Right cruise, right ship (Tips on finding the perfect one)

Cruise ship docks at Bridgetown harbor in Barbados (Larry Luxner)

This month I had the opportunity to tour the brand new Norwegian Breakaway in New York City.  As I walked around this large ship and took pictures, I had an opportunity to reflect on something that as an experienced cruiser I might understand over a new cruiser.  Not every cruise is right for every person.

Although the ship was big, bright, and inviting, I saw so many families with young children and babies.  I’m not saying the occasional baby, but lots and lots of babies.  You know, the young, screaming kind that would probably be screaming throughout my entire vacation.  Maybe you’re a parent to a young child and this might not bother you, but when I go on a cruise, I want to get away from it all, including little, screaming babies.

If you’re not an experienced cruiser, how can you determine which cruise line is most suitable for you and your lifestyle?

  1. Never go by price alone!  Yes, you can end up with the most affordable cruise ever, but will it be the best one? Not necessarily.  Price should never be the singular reason you take a cruise.
  2. Understand what you really want out of this vacation: If you’re looking to party hard each and every day with your friends, then a cruise line that appeals to adults with high-end amenities may not suit you.  Conversely, the idea of a romantic cruise with that special someone might get ruined with too many Spring Breakers or too many little children.
  3. Contemporary (mass-market), premium, luxury: Cruise lines are not all the same.  Contemporary or mass-market cruise lines are usually family friendly and more budget friendly than their counterparts.  If you’re looking for a high-end cruise, then you probably want to avoid one of these.
  4. Traditional or contemporary? If you’re looking for a traditional cruise where you dine at set times, people dress up, etc., is going to be completely different from a cruise where you dine when you want, with whom you want, and has a relaxed dress code.  Better to know in advance than to be surprised (and over/underdressed once onboard).
  5. Smaller /older ships are different than newer/bigger ships even within the same cruise line: Be prepared to experience a completely different kind of cruise on one of the smaller ships that sails short cruises to the Bahamas vs. a larger, newer ship recently introduced with all of the bells and whistles.  Although the cruise lines are working hard to update their older ships, a ship from the 1990’s simply cannot compete with a brand new ship.
  6. Costa Marina docks at Port of Santos in Brazil. (Larry Luxner)
    Costa Marina docks at Port of Santos in Brazil. (Larry Luxner)

    Decide where you want your cabin to be on the ship:  A cabin is a cabin, right? Wrong!  If you want to sleep in after partying hard at night, then you probably don’t want a cabin underneath the pool deck.  Why? Because the crew will be up bright and early each morning arranging the chairs on the deck and you will hear the scraping of each and every chair as they arrange them.  You also might not want to be on the same deck or over/under the deck where the children’s program is located.  Think of all the kids running to and from this location, the foot traffic, the yelling, screaming, etc.  Enough said.  Additionally, too far forward or too far back can be difficult for a number of reasons, the biggest being that it ends up being a long walk to get to your cabin each time.  Think mid-ship, as in more toward the center of the ship deck-wise (not too high or too low) as well as center on the deck (not too forward or back – aft).  This will also help alleviate issues of seasickness, should that arise.

  7. Decide when you want to cruise: If you choose a contemporary (mass market) cruise line, be wary of sailing during times of the year when school is out, either the summer or school breaks if you’re looking for a ship that’s not going to be completely covered in children.  However, if you do have children, you probably want to go during these times and you’ll want to be careful of going on a premium or luxury cruise line where few children travel.
  8. Ask friends and family for their opinion: Nothing is better than getting a first hand account of someone’s last cruise.  If Grandma and Grandpa had a great cruise where they relaxed, went to bed early, and dined at a table of 12 and if that doesn’t sound like it would work for you, then you probably want to consider whether that cruise would work.
  9. Check online for cruise reviews: There are far too many sites to list here, but one of the most popular is Cruise Critic.  Check their reviews as well as the message boards for detailed information.  Although everyone will have a different experience, you can definitely get a feel for what the entertainment, cuisine, and service is like if you read more than a few reviews.
  10. Work with an experienced travel agent: Someone who works day in and day out selling cruises is going to give you the best advice as to which cruise line best suits you and your needs.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions!

Do your research and match yourself to the best cruise ship and cruise line and if you do,  you’re guaranteed to have an excellent cruise.