In my last post, I started by telling you how to save on your first ever cruise without having to use a travel agent. I know they are experts, but that doesn't mean you can't be one, too, even if you've never been on a cruise before. Being different from any other type of travel can make a cruise vacation a bit of a challenge to navigate, but I have faith you can do it, especially with these tips and little bit of planning and persistence.
You know how to save, but how do you pick the right cruise and cabin and all that other good stuff? I'm about to give you some help!
What to Consider
There are a lot of factors to deal with when booking a cruise, so don't just close your eyes and point at something, because that probably won't go well. My first cruise was on a very small ship and it gave me a good bout of cabin fever. The ship seemed bigger when looking at everything online, but in reality, it was fairly small compared to all the others out there. I learned for next time.
- Decide how much you want to spend. This is always number one. If you don't know, perhaps look around at cruise deals to figure out what sort of budget you'll need. Keep in mind what is included – cabin, food, beverages, most entertainment, kids club (most of the time), room service – and what's not – some activities, shore excursions, alcohol, soft drinks (usually), fancy coffees, specialty dining, childcare, tipping, spa service, casino, shopping, personal trainers and exercise classes. Gratuity generally adds about $10-15 per person per day to your cost, which will add to the posted cost. In fact, the posted price is always going to be less than what you will actually spend.
- How long do you want to be gone? As a first-timer, I wouldn't suggest anything longer than 7 days, but it also depends on the itinerary you choose. If you're unsure how you'll feel about being on a big ship, maybe pick a shorter cruise to start off, and if you like it, you can plan a longer cruise in the future.
- Where do you want to go? This is usually the first thing I think about and then figure out how I can make it work with my budget. It also depends on what time of year you can go what's available. Most cruises don't sail year-round.
- Who's going with you? Some cruise lines are more suited to families than others, which cater more toward grown-ups.
- Are you cool with crowds? It's simple math. The bigger the ship, the larger the crowds on it. If you want a more intimate experience, go for a smaller ship. If you don't care and you want a long list of available activities, then a large ship is where it's at.
Really just want a good cruise for your first time without all the effort? Then check out Cruise Critic's list of 12 best cruises for newbies. They are also a great resource for researching all ships and itineraries.
Choosing the Right Cabin
I'm not big on staying in my room, whether I'm on a ship or in a hotel. I mean, I like to be comfortable, but I tend to be out more than I'm in on almost all my trips. That said, you may end up in your cabin more than expected, so picking the right one for you can make or break your trip.
- If you get seasick and are planning a trip on a smaller ship, choose one that's in the middle of the ship for the least amount of rockage. That said, you probably won't feel any rocking at all, no matter what ship you choose, unless the weather is pretty iffy.
- If you like to sleep and enjoy your blackout curtains, go for an inside cabin. This is also great for those that just want to enjoy the ship and ports and want to save as much money as possible. Keep in mind, if the lights are out, even if it's the middle of the day, your cabin will be pitch black.
- If seeing the outside world is important to you, or you just need sunlight to feel like a person who doesn't live in a cave, choose an outside cabin. If nothing else, it'll have some portholes that will let light in, so you'll at least know if it's daytime or not. Those higher up on the ship will have larger windows.
- Some people value their connection to the sea and want to experience it 24/7. This is when you should get a balcony, or at least a Juliet balcony (which offers a sliver of standing room outside your sliding floor-to-ceiling window.
Staterooms on ships are not the largest. The bed takes up most of the space, so you’re going to want to hang everything you can.
- Bring some magnetic clips to keep stuff organized that you can stick to your cabin walls (because they’re magnetic!).
- Pack a cloth shoe organizer to hang in the closet to stash things that you don’t usually hang up, but don’t want to have to keep on the closet floor or wrestle out of your suitcase each time you want to use it.
- Keep your dirty clothes separate from your clean ones by bringing along a mesh, pop-up hamper. I tend to take mine down to the laundry to clean everything before I leave so I don’t go home, or to my next destination, with a bag full of dirty clothes.
- Pack a small power strip, because like hotel rooms, staterooms are woefully lacking in outlets. I like this one from Belkin and have one in my travel bag at all times and two at home.
Some cruise lines try to dupe you into paying more for less. I mean, it's like Vegas. Why not charge for everything when you still have money in your pocket? Here are some things to watch out for:
- Check the room diagram (and reviews). Some lines are claiming rooms are suites when they really are not. A suite should be more than one room and a few are offering one room separated by a curtain, and some not even that.
- A balcony should be able to hold a few chairs, at least. Watch out for those that claim you get a balcony, but it's either the smallest standing room, where you're basically standing in the doorway to be "outside".
Just because there are so many different things to do on the ship, it doesn’t mean you need to bring your whole closet. In fact, you can still pack light and have everything you need for your cruise.
- Bring multi-purpose items, like a top that you can dress up or down depending on the situation. A plain black tank top can work for a formal night when paired with a statement necklace and a light wrap.
- A nice pair of sandals can also be worn for formal nights, so you don’t have to pack a pair of heels that you’ll only wear a few hours the whole time you’re cruising.
- Men can bring a lightweight sport coat and a few ties to dress up any outfit…and not have the same look twice if there’s more than one formal night on your ship.
- Aside from these things, bring what you normally do: 5 tops, 3 bottoms, a pair of really good walking/running shoes, a rain jacket, sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses. If you need more help packing light, here’s a post for you.
- Don't forget your passport if you aren't going to a closed-loop U.S. port.
Now you're practically an expert on all things cruising. You can pick the right ship, the right cabin, the perfect excursions on your own and even save money once onboard. The only thing that's left is to pack and put on your sunglasses!
If you've been on a cruise, where did you go and what was your favorite thing?