Cruises are a popular vacation because they allow you to visit a lot of destinations in a short period of time, transportation from one destination to the next is easy, the prices are very reasonable for what’s included, there’s a lot of food, and the on-board entertainment can be quite good. However, there are a lot of choices, and making a decision on the right cruise can be a challenge.
When you are considering taking a cruise here are 15 things that will help to make it a better process.
1. Set a Budget
The first thing you need to know before researching and booking a cruise is how much you are willing to spend. Although base prices often look quite low, there is a lot more that factors in to the total price, such as airfare, transportation, excursions, and add-ons like alcohol, souveneirs, tips, and anything else a cruise line is able to sell you.
As you start the process it’s a good idea to have a price range that you are willing and able to spend, ideally with a little bit of flexibility involved. It’s often challenging to compare prices of various cruises and cruise lines because of different itineraries, lengths, and seasons, plus some cruise lines may include more or less in the base price as opposed to charging for add-ons.
By having a specific budget you will be able to quickly narrow down your available choices in order to make a decision.
2. Decide What You Want
There are all kinds of choices when you’re considering a cruise. You can take a quick weekend trip or a very long vacation. You can visit warm, tropical islands, someplace rich in history and culture, or just about anywhere else that you want to go. With so many choices awaiting you, it’s best to have an idea of what you are looking for before getting too far into the research. Knowing what you want out of a cruise will help to make your decision easier and will allow for more accurate comparison of your various options.
Getting involved in researching a cruise is really a part of deciding what you want and establishing a budget. If you’re not a frequent cruiser you’ll probably need to do some research to see what is included in the base prices, what you will need to spend on airfare, and what added costs would be associated. If you’re not already set on a specific destination, you’ll also need to do some research to see what is generally available and what types of itineraries appeal the most to you.
4. Plan to Spend More the the Base Fee
Prices listed by the cruise lines are very inticing considering they include a room, meals, transportation to the scheduled ports, and some entertainment. However, be prepared to spend much more than the base price. Typical cruisegoers usually spend additional money on drinks (soda and alcohol), gambling, excursions (you’re going to want to do something fun at your destinations), entertainment both on and off the ship, and sometimes upgraded dining on the ship.
How much you spend will vary depending on your interests. Many crusie lines have information on their websites about the excursions that are available at each destination, including prices, so you can research those expenses ahead of time.
Also plan for the expense of getting from the airport to the port, and get ready to tip many people along the way. Tips will be needed for cab drivers, porters who handle your bags, service people on the boat includinig housekeepers, the maitre d’, bartenders, and other service providers. Most cruise lines will have suggested tipping rates to help you know what is appropriate, and some will even bill you a set amount for it unless you note otherwise.
5. Find a Cruise Line that Matches Your Interests
Each cruise line has it’s own character that makes it unique. For example, if you’re traveling with a family or young children, Disney has a lot to offer. If a more active nightlife on the ship is what your looking for, a major cruise line like Carnival might be a good fit. For a more quiet and relaxing trip, you may want to consider a small cruise line.
6. Consider the Specific Ship
Not only does each cruise line have it’s own character, but so does each ship. Many cruise lines will specify which ship will be used for a particular date and itinerary, so you can do your own research to see what you like. The cruise line’s website should have some information about the ship and maybe some pictures. Additionally, you can do your own research online. See ship reviews at sites like Cuise Critic, CruiseMates, and CruiseWeb.
7. Consider Off-Season Cruises
Cruise prices and availability can vary greatly depending on the season. If you’re willing to go when demand is lower you may be able to save a considerable amount of money, or take a longer cruise for a comparable price. Peak seasons will depend on where you are headed, but this information is generally easy to find by researching tourist information on your desired destinations. If you plan to cruise during peak season or to a destination that are almost always in season, be sure to plan in advance a book as early as possible.
8. Research Typical Weather Conditions
Before booking a cruise for a specific time of the year, do some research on your destinations of choice to see what the weather is typically like at that time of the year. Things like temperature, hurricanes, and rainy seasons can make a particular destination not as appealing as you might have expected.
9. Consider a Cheaper Stateroom
Most cruise ships have several different types of rooms available at different price levels. If your goal is to save money or to leave more for spending at the destinations, consider booking an inexpensive room. If you plan to be active and participating in a lot of activities, you are unlikely to spend a lot of time in the room. This really depends on your personal taste and your priorities for the trip, but lower-priced rooms can be a good option to get more out of the trip.
10. Consider Various Departure Locations
Most cruises depart from popular locations, such as south Florida, but this is not always the case. Many cities with easy access to the coastline have smaller ports that won’t have as many choices, but may offer lower prices. On top of that, you may be able to avoid the need to fly to the area of destination, depending on where you live.
11. Check with the Cruise Lines First
With so many ways to research and book cruises, it’s easy to overlook the option of going directly through the cruise lines. However, they may be able to give you the best price directly. Regardless, going directly to the cruiseline to get prices first is a good practice because it will allow you to do some comparison shopping. If you’re not sold on their prices, move on to other options to compare and see if you can save (of course, be careful to compare the same or very similar trips).
12. Check for Discounts with Cruise Lines that You Have Used Before
Many cruise lines offer discounted rates to past customers to encourage repeat business. If you’ve gone on a cruise in the past and considering going with the same cruise line again, check with them to see about potential discounts. Of course, those who cruise frequently are likely to get the best deals from this, but even second time cruisers can get discounts.
13. Work with Travel Agents that Specialize in Cruises
Many people prefer to work with a travel agent instead of doing all of the research and booking themselves. In some cases a travel agent will be able to get you a better deal, and they should always be able to give you some good advice and save a few headaches. If you’re going to work with a travel agent, focus on those that specialize or work exclusively with cruises. If you have already received direct rates from the cruise line before going to a travel agent you’ll have a good source for comparison to see which method will help you to find the best price.
14. Check Rates Often
The rates for cruises can change quite frequently, so be sure to check often in order to jump on a good deal whenever it comes along. You can use sites like Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity to quickly check in on the current rates.
15. Sign Up for Bargain Alerts
To stay up-to-date with current rates without checking constantly, you can sign up for bargain alerts from sites that monitor cruise prices. Sites like Cruise Critic and CruiseMates offer free newsletters that include the latest and greatest deals. If you’re starting to think about planning a cruise, sign up to get the newletters and keep an eye out for bargains that meet your needs.
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