If you are looking to get value and a unique experience on your vacation a cruise is definitely one of your top options. If this is going to be your first cruise, there are several points that you need to define before you contact a travel agent.
First, who is going on this cruise with you? Whether it’s your spouse, your kids or you are planning on spending some quality “alone” time, everyone is welcome on most cruises and it is easy to find a cruise that’s geared toward your preferences (adult only, family-friendly, romantic, etc).
Financially, you need to decide how much money you want to spend and figure out a realistic budget for yourself. There are a couple of different ways to save, like taking advantage of the early bird fares and booking in advance. Ask your travel agent about these types of deals. For those of you with flexible schedules, booking last minute can save you a bunch as well.
The next big decision is to decide when you want to travel. Obviously you will want to go somewhere where the chance of hurricanes is limited in the fall; however, keep in mind cruise ships will alter their destinations accordingly. Timing-wise, if you are planning on only spending a week on vacation, you are limited to the sunny areas, such as Mexico, most of the Caribbean, or the Bahamas. Other possibilities, depending on your starting destination, are Hawaii, Alaska or even Europe.
If you are travelling without family and have a flexible schedule, the fall, and spring and usually the cheapest times because kids are away in school and the weather is generally a bit chancier. In the more tropical areas, the temperature does not change too much, but what does change is the amount of precipitation. A bit of warm rain won’t hurt you, but it can be a bit of a pain. Keep in mind that most places have their rainy season in the winter, and the dry season in the summer.
When choosing where to cruise to, a good starting point is figuring out what sort of activities you want to do, because each destination comes with a distinct ambiance. There are always many water sports available on the ships, such as snorkeling, pool activities and scuba diving. Port calls often take you to the tourist sites, such as museums and ruins. If you decide to venture off on your own, be careful of locals wanting to show you the so-called good stores to shop in. Often they are working off of commission with those stores. Usually a polite no thank you is good enough.
The cruise line will give you a list of activities for the port stops that are offered. Keep in mind that there are limited availability of some of the tours, so book in advance if it’s something you really want to do.
Make sure you select a cabin you are going to be comfortable in for your cruise as it is going to be your home for the duration of your vacation. Keeping in mind that they do vary in prices, but sometimes there are deals for upgrading to a better cabin if you book early enough. If small spaces bother you, a cabin with a balcony may be good for you—although it’s pricier, you get the luxury of stepping outside and enjoying the view.
The last question most people have is food-related. You get to pick your dinnertime yourself, either an early seating, which is usually around 6 pm, the late seating around 8 pm, and an open option, where you are given a time frame of a few hours. There are benefits to all of them. If you choose the late seating, there is always the possibility of missing certain shows or entertainment. The early seating means that any excursions need to be planned to allow you enough time to get back and ready for dinner. The open seating may be the best option for families—we all know how unpredictable life can be with kids!