Cruise Vacation Advice

I’ve never taken a cruise, but we’re considering taking one late this summer. My question is for experienced cruisers. What, if anything, is worth paying extra for when selecting a cruise?

For example, clearly you can pay extra to have a larger room. However, it seems like the difference between a shoebox and a … I dunno … a breadbox? If the fact is that either way you are going to be touching both walls while you sleep (slight exaggeration) does a little extra room really matter?

Any other advice, in terms of what is worth paying for and what is not, would be much appreciated.

We liked having a balcony, but the size of the room didn’t really matter. You don’t spend that much time in the room anyway.
We also prefer fewer stops, because days at sea are the BEST! It’s so relaxing. There’s nothing to do, but what you want to do…
We’ve been on 7 cruises, including 2 to Hawaii from Vancouver BC.
I think our next will be a round trip from Seattle to Hawaii, no planes involved.

My only other advice is to choose a cruise line that fits your personality. I’d also advise using a travel agent that does only cruises. They can get you better deals and usually have actually been on the various lines, so as to give you better hints on which line to choose.

Good luck and happy cruising!

I’ve been on 6 cruises with 4 different companies. I usually get an inside room (no windows) because I’m never in the room when I’m awake. It’s also true that I rarely spend much time in hotel rooms, so I’m guessing one question to ask yourself about windows, space, and other room amenities is what your hotel-use patterns are.

I sometimes eat in the extra-feee restaurants on board, but if I want an interesting meal, I’m more likely to go to a restaurant on shore instead.

I usually sign up for a few shore excursions. If it’s something I know I can’t organize easily on my own and really want to do, or if I’m worried about getting back to the ship on time, I’ll book it in advance. An example is a boat tour up a river with a guide who points out wildlife. Shore excursions of low intensity may easily be organized on one’s own for less money and more flexibility. An example is a on-and-off bus tour of Barcelona identified in a guidebook and purchased there rather than organized through the excursion desk. Norwegian Cruise Lines has a nice program called “Dive into Adventure” that has some enjoyably strenuous excursions (glacier hikes, lava fields, etc.).

Alcohol is expensive onboard. You may prefer to have a drink on shore.

I’ve been to Hawaii, on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, to Alaska, to the Western Carribean (Grand Cayman, Mexico, Belize, Roatan Honduras), on the Eastern Mediterranean (France, Italy, Tunisia, Palma, Spain), and the Western Mediterranean (Greece, Turkey, Israel, Egypt).

What else can I tell you?

Having a balcony is definitely nice and I think worth the price because it almost gives you another room. It really depends on the deal or how much you want to spend. If I had the option, I would or at least a window. Room size doesn’t matter all that much.

Like Shoshana said, I’d book the more active excursions through them. If you just want to go to a beach or shopping it’s not necessary.

One small rule of thumb- the longer the cruise, the older the passengers.

There’s an entire message board (or more) dedicated to answering all cruise questions - We really liked our balcony on our last cruise - so much so that it will be hard going back to something without one. However, we were really spoiled with an aft balcony. If you check the deck plans online, you can see that the aft balconies are up to three times bigger than a regular one (at least on Voyager-class Royal Caribbean ships. We had room-service breakfast out there three times, and loved having the extra outdoor space for lounging and reading. We’re not big pool go-ers, so we were more interested in having a lounge chair that would never be “claimed” by someone else.

Do your research before you book. Check out lots of different lines and lots of different itineraries. For first-time cruisers I would suggest having at least a couple of at-sea days. They’re great breaks between ports and give you plenty of time to explore your ship. Some of them are like floating cities, and can take a long time to explore.

Don’t overpack. Follow the dress code in the dining room. Get your picture taken every chance you can, but don’t necessarily buy them all. Don’t get your hair braided on an island - it looks terrible on 99% of the population. Have fun!

Bring a power strip. There’s usually only one outlet in the room.

You can sometimes send yourself a ‘Bon Voyage’ gift basket which you can fill with your favorite snacks/drinks including wine. A bottle of wine with two glasses and your spouse on the balcony of your room, after the kids are asleep, can have miraculous healing qualities. I highly recommend it.

A place that I have used for gift baskets on cruises that I have taken departing from Florida is called “The Perfect Gift” Of course, most cruise lines do offer alcohol package deals to provide wine with dinner and many will allow wine left over to be taken to your room. The wine is very good, but the prices can be steep (YMMV). Just remember to ask them to include in the basket a cheap corkscrew that you don’t mind tossing out before you get back home to the Airport Stormtroopers. :smiley:

I never knew this, but now that I think about our last cruise it seems to be true. We voyaged* from Long Beach to Vancouver, but the cruise had originated in Miami via the Panama Canal, and yes, the crowd was definitely on the elderly side.

I’ve also heard the different lines attract slightly different age ranges. Royal Caribbean is said to attract a younger audience, and my experience with them would bear that out.

*voyaged, meaning a rough ride up the Coast in cold windy whether. One day I perambulated the promenade deck in a sweater, trenchcoat, and fedora, and I needed all of them.

I’ve only been on one cruise, so I don’t have anything to compare it too. But I found that on Carnival, even the cheap rooms are pretty nice. I’ve stayed in worse and smaller hotel rooms.

Ther bad thing about Carnival is that it seemed a bit Joe Six Pack to me. The food was generally awful, the entertainment was pedestrian, and the passengers reminded me of the characters in Mama’s Family.

It was still a blast and I’d do it again.

Don’t fall overboard…seriously, I’ve read 2 different stories in the past week about people disappearing over the side, and luckily, they’ve been ok, but the ship had to turn around and go back for them. :smack:

‘Hey, Honey, let’s reenact that scene from Titanic!’

My family and I have cruises each year for the past 6. We have had every accommodation from no window to the presidential suite. The problem is the more you upgrade, the harder it is to go back down again. That being said, I don’t think I would be able to cruise again with an inside cabin. The feeling was very closed in and coffin like in my opinion. I find a window on one of the lower levels can be around the same price and much better for ones mental health.
I also agree with Picunurse that days at sea are the most relaxing. I will occasionally forgo a shore excursion just to lay by the near empty pool and get some reading done in peace. To me, that is a vacation, not hurry hurry must see everything!

I’ve been on three cruises. The first one we got the cheapest room (small, no windows) the second time our friends who booked the cruise got us a free upgrade to a much larger room with a balcony. What I missed most in the smaller room was natural light. The windowless room felt very claustrophobic to me (even though we didn’t spend much time there)

If I ever cruise again I’ll pay extra to at least have a window. Balcony is a whole 'nother level of nice.

We got some kind of deal from our cruise agent that we could buy a bottle or two of alcohol and have it waiting in our room for us. That was slightly better in terms of cost but if you’re sitting up by the pool and you want a drink and your room is at the other end of the ship 4 floors below the bar starts looking ever so much more convenient.

All three of my cruises were with Carnival. I thought their shore excursion prices were high. Given the opportunity to do it over, I’d do more independant sight seeing. Some of the excursions were extremely lame for the money you were spending.

Based on my (limited) and my mom’s (extensive) experience:

  • Room size is not a big deal, but the balconies are nice if you can afford them. It’s nice to not have to deal with other people - the crushing mob can get a little territorial at mealtimes in the buffet room, or around the pool.

  • I second the power strip idea.

  • Sneak some booze on board (we brought rum and vodka) if you care to drink at a non-ridiculous rate. Get a few fancy drinks, but then take mixers from the buffet room (they usually have a small charge to get unlimited soda, if that’s your thing). We would have a nice dinner, then load up a little bit before the evening show, which greatly improved the experience. :wink:

  • If you are going to do the extra-fee restaurants, sign up as soon as you get on the boat! Decent seatings go quickly.

  • Skip the buffet. Always go formal dining. On our boat, it was both far less crowded as well as better quality. We only did the buffet when in a real crunch to make it onshore.

  • If you are at a shore destination that requires boats to get to shore, have someone in your party find out when and where signups will start to get tickets and get the earliest possible boat.

  • Days at sea are nice, but I prefer port days that you just don’t go ashore for - the boat is much less crowded that way!

  • Read the daily planner and have a few things picked out. Get to events early.

  • Bring books. At least two or three.

  • Strongly consider a “freestyle dining” cruise line that doesn’t require you to book a time for meals. This will give you a lot more flexibility to balance the onboat/onshore activities you want to do.

  • Get a boat with more than one pool

  • Avoid Carnival. Too many kids. Go for a cruise that aims at an older audience for better food and treatment overall, plus less crying and shouting children as a bonus.

  • Get on shore to buy booze. Even the good stuff is cheap, since you pay no tax. You will not be able to drink it on board, however; the cruise lines are too smart for that and will take it from you. (They even search you.)

  • Multiple swimsuits are a good choice if possible. Damp swimsuits suck, and I normally don’t even swim - but on the cruise, I swam a heck of a lot!

  • Say yes to snorkeling/undersea stuff. Say no to guided onshore tours.

  • Bring one formal outfit and the rest just passable for the dining room.

FWIW I’ve heard this from someone else about Carnival, too. Unless your name is Judy.

I really recommend Norwegian Cruise Lines. They attract a crowd that’s more in their 30’s to 50’s, more educated, and less affluent. I find this a nice demographic. Also, they have open dinner seating so that you’re not stuck with someone unpleasant at dinner for the whole trip (example: On a recent Costa cruise, we were stuck with “mum” and “the boys” (her adult children) and a huge narcissist and her husband. All of them were extremely dull and self-absorbed, impossible to draw into conversation, and made pronouncements like “I don’t care to get off the ship in Tunisia. I’ve heard it’s very dusty.”)

That was EXACTLY my first thought when I read about the couple that fell overboard!!! Just a couple days ago - think I read it on…no doubt some cocktailing goin’ on as well!!! :smiley:

I went on one cruise in my life because it was a prize won thorugh work. I should have known they’d book the cheapest cruise they could find.

It was your typical Carnival budget cruise which means it was packed with people straight out of Wal-Mart.
-What was advertised as the “24-Hour Gourmet Pizza Kitchen” was bascially a 24-hour line to wait for whatever pizza they felt like making (alternate cheese or pepperoni) and grab a slice before the kids did.
-The pools and hottubs were just jammed with kids.
-So many damn deck lounge chairs that you couldn’t walk through them, and they were all full.
-Buffet had odd times and if you missed it you were pretty much screwed for food options.
-Formal dining you had to dress up for but you felt like a schmuck for hauling a shirt and tie in your luggage just so you could sit down and eat with the masses.
-Entertainment was just lame and silly. On par with the musical shows you see at six flags.
-Alcohol was crazy expensive so you felt like an idiot spending $6 for a beer or $11 for a margarita.
-On the last day of the cruise they leave a nice envelope in your cabin with all the suggested tips you should leave for just about everyone on board.

I’ve heard nice adult cruises exsist, but for the love of god, don’t go on the cheapest carnival cruise you can find.

Definitely second that!! Love Norwegian and the open dining.