Top 10 Things to Know About Cruising for First-Time Cruisers
1. How to choose a ship
Picking a ship to meet your needs is a lot like speed dating. You have to decide fast to see if your personalities match. There are so many styles of ships to choose from: big, small, luxury, family oriented, river boats, and so on.
Even after you decide the cruise line to travel on sometimes the amenities vary within their fleet. Does size matter? Yes, as there is a correlation between size and activities and amenities that you will have at your disposal. Having a travel agent sort out what suits your interests is a real time saver.
2. What is your cruise style?
Each cruise you take could be different. Maybe this trip you will bring your kids or grandkids along, you’ll want a family friendly ship. Another time the trip may be a romantic getaway and you’ll want a ship that will serve dinner on the balcony or has tables for two available. Perhaps this is going to be a trip of a lifetime to somewhere you thought you would never get to see and you want everything special. Also there are ships that you can get married on or renew your vows.
There are many cruise lines and dozens of ships. Having a travel agent sort out what matches your expectations for this trip will save you a lot of time.
3. Choosing a destination
First time cruisers often pick an itinerary that is heavy with port visits. That makes sense because usually guests want to see as much as possible. Once people have cruised, port visits tend to be less important depending on the destination. What you learn is the time aboard the ship is just as much fun as visiting the destinations.
Your travel agent can help you decide on a destination if you are undecided. They will ask you questions about what you typically like to do on land vacations; are you heading to beach areas, looking for every museum, or enjoy visiting different cultures, etc.
4. Shore Excursions
Cruise lines want to enhance your time in port so they offer organized excursions for a fee. Excursions look different depending on the area; for instance in the Caribbean you’ll find a lot of options involving swimming, snorkeling, sailing, etc. Europe will involve sightseeing churches, museums, etc. Alaska offers in addition to typical city sightseeing a variety of active trips, i.e. helicopter rides, dog sledding, biking, kayaking, etc. There will be full day tours vs. half-day tours. The full day tours usually let you see as much as you can while in port and the half-day may focus on a particular activity. On a half day tour you usually have time to explore on your own as well.
Can you sightsee on your own? The answer is yes in most places. In some cases it is very easy to walk into town from where the ship docks. Cabs are usually waiting at ports if you want to tour on your own. Just be sure to negotiate a flat rate with the driver before starting out. If the cruise line does not have a tour that includes some activity or sight you would like to see have our travel agent check if there is another company that has something that meets your needs.
One thing to keep in mind; while the cruise ship will wait for any late returning ship sponsored tour you run the risk of getting stranded in port if your independent tour gets stuck in traffic and is late returning to the pier.
5. Choosing a Cabin — The type of cabin does matter
When you first look at a cruise brochure you may see 15 or more cabin (also referred to as staterooms or guestrooms) categories. When it gets down to it there are basically, four types of cabins on a ship in different locations of the ship:
- Inside, no window.
- Outside, window or porthole with a view to the outside.
- Balcony, a verandah allows you to step outside without going up to a public deck.
- Suite: mini, junior, superior, deluxe, grand, owner’s, or penthouse. The suites are larger in size and have upgraded amenities with some even providing butler service.
Where the cabin is located is just as important.
- Stability — If you tend to get seasick, cabin location is important. The lower and more central you are in a ship, the less roll and sway you will feel. Even if you choose a balcony, choose a cabin that is as mid-ship as possible.
- Noise — It you want a cabin to be as quiet as possible it is best to choose a deck that has cabins above and below you. Also you will want to request a cabin away from an elevator and stairs.
When booking a cruise you may be offered a cabin guarantee, what is that?
Guarantee — that is when you pay for a particular cabin category you are willing to take but allow the cruise line to pick your cabin. The guarantee comes into play in that the cabin you get will at least be the category you paid for and you have a good chance of being upgraded, usually within the same cabin type, outside to outside, balcony to balcony, etc.
Simply stated, a guarantee is for gamblers. If you truly don’t mind being in any cabin in the category you paid for (because you may get a cabin at the forward or aft) and would be happy to get a good deal with an upgrade, this is the way to go for you. If on the other hand you really want to pick what area your cabin is in, a guarantee is not for you. When the cruise line advises you of your cabin (this can be on the day of sailing) you have to accept what is given.
6. Will I be bored?
Depending on the ship you pick the activities vary and can be plentiful so any chance of being bored is nearly impossible. You may have choices such as dancing lessons, pool games, bingo, card games, basketball, a little putting golf course, volleyball, rock climbing, ice skating, cooking demonstrations, ship tours, movies, lectures, the list goes on and on.
Often, cruisers say they need a vacation after their vacation because they didn’t want to miss out on trying all of the activities. The beauty of it is that you can also crawl up with a good book and relax either inside or outside. No one says you have to be busy all day but the fact is you to have the opportunity to be if that is your choice.
7. Will I gain weight?
No needs to worry about that since cruise lines give you so many healthy choices at meal time. While food is plentiful the old days of midnight buffets are pretty much gone. Now if a ship has a late buffet it will have a theme, such as chocolate instead of just mounds of food. It really is about quality instead of quantity.
In addition the fitness areas on a ship can be as can be as complete as land based fitness centers. On some ships you will enjoy an oceanview while working out — talk about a view! One cruise line offers On Deck for the Cure, which is a pledge made to walk the deck so many times with the money collected going to the Susan G. Komen organization. Another line has a basketball court.
Not every ship has the same amenities. That is why it is important that when your travel agent asks you about your interests you let them know all of them because as far fetched as it may sound there may be a ship that offers that activity. For instance, whoever thought you would be able to surf on a ship?
8. Will I get sick on-board?
Seasickness can be a worry to some. Ships are equipped with stabilizers and have the availability of advance weather information; in addition the most popular cruise itineraries sail some of the calmest waters in the world. However, here are some of your options: Sea-Band – these are knitted elasticized wrist band which operates by applying pressure on the acupressure point on each wrist by means of a plastic stud. Because the bands do not use drugs they do not cause any side effects. AAA sells these in our Travel Store. There are also over-the-counter choices such as Bonine or Dramamine available that you can ask your doctor or pharmacist about. If you know already that you are prone to seasickness, ask your doctor about the Transderm patch.
You may have read articles about outbreaks of norovirus on cruise ships. Norovirus is a stomach bug that spreads easily in contained environments, such as schools and work places, as well as ships. You can stay healthy by washing your hands often and using the hand sanitizer found in dining areas and by the ship’s gangway.
If you do get sick onboard there is a doctor and limited medical facilities available on most ships.
9. Are cruises all-inclusive?
Not quite, but they are still an excellent value. Gratuities (average runs about $12 per day per person) may be added to your shipboard account on many cruise lines. Some of the extra amenities and activities that you may be charged for are: spa treatments, shore excursions, alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, alternative restaurants (runs from $7-30 per person), and some specialty bars (coffee, champagne, ice cream.) The luxury lines include more but usually are not completely all-inclusive.
10. Is Travel Insurance necessary?
Travel Insurance is the best way to protect your vacation investment. Vendor insurance as well as third party insurance is available. Your travel agent can give you details of insurance plans that are available for you to choose from so you can make the decision that will work best for you.