Cruise Planning Tips for Beginners – 10 Pro Tips

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Have you decided to do some cruise planning this year? There is nothing more relaxing and spectacular than taking a cruise. However, if this is your first time, the task may be daunting with so many choices available. Here, we’ll offer our professional tips to help you find the perfect option.

10 Professional Tips for Beginners

When it comes to traveling on a cruise ship, you want it to be the perfect experience. Vacations should always be memorable, and there is nothing better than enjoying the open sea, experiencing natural/historical sites, and traveling from port to port.

What Is Your Budget?

Budget is the most important factor. Consider how much you will spend overall for your vacation, including travel both ways from the cruise port, the actual cruise, and activities you will engage in while ashore. You do not want to run out of money.

While there are advertisements for cruises for $49 daily per individual, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Cruises offer the best value when it comes to vacationing. If you compare it to other forms of travel, the fare covers a lot of the cost.

Additionally, there are many activities aboard the ship, dining venues with different types of food, entertainment, and amenities.

It should be noted that not everything is included within the cruise ship price. You will need to budget for fees, port taxes, and gratuities. Things like WiFi, specialty dining, beverages, spa treatments, and on-shore excursions all cost extra.

Be sure to include the extras within your budget and maybe a bit for a buffer just in case.

Where Do You Want to Go?

Now you must determine your destination. More regions in the world are becoming accessible by cruise ships. However, most people choose to visit a top cruise destination like a Caribbean island, especially if it is their first time.

Cruise Destination
Photo Credit: Nick Starichenko / Shutterstock

When planning your cruise, keep in mind pricing will vary based on cruise duration and destination. Also, some destinations, like Europe, Canada, Bermuda, New England, and Alaska, tend to be seasonal. Your vacation time will need to be planned accordingly.

Prices may also vary depending on the time of year. Expensive times tend to be during holidays, school breaks, and the summer. In terms of seasonal ports, the cheapest travel times tend to be early or late in the season.

Know the Health Restrictions

Since the beginning of COVID-19, cruising looks a little different. Cruise lines are implementing different health and safety orders. For example, many are sailing at reduced capacity with alterations to entertainment, activities, and dining.

Choose Your Cruise Line and Ship

There are over 350 ocean cruise ships available, with each cruise line offering different approaches and styles. Most will appeal to families and couples. However, some people have certain preferences that should be considered.

Royal Caribbean vs. Carnival Cruise Line
Photo Credit: Ramunas Bruzas / Shutterstock

Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Lines offer diversity in terms of groups that are multi-generational. Viking Cruises is considered a luxury brand. While it may cost more, it has an all-inclusive experience.

Selecting the right cruise line depends on what you want to receive from your vacation. Even within these brands, there are a variety of ships with different features. However, not all ships have the same forms of entertainment, food, and fun.

Book Early

The best deals come to those who book early. For the best deal, it is recommended to book 6-12 months out. Prices generally don’t decrease over time. If they do, then you may be able to get a price adjustment.

Booking early ensures both a lower price and better cabins. Popular categories fill up quickly, as do destinations on newer ships. Prime locations are from mid-ship to the upper decks.

Also, if you are prone to seasickness, avoid the forward and aft locations (the very back or front of the ship).

Understand Your Cruise Price

Fares for cruise ships fluctuate depending on certain factors. The price can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars based on the ship, itinerary, cruise line, region, and time of year.

But overall, cruises are similarly priced. The advertised price on the website is the lowest cabin category per double occupancy. It also tends to be the cheapest time of the year. Advertised rates are priced before fees and taxes, so take that into consideration. They can increase based on the week you select as well.

Save Money Cruise

Better locations for rooms or categories will affect price, too.

Base fares do not include “perks” for major cruise lines. Celebrity Cruises may be the exception, as its pricing is always inclusive. The base fare tends to include classic beverages, gratuities, and basic WiFi.  While extras may not be included, some lines will run special promotions and sales throughout the year.

Deciding on Your Cabin

Cruise ships have a variety of accommodations. Ensure that you understand the size and inclusions of stateroom categories. This will help you to determine the best setup for your family or yourself.

In addition to the inside, balcony rooms, and ocean view, other classes of staterooms may have extra privileges. They tend to vary by cruise line.

Carnival Sunrise Stateroom
Photo: Copyright Cruise Hive

One option is guaranteed cabins wherein you will be booked in for a cabin in your category. You will not receive a cabin number or location until you receive your final boarding documents. Even though you don’t choose your exact room, the benefits are that it will be the cheapest price for your category with the potential to upgrade.

How Do You Save Money?

When planning your cruise, you will want to save a bit of money. Aside from the ways mentioned above, there are additional ways to save cash.

If you sailed from a port that is close by, you will not need to purchase airfare or other travel expenses. Booking cruises for the Bahamas or Caribbean tend to also be cheaper than other destinations. The costs are also lower for older ships that don’t have as many amenities.

The Best Ways to Save Money During a Cruise
Photo: Copyright Cruise Hive

Some cruise lines also have their own loyalty credit cards, which allow you to earn points for discounts, free cruises, and credit onboard.

Create an Account Online

Once you are set up, create an account on the cruise line’s website. There you can see your reservation and plan activities. You will also be able to view sales on things like WiFi, drink packages, excursions, and spa treatments. You can also make entertainment and specialty dining reservations.

Fly Out a Day Early

Don’t arrive the morning of your cruise or close to departure time. Planes can be delayed for various reasons, and the ship will leave without you. Always plan to arrive the day prior to departure to make sure that you can board the ship on time. 

Cruise Flight
Photo By: Remon Rijper (Creative Commons)

Last Tidbits of Advice

Here are a few last-minute nuggets of advice so you can enjoy your cruise:

  • Consider your destination when packing and prepare for the weather
  • Pack appropriate outfits for excursions, including footwear
  • Bring your own sanitizer, disinfectant sprays, and masks
  • Download the cruise line app to view activities and create reservations
  • Complete your online check-in three days prior to departure
  • Take your travel documentation and passport
  • Pack essential items in a carry-on for easy accessibility
  • Put your smartphone on airplane mode once onboard to avoid roaming charges
  • Be sure you attend Muster Drill (safety exercise)

Furthermore, don’t book an early flight home when you return. Settle the account prior to exiting the ship and do a self-checkout if you can manage your luggage. You don’t want to book a flight that is too early to go home. In fact, it is recommended that you stay an extra day.

Ship departures can be impacted by technical difficulties, weather, clearance from port customs, and other factors. Also, COVID-19 testing will impact your timetable as well.

Cruise lines generally recommend passengers avoid booking flights before noon. Waiting in an airport is better than trying to reschedule a missed flight.

These tips will make your first cruise ship experience a little bit more comfortable and less overwhelming. A cruise should be enjoyed by all and be relatively stress-free. The memory of your cruise should be carried with you for years to come, and it should be positive.

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