Are you considering booking your first cruise vacation? First, let me welcome you to the world of cruising! Cruise vacations can offer fun, unique experiences. Imagine traveling around an area of the world in a floating hotel, complete with food, entertainment, and a crew at your beck and call, day and night! This is something only a cruise vacation can offer. However, this unique experience comes with its own unique considerations you need to think about before embarking on your first voyage. Read on to learn about five important things you need to consider before you book your first cruise.
#1: Pick Your Cruise Line
Your choice of cruise line can either make or break your first cruise experience. Not all cruise lines are created equally, however it’s tough to say that one cruise line is “better” than an other. “Better” is subjective, and each cruise line caters to a different market. Are you looking for a fun, laid back experience? Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, or Norwegian Cruise Line may be a good choices for you. Maybe you want a luxurious, pampered vacation. Take a look at Cunard or Seabourne.
Don’t forget: more luxury means a higher price point. The family-oriented, “mass market” cruise lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean will be much less expensive than the more exclusive cruise lines that typically attract a much older clientele.
Your destination of choice can be impacted by the cruise line you choose. For example, Carnival Cruise Line caters almost exclusively to the US and Australian markets. If you’re looking for a cruise to east Asia or South America, you will need to look at other cruise lines. On the flip side, if you’re looking for a weekend getaway in the Bahamas, you probably won’t find the itinerary you’re looking for on the luxury cruise lines. Each cruise line has its specialty when it comes to destination, and you need to do your research to figure out which cruise lines visit your planned destination.
#2: Pick Your Cruise Ship
Let’s say you’ve decided which cruise line you want to sail with. Your decision making doesn’t end there! Now you need to figure out what size ship you want to sail on for your first cruise. Smaller cruise ships will typically offer a more intimate atmosphere, with less passengers on board. Expect less crowds and more attention from crew members on smaller cruise ships. However, smaller cruise ships will lack a lot of the amenities that larger cruise ships offer. Larger, newer cruise ships have more dining options and more unique activities on board that the smaller cruise ships simply don’t have the space for. Again, there’s no right or wrong choice when picking a cruise ship. Think about what you want to get out of your cruise vacation, and pick your cruise ship based on your desires. (Check out my article on small cruise ships vs. large cruise ships.)
Once you decide which cruise ship to sail on, you need to pick your stateroom (also called cabin). Most cruise ships offer the following standard categories of staterooms. (This is a basic overview; each cruise line will usually offer various sub-categories of staterooms.)
Inside/interior: these staterooms are the least expensive. For those price-conscious cruisers out there, this is the type of room for you. Don’t expect any natural sunlight to wake you up in the morning with an interior stateroom. Take it from me, these rooms can get DARK! If you just plan on using your room to sleep and shower, and you want to use your vacation money elsewhere, this would be a great room choice for you!
- Oceanview/porthole: rooms with a view! Depending on the room’s location on the ship, you’ll either get a porthole (a small round window) or a picture window. With the booming popularity of balcony staterooms (see below), these rooms are becoming rarer on newer cruise ships. A good deal can still be found on oceanviews if you need the sun to wake you up in the morning, but you can’t quite afford a balcony stateroom.
- Balcony: how would you like to have your own private deck space? Watch sailaway, or take in the sights without the crowds! Enjoy a morning coffee on your private veranda, the sound of the ocean rippling below. This is all possible with the most popular category of staterooms: the balcony stateroom. You shouldn’t have any issue finding a balcony stateroom on newer cruise ships, but beware: older cruise ships have very few (if any) balcony staterooms. Because these rooms are so popular, there is usually a price jump when comparing oceanviews to balcony staterooms.
- Suites: suites are the largest and most expensive staterooms on any cruise ship. There are so many variations of suites out there, I couldn’t begin to describe a “typical” suite. Some suite may have a separate bedroom and second bathroom. Other suites may have lofts and a second floor! If you’re looking for the ultimate in luxury — no matter which cruise line you choose — look no further than the suite.
Check out my article dedicated to cruise ship staterooms if you’d like to learn more!
#3: What’s Your Destination?
Now that you have chosen your cruise line and cruise ship, you need to figure out where you want to sail to on your first cruise. If you’re in the US, a Caribbean cruise is always a safe bet for a first cruise. You can find short weekend getaways or week-long plus sailings. Many cruise lines got their starts sailing to the Caribbean, so they know how to make a Caribbean cruise enjoyable!
Feeling adventurous? Maybe an Alaskan cruise is in your future. Head over to Europe to visit historical and cultural landmarks on a Mediterranean cruise. If you’re focusing on river cruise lines, you can even sail deep in to the US or Europe to see some truly unique sights!
#4: What Time of Year Will You Sail?
The time of year you choose to sail will affect the price of your first cruise. If you sail during “peak season” (holidays, when schools are out, etc.) you will be a paying a higher price than off-season. For your standard Caribbean cruise, peak season consists of spring break, summer (June-mid August), and late December. The best deals can be found during winter (excluding the Christmas-New Years week) and the fall (late August through November). Beware: late summer and early fall is peak hurricane season. While cruise ships will almost never sail directly into a hurricane, you can still feel the effects of a hurricane hundreds of miles away and your itinerary can be affected.
#5: How Will You Get to Your First Cruise?
If you live close a cruise port, you can drive to the cruise port and pay for parking, have a family member or friend drop you over, or take Uber to the ship. If you’re within a half-day’s drive to the cruise ship, then you can still drive to the port. However, I would recommend driving in the day before the cruise and staying in a hotel overnight. This gives you some breathing room in case you hit traffic, get a flat tire, etc. If you choose to fly in to the cruise port, I highly recommend flying in the day before the cruise. I have first-hand experience nearly missing a cruise ship because our flight the day of the cruise got delayed. Check out my article on the subject to read about that ordeal. Please don’t make the same mistake we made!
I hope you found these tips helpful. If you are booking your first cruise, please leave a comment below with any questions you may have. If you are a seasoned cruiser, share your tips in the comments below!