"Cruising has two pleasures. One is to go out in wider waters from a sheltered place. The other is to go into a sheltered place from wider waters."- Howard Bloomfield
There are a lot of things to consider when booking your first cruise and as Cruise Experts we have some top tips for you below.
Book through a specialist
It is understandable that cheap cruise offers can seem like the best option for your first cruise experience, but you will notice a huge difference if you consult a specialist cruise travel agent. They will have so much experience in cruising that they can get you the perfect cruise for your needs and wants. Here at Destinology, we have cruise specialists with over 20 years of experience, and they will look at what you want from a cruise, your tastes, age and the type of holidays you have had in the past. They can answer any questions or concerns that you have and be a point of call for you before, during and after your cruise. We also recommend doing your own research, join online cruise groups and really look into what kind of cruise you are looking for.
Which cabin is right for you?
There is a range of things to consider when choosing your cabin on your first cruise. If you can splash out on a balcony cabin, then go for it. Whilst there will be so much to see and do onboard the ship, having a relaxing place to call your own is important and you can’t beat watching a sunset, sitting, relaxing on your balcony. BUT, if you choose an interior room remember you won’t be spending much time in your cabin, especially if you don’t have days at sea. Many interior cabins are spacious and modern and some even feature a virtual balcony or porthole with live ocean views which some may argue is cooler than the real thing! The other point to consider is if you are seasick or are worried about getting seasick. If you are, then if you have a choice of rooms go for a cabin in the middle of the ship. Not only does this mean that you are closer to attractions and restaurants but being mid ship, you won’t feel the sway of the sea as much as either end of the ship. We also recommend taking anti-seasickness tablets or bands so that if you do suffer it won’t ruin your first experience.
Know your fellow passengers
At first glance, especially to a first-time cruiser, all cruises can look the same, but they are most definitely not. Certain cruises attract certain people and certain nationalities/ages, so for instance, most passengers on a Hapag-Lloyd will be German. Although bear in mind that any cruise line which markets itself as ‘international’ will cater towards English speaking guests. Italian cruise lovers tend to go for MSC Cruises, especially those sailing the Mediterranean. P&O Cruises and Fred Olsen cater mainly to British customers and on an Alaskan cruise, you will be in the minority amongst American cruisers. River cruises with Scenic Tours and Emerald Waterways tend to attract Australian passengers as they are Australian companies. It is also important that you think about the age groups that you would be happy to travel with. A long winter trip with Fred Olsen is more likely to attract older guests and of course, Saga attracts those that are over 50. During the summer months, a Royal Caribbean ship docking from Southampton would be filled with young families so if you want to avoid children steer clear of the summer holidays or chose an adults-only cruise. If you are looking for a party cruise and are in your 20’s to 40’s then Princess, Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line all offer a mixed-age crowd with lots of chance to party and let your hair down.
Organisation is key
Before your first cruise holiday, we would recommend having a general idea of what you would like to do on your cruise. Your cruise may include lots of port stops which are easy to explore at your own leisure such as Venice and St Tropez so you may not need to book lots of excursions or tours for this kind of cruise. If there are any beach days, most cruises will put on shuttle buses to nearby beaches for a fee but if you do your own research you may get a taxi or public transport. Many cruise lines allow you to book in spa treatments and tours before departure but allow yourself room to make or change plans and don’t book in too much. For instance, you may have a port day and it is unbearably hot so instead of going on a tour you may want to make the most of the cool ship and the swimming pool and it will be much quieter if you fancy a bit of calm. Keep your options open. It may be worth planning your evenings too but remember if there is a particular show you want to see don’t book that the same night as a speciality dinner as you may miss one or the other or end up rushing. It may be wise to make your own itinerary so you can clearly see things you have planned and booked so you don’t miss anything. Many cruise lines offer a tour of the ship on the first day so if this is your first cruise it is a really good idea to get an overview of the ship and where everything is. Also, remember to let your cruise ship know in advance if you have any dietary requirements.
Know what currency is being used onboard
Firstly, it should be noted that all cruise lines operate a cashless system onboard where you register a card and then you charge everything to your cruise account. If a cruise isn’t all-inclusive (but also some that are!) then you are guaranteed to spend quite a bit of money while onboard, extras may include things like the bar bill, excursions, spa treatments, shop-bought items, casino chips and speciality restaurant bookings. It is definitely worth checking what currency your particular cruise uses. On cruise lines such as P&O, Saga and Fred Olsen uses sterling and on Royal Caribbean, Cunard, Celebrity and Princess, they use US dollars. Obviously, if the pound was strong spending dollars onboard would seem more attractive but with the pound being weak, unless you are on a ship with sterling you may pay more. Your cruise may ask you which currency you want your onboard account converted to when it comes time to settle but this way you will most certainly lose out because of the exchange rate. There are some cruise lines which have Euros as their onboard currency when they are sailing in Europe, but yet again, the British will lose out yet again on this exchange rate.
The world of tipping
Tipping on cruise ships, especially with British passengers can be a thorny and confusing subject. To add even more confusion to the mix, every cruise line seems to have a different policy. Let’s first talk about cruise line which doesn’t ask for or expect tips because the tips are part of the final price you pay. These include cruise lines such as Saga Cruises, Azamara Club Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn and Silversea Cruises. There are a few of these that don’t mind you tipping on top of this (such as Crystal). On others, there may be a service charge for certain activities such as a spa treatment or extra facilities. These are automatically charged to your account on your behalf but if you aren’t happy with the service it can be removed. If you use a private butler and use them to organise parties etc then it will be appropriate to tip. Other cruise lines will add a certain amount per passenger per pay to your account for tips/service which is a fixed amount. This may be added each day to your account and show or only show at near the end of the cruise. Other cruise lines offer you the opportunity to pay for your tips before the cruise, it all depends on the cruise line! If in any doubt our cruise specialists will be here to answer any questions about tipping that you might have.
What kind of cruise is for you?
Back in the day, there was never any need to differentiate between kinds of cruises, but now that the cruise industry has expanded, there are so many more options available. Your typical ocean cruise features a big ship containing thousands of passengers and a combination of sailing and port stops. Like a floating holiday resort on the sea with everything, you could need such as different restaurants, onboard attractions, dining venues, entertainment and activities such as swimming pools, 3/4D cinemas, gyms, live shows and more.
River cruises focus on the waterways across the globe from Europe to the Far East. As rivers are naturally smaller than the open sea, river ships tend to be a lot smaller than cruise ships. This means the itineraries are port heavy with no sea days. This means that you can visit many cities in a short period of time. One of the most popular river cruises is those which sail through Europe in areas such as the Danube, Rhine and the Seine. Other popular areas in the Far East include the Amazon River, the Nile, and the Mekong River in Cambodia. There are simple amenities onboard such as a restaurant, bar and lounge, gym and sauna. This is a more intimate form of cruising with fewer numbers.
Think 5/6 star luxury but on a cruise ship. With amazing food, stunning rooms and suites and a focus on a more personalised experience. Luxury cruises tend to be all-inclusive and feature unlimited premium brand wines and spirits. They can be smaller than traditional cruise ships which means that you can get to smaller ports and destinations which are bespoke and feature fewer tourists. The ships themselves are created by top architects and interior designers, check out Celebrity Edge for a good example of this.
This is the very latest form of cruise and has really started to take off in a massive way. Traditional cruises focus on life on board the ship and what the ship has to offer whereas an adventure cruise focuses mainly on the destinations. The boats are smaller so that they can dock in more places and creates more flexible itineraries so they can drop anchor or change course last minute creating a sense of adventure. Some of the popular destinations include the Antarctic, Alaska, Galapagos and Costa Rica. Cruise passenger numbers are smaller, normally under 100 guests so you can create really good connections with your fellow passengers. Scenic Eclipse, for instance, features two helicopters for adventure and discovery in the skies and submarines so you can explore under the sea, creating a whole new meaning to the word excursions!
Research your ports and shore excursions
It is a good idea to do your research when it comes to ports and shore excursions before your cruise begins. The cruise itinerary will do doubt be extremely detailed in terms of shore days, ports of call and the times for disembarkation and re-embarkation afterwards. This allows you enough information to easily plan your day ashore, such as excursions either with the ship or through an external company. Just be aware that if you do choose an excursion with an external company the re-embarkment times are very strict and non-negotiable. The ship will not wait for you if you are late so plan meticulously and wear a watch!
Cruise Lingo 101
Speak like a cruise pro!
Sea day – When your ship is at sea all day and doesn’t dock anywhere
Port of call – A designated area or port city on your itinerary
Shorex – an abbreviation of ‘shore excursions’
Bow – the front of the boat
Stern – the back of the ship
Stateroom – your cabin – or if you have upgraded, your suite
Berth – the name of the in-built bed or bunk in your stateroom
Lido deck - wherever the pool is located
Galley – the ship's kitchen
Dock or Tender – Beside each port of call on the itinerary it will say either dock or tender. Dock is when the ship docks next to land and you can walk off straight into the port. Tender is when the ship anchors in the sea but close to land and you will be taken to land via a small boat.
Cruise Director – This is the ‘face’ of the ship and will be in charge of hosting events and shows
Roll – If you are in rough seas you could feel a side to side motion which is called the roll
Purser – This person is responsible for all financial transactions onboard the ship
Muster Station – This is an area close to your cabin where you must gather with your life jacket in the event of an emergency. At the beginning of your cruise, you will be called to your muster station so that you can be shown the emergency procedures which is very important!
If you would like us to plan your very first cruise, get in touch and we will find the perfect cruise for you.