9-Step Guide To Booking The Perfect Cruise Holiday
To the uninitiated, cruising can seem like a minefield. There are hundreds of ships, and many more waterways, from which to choose.
So where to start? The good news is there are very few places you can’t cruise; indeed, most of the world can be considered.
While on the one hand this can be daunting, it does mean that the chances of finding the holiday you’re looking for are high. As you would with any other trip, set your budget and decide what type of holiday you want.
The Northern Lights? A sun-and-sea cruise book-ended by a city stay? To tick off several places on your wish list on a multi-destination cruise?
Here’s a checklist of things to consider before you book.
1. Where would you like to go?
Like any other trip, choose what type of holiday you want and where you want to go. There are very few places you can’t cruise, so most of the world can be considered.
In Europe, ocean cruises can take you north to the Baltic, to the fjords in Norway, the Arctic’s North Cape, Iceland; and south to the Mediterranean or Black Sea. And you can cruise around the UK.
Rivers you can cruise include the Rhine, Moselle, Danube, Rhone, Seine, Elbe, Dordogne, Garonne and Douro.
In North America, ocean cruises can take you up the East Coast, usually from New York, and along the St Lawrence; from Florida to the Caribbean, up the West Coast to Alaska, from Los Angeles or San Francisco, and south to Mexico. Navigable rivers in the US include the Mississippi, the Columbia and Snake rivers in the Pacific Northwest and the St Lawrence.
In South and Central America, ocean cruises can take you along the east or west coast (or both) via the Panama Canal and around Cape Horn. Some itineraries include the Falkland Islands. Both river and ocean ships offer Amazon cruises.
In Asia, ocean cruises can take you to almost any country with a coastline – Thailand, Burma, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, India, China, Japan and South Korea. Rivers you can cruise include the Mekong, the Irrawaddy and Chindwin in Burma, China’s Yangtze and India’s Brahmaputra and Ganges.
In the Pacific and Australasia, ocean cruises can take you to Hawaii, Fiji, Tahiti and/or New Zealand.
2. How would you like to travel?
Once you’ve chosen a destination, decide what you want to do while sailing and ashore, and how much travelling you’re comfortable with. For those who prefer not to fly, there is plenty of choice when it comes to 'no-fly' cruising.
In fact, there are cruise ports all around Australia. P&O Cruises and Royal Caribbean are among those that sail domestically.
Not flying means no airport queues or luggage restrictions and means you could drive to and from the ship, but it can add 'getting there' days to a cruise. On a fly-cruise you’ll get to the sun sooner in winter and can travel much farther if you want to see more of the world.
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3. Set your budget
As with any commodity, you get what you pay for. Luxury cruises will afford more cabin space, numerous extras (some all-inclusive), exceptional service and exclusive benefits.
However, what determines what a cruise will actually cost you is what is and isn’t included in the upfront price you pay – so do consider the difference this makes when it comes to things that you’ll spend on anyway. If, for example, you’d like a drink at the bar before dinner, and wine with it, but neither is included in the price of your cruise, you need to add what they cost to your holiday spend.
The same applies if excursions cost extra. Yes, you could save money by not going on any, but surely that defeats the object of travelling?
Factor in per-person gratuities, too, to avoid a nasty shock on checkout day. If you prefer to put your wallet away on holiday, check out the all-inclusive options.
4. River or ocean cruising?
The two styles of cruising are worlds apart. Simply put, ocean ships are generally bigger (the largest can carry 6,000-plus passengers), can sail greater distances and offer many more diversions on board.
River cruising, where you can see the shoreline or riverbank most of the time, offers a more immediate, immersive and intimate travel experience with no at-sea days (you’ll dock somewhere every day) or risk of getting seasick. River-cruise itineraries are destination intensive.
Those with mobility problems will find ocean-going ships more manageable. Many ocean ships cater for all generations, with food and entertainments to match; very few river vessels cater for children, although some are actively encouraging families with older children on board and offer family itineraries on specific dates.
The average number of passengers on a river ship is about 150. Ocean ships fall into several categories generally referred to as small (including masted sailing ships and motor yachts), mid-size and resort ships.
Based on who’s coming with you, check that choices cater for everyone’s tastes, needs and interests.
5. When to go
If travelling long-haul, seasons could have an impact on when you travel. You can cruise year-round, but each region has its high season, best (or driest or less humid) season, and rougher or calmer seas. Hurricane season is best avoided. Most have shoulder seasons, too, when conditions and prices fall between the two.
And you can tie a cruise in with a special event, such as the Monaco Grand Prix, the wine harvest, a holiday such as Christmas or New Year, or a private celebration or anniversary. Christmas cruises to Europe’s markets sell out particularly quickly, as do some of the spring Dutch bulbfield cruises.
If the date really matters or you’re keen to book a particular cabin or several cabins not too far apart, book sooner rather than later.
6. Who to cruise with?
Research as many cruise lines and itineraries as you can. If you’re looking for something special and budget isn’t an issue, here are some to start your search with.
For multi-generation family groups, Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Princess Cruises are good places to start. For luxury at sea try Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Seas, Silversea and Seabourn.
On the rivers, luxury is not hard to come by. Scenic was the first to offer butlers and ingenious indoor-outdoor balcony configurations. Uniworld, APT and others also offer luxury river cruises.
If you’re interested in history and culture, you’ll find art, music, history and politics are the stock in trade for the likes of Swan Hellenic – find out in advance which guest speakers will be on board. For specific pursuits, such as the Northern Lights, consider Norwegian cruise line Hurtigruten or P&O Cruises.
River cruising comes into its own in Asia. The banks of the Yangtze, the Mekong, the Ganges and, latterly, the Irrawaddy in Burma make for fertile and popular cruising ground. Try Viking, APT and Avalon Cruises.
7. Decide on details
Resort, mid-size or small ship? Choose carefully, as this decision will be key to your enjoyment. For some, a big resort ship offers so much that you never need go ashore to have a great holiday: others prefer to use the ship as a means of seeing several ports.
Don’t forget your travelling companions. Do you prefer Aussie on-board culture or a multinational feel?
Most cruises – river or ocean – deliver the latter. Some river ships carry more Australians or Americans than others. MSC and Costa Cruises offer Italian styling and flavour.
Inside or outside cabin? Inside cabins won’t have a window or a balcony – although a few new ships have a 'virtual' version.
No balcony means no outside space of your own but in colder seasons or on northerly routes, would you really want it? Upgrading to a suite could give you a separate sitting room, more than one bathroom, possibly a bathtub, and a larger balcony. Check brochures or go online to compare floor plans.
8. Be sure everyone's happy
Based on who’s coming with you, check that choices cater for everyone’s tastes, needs and interests, so you’ll all have a happy holiday.
9. When is the best time to book?
Sooner is always better as you’ll get more choice of destinations, departure dates and cabin categories – and possibly an early-booking discount.
Set sail on a dream holiday with CruiseAbout
This article was written by Pat Richardson from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.