Where to begin
In our first installment of this series, we discussed some of the myths about cruising. In this post, we will discuss how to plan and book your cruises as well as the different types of ships, possible itineraries and other basic information that will help guide your choice. There are hundreds of ships and itineraries, and the thought of doing this research might seem overwhelming. Really, it’s not so bad and we have pointers to help make it easier!
While doing some initial research on line is helpful, you can also read reviews and look around for actual photos taken by real guests who have sailed on the ship you’re interested in. Often, the cruise lines will use stock photos for every ship, and by doing an internet search, you’ll be able to find better images, or even videos, of the various cruise ships-especially cabins and other facilities.
Regal Princess balcony cabin – photo by Meg Ryan
Once you’ve gotten a few ideas, it’s a good idea to consult a travel agent. Yes, travel agents still exist! While in some cases, agents will charge a fee, the majority of them do not charge you, and finding a good, knowledgeable cruise agent will make your vacation planning very easy. While the big box stores, and huge, on-line travel agencies will have lots of ads screaming about the best prices, you’ll be better served by finding a local, “bricks and mortar” agent, or even one who may work for a smaller, boutique agency. An excellent source for agent referrals is CLIA, Cruise Lines International Association. Their website, www.cruising.org
can help you find an agent in your area. The most knowledgeable agents are those who have become Elite Cruise Counsellors. This highly trained agents have taken hours of training, sold close to 100 cruises or more, and have taken numerous personal cruises on various cruise lines. Other certifications through CLIA are Accredited and Master Cruise Counsellors, who also have spent a great deal of time learning about cruising!
Another way to find a great agent is to ask your friends and family for a referral. Many smaller agencies don’t spend a lot of money advertising, but you probably have someone in your circle of friends, or extended family, who has found a great agent. Sure you can try booking your first cruise on your own, but there are countless little details to keep track of, and a great travel agent will point these out for you. Not to mention, they’ve been there, done that and can explain the boarding process to you, and why you do NOT want to fly in to the departure port on the day the cruise leaves. (That’s another post!!)
So, do you want a big ship or a smaller one? What itinerary? Caribbean, Mediterranean, Alaska, Trans-Atlantic, Panama Canal, Baltics, River Cruise? How many are traveling? What ages? Are you an active bunch? Are you foodies? Party crowds? Do you want to dance the night away? How long can you be away? What’s your budget? Will you fly or drive to the port of embarkation?
Solarium, Anthem of the Seas – photo by Meg Ryan
Bet you never thought that there were so many questions to ask did you? We haven’t even thought about what kind of stateroom you would like, or what a good location for your cabin is. Forward, aft, port, starboard? Huh? Your head is spinning, right? Early seating, late seating or anytime dining?
Stick around! We will cover each of these topics in the coming articles! Coming up next: a little bit about the major cruise lines and basics about different itineraries.