Since there are so many cruise lines, ships, ports and destinations your choice can be over whelming without a little guidance. Here are some basic things to help you to get started. First, determine what time of year and how long you want to cruise. Next, would be what destination are you looking to explore? What you might want to spend on your vacation. Most important what type of experience are you looking to have? Using a seasoned travel agent is your best way to find just the right cruise.
If you have never taken a cruise, a good travel agent should answer any questions and concerns that you may have. Travel Consultants will have a good knowledge of the cruise industry and be able to personalize your cruise selection. There are so many options for you that it could be challenging without some help. Here are some basic steps in booking a cruise and finding just the right experience for you! Most travel agents have relationships with the cruise lines and they may offer some additional perks. Most of the time using an agent is no additional cost to you.
A western Caribbean cruise usually includes Cozumel, Grand Cayman and Key West. An eastern Caribbean may include the Bahamas, St. Thomas and Jamaica. The third choice is Southern, which usually cruises out of San Juan Puerto Rico and may include St. Martin, St. Thomas and island in the far south of the Caribbean. The main consideration in choosing a southern Caribbean cruise, is the airfare will be higher to San Juan, Puerto Rico. The eastern and western cruises usually cruise out of US ports. The advantage of a southern Caribbean cruise is the weather is very tropical and the islands they visit can only be reached from San Juan on a 7-day cruise or from United States on a longer cruise. The difference in selecting an eastern, western or southern is the islands that you wish to visit and which port is most convenient for you to depart from.
Once you decided which cruise you would like to take then there are a few more decisions. First, is cabin type. There are inside cabins, which is the same layout as an outside cabin it just does not have a window. There is outside cabin which has either a porthole (a small round window) or a larger square window. The last choice is a stateroom with a balcony. Your cabin choice is usually determined by price, preference or specials that the cruise line is offering. If you are very active and will not be in the room very much an inside or outside will work. To have a balcony is wonderful experience. Suites usually are larger staterooms with a larger balcony and have additional perks like specialty dining or priority embarkation. A balcony offers you the option to step outside anytime, including at night to see the moon over the water is really an unforgettable experience. A balcony can be a very romantic and a wonderful quiet spot to enjoy the 24-hour room service.
Okay, you know where you want to go and which cabin type you may select. Now there are two air options. You can book the entire package with the cruise line. This is one price for air, the cruise, transfers back and forth from the airport to the cruise ship and taxes and port charges. This is great for first time cruise passengers or someone who likes the simplicity of one provider. This option comes with built in safeguards. Since the cruise line handled all of the travel plans they are responsible to take care of you. If your flight is cancelled they will put on another flight. This option may cost a little more but may be worth the extra for a first-time passenger. Sometimes,the cruise line offers reduce airline ticket prices at the time you book your cruise. I just saved a couple who was taking a 14-day Hawaii cruise over $700.00 to fly out of Detroit MI which had a reduce air ad-on instead of Grand Rapids MI which only had the regular priced air. This saving is well worth the 2-hour drive. Remember to have your agent check the surrounding airports. The second option is to do the cruise, transfers and port charges as one charge with the cruise line and do your air tickets separate. An experienced travel agent will know how to coordinate this and save you some money.
If you decided to do your own air travel there are three things you need to know. One, how far the cruise port is from the airport. The second and third thing you need to know before you schedule your flight is what time the ship leaves and what time it arrives back in port. Once you know what time the ship leaves and returns and how far it is from the airport to the cruise ship you can book your airline tickets. One important consideration is when your cruise is done and the ship returns to port it must go through immigration, so your return flight needs to allow some extra time. We always fly down one day before the ship departs. This allows us to sleep in, have a great breakfast and get to the ship before the majority of the passengers. Remember to relax! See my top 12 travel tips.
All of your meals, snack and 24-hour room service. Tea and coffee are available most of the time in the buffet area and is included in the main dining room. Some ships even have 24-hour pizzerias. Most ship board activities, including children and teen programs, Las Vegas style shows and many options that vary from ship to ship. One of the newest changes in the cruise line industry is the addition of drink packages, WIFI and pre-paid gratuities included with your cruise fare. The cost varies depending on which option you choose.
Most cruise lines do not include shore excursions, medical services, bar service, including soda. (Unless you purchase a drink package) The photographs taken by the cruise staff are available for purchase in the ships photo gallery. Internet packages and telephone calls home are available for a charge. Other activities like bingo and the casino are available for a charge. (Sorry, you can’t gamble for free!) Some of the newer ships also have alternative restaurant options that are available by choice. This extra dining option is by reservation only and has a cover charge per person. Babysitting or toddler care is also available for a fee that varies from ship to ship. Dry cleaning and laundry services are available for a fee if needed. Most cruise ships have beautiful full-service spa options that would be an additional cost. Gratuities are also not covered by the cruise fare in most cases.
Most cruise lines charge an additional amount to cover the tips for all of the services you received on the cruise. This covers the room steward, the staff in the dining rooms and all the behind the scene staff. There are some cruise lines that do include the gratuities in the cruise fare but the majority do not include the tipping, it’s an additional charge.There are a couple of options for you. You can pre-pay the set amount at the time you reserve your cruise, so you do have to worry about the tipping at the end of your cruise. Pre-paying is a great option for someone on a budget or group travel. If you choose to not pre-pay the tips with your booking, the cruise line will add the charge to your shipboard account. This will be added when you are on the cruise. This charge can add $12-$16 per person, per day to your shipboard account. You can adjust the amount of the tips up or down at the purser’s desk, according to the service you receive. Most cruise lines have envelopes available that you can use for tipping or in some cases additional tipping for exceptional services. I know for first time cruisers this is probably not an expense you planned on but I find that on most cruises the service is so exceptional that tipping just feels right.
There is so much to do on a cruise ship. Each day in your in your stateroom you will receive a paper with information of what is happening on the ship the next day. It will cover all the activities, dining and bar options. Some cruise lines have great apps for your phone that you can use while on your cruise. I think you should have an idea of what your top excursions and ship board activity choices would be but do not think that you have to have every minute planned. Sometimes, going with the flow for the day or just doing nothing can be wonderful on a cruise. I remember once it rained all day and our plans had to change. We decided to go to an art auction on the ship, we had a great time and bought lovely piece of art as a memento of our vacation!