CHARLOTTE, NC: There are two types of people who cruise; veterans and novices. Savvy sea-going travelers long ago figured out how, where, why and which ships or cruise lines they prefer. First-time-cruisers tend to be more cautious and selective, frequently looking for the best deal as their primary frame of reference.
Since most veteran cruisers are set in their ways, for one reason or another, it is hardly necessary to offer tips on how to choose an itinerary or a ship.
Tips for first-timers is a completely different story, but there are ways to maximize the cruising experience without being overwhelmed by the choices.
Tip #1 – Avoid know-it-all veteran cruisers
Experienced cruisers can tell you the name of virtually every ship in a fleet, what the itineraries are and anything else you want to know, or don’t want to know, about travel at sea.
The first recommendation is to avoid know-it-all cruisers at all costs. They can literally ruin a cruise adventure for just about anyone because, for the most part, travel for them is all about status and little else. Not only that, they may love snorkeling while you prefer to walk a ports neighborhoods and enjoy local food.
Both things you will miss if you are floating in the water.
So be polite, listen, shake your head knowingly, then do your research, find out what is available and what will feed your passions. Then do those things.
“My wife and I have been to the Caribbean so many times, we don’t
even bother to get off the ship,” bragged one snooty passenger recently.
That isn’t traveling, it’s tourism. These cruisers are using the ship as a private restaurant and beach. All of which is fine, but then again, why not just go to a nice resort somewhere?
For people considering a cruise vacation, who are truly interested in travel for travel’s sake, here’s a basic list of tips for planning your voyage.
Price of your cruise
Many people are enthralled by the idea of saving money and doing a short cruise to the Bahamas or some small destination in the islands. There’s nothing wrong with that, but don’t forget the adage “you get what you pay for.”
Today’s medium-sized cruise ships hold about 3,000 passengers and they are basically horizontal floating skyscrapers.
Like any and all forms of travel, the cheapest price is not always the best way to go. Cruising is no different. Check the costs closely and you may quickly discover that a rate that is just a couple of hundred dollars pricier may be worth a thousand or two more value.
Two months after you return from your vacation of a lifetime, that extra money will be long forgotten, but the overall experience will be an eternal memory.
Length of your cruise
A three or four-day cruise may sound like fun, and it will be, but know that by the time you are settled in and oriented to your ship, it will just about be time to disembark.
Therefore, plan ahead and think about a 7 to 10-day cruise at a minimum in order to get the maximum benefit of the adventure.
Choosing a Cruise Line
Do your homework. Go online and research lots of information about various cruise lines and their ships. Tend to avoid reading online comments from other travelers because it is impossible to determine whether their lifestyle matches yours and what level of actual knowledge they have.
A first-rate experienced travel or cruise agency is your best source of good, solid information.
Choosing the cruise ship for you
All cruise ships are not the same.
As with any form of travel, there is the bottom of the line and top of the line operators. For most people, somewhere in between usually offers the best value for the money.
Knowing your cruise ports and itineraries
You and you alone know best what strikes your fancy so let that be your guiding light to choosing the best cruise option for you.
For example, sailing out of Miami or Fort Lauderdale might save a little money, but if you are going to cruise the Caribbean, why not start closer to your destinations and depart from Puerto Rico?
By doing that, it’s like getting an extra port from the outset and you can probably visit another island or two in the process.
Don’t forget, different itineraries will generally cater to different personnel. For example, the Caribbean typically has a younger group of cruisers than those sailing in Alaska. European cruises will obviously be more international.
If you are looking for parties and all-night activities, chances are you will do better in the Bahamas and Caribbean than sailing to the Galapagos Islands.
Whatever cruise you choose, itineraries fill up fast. If you really want to get onto that tour, choose it as soon as you can. If you wait until your onboard, you may miss out as most tours or group activities are limited in size.
Sea days vs Port Days
This is one of the most important things to consider when planning a cruise. If you just want to enjoy the ship and its amenities, an itinerary with more days at sea is ideal. Most first-timers, however, prefer to use the ship to visit several places in one tour where they can see multiple ports in a single trip.
Check to see how many ports a ship visits during any given cruise and make your selection based upon the destinations and number of places you wish to see.
A note of caution, always avoid cruising on an itinerary that offers two ports in a day. One port in a day can be limiting enough, but two is next to impossible.
This is arguably the most overlooked category of any cruise planning process. Talk to a travel professional or someone you trust who can give you the low-down on the ships that are most capable of handling a large number of passengers in ways that minimize the sense of congestion.
Cruise lines offer all manner of shipboard activities and the ones that are best are those that diversify interests, especially on sea days, to greatly reduce the feeling of being crowded.
There are numerous cruise lines from which to choose, but for starters check out Celebrity Cruises which does an excellent job of making their passengers happy with great service and cruises that can be done without breaking the bank.
Next week, we will offer three suggested itineraries that can give you a lot of bang for your sea-going buck.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is the founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime
Editors Note: Support Bob’s GoFundMe to give him a hand up