What to know before booking a cruise

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Cruising is often called a “set-it-and-forget-it” vacation since cruise fare typically includes meals, entertainment, and a variety of activities. Plus, travelers don’t have to worry about the hassle of directions or planning an in-depth itinerary. It’s easy. Cruisers can go to sleep and wake up to a new and exciting place every morning while traveling the open seas.

So, for those on the fence about planning a cruise vacation, here’s some common questions and answers we gathered from top cruise lines.

How do I pick a cruise ship?

Visit the “ship page” (typically found on a cruise line’s website)  to check out their fleet. A description for each ship will provide information — whether its family friendly, geared more for adults, and more.

For an easy rundown, check out CruiseCompete . The site compiled a list of ships from cruise lines. Also, US News & World Report has a “Best Cruises of 2016” list which breaks down top cruises into categories, including:

Best Cruise Lines for the Money
Best Cruise Lines for Families
Best Cruise Lines for Romance
Best Cruise Lines for Caribbean
Best Luxury Cruise Lines

How do I reserve a cruise vacation? 

There are four easy ways to make a reservation for your cruise vacation:

  • Call a travel agent
  • Contact the cruise line directly
  • Reserve online at the cruise line
  • Book on a vacation comparison site

How do I pick a destination?

This is all about personal preference. Some cruisers prefer to book a cruise based on price, others on convenience (for example, when a departure port is closer to home). To help cruisers decide, cruise lines share photos and videos to give travelers a better idea of what cruise may be best for them. For example, Viking Ocean Cruises has a video database with highlights of cruises and also short language lesson videos for destinations.

Reading reviews from travelers of destinations on sites like TripAdvisor or Orbitz can also help when deciding a location. And Norwegian Cruise Line  has a fun survey to help travelers decide what cruise may be best.

What does the price include of a cruise?

The price of your cruise vacation typically includes:

  • Ship accommodations
  • Most meals, some beverages
  • Most entertainment

MORE: Cruise Ship Survival in 7 Easy Steps 

When and how can I purchase Shore Excursions?

You can purchase shore excursions once you’ve reserved a cruise, received your cruise reservation number, and have made at least one payment toward your cruise.

To shop for excursions, most cruise lines provide all this information on their website. Available tours are typically provided for your applicable sail date. Royal Caribbean, for example, offers a variety of tours that guests can reserve. Here’s a quick list of some popular activities:

Adventure Tours – Horseback riding, mountain biking, parasailing, rain forest hiking, and 4×4 off-roading are just a few examples of what you can do.

Beach and/or Water-Related Activities –  Whitewater rafting, glass-bottom boat tours, romantic sunset cruises, deep-sea fishing, kayaking and more.

Cuisine Tours – Whether it’s tapas tasting in Spain, a pub tour in Ireland, a salmon bake in Alaska or another one of our culinary adventures, these excursions will give you a taste of the local flavor.

Flightseeing – Sightseeing by helicopter.

Golf – Tee off on exciting golf courses.

Do I tip cruise workers?

Check with the cruise ship. Sometimes they offer guidelines on how much to tip and when. Here’s an example of appropriate gratuity provided by Royal Caribbean:

Alaska Cruisetour Gratuities
Adventure Specialist = $5 per person/day
Traincar Host = $3 per person/day
Motorcoach Driver = $4 per person/day

Europe Cruisetour Gratuities
Adventure Specialist = 5 Euros per person/day

Australia/New Zealand Cruisetour Gratuities
Adventure Specialist Australia = $5-10 AUD per person/day
Adventure Specialist New Zealand = $5-10NZD per person/day

(Source: Royal Caribbean)

What is going on a cruise like?

While talking to family or friends about their own cruise experience can be helpful, also do research online. Carnival has a fun webpage on “what to expect on a cruise,” which details a typical day. Also, Norwegian has an online guide to help travelers get a sense for what a cruise experience may be like.

What are in-room gifts?

Many cruise lines offer the option to purchase in-room gifts. For example, Disney Cruise Line  allows guests to pay for “decor” packages (so, room is decorated in a Frozen or Star Wars theme upon arrival). There are also food and beverage packages available, like a glass of champagne or a birthday cake.

MORE: 5 Cruises Kids Will Love 

How do I pick accommodations?

There are different rooms available and cruisers may have a preference. Most rooms are typically smaller than what you would find in a hotel. When it comes to price, staterooms are usually more affordable. Expect to pay more for suites with balconies, more square footage or better views. Some travelers may also prefer a room that is in a quieter area of the ship, closer to an elevator, or near the pool. So, here’s some things to think about:

The size of your budget: The main factor on your cabin choice will most likely be your budget: the larger your budget, the larger your room. Not many cruise ships, if any, have the same cabin size. Most have varying rooms to choose from like inner ship cabins without any windows or multi-room staterooms with balconies.

Level of claustrophobia: If you are looking to save a little money and you aren’t at all claustrophobic, an inner room is probably a good option for you. You get all the benefits of the cruise, without the high ticket price. Really how much time are you going to spend in your room anyway? If the answer to that question is “a lot”, then we’d recommend steering away from an inner room and trying to get a room with a porthole, balcony or multi-rooms.

Occupants of the room: Sharing your room with multiple family members? Either look into the price for two rooms or entertain the idea of a multi-room suite. The last thing you want to do is crawl over your teenage daughter’s pull-out bed covered in the five dinner dresses on which she can’t decide. Also a benefit of some larger rooms: multiple bathrooms.

What do I wear on a cruise?

There are some cruise lines that have a dress code, but they’re not going to throw you overboard if you left your tux and tails or ball gown. Come prepared to dress for a variety of activities – from daywear to casual evening wear, exercise, swimming and shopping. It’s also a great idea to bring one nice outfit for one evening on board where you really do the town.

US News & World Report list of Cruise Lines by Brand

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