There are so many cruise lines, ships, destinations, and cabin types – it can be overwhelming! The first step is deciding what is most important to you. Are you looking for an all-inclusive and relaxing vacation? Is it more about the destination and island hopping to get a taste of an area? Is it more about a floating resort with anything you can wish for? All of these are important factors when determining a cruise that is best for you. The cruise line I choose when I am looking for a couples getaway is completely different than a family cruise. You can do some initial research on cruise lines, destinations, sailing dates, and deck plans on www.icruise.com, it’s a great place to start.
The first steps in planning your cruise are making decision and choosing:
- Destination – This will influence your cost and dates of travel more than anything. Alaska is an amazing cruise and I highly recommend it, but the cruise season is late May to early September so an Alaska cruise during peak summer months of June-August will be at a premium. There are Caribbean cruises sailing year round so you will have more options, more cruise lines, and better prices!
- Travel Date – Once you know where you want to go you can narrow down when you will go, or if a certain time is more important that the destination you can start with this step.
- Cruise Line – Once you know where and when you can review your options on the cruise lines and ships available for the date and destination you have in mind.
Now that you have the basics down it’s time to look at cabin options, these can vary by cruise line and ship as well, if you are new to cruising expect that cabins will be small compared to a hotel room. Many of the newer cruise ships have expanded the size of cabins, but most are around 140-180 square feet for a standard inside/outside cabin. The average hotel room in the states is 325 square feet in comparison. The rooms are smaller, but they are well equipped with lots of built in storage so 2 people in a cabin is very comfortable (4 people can get a bit crowded though!).
Your basic cabin options are:
- Suite – The are the largest cabins (and most expensive) and will typically have a balcony and separate or larger sleeping and sitting area. Depending on the cruise line suites will have extra perks as well like priority boarding, butler service, priority specialty restaurant reservations, and more.
- Balcony – These are available and affordable on most cruise ships with the exception of some of the older or smaller ships where Balcony = Suite which can be very pricey. Some of the balconies can be very small, around 40 square feet, but even a small balcony is a great place to sit and watch the sunset or read a book as you sail along. If you have the budget a balcony cabin is always worth the extra splurge in my opinion. Be aware, most cruise lines have designated smoking areas and do not allow smoking on balconies (the one exception is Holland America which still allows smoking on balconies).
- Outside – These cabins are usually on lower decks and will have a porthole or window with a view to the outside. When our children were younger we would always book connecting outside cabins so the kids had there own space (and bathroom!) and I would often see them laying in the window reading or playing a game.
- Inside – These cabins are usually the smallest with no window or view to the outside, but many ships now have larger inside cabin options. If you are a light sleeper an inside cabin on a lower deck is usually a guaranteed great night of sleep. When considering inside cabin options (like all cabins) review deck plans to make sure you aren’t under the dining room, pool deck, or any other “noisy” area. I made the mistake of taking an “upgrade” to a higher deck on an inside cabin, let’s just say being directly under the pool deck and listening to them drag pool chairs for set up at 6am wasn’t the highlight of that particular cruise!
I have sailed inside, outside, balcony, and suites and the right cabin is really based on your personal preference. I really enjoy having an aft balcony (facing the back of the ship) and watching as we sail away from port or just enjoying the wake as we sail, plus these balconies are typically longer and have chaise lounge chairs.
When it comes time to book your cruise there are many options, it’s important to note you won’t pay more because you booked directly with the cruise line or used an agent, in fact booking with an agent or directly with a cruise planner will typically cost less than booking from the website. The most important factor in getting the best price is when you book!
- Directly with cruise line – I recommend this and calling, not an online booking, if you are trying to book more than one cabin, or connecting cabins, or have a specific dietary or medical request.
- Travel Agent – There are many travel agents that specialize in cruises, some even specialize in certain lines again this is a great option if you are new to cruising.
- Online Website – Expedia, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Holland America, MSC, Celebrity, Disney, Norwegian, and hundreds of agents specializing in cruises.
- Bargain Hunting and More – Vacations To Go (vacationstogo.com) and iCruise (icruise.com) are great sites for finding great deals! Cruise Critic (cruisecritic.com) is a great way to interact with fellow cruisers, research ports of calls, ships, best cabins and more!
You can expect to pay a deposit (between $100-$500 per person depending on length of cruise) when you book with the remainder due 60-90 days prior to sailing (depending on cruise line and length of cruise). This is one of the advantages of cruising for me, that I can break up the payment over a time period and the deposit is fully refundable usually as long as you cancel between 60-90 days before sailing (depending on cruise line). So once you have booked if you find a better deal or another itinerary that you prefer you can always cancel and start over!