer different itineraries and run from different ports.
So I’ll suggest you go to each cruise line website, and search by both the destination that you have in mind. And also by each ship.
This way, you’ll have a good idea of,
- What itineraries are being offered by each ship
- During which season and travel dates can you undertake your desired itinerary
- Which shores (cities, islands and countries) you’ll visit on each itinerary
- How many days each itinerary will run for
- What port you will need to embark and disembark from
- Which cruise dates are affordable for you
- What date you’ll need to travel on in order to make your cruise
- How many days you’ll need to book off work and be away from home in total for
The last thing that you want to do is visit a destination at a time of year that is not ideal for you. For example, if you have a low tolerance for blistering hot weather, you may not want to visit certain Greek islands mid July.
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Or if it’s your first cruise and you are not sure if you’ll even enjoy this style of travel, you may want to opt for a short 3-5 days cruise.
Or the ultimate sin, not taking into consideration possible flight cancellations or delays that could cause you to miss your cruise. A good rule of thumb is to arrive at your embarkation port a day before your sail date. And no, I don’t mean sitting at the cruise port counting sheep from the day before. But you should at the very least be in the same city from a day or two before your cruise date.
4. Consider The Shore Excursions
Beyond the actual itinerary, you also want to see what shore excursions are available. If you are stopping at a port where you have to travel to the areas of interest, chances are you’ll need some form of transport. Whilst you may be used to doing it yourself, one thing that you have to bear in mind is that if anything goes wrong, and you are not back on the ship before all aboard, well, the ship will leave without you.
Especially if this is your first cruise, you don’t want the thought of “am I going to make it back in time before my cruise leaves?” lingering on your mind all day. You want to be able to step off the cruise ship and enjoy the destination to the absolute max. After all, you didn’t pay all that money to be stressed out, right?
Cruise Ship Shore Excursions
So I highly recommend checking to see what shore excursions the cruise ship offers first. This will be the least stressful option of them all. As, if something goes wrong or if you are late, it’s the cruise ship’s responsibility to make sure that you get back on the ship. With everyone wanting this level of stress free travel, it means that these shore excursions get booked up really fast. So I highly recommend checking to see what shore excursions are available before booking your cruise.
Private & Shared Day Tours
Now the problems with these Cruise line shore excursions are that you don’t have control of the itinerary, and you’ll probably be packed into a coach with your fellow cruisers. If this is not something that sounds appealing to you, then I highly recommend booking your own tour.
The majority of these tour companies are accustomed to working with cruise passengers. So they take all the precautions that they need to get you back to your cruise on time. Some of them will even pick you up from your ship or the port that your tender drops you off at. Two companies that are a pro at this are Viator and Get Your Guide.
5. Know Which Room To Choose
Once you know what ship you’ll be sailing on, the final crucial thing you need to do is select your room. For example, if you know you’ll be spending all of your free time at the spa located at the front of the ship you may want to choose a room close to the front so that you are not running back and forth.
Or if you want the best views in the house, you may want a room at the aft (back of the cruise ship) or a room with unobstructed views. If you are prone to seasickness, however, you should opt for a room near the middle of the boat. No discussion. As this is where you tend to feel the waves and motions less.
If this is your first cruise and you are not sure what your tolerance is, I highly recommend opting for a room near the middle of the ship. Trust me, you don’t want to be the hero that thinks they can handle a rough day at sea, only to realise that you can’t. And by extension having your whole holiday ruined.
Also, the single rooms reserved for solo travellers may not always be the cheapest option. You may find that the cruise line is running a sale or waiving the solo traveller fee, so you could get a room with a view for the same cost as a single room, if not cheaper.
Rooms And Packages
Other than the location though, you’ll have many different classes and packages to choose from depending on the cruise line. Typically, the cheapest room will be an inside one with no view, and the price will increase from there.
Though you may find that with the more expensive rooms, such as those with a balcony, you may actually get additional bonuses. These can include exclusive free dining at a selected restaurant, all your drinks included & free WiFi, complimentary access to the spa and so on.
So weigh out all your options before committing to the cheapest room.
Shop Your Cruise Essentials Here
Just because you choose to stay in the middle of the ship it doesn’t mean that you’ll be immune to sea sickness. You may find yourself sitting in the theatre (or another venue) located at the front of the ship and suddenly feeling seasick. Or you may be eating at the back of the restaurant and when you come to stand at the end of your meal you may not feel okay.
So be sure to take some seasickness tablets and patches with you, for the rough days. Even if you’ve cruised a hundred times before and never had any issues, you still want to make sure that you are covered. As a bonus, I’ve also included other cruise essentials that all the pro cruisers swear by.
6. How To Make A Cruise Booking For The First Time
Now that you know what cruise, itinerary and room you want to book, you are ready to make a cruise booking for the first time. And naturally, you’re probably wondering where and how do you book your cruise?
Book Directly With The Cruise Line
Well, just like on land, I highly recommend that you go directly to the cruise line website and source out their price. This way you’ll be able to see what deals and offers they have on, and you’ll also find the link to a direct agent of theirs that can assist you with your booking. Alternatively, you can easily navigate through the website yourself, and directly make your cruise booking for the first time.
Money Saving Tip! – Save over £4,000
TOP TIP: Be sure to play around with the different locations available on the cruise line’s website. This will allow you to source the best deals. On my last cruise, I was able to save over £4,000 by doing this little trick and got a major upgrade free of cost.
Book On Cruise Comparison Websites
If you prefer to shop around, you can also compare the price and packages on offer with the following cruise booking search engines. By doing so you may be able to get packages that are exclusive to them. These may include things like Wifi or credit to spend onboard.
7. Points & Credit Cards
Just like booking air travel, you will want to make your credit cards and loyalty points work harder for you. As most of you know, the safest bet when booking any travel is to book using your credit card. If anything goes wrong, it’s your safest bet at getting your money back. Not to mention that some credit cards will double your points earned if you book directly with an airline, hotel or cruise line.
Talking of points, if you’re not already collecting points then what are you doing? You can earn points from your daily shopping, bill payments, travels and so much more by joining loyalty programs and making payments with a credit card. You can then use those hard-earned points to pay for your next air travel, hotel stay or cruise.
Top Tip: Make sure that you sign up for the loyalty program for every airline, hotel and cruise line that you travel with to earn points. And once you’ve signed up, be sure to look out for members-only points events and sitewide deals that allows you to earn double points.
8. Cruise Insurance
Cruise insurance is not optional. If we’ve learnt anything from the past few years, it’s to expect the unexpected and make sure that you are prepared for the worse. And especially on a cruise ship. If you or a member of your family suddenly becomes unwell or worse at sea, there will be some heavy costs & processes involved to make sure that you can get back home safely and promptly.
However, with the protection of travel and cruise insurance, you know that you are covered. All you’ll have to do is call up your insurance, tell them the situation and they will take the steps required to help get you back home safely.
Not to mention if you happen to miss your cruise due to circumstances outside of your control. If you don’t have cruise cover and you’re unable to catch up with your cruise. Well, you can say goodbye to all of that money. But with a cruise insurance, chances are you’ll be reimbursed.
Top Tip: If you already have travel insurance, you’ll very likely be able to update your policy to include cruise cover.
The Veiled Explorer’s Takeaway
And there we have it, the top 8 tips for booking a cruise for the first time. Now that you know the things to keep in mind, what cruise are you looking to book? Leave me a comment down below to let me know.
Have a question or anything else that you want me to cover, you can leave it in the comments below or contact me here.
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