GENERAL CRUISE TIPS
We truly feel that a cruise is an exceptional vacation experience in many ways. With the inclusions, variety of entertainment options on board, visiting multiple locations without having to pack and unpack repeatedly, excellent variety of gourmet cuisine, and the added dimension of being on the water; all in all, a fantastic value compared to comparable land-based vacations!
Those who have cruised before know this; those who haven’t cruised yet should experience this.
If you haven’t cruised before and have some concerns you wish to be addressed before you book, this next section is for you. If you have cruised before, you can skip this next section and go on to our general cruise travel tips, which are helpful to novice and experienced cruisers alike….
CHECK OUT THIS INFORMATIVE VIDEO FROM CRUISE INDUSTRY EXPERTS ON THE VIRTUES OF USING AN EXPERIENCED, PROFESSIONAL TRAVEL AGENT TO BOOK YOUR CRUISE:
NEW CRUISER CONCERNS
If you have not yet cruised you may have some hesitation to do so based on one or more of these concerns:
What if I get seasick?
A valid concern, with many ways to minimize this from happening. You can use the following strategy in the planning stages to help avoid this:
- Choose a larger & newer ship (the stability of the size along with the modern stabilization technology will keep the pitch and roll of the boat minimal).
- Choose a stateroom close to the middle of the ship (the front and back, known as fore and aft, is less stable with more movement than a mid-ship stateroom as a ship may roll up and down on swells and waves)
- Choose a short cruise, and / or one within calmer waters (the calm waters of Alaska’s Inner Passage is an ideal choice, as well as a river cruise. For short cruises, it is less time at sea however most short cruises are on unprotected waters that may not be very calm, such as the popular cruises to the Bahamas out of Florida)
- Talk to your doctor about bringing medicine with you to combat seasickness in case it happens (the ship’s infirmary also has this available, for a fee).
I fear having nothing to do and / or feeling “trapped” on a ship.
- Choose a larger ship which has more space for entertainment / attraction options (such as the Oasis Class on Royal Caribbean which has dozens & dozens of entertainment options, attractions, fun events, dining and lounges).
- Choose an itinerary that has frequent stops with long port of call times
FINDING THE RIGHT CRUISE FOR YOU…
Vacations are chosen during specific time frames, within a chosen budget, to certain type of destination / location for you, your family, spouse, etc. These parameters do not change when you choose a cruise of course, and are key components in your quest to find the right cruise for you. Here are some suggestions and advice on how to approach these various parameters when seeking a cruise.
DESTINATION / LOCATION:
If you have a specific destination or two, you can easily search for a cruise that goes there during your chosen time. If you are open to destinations, thinking about a certain region such as the Mediterranean, or wish for a certain type of destination, such as warm weather and beaches, or cultural & historic regions, etc. then your options are greater. If you are open, here are a few good “rules of thumb” to help guide you:
- Flights are usually involved in your vacation, so keep that in mind and look into fares and schedules BEFORE you make a firm selection. Your start and end ports are important in this decision as well, as some ports are not serviced well by airlines with higher prices and lengthy connections as opposed to other ports. For example; if you live in the U.S. and want to go to a warm weather location with beaches and have one week, why spend almost a day each way and $1500 or more to fly to the South Pacific when you can go to the Caribbean for far less money and time. Also, some cruises depart from Barbados which is not serviced by the airlines as much as they provide service to San Juan or Miami, something to take into consideration.
- It’s a great value to extend your cruise vacation by staying a day or two in the start or end port. Experienced cruisers will fly into their embarkation port at least one day prior to the cruise to ensure they don’t miss the boat, literally! Flight delays do happen, weather, mechanical, strikes, etc., so it is wise to get into the first port city a day or two early not only to extend your vacation, but also to ensure a trouble free start to the cruise. You’ll have a chance to acclimate to the new time zone and environment and be fresh and ready to enjoy your cruise fully on day one instead of overcoming jet lag and travel fatigue. Air fare is a large chunk of your vacation expenditure, why not stretch out your vacation as long as possible for no extra charge for air (or sometimes even less expensive).
- If you are eager to explore different areas, pay close attention to the cruise itinerary and make sure you have ample time in ports as opposed to sea days. One of the prime examples of how you can immerse yourself into destinations better is if you wish to explore the Caribbean, fly into San Juan and take a cruise from there which typically has 6 long days in port on a 7 day cruise. You have flown into the heart of the Caribbean so it’s a short distance to other islands as opposed to leaving from Florida which is so much further away, meaning only 3 or 4 island ports of call if starting / ending in Florida typically.
BOOKING THE RIGHT CRUISE FOR YOU…
Is it best to book online, directly with cruise line, via phone, with a travel agent, way before your travel date, last minute, during a full moon, etc. etc…
- Using the web is an excellent idea for your research! We recommend using generic online travel sites as opposed to cruise line websites at the beginning of your search so with one search you can see a wide variety of cruises that meet your desires for travel within your budget and timeframe. Narrow down your choices, and then go to the cruise line websites to learn more about the ship, itinerary and their pricing.
- Cruise lines offer reservations online as mentioned above, and via phone. When working with a cruise line, they of course ONLY offer their product which limits you greatly. There may be an even better cruise at a lower price during the same time on a competitors cruise line which you would never know about if you simply check with a cruise line. If you check with multiple cruise lines, that takes a lot of time to do so individually.
- When you call a cruise line, an entry level order-taker answers the phone and reads off to you what they have on the screen in front of them. They have no latitude or authority to do anything else, and supervisors are not readily available nor will they get on the phone with you to offer you a better deal or perk, etc. All of the travel agents within our organization have been told numerous times by clients that when they called a cruise line directly, the reservationist told them in order to get the additional perks and promotions they are asking about, that they should contact a travel agent! Hard to believe, however we have all heard this quite a few times.
- Travel Agents are typically well-versed in cruises and destinations and can assist you further. Most will consult with you for no charge initially, some may ask for a research fee which typically goes towards the cruise purchase. It is typical for Travel Agents to specialize in a certain budget level, such as luxury or mainstream in order to be more knowledgeable of the cruise offerings suitable for their clientele. Some specialize in regions such as Europe, or Alaska, so don’t hesitate to ask your local agent of their areas of expertise. If it doesn’t coincide with your needs, don’t hesitate to look for a different agency.
~ Our agency has numerous agents specializing in a wide variety of cruise types, regions and specific destinations. Please contact us anytime for further assistance!!~
PRICING & VALUE
A key concern to consider prior to narrowing down a specific cruise itinerary or two is when to travel and when to book. Sometimes you are locked into a time frame such as during spring break, and sometimes you want to book something last minute; however most of the time there is some flexibility.
Seasonality is a key concern; many times revolving around weather patterns however there is so much more involved:
- School vacations (spring break, summers off, Christmas holiday) are typically peak season with extra high demand increasing prices and lowering availability across the board. If you wish to travel during spring break or Christmas holiday, book early on, a year or more in advance is common, or as soon as you decide you want to travel. Especially if you want a stateroom that fits 4 or 5 people!
- Peak season varies by destinations, usually defined by weather patterns such as temperature and rainfall. During the best times of the year, this is of course peak season. If you wish to travel then expect higher prices, lower availability and many times large crowds of tourists trying to do the same thing you are. Book early! Off / Slow season is of course the counterpart, with less than ideal geographic conditions leading to lower prices, greater availability and less crowded (sometimes considerably so). The “transitional time” between peak and off peak season is known as “shoulder season”, an ideal time to travel! Here, you get close to ideal conditions yet a better value, lower pricing and less crowded. An ideal example is Alaska, which has cruise ships plying their waters from early May until end of September. It can be very cold, grey and wet at the start and end of this time frame, with some attractions, stores, restaurants etc. not even open. If you can avoid the peak summer months when the weather is more ideal, and when school is out (typically the second week of June through end of August) and go during shoulder season (very late May / very early June or early September) you will still have nice weather typically, less crowds in port AND save yourself hundreds or even thousands of dollars! This scenario is the same elsewhere; Europe, Caribbean, etc., with peak seasons defined by nice weather and school vacations.
Key take-away here; travel during shoulder season as much as possible!
- Tying into the seasonality mentioned above is a wonderful value in cruising; repositioning cruises. The largest exodus of ships is between the Caribbean and the Mediterranean in the spring as ships leave the Caribbean and cross the Atlantic to settle into summer in the Mediterranean, and then vice-versa in the late fall. Also; Alaska’s short summer season leads to repositioning cruises that include the west coast of the USA and Mexico, and across the North Pacific into Eastern Russia and Asia. These cruises can cost one third the cost of what an established regular itinerary costs! Granted, less ports of call however an excellent way to enjoy the virtues of a cruise ship. If you have ample time, this is a great way to visit Europe; as you would only need to fly one way between the US and Europe, so the cost savings on airfare will help greatly to cover the cost of the cruise.
- You may wonder if the cost of the cruise drops after you purchase, can you get the lower price. This can be tricky, with no clearly defined answer. Luxury lines do not discount prices as it gets closer, they typically go up, and usually they sell out. Mainstream and premium cruise lines used to drop prices as the sailing date became closer, and if a cruiser called to get the lower price (if not within the cancellation penalty period) begrudgingly lower the price. Cruise lines have become much more sophisticated about this, way more savvy on how to keep the revenue. It is now rare to see a price drop from a cruise line. The latest is to offer additional perks, such as free / discounted airfare, complimentary spa treatment, etc. Or, they turn to their travel agent partners and offer them lower fares to pass on to their clients. That way, the cruise line customers won’t see or know about cheaper prices on the cruise they already purchased through the cruise line, as the cruise line does not advertise the new lower rate. In addition; cruise lines would need to cancel and rebook your cruise. If you are within cancellation penalty period (usually 75 – 90 days prior to sailing) they would assess the cancellation penalty and then re-book (which typically makes the cost savings no longer worthwhile (for this reason if a cruise line does lower pricing, they typically wait until cancellation penalties apply in order to prevent hundreds of cruisers calling in and tying up their sales reservationists with requests for the lower price). Lastly; with on line reservations available world-wide, if you cancel a stateroom to rebook at a lower price, the reservationist will warn you (correctly so) that once they cancel the stateroom you have and like, before they are able to try and get that stateroom back for your new reservation, somebody else in the world might have reserved it. If there are numerous staterooms in good locations within that category available, no problem. If not, you may be stuck with an inferior location, or be stuck with getting a different category altogether.
- If you still want to try and wait for a “last-minute” bargain, don’t forget that airfare is typically much more expensive as it gets closer to departure. Also, the best air schedules may be booked up, leaving you with not only more expensive flights, but with undesirable schedules (with one or more long layovers, undesirable flight times, etc.).
AFTER PICKING THE RIGHT CRUISE
Once you’ve narrowed down your choices to one or two, now you have further considerations.
- Be a bit flexible with your date range if possible. Sometime the exact same sailing that departs one week earlier or later may not be selling as well and therefore offering lower pricing and / or better perks. Mention your flexibility to your agent right away.
- Stateroom selection is critical, sometimes a huge consideration for pricing as well as your complete enjoyment on the cruise. Do you want to save a little bit but be stuck in a tiny cabin in a noisy area way up front or aft where you get a lot of ship motion? For some who say they just sleep in the cabin only, who cares, maybe this is ok. Keep an open mind with stateroom selection, work with your agent on all possibilities. Here below are a few parameters regarding stateroom selection:
- Many sailings offer what is known as a “Guaranteed” stateroom type, where you are guaranteed a minimum type of stateroom (such as ocean view, balcony, etc.) however you cannot pre-select which one or where, the cruise line will do so shortly before sailing. This can be a HUGE savings; however, you need to be able to accept what they choose. Many times it can be favorable; that type of stateroom in a good location, or even an upgraded category. Other times it may be an inferior stateroom such as underneath the orchestra pit, or above the disco, etc.
- Don’t have your blinders on when it comes to categories. We have seen ocean view staterooms for less cost than interior staterooms, balconies for less than ocean view, etc. on the same exact cruise. This is due to pricing automation. Sometimes interior cabins are 98% sold out so the computer bumps up the pricing on the remaining 2%, while on the same sailing ocean view staterooms are only 70% sold out, so the original lower pricing is still available.
- Similar to the above parameter; be open minded to upgraded stateroom types! Some offer fantastic amenities, so when you do the math, you come out ahead when you pay a bit more upfront. A couple of examples; there may be a “spa deck balcony stateroom” that is a little bit more expensive than a standard balcony stateroom, however, you may get hundreds of dollars’ worth of complimentary spa access & treatments which add up to being a lot more than the few extra dollars you prepaid for this upgraded stateroom type. Another great example; check out mini-suite pricing if you are considering a nice balcony. Additional perks such as fully stocked mini-bar, spa access, complimentary specialty dining, concierge service, etc. may be included and a better value for you with all those inclusions (besides getting a larger stateroom, and typically placed in one of the better locations on board).
- Many times there are bundled packages on the sailing you desire, which may or may not be a better value. Bundled packages may include air, beverages, internet, even shore excursions. If you call a cruise line, their reservations agents are instructed to push clients to spend as much as possible, and their pay is based on their revenue either directly or indirectly. A good travel agent can “break down” the individual costs of the various packages and advise you if it is a better deal for you to buy the base cruise only and get air, etc. on your own or through other sources the agent can help you with (unlike cruise line reservation agents).
To wrap up, it doesn’t cost you a dime to have an initial chat with a travel agent, so it is in your best interest to do so. Most agents will waive booking fees if you book a nice cruise through them. If not, the minimal fee that might be charged is well worth the service, expertise and better pricing and perks a good travel agent can get for you. In addition, a travel agent will assist you from the initial planning stages up to the trip itself, and even afterwards to follow up. This includes destination knowledge and full assistance with what to do in port, instead of just directing you to the list of expensive shore excursions offered by the cruise line directly.
We hope this helps you with selecting the right cruise for you with the best value possible….