5 THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN BOOKING A CRUISE

Over the past few weeks, I have been sharing stories on my Instagram of all things cruise ships. From the activities to the food and the entertainment to the rooms. Hopefully this has opened your eyes up to the world of cruising, especially if, like me, it’s something you never really considered doing before. However, from my experience, booking a cruise on your own (i.e without the help of a travel agent) isn’t straightforward. I was lucky to have my boyfriend, who works for a cruise company and has been on cruises before, to shed some light on my questions, although even he was confused about certain things.

That is why I have put together this quick guide to help you in picking your cruise. These are the things I felt were very important and of course, it all depends on the cruise liner (I sailed with Norwegian). All in all, hopefully this gives you some guidance in what to consider when booking your cruise!

1 – THE PRICE

First up is the price. Very important, especially if you are on a budget. I found the price on the search page often doesn’t reflect the total. In some cases it was quite irritating. Some things to consider here are:

-Taxes. Although these are a given, you can drive down how much tax you are paying by picking a cruise with a lesser number of ports and/or not expensive port cities. For example, any cruise which stops in Panama pays hefty Panamanian taxes, so by picking a cruise that doesn’t stop there, you will probably pay less taxes.

-Room grade. The original price is based on an interior cabin which is a small room with no windows. It is simply up to your taste and priorities which room you go for, but be prepared to spend an extra couple hundred per room upgrade.

-Gratuities. For cruises departing from the United States, this is a prepaid charge added to your total bill (ours was around $250). For Europe it is often included in the price due to cultural differences.

-Not everything on board is included. If you are picking your ship based on activities etc, be aware that these aren’t automatically included. Many activities, bars, and amenities cost extra and are charged to the room.

-Onboard currency. Following from the previous point, be aware that the credit card you put on file will be the one that is charged BEFORE you disembark from the ship at you final destination. If this is a travel card, make sure your money is in the correct currency to avoid charges as you often don’t have internet access to exchange on mobile banking apps.

2-ADD ONS

Most cruise lines have their own version of Norwegians ‘Free at Sea’ packages. Keep an eye out for deals on these, sometimes you get two add ons free, sometimes four! However, if you are paying and can’t decide which one, here are some things to consider:

-Shore excursions package. I understood this as $50 off each excursion booked however it is $50 credit per the first guest only, second guest still pays full price. Hence, the importance of reading all t&cs!

-Internet package. There are different levels for this, the one included in the basic ‘free at sea’ package was 150 minutes of WiFi for the whole trip. We didn’t even realise it was (luckily) per guest and not per room until we were onboard and asked guest services, so overall not very clear in my opinion.

-Beverage package. This was the clearest in my opinion, although still some drinks aren’t included such as expensive wine or imported drinks which if you are used to all-inclusive packages, this is usually to be expected. Do note it is only in certain bars onboard though, the likes of the whiskey bar, wine bar and distillery were paid.

-Specialty dining package. This is also on different levels. Ours was basic with two restaurants and you had to check in each restaurant what was included e.g Asian (pick 10 dishes) vs French (supplement charge on certain dishes). You could choose to eat in these restaurants every night with a higher package, or by just charging to your room. Another tip here is to book your restaurant well in advance! Popular options tend to book up, especially days at sea or when the you leave a port early in the day.

3-START AND END DESTINATION

This may be an obvious one but the start and end destination can add on huge value to your cruise, or a huge cost. First consider the flight price, especially if it is peak season. Consider you may need to arrive a day or two earlier, depending on either the price or the days airlines flies in. This can soon add up costs when it comes to accommodation, food and activities at the start and end destinations which can vary greatly depending on what part of the world you are in.

You should then consider the distance of your accommodation to the port (not necessarily the city named – see below). If you are only at your start destination for a quick layover, it may be more important for accommodation near the port, rather than the sight seeing side of town and vice versa.

Finally, consider that everyone gets a check in time for embarking the ship. For example, your itinerary says disembarks 7pm but your check in and boarding slot could be 1pm. This factors into your arrival time to the start destination.

4-DAYS AT SEA

When picking our cruise, we were not interested in ‘days at sea’. We felt this took away the opportunity to visit more places. However, due to dates and work, we picked one that had two days at sea in the end; one at the start of the trip and one at the end. We found these days were surprisingly important and well needed to actually relax as well as enjoy the amenities on board, which of course is what you are paying for too!

In saying this, it is totally dependent on the type of trip you are on and what you want from it. Some things to consider are the type of ship (is it a party ship, usually aimed at retirees or families?) and the activities available on board.

5-PORTS

Destinations are usually what sells people on the cruise they pick. I know I had a very different view on how I though this would go, even though I’m not quite sure how I really thought it would work either.

First up, ports are often listed as the name of the nearest city in said country. However, most of those cities are not port cities. For example, when it says Rome, it is not Rome. There is obviously no port in Rome. Instead you disembark in a nearby town, Civitavecchia, an hours drive from Rome. Therefore consider how this would affect your plans on excursions, as well as the length of time at the port. Always always do research on the excursions before deciding on your cruise!

Some may think, oh Rome, I can sight see on my own without paying excursion costs, but now you have to consider transport times and availability too. This brings me to my next point of disembarkation and embarkation times. You may opt for a cruise due to certain port and find you are only there 4-5 hours! This time includes possible late docking and having to return to the chip promptly, usually up to an hour before the ‘disembark’ time. This is important because cruise company’s are hit with hefty fines if they overstay the docking time, even by only minutes, so they will (and have) leave you behind.

One final note is do not forget to consider the time of year you are travelling and in what continent. If the sea is rough you may not dock at all ports or dock late too and miss your excursions. Sea conditions and hurricane season in particular is one to look out for!

An extra point to finish on…

Give it a go! Enjoy it, hate it, you won’t know till you try it! I didn’t think it would be for me at all. I am rather used to the backpacker life, but it seems I enjoy all forms of holidays!

I do hope these tips help you book your dream cruise!

I feel I learned a lot in the whole process and wanted to share my experience. Any questions or anything I missed, feel free to DM my instagram @notonetostayathome

Ciara x


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