Tips for the First Time Cruiser – Part 1
I remember how excited I was when I took my first cruise. It wasn’t much of a trip, a 4-night Bahamas and Key West sailing from Miami, but has led to a real love for sailing and cruise vacations. MrsMJ had been on two previous cruises, so she had an idea what was going on, but me….I had nadda. Now, with 35 cruises taken, and 36-40 already reserved, I feel like I can say a few things that might assist a first time cruiser as they prepare for their first cruise vacation. If you happen to be traveling with experienced cruisers, that’s a good thing. You’ll have a guide along the way, but for the sake of this discussion, I’ll assume I’m writing for a first timer on their own or with their family.
As You Look at Itineraries and Ships
Consider booking a shorter itinerary for your first cruise. Four or 5-night itineraries are perfect. Historically, the newest ships serve 7-night and longer itineraries, but some lines are moving really nice ships into the shorter markets. Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas and Disney’s Dream come to mind. I say shorter is better for your first cruise for one reason only – if you set sail on your first cruise and decide you don’t like it, you only have to wait 4 days for it to end. Not so true if you pick a 12 day ocean crossing for your first.
As you are searching for cruises, keep in mind you’ll need to plan flights and airfare as part of the equation if you must fly to a port of departure. Make flying in the day before part of your vacation. Book a hotel, and enjoy a nice dinner the evening before your cruise. It will make for a more relaxing trip, and you won’t run the risk of mechanical or weather delays causing you to miss your cruise.
It’s About More Than Ships and Itineraries, Cruise Lines Have Unique Personalities
While the mass-market lines have more in common than different, each line has a unique personality. Royal Caribbean caters to active adults and families. They offer active shore excursions and onboard activities. Carnival is not dissimilar, but rumor has it you might be more likely to find a group of spring breaker’s on board and a party or two turned up by a notch. Disney is about families with kids. Celebrity might be more suitable for 40 something married couples looking to relax. There are lots of resources out there including Cruise Critic that has reviews of not just individual cruises, but of the cruise lines themselves.
Don’t Get Crazy with Shore Excursions
I usually advise that if you’re wanting to book a shore excursion, go through the cruise line the first time. Others will disagree, but I think it’s a good idea. They’ve screened the tour provider, and if you happen to miss your port, you get an instant refund. It is true that they cost a few bucks more and you’re likely getting a tour from a company you could buy from directly. I say go with the cruise line for your first one or two cruises, then you can venture out after you get some experience. Alternatively, don’t book an excursion at all. There are a lot of great cruise travel books that have details on sites you can check out on your own.
Don’t Be Afraid to Use a Travel Agent
Saying the words “Travel Agent” can get you a few funny looks around these parts, but I think travel agents are great. I don’t normally use our agent for booking basic cruises, but I’m pretty experienced with cruises. If you have a friend who uses an agent, ask for a recommendation. Many specialize in cruises and can support you with ideas on what cruise line might be best for you. Better yet, if you find an agent you like, you’ll be building a relationship that will serve you well on future cruises to more exciting destinations.
-MJ, June 14, 2014