Planning a Cruise

A cruise is an exciting way to vacation. On a cruise, you have most of the advantages of an all-inclusive resort. Yet, you get the chance to visit a new place every day.

If you are new to cruise travel, planning a cruise can be a little intimidating. Where should you go? What cruise line is best? What about the food, activities, shore excursions – how do you know where to start?

Here are a few tips that might make planning your trip a little easier.

If you aren’t sure where you want to go, how much it will cost, or which cruise lines to pick you may want to find a good travel agent. It doesn’t cost anything and a good agent should be able to steer you in the right direction.

You can also start with a little research on your own. I really like the reviews and forums on Cruise Critic. Spend some time reading the ship reviews and also the member reviews of cruises they have taken.

Many of the big travel sites offer the ability to shop for cruises. However, when getting started, I like the ability to filter and one of the better sites for that is Kayak.

Think about where you want to go. Are you more interested in staying on the ship, relaxing by the pool and enjoying great dining? Or, would you prefer to visit a new island or city every day? Some cruises offer more days at sea while others stop somewhere every day. Many people like to book their trip around the destinations. Shore excursions can be be fun – like ziplining in a rain forest, scuba diving, swimming with stingrays or you can just relax on a beach. You can do them on your own – but then – you are on your own.

Another factor is the budget. There are cruises in just about every price range. But, the price of the cruise is just the starting point. Keep in mind that there will be taxes, port fees, mandatory tips, and many optional expenses like shore excursions, upgraded dining venues, photo packages and spa experiences. Even a few drinks on board can add up fast and people are often surprised by the total amount they have spent. Some cruise lines are more expensive up front but include some cost saving features. For example, Disney cruises tend to be more expensive but you can get soda on board without having to pay extra. Disney also allows you to bring your own adult beverages such as a bottle of wine to enjoy in your room where some other cruise lines will prevent you from even brining bottled water on board.

So what is the best cruise line? It really depends on your taste. Based on the cruises I have been on, here are a few recommendations.

Norwegian has very flexible dining options and ships that are designed to support the concept. The optional restaurants are often really good and not too expensive. Other lines are started to a similar flexible approach but Norwegian seems to do it best. Entertainment on NCL is great and includes Second City improv comedy on some ships.

If you are traveling as a family, the entertainment on Disney can’t be beat. The nightly shows are very well done and are appropriate for all ages. Disney’s flexible approach to brining on your own beverages appeals to many. Adding to the family environment is the fact that Disney ships do not have a casino like most lines have.

Princess is a nice mid-range cruise that appeals to many. The shows are more vegas-review style which many enjoy but aren’t up the level of NCL or Disney. Many Princess ships offer a great spa experience. If a nightly movie is your thing, you might enjoy MUTS (movies under the stars).

There are other options like Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Holland America, Seabourn, and more. I can’t wait to try them all.

So, where will you go? Share a comment and tell us about your favorite cruise.

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