Get Away Today is your vacation expert, which is why we were recently asked to give our best tips for How to Pick the Perfect Cruise on one of our favorite blogs, "Or So She Says." If you already follow "Or So She Says," you may have already seen it, but if not, you can read the entire article here:
Want an all-inclusive, affordable, adventure? Think a cruise! I just returned from an Extreme Western Caribbean Cruise and loved every minute of it. If you’re considering a cruise, go for it! Here are some tips to find the right cruise line, destination, and most of all have the most fun as possible!
Each year, about a month before Spring Break, I always get dozens of calls from friends ready to book a cruise. This time frame normally works for close-by destinations such as Disneyland, San Diego, and Vegas, but to score the best deal on a cruise, you really should book at least 6 months in advance. Our veteran cruiser customers even book a year ahead of time. There are a few reasons for this, but one is you’re guaranteed the best cabin selection. On a cruise, you want to be mid ship and on a higher floor. These rooms go first. Another reason to book as early as possible is to guarantee connecting cabins if you have a larger family. Since most cruise ships only allow up to four guests in each stateroom, you may need two cabins. If that’s the case, you’ll want to keep your family together, and with a limited amount of connecting rooms, these cabins go quickly. If you book last minute, you’ll end up paying more and will most likely end up in a cabin that’s at the front or back of the ship. Another thing to keep, cruise lines like to have their ships full plenty early. They run the best deals a year to six months out. As you get closer to the sail date, the cruise price can change as much as double or triple the original cost. As an example, my friends want to sail on the new Royal Caribbean Allure of the Seas. They were looking for Spring Break 2013 and it was around $12,000 for a family of six. Switching their dates to Spring Break 2014 brought the price to $6,000! That’s a great deal for seven nights aboard the largest cruise ship at sea!
Where to Cruise:
One of the biggest decisions of picking your cruise is deciding where to cruise. If you’re traveling during the Winter-Spring months and practically year round, the Caribbean is the best choice. With Western, Southern, Eastern and Extreme Western itineraries to choose from, as well as shorter Bahamian cruises, the Caribbean is the most popular place to cruise! Highlights in the Western Caribbean include Grand Cayman (seven miles of pristine beach and swimming with sting rays), Ochos Rios, Jamaica (popular Dunns River Falls and reggae culture), and Cozumel, Mexico (a quick ferry ride to Playa del Carmen, Tulum ruins, and Xcarat eco-park). Highlights of the Eastern Caribbean include a stop typically in Nassau, Bahamas (a day of fun at Atlantis Resort), St. Thomas (shopping galore and pristine beaches), and St. Martin, aka. St. Maarten (fun local flair and beautiful beaches). Southern Caribbean cruises normally begin in San Juan Puerto Rico and can include ports like St. Lucia, Antigua, and St. Kitts. Keep in mind not all itineraries will include all ports, so if there’s a certain port you want to explore, make sure it’s part of your itinerary.
I just returned from the less explored Extreme Western Caribbean. We stopped in Cozumel and went to Playa del Carmen for the day. I loved the quaint streets, gorgeous beaches, turquoise water and Mexican charm. I could have spent days in this port! Belize was our next port and we took a speed boat out to a private island. We were able to snorkel in the world’s second largest barrier reef, kayak through the Caribbean and lounge back and relax. Rouatan, Honduras was next. We didn’t know what to expect from this destination and if it would feel really 3rd world or dangerous. Not at all. Our guides all spoke English very well and we opted for a private tour (we had a group of 14). They took us zip lining through the jungle then to Tabyana Beach where we rented paddle boards and explored the shoreline. It was our favorite stop of the cruise! Then we ended in Costa Maya, Mexico and loved how this was an up-and-coming port. We rented golf carts and felt safe exploring the coastline. We drove on dirt roads through lush jungle and beach then had a great time bartering for some last minute souvenirs.
Alaska Cruises are only available during the summer months. To save the most money, opt for a May or late August/first of September travel date. From the massive glacial field to the stunning scenery and wildlife, Alaska is an adventure!
Mexican Riviera and Baja Mexico cruises are offered sporadically throughout the year. I’ve travelled to the Mexican Riviera in the winter months and lucked out with fabulous weather. I loved Cabo San Lucas (zip lines, parasailing, Lover’s Beach) and Puerto Vallarta (swimming with dolphins and jungle zip lines). Some people shy away from the Mexican Riviera, because it doesn’t have the same Caribbean water, but as a first time cruise and with its West Coast departure, it’s definitely a popular and worthwhile choice.
Mediterranean Cruises are most popular during the summer months. This is definitely on my bucket list. Cruises are such an affordable way to see a ton of Europe without ever switching hotels. Explore Italy, Greece, Spain, France and more on dozens of amazing itineraries.
Which Cruise Line:
Once you’ve narrowed down where you’d like to travel, choosing a cruise line can seem daunting. There are so many ships and brands to choose from. Know that all of the cruise lines offer amazing food (and plenty of it), tons of activities, entertainment and great service. Also, I would always recommend going on as new as ship as you can afford. The newer ships offer even more features and it’s great to be on something new or recently remodeled. Here’s a quick guide to help you choose from 4 of the most popular cruise lines:
Royal Caribbean- The WOW ships! You can rock climb, ice skate, surf on a flow rider, zip line, enjoy Broadway shows and interact with the DreamWorks characters (yes, you could cruise with Shrek and Fiona). They have the largest ships at sea and have the most bells and whistles. I loved the new Allure of the Seas, it’s their newest ship. It’s huge and amazing in every way!
Disney Cruise Line- All the magic! Enjoy amazing entertainment, your favorite Disney characters, wonderful kids programs, rotational dining, world class service, fireworks at sea, the largest staterooms at sea, and they really have something for everyone. There are four Disney ships to choose from, two classic (Wonder and Magic, which are slightly older) and two new ships (Dream and Fantasy). Disney also makes a stop at its famous Castaway Cay private island on most itineraries. I’ve sailed on all of their ships (besides the Magic, which is almost identical to the Wonder) and would highly recommend them all.
Princess Cruise Line- Classy ships that always receive great guest feedback. They are extremely popular for Alaska and are the number one provider there.
Carnival Cruise Line- Affordable fun! They are the fun ships, with 24/7 activities. I would only recommend sailing on a newer Carnival Cruise ship. I recently sailed on their 3rd newest ship, the Carnival Dream. It was a wonderful experience. The Magic out of Galveston is also very popular and is only a year old and the new Breeze sails the Caribbean and Mediterranean. Here’s a link to when the Carnival cruise line ships were built, so you can make sure you’re on a newer ship. http://cruises.about.com/od/mainstreamcruiselines/a/carnival_ships.htm
This is only a sampling of cruise lines and ships. Get Away Today’s cruise experts can give you even more great tips and recommendations for your next sailing.
When you’re deciding how long to go, I always say travel as long as you can! The benefit of a cruise is you can go for a week, explore multiple destinations and only have to unpack once!
Cruises are great on your own, but even more fun with a group. We recently traveled with all of my in-laws. It was great because you can join together for dinner at night (no long decisions about where to eat), but during the day enjoy all kinds of different activities on your own. Cruises have as much or as little as you want to do. They take all the work out of planning a group vacation. If you would like help booking your cruise, our cruise specialists would love to help you. Feel free to give them a call at 877.510.2929.
Check out these other great blog articles:
Jen from Get Away Today Talks Cruises on Studio 5
Cruise Destinations 101
Disney Cruise Line Named Best Cruise Line