Today’s information age environment has enabled many more vacationers to plan their own cruises from start to finish. With internet access anyone can select a cruise and pay for it all in one visit to a website. Is this a good thing? Yes......and no.
Before you jump out there into the vast "ocean" (sorry, I couldn’t resist) of booking engines and commit your time and your money, there are five things that you simply MUST know.
1. Is this the right cruise line for me?
Every cruise line has it’s own distinctive character, and while I believe that cruising is for everyone, not everyone is going to enjoy the British formality of Cunard, the hairy chest contest on Carnival, the open seating dining on Norwegian, and the party-all-night animals are not really going to fit in on Holland America.
2. Is this the right itinerary for me?
Whether you select Alaska, the Caribbean, or Europe, the itineraries are so varied it can be overwhelming. Start with how much time you can spend on your vacation. If you are an active person who wants to visit as many wonderful places as possible the 3, 4 or 5 day cruise in the Caribbean or Bahamas is probably not for you. Typically, the Eastern Caribbean has more days at sea than the Western, and the Southern itinerary visits an island almost every day.
Alaska and Europe itineraries are even more varied. Do you want to sightsee or fish? whale watch or ballroom dance? visit the Kremlin or see the Rock of Gibraltar? See what I mean?
3. Is this the right ship for me?
Are you looking for the mega ship experience with the rock climbing walls, the ice skating rink, the movie theater under the stars, or are you looking for a smaller ship with more intimate public areas and access to smaller island destinations? Do you want the newest ship afloat, or are you wanting something with some "season"? You know it, and I know it. Newer and bigger is not always better, BUT, you have to choose based on your expectations for your cruise vacation. Big ships mean more amenities, but bigger crowds of people-that is really important if your itinerary has tendered ports.
Other considerations....do you have motion sickness? Bigger is better. Do you need to keep in contact with your work? Newer ships have wireless internet available, and cell phone service is being added-international roaming charges apply! Do you have special needs, such as wheelchair access, oxygen, special diets, or medical regimens? Not all ships are created equal. Are you taking kids along....or Grandpa....or do you need the assistance of a caregiving animal?
4. Is this the right cabin for me?
All the pricing you will be bombarded with starts with the lowest priced cabin on the ship. This is usually on the bottom passenger deck (no, it’s not under water), either in the very front or the very back of the ship. Carnival has cabins that have upper and lower bunks (can you say "bunk beds?") that are not usually a good choice if you or your sailing companion are not willing to climb up a ladder. Most newer ships have uniform sized and shaped cabins-but not always. Outside cabins can have a small porthole, a large porthole, a small square window, a large picture window, OR, they can be partially or totally obstructed. Balcony cabins come in all flavors too. Some have tiny little balconies, and some have huge balconies. Some have balconies that aren’t even balconies. Confused yet?
5. Is this the right price for me?
If absolutely getting the cheapest price anyone ever heard of is the most important thing to you, you can usualy find a cruise to fit the bill. But for most of us, price is not the most important feature-value is! Price should only be the determining factor when you just don’t care...you want to cruise-now! But it doesn’t turn out to be such a hot deal if you end up on a ship that has been suddenly repossessed, or you discover that there are 5 million teenagers on board because it is Spring Break, or you wanted fine dining and superb service and you find out that all that is extra on the ship you chose, or you show up at the pier and the online agency that took your money didn’t inform you that your sailing had been cancelled.....and on and on and on.
Do I think you need a cruise specialist? Yes, I do.