I book cruises for a living and have been in Travel for over 33 Years and it never ceases to amaze me why people will not take advice when offered out of genuine concern that they have the best holiday possible.
It is not all about getting extra money from them.
I wanted to put together a little guide to help you with some of the common mistakes people make when booking cruises and hopefully they will help you get the most out of the experience.
Cruising is not a one ship fits all type of thing. There are so many options from Enormous fun filled ships with countless entertainment venues, restaurants and Activities from Rock climbing to Bumper cars, then you have smaller ships which still have a range of things to do and venues to eat and be entertained but on a smaller scale. There are loud, brash party atmosphere ships with discos and calypsos, like Blackpool at sea! There are luxury ships which are refined and elegant with 5-star dining, excursions included and butler service. There are River cruises with a handful of cabins and wonderful food and good company, There are family ships with lots of kids and Adult only options too and the list goes on. Pick the wrong sort of the ship to begin with and your love for cruising may well never leave port.
Almost if not more important as the Ship you sail on, are the ports you sail to! From stunning cities bursting with Culture, like Venice, Rome and St Petersburg. Beautiful Mediterranean Ports basking in the sun like Sardinia, Kotor, Monte Carlo and Dubrovnik to name but a few.
Enchanting towns along winding rivers or the stunning scenery of the Norwegian Fjords, Alaska or New Zealand.
Gorgeous sun-soaked islands in the Caribbean like Grenada, St Barts, Barbados and St Kitts.
Mystical wonders like the Great Wall of China, Angkor Wat or the awesome sight of Machu Picchu.
There are so many options, but they will not be for everyone, so choose your itinerary carefully.
I get that people are working to holiday schedules and more often than not they have tight budgets.
I would always recommend you book a pre-cruise night no matter where you are sailing from.
If you are driving to Southampton and don’t live close by then Book a Hotel. It takes the hassle out of traffic delays and early morning starts which mean you are exhausted by the time you reach the ship. It just means once you arrive you can start to relax for your cruise. I have many customers who do not book a stay if they are travelling to the Mediterranean, But why not? Again, it takes away the stress of whether you are going to get flight delays. Why would you want to be stressed and worried on the first day of your holiday?
Plus, if there is a delay you could miss the ship and unlike a Hotel, you can’t just check in late. Once she has sailed it may be difficult to get you to another port where you can board which could ruin your whole trip. Destinations further afield should always have a pre-cruise night stay and I would not book anyone unless they were doing this. The only possible exception being if the cruise ship is porting overnight in the embarkation port and staying the next day you may be ok to arrive on embarkation day.
No, it’s not a train, but you will be given a boarding time each day when you reach port. If you are on an organised excursion you don’t need to worry as they will get you back on time. However, if you choose to go it alone, a word of warning. The Ship will leave you if you are not back on time. The time is not a guideline. I have spent many a cruise, laughing at the inevitable late passengers who turn up in a taxi and sprint to the gangway to hollows and laughter from the passengers watching them. Whilst we may all find this amusing it is not so funny if you arrive to watch your ship sailing away. So be punctual and check the time you must be back on board and if it is in local time. The ship may be running on UK time still so make sure you get the time right. This is a rookie Mistake, so watch out for it!
Make sure you have what you need, i.e. the essentials. Do not assume you can pick it up onboard if not. Baby food/milk, for example, is not carried by many cruise lines. It is not just things like that either. On a cruise a couple of years ago on Anthem of the Seas my darling son left his toothbrush in the bathroom at the overnight hotel we had before the cruise. I asked the cabin steward if they had one and he said no. So, I popped to the onboard shop once we were underway. It had Toothpaste, Floss, mouthwash but believe it or not, no toothbrushes! I was in shock. I went to the Guest relations desk to be told if they had none in the shop they did not have any. Poor Alex had to go two nights without a toothbrush until we arrived in Le Havre and he could pop to a Pharmacy.
Make sure any medication you have to take is in your hand luggage. Whilst you board and the cases go straight to your cabin, the definition of straight to is not as you may think. You can be waiting for several hours for your case to be delivered and may not even get it before dinner on the first night in some extreme cases, so make sure your hand luggage has all you need for the first evening.
Many cruise lines offer a facility to pre-book at least shore excursions if not other activities like dining if you are on an anytime option, speciality restaurants, Shows and other activities like Ifly on Royal Caribbean etc… Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can just leave it and do it once you are onboard as popular excursions, shows and Restaurants do get booked up and you could be left disappointed. Even on the 6-star cruise lines with free excursions they get booked up so be warned and book early. Also a TOP TIP: We offer other excursions that you can book and these are often cheaper than the cruise lines, so ask before committing. It’s also worth doing your own research too as you may find you can do the attraction you want to see on your own at a fraction of the cost.
8.When to Sail!
All areas of the world have seasons. As you may expect, cruises like other holidays are cheaper off-peak so to speak! So, if you go to the Caribbean whose peak months are November to April and you opt to go in August, don’t be surprised if your plans are disrupted as this is Hurricane Season.
The Mediterranean is a beautiful place to cruise from Late April to the end of October but outside of this time be prepared for cold weather and often rough seas. Alaska has a short sailing season due to the ice and runs from May to September, but be warned in May and September you will need lots of thin layers and possibly winter woollies as it can be very cold especially on Glacier Bay. It can also be wet and in May you might even get snow. Weather aside, if you are travelling to see a particular event or phenomenon make sure you choose to go at the right time of year. EG: if you want to see New England in its riot of colour you need to travel mid-September to early October or you will be disappointed. I had a lady who went to North Norway in the summer and when I called her on her return to ask if she had enjoyed the cruise, she said she had but was annoyed she had not seen the Northern Lights? I was a little baffled as the cruise was entitled the Land of the Midnight sun, referring of course to the fact that in summer it does not get dark? I explained you had to go in January, February time to see the Lights but she just said, well no-one told me and I don’t want to go when it is cold! What can you say to that! So, again a little research before you choose is wise.
As a cruises seller, I try to inform people what they get included and what is not included. As a rule of thumb all cruises include food and you will not go hungry that is for certain, however, speciality restaurants onboard are not usually included although there are exceptions to this. Drinks are another matter. You will usually get tea, coffee and juice with breakfast, you will often get tea and coffee in the café or buffet on self-service throughout the day too but speciality coffees and drinks from the bars will be charged in most cases unless you have an included or have paid for a drinks package. Bottled Water is rarely included even in drinks packages. There are exceptions to this rule so always check and get it in writing when you book to avoid issues later. Gratuities or Tips are the other big spend. Again, always check if they are included, if not, what the cost is? Also, can you opt to pay them yourself personally once onboard? Don’t forget to check out those excursions too as these can be costly if you want to do them and have not allowed for it in your budget.
This is a good news point as I find that cruise lines seem very good at catering for special dietary concerns, just make sure they know in advance as some diets have to have special food ordered in and it is too late if you leave it until the sailing day.
The key here is to be honest, if you have a mobility issue and need any walking aids from a stick to a wheelchair, we need to know. Some cruises would not be recommended at all for you, like River cruises. If you take a motor scooter and have not booked a disabled cabin and advised the cruise line you may be refused boarding for it as some cruise lines do not allow them in standard cabins. If you book then travel and find you cannot board you will not get your money back.
Make sure you advise the Insurance company you are going on a cruise. It does matter and you may not be covered if you don’t. Make sure you also have an adequate medical cover as getting someone off a ship in an emergency is a costly exercise.
Do not assume, even if the ship you are travelling on includes or sells internet packages that you will be able to get a strong reliable internet signal. It is often intermittent, drops out and is often pricey, especially if you want to stream or download anything. You may get free Wi-Fi at ports of call so catch up then if you really must Tweet or Snapchat!
It goes without saying that you are on a ship, sometimes miles from land, so be safe. Do not over indulge on the drink and in light of a recent tragedy and another instance of utter stupidity, do not take risks and break ship rules. They are there for your safety and the safety of the other passengers and crew. Ignoring them could lead to embarrassment, injury or even death, so just don’t!
So take a little advice, choose wisely and start enjoying cruising