Here are some of our tips on booking your first cruise.
1. The price you see won’t be the price you pay
Advertised cruise prices usually refer to the cheapest inside cabin on the lowest deck on a particular cruise. Marella Cruises is one of the few cruise lines that includes service in its headline price. Optional extras charged onboard will include drinks or spa packages, excursions and photographs. On top of this you will pay extra for a window, a balcony or a cabin on a higher deck. You may also pay more for the same cruise on a different date, or for flying from a regional airport if it’s a fly-cruise. Once onboard, most cruise lines will charge you extra for service, adding a set amount per person per day to your onboard bill. Some cruise lines will give you the option to prepay this and some offer early booking deals on all inclusive service. If budget is an issue you will need to spend some time researching the true cost of your planned cruise before committing yourself.
2. You may spend days (and days) at sea
If you have great sea legs, love life on the ocean wave and can’t wait to spend time exploring your cruise ship, spending almost half your cruise days at sea may be perfect. Sea days are great for using ship facilities, taking part in activities and catching up on rest and relaxation in between days of sightseeing. If you are, however, feeling a little daunted at the prospect of sailing the high seas, you may want to keep sea days at a minimum. Sailing at night and spending days on dry land is one of the attractions of cruising for many. Most cruises have at least one day at sea, with longer cruises generally being at sea for several days. Sailing around the Aegean, for example, you may have spectacular island views, but there is not much to see but sea in the middle of the Mediterranean or the Atlantic. If you would rather be sightseeing than sailing, choose a cruise with as few ‘at sea’ days as possible.
3. Cruise lines and ships vary – chose the right one for you
Does the thought of being on a floating version of a giant shopping mall with several thousand other people for days on end make your heart sing or sink? Does a smaller ship with fewer people and facilities and a more intimate setting sound ideal or just dull? What about your fellow passengers – would you prefer a family-friendly or adult only ship? Are you looking forward to mixing with people from a variety of nations, with cruise announcements in different languages or would you be more comfortable on a predominantly English speaking ship? A little advance research may make all the difference to the enjoyment of your trip. You can research cruise ship information at sites such as cruisecritic.co.uk.
4. Cruise ships don’t always dock where you think they will
Raring to visit Rome on your cruise? You will probably dock at the port of Civitavecchia which is 80km away. Fancy Florence? Planning Pisa? These are 90km and 24 km respectively from the port of Livorno. Piraeus, the port for Athens is 12km away from the city itself. In all these places you will need to either book an excursion or travel independently to see the sights. You can choose to remain in the port, but they are not usually the most glamorous of destinations. On the other hand, in ports such as Naples and sometimes Barcelona, as well as smaller ports of call, you will find yourself docked right at the heart of the town or city, a mere stroll away from the action.
5. Itineraries can change
Cruise lines generally reserve the right to change a cruise itinerary. Often due to adverse weather conditions this can mean that ports of call are visited in a different order or possibly missed out completely, resulting in extra days at sea. This can be quite disappointing particularly if you have made specific plans, such as visiting a specific attraction or meeting up with friends ashore. If you’ve booked an excursion with the cruise line, they will refund you, but this may not apply if you have booked independently, so do check terms and conditions before booking.