Choosing a Cruise Line
There are many excellent cruise lines offering a wide variety of ships, itineraries and onboard experiences. Some of these cater to a specific niche, some try hard to appeal to a wider market. It's important you consider what you're looking for in a holiday, what types of activities you'll enjoy, what sort of onboard atmosphere you prefer and whether you like smaller or larger ships. This will make it much easier to select the right cruise line for your tastes and budget.
General Cruise Line Classifications
Appeals to the more sophisticated cruiser. Very upscale ships, unique amenities and itineraries. The passenger to staff ratio is low, thus providing more refined personalized service (the staff get to know your name). In most cases, all staterooms are situated for ocean views and most have balconies. Dining is top-notch from the table setting to the food and wine. Attire is more country-club during the day and upscale/elegant in the evening. Kids programs are few to none.
An upscale experience that caters to all age groups and interests. Ships are well appointed with a unique blend of itineraries and onboard amenities. Passenger to staff ratio is still low and service is superb. Many ships have at least 80% of the staterooms providing ocean views. Dining is upscale and well presented. Attire is more reserved or casual, with certain dress requirements in the evening. Programs for kids are offered, usually segmented by age.
Caters to first time and repeat cruisers of all age groups and interests. Ships are of very ample size, some are the biggest afloat, with a vast array of activities and amenities. Numerous dining venues are available ranging from upscale to casual. Attire is usually relaxed, although most lines do have designated formal occasions. Programs for kids are extensive and segmented by age.
For those interested in exploring a destination in depth, visiting smaller less frequented ports and rivers a small ship or river cruise will be perfect. These ships are much smaller than your average cruise ship, allowing a more neighborhood-like atmosphere. Virtually all staterooms have a river/shore view and are well appointed. Dining is elegant. Entertainment can be found in conversing with fellow passengers, lectures, or a culturally enriching show. Attire is casual. Most do not have kids programs, but entertainment and excursions are enjoyable for all ages.
Choosing a Cruise Ship
Whether you're an introvert, extrovert, adrenaline seeker or laid-back observer, the holidays you take are usually closely aligned with your personality. When it comes to cruise vacations, sometimes determining what kind of cruise ship is best for you can be confusing. At one end of the spectrum are the sleek mega-liners, at the other, the small vessels, but which will best match your personality?
If you like the festivity of being among plenty of people and fast-paced entertainment, you'll find it aboard one of the 12-15 story mega-liner behemoths. Multiple pool areas, kid and teen venues, energising activities from surf-simulators to nightclubs, and expansive dining options, are all designed to keep two to three thousand passengers buzzing well into the evening. Group activities cover a wide spectrum of interests, including culinary and athletic classes, games, to pool-side activities. Attire is usually relaxed, and depending on cruise line, evening wear stretches from casual to formal.
Catering to roughly 100 to 500 passengers, smaller ships can glide into more quaint and unique ports around the world resulting in experiences not attainable by those aboard the big ships. But the difference doesn't end there.
Smaller ships usually offer enhanced ambiance such as meals on fine china, entertainment by classical musicians and upgraded stateroom amenities. Notable guest speakers, frequently experts in culinary, cultural or nature-related subjects of the region, will leave you with a heightened appreciation for the cities you'll be visiting. Dress codes are often country-club casual by day, elegant by night.
To add another figure into the equation, there are also mid-sized liners which are a variation between big and small, however attitude and service generally side with the smaller ship approach.
A cruise vacation should compliment your personality, but with so many options out there, there's no better resource than a cruise expert to help translate a cruise line's personality with yours.
Choosing a Cabin
Often referred to as staterooms, there are typically four basic cabin options. Each cruise line then categorises each of these options into quite an extensive number of sub categories. These are based essentially on the location of each cabin and generally speaking a higher priced category is mid ship and on a higher deck. To keep it simple here are the four basic categories - ask your cruise expert to further describe the categories available based on the cruise line you've selected.
*Staterooms for people with physical disabilities are also available in most categories; ask your cruise expert for further details.
Inside (or Interior)
Staterooms are nicely appointed, however space is limited. There is no outside view or porthole.
Oceanview (or Outside)
Features a picture window or porthole, providing added ambience and views. Can be slightly larger than inside cabins.
Providing the convenience and elegance of a private balcony with patio furniture. Also allows for fresh air throughout your cabin.
Depending on the cruise line, suites can be very spacious ranging anywhere from 1,000 to 9,000 square feet, ideal for families and/or a group of friends sailing together. Suites are beautifully appointed and often come with other advantages such as priority check-in.
Prices Can Change at any Time
The most important point to understand about cruise pricing is that fares can change up or down at any time without notice.
This is basically due to supply and demand. If a cruise is selling well the cruise operator doesn't need to lower fares to fill it. Conversely if there is plenty of availability only a few months before departure then you can expect to see prices come down. Of course the cruise lines keep the status of availability close to their chest so it's difficult to predict what prices for any particular sailing will do.
Plenty of deals are available throughout the year offering a range of incentives including reduced rates, airfare discounts, additional onboard credit, or a combination of added-values. However, to secure the itinerary, ship stateroom and any shore excursions you prefer, plan on booking at least four to six months prior to departure. Especially for travel during peak periods such as school holidays, where you may have to book up to 12 months in advance.
Last Minute Deals
Last minute deals are often available, which are great for those searching for a quick cruise getaway. In most cases, last minute deals are what the cruise has left in stateroom availability, which means your choice of accommodations will be limited. Last minute deals invariably are not available on a specific cruise you have in mind. But if you aren't fussy about the ship, itinerary or cabin you want then you just might get the deal of a lifetime. At CruiseAlong we provide plenty of last minute deals in our regular e-newsletter.
If you are travelling with children or as part of a larger group and need cabins reasonably close together then you will probably need to book reasonably early. Remember, those last minute deals don't give you the opportunity to select specific cabins.
Book With Confidence
Pricing is often a topic of conversation even onboard a ship because so many people have paid different fares depending on a host of circumstances, some of which we've discussed here. What we suggest is that after taking into consideration all these factors and talking to our cruise specialists if you feel you have come up with the right combination of price, cruise and cabin type then go ahead and book with confidence. Whatever you have paid you can be assured it is good value.
What's Included and What's Not?
You can usually count on meals, entertainment, accommodation with private ensuite, use of ships facilities and taxes all being included in any published cruise price. What is often not included in the fare you see in some websites may be applicable government taxes and fees, fuel surcharges, and, if applicable, any airline taxes and fees.
Onboard extras such as mini-bar, spas, excursions, internet, casino gaming, drinks/liquor (on some cruise lines), laundry service, and babysitting, are not typically included in the cruise fare.
Choosing a Destination and Duration
First time cruisers are typically drawn to shorter cruises departing from home ports, whereas more experienced cruisers tend to venture off to more exotic destinations. But whether you're a new or experienced cruiser, you don't have to follow any guidelines to where you should cruise. Lay out a world map and nearly all major cities that sit on major shore lines are accessible by cruise ship; it all comes down to defining your travel preferences and sense of adventure.
You can choose a quick three or four day cruise to get your feet wet to a 180 odyssey that will take you around the world. However, most cruises are in the 7-14 day range. Also, when you travel might matter to you based on your level of enjoyment of crowds and/or weather. For example, the Mediterranean can be crowded and sultry in the summer, yet cooler and less crowded in the spring or fall. Alaska cruises operate between May and September each year with July/August the busiest period.
Shorter cruises typically attract a younger crowd, bringing the average age onboard much lower than on a longer cruise. This is mainly due to the limited time most younger types can afford but it is also reflective of shorter cruises being perfect for new cruisers or celebratory groups.
Many new cruisers think even a 7 night cruise may be a little long for them but more often than not they come back just like an experienced cruiser, itching for more days at sea.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I purchase travel insurance even if I'm cruising locally?
We have seen many cases of people having to cancel a substantial holiday at the last moment and losing almost the entire value of their fare. Travel insurance can offer you protection if you have to cancel due to injury, sickness, or death of a travelling companion, or immediate family member. Additionally, it provides emergency assistance whilst you are on your holiday.
These same benefits and risks apply to cruising from Australia to the Pacific or even within Australian ports, as once you are on a cruise ship in international waters you may not be covered by Medicare.
Where can I go on a cruise holiday?
Cruises visit practically any destination accessible by water - Antarctica, Alaska, North America, Bahamas, Bermuda, the Caribbean, Europe, Hawaii, the Greek Isles, Mediterannean, the Orient, Australia, Tahiti, the Galapagos Islands, South America, India, the Panama Canal and more.
What does 'run of ship' mean?
Run of ship means that your stateroom could be literally anywhere on the ship. This could be from the lowest deck to the highest, inside or outside staterooms, front, back, or mid-ship. You will generally not receive your stateroom number until you arrive at the pier.