This report will give you a broad overview of cruis ship vacations, then you can use the Internet, printed resources and/or your travel agent to learn more. I'll suggest some of the best Internet resources and websites below.
Cruise Destinations Well, "destination" has got to be your first decision, right? Here are the usual cruise ship vacation destinations in a nutshell:
- The Caribbean. Most first-cruisers go here. It's close, plus it has a touch of the exotic and tropical. I just got back from a cruise of the western Caribbean myself. The weather was wonderful and beaches great. A negative was that some of the islands, like Dominique, were a big disappointment -- not very clean, basically nothing much to see or do, very tacky. San Juan PR, however, is a terrific place to make a port of call.
- The Mediterranean. Frankly I know little of this first-hand. Please send me some tips on this cruise via the discussion group. I plan to visit here this October (the Aegean). From guidebooks and conversations I gather that it's extremely beautiful, clean, historical, educational and a great experience.
- Alaska. For those of us who read Jack London as kids, this one's a must. Native American cultures, glaciers, mountains, maybe whales. However expect cool temperatures, even in summer.
- Mexican Riviera. This is the Caribbean for people living on the west coast. Archaelogically interesting, friendly people and great climate.
- Hawaii. Yes, Hawaii really is a paradise, but it's difficult to see much of it if you go there and stay at a resort. Taking a cruise ship vacation is the best way to see Hawaii.
Choosing a Cruise Line
Every cruise line has a unique personality. The goal is to match yours with its. I offer thumbnail impressions below, but you'll want to research this more on your own.
- Celebrity Cruises. A good choice for most people. Big, beautiful modern megaships. Attracts mainstream passengers. Cost is about average.
- Holland America. Geared toward seniors. Sedate, comfortable. Everything moves at a slow steady pace on a Holland America ship at sea. Good place to do some serious reading.
- Royal Caribbean. Hotels at sea in the best sense. Tons of activities for everybody. Moderate cost. Their huge Freedom of the Seas is the world's biggest boat. If you book this one expect lots of munchkins (i.e., kids). The ship even has a "rock climbing wall" to divert some of the kids' energies. This is not Holland America.
- Crystal. I myself can't afford Crystal, I admit it, but if you can I can tell you the experts rave about its great facilities and service. Luxury class, high cost.
- Cunard. Another luxury line, very British. I understand they still categorize most passengers according to "class" for dining purposes. This kind of cruise ship vacation is not my cup of tea but may be yours, especially if you can afford first class.
Princess. Another British line, and I've taken a cruise on their Diamond. This one's very unstuffy, very well-run and efficient. The ships are beautiful, the dining excellent. Yet moderate cost.
- Carnival. Love Boat unleashed. Geared toward the pool party crowd. Discos close at 4 AM.
- Norwegian. Very good entertainment, very social-oriented, open-seated dining, casual. A good choice for a shorter cruise, 3 or 4 days.
How Much Does This Cost? Cruise ship vacations are famously low-cost. But watch out, you can wind up spending a lot more than you planned if you take several tours, gamble, go shopping, etc. All those sorts of things are extra.
If you take a one-week cruise in the Caribbean or Mexican Rivera and go double occupancy, the cost will be around $900 for an inside cabin, or up to several times that for a suite with a balcony. You can take a 3-night cruise for just a few hundred dollars.
For those prices you get your accomadations, meals, entertainment, activities, onboard facilities (e.g., pools, exercise equipment), and transport to ports of call.
You don't get travel to/from the ship, shore excursions (which can be expensive), bar drinks (usually), gambling losses, tips (though some lines add these unobtrusively onto your bill without asking you) and special services, like massages and educational courses (pottery-making, watercolors, etc.).
Plus all ships offer you innumerable opportunities to spend money onboard on merchandise and baubles.
So, as said, if you're careful and budget your cruise ship vacation ahead of time, the cost is likely to be modest compared with, say, staying at a resort. But if you are enticed by the "extras," the cruise can turn out to be quite expensive.
More Cruise Ship Vacation Tips
- Smoking is almost always prohibited except in bars and some lounges and on deck or in your cabin.
- Norwalk virus. I once caught it and it is terrible for two days (you can't even sit up in bed) but then quickly resolves. However I caught it not on a cruise ship but at a hotel in Las Vegas. It does happen occasionally on cruises. The best defense is to wash you hands very frequently -- dozens of times a day.
- Wheelchair accessibility. Holland America is a leader in wheelchair accessibility. For information on this for a given line, call their Special Services Department.
- Best rates. Believe it or not, your travel agent is likely to be your best source for good rates on cruise ship vacation. This can be an online or off-line agent, of course. Note, however, you should not pay the rates most lines advertise in their brochures (with the exception of Royal Caribbean and Celebrity); these brochure rates are much higher than actual prices.
- Want to save some money? Book slightly offseason (in the so-called "shoulder" periods, right before or after the high seasons). Here are shoulder seasons for popular destinations --
Alaska - April, May, September
Caribbean - September, early December, April-June
Mediterranean - April, May, September, October
A final word: Spend some time on the Web before booking. Explore the websites of the cruise lines that interest you (most have outstanding sites, featuring virtual tours of all their ships). Visit some online cruise evaluation/information sites like, cruisecritic.com, or frommers.com. After your cruise ship vacation, how about posting some tips if you have any on our discussion group -- thanks.
That's it - our ten minutes are up! (OK, maybe twelve or thirteen.) Below is a listing of Web resources to help you continue your research on cruise ship vacations.