Friday, 21 November 2008 | Tags: , ,

Not just for rich folks anymore, affordable cruises are becoming a popular alternative to the all-inclusive family vacation, or the ultimate in luxurious relaxation. Before you choose, it's important to do your homework. Here are some tips to get your started.

The Basics

  • The advantage of cruising is you can get a taste of a few islands or destinations during a typical 12-14 hour stop in port. But if you like to really get to know one place, a destination holiday may be more your style.

  • Cruise lines fit into three basic categories for a range of cruising style and budgets:

    • Mainstream lines are larger vessels with lots of Vegas-style glitz, entertainment, exercise and activities options good for families. Ships hold anywhere between 2000-4000 passengers. Décor tends to be festively bright, with staterooms ranging from tiny inside cabins to spacious outside rooms with balconies. Dining is usually two sittings (early and late) with assigned seats and banquet-quality food, plus specialty restaurants with flexible times and seating. Extras like soft drinks and bottled water may cost you. Mainstream lines include Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Princess, Celebrity, and Disney.

    • Premium lines are more subdued and refined for a more elegant environment. Mid-size (500-900) to large (over 1500) ships have roomier cabins and a more toned-down décor than mainstream. Entertainment is more sophisticated, with dining options the same as mainstream, though more upscale. Premium lines offer less for kids and families, and include Cunard, ceania, Holland America, and Windstar.

    • Luxury lines are all champagne and caviar! Ships range from mega yachts to mid-size vessels accommodating 100-250 passengers. Staterooms are spacious and deluxe, and entertainment ranges from cabaret lounge to stylish productions. Service is first-rate as guests are treated like celebrities. Luxury lines include Crystal, Regent, Seabourn, and Silverseas.

  • Good service is typical on cruise lines. On regular lines there’s usually one staff member to every three passengers. On luxury lines, the ratio is one to one!

  • To book your first cruise, get some guidance from a travel agent so you don’t make unnecessary mistakes, which can be costly.

  • If you don’t plan on spending a lot of time in your room other than to sleep and shower, save money by going with a standard room. If you like to lounge and entertain friends, there are larger suite-like rooms with a sitting area.

  • Rooms at either end of the price spectrum are the first to book up, so make sure you book early.

  • Many cruise lines have different dress requirements. Most mainstream cruises have a couple of formal nights. Find out what you need before you go, and pack appropriately. If formal isn’t your thing, look for a “freestyle” cruise for a more casual environment.

  • Main meals on board are covered in your fare, but some specialty restaurants, cafes, snack services are extra.

  • For families, find a cruise that has a kids club with lots of things to keep them busy. On the other hand, avoid a ship full of kids by choosing a line that doesn’t cater to families.

Other Considerations

  • At each port of call you can usually join an organized excursion, but be sure to book early so you don’t miss out. If you’re a wanderer and like doing your own thing, a tour is not likely for you.

  • If you really enjoy cruising, find a cruise line you like and be a repeat customer, which can result in discounted fares and the VIP treatment while on board.

Be Aware

  • If you are prone to motion sickness, a cruise may not be the right vacation for you. If you’re willing to give it a try anyway, book a room in the middle of the ship on a lower level. A window also helps.

  • Cruising can seem like an all-inclusive experience, but there are many extra costs to be aware of:

    • Large ships practically have their own self-contained shopping malls, as well as spas, casinos, snack bars and more.

    • Ordering photos, taking excursions and drinking tropical cocktails also add up quickly.

    • Many lines provide a cruise charge card that links to your credit card. You can put a cap on it to control your kids’ spending if needed.

  • Many cruise lines do not allow tipping and it can actually result in a crew member being fired. Be sure to find out about tipping policies.


Since a vacation is as unique as the various ports of call around the world, we can’t recommend just one cruise. But we can recommend trying it! Cruising is a vacation experience everyone should have at least once.

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