We’re so pleased to have Jane Archer, one of the UK’s leading cruise journalists, share her advice for first-time cruise goers with us – thanks Jane!
There are many types of hotel, from boutique properties to functional city-centre accommodations and large resorts. Some include all meals and drinks, others are B&B or half board. You book what appeals most.
And so it should be with a cruise.
Well OK, it is slightly different. If you don’t like your hotel you can just check out. That’s not so easy on the high seas. But that’s what makes it so important to choose the right cruise the first time.
Whether you like the idea of a big or small ship, dressing up or going casual, soft adventure or all-inclusive prices, there is a cruise to suit. You just have to find it.
Here’s my check list of things to consider.
- Dress up or go casual? Most cruise lines have one or two formal nights per cruise but if that sounds grim, never fear. Some have abandoned them altogether, while others have formal optional evenings. And if you like to dress up, there are a couple that err on the formal side.
- Big or small ship? Some vessels hold 50 passengers, other are floating resorts for more than 6,000 passengers. Go large and you’ll have a choice of places to eat, several swimming pools, kids’ and teen clubs, and entertainment. Not surprisingly, smaller ships have fewer facilities. They tend to be more upmarket and have more destination-rich itineraries.
- Open or fixed dining? Choose the former and you can eat when and with whom you like; go for the latter and you’ll be allocated a table and time to dine for the duration of the cruise. Most lines offer both but you need to choose one or the other at the time of booking.
- Inside or outside cabin? You might not spend much time in your cabin but I’ll bet your bedroom at home has a window so why go without one on holiday? If the budget allows, book a cabin with a balcony and enjoy the sea views and breezes.
- Inclusive fares or pay as you go? All cruise lines include accommodation, meals and entertainment in the cruise price, but some also throw in gratuities or drinks, or both, and maybe speciality dining or shore excursions. Decide if you prefer to pay more upfront or at the end of the holiday.
- Where to go? Most first-timers start with the Mediterranean or Caribbean but there are so many other great places to consider. The Norwegian fjords are wonderful for scenery; the Baltic has fabulous capital cities and culture.
- Fancy some adventure? Instead of a classic cruise around the popular ports, why not get off the beaten track on an expedition ship. These visit places such as the Arctic and Antarctica, the Galapagos Islands, Greenland and other remote places. The ships are older and smaller, the dress code casual and entertainment means lectures by the on-board expedition team.
Now you’ve decided what appeals, check out a few cruise lines and see how they shape up, then pop along to a cruise agent and see what they suggest. If you get a match, you’ll probably be pretty well spot on.
My final bit of advice? Remember to have fun. You are getting ready to go holiday after all!