CRUISE WEEK: How to Choose a Cruise
“The world may be small, but it still can’t come to you, so get out there” runs one cruise line’s slogan. But if you’re feeling all at sea when faced with the cruise options, let’s navigate through choppy waters and find out how to choose a cruise. It’ll soon be plain sailing…
Do I pick the destination or the cruise line first?
You can do either – you want a match between a ship that feels like you, a price bracket you can afford and a navigational route that appeals, ideally in the right season. Cruise virgins often think that it’s all about the destination but it isn’t. The ship is the make or break part.
Cruising is an all-encompassing experience, not a hotel you can escape from when you feel like it. Days at sea can be as delightful as days in port, exploring the exotic destination. Don’t underestimate the pleasures of pottering around on deck and dreaming your own dreams in a secret spot you’ve made your own.
Why does the ship matter so much?
Ships are surprisingly like people – think of ships as personalities, from big personalities to quieter individuals, from luxury-lovers to old-fashioned types, from foodies to families. The mantra to remember is that there will always be a cruise for you. It’s a cruising myth that you will feel trapped, controlled and overly-regimented.
Usually, if you’ve had an unsatisfactory cruise, it’s because the ship (or cruise line) wasn’t right for you. That said, you also want a tempting new route to explore.
Does size matter?
Size is crucial. Small to midsized ships (300 to 1,500 passengers) have a more intimate atmosphere but fewer facilities than the megaships, which can feel like floating cities. On the downside, on small ships the pools might be smaller and the evening entertainment will also be more limited, along with the dining options.
On the plus side, there’ll be fewer queues on a smaller ship, and you won’t get lost. You’ll also appreciate the more personal service and probably make more friends.
It all depends how important the facilities are to you. It’s a trade-off between mood and services. A multigenerational family might opt for a megaship with masses to do (including kids’ clubs) so there’s something for everyone. A more low-key couple might opt for a smaller ship so they can really relax and mix well with the other passengers.
What about the costs?
Remember how much money you’re saving by opting for a cruise, especially an all-inclusive cruise. Some cruise lines even sort your transport to the cruise. That said, check whether shore excursions are included as these are normally pricey, though well-run and carefully thought out so not to be dismissed out of hand. At some more visitor-friendly ports, you might like to explore individually, without opting for an organized excursion. Depending on the cruise line, gratuities and wi-fi can be significant additional costs, as can flights and visas.
Name some names in Ocean Cruising
Luxury all-inclusive cruise lines are often American and include Crystal, Silversea, Seabourn, Sea Cloud and Seadream Yacht Club. Luxury to mid-range ships include Celebrity Cruises, Cunard, Princess, Holland America Line. Then there are experience-centred cruise lines such as Voyages to Antiquity, Azamara and Noble Caledonia, where the itineraries are more important than the ships themselves.
Instead, if you’re looking for a specifically British atmosphere, then head to the mid-market P&O Cruises, Fred Olsen, Cruise and Maritime Voyages. Royal Caribbean and NCL are two cruise lines that work well for families.
In theory, cheap and cheerful cruises come in the form of Thomson and MSC Cruises.
What about River Cruising?
This is a hugely popular form of cruising which is gaining converts thanks to its intimacy, convenience, and ability to get you into the heart of the cities. Themed cruises are part of the appeal, whether linked to classical music, golf, food, wine, walking or cycling. River cruises are often all-inclusive, with evening entertainment, excursions and drinks packages built in, making it easier for you to budget.
Key players include Amawaterways, Avalon Cruises, CroisiEurope, Fred River Cruises, Hebridean Cruises, Scenic, Tauck and Viking Cruises. For those not keen on flying, many river cruises can be linked to arrival and departure by train, including through Amawaterways and Great Rail Journeys.
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) is your first port of call: www.cruisexperts.org
Cruise Critic is an invaluable source of advice on cruising: www.cruisecritic.co.uk
Great Rail Journeys offers cruise-and-rail trips: www.greatrail.com)
If you are planning a cruise or already have yours booked, take a look at our Cruise Travel Insurance! It’s packed with added benefits and is available for both single and annual multi-trip policies.
Lisa Gerard-Sharp is an award-winning travel writer whose work, including blogs, can be found on www.lisagerardsharp.com
Header Image Credit: P&O Cruises