Cruise Selection 101
Cruises are not all created equal. Here are a few items to consider before deciding on a cruise.
PRICE: The price you pay for the cruise, is not the price of your whole trip. Yes, cruises include several parts of your trip in one price, but the inclusions vary by cruise line.
-Many cruise lines charge you for drinks, fitness classes, wi-fi, room service, gratuities (tips) for staff on board and for shore excursions. Some of these costs (especially gratuities) are not included even if you have a package that is marketed as “all-inclusive.” The exception are higher end, premium cruise lines that truly offer an all-inclusive experience. Ask me questions to make sure you understand what is included in each price.
-Budget cruise lines (MSC, Costa) often have the lowest price up front, but nickel-and-dime you on board…meaning not as much is included when compared to other cruise lines. This may mean you end up spending more in the end because you have to pay as you go throughout the cruise (or have to buy additional packages).
-A small increase in price can translate into a much better experience. A stateroom upgrade from an inside room (no window) to a balcony can change your perspective. A cruise on a premium or luxury cruise line may give you perks for free and service that goes beyond your expectations. A Disney Cruise for kids is the “gold standard” as they understand how to make a family vacation enjoyable for all. (Yes, Disney costs more, but vacation time is often limited and perhaps spending more for the experience will be worth it for your family).
SHIPS: Cruise ships vary in size from a small yacht carrying 25 passengers to mega-ships carrying over 5,000.
-The size of the ship can affect many parts of your trip. On the positive side, larger ships generally have more amenities like more restaurants, activities and entertainment. On the negative side, it can take you 15 minutes or more to make it from one place on the ship to another or take up to 2 hours to get off the ship in port.
-The quality of the ship can vary. Some cruise ships look like luxury hotels and others look more like budget hotels. Both will get you to the ports of call, but if the presentation of the ship (or the condition of the ship) is important to you—it is important to consider that up front. If some peeling paint will bother you, mention it. If you require marble in your bathroom, please mention that as well :)
-On board amenities vary quite a bit. Are you a party animal? There are cruises where the parties last well into the night. Do you have kids? The availability and hours of the kids club will be an important factor to consider. How much do you care about entertainment? Some cruise lines have Broadway-like shows and others have no evening entertainment other than a bar with some music. Please let me know what is important to you (or what isn’t important to you) and I can present some cruise options that fit your needs.
PORTS OF CALL: Every cruise (except cruises to nowhere…a real option) have ports of call. The similarities end there.
-Hours in port….what they mean. They mean the time that the ship is either docked or anchored in that port. It does not mean that is the time you will have on land.
The morning time is often as estimate as the ship has to clear customs and dock or anchor. Once that is complete, many cruise companies offer the people booked on cruise line shore excursions the chance to leave the boat first. Depending on the number of people, it can be an hour or more before you can leave the boat if you aren’t on a cruise line excursion. If your ship is anchored and you have to take a tender (a small boat) to land, allow extra time as you will have to wait for an available tender.
The same holds true for the return trip. Allow plenty of time to get back on board if docked or to catch the last tender of the day. If you miss it, the ship will likely leave without you and it is your responsibility to get to the next port (or the ship).
-Where is the port? Many cruise lines list major cities as the ports of call (like Rome when the port is actually an hour away in Civitavecchia). Do some research or ask me questions about where the port is and how long it will be to get to where you want to go (and how to get there).
Depending on the ship and the port, you may have to take a tender to land and then a bus to the actual port city. This transportation can take an hour or more, each way. This can really limit your time seeing what you want to see. If there is a MUST SEE for your cruise vacation, please let me know, so we can find a cruise that gives you the most time in that location.
Part 2 will be coming soon. If you have questions, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tracey is the owner of Unraveled Travel and has traveled to every continent except Antarctica.