Why spend your holiday in just one place when you can effortlessly visit several countries on the same trip? That’s part of the appeal of a cruise: everything is right there in front of you, ready to enjoy. You go to bed and often wake up to find you’ve arrived at a new port in a new country.
But as seasoned cruisers know only too well, reaching cruise nirvana requires a fair bit of planning.
So, if you’re planning your first cruise, here are some tips from experienced cruisers to ensure you have the most enjoyable trip possible, at a budget that’s right for you.
1. Choose from little or large ?
Cruise ships come in many different shapes and sizes. Some are huge, carrying thousands of people and offering a wider range of activities. Others are more intimate – perhaps even carrying just a few hundred people – and can stop at smaller harbours that are inaccessible to larger ships.
Also, some ships are more formal than others. Some cruise lines permit casual attire just about everywhere and at any time, while others may be stricter about when and where you must wear formal attire. Decide what sort of trip you want and do your homework.
2. Don’t get sick of the sea ???
When looking at cruise itineraries, carefully check how many days at sea are scheduled.
If half of the trip will be spent on board, far out at sea – on a transatlantic voyage for example – then is that right for you? It may be, if spending time on the cruise ship itself is what appeals. Others might prefer to visit as many different places as possible with as few days at sea as possible.
3. Find the right view ?
Choosing the right cabin isn’t always easy as you’re likely to encounter dozens of options when booking your cruise.
One thing in particular to look out for: even if a cabin is described as having an ocean view, it may not always be the case. It could have an ‘obstructed view’, perhaps with an enormous bright orange lifeboat blocking off any sight of the sea.
Cabins with obstructed views come cheaper, so it depends on your priorities.
4. Pick tours and excursions carefully ?
You can pre-book tours and excursions to avoid missing out.
Be careful to check out the distance of the port from your intended destination. In some places you might be able to walk from the ship to the sights, in others you’ll be reliant on transport to get there.
Not all trips are suitable for everyone. If a trip is listed as requiring lots of walking, then consider whether you’re fit enough.
5. Shop around ?
Have you found a cruise that suits you and your bank balance?
Even if you have, you may be able to find it cheaper elsewhere. Search for the same trip across several different websites to find the best price
6. Consider a money-saving ‘repositioning cruise’ ?
If your budget is tight, consider an unglamorous-sounding ‘repositioning cruise’.
These are one-way cruises, which are offered at a discount as they are used by cruise companies to move their ships from one place to another.
Fear not, you still get the same range of activities and level of service that you’d expect on a normal cruise.
7. Protect yourself and your trip ?
You may need to buy additional insurance cover for your cruise. Only a third of single trip and 37% of annual travel policies cover cruise holidays as standard, according to 2017 research by comparison site GoCompare.
While you’re dealing with the paperwork, don’t forget visas and immunisations for all the different stops on your itinerary.
8. Avoid currency rip-offs ?
Get your foreign currency before you leave. Sign up to FairFX’s rate watch service to keep track of when rates are at their best and exchange your currency then – don’t leave it to the last minute.
And beware ‘Dynamic Currency Conversion’, which can soon increase the cost of a trip, both on board the ship and in any ports of call. This fee is charged if you opt to pay for anything in pounds sterling rather than the local currency. To avoid it, always pay in the local currency. So if the onboard currency of your cruise is US dollars, pay in dollars, and the same in any port you visit.
9. Budget for unexpected costs ?
There are several extra costs you need to budget for.
One of them is tipping. Most cruise liners charge a set tipping rate per person, which is added to your final bill. Sometimes you can even pay in advance for gratuities.
Similarly, find out how drinks will be charged for – don’t assume your trip will be all-inclusive style just because you’re effectively on a floating hotel.
Other on board charges to consider range from laundry services to dining at certain restaurants.
10. Keep a weather eye ?
Start thinking like a sailor and plan for the weather.
If you’re booking a cruise for a part of the world where extreme weather events are common, then find out if there are any seasons you should avoid. For example, do you want to cruise around the Caribbean during the peak of hurricane season in September to October? You might find cruises are cheaper that time of year, but you’ll need to weigh up the pros and cons. Again, it’s about working out what suits you personally.
Also, closer to embarkation day, check the forecast to make sure you’ve got all the right gear packed for the weather. Even in sunnier climes, ship decks can get chilly when the sun goes down and the wind picks up.
11. Arrive early ⏰
On the day your ship sets off, it’s important that you get to the port in good time, allowing for any delays you might encounter on the way. They’re not going to hold the ship in port just for you!
In fact, you can often board the ship well before it’s due to set off. Think of it as a free way of extending your holiday by a few hours, potentially avoiding the worst of the queues too.
12. Take a carry-on bag ?
You check your luggage in before a cruise and must then wait for it to be taken to your cabin.
So, to tide you over, you’ll need a carry-on bag, especially if you plan to board nice and early. Fill it with documentation, any valuables or medication, something to read, sunscreen, sunglasses, your swimming outfit and a towel.
13. Consider how you’ll stay in touch ?
Using your smartphone on a cruise can incur large roaming costs. So consider keeping it on ‘airplane mode’. Get in touch with your mobile provider before you set off as some firms, such as EE, offer special rates for cruisers.
You could use Wi-Fi on board, but it will be an added, possibly quite large cost. Alternatively, you could just go online and catch up on emails at internet cafes in ports. Again, it’s worth finding out the best spots to go (try online cruise forums) rather than wasting precious time schlepping around when you’re there.
Beware though, many people will have the same idea, and you might find when you reach a port that there’s a bit of a mad dash – among both ship guests and the crew – to nab a spot in the internet cafe of choice.
14. Enjoy a quiet day on board ?
Instead of disembarking with everyone else, staying on board the ship one day in port can be a neat trick.
With most other people on land, you’ll get free run of the ship, access to all of its activities and extra attention from the staff.