With meals, entertainment and accommodations wrapped into one reasonable rate, cruising offers a convenient and affordable vacation option. Many cruises today offer stimulating on board enrichment programs, unique culinary experiences and immersive shore excursions, luring travelers of all ages and interests. Best of all, you can unpack once, and experience the sights and sounds of a variety of destinations without having to figure out how to get from one port to the next. Here are some things to know before you cruise:
- Choose Your Room In Advance While many cruise destinations are available year-round, the best rooms aren't. The top rooms on the top ships are usually booked up to two years in advance. Booking early has other perks, too. If the price drops before your final payment, you can get it for the lower price.
- Join the Cruise Line's Reward Program Before you book a cruise, make sure you're signed up for the line's rewards program. It's usually free, and there's no reason not to start racking up free benefits. It's not like you have to be loyal to any one cruise line either. That's just the fastest way to get perks like free gifts and food, priority reservations and service, and on-board discounts.
- Pay Your Own Way to the Port This isn't always cheaper, but you should definitely compare. It does usually costs less to pay your own way to the port of departure. This is because cruise lines have to look at air rates much further out than you do. Sometimes they offer “free air”, where the airfare cost is bundled into the ticket price, and you're paying for it whether you use it or not.
- Take Extra Cash “All-inclusive” is often a little misleading. The basics are covered, but if you want better dining, specialty services like massages, some forms of entertainment — including gambling, merchandise and alcohol — you better bring extra cash.
- Tipping Don't feel guilty about not tipping everybody who serves you. A per-day gratuity is usually built into the ticket price to cover tips. On the other hand, a lot of these guys and gals aren't paid that well, so a little extra tip might mean a big boost in the service you get. Remember you're going to be seeing these people for several days, not just for one meal or one night at a hotel.
- Price Out Shore Excursions If you're cruising for a bruising, look no further than the added expense of excursions. Guided exploration and tours in foreign countries can be a lot of fun, but it's also pricey, and the cruise lines make a lot of their profit this way. However, like airfare, you don't have to book your adventures through the cruise, and it's often cheaper not to.
- Compare Insurance Prices Like everything else, you could get your insurance through the cruise. But, like everything else, it's often cheaper to shop around and buy elsewhere. Especially if you're touring through a port that's risky for whatever reason — seasonal weather, political instability, violent crime, disease — you may want coverage for illness, cancellations or evacuations.
- Check Out Re-positioning Cruises When cruise ships are switching routes, you can score big. It's all weather-related, and some ships will offer re-positioning cruises when they're going to or from Europe or to or from Alaska. These cruises usually have incredible itineraries that are usually combinations of three or four itineraries, and cruise lines sell these at regular rates. These route changes usually occur during or after September.
Is Cruising Expensive?
Cruise prices range from extremely cheap sale fares like $50 per person per night, to super-pricey rates for fancy suites on luxury lines. Remember that your cruise fare includes your accommodations, meals in main dining venues, activities, children's programs, and nighttime entertainment, not to mention transportation from port to port.
Are Cruises All Inclusive?
No. Your cruise fare includes a lot, but you'll pay extra for a whole host of amenities. These include alternative restaurants, some coffee and ice cream bars, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages, shore excursions, spa treatments and gratuities. The luxury lines include more, but even they are never completely all-inclusive.
Are all cruise ships alike?
Cruise ships come in a variety of sizes and personalities. You'll find a myriad of variations: big ships, small ships, explorer-oriented ships, absolutely decadent luxury ships, river ships, family ships, sailing ships … and on and on. To help you choose the ship that will best suit your travel style, go here for how to choose a cruise.
Is cruising like going to Vegas or a resort?
This can be a yes, and a no. These days, cruise ships do have all the comforts and luxuries that travelers associate with on-land resorts, as well as much of the glitz and glamour of destinations like Vegas, including casinos and lavish production shows. But, you are on a ship. Rough seas can impact your itinerary, and you must debark and re-board the ship at specified times. Your cabin will also typically be smaller than a hotel room, unless you are booking a fancy suite.
Isn't cruising just for the “newly wed and nearly dead?”
This is definitely not true any more. Cruise ships are increasingly targeting families, with children's programs and facilities that rival those on land. You'll find on board water parks, teen discos, video games, craft projects, and interactive play. Singles can enjoy the camaraderie of communal meals and organized shore tours, meet and greets for singles, on board activities and, on some ships, solo cabins. You will also be pleased to find gourmet dining, high-tech and modern entertainment, along with late-night action at on-board bars and clubs.
Will I Get Seasick or Sick?
Most ships are so big and well stabilized that won't even notice you are moving, especially in the calm waters. The use of radar helps big ships steer clear of hurricanes and other bad-weather, but waters do get rough, queasiness can be relieved by an over-the-counter medication like Dramamine or Bonine. You may have heard about outbreaks of norovirus on cruise ships. Norovirus is a stomach bug that spreads easily in contained environments. You can stay healthy by washing your hands often and using hand sanitizer which the ship has readily available.
Is Cruising Safe?
Ships must follow a large number of rules and regulations that protect passengers and crew members safety while on board. The Coast Guard conducts quarterly inspections of all ships that operate from U.S. ports, looking to make sure they comply with emergency response requirements. The biggest safety concerns for cruise ships are fire and running aground/capsizing. There have been some high-profile and tragic incidents, but they are actually quite rare, given the millions of people who cruise each year. You may be more at risk driving to the airport or boarding a plane to get to your home port than you are once at sea.
Will I get bored?
A week on a ship, locked in a cabin. Every day at sea and play bingo games. Ok, this sounds boring! In reality, it is different. You sail in the evening and at night and every day you are in a different destination where you can make fascinating excursions. Cruise ships are very well designed so there’s much space and light on board. The Daily Program is full of activities and entertainment. You will not be bored for a minute. And if you want to take it easy for a moment, it will be with a cocktail in your hand on a lounger by the pool.
Cruises Are For the Elite
Every evening in a tuxedo or gala dress. Sip cocktails at the Captains Night. Name cards on the table during a 7 course dinner of five hours. It still exists for those who love it, but most cruises are different. More and more cruise line companies use the “freestyle cruising” concept where you can be who you really are. Relaxed and on vacation. For a number of occasions there are stricter dress codes. Thus, slippers and bathing attire are not appropriate during dinner.