Connect with us

BEFORE YOU GO

Ultimate Guide To Booking Your First Cruise

Published

on

Booking your first cruise can be a daunting prospect. Sure, you could just randomly pick a stateroom on any old ship and you’re likely to have a decent time. However, if you do a little research to make sure you book the right stateroom on the right ship, you’re going to have the best possible vacation. But how does a first-timer know what to ask? By reading on as we look at the questions we wish we’d asked before our first cruise!

Part 1: Figuring Out What Type of Cruiser You Are

Nassau Bahamas

This might be the most important series of questions, because it will help put you on the right ship. Ask anyone in the travel industry – whether a travel agent or the president of a cruise line – and they will tell you that finding the right ship is crucial. (It’s worth noting that for the purposes of this article, we’re looking at the mainstream lines such as Carnival, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean as opposed to their smaller, more expensive offshoots like Regent or Seabourn.) Studies show that the vast majority of first-time cruisers have such a good time that they decide to take another… but that good time is dependent on them being on a ship which meets their particular vacation needs. So here are some things to ask yourself in the planning stages.

1. How laid-back do I want to be?

Finding the cruise line which you’ll be most comfortable on can, in some ways, be as easy as looking at how they market themselves. Carnival plays up on its reputation as being more laid-back by dubbing its line the “fun ships” and running ads (featuring “Chief Fun Officer” Shaquille O’Neal) suggesting you “Choose Fun.” Norwegian’s promotional materials play up their freestyle concept, which basically advocates you be as flexible as you choose to be. For example, Norwegian does not offer an official “formal night” but rather features Norwegian’s Night Out, where guests are free to dress up or not. Looking for something a bit more upscale? Princess and Holland America trend in that direction, with the former skewing a bit younger than the latter.

2. How important are “bells and whistles”?

Are you the type of person who wants to simply relax… or are you looking for some adventure? Do you want to sit and stare at the ocean… or are you afraid that without the ability to race a go-kart or jump on a surf simulator, you’ll be bored? Even within individual cruise lines, the options vary from ship to ship. For example, Norwegian Gem is a smaller, older ship where the most exciting feature is probably the rock climbing wall. But the line also has ships like Norwegian Breakaway and the upcoming Bliss on which there’s everything from freefall waterslides to laser tag and the aforementioned go-karts. The same is true of Carnival Cruise Line, where smaller ships like Sunshine offer fewer thrills than do the new Vista class ships.

3. Who do I want to cruise with?

If you’re looking for fewer kids, it’s a pretty safe bet that Disney Cruise Line is not going to be for you. Likewise, cruisers who aren’t looking for onboard go-karts, thrills, and spills are likely to gravitate toward a line’s older, smaller ships.

4. What am I willing to pay extra for?

If you’re a first-time cruiser poking around message boards, you’re going to come across the phrase “nickel-and-dime” quite a bit. This phrase is most often used by people complaining about things cruise lines charge extra for on top of the initial price. It’s important to know exactly what is – and what isn’t – included in your cruise price, especially if you are someone who is budget conscious. Don’t get excited about the fact that a ship has 30 restaurants if 24 of them charge a fee and you only want to eat in the complimentary venues.

Part 2: Narrowing Down Your Choices

Carnival trip report

With any luck, answering the above questions has helped you at least narrow your choices down to a particular cruise line. The next step is figuring out which ship you want to be on… and where you want to go. If there’s one thing we would definitely advise against, it’s making decisions simply based on price point. What good is getting a great deal if you wind up going somewhere you have no interest in on a ship that doesn’t offer you the amenities you want? That brings us to our next set of questions.

1. Where do you want to sail from?

The answer to this question will have a major impact on your final destination and ship. Why? Let’s say that New York City is the most convenient port for you, and you’d rather not fly somewhere else. Well, only a few ships sail year-round out of Manhattan’s main port (or the nearby port in Bayonne, New Jersey). If, however, you’re near (or willing to fly to) a port such as Miami or Fort Lauderdale, you’ll have far more options to choose from.

2. What size ship do you want to sail on?

Given that we are talking about the mainstream lines, this really becomes a question of “big” or “mega.” For example, Norwegian’s Jewel class ships carry around 2,500 passengers each, while their Breakaway Plus class ships ferry over 4,000 passengers. Similarly, Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas welcomes over 6,000 passengers on each sailing, while Empress of the seas sails with under 2,000 passengers. As we mentioned before, the older, smaller ships tend to have fewer bells and whistles. But a first-timer wanting to get their sea legs before tackling one of the megaships might very well enjoy something a little more old-school.

3. Where do you want to go… and for how long?

Another crucial element is figuring out your itinerary. Many first-timers – worried about whether they’ll get seasick or perhaps be bored – decide to try a shorter sailing. While that’s not necessarily possibly out of all ports (you’ll be hard-pressed to find a sailing of less than seven days out of Manhattan, for example), there are plenty of three and four-night options available, especially out of Florida. As for where you’ll go, statistics from the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) indicate that a majority of first-time cruisers head to the Caribbean. And this isn’t particularly surprising. After all, who doesn’t think of blue waters, white beaches, and tropical cocktails when they think of cruising? Another popular destination for first-timers: Alaska.

Part 3: Picking a Stateroom

nice sized stateroom

Answering the questions above should help you narrow down your cruise line choice and, beyond that, point you toward a ship. But this next set of questions will help with a really specific topic: What type of cabin should you book on the ship?

1. How much time do I plan to spend in the room?

For some folks, a stateroom is where they will sleep, shower, and change clothes. It’s basically a pit stop as they race about enjoying their vacation. For them, an inside or perhaps oceanview stateroom is fine. But others know they will spend quite a bit of time in their room and want something more… like a balcony on which they can sit and read, enjoy their morning coffe,e and just contemplate life. And those who figure “What the heck, let’s do it up right” can consider taking things to the next level with a suite… although warning: Most people we’ve talked to said that once you live “the suite life,” it’s tough to do a lesser category stateroom!

2. Where do I want to be… and just as important, where do I not want to be?

When it comes to stateroom selection, we have two words for you: Deck plans. Seek them out (they are easily accessible on the Web) and utilize them. If you are using a travel agent, make sure they know that you’d prefer to be in a cabin “sandwiched” between other cabins. If you’re booking the cruise yourself, take a look at the deck plans to see if there is a nightclub above you, or a theater below, or any other venue which might result in your late-night or early-morning beauty sleep being disrupted.

READ MORE: Why Stateroom Location is Important 

3. Should I expect an upgrade?

Basically… no. Longtime cruisers will wax poetic about the time they booked an inside room and got a free upgrade to a balcony but, for the most part, those days are over. Booking a stateroom in hope of being upgraded to a higher category is a foolhardy risk. This is especially true as cruise lines have begun looking at ways to monetize upgrades. For example, Norwegian Cruise Line now offers cruisers the opportunity to “bid” on available upgrades. But even those come at a risk, as you are bidding on a specific category, but have no control over the actual stateroom’s location. Translation: You could wind up in a better category, but in a stateroom that isn’t in an ideal location. At the end of the day, booking the stateroom you want is the surest way to make sure you get the stateroom you want!

Part 4: Other Questions to Consider

The above categories should help guide you toward making some of the basic decisions regarding a cruise line, a ship, and even a stateroom. Finally, let’s look at some of the other, more generic questions you should ask yourself during the planning stages. We know it seems like a lot to process, but think of it this way: You’re spending a fair amount of money on your cruise… you want to make it as special as possible, right? And if that means taking the time to do some research – whether on your own or with the help of a travel professional – that’s what you want to do… right?

1. Should I buy trip insurance?

If you ask us, this is a no-brainer… and the answer is yes, every day and twice on Sundays. Many first-time cruisers assume that this is unnecessary or even a way for someone to make more money off folks who don’t know better, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. While you hope that nothing bad will happen during your cruise, it’s definitely better to be safe than sorry. If you’re wavering even a little bit, click here for more information on why you should definitely be purchasing insurance.

2. Should I purchase a drink package?

This is one of the most-asked questions on every cruise-related message board and Facebook page, and with good reason. Drink packages are popular, but they’re also pricey. Obviously, folks want to know if they are going to get their money’s worth. Unfortunately, it’s a question each individual cruiser has to answer for themselves. The best advice we can offer is to check and see what the package offered on your cruise does and does not offer, and then think about how much of that applies to you. If you’re the kind of person who has a glass of wine at dinner and a Bloody Mary at breakfast, it’s probably not going to work out in your favor. It also might depend on how many sea vs. port days you have, and whether you plan to spend more time exploring ports or staying on board during those visits.

Sponsored Link

READ MORE: Why I Always Buy A Drink Package

3. Do I want an early or late dinner seating?

Granted, this question is increasingly becoming unnecessary as more and more cruise lines offer their passengers flexibility when it comes to dining times. But for those who prefer traditional dining – meaning that on nights you choose to eat in the main dining room, you have an assigned table (and tablemates) at the same time each evening – there is the question of early or late seating. Some prefer an early seating so that they can do a show after dinner. Others prefer going to the early show and then doing a late dinner. There are all kinds of reasons to pick a particular dining time, from wanting to be on deck (as opposed to in the dining room ) when the sun sets to feeling as if there is less rush to a late dinner seating (as there aren’t people waiting to take your table once service is finished).

Final Thoughts

Maya Chan

Obviously, a first-time cruiser will have all kinds of other questions not covered here. But we thought this might be a good primer to get things started. And we know, it might seem daunting and like a lot of work. But here’s the funny thing: By taking the time to do it right, you’re going to have an amazing cruise… and you’ll immediately want to start planning your next one. And when you do, you’ll realize that all this “work” is actually a lot of fun. For most people, the planning actually becomes something they look forward to… in many ways becoming an “extension” of the cruise itself!

SaveSave

SaveSave

Advertisement

BEFORE YOU GO

How Cruise Lines Boost The Price Of Your Vacation

Published

on

When it comes to budgeting for a vacation, we all try to get the most bang for our buck. But over the past few years, the cruise lines have gotten incredibly good at figuring out ways to get a little extra money out of passengers… and most people willingly fall into the trap!

Why We’re Willing To Pay Extra

When is a hidden fee not so hidden? When it’s promoted openly and accepted without question! Increasingly, cruise lines have found that people are more than happy to shell out a little extra money — above and beyond the initial cost of their cruise — months before even setting foot on a ship! And there’s more than a little bit of psychology at play when it comes to how and why the cruise lines market these extras!

In a recent interview with Business Insider, Royal Caribbean CEO Michael Bayley shared how pre-cruise spending helps boost the bottom line. “What we found,” he explained, “is that, if you spend $100 before you sail, that’s spent and gone. You don’t even put it in your budget for when you’re on vacation. So every pre-cruise revenue dollar that we generate will often generate 50% more on-board revenue for that customer.”

Sponsored Link

If you pay for your night at Royal Caribbean’s Chops Grille in advance, you’re more likely to spend more on other things.

As Norwegian Cruise Line’s President and CEO Frank Del Rio explained during a conference call last year, “When folks have money to spend on board, they spend it in restaurants and in shops and, primarily, shore excursions. We’ve seen this wide-spread move away from buying things to enjoying experiences.” And this, he said, had led to a pretty significant uptick in on-board spending in 2017.

Shore excursions — such as the Sentry Hill Zipline on St. Marteen — are a big source of revenue for cruise lines.

How To Avoid Breaking The Bank

If you’re looking to stay within a budget, it’s important to make sure that you’re keeping track of all the expenses associated with your cruise. While it’s all well and good to get a great price on your stateroom, make sure you know exactly what’s included… and just as important, what isn’t! What additional expenses will you incur along the way? Will you be staying on the ship during all or some of the port visits, or is doing shore excursions a major part of the experience for you? Is it worth purchasing a drink package, or would you be better off simply paying as you go? Will there be pre- and post-cruise expenses such as airline tickets and hotel stays involved? Are the daily gratuities included, or do you need to factor them in separately? While trip insurance isn’t required, it’s highly recommended and could ultimately wind up saving you a whole lot of money!

READ MORE: 17 Extra Costs To Factor Into Your Cruise Budget 

While cruise vacations are a fantastic bargain, they are also a bit of an investment and should be treated as such. Just as you wouldn’t simply blindly purchase a stock in which to invest (we hope!), it’s worth taking a little bit of time to make sure you know how much you’re spending and what you can expect in return!

Do you find that you spend more on the ship if you’ve already paid for your other expenses? What are some of your best money-saving tips? 

 

Continue Reading

BEFORE YOU GO

Review: Day Use Hotel App Helps Cut Down Post-Cruise Airport Time

Published

on

Chances are that if you’re a regular cruiser, you also spend a fair amount of time in airports. And you probably dread doing so. Especially if you’ve just had the most amazing cruise and now your post-vacation buzz is immediately going to be killed by the fact that you have to sit at the airport for six hours waiting for your flight home.

That’s exactly the prospect I was facing recently after a great cruise out of Miami. I’d gotten a great deal on a flight home, but it wasn’t departing until 5 p.m. Since we had to be off the ship by 10 a.m., that left me with a whole lotta time to kill.

It’s worth noting that like a lot of people do, I was up pretty late the night before. So, the prospect of sitting in the airport all day was definitely not appealing. Instead of renting a car for the day or looking for an excursion, I turned to Google in the hope of finding a hotel that offers day rates.

And that’s when I discovered Day Use, a company the lists hotel properties that offer day passes. While you don’t have to download the app to use it, I prefer apps over smartphone browsers, so I opted to download the app… especially since it seemed like the kind of thing I’d get more use out of in the future.

Finding My Hotel 

While you can easily use the app to find a room the day you need it, you run the risk of nothing being available. Instead, it’s probably smarter to try and find something in advance. Once you’ve booked your flight and know when you’ll need a room, it’s a good idea to try and book your day pass at a nearby hotel if you want to make 100 percent sure that you have a place to relax.

The app is about as user-friendly as they get. Simply type in the city you want to find a room in and the date, and a variety of options are presented. They’ll typically give you the time range during which the room is available for use (for example, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., which is pretty common) and the price.

In this case, I wound up going with the Homewood Suites by Hilton. For $69, I was able to have access to the hotel room from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. which was a great deal, especially since this particular room was a suite with a kitchen, living room, and a large bedroom. My flight was at 5 p.m. and the hotel was only about 10 minutes from the airport, which meant I could check out at 3 p.m. and still get there with time to spare.

Notes on the Booking Process

  • Once you enter in the name of the city you want to find a room in, you’ll be presented with a list giving you the name of available hotels and prices. You can also click to see where they are on the map.
  • Search options allow you to look at the choices based on which is nearest, which are the site’s top picks, which are priced lowest to highest and which are priced highest to lowest. (Although really, who asks to see the highest priced first?)
  • To find out more about a specific hotel, click on it. You’ll find a lot of information, including what amenities are offered and which aren’t. For example, some will show that they have a shuttle to the airport, which is definitely a great perk.
  • If you’re picky or want to do something specific – like maybe get in a workout or sit by a pool – make sure to see if the hotel in question has the facilities you’re looking for!
  • When it comes time to book, you’ll be given the option to either create an account (which will make it easier to make future bookings with fewer steps) or do so as a guest.

It’s important to note that no credit card information is required to use the app. Once you find the hotel you want, you’ll be prompted to enter your first and last name, email, and phone number. You’ll then get a text and email confirmation.

Arriving at the Hotel 

If you poke around the site a bit, you’ll find that at most of the hotels, the earliest check-in time available is 10 a.m. If the hotel you selected has a hard-and-fast 10 a.m. check-in time, it’s probably worth staying on the ship and enjoying breakfast rather than rushing to be one of the first people to disembark. Some do offer the option of letting the hotel know what time you plan to arrive, so if you want to check in earlier, it’s worth seeing if that’s an option. But once, having gotten off the ship earlier than I should have, I tried checking into a room at 8:30 a.m. and none were yet ready.

Checking in is pretty much exactly the same as if you were staying for the night. You simply tell them you’ve rented a room for the day and they’ll look up your information.  It’s always a good idea to have the email or text confirmation available in case they don’t have the paperwork yet, especially if you did a booking on the same day as you are arriving.  They will take your credit card for incidentals. Like any hotel, they will place a temporary hold on your card and then release it a few business days later. The amount they hold varies based on the individual hotel’s policy. When I stayed at the  Homewood Suites in Miami, they placed a $75 hold on the card I presented them with.

What I Liked Most About Day Use 

There’s actually a lot to like about this app, even aside from the fact it means you don’t have to hang out at the airport all day! For one thing, the app does not require you to input any sensitive information when holding the room. In this day and age, when it seems as if we’re hearing about data breaches on a regular basis, that’s a real plus. The simplicity of them texting and emailing you the confirmation is great because it gives you what you need immediately.

If you decide to create an account on the app, the functionality improves even more. For example, it allows you to bookmark your favorite hotels, look at your past history and, as I mentioned before, it really streamlines the process the next time you want to use the app. All in all, the app (whose website can also be accessed on your laptop at dayuse.com) is one I’d definitely consider a must-have for all cruise travelers.

Sponsored Link

SaveSave

SaveSave

Continue Reading

BEFORE YOU GO

15 Overlooked Cruise Experiences

Published

on

The best cruising advice I often hear people give on the show is “don’t try to do everything, because you just won’t have enough time.” It’s true – there’s never enough time to enjoy every little pleasure on a big-ship cruise because there’s so much happening all at once. That being said, there are some experiences that many cruisers overlook or discount, and we’ve made a list so you don’t miss them on your next cruise.

1. Tastings

Who knew there were so many different types of margaritas?

As a sales incentive, the shops onboard the ship will often hold free liquor or wine tastings to incentivize guests to buy some products. There’s no obligation though, so why not go and get some free alcohol. You might just try something new that you like.

2. Onboard Classes

From cooking classes to yoga to salsa dancing and mixology lessons, there are endless classes available onboard for almost any interest. Most of these are free and also come with free giveaways like food or alcohol tastings, souvenirs, or other swag.

3. Chef’s Table

So many people pass on the Chef’s Table because of the extra surcharge to dine, but if you can afford the extra cost then it’s an absolute must-do. The Chef’s Table is more than just a 7-course dinner; it’s an experience that includes a behind-the-scenes tour of the galley, entertainment, private meet and greets with the top chefs, and carefully selected menus of mouth-watering food that you won’t find anywhere else on the ship.

4. Adults-Only Spots

Carnival Sunshine

Serenity deck on Carnival Sunshine

Not that kids aren’t great and all, but the peace and quiet of the adults-only deck on a cruise ship – plus the lack of crowds – are a refreshing change for many. Some ships also have VIP deck spaces that are both adults-only and are even more secluded thanks the surcharged required to access them, but the added privacy is worth the extra fee.

5. Staying on the Ship in Port

Although there’s always something to explore in any port of call, there’s also something to be said for staying on the ship on a port day. The ship becomes nearly empty, so you more or less have all of the venues to yourself. No lines on a cruise ship is a pretty appealing concept.

6. Star Gazing

Out at sea, away from the city lights, the stars burn brighter than ever. So don’t forget to take the opportunity to stargaze from the ship while sailing at sea. If it’s cold and windy outside, many ships have an indoor observation deck, where you’ll also find a late-night bar.

7. Main Dining Room for Breakfast or Lunch

Fun cereal french toast on Carnival Vista

The lido buffet can be one of the busiest places on a cruise ship, but even specialty dining venues can get crowded when they’re open. Many cruisers mistakenly think the main dining room is only open for dinner, but it’s usually open for all three meals, especially on sea days! Having a waiter serve your meal is much more relaxing than waiting in a long buffet line and then battling the crowds to find an open table.

8. Booking a Balcony Cabin

There’s nothing better than starting and ending your cruise days with your own private piece of the deck. In the morning, order room service breakfast and enjoy it in your PJs on your balcony. At night, grab a nightcap to go and wind down under the stars in your own room. Of course, a private balcony is nice in the middle of the day too when the lido deck gets busy.

9. All-Access Tour

Most cruisers skip the behind-the-scenes tour either because of the surcharge, or because they just haven’t heard of it. But if you have the chance to take the tour, don’t miss it. It takes you behind public areas to places like the ship’s bridge, engine control room, and main galley.

10. Buying a Spa Pass

Norwegian Escape spa – photo by Norwegian Cruise Line

For most, the main purpose of a vacation is to relax. So why not treat yourself to the ultimate form of rest and relaxation by booking a spa pass? On most ships, this means VIP access to thermal suites that include saunas and steam rooms, jetted pools, and more.

11. Using the Jogging Track

Believe it or not, every ship has an outdoor jogging track in addition to its indoor gym facilities. Why run inside on a treadmill when you could walk, jog, or run around an outdoor track that boasts open-ocean views and sea breezes?

12. Complimentary Lunch Dining in Specialty Venues

Specialty dining venues, which come with a surcharge, are becoming more and more popular on cruise ships. However, many that charge during dinner service are open during lunch hours for free. This is a perfect way to check out some different cuisine without the dinnertime fee.

13. Sunrises and Sunsets

Sunrise in Mohogany Bay

There’s simply nothing more captivating than watching the sun rise or set at sea. Even if you’re not a morning person, make an effort to get up early at least one day on your cruise to witness the beauty of a sunrise at sea. Unless it’s completely overcast, I promise you won’t regret it.

14. Meet and Greets

Almost every cruise line offers meet and greet opportunities with characters. Disney Cruise Line of course has Disney characters, Carnival has Cat in the Hat characters, and Royal Caribbean has DreamWorks characters. Disney even allows you to make reservations for a meet and greet, so be sure to bring a book for autographs for your little ones!

15. Professional Photos

Some people shy away from taking the professional portraits on cruises because of the cost to purchase the final prints. However, the cost of taking and purchasing a professionally shot and edited photograph on land is typically much more by comparison. These photos are priceless memories, and you can buy as few or as many as you’d like.

Sponsored Link

SaveSave

SaveSave

Continue Reading

Sponsored Link

ads

Sponsored Link

Stay in the Know with Cruise Radio

Send this to a friend

Hi, this may be of interest to you: Ultimate Guide To Booking Your First Cruise. This is the link: https://cruiseradio.net/ultimate-guide-booking-first-cruise/