Cruising is in a class by itself – there's no other vacation option quite like it. And, because of that, many folks feel lost when it comes to planning a cruise vacation. But with a few pointers and a little preparation, your cruise vacation may actually turn out to be the most trouble-free vacation you've ever taken.
The biggest cruise tip to remember is to do your homework before you go. Research everything, including what destinations you'd like to visit, the cruise line you'd like to use there, what port you'd like to sail out of, and what you'd like to do once there. Do not let any of this overwhelm you – just try to pick up a little information about all these different facets of a cruise vacation.
Just being aboard a cruise ship is a vacation in itself. There are so many different activities aboard at any given time that you'll never have to be bored unless you want to. This explains why many folks enjoy a "Cruise to Nowhere," as it's called, where they depart a certain port and do not stop anywhere until they return a few days later.
But that having been said, it's a great experience to visit new places. You'll have to decide whether you want to visit tropical ports, take an Alaskan or European cruise, or one of many other options. Try to get 'in the know' about what's available, where and when. For instance, a particular cruise line may or may not be visiting a certain port every week, so if you have certain destinations in mind, look into the offers of different cruise lines to see what fits your needs. If you can be a little flexible about what week you'll travel, you'll find it easier to make it to most, or all, of your desired ports.
When it comes to your stateroom, I suggest that you are strictly considering booking an interior room. These are far less expensive than balcony staterooms. You will find that you spend very little time in your stateroom, other than to sleep and dress, so why pay more for a balcony or suite that you will see very little? There is always more than enough room on deck to find a beach chair, relax, and enjoy the view outside. There are a few exceptions to this – for instance, if you're going somewhere such as Alaska where you'll be able to see something outside near water, it's nice to have a balcony to enjoy the ever-changing views. Or, if you are physically handicapped to the point that you'll spend a great deal of your cruise in your stateroom, then of course this would be another reason to go for a balcony. But as a rule of thumb, because we spend very little time actually in the stateroom, we usually prefer inside staterooms due to the great price. I also recommend that you look for an inside stateroom on one of the higher decks. This puts you closer to the dining and other facilities above – something you'll appreciate when those elevators are full and you have to take the stairs.
Check out the websites of cruise lines you'd like to sail with. Unless you're dead set on using one certain cruise line, you can save big bucks by researching what's available on different lines at different times of the year. For instance, we booked a 7-Day Caribbean cruise for four in February 2006 for a little over $ 2000. A family member booked that same cruise, for four people on the same ship, with the same destinations, a few months later, and paid over twice that amount! Cruise ticket prices can and do fluctuate wildly, even from week to week. Do your homework in this area and you may save enough money to be well on your way to paying for a second cruise!
Once you're settled on what area you'd like to visit, start taking a look at what's available at your favorite ports. Cruise line websites will give you descriptions of what excursions they offer at each stop. Or, if you prefer, do your homework and go your own way, by organizing your own excursion. But if you make your own plans, just be sure to be back to the pier before your ship departs, with plenty time to spare – the ship will not wait if you're late. For this reason, I recommend, especially for new cruisers, that you stick with the ship's organized excursions at first.
Finally, I can not emphasize enough how important it is to keep things simple. Do your homework and prepare as much as you can, but, beyond that, do what you can to simplify your trip where possible. It's okay if you can not make it to every activity available on the ship. It's okay if you can not squeeze that ninth shirt into your suit – wear the eighth one a second day! Remember, once you're on board, you're automatically guaranteed several days of everything you need – a nice room, all the food you can eat, and entertainment to spare. As long as you make it on board with a few changes of clothes, most everything else is taken care of for you. Not having to sweat these kinds of details is one of the joys of a cruise vacation – so do not get too bogged down in the details to enjoy the experience!