A cruise is an increasingly popular way of spending your holiday. Some enjoy cruises for the ability to visit numerous destinations over a short time period, and others enjoy the luxury, service and entertainment on the ships themselves. Cruises can be good value when you factor in all the services that you receive, however they are still a large financial outlay. This article should give you a short, simple first time buyer’s guide to booking your perfect cruise.
The first thing to decide upon is your budget. You should definitely start by working out how much you want to spend, rather than just going right out there and looking at packages. The price quoted by travel companies can often appear affordable, but factors such as airfare, transportation and excursions, as well as consumables like alcohol, tips for staff and souvenirs soon add up. It is worth bearing in mind that different cruise ships and lines will include different things in their quoted base prices. Even with this in mind the sheer variety of itineraries, lengths and seasons means that there is a lot to look into. If you already know what your top limit is to spend then this can help you narrow these down.
Deciding what you want early on will also help. Cruises can start at just a quick weekend break, or cover very long duration, and everything in between. You might specifically want to visit somewhere hot, or follow a route with deep history and culture. You may not want to get off the ship at all, perhaps you are looking for a luxury spa break, or a singles dating holiday. Knowing exactly what it is that you want to get out of your cruise will help you to prioritize which holidays to choose from.
When researching the best cruise for you it is important to get an idea of what each company provides for what price, and what extras you’d have to pay. You should research into airfare and other travel to get to and from the ship in the first place, as often this can be significantly more expensive than people want to assume. You can research different itineraries, and which ships or companies have the services that you require. A good way to research is by reading reviews or asking questions in forums for people who regularly take cruise holidays, as these will be less full of advertising spiel, and will likely be more fairly balanced.
You should always expect to pay far more than the base rate quoted, even if the quote includes room, meals, entertainment and such. Most people feel obliged to leave tips, and usually drinks whether soft or alcoholic are not included with your meal. There will be plenty of entertainment options onboard that are not covered, gambling opportunities, and extra optional activities. There will often be opportunities to upgrade your service or dining options, and of course any excursions to mainland will not have food, drink and souvenirs included. People you can expect to tip include drivers, porters, service people, housekeepers, bartenders, and the like. Many cruise ships will have specific suggested tipping rates, and some will even go so far as to bill you directly for the tips, dramatically increasing the price of your base rate quote.
There are of course a wide variety of cruise lines, and each one has its own character. Smaller cruise lines may provide more relaxing quiet trips, a large line like Carnival will have an active nightlife. There are cruises for adults only with no children, and conversely even Disney now run their own range of cruise ships for families. A specific ship within each company may also have a fixed purpose or itinerary, and you should research into a ship before booking to see what others have said about it and how they have enjoyed their trip.
One way to get a lower price for your cruise can be by travelling off season. If you are willing to travel when demand is low, you can either save a large amount of money, or take a longer trip for the same price. The peak season for each destination varies, but tourist information and travel agents can let you know this information, as can a quick web search, once you’ve established where you want to cruise to. If you have to cruise during peak season, the best ways to get a cheap deal are either to plan ahead and book long in advance, or to try and get lucky on a last minute cancellation deal.
For a holiday where you are going to be spending a significant amount of time on the sea, it is especially important to research what the weather is typically like in that area during that time of year. Fluctuations in temperature, hurricanes or rain season can mean that a particular destination is not the haven you imagine it to be, and this can sometimes explain seemingly bargain prices.
If you plan on spending most of your time on the trip enjoying the entertainment and only sleeping in your room, it may be well worth considering a cheaper room, often known as a staterooms. These rooms are functional but usually slightly smaller and less luxurious, but can save a large amount of money for those who want to spend most of their time around the trip and the excursion locations, rather than relaxing in a luxury bedroom.
It can sometimes be surprisingly cheaper to book directly through the cruise line themselves, and at the very least you should go to them to check prices. This will give you something to compare to when trying different travel agencies and websites. For one to one in person advice, going to a travel agency who specialize in cruises can answer a lot of questions, but be prepared to be hit with a hard sell to buy straight away, and go in prepared to make a lot of notes, then go home and compare online whether the direction they were steering you in was a wise one. Remember also to check if there are multiple departure locations, as smaller ports often offer lower prices, and may actually be cheaper for you to travel to. Last but not least, remember to keep checking prices and availability online, as these fluctuate wildly from day to day. There are even services that you can sign up to which send you email alerts when a new deal appears, or a price goes down.
Good luck in finding your perfect cruise, and remember, when you book a second or third holiday, many cruise lines offer a loyalty bonus, so make sure you are confident about your choice for a first holiday, in case you want to book another shortly after!