How to choose a cruise
How to choose a cruise
If you’ve decided to test the waters and try a cruise, here are a few things to consider before making your first booking.
How cruising has changed
The cruise industry has shaken off its image of older people sitting in deckchairs during the day and going to formal captain’s dinners with dancing in the evening. With Gen Z seeking experiential holidays, parents looking for ways to keep the kids happy, solo travellers wanting company and adventurers searching for exciting destinations to explore, the options available have never been wider.
That’s why you need to make sure you choose the right cruise line, the right ship and the right destination. It could make the difference between finding yourself trapped on a ship in the middle of nowhere on the kind of holiday you hate, to loving every single second of your voyage.
What you need to consider when choosing a cruise
Choosing the right cruise is a bit like choosing the right holiday destination. You have to pin down what matters most to you and evaluate your options from there.
How much can you afford to spend?
Top of the list is how much you want to spend on your holiday. Cruises can vary between top-of-the line luxury to affordable breaks. It’s possible to find cruises for under £50 per person per night, whereas a luxury suite might cost upwards of £20,000 for a seven-night break.
But when thinking about your budget, remember what you’re getting for your money. Flights, transfers, accommodation, full-board meals, activities and entertainment are generally included in the price. But it’s always worth checking to see what extras you might have to pay for, such as drinks, tips and excursions.
How long do you want to cruise for?
You might want to consider a two-night cruise, to see if this type of holiday is for you. But cruises can last much longer – for example, P&O offers a World Cruise lasting 99 nights.
You might also want to take into account how many nights at sea the cruise will have, or if you want to be on a cruise that docks most days.
Where do you want to go?
When you think of a cruise, do you picture hopping between palm-fringed Caribbean Islands or a floating hotel taking you to different European cities? Do you want to explore the Scandinavian fjords, Arctic icebergs or Alaska?
Or do you just want to be pampered in the spa and eat delicious food? Deciding this will help you narrow down your choices.
Do you mind flying there and/or back?
You can choose more exotic cruise destinations if you’re happy to fly to your embarkation point. Other people just want to be able to drive to the port and set off. It’s up to you, but your options will change either way.
Do you want open sea or a river cruise?
Cruising isn’t just being at sea. You can cruise down the Nile, the Mekong, the Danube, the Rhine and more. River cruise ships are usually smaller and stop off points are closer together.
Do you want a big or small ship?
The very largest cruise ships can tower above buildings and can take around 5,500 passengers – enough to fill a small town. Generally, the larger the ship, the more amenities there are to enjoy. On the other hand, you can take a Hebridean Island Cruise on the Hebridean Princess, which accommodates a maximum of 50 guests.
Some people prefer small, intimate cruises, whereas others like all the options a larger vessel offers. Just remember, that sometimes with larger ships you might need to take a tender (small boat) to disembark at smaller ports that the ship is too big to use.
From the Travel team
‘Booking ahead is more likely to give you a choice of cabin location. Wave season – January to March – usually has great offers and added incentives to book. But don’t forget to read the small print on any offers.’
What does a great holiday day look like for you?
Cruise ships offer different kinds of holidays: sunny, sit-by-the-pool breaks with shows laid on in the evening or family-focussed cruises with water parks and slides – Disney even runs some of its own cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line has a go-kart course on one of its vessels.
Culture vultures might want cruises with expert lecturers giving talks and escorted tours to historical sites, galleries and museums. Foodies might want hands-on cookery classes, wine tastings and five-star dining.
Nature-lovers can opt for cruises that give you the chance to whale watch, spot penguins or stop off at National Parks. As for the evenings, you might be offered shows, dancing, comedy clubs, quizzes and film screenings. Some cruise lines offer alternative entertainment, from drag queens to silent discos, art classes to cocktail making.
So think about how you want to spend your days and evenings to help you narrow down your choices.
What facilities do you want on board?
Make sure that the cruise you’re considering has all the facilities you want – such as spas, hairdressers, golf, cinema, a swimming pool and casino.
Is formal or casual style for you?
Formal dining with dressing for dinner used to be par for the course on cruises, but there’s more choice now.
Think about whether you enjoy dressing up or whether you’d never dream of taking a suit or cocktail dress on holiday, then check the rules for formal nights on the boat you’re considering.
Some cruise lines even ban shorts and vest tops from dining rooms, so make sure the cruise line you choose matches your preference for formal or casual wear.
Are you taking kids with you or do you want a child-free voyage?
The range of kids’ entertainment options makes cruises attractive to some parents. With kids clubs, baby sitters, pools and sports, cruises can solve the “I’m bored” issue.
On the other hand, some cruise-lovers prefer a child-free environment. If that’s you, try cruising during term time and picking a ship that isn’t targeting the family market.
What kind of cabin do you want?
Like hotel rooms, different prices are charged for different styles and sizes of cabins. The most basic cabins are generally inward-facing. You’ll pay more to face the sea and have a balcony. You can get interconnecting rooms or suites, but what you can get will depend on your price bracket.
Do you want to get married onboard?
Some cruise lines offer wedding packages. While the idea is very romantic, don’t forget you’ll be on your honeymoon potentially with your family and wedding guests.
Wedding arrangements vary from ship to ship. Not all captains can legally perform weddings, while other ships have an on-board chapel and can broadcast the ceremony to those not able to attend by webcam. Some cruise lines are happy to offer same-sex weddings, while others can only offer symbolic ceremonies.
You can also plan a shoreside wedding followed by a cruise honeymoon.
You’ll have to plan ahead and numbers of guests may be limited, so check the details carefully.
Don’t forget your travel insurance
If you haven’t taken a cruise before, you might want to consider specialist cruise insurance, as it covers specific risks such as:
- missed port cover
- cabin confinement cover
- unused excursions protection.