How do you pick a cruise? Ok, let’s break it down, excluding those faithful readers with their own ocean going yachts.
The BIG one: Where do you want to go?
Small ship or big ship?
What was the payout on your lottery ticket?
Do you plan to travel with fearsome urchins?
Do you think a crowd with an average age of seventy is too damn young, by cracky?
Like heavy metal, accompanied by smashing guitars, or amiable and subdued adult conversation over drinks?
Big fan of floorshows?
Need a lot of activities?
Like to have all expenses included?
The BIG one was easy. But, if you don’t know where you want to go, just throw a dart at the cruise board and don’t forget to buy me a ticket. I haven’t been on a bad cruise. I haven’t even been on a so-so cruise. Everywhere I go, I see things I haven’t seen, meet exciting people, drink exciting booze…ex-citing cetera.
The rest of the questions you can answer yourself. But, thoughtful devil that I am, I do have a few comments to open your feverish mind to possibilities and pitfalls.
As for the size of the ship, my first inclination pointed me toward a small ship. When you talk in terms of a cruise ship, small means about 600 passengers, give or take. Large ships go to six or seven times that. The large ships I’ve been on run in the 3500 passenger class. Bottom line: Both categories have their strengths, but overall, I like to go bigger. More activities, from bingo to ukulele lessons, salsa lessons, photography lessons, cooking lessons, and so forth. I end up promising my exhausted self, “You don’t have to do everything!” If you don’t watch it, activities will begin to interfere with drinking and flirting time! Also, on large ships, there are more choices about where to eat and drink, and a greater variety of music while you sip a cocktail. Plus, I like a balcony and more room choices are available on larger ships.
“But,” you say, “A big ship is bound to be more crowded.” Not so. In fact, in my experience, just the opposite. For some reason, I always seem to be elbow to elbow on a smaller vessel.
How about cabin choices? My preference is always for a balcony, or barring that an unobstructed ocean view. Inside births are cheaper, but I don’t like to feel boxed in.
How can an ocean view be obstructed? Lifeboats or other ship’s structures and paraphernalia. As for the best area, I prefer mid-ship, but it’s not a strong preference. Modern ships have additions to the hull that smooth out all but the very roughest seas.
If you plan to travel with children (you poor unfortunates), you need to look at the individual cruise lines. Some offer morning to evening entertainment designed around little whiners who don’t want to be on a cruise. But, if you’re averse to hearing screams down the passageways, and swimming pools swarming with obnoxious splashers, do your research. There are several ways to tip yourself off: Less expensive cruises will have more kids. If school is out they will be teeming. I pay a little more for more serenity.
Cruise companies know their customers and cater accordingly. Cruise lines (with the exception of those my wife will not permit me to go on) will not turn you away if you have kids. The opposite is also true. My last sailing could have been called “The Geriatrics’ Revenge Cruise.” Many passengers tipped precariously near the brink of mortality. But, they were pleasant and each time we met, it was a new experience for them. Children? Only pesky stowaways begging for crusts of brioche.
Cost: Don’t go by the ticket price alone. Ask what’s included. Some tickets also include airfare. On some lines, everything is included. Drinks. Excursions. Airfare. Everything. Also, you can bargain. Much to my chagrin, I found myself paying for drinks, when the person on the barstool beside me had his included. There are all sorts of discounts available, and onboard credits. Military. Seniors. Teachers. Illegals (California cruises only).
On my last cruise, we paid about $4200 per person. However, when we included drinks, excursions, and trips to the salon, our additional tab came to another, cardiac arresting $2500. I love Princess Cruise Line, but they nickel and dime you until you just want the financial pain to end. Want that bottle of water that’s in your cabin? Costs you $1.50. Cocktails are $8.95. Use of the Internet is $.79 per minute, but with sign on and sign off, it’s closer to $5 to do a lightening fast check of your email and not answering anything unless your voice carries. If you want a cappuccino or espresso, get your wallet ready. There are ‘drink packages’ available, which I computed to save you only a bit of money if you have six cocktails a day, everyday, per person.
A word about excursions. If you like a smaller group, say 10-15 people, you’ll have to get private excursions. Often they are reasonably priced, sometimes less financially painful than those the cruise line offers. But, the best of the private excursions fill up fast, so don’t dally. Personally, I’m a fan of the smaller style. On our Baltic cruise, we had private excursions and they were excellent.
Excursions offered by the cruise lines are not bad, but you have to contend with sardine style buses, accompanied by one guide mumbling on a crackly mike.
Excursions run the gamut time-wise, from all day to only a couple of hours. You see more with the longer tours, but you’ll also be on a bus for up to a couple of hours each way. Often wheelchair occupants are barred.
Entertainment has been wonderful on every cruise I have been on. Every cruise line will thrill and delight with Las Vegas style floorshows, comedians, magicians and bands.
I have been talking strictly ocean cruises. There are also river cruises galore, of which I have not yet had the privilege, but I’ve heard good things. Then there are overland and ocean cruise combinations.
The secret to good cruising is study and preparation. In summary:
1. Pick the right cruise line and style for where you want to go.
2. Bargain over what’s included.
3. Develop your own excursion package (with the cruise line or privately)
4. You’re going to have a fab cruise!
All the possibilities are there! Here are a couple of web sites to help you along:
Feel free to put additional questions in the comment section and give you my best answer.