Cruising for beginners. Planning your first ever cruise!
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'Cruising is what you do when you're retired and old. It's also super expensive. It won't do justice to visiting a country', was a misconception.
Cruising isn't meant to do justice to a country. It is meant to serve as a taster to one and there are many to save money and have fun on one irrespective of age.
Not everybody embarks with a backpack to explore culture when they travel. While cruising needn't be restricted for the rich, it is a way for humans who work 9-5 and make a sufficient amount doing so, to switch off and yet travel.
True, you may not end up mingling with the locals, but as I've always stated, you're still traveling in a manner you love, exposing yourself to the world and that's what counts.
When I stepped on my very first cruise I was dumb-struck, It was a floating town with all the essentials and entertainment I could ever need on board. It was awe-inspiring.
Ocean liners are not catamarans and you cannot equate a short 'cruise' down the river to a gigantic one. And while I'm not an expert in cruising, these basic but important tips will help you pick an option without the need for an expert or referring to hundreds of sites.
Q. Where do I start?
- Always set a budget and region first.
Cruises can be as cheap as £200 for a 5 day trip, meals included. Not kidding. But you later end up realising the ship leaves from Florida and airfare to get you there will cost a fortune. So first decide your total budget. To get an idea select the Fly+Cruise option. All meals are included unless specified. This will give you an estimate on what to expect if you plan to fly by yourself. Then finalise a location.
Once you've set a region you'd like to visit, it's now time to check for options.
Q. Which cruise line do I choose?
- One that suits your lifestyle and age group.
It all depends on what you love and your age! When I went on a 2 day cruise with Hurtigruten, almost 95% of the ship consisted of seniors who were 50+. This meant a lot of board games, knitting and no discos or fancy entertainment. A more relaxed and quiet pace.
While this is how I imagined crusing to be, it contradicted with a lot of cruising options I'd seen for adults and children.
So while I'm not sure if Hurtigruten does have liners keeping in mind this demographic, when I did cruise with MSC, they sure did. It was a great mix of kids, youngters and adults.
Numerous options for entertainment and dining and areas to relax and switch off too.
So always research the facilities aboard the ship. Speak to friends if they have been on any. Do your research. Chances are there may be other liners on the same route who cater to your taste more than the other and are way cheaper.
Q. How do I select the route? Where do I cruise?
- Always check the itinerary and excursions, once you've finalised your ship.
The 2nd most important question! Once you know the region you want to sail to and have chosen a ship, check the itinerary and the excursion list. Not to book one but to get an idea of the duration at each port.
Sometimes liners have multiple ships doing the same route with some stopping longer at a port. So if you're looking to visit Venice and spend more time there, if there's an option with a longer duration of stay, you might want to pick that one up.
Select ports because they excite you. Then refer to the liners you shortlisted to check if those ports are on offer in the itinerary.
Q. When do I cruise?
- When the season is good in the region you're visiting. Shoulder season or off season if you want to cut costs dramatically.
We were desperately in need of some sun so we chose to travel to the Mediterranean in August. While it was an ideal time to visit, I'd forgotten that children were on holiday so there was a lot of commotion on board. While I had no issues with the same, many may not be pleased with the noise.
So even if you plan to travel in peak season, do check if there are any factors which may increase the price. Traveling in shoulder season or off season to save money.
Many have re-positioning offers too. Re-positioning is when ships travel to the winter ports to change itinerary. Many have these trips on offer but it's a one -way trip. Opt for one if you'd be happy with decent weather and cheaper prices and do not mind spending for a return ticket from a different destination.
Booking at-least a year early gets you early bird discounts, while there may be flash discounts closer to departure date. You may not get a great cabin or table reservations may be sold out though.
Q. Which room do I pick?
- One that's located midway vertically and horizontally. A cabin on the starboard(right when sailing forward) or port(left when sailing forward) may not have much effect.
While picking a room always ensure you're not right below the top deck or a deck where buffets are served. People are always eating on a ship and the combined noise of everyone moving about can get irritating. So a deck or two below the topmost deck is a great option. If you pick a cabin at the very front, rough seas can affect you first if you're prone to seasickness, whereas you could hear engines at the extreme back. So always pick a cabin that's located midway.
There are inside (rooms with no window), outside (rooms with a window) and balcony cabins.
While the inside ones are the cheapest, if might be a good idea to get one with a window. If you plan to sail for more than a couple of days, it can get quite stuffy. Also note, the outside rooms have windows but they might not necessarily open!
Q. What's the food like? I have special requirements.
- MSC did have a Michelin starred pastry chef on board. So the food is definitely great and they cater to special dietary requirements. Dishes are identified as vegan, gluten-free, etc. with labels. If requested food could be served in your room as well.
They have vegetarian, low salt options too. all you need to do is inform in advance when you make the booking.
Tables can be reserved based on the experience you choose for dinner. If you do not have tables reserved, you are shown to one at the time assigned for you for dinner. If you'd rather skip the drill, buffet is always served everyday.
There's variety in the dishes, however depending on the region, some dishes may be a staple and could be served everyday in the buffet. Since MSC left from Venice and had a couple of stops in Italy, pasta was available everyday.
Q. Is it mandatory to opt for excursions? How do I explore a city once I get to a port?
- Not mandatory. You're free to get out and explore on your own or book with other operators.
Excursions with cruises can be great or average. But they are expensive than others. You're mainly paying to get you to the ship in time if you're heading far off.
If you're leaving for your first cruise, I'd say go with the excursions. This will give you an idea as to how they are arranged and what is included.
If you have mobility issues, they have special excursions where provisions are made to cater to you.
If you're not keen, liners have a pick up and drop service to the city centre, sometime free of charge. You can always head off to the city and arrange a tour from there.
Ships are strict about timings and a couple missed the ship while we were in Greece, although the ship did wait for a whole hour for them.
Do note: Excursions are capacity controlled, so if they're sold out, they will not be able to accommodate you.
Q. Any points to save money?
- Many! Read on!
If you're heading on an excursion, pack some fruits or a sandwich to take with you. It's completely alright to do so. Buffet timings may be extended as well on certain days, so you can always return and have a late lunch.
As I mentioned in my last point, you can always save money if you plan excursions from an agent outside or catch the shuttle bus to the city centre and explore on your own.
If permitted you could opt for single supplement meals and have something cheap when the ship docks
Many liners like Norwegian, provide cabins suitable for solo travelers. Do inquire if you're traveling alone.
Carry empty water bottles that you can always fill at the buffet, to avoid buying water
If you opt for excursions, book before you sail as this entitles you to a discount on each excursion
Other points to note:
Always carry a sanitiser on board and use it regularly as health safety is top priority when it comes to Norovirus scares
Arrive at least a day in advance before your day of departure. It's always good to embark early and disembark late from your ship to avoid the crowds.
Do not over pack as cabin sizes are limited. However do carry formals as many ships have themed dinners and its fun.
Many liners do not permit your own booze. This will be confiscated when your bags are screened. So it's best to check the liner's 'Alcohol Policy' aforehand on the website
If you require a visa, ensure you have one with sufficient validity for all ports of call
There's always a drink pacakage on offer and it usually end up cheaper than buying drinks on the go
It isn't a secret that cruises head off to offbeat destinations and offer spectacular service. Meals and even tips are included in the price so it is a very convenient getaway. You wake up to a different place everyday and nothing replaces the sound and smell of the ocean while you enjoy some wine in the middle of the night while you stare at the Greek islands lit up at night in the distance.
If you're torn and would still like to sample the culture, catch the shuttle and once you're in the city, speak to the locals, eat some local dishes and wander to your heart's content.
Be warned! A cruise is addictive if chosen wisely and is a great choice for everyone, be it family or friends. You'll definitely be hooked!
PIN FOR LATER!
First time planning a cruise
Once you've booked a cruise, it's a breeze as unless you're planning on exploring cities by yourself, everything is taken care for you
Many amenities are available on board which include pools, jacuzzi's, gym's and indoor sports facilities. You do not need to pay extra for anything.
If there's anything that you need info on, feel free to send me an email! :)
Why not check some of the excursions you can opt for when you're cruising Scandinavia? Or head off just for inspiration here!
A fascinating excursion to try is jumping over the equator! Read about it here!
Have you been on a cruise before? I'd love to know your inputs!