Cruise planning - the key to a dream cruise vacation...
If you don’t have a good time – it’s your own darn fault!
Cruise planning? Yes – it does take a little bit of homework on your part to design the perfect cruise vacation!
You probably have friends who have overwhelmed you with stories of their amazing cruise vacation. You have looked at countless vacation pictures! And now you want to consider your own dream vacation – a cruise holiday! Whether it is south pacific cruises, Alaska cruises, Mediterranean or river cruises, you want to make this the best vacation ever - and that requires planning.
But where do you begin…
The following questions will not only help you clarify exactly what you want on your dream vacation – they will help you find the right itinerary, right ship and the right price! A $299 cruise vacation is NOT the right one for you if you don’t get exactly what you want or need! This is one of the reasons cruise planning is essential.
It is not how much you save but what you get for what you pay! Careful cruise planning provides you with the ultimate in wonderful vacations.
Getting clear on your cruise vacation requirements will allow you to avoid surprises and disappointments and enjoy the most memorable vacation you can have.
When would you like to travel?
Cruising has high seasons and low seasons. You can achieve significant savings by choosing spring or fall time periods but you do need to be clear on the trade offs you make.
As an example, there are considerable savings offered in the Caribbean for sailings between June and November – but this is also hurricane season – and itineraries may change on you without notice.
Travel at peak times such as Christmas, Easter, spring break and holiday weeks will increase the cost of your cruise. If you must travel at peak periods, book your vacation very early (6 months to a year out) to avoid disappointment and to secure early booking discounts.
Some cruise destinations have very short seasons such as Alaska or Europe. May to September is the season with early May and September being the value period. You can save quite a bit and avoid peak period crowds!
If you want to go to Europe, keep in mind that the summer is also the busiest period for this destination. The more flexibility you have with vacation time the better and the more likely you are to get cheap vacations.
How long would you like to travel?
Cruise vacations can be as little as 3 or 4 days samplers to 100+ day world voyages! The most common length for Caribbean, Alaska and Mexico cruises is 7 days. European cruises tend to be 10 days or longer. Panama Canal cruises and cruises to the South Pacific are usually 10 days or longer.
We recommend a minimum 7 day cruise to begin and if your flexible and can devote more time – you can experience more of your destination(s) and of the ship itself!
Longer cruises tend to attract an older clientle, simply because they have more time and/or resources available to them. Today’s cruises however attract all age groups and provide activities for all guests.
What are your favorite activities?
One of the best aspects of a cruise vacation is the wide variety of things to do. You can do everything or nothing!
On your ship it’s easy to find a quiet corner to contemplate the sea, read a book from the library, hold that intimate conversation or just count your blessings.
Whether you’re a newlywed or celebrating your 50th anniversary, you’ll feel the special magic of being on a cruise ship miles out to sea.
Whether you love musicals, hard rock, country or big band you’ll find ships playing your song! Dance clubs, sports facilities, live entertainment, movies, classes, casinos and supervised children’s activities are just a few examples of how cruise ships are catering to people of all walks of life.
Do you like a casual or formal atmosphere?
Most cruise lines have one or more “dress-up nights” where guests would wear formal or semi-formal attire. There is a general trend towards more relaxed dress. Some cruise lines have started to feature "resort casual" or "country club casual" dress every night.
The cruise line probably won't care if you want to be more formal, but you might feel awkward if you showed up without a tie for a semi-formal dinner on a more traditional ship!
Look at the brochure and Web Site pictures and read the brochures/schedules carefully on ships that you are considering.
If all of the pictures of people dining show everyone in semi-formal wear, then you will want to take along either your black suit, tux or white dinner jacket.
Ladies will need either a silky suit, cocktail dress, or something "glittery." If you want to leave that tie and other semi-formal wear at home, then look for cruise ships with more relaxed dress for dinner.
Large ship versus small ship?
Ships vary in size from small yacht like vessels carrying less than 200 guests to the newest mega-ships carrying as many as 3,000 guests!
Larger ships may offer you more in the way of activities and choices in dining. Smaller ships have access to ports of call that mega-ships do not call on because of their size.
Entertainment can vary from just a trio or quartet on a small vessel to full blown Broadway or Las Vegas style reviews on bigger ships.
Sports facilities can vary from your own water sports platform off the rear of small ships to rock climbing walls, basket ball courts and mini-golf courses on the “big” ships”.
How many people in your party?
Taking the whole family or just a romantic getaway for two?
Common cabins are most ships are based upon double occupancy – two people to a cabin.
Many ships can place up to three or four in a cabin utilizing upper and lower beds. Suites and family cabins can accommodate more people. Decide if you want to have three or four people in less than 200 square feet with one bathroom or you want separate cabins.
Single occupants of a cabin will pay a significant premium in the fare. Also children under the age of 21 generally cannot occupy a cabin by themselves. If you have a large group (generally over 15 guests) check to see if you can get group pricing or group amenities!
Are you travelling with kids?
Traveling with children can be a wonderful experience on a cruise. In fact today’s kids programs enchant children of all ages.
Not all cruise lines or ships have children’s’ programs, baby sitting, or activities so be sure to enquire what is available for your kids! Please see our family cruise information.
What type of stateroom would you prefer - Inside, Oceanview, Balcony or Suite?
The type of cruise cabin you choose for a particular cruise can and almost certainly will impact your budget.
Generally speaking Interior cabins are less than those with windows. Balcony cabins are romantic and allow you to enjoy your own private outdoor space.
Suites represent the ultimate in cruise luxury.
Position of your cabin on the ship is also important for your comfort and to your budget. We present an entire section choosing a cruise cabin here!
Do you require Pre or Post Land /Hotels and/or Air arrangements?
Traveling to and from your ship’s point of departure and termination can affect your budget.
Many ships depart from and return to “drive to ports” and you can reach them by private car, taxi or bus.
If you are flying long distances to meet your ship you may want to consider pre-cruise or post-cruise stays. Some cruise lines include an complimentary overnight stay and transfer (if you use their air) for guests coming from the west to eastern points of departure.
Most cruise lines can arrange your air for you as well as your hotels and transfers. You may also be able to find other deals on air alone and design your own package!In addition, the cruise line will usually transfer your luggage directly to your cabin.
For cruisers who over-pack (you know who you are!), this can be a big help. The other reason it is a good idea to let the cruise line take care of your flight is that SOMETIMES the ship will be held up for late arriving flights. If you are on a cruise line-booked flight, there will probably be other cruisers on your plane.
The more of you who are "in the same boat", the more likely the ship's departure will be delayed if your flight is late arriving.
If you do choose to use frequent-flyer miles for a flight or want to book independently, you might want to get to the departure city a day early to avoid the stress of worrying about flight problems, whether they be weather or mechanical. You don't want to be left behind.
When do you like to eat?
This also varies with the cruise line or ship.
There are three possibilities for dinner:
- Early seating (about 6:00PM)
- Late seating (about 8:00-8:30PM)
- Open seating (anytime within a given time frame like 6:30-9:30).
Most ships will give you a choice of either early or late seatings. There are advantages to both. Early seating might mean you have to get up earlier (although more ships are moving to open seating for breakfast and lunch).
You might have to rush for dinner if you are on a shore excursion that lasts until the late afternoon. Or if you can't tear yourself away from the beach or pool.
The advantage to early seating is that you can then go to the shows after dinner and have more time for nightlife before bed. Late seating allows you to sleep in and have plenty of time to get ready for dinner.
However, if you don't finish dinner until 9:30 or 10:00 pm, you might either miss the show or part of the night life.
Open seating is available on more and more cruise lines such as:
- Norwegian Cruise Lines
- Radisson Seven Seas
On a ship with assigned seating, you will also be asked what table size you prefer.
Most ships have tables for two, four, six, or eight (and sometimes ten). The numbers of "two-tables" are limited. If you "want to be alone" - be sure to tell your travel agent or cruise line in advance.
Many ships also have alternative dining options, which usually require reservations and have a fee attached. These restaurants usually have themed environments and menus such as Italian, Chinese, deluxe Supper Club and are well worth the extra charge.
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