Cruising has definitely been in the news lately! If you're new to cruising, and ask a cruising fan whether you should give it a try, chances are you'll get a resounding "Yes, you will love it!" Cruise fans are like that. On the other hand, if you ask a non-cruiser whether you should try a cruise, you might get the opposite response: “Why would anyone want to go on a cruise?” They are non-cruisers for a reason! However, neither of these responses is what you need to make an informed decision. The answer to whether a cruise is right for you depends a lot on what sort of traveler you are. Do you like trips that are well planned out in advance, or trips that start with no plan at all? Are you a fan of resort environments? Do you like group travel? Do you love being pampered above all else? What do you like to eat when you’re away from home? The answer to whether you will like a cruise depends on your answers to those questions and much more. If you're thinking about taking a cruise for the first time, here are a few tips to help you decide.
Do you prefer trips that are heavily planned out in advance or more spontaneous? Some people like to head off on vacation with no idea where they will be or what they will be doing from day to day. They like the flexibility that comes with not having too much planned ahead of time. If you are this type of traveler and don't like to have your schedule planned out in advance, you may not enjoy the cruise experience. Cruising can offer some flexibility in what you can do on any given day of a cruise, but for the most part, your trip is pre-planned and not flexible because the entire itinerary is arranged in advance. The advantage of this type of pre-planned vacation, of course, is that it takes away a lot of the hassle that comes with traveling. Your cruise line has done all the itinerary planning for you. They are selling you a complete travel package including a room, food, and entertainment, and almost daily they'll take you to a new place to explore. On some cruises, particularly river cruises and expedition cruises, the lines even pre-arrange all of your daily tours.
Do you enjoy travel experiences that revolve around a single resort that offers lodging, meals and activities? Cruise ships will take you to multiple destinations on a single trip, but what they actually offer is closer to what you’ll find at an all-inclusive resort on land than any other sort of travel experience. At least, this is the case for the bigger cruise ships that account for the majority of all cruise travel. Unless you book a rare overnight excursion, you will spend all of your nights onboard your ship, and you’ll probably eat most of your meals there too. On most ships, all of your evening entertainment will also be onboard the ship. Many people love this sort of vacation because they can have a great week without ever leaving the property. For others, it’s too much vacation time devoted to a single, contained resort environment that doesn’t leave enough time for exploring the outside world.
Are you okay with crowds? There are small cruise ships that are like boutique hotels, with just 50 or 100 rooms. But the majority of cruisers today sail on ships that are much bigger than that. The world’s biggest cruise ships, such as the Oasis Class ships operated by Royal Caribbean, often sail with more than 6,000 passengers each. And that’s not including the 2,000 or so crew members that are onboard. However, these are very big ships with lots of room to spread out. Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas has 16 passenger decks that can hold huge numbers of people. But if the idea of vacationing at a resort where you are one of thousands doesn’t appeal to you, you probably should stay away from most of the ships operated by the major cruise lines. You might be better off with a land-based trip or a sailing on one of the lines such as Windstar Cruises or Ponant that specialize in more intimate sailings on very small ships.
Are you comfortable touring as part of a group? Cruises can be very similar to group tours on land. You will be traveling and touring for your entire voyage with one group of people. But this can vary depending on how you arrange your port activities. On river cruises and expedition cruises, for example, off-ship activities are usually done as a group. Group tours in ports are part of the package for which you have paid in advance. On traditional ocean-going ships, you usually have more flexibility to tour on your own in ports versus joining a group. On traditional ocean cruises, many ship-organized shore excursions will be group outings where you will join as many as 30 or 40 other cruisers with a guide. Often, these tours involve traveling with your group on a motorcoach to reach whatever sight you are touring, so they often have the feel of a bus tour. However, on traditional ocean cruises, you can arrange for private tours with a guide in ports for just you and your family or you can also just head out into a port on your own and do your own exploring.
Is “eating local” important to you when traveling? For some people, experiencing local food is a big part of the travel experience. For others, having access to familiar dishes when traveling is just as important. Cruise ships usually offer cuisine in their onboard restaurants that is similar to what their customers will find at home. You’ll find American-style steakhouses, Italian restaurants, and main restaurants that offer a mix of classic international cuisine. Plus, there are usually fast-food options, including burgers and pizza. The food in ship's restaurants typically have little to do with the destination to which you’re sailing, but they do offer a lot of things that you probably are accustomed to eating. If you’re a foodie that can't imagine visiting a country without having the local food, a cruise might not be the best choice for you. Of course, you can try out the local foods in the destinations your ship visits during port calls, but most ships only visit ports during the daytime and sail away to their next destination before dinnertime. That means that your opportunities to eat locally will be restricted to mostly lunch.
How important is being pampered on vacation to you? If you love being pampered on vacation, a cruise might be a great choice. One reason that people love cruising is that cruise ships offer a level of pampering that you just don’t often see at comparably priced land-based resorts. Even on the most mass-market, lowest-cost cruises, you’ll have a stateroom attendant who will get to know you by name and offer help with anything you need on board. Cruise ship restaurants also are known for wait staff that will get to know you by name within a day or two of your arrival (if you dine at the same table every night) and make a real effort to go above and beyond to meet your every need. They’ll often get to know your favorite drink or dessert and have it ready to go before you even say something. Great service is one of the big appeals of cruises.There is a level of service on cruise ships that is relatively rare in the travel world- at least compared to another vacation with a similar price point. An entry-level cruise ship is likely to have a higher level of service than an entry-level hotel, and a luxury cruise ship is likely to be even more over-the-top than a luxury hotel.
Do you worry a lot about costs when traveling? A cruise is a great option if you’re the type of person who wants to know how much your vacation will cost before it occurs. Your cruise experience provides most of the services you will need on your vacation, including your room, meals, evening entertainment and part of your transportation. If you’re traveling with kids, the ship often will offer all-day kids programs for no extra charge. For all of this, you pay one price far in advance of when you travel. That’s wonderful peace of mind for many people. Of course, not everything on your cruise will be included in the pre-paid fare. On mass-market ships, you’ll pay extra for drinks with your meals, to dine at some higher-end restaurants, for shore excursions, and for the automatic gratuities that many lines add to final bills. These things can add up and result in some extra charges on your credit card before you leave your ship. But the good news is that more and more lines are bundling things like drink packages and gratuities into a booking package as part of their promotions. You often can find a package deal where many of the “extras” on your cruise are included in the price you pay up front.
The bottom line is that cruising isn't for everyone. But there are a lot of reasons why you might like it. Before you commit to giving it a try, you should ask yourself the questions above to help you decide if cruising is right for you. We'd love to share more cruise information with you- give us a call!