Everyone can remember their first time. It’s that wide-eyed moment of startling realisation, a wonderful curtain-raising revelation of new frontiers and excitement. There is simply nothing like that first-time cruise experience.
*Muttering from the audience*
Cruising – we’re talking about cruising, madam. What did you think we were on about? Really. Elevate your thinking, please.
Anyway, where were we? Ah yes….
Your debut cruise should be a genuine holiday-going eye-opener, a soul-soothing reassurance that you have made the resoundingly right choice amid the many options on offer these days. It should also be a lightbulb moment of “Aha! So THAT’S what they were on about!”
It really should be that significant – if you have chosen the right cruise for YOU. Having clocked up 100-plus voyages between us, we can most assuredly confirm that the first time was, indeed, an unforgettable one, a genuine exposé of vacation satisfaction. We would have absolutely zero hesitation in recommending cruising to anyone, as long as they pay heed to that essential caveat.
With hundreds to choose from, it’s easy to think that ‘one size fits all,’ but that would be a grave error. Just to start with, many cruise companies use the word ‘luxury’ as if they were referring to the local supermarket. Real luxury is the preserve of only a sector of the cruise world, and that basic concept is mis-used more often than recent World Cup statements that “it’s coming home.”
So here’s where you need to pay most attention. If you’re used to the creature comforts of, say, the JW Marriott or Le Meridien hotel brands, you won’t find the same level of indulgence on Carnival, Royal Caribbean or Norwegian cruise lines, but you will with Oceania, Azamara or Windstar. Equally, if you enjoy the party lifestyle on holiday, you won’t find it on any of Silversea, Crystal or Cunard.
That just begins to highlight the complexity of choice that awaits once you have decided to give cruising a try but, fear not, we have some highly sound advice for those who still need to be convinced that this is the thing for them.
Veteran cruisers that we are, we do understand that it isn’t necessarily obvious why you would want to trust your valuable annual holiday to the sea-going vibe for the first time; that there is some hesitancy involved.
The obvious way to go might be to choose a short cruise 3 or 4-day ‘sampler’ to get your feet wet (only figuratively speaking, obviously), and to give yourself a get-out clause, as it were. The thinking goes something like, “I won’t have wasted too much time if I don’t like it.”
But we would point out the much more likely scenario that if you DO like it (and we’re pretty sure you will), you will feel that you have missed out on the FULL experience and allowed a glorious opportunity to slip by. In all honesty, you are only just getting your sea-legs after three or four days, and a week should be the minimum time invested in your experimental first nautical steps. You wouldn’t judge a restaurant on its hors d’oeuvres and appetisers, so don’t try to evaluate a cruise on such an equally short sampling.
Therefore let’s have no more of that short-term thinking. This is the time to go the whole hog, to invest in the proper experience, and reap the full, lasting rewards. Here, with no further ado, are our top suggestions for cruise lines which believe offer the best cruises for first-timers.
Cunard Cruise Line
The oldest and, in many ways, the most distinguished cruise line on the high seas, Cunard offers possibly the best across-the-board experience, with modern ships that still have a traditional background and plenty of choice in terms of the dining, entertainment and general ambience, from a proper pub to the Commodore Club and Champagne Bar. Everyone should be able to find their optimum level of comfort here, especially on the two smaller ships, which have more mainstream itineraries and style. And, if you can’t quite commit to a full seven or 10-day voyage, all three vessels offer two, three and four-day ‘mini-cruises’ that will definitely provide short-term satisfaction.
By a similar token, if you’re looking for an experience that doesn’t go out on a limb in any particular direction, the archetypal British-ness of dear old P&O should tick the box for those who want the ‘safe’ choice. With regular voyages from Southampton, they are the easy option when it comes to your departure point, plus they feature a range of sampler trips to the likes of Bruges and the Channel Islands that afford a taster for those who still aren’t convinced.
Viking Ocean Cruises
We really like this possibility as one that provides a great example of what cruising does really well. Even though Viking are still relatively new to ocean cruising (they debuted in 2015, while their river-cruise operation dates back to 1998), they have quickly grown to provide an ultra-comfy mainstream choice that doesn’t stint in any area, from service to dining to entertainment. The other big feature of Viking is their focus on shore excursions and the land experience. If it’s important to you to get a real feel for the places you visit, Viking are past masters at providing it.
If one of the reasons you take a holiday is to enjoy a wide-ranging and quality-conscious variety of food, then you might well want to book your debut cruise with a line that makes it their speciality. Not only are there no supplements for any of the restaurants on board Oceania’s six vessels (and their four alternative dining venues are all extremely tempting), their whole culinary programme is overseen by famous French chef Jacques Pepin, ensuring his personal flair is always part of the dining scene. The rest of the onboard experience is sharp, too, which also makes for a winning combination with first-timers.
Expedition style cruising is increasingly in vogue, and it is quite possible that those new to cruising might be more interested in this adventurous option than the cruise mainstream. If that is the case for you, let us introduce you to one of the most distinguished and varied cruise operations that should be an ideal fit for those who like to stretch their holiday boundaries. Noble Caledonia was founded in 1991 with genuine world-travelling intentions, and it maintains a hugely enticing array of destinations – from Antarctica to Madagascar and the Arctic to Central America – that should have maximum appeal for those who have the Where of their holiday ahead of the How.
So you want to try an ultra-luxury cruise? Crystal are one of the handful who fully justify the label, and they also ooze genuine appeal for those new to cruising. Not only are their ships large enough to provide smooth sailing wherever they go, the all-round package of sumptuous dining, exciting entertainment, distinguished service and plenty of choice leaves no maritime stone unturned when it comes to the full array of reasons why we rate cruising so highly. Their attention to detail on every front will ensure any cruise newbie will be treated with the utmost respect – and leave fully converted to the idea of taking ALL future holidays at sea!
So what about you? What was the clincher for YOU on your first cruise? Or that is stopping you taking that first sea-going voyage? Give us your thoughts in the Comments section below.