It’s easy to get carried away when you’re looking for your next (or especially your first) cruise. There are just so many temptations, special offers and added ‘extras’ that they can make your head spin. And not in a good way.
As we often have to tell our parents, “Just because it says 50 per cent off, doesn’t mean it’s a cruise you want to go on!”
The array of discounted offers – especially in the first month of the season, when many cruise lines look to attract business as part of ‘Wave Season’ – area often an excellent introduction to the search-and-booking process, though.
While it’s easy to be sceptical of the barrage of marketing material aimed at persuading you to part with your hard-earned money, January typically is the ideal month to be on the lookout as it’s the biggest volume sales month of the year, and the deals ARE out there.
Equally, it’s a good starting point even if you don’t book immediately, as no holiday research is ever wasted. We often book-mark pages and return to them weeks – or even months – later when we’re making final choices.
So, with that in mind – and especially for those who might be contemplating a cruise for the first time – we thought we’d highlight our prime ‘Mistakes to avoid’ when it comes to that all-important decision.
Know WHERE you want to go first
The cruise world is truly a global business these days, and there is a ship that can take you just about anywhere if you look hard enough. So, don’t get caught up in the idea of ‘Anywhere will do’ as this is bound to lead to exhaustion and frustration in the final analysis. The Cruise Line has also done all the hard work in this area for you with their extensive Destinations guide. Start here before doing anything else. We mean it!
Every cruise line isn’t the same
While it’s tempting to think that all the ships that you see in the glossy magazine adverts and TV commercials are pretty much the same, there is a HUGE variation in size, facilities and service across the full panorama of the maritime industry. Once you have decided on the region you’d like to visit, be sure to give a LOT of thought to the style you’d like to travel in. In the same way as a JW Marriott is different from a Holiday Inn, so Carnival Cruises is completely unlike, say, Seabourn Cruise Line.
Look at the in-built VALUE of a cruise
This may be stating the blindingly obvious but it is worth underlining – if necessary in triplicate. Not all cruises are created equal, and it is not necessarily the bottom line price figure that is important here. Increasingly, some of the mainstream lines build in lots of additional fees – for gratuities, alcoholic drinks, WiFi, shore excursions and fitness classes – that are all completely free with the ultra-luxe companies. When you add up the differences, especially for drinks that can often be $10-$15 a time, plus expected tip, you quickly find that paying more in the first instance can actually work out the same as for a ‘cheaper’ cruise, plus you simply get a better overall experience.
Consider a stateroom with a balcony
OK, that’s a bit like saying choose Premium Economy over regular economy on a long-haul flight. Yes, of course, it is going to be better in the former but, unless you have already experienced balcony life on an ocean voyage, it’s hard to fully convey the extra sense of enjoyment – and value – that a balcony provides, especially in the sunnier climes of the world. Even in cooler places like Alaska, though, it is still immensely rewarding to wake up with a coffee and sit on your verandah to soak in the views. And, for a pre-dinner cocktail, there is often no better venue than your own private outdoor space. To us, a stateroom without a balcony is simply a false economy (albeit, if you can’t quite stretch to a balcony on a line like Crystal or Silversea, just make sure you are on board!).
Beware the Caribbean in summer (maybe)
If you like the sound of a blissful Caribbean voyage (and, indeed, who wouldn’t?) just bear in mind that not all times of the year are created equal in this part of the world. This isn’t intended to put you off at all costs, but be aware that Hurricane Season is a very real part of the annual considerations hereabouts. The full ‘season’ is officially from June 1 to November 30, but the months from August to October are most likely to provide storms that could impact your cruise. That’s not to say ships are ever directly exposed to a hurricane, but they often have to change the itinerary and miss some ports of call at short notice. If there is an island or port on your ‘must-see’ list, look for a trip in the months from November to June to avoid any possible disappointment.
Select your stateroom with care
We remain baffled by the fact some lines still charge more for staterooms that are on a higher deck. Just to start with, why pay more for basically the same room? No hotel charges you more for the 8th floor rather than the 4th, so don’t fall for it on a cruise, either. You may also find you are right under a public deck that generates more noise first thing in the morning. Being right next to the elevators is also officially A Bad Idea, so choose accordingly. This isn’t like a hotel where there is no practical difference. Take time with your stateroom selection and study the deck plans assiduously before making your final choice.
Book with a specialist agent
Of course, we would say that, wouldn’t we? Writing for The Cruise Line – as we have done, on and off, for around 20 years – is obviously going to give us a certain bias. This whole website is set up to entice you into selecting a cruise, and booking with one of their agents. But, as we have seen from a lot more than 20 years in this business, making the right cruise booking has become an increasingly fraught and complex business. The number of ships has more than tripled in the last two decades, the variety of cruise types has evolved, and continues to be the kind of vexing equation that would test PhD-qualified mathematicians. For the sake of your peace of mind (and, in many instances, your bank balance) you are simply better off entrusting your holiday to an expert in the field. We’ve known The Cruise Line for almost their entire existence. Purely and simply, you can trust them to find the right cruise for YOU.
What cruise mistakes have you made – or avoided – in the past? Tell us your experiences in the Comments section below.