Cruising for the first time may seem like a daunting task for first time cruisers.
From not knowing which cruise line to use to not knowing how to pick out the perfect excursions, in this post I will be laying out how to cruise with ease.
Choosing a Cruise Line
The first step in planning your cruise vacation as one of the first time cruisers is picking out a cruise line.
There are numerous to choose from, so to narrow it down, you should look at which type of passengers they cater to best. Also, prices and activities on board should be considered.
If you want to do the research yourself, I suggest looking into these categories:
- Price — The cost of a cruise is the main reason most people choose a specific cruise line. Every cruise line caters to different income levels.
For example, Carnival Cruise Line offers cruises at a very cheap cost ($60 a night) while a luxury cruise line, such as Regent Seven Seas, offers itineraries at a higher cost ($300 a night, but frequently higher).
It is important to recognize that the price shown online for the cruise will not be what you will end up paying for the trip.
In most cases, you will be paying for airfare and excursions out of pocket, so when deciding your price range, make sure to take these factors into account.
- Activities onboard — Making sure the cruise line you are planning to cruise with has an amplitude of activities onboard for each person you are traveling with.
If you are traveling with kids, there must be either a great kids program onboard (Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Line are all great examples) or a fun swimming pool with slides.
If you are traveling with people who love to have downtime or be pampered, it may be important to find a cruise line with ample lounges or excellent spa services.
With hundreds of cruise ships at sea, there is bound to be one that is perfect for everyone in your travel group.
- What’s included in fare — You have to be careful to look at what is included with the cost of a cruise, as it varies greatly with different cruise lines.
In general, when signing up for a cruise, you are guaranteed a stateroom to stay in, unlimited food, and numerous forms of entertainment.
What is not typically included in cruise fares are the drinks (both non-alcoholic and alcoholic), port excursions, specialty dining, and spa services.
While cruise lines frequently offer “all-inclusive” deals sometimes including drink packages, airfare costs, and specialty dining, there are added gratuity costs that come with these promotions as well, bringing your cost up significantly.
- Passenger demographics — Researching who will be traveling on the cruise with you ahead of time will save you from headaches later.
If you are wanting your journey to be relaxing and peaceful, you probably should not cruise on one of the cruise lines that boast younger passengers such as Disney Cruise Line, Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Line.
Many of these kid-friendly cruise lines have created adult safe havens where they can escape the chaos around the ship. However, to enjoy all the ship’s amenities it is near impossible to find areas without kids running around.
Now, this may be exactly what you are looking for, and if that is the case, these are the cruise lines you should be looking at!
- Dress code — Cruise line dress codes vary greatly throughout the cruise industry, so making sure what dress code you are most comfortable with ahead of time is essential to begin planning your cruise.
While some cruise lines have a very relaxed approach to dress codes, others have very stringent rules in place, not to be broken.
Norwegian Cruise Line prides itself in their “FreeStyle” cruising which allows guests to wear practically anything, anywhere.
Princess Cruises, on the other hand, requires guests to dress up either in smart casual or formal clothing for dining.
Depending on how you want to spend your cruise vacation, you need to consider what type of dress code you want to engage in.
Setting Your Budget
You may have set a general budget while choosing a specific cruise line, the best way to narrow down where you should cruise is by setting an initial budget.
This price point will narrow down both the duration you will be able to cruise and where you will be cruising to. This budget should incorporate the following items:
- Flights — Unless you luckily live in a cruise port or have flights included in your cruise fare, this cost is unavoidable.
The cheapest cruise itineraries will be in the Caribbean for the majority of cruise lines, so picking a roundtrip flight going from your hometown to any of the cruise towns in Florida (Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, etc.) is a great place to start.
I have also noticed that cruises leaving out of San Juan, Puerto Rico are fairly cheap for both cruise fare and flights and hit a variety of destinations.
If you were considering a different destination, make sure to choose a cruise port with a fairly cheap airport nearby.
- Cruise Itinerary — This will be easier to determine once you have a starting location to go from, but this item embodies the duration of the cruise, what is included in the cruise fare, and the total cost.
Again, the cheapest cruise itineraries will be in the Caribbean, with the shortest duration being the most cost-effective.
It is important to make sure these cruise itineraries include the ports you want, as many cheap cruises will tend to have numerous days at sea.
In addition, many cruise itineraries only run during certain months of the year. For example, Alaskan cruises only run in the summer while South American cruises run in the winter months.
- Shore Excursions — Unless your cruise line directly tells you that shore excursions are included in the cruise fare, most likely, they are not.
This cost can add up fast especially if you are traveling with a big family, so make sure to incorporate this into your travel budget.
You can either choose shore excursions through the cruise line you are traveling with or through independent outlets through each cruise port.
Typically, it is more expensive to book port excursions through the cruise lines, however, there is security with it.
If the port is canceled for some reason or you want to change what you are doing for that specific day, cruise lines will typically refund you for that excursion while independent travel excursion agencies tend not to.
- Gratuities and Tips — You will be tipping a multitude of people when going on your cruise journey.
When booking a cruise, you can choose to pay for your gratuities during the booking process or after the cruise.
These gratuities will include tips for your stateroom stewards and other employees who serve you throughout the ship.
Cruise lines will usually automatically charge you a standard percentage fee for gratuity right after you get back from the cruise, however, you normally can contact them to change the amount if you need to.
You will also need to think about how much you will be tipping port excursion tour guides and taxi/Uber drivers when in your cruise ports.
Once you determine your cruise line and budget, you are finally at the fun part — booking!
This is the part where you can quite literally let your imagination run wild. You will need to make sure you book the items above: flights, cruise, and shore excursions.
- Flights — When booking your flight, make sure you are arriving in your port at least a day ahead of time.
I have heard countless horror stories about cruisers missing their cruise because of a delayed or canceled flight.
I recommend being safe and get into the city your cruise will be leaving from the day before to ease your mind.
If you still plan on flying on the day of the cruise, I suggest checking if the airport has shuttle services to the cruise terminal as many typically do.
- Cruise — You can book your cruise either directly through the cruise line’s website or a travel agent.
While I typically book my cruises straight through the cruise line’s website, many people recommend using a travel agent.
There are many benefits to booking through a travel agent. Travel agents usually have many perks that cruise lines do not offer.
In addition, they can have lower prices and more cabin availability (due to travel agencies pre-purchasing blocks of staterooms) than found on the cruise line’s website.
- Shore Excursions — These normally are available to book through your cruise line after you book, 60-180 days before you leave for the cruise.
To book shore excursions through a cruise line you will have to wait until after you book, and then there will be a section under your account where you can see your specific cruise itinerary and details.
While this varies by cruise line, the link to see and book shore excursions should be found in this general area. If you are planning to book through independent shore excursion agencies, just make sure to read genuine reviews before to avoid dangerous situations.
- Passports — If you are traveling on a round trip cruise leaving out of the United States of America as an American citizen you do not need your passport; however, every other itinerary will require a passport.
Make sure everyone in your travel party has their passports ready to go early in case of passport delays.
- Travel Insurance — I 100% recommend purchasing travel insurance for any form of travel, but especially when cruising.
Cruise lines frequently will cancel or change ports, and if this happens, you usually can receive compensation through travel insurance.
In addition, if you somehow miss the boarding time due to a canceled flight, travel insurance will compensate you.
- Sea Sickness — If this is your first time on a cruise, it is important to bring Dramamine or some sort of motion sickness medication.
You can also get motion sickness bands if you do not want to take medication that works for many people.
You do not know how your body will react to spending numerous days in a row on a ship, so it is important to prepare for the worst.
While cruising for your first time may seem scary, I hope now you find that it is quite simple. Travelers have always said, “Once you start cruising, you never go back!”.
I hope this guide helped you plan your future cruise with ease— and as always, happy traveling!