Cruise ships – a guide to help first-time cruisers select the right vessel
Last year, more than 14 million people took a cruise. Most of them were happy, well-fed, and had the time of their lives.
But some were disappointed, disgruntled, and even down-right miserable. So when you’re finally ready to take the plunge and try cruising yourself, how can you sort through all the cruises ships that are out there to find one that’s right for you?
As is so often the case, our advice is to do plenty of trip planning in advance. The more you figure out ahead of time, the happier you’ll be.
A good travel agency that specializes in cruising can help you make an informed choice. But don’t leave the choice of a cruise line up to them. It’s your money – and precious vacation time.
Here are ten questions that can help you narrow down the field:
1) When you go out to eat, where do you go? Do you like Olive Garden, the little corner bistro where they know your name and your wine order, or the buzzy place with the celebrity chef that’s nearly impossible to get into?
2) When you go to a hotel, where do you stay? At a Comfort Inn, a Hilton, or a Four Seasons? Are you okay with a standard room, or do you need an ocean-view suite? Which amenities are most important to you?
3) What kind of car do you drive? A domestic sedan, a minivan, or a European import? Which kind of rental car do you get?
4) How social are you? When you’re in line, do you often talk to whoever is next to you or do you usually keep to yourself? How do you feel about dining with strangers?
5) What kind of clothes do you wear? Is comfort more important than style, or is your appearance your top priority? Do you hate to dress up or do you get all decked out every chance you get?
6) How do you feel about crowds? Are you a more-the-merrier person or someone who likes their personal space? Do you like being around other people or do they usually bug you?
7) Are you adventurous, cautious, or fun-loving? Easy going, or tightly wound? Do third-world countries intrigue you or make you nervous?
8) When you travel do you want to have lots of exciting new experiences, or just relax and unwind?
9) Do you love kids or do you like them only from a distance?
10) When you travel, do you worry about every dollar or figure you’re on vacation, so who cares? Which is more important to you – price or value?
Once you’ve answered these questions, finding the right cruise ship shouldn’t be too hard.
If you travel with kids, enjoy other people, and want a wide range of fun activities and a party atmosphere, you’ll probably enjoy the “fun ships” of Carnival. Carnival cruises ships are big and boisterous and the passengers are there to have a good time. Think conga lines and umbrella dinks.
For something a little more refined, but still casual and fun with an emphasis on activities, try Royal Caribbean or Norwegian. From the fitness facilities to the swimming-with-the-rays shore excursions, these cruises are for active travelers who’d rather participate than watch. In fact, you may find it a challenge to do nothing but relax in a deck chair on these ships.
Baby Boomers who want a near-luxury experience without the luxury price tag should look at Celebrity. The food on board is more up-scale – more Roy’s than Red Lobster – the ambience more sophisticated, and the décor more elegant. Most of the passengers enjoy wearing designer clothes to dinner. If you like a martini made with flavored vodka, Celebrity is a good choice.
Travelers who want a relatively calm experience, like to dress for dinner, and want to see the sights and then return to the ship for a relaxing afternoon will enjoy Princess or Holland America. There are certainly plenty of activities to choose from – but many, such as wine tasting and art auctions, are pretty low key. Food, service, and entertainment are all good. With older passengers, smaller ships, and more formal ambience, Holland America is less likely to satisfy active travelers.
Those who want luxury, and are willing to pay for it, have several great options.
Crystal has lots going for it – incredible suites, world-class cuisine, and impeccable service. But their 900+ passenger ships are large in a category where smaller is generally thought to mean better. What you gain in amenities, you’ll trade for flexibility. Fixed dining times, rare on luxury cruises, are the norm. Given all that, Crystal’s passengers are extremely pleased with the experience and return again and again.
If you want to visit exotic destinations, eat as well at sea as ashore, and spend your time at sea in the spa or a beautiful stateroom, you’ll likely love Seabourn or Silversea. These two lines have some of the smallest cruise ships at sea in terms of passenger capacity. So if it’s personal attention you crave, these set the standard. Passengers are always well dressed, and tuxedos are the rule after sun down. A nice benefit of these cruises is that they include many of the things less expensive cruises charge for.
We hope these tips will help you find the cruise ship of your dreams.