Cruising is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the travel industry. In the 25 years from 1980 to 2005, the number of Americans taking cruises rose from 1.6 million to a staggering 9.6 million.
Fears over airline security after September 11th led directly to a surge in interest in cruises, which became more popular than ever. And now, with the frustrating nickel-and-diming tactics of the airline industry, cruising is set to become an even more attractive option.
The cruise industry has responded to increased interest with more choices than ever: newer routes include exotic itineraries such as Southeast Asia; on-board options now venture far beyond shuffleboard and bingo and into ice-skating rinks and rock-climbing walls. As for the ships themselves, well, they just keep on getting bigger. With so many choices of where, when, how much, and how far, it can get confusing and expensive. So, here is a primer on how to find and book the right cruise at the right price and the right time and how to make it live up to your expectations.
If you are looking for a short, intense three-day vacation on the coast of Mexico, there are cruises perfect for you. But if you want a mellow, meandering 14-day trip down a river, clearly you want to go a different route.
Asking what you want from a cruise defines the size of ship you all choose, the itinerary, and even the specific ship itself. For example, large ships give anonymity, whereas smaller ships give a more intimate experience. Some people want to party and drink, some want to relax in the sun, and some want more sophistication. Try to tease it out in advance.
Consider following points to Book and Enjoy Your Perfect Cruise:
Choose, Book and Enjoy Your Perfect Cruise How long you want to be away? Do you want to make several stops or just spend a few days on the sea? What kind of onboard activities interest you (i.e. Wine Tasting 101 versus a poolside beer-guzzling contest)? Are the kids coming along? And, perhaps most importantly, think about your base budget, and then double it that s what your cruise is going to cost when you consider add-ons like shore excursions and tips.
Some important distinctions:
Mass-market lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean tend to have lots of family-friendly activities along with plenty of hard-drinking crowds, but are not all-inclusive; Holland America is a little more low-key and tends to attract a more mature, less active crowd; luxury lines like Regent, Silversea and Seabourn are more sophisticated and all-inclusive, but can be pricey.
After you’ve put some thought into the kind of cruise experience you want, start doing some research. Klein recommends using a multi-pronged approach to information-gathering, by using the Internet, seeking out recommendations from friends, and even checking in with a travel agent.
It is wise to use all three as resources, because using only one or another can give an incomplete picture of what is available. The Web can give you the basics as far as price, the size of the ship and the onboard activities, but a friend can tell you what the onboard ambiance and customer service is like. And travel agents can give you the lowdown on things like guided shore excursions and the options that will cost you extra. One caveat: Bear in mind that travel agents may have a vested interest in certain lines (some even get bonuses on top of their commissions), so don t limit yourself to only the cruises they offer.