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Choose to Cruise

A little preplanning goes along way

There’s nothing like the dead of winter to get you dreaming of sandy beaches, sun-drenched days and exotic destinations prime for exploring. If your list of vacation wants and needs has many variables then cruising might be right for you. 

According to Statista Inc., cruising is the fastest-growing segment of the travel industry, luring some 24 million people last year. Every new megaship that is introduced offers something more spectacular than its predecessors, so cruising really does have something for everyone. That said, there are some significant considerations that must be pondered in order to lay the foundation for choosing the perfect cruise.

A cruise vacation usually begins with the itinerary. After all, the beauty of a cruise is being able to experience multiple destinations in one vacation. Experts recommend starting with the number of days you’ll want to be away. In general, cruises last for 3, 7, 11 or 14 days, but there are longer voyages available for destinations that are further away. The departing city or port can also dictate your itinerary and may make a difference whether you’ll be booking your airfare to that city separately. Caribbean cruises offer a variety of ports and cultures to experience but Mediterranean cruises are also popular for the same reason. The thought of an Alaskan cruise may not take the chill off but offers a completely different and exhilarating experience for travelers of all ages.

Almost equally as important as the itinerary is the size of the ship you will be sailing on. Ship size and number of passengers dictate numerous factors aboard including activities, food quality and variety, stateroom options and the motion of the ocean. Smaller ships won’t have the vast amount of entertainment on board – they may not even have a pool – but they will have the advantage of being able to dock at smaller, more unique ports where exploring is the primary goal. Megaships are best for vacationers seeking a variety of activities on board and off, and may be better suited for larger parties or families with multiple requirements. These larger vessels afford a wide range of formal and informal dining options, staterooms of varying sizes and amenities such as balconies, kids clubs and babysitting services, adult-only locations and a menu of daytime and evening entertainment options so that even the most finicky of travelers won’t be bored. If seasickness is a concern, you want to choose a larger ship and a stateroom that is located in the middle where motion will be less prevalent.

While cost will be an obvious factor, largely based on the cruise line, destinations and length of voyage, shoppers should also consider any “extra” charges before making their decision. Beverage costs, for example, are generally not included in the total price and can add up quickly. But experts also warn that certain restaurants may not be included even though they have been marketed as a selling feature of the ship. If a cruise line is billed as “all-inclusive,” travelers should inquire as to the full meaning of the term. Room location also affects the price and quite simply means rooms with any view at all will be more expensive than interior rooms. In addition, larger staterooms, generally located higher in the ship, will likewise add to the price.

Another factor in choosing the perfect cruise is day and evening activity options. If excursions are the end game in your ultimate cruise, find an itinerary with numerous ports of call and less days at sea. If your goal is to stay on board and soak up as much sun as possible, choose a cruise that has more days at sea or offers ports of call where an inviting beach or day resort is just minutes from the dock. Evening activities run the gamut from casinos and spectacular stage shows to formal dinners complete with ballroom dancing. And on-board daytime activity provides just as much variety. It might be best to define your cruise “personality” and then find a brand that markets itself as a good match. There are cruise lines for singles, seniors, foodies, fitness enthusiasts, families with small children, families with teens, romance-seekers, budget-conscience travelers and more. A little research up front should pay off once you are on board.

With so much information available on the internet regarding cruise lines and their offerings, it’s quite easy to educate yourself, narrow down your choices and shop prices before making a decision. There are also multiple passenger review sites to help you in your quest including Cruise Critic at www.cruisecritic.com and Cruise Mates at www.cruisemates.com. And don’t forget last-minute deals because cruise ships don’t like to sail half full. Even still, travel experts suggest working with a travel agent once you’ve identified your priorities in order to select the best fit.