We were, to be honest, more than a little uncomfortable with the idea of cruising inside one, same ship for days at first. We were not convinced of the fun of cruising.
Maybe because we live in a port city of Turku and the about 24-hour cruise ships taking people to and from Stockholm and on cruises that let you cruise without leaving the ship. And we’ve done that cruising countless times.
Don’t get us wrong, the ships here sail the most beautiful archipelago in the world, year round (yeah, they sail through icy waters and snow in the winter) and have entertainment, dining, bars, shopping and activities through the cruises. And every year we also take our staff for one of those Turku-Stockholm-Turku party cruises.
But we were still suspicious and needed a lot homework before actually taking our first “big” cruise. Must admit that once we got into cruising in 2013 we’ve done several.
To ensure the most pleasurable experience on board, there are some things to pay attention to when planning. We are an adult couple traveling and our tips only include adult travel ideas. Also, we have not used travel agencies, we like to do all the work and save & learn in the process.
1. Learn about the cruise companies
Do your homework to understand the company brands and find those that resonate with your lifestyle. What are their specialities? We would not book a Disney Cruise and the super posh companies are not for us, either. Luxury doesn’t have to be pretendous, you don’t have to become someone else to feel pampered. Also, there are huge differences in prices. Even the cruises with similar lenghts on similar routes have huge differences in prices. Compare, calculate. We have tried Carnival, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean so far.
The options are endless year round. Time and budget go hand in hand. We follow this order of decisions:
- When can you travel and for how long? Go through available options for your time slot and budget. Remember to include travel times to and from port when thinking of cruise lenghts. Will you include more travel experiences before or after the cruise? Compare itineraries and prices. Check flight prices.
- Think about the weather. This hurricane season 2017 has been bad at the Caribbean. And at the South China Sea. But then again, some years see no hurricanes. Ships cruise year round. You could still think of another season. Or choose cruises from different ports. Like the Pacific side or the Mediterranean. But again, remember flight times and costs.
- Number of ports and the nature of ports. We enjoy having new ports every time, but can live with a same port again within the itinerary if it has been an inspirational one. We’ve been to places like Nassau, Bahamas, more than once and could do it again. But for us, one of the main points is seeing new destinations. We would never stay on board if we can go and explore. We would not cruise wintery itineraries, we have enough of the cold climate at home.
There are ports that offer plenty of stuff to do without having to book for excursions. Find out about local attractions.
If you are confident enough, go to the nearest taxi stand and hire a driver to give you a sightseeing tour. But if you find something special that the cruise company offers, book well in advance. We have experienced sold out events.
Then again, excursions desk is open on board daily and suddenly there may be new open excursions. Excursions are not exactly cheap, to know what you’ll pay for check out some reviews at Cruise Critic and other discussion boards.
4. All inclusive? Rarely.
Sometimes you get awesome deals including almost everything on board. Mostly your cruise includes your chosen stateroom, lots of free activities and the basic dining onboard (you will not starve!), but if you want to enjoy unlimited drinks while sailing, buy the drink package. And if you don’t want to stay offline while sailing, pay for the Internet. Spa? Make first bookings before sailing. Our experience is that you’ll save tens of dollars on everything by booking in advance. You’ll also have to pay a daily service fee, which you can pay for in advance.
These are some good frames for your cruise countdown. Now, be sure to read the emails your chosen cruise company sends you before sailing. They will remind you of things, tell when to check in, keep you updated and your spirits up.
Who’s ready to cruise?