During a recent visit to Los Angeles to see my family, I had the pleasure of attending a Royal Caribbean sales program for travel advisors, and it was wonderful. I met Vicki Freed, the Senior Vice President of Sales and Trade Support. She is amazing for our community of agents, and started as a Cali girl, helping agencies all over the region back when most had storefront locations. I truly admire how far she has come in support of us hard-working travel pros (she started at Carnival).
Well, hearing all about what’s new at Royal got me thinking…it must be truly overwhelming for consumers to choose the best ship for your family vacation! Learning about just Royal C alone can be a daunting task, and there are so many cruise lines and ships these days to compete for your hard-earned vacation dollars!
There are big ships and small ships. There are river cruises, ocean cruises, and expedition cruises. You have a luxury product in each category, budget cabins (think inside…it’s nice and dark and quiet when you want to sleep late) and everything in between! Even the what we in the industry call “mass market” cruise ships have luxury areas just like the hotel within a hotel concept. These are great for multi-generational trips when not every person in the group has the same amount of money to spend on vacation, but they can still all travel together.
You know what I am going to say next, don’t you? Yes, that’s why the FIRST thing you want to do is contact your travel advisor. He or she will ask the right questions (is they are GOOD at what they do) to zero in on the best cruise for you and your travel companions. It’s just not as simple as it was back in the day. And there are still over 73% of Americans who have never taken a cruise, so it’s likely that you may be one of them! Oh, and you probably would like to know that I am a Master Cruise Counselor, a title awarded by the Cruise Line Industry Association, and it took MANY months of classes, proctored tests and cruise ship inspections.
You can find the different cruise lines in a Google search, sure. But do you know what each ship offers you in entertainment value, dining options, kids club activities, and what to do in each port of call?
Consult this list to help guide you in your choice. It’s great if you have an idea of the state or country you want to cruise from, or the part of the world you want to see, right? And the early bird most often gets the best cabin locations and prices, so don’t wait until the last minute when the air will also cost more, unless you can drive to a port to board…then it might be worth your while to wait until the last minute. Even though you might be disappointed in cabin location or the stateroom categories left to choose from, you may find a great value.
How to Choose the Best Cruise For You
- Call a travel professional. The good ones may charge a fee for service, but it will be well worth it for the full service assistance and expertise they provide you.
- Where do you want to go? This link provides some of the top cruise destinations in the world to help you get started. It used to be most cruises were in the Caribbean, but not anymore!
- How long can you and your travel companions be away? There are short 3 night cruises and there are world cruises that last 100 nights or more. Of course, this leads us to the $$$ question as well.
- How much money can you spend? There are cruises for as little as about $75 a day per person and there are cruises with incredible suites costing thousands of dollars per day. From a Cruise Critic article, “Rates also can swing significantly depending on the season (the same cabin on the same ship will cost a lot more during the peak summer travel months than in the fall). And the lead-in price you see in advertisements often is for a small, “inside” cabin without windows onto the sea. You might pay hundreds of dollars more for an outward-facing cabin with a balcony.” Also note that the cost of the cruise may not include the daily per person charge for gratuities for your cabin steward (housekeeping), dining wait staff, bartender and entertainment on board, although these gratuities may be pre-paid. Alcohol packages can sometimes be purchased in advance, but typically just the food in the main dining room and buffets are included in your cruise fare, and perhaps a few other venues at lunchtime. You’ll find the pool deck typically has a burger and fries place nearby that is included in your fare.
- What is your cruise personality? Are you seeking relaxation and romance? Are the kids coming along so you need a kids club (Disney Cruise Line does this best!), which is typically no extra charge for the routine open hours. Do you want lots of activities on board (the Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian ships are great for this!). “Every line has its own personality — and appeals to a different type of person. Carnival, for instance, is known for a gregarious, fun-loving crowd. Celebrity, by contrast, draws a quieter, more style-conscious customer. The two lines operate ships of similar sizes, and often on similar routes and at similar prices, but a regular Carnival customer would likely be miserable on a Celebrity ship — and vice versa.” (From Cruise Critic article in 2013)
- How important is food to you? In a moderate price range, Celebrity does a wonderful job with dining, although on most ships nowadays there are specialty restaurants that carry a surcharge. It’s really a crowd control thing, and they pull their best servers in for these dining venues. Some lines now have dining packages you may buy in advance, and you will be asked to pay a minimal fee in advance, which is really just a gratuity for the fine service you will receive. Other of the luxury lines such as Regent and Silversea have celebrity chef-designed cuisine at every meal. Beautiful and scrumptious food, if you will. The luxury lines also generally have all outside verandah staterooms and well-trained butler services, with all the amenities you would expect.
- Will I get seasick? With the mainstream ships getting larger and larger, sometimes you don’t even know you have moved away from the dock! The stabilizers on newer ships are amazing. On smaller vessels you may notice motion more…it’s always a good idea to have some Dramamine or similar on hand “just in case”. But I cannot tell you how often I have seen people wearing a patch on a large ship on calm seas and they do not feel well. Don’t over medicate and then drink yourself silly! That’s a recipe for disaster and will have you missing out on some real fun. I suggest taking about 24 hours with very moderate alcohol or no to get your “sea legs” before deciding if you need help with any stomach upset. With the larger ships I think it’s quite rare now. You might want to choose a cabin on a lower deck more mid-ship for less motion while sleeping, too.
- How much do you want to dress up? Norwegian “Freestyle” cruising is just that…dress up or down as you like, although most main dining rooms discourage flip flops and t-shirts. There will be optional formal nights, but for a 7 night cruise, typically on the moderately priced lines you will have one formal night and one optional, and the rest resort casual. A luxury small ship company called Sea Dream suggests smart casual attire the whole cruise. The Cunard Queen Mary II Atlantic crossing has black tie events (you will see gowns on this elegant ship) several times a week.
I hope all this has helped you narrow down your choices. I am happy to work with you if you want an expert. Bon Voyage!