First time cruising?
Dont worry the choice of cruises is now so vast we're sure you'll find the perfect cruise for you. Read over the cruising guide below to help you decide, still not sure call our consultants who will be able to provide expert cruise advice and answer any queries you might have.
A Cruise for all
With so many bargains about, there's never been a better time to try your first cruise. New research shows that not only are cruises much more affordable than they were in the past, they also offer better value for money than land-based holidays because all food and entertainment is included in the price. But cruise ‘virgins’ can be apprehensive about taking the plunge.
With so many different destinations and types of ship available, they may fear it will be difficult to find a cruise that's right for them - and to ‘learn the ropes' once they climb aboard.The fact is, it's no harder to choose a cruise than any other type of holiday. You just need to work out, before you start, what type of cruise you'll enjoy. For example: are you traveling alone, as a couple or with a family? Are you an active person who needs plenty to do, and to broaden your horizons or is it your idea of bliss to lounge on a sun bed with a good book?
Do you like to relax and go casual on holiday, or prefer to dress for dinner and put on the gladrags now and again? Are you happy to fly out to join a ship, or would you prefer to cruise out of and back to the UK? Settle these questions and whatever your circumstances, budget or personal tastes, you can find a cruise ship that's perfect for you.
Who can be active on board?
It's important to have a clear idea of what you want, as the range of cruise ships is enormous.
Gigantic 70,000-ton (approximately 1,800 passengers) plus ‘mega-ships’ with resort-at-sea facilities are best for families, the young and the young-at-heart.
Dedicated (and age-related) clubs cater for kids, while discos, virtual reality games and full scale ball courts are at hand to keep teenagers amused.
Worn-out mums can grab some library books, enjoy a rest and settle in for some serious pampering in beautifully designed health spas, while dads can practice their swing at golf driving ranges or shed stress with a good gym workout.
And in the evening these ships really come to life; multiple restaurants offer a choice between formal, casual and haute cuisine dining and after dinner you can take in a show, visit a nightclub, enjoy a quiet drink in a piano bar or try your luck in a casino.
Though these ships mainly operate ‘sun seeker’ cruises in the Mediterranean and Caribbean, they also explore further afield and make a great platform from which to view the wildlife and stunning scenery of Alaska or explore the temples, pagodas and dynamic cities of the Far East.
If a big ship sounds too much for you, try a medium-sized (30,000-tons to 70,000-tons) vessel; there are several inexpensive ships in this size range, and though they tend to be older than the modern mega-ships, they make up in character and cosiness what they lack in up-to-the-minute facilities.
These ships are ideal for slightly older people who enjoy more traditional cruising. Passengers enjoy sunbathing and reading, taking in the sea air, playing deck games and exploring ashore by day, and dressing for dinner that night.
And while some of these ships offer ‘series cruises’ of a particular region like the Mediterranean or the Baltic, others go off-track to explore more exotic destinations worldwide, like India, Africa and Antarctica.
A life of Luxury
If you have the cash to spend on a seriously good time, climb aboard a small luxury ship to explore the world. These ships offer top-notch suites and facilities, chic restaurants serving haute cuisine dishes, elegant health spas and, best of all, plenty of personal space, as numbers of passengers are limited.
Lovers of smaller-scale cruise vessels could also try a sailing ship (great for discovering small, off-track ports) or explore the world's rivers on a riverboat - a good option if you want to go ashore several times a day and really get under the skin of a destination.
As long as you needRemember that cruise durations vary tremendously; you can test the water on a `mini-cruise' of three to four days, take a seven-day sailing, enjoy two to three weeks on a ship or combine your cruise with a land stay, or even go the whole hog and take a three month cruise around the world!
Decide on the duration you'd like and ask your agent to explore possibilities. Your agent (and a trawl through the cruise brochures) will also give you information about which cruises have themes like photography, cookery, wine appreciation and antiques.
Most cruise ships offer talks, quizzes, cookery and beauty demonstrations and other events to interest their passengers; themed cruises go one better by inviting experts onboard to help travellers develop a new hobby or brush up on their existing skills.
You don't have to participate in a themed cruise but it's an interesting added value extra worth considering.
Have a great tripOnce you've decided on your ship and destination, it's time to prepare for life on board. When your cruise tickets arrive, they will usually be accompanied by a booklet describing the particular ship you’ve booked and advising on things like dress codes, tipping levels, shore excursions, the availability of laundry facilities and so on.
Do spend some time reading this as you'll garner valuable advice on what to pack and how much to budget for extras like tips and drinks ashore. Also remember that - unless you've chosen an all-inclusive ship - you'll have to pay for drinks on board, so budget for this and for any health spa treatments you'd like to try (expect prices comparable to those in London's West End).
All ships accept credit cards, though you can deposit travelers cheques or cash when you register at the start of a cruise. You'll then run an account while you're on board and settle up at the end - a final bill will be delivered to your cabin on the last night. For convenience, you can sometimes put tips on your credit card but do check this in advance, as some ships still run the old system of distributing envelopes for passengers to fill and dispense on the last night. Customers are advised to take dollars, sterling or Euros in cash depending on the on-board currency.
What to Pack?
On bigger ships in particular, there is now a trend towards creating a very relaxed atmosphere and the big emphasis is on choice. Multiple restaurants enable passengers to dine at any time and with whom they wish (though some charge a supplement). Some ships even have formal nights' in specific bars and restaurants for passengers who like to dress up and dine in style.
On more traditional ships, you can usually expect two formal nights - when the Captain's Welcome and Farewell gala dinners are held. Black tie is the usual form for men, though increasingly a smart suit will suffice. Women can wear anything from a classic little black dress to a ball gown!
As a general rule, less is more for modern-day cruising; the more you pack, the more luggage you'll have to lug to the port or airport - and the less room there'll be for the bargains you'll pick up on your travels. A flexible capsule wardrobe with lots of accessories is the best bet, but remember to take one pair of comfy shoes for walking on deck and ashore, and a wrap even for a cruise in sunny climes, as air conditioning can be chilly.
And don't worry if you forget your toothpaste, sunscreen or even a posh frock; ship's shops have an extensive range of goods - from cosmetics to evening wear, jewellery, crystal and fine china - at tax free prices. Above all, don't be concerned about impressing people or having enough elegant clothes; the whole point of cruising is to make yourself at home, relax and enjoy!