Whether you’re looking to book your first cruise or are preparing to take your 100th, there are certain things one should take into consideration before committing. And while every cruise (and cruiser) is different, these questions hold true for pretty much everyone. So what are they?
1. When do I want to sail?
On the surface, this seems like a ridiculously basic question, right? But it is actually perhaps the most important decision you’ll make with regard to your trip. And how you answer it will depend entirely on what you’re looking for in a cruise. If it’s a family vacation, you’re going to be looking to schedule something when the kids aren’t in school. But if you’re an adult hoping to avoid being surrounded by kids, you’ll take the opposite approach, making sure your dates don’t coincide with school vacations. You’ll also need to decide where it is you’re sailing to… and what the various ports will be like during the period you’re choosing to cruise!
2. How much will it cost?
This is actually sort of a trick question, because what you’re really asking is, “How much am I willing to spend?” Some of the following questions will also impact this particular answer, but the thing to keep in mind is how much you will be spending beyond the actual price of the cruise. Will you want to buy a drink package? What type of shore excursions will you be looking to partake in? Do you want to try some of the specialty restaurants, which come with an added fee? By dealing with these questions now – and planning appropriately – you can avoid being shocked later. Many times, the reason people feel as if they were “nickel-and-dimed” is because they didn’t actually take into consideration all the costs that would be associated with their trip.
3) When will I have to pay the bill?
Generally speaking, you’ll pay a deposit upon booking and the rest by a date pre-determined by the cruise line, usually around 45-90 days before you are set to sail. Once you know when the final payment will come due, you can work backwards to create a budget. How much do I need to save per month? Are there things I can do to boost my cruise fund?
4) What is the cancellation policy?
Nobody wants to think about the possibility of cancelling their cruise, but we all know that sometimes, it happens. That’s why it’s important to know exactly how much you will owe based on when you cancel. With last-minute cancellations, you can pretty much be assured that you’ll wind up eating the cost of the cruise. But if problems or conflicts arise early, you can often walk away without owing a cent (or with only having to forfeit the deposit). One way to protect yourself against some cancellation fees is to make sure to purchase travel insurance, which covers a plethora of unforeseen circumstances and is, we believe, something every single cruiser should buy. As they say, better safe than sorry.
5) What type of cabin do I want… or need?
Remember a moment ago when we said that some of the questions we’re asking would help you figure out the ultimate cost of your cruise? This is a big one. And again, it’s one of those questions where the answer will depend entirely on what type of cruiser you are. Many people adapt the “I’m never in my cabin anyway” approach and go with the smallest, cheapest room available. But for others, that way madness – and seasickness, if they require fresh air or at least a view – lies. And in many cases, for as little as $10 more per person, per day, you can upgrade to something a bit roomier.
6) Should I use a travel agent?
In a word, yes. (There, consider that question answered!) You may be able to find what looks like cheaper rates through sites such as Expedia or other online brokers, but they often come with hidden fees and charges that can add up quickly. When working with a travel agent, you know what you’re getting… and what you’re getting will often include perks you won’t get by going through online brokers or booking yourself with the cruise line.
7) What pre-cruise plans do I need to make?
Consider this a two-part question, the first of which involves how far away from your home the port of departure is. Personally, we’re big fans of homeporting, meaning that the ship will be sailing from somewhere relatively close. But if you are sailing from a port that isn’t in your backyard, you’ll have to determine how much time you need to get to the port on the day of departure. Should you fly in a day early? Heck, maybe the ship sails from a city you’d like to spend a few days in! Remember, whether you’re coming in a day or a week early, figure out the costs associated with your pre-cruise plans and add them into the total cost that we discussed way back in question two!
These are the questions we ask ourselves before booking. Did we miss some that you think should make the list?