PLANNING YOUR IDEAL CRUISE
Are you planning to do a cruise but not sure where to start? There are so many options out there and it can be quite overwhelming trying to find the one that is going to give you everything you are hoping for in a cruise vacation. If you have never cruised before – I highly recommend that you read through this guide to help you choose the ideal cruise for you and your family or whoever you are planning to cruise with. If you haven’t cruised before then be sure to check out our blog for First Time Cruisers.
If you have cruised before but still struggling to decide whether you want to try out something a little different then you are in the right place!
WHERE TO START
Cruising is fast becoming a popular choice of vacation for couples, families, groups, extended families and anyone else who is looking for an easy relaxing vacation. Most cruises whether they are river or ocean include your meals, accommodation, transport and entertainment. Of course there are almost always upgrades on offer so if you want to try a specialty restaurant or do a ship shore excursion these are usually at an additional cost. Having said that – some cruises include all of these things and more. You are really only limited to your budget and destination.
There are budget cruises, luxury cruises, family cruises, theme cruises, luxury cruises, small ship, mid size ship, large ships and mega liners. Ocean cruises, river cruises, self drive cruises, barge cruising, adventure cruising, unique cruises. Cruise ships travel all over the world from the Arctic to the Antarctic and everywhere in between!
River cruises are often referred to as a “floating coach tour” as they are quite full on and very destination focused. The main difference being that on a river cruise you only have to unpack once!
WHO IS CRUISING? SOCIABLE OR PRIVACY?
Depending on who you are traveling with will have an impact on the type and duration of your chosen cruise. For example – If you are traveling with young children you are unlikely to find a suitable river cruise that will either allow children on board or even cater for them. Most young families prefer to cruise on an ocean cruise ship as they are more likely to find an option that has the facilities on board to look after your children and keep them suitably entertained. After all – you want to be able to have a holiday too!
River cruise ships tend to be very destination focused and because of their size they are unable to provide facilities on board for children. Having said that – there are a few that will be happy to take older children on their cruises and have cabin options that would suit a small family. However, there are no Kid’s Clubs on board and no baby sitting services are offered.
You might be looking for a romantic, peaceful getaway for a honeymoon or an anniversary. Therefore, a large party ship may not be quite what you had in mind. Or perhaps that is exactly what you want! It is entirely dependent on what you want. Of course even on a large mega liner you can still find some quiet places.
There are certain cruise lines that tend to have an older demographic on board such as Cunard, Seaborne, Azamara, Holland America, P & O International and Princess to name a few. These cruise lines tend to have longer itineraries and therefore do not really appeal to younger families as they usually have shorter holidays. That is not to say these cruise lines do not accept children or younger travelers – but there are fewer on board especially on longer cruises.
The same could be said for river cruises. Although they are becoming more popular with younger professional couples who want a more intimate, destination focused cruise experience. On a river ship you will usually have a maximum of 180 – 200 passengers on board. Ocean cruises range from 200 passengers (on a small luxury style ship) to upwards of 6000 passengers! In fact MSC is currently building a new ship that will hold up to 6850 passengers!
One would think that a large 6000 passenger cruise ship would be more sociable than a smaller river cruise but this can actually be quite the opposite! On a river cruise you see the same people every day as there is a smaller number of passengers onboard. This gives more opportunity to get to know your fellow passengers. On a mega liner you might be lucky to see the same person more than once on a 7 night cruise! Certainly the opportunities are less.
Although the nightly entertainment on an ocean cruise is far superior to a river cruise simply because they have the room for nightclubs, bars and entertainment options.
CRUISING WITH CHILDREN
There is a minimum age limit for children on board most cruises. The youngest they can travel is 6 months old and this only on certain cruise lines. Sometimes it depends on the destination and the duration so it always pays to double check with your travel agent to make sure your infant is eligible to travel on your chosen cruise.
On Norwegian Cruise Lines infants over 6 months old are welcome – however there are restrictions on this. For voyages that have three or more consecutive days at sea, infants must be at least 12 months old. Carnival Cruises will allow infants 6 months and over on their cruises as will Celebrity and Disney however again there are restrictions on the length or destination of the cruise.
On Princess Cruises the minimum age for babies is 6 months for cruises to Alaska, Europe, Canada & New England, Caribbean and Mexico and a minimum age of 12 months for all other destinations.
On Cunard children at least six months of age are welcome on Europe cruises, except Icelandic sailings where the minimum age is one year. For North America, Canada and Caribbean cruises, the minimum age is six months. For Transatlantic Crossings, Transpacific sailings, World and Exotic voyages, the minimum age is one year.
You get the idea.
On all cruises additional bedding or cots for babies must be requested before departure.
It is worth noting that there are a few cruise lines such as Viking Ocean Cruises that do not allow children on board at all! These ships are focused on adults only market and they definitely have a place in the cruising world as there are many experienced cruisers that are simply not interested in sharing their holidays with other peoples’ children.
Check out the Facilities Factsheet for family facilities on board some cruise lines.
HOW LONG DO YOU WANT TO CRUISE FOR?
The length of time you have will also have an impact on which cruise line would best suit your cruise. Some cruise lines focus on shorter sailings that attract families and young to middle-aged people who may have a shorter vacation time than a couple who are retired. Most river cruises are between 7 – 14 nights. Ocean cruises range from 2 night sea breaks up to the Ultimate World Cruise on Viking which is 245 days! Most people would book a short sea break or a 7 -14 night cruise if they are cruising for the first time. This allows them to try it out without being at sea for too long just in case it isn’t for them.
If you have the time, the longer you cruise the cheaper it gets! When you take into account that your meals, accommodation, entertainment and transport between destinations is all included, you would hard-pressed finding anything that is as well priced with the same inclusions and service levels.
A large part of deciding which cruise is the destination. You need to check to ensure the cruise line you choose is in fact able to visit the ports you want to experience. Not all ships are allowed or even able to go into every port. Mega-liners are restricted to deep harbor ports and can only dock in certain ports due to the sheer magnitude of these monstrous floating resorts! Most passengers on these mega ships are in fact considering the ship itself as the destination and tend not to be too concerned about the destinations they are visiting. For them it is all about the on board experience and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that! These passengers are the ones who wait until everyone else has left the ship and find a nice peaceful spot near the pool and curl up with a good book!
At the other end of the scale you have the expedition style cruise ships (see the below time-lapse youtube video going into Antarctica) where the sole focus is on the destination itself. Whether it is exploring the incredible wildlife inhabitants of the Galapagos Islands or the wilderness and wildlife of the Antarctic regions – these ships while still luxurious in service, food and comfort are predominantly designed to explore a destination or region and educate their passengers on those regions. You will often find on these cruises you will have access to a high caliber of lecturers and wildlife experts who are extremely passionate and well-educated in their particular field of expertise.
The smaller the ship the more interesting the ports of call can be. Smaller ships can get a lot closer to a city or a village! Take Alaska as an example. The larger ships are very restricted to the ports of call they can access like Juneau, Seward, Ketchikan and Skagway whereas the smaller ships can get right into some lesser visited bays and glaciers. Smaller ships like Seabourn Sojourn boast amazing itineraries that include ports such as Wrangell, Rudyard Bay, Prince Rupert, Klemtu to name a few – giving a far more exciting and comprehensive itinerary.
THE BUDGET – AFFORDABLE LUXURY CRUISES
You may be pleasantly surprised to find out exactly how affordable luxury ocean cruises can be. When you calculate the daily rate on a cruise and consider what is included it is fantastic value. Some cruise lines offer amazing deals such as Kids cruise free (or at a discounted rate), On board credits, Drinks packages, complimentary shore excursions, WiFi, flight credits, cabin upgrades, low deposits, early booking/payment discounts, past passenger discounts, complimentary specialty dining, Butler services and more. Try getting that sort of deal at a resort!
Check with your cruise travel agent to make sure you are getting the best available deal. Some people are firm believers in waiting for last minute deals – however the problem with this is that you are only going to get the least desirable cabins in the least desirable locations. So, if cabin location or type of cabin (IE balcony, suite, ocean view etc) is important to you these do not wait until the last minute or you may be disappointed!
If you are not bothered by the cabin or location these by all means – hang off until the last few months before departure and see what comes out. But be prepared to miss out altogether if you are after a particular cruise. Some cruises do sell out – especially the round world cruises!
Luxury River Cruises are a bit more expensive than ocean cruises but still offer great value for money. There are different levels as with ocean cruises but you do tend to get a few more inclusions. For example on a river cruise you would normally receive a guided walking tour in each port of call. Some river cruise lines offer fully inclusive options that include ALL your shore excursions and exclusive experiences. Beer and wine are usually included at lunch and dinner and some offer an open bar. Gratuities are also normally included on a river cruise which is not always the case on an ocean cruise.
A river cruise is usually a destination focused cruise so no days at sea! Every day offers a new port and a new experience. Have a look at Avalon Suite Ships for a peek into life on board a luxury river cruise!
FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD!
On a luxury river cruise you would get fewer choices for dining options although the food on board is still amazing! The focus also tends to be on local cuisine so as you travel through different areas the chefs on board will prepare dishes that are unique to that destination or area. The food also tends to be very fresh as while you are off on your guided walking tour or whatever you have chosen to do that day the chef and his crew are off at the market getting the freshest produce to prepare your amazing dinner!
Larger ocean cruise ships will always have plenty of dining options. Usually the A la Carte main restaurant and buffet are included in your cruise fare. But if you fancy trying something a little different or want a more intimate dining experience these there are usually plenty of alternatives. You will almost always find some sort of Italian or French restaurant on board and often a Steak and Seafood, Asian, Burger or Pizza style restaurant and many more variations. It really depends on the cruise lines. Most cruise lines also have some sort of celebrity Chef that has created the menu for an on board specialty restaurant. So you could be dining on cuisine created by Curtis Stone, Jamie Oliver, Thomas Keller, Roy Yamaguchi, & Jacques Pepin to name a few!
On most river cruises you will likely have beer and wine included with lunch and dinner. (Just check with your travel agent!) Some will even include all beverages at any time. It will depend on who you cruise with and the package you have chosen. Even if your price does not include the beverages sometimes you can purchase a beverage package once on board and sometimes prior to departure. It does pay to work out the value though.
Ocean cruises do not usually include a drinks package although some luxury cruise lines do offer all-inclusive packages. However, – many cruise lines now offer drink packages that are able to be purchased on board or at the time of booking. Some also offer packages that allows you to choose out of several options at the time of booking including a drinks package.
If you are not a big drinker don’t bother with a drinks package. Most alcoholic beverages on board are reasonably priced (Starting from around $7USD for a wine maybe a bit less for a beer. Cocktails can range in price depending on the cruise line but usually start around $8 -10USD.
Entertainment on a river cruise tends to consist of local artists who come on board for a few hours to entertain and these leave the ship either before it leaves for the next port or they will cruise to the next port and these disembark. You might get a lovely quartet or a glassblower or a local singer. It will depend on the area you are cruising in. Sometimes the entertainment is off the ship. For example in Vienna you might be lucky enough to get invited to listen to a Viennese choir perform just for you!
Of course there is always a bar or two on board and there will be a library of sorts. Some river cruise ships have small pools or a spa pool on board. Viking River Cruise ships in Europe have an outdoor games area with Chess and other activities to keep you busy.
Entertainment on the European River Cruises will be different from an Asian River cruise.
If you are cruising on a large ocean going cruise ship these you will likely have access to some amazing entertainment. From Broadway style shows to comedy acts, nightclubs, Karaoke, Ice skating shows, Movies under the stars, bars galore, live bands, Quartets, Duos, Piano players, Cirque de Solei style shows, acrobats, water shows, TV reality style game shows and many more! Of course, you don’t get ALL of this on one ship! But you will get at least half a dozen or so of these options. Most cruise ships will have two performances at night for the main show so everyone gets a chance to see the show.
Some shows I have seen are better than the shows on land! Absolutely incredible! The high caliber of performers is amazing. My favorite so far would have to be on NCL (Norwegian Cruise Lines). They performed the best rendition of “Priscilla – Queen of the Desert” I have ever seen!
Download Broadway and West End Productions for a sample of some on board entertainment available on some ocean cruise lines.
ON BOARD ACTIVITIES
Ocean cruises usually offer a plethora of on board activities to keep passengers busy during sea days. River cruises do not usually offer more than a small jacuzzi (if you are lucky!), a spa, small gymnasium and maybe a few deck games as they are usually in port for a whole day. If you need more stimulation then look at ocean cruising!
There is a misconception that active travelers will get bored on a cruise but this simply is not the case! The number and range of activities differ between cruise lines and the size of the ship. Mega liners offer an amazing array of activities such as:
- Swimming pools
- Fitness classes
- Pool tables
- Video arcades
- Skydiving at sea
- Ice skating
- Bumper cars
- Rock climbing
- Escape rooms
- Cocktail making classes
- Ten Pin Bowling
- Wine tasting
- Culinary classes
- Game Shows
- Dance lessons
- Photography classes
- Art classes
- Art auctions
- Pub Quiz
- Martini making classes
- Glass blowing shows
- Mini Golf
- Golf Simulators
- Flow riders
- North Star (Royal Caribbean)
- Laser Tag
- Language classes
- Movies under the Stars
- Sports Courts
- Ship tours
- Science at Sea
- Games room
- Water Parks
- Trapeze School
- Jewelry Making Classes,
- Scuba Diving Certification
- Night clubs
- Rope Courses
- Walk the Plank
And many more!!
Have a sneak peek at some amazing features on Carnival Horizon and some adrenaline junkie options on Royal Caribbean here:
If themes are your thing these chances are you will be able to find a cruise that has a theme to suit you and your interests. They range from music themes, comedy, Art, Food & Wine, active travelers, Festival themes, LGBT, Singles and many more. Check with your travel agent to see when your preferred themed cruise is departing. Typically, these need to be booked quite far in advance as they are extremely popular and sell out quickly!
River cruises offer amazing scenery every day! From the castles along the Rhine to fishing villages on the Mekong – there is always something to see. Ocean cruises on the other hand can often be several days of expansive ocean with the odd smattering of far off distant lands. Occasionally you may be lucky to spot a pod of playful dolphins or depending on where you are cruising you may see whales and other marine life.
For those that simply cannot do without WiFi you will be pleased to know that these days most cruise ships both river and ocean offer either free WiFi or WiFi packages. Prices do differ between cruise lines so get your Cruise Specialist to check to see what is available for your cruise option.
River cruises tend to include WiFi and it is usually of a good speed given they are close to land for the duration of the cruise. Ocean cruises however usually offer packages as the costs of the WiFi is much higher at sea. Prices are slowly coming down but if you can hold off waiting until you are in port this will be a much cheaper option for you.
Ocean cruises usually offer technology classes and have access to computers. Some river cruise ships give their passengers iPads to use during the cruise! On all cruises there will be a TV screen in your cabin. This enables the ship to send you important information regarding safety onboard as well as destination information. Some offer TV shows or movies.
If you are cruising through China or another region that restricts what websites you can use then you will need to download a VPN prior to departure if you want access to your favorite websites and social media platforms. I recommend VirtualShield.com They have some great options and are reliable. Of course it pays to set this up PRIOR to departing your hometown as it could be difficult once you are in China.
Ocean cruise ships all offer excellent medical facilities onboard and most can even perform minor surgery if required. However on a river cruise there are very limited medical facilities onboard and may in fact be limited to a first aid officer. This is because of the limited space onboard but also you are never far from shore so getting help quickly is usually quite straight forward.
The dress code on your cruise can be quite confusing! Most river cruises these days expect a country club casual type attire with a smart casual look for dinner (collared shirt no shorts). Ocean cruises vary depending on who you are cruising with. Cunard for example still expects gentlemen to don a dinner jacket and tie for the evening meal and ladies to wear after 5 attire. During the day however it is a bit more casual with resort style clothing the norm.
Other cruise lines are a bit more casual but there is still an expectation that if you are dining in the main restaurant in the evening then no shorts or t shirts are allowed. Of course most ocean cruises also have theme nights and formal nights where you are expected and encouraged to get dressed in all your finery or dress up according to the theme.
River cruises often have a welcome dinner and a farewell dinner where there is an opportunity to dress up if you wish but it is not compulsory. If you are not sure then check with your cruise specialist who should be able to point you in the right direction! Feel free to check out my blog for some packing tips on cruising! You can find some more travel tips here.
If you have enjoyed this blog please feel free to leave your comments below. Of course if you have any other amazing cruise tips or experiences you would like to share with us please feel free to comment as well! We look forward to hearing your tips!
About The Author
Melanie Peacock is a Senior Travel Consultant at award winning travel agency – YOU Travel in Christchurch New Zealand. She is a CLIA accredited certified Cruise Specialist and is passionate about cruising – both river and ocean. She has completed over 10 cruises in various destinations around the world including river and ocean cruises. If you would like to chat with her about your next cruise feel free to call her on +64 3 3842700 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
YOU Travel creates amazing travel packages for travelers across the globe.