When was the last time you took a vacation? Can you remember your last vacation? What is a vacation?
vacation (v-kshn, v-) n. 1. A period of time devoted to pleasure, rest or relaxation, especially one with pay granted to an employee. 2. a. A holiday.b. A fixed period of holidays, especially one during which a school, court, or business suspends activities. The key words in the definition are pleasure, rest and relaxation.
There aren’t many vacation experiences that can deliver all those things. If you have a cruise vacation on your list of things to do before you die, chances are you put it there because you heard that cruises can deliver a true vacation experience. The point of this blog is to help you move a cruise vacation up your bucket list. Helpful tips and links to answers to the most common questions are provided, so let’s get started.
So you have been thinking about a cruise vacation or you’ve had it on your “to-do” list for a long time but cannot commit. What are you waiting for? Cruising can be intimidating for first-timers because it seems so completely different than many other vacations. Roughly only 20% of Americans have ever taken a cruise vacation, but over 40% of cruise passengers are repeat cruisers. Here are the top ten reasons why many first time cruisers become cruise enthusiasts:
- VALUE. One price buys your cabin, dining, entertainment and more.
- ROMANCE. Secluded beaches, en suite dining on a balcony overlooking the ocean and spa services for two are just some of the romantic pursuits available.
- CUISINE. Tantalize your taste buds with gourmet fare that showcases exotic ingredients, old standbys like pizza and ice cream or spa cuisine for a healthy alternative. Depending on your mood, dine in a traditional ballroom setting, a small bistro or a casual eatery.
- VARIETY. With over 200 distinctive ships, 3000 ports-of-call and an unbelievable array of places to see and things to do, there is a perfect cruise for you. For even more choice, consider a pre- or post-land tour.
- ACTIVITIES. Fill your days with sightseeing, sports activities, cultural lectures, educational tours led by naturalists and historians or simply lounge by the pool and relax. At night, enjoy dance extravaganzas, musical revues, gaming or a quiet evening gazing at the stars.
- SIMPLICITY. Don’t come back from your vacation needing a vacation. Planning a cruise is simple; your CLIA-affiliated travel agency can handle all of the details. Once you’re on board, nearly all expenses are pre-paid… talk about hassle-free.
- NEW HORIZONS. Fall asleep in one destination and awake to a new horizon… and you only have to pack and unpack once!
- FAMILY. Families love cruising. Children’s programs, kid-friendly menus and tours of the ship will keep your children happy, while affording you some time alone.
- PAMPERING. Regardless of your budget, all cruise lines pamper their guests with first-class service around the clock.
- SATISFACTION. It’s a fact that cruises have a higher percentage of satisfied customers than any other vacation experience.
Source: Cruise Line International Association (CLIA)
Where to Cruise? Cruise destinations are one of the top motivating factors for most cruisers. Virtually anywhere there is navigable water, from oceans to rivers, you can find a cruise to fit your desires. According to Marc Mancini, author of Cruising: A Guide to the Cruise Line Industry, geography plays a major role in the decision to take a cruise vacation because:
- Cruise passengers often decide which cruise to take according to the destination(s), not the ship or the line. This is especially true of first-time cruisers.
- Certain places are best experienced by ship because of access. For instance, to drive or fly from town to town in Alaska is difficult, expensive, or, in some cases, impossible. Cruise ships, however, get around Alaska’s coastal waters easily.
- Cruises allow you to visit multiple destinations in one trip. Whether clusters of islands in the Aegean Sea (Greece), Indonesia, and the Caribbean or several European, Middle Eastern or North African destinations in the Mediterranean. Air connections within island groups are often awkward and multiple destinations are prohibitively expensive.
- Travelers often prefer to visit underdeveloped countries via a cruise for safety and security reasons. The ship is secure, the food familiar, the transportation dependable, and the lodging reliable.
- Individual destinations go up and down in popularity from year to year, but the Caribbean as a whole remains the most popular destination, year after year.
More experienced cruisers develop their brand loyalty based on the experience they had on a particular cruise line or lines early on. Just as there are cars that fit every personality, the same can be said of cruise lines. Cruise lines can be divided into several broad categories such as small, medium and large ships or mainstream, premium and luxury classes. Within each class of ship there are several categories or grades of stateroom so it is possible to have a luxury vacation even on a mainstream ship. Information abounds on cruise review and cruise line websites to help the first-time cruise decide which cruise line to book after deciding on the destination.
- Carnival Cruise Lines – Carnival’s “Fun Ships” appeal to a wide cross section of passengers of various ages and backgrounds. Carnival’s many itineraries, numerous dining choices and extensive kid’s programs make it a popular family cruise.
- Norwegian Cruise Line – Introduced Freestyle Cruising – a more relaxed resort-style experience that has been a very popular draw for NCL; no assigned meal times or tables and choices of 10 or more restaurants on most ships. Launched the Norwegian Epic in 2010 which includes live entertainment by the Blue Man Group, innovative stateroom design and gourmet cuisine.
- Royal Caribbean Cruise Line – State-of-the-art ships, exciting itineraries, great youth programs and unique on-board activities such as rock climbing wall, Flow Rider surfing and even ice skating. The Oasis of the Seas is one of the world’s largest cruise ships, a destination in and of itself.
- Costa Cruises – Europe’s number one cruise line; if you want a European experience, Costa’s Italian crew and theme can deliver; Italian inspired ships.
- MSC Cruises – Gracious Italian staff, personalized service, cuisine and unique itineraries make MSC another favorite European-style experience for cruisers.
- Celebrity Cruises – Owned by Royal Caribbean, Celebrity provides a luxurious experience on its consistently high ranked ships. Gourmet cuisine on Celebrity wins frequent awards.
- Holland America Line – A leader in worldwide premium cruising, HAL is known for its long (10+ days) cruises and its attention to detail onboard. Gracious attentive service, gourmet cuisine, wide range of itineraries, and great value for price paid make HAL a frequent winner of awards.
- Oceania Cruises – One of the highest staff-to-guest ratios in the industry, smaller-sized luxury ships (684 guests) and destination focused itineraries make this an excellent value in high end cruising. Very comprehensive lecture and enrichment program at sea.
- Princess Cruises – Worldwide itineraries on the largest and newest ships. Princess’ Personal Choice Cruising provides passengers with a wide variety of options to customize their vacations.
- Windstar Cruises – Its motto “180 from Ordinary” says it all. Windstar’s small luxury sailing ships accommodate 148 t0 312 pampered guests. These are highly advanced “sailing ships” that are fully stabilized to offer a comfortable experience.
- Crystal Cruises – Crystal ships consistently earn top awards. Crystal’s European hotel and dining staff provide a level of service that brings a loyal following of cruisers back year after year. From private verandas to elegantly appointed staterooms, Crystal is frequently recognized for its excellent value and competitive rates.
- Cunard Line – Cunard Line has the distinction of its traditional British elegance, superb White Star Service, gourmet cuisine, and regular trans-Atlantic service that sets it apart from all other cruise lines. The name recognition and luxury of its Queen Elizabeth, Queen Victoria and Queen Mary 2 put Cunard in a class all its own.
- Regent Seven Seas Cruises – Exclusive line with among the highest space-to-guest and crew-to-guest ratios; smaller ships (180 to 700 guests); includes the Paul Gauguin which provides an exclusive cruise experience throughout Tahiti and French Polynesia. A great value in luxury cruising that includes all gratuities, wine with dinner, in-stateroom bar, and soft drinks.
- Silversea Cruises – With ships built to appeal to the ultra-luxury market, Silversea’s smaller, intimate vessels slip into more off the beaten path, exotic ports. Its ships are designed with an all-suite layout, no steerage class here.
Niche (Specialty) Cruise Lines
- Disney Cruise Line – Disney has transferred their family vacation expertise from the Magic Kingdom to the High Seas. Their rotation dining, seamless land and sea vacations and age-specific programs for children, teens and adults deliver a whole Disney-style vacation package.
- Orient Lines – Destination-intensive including Cruise-Tours that include first-class hotels throughout Europe. Top guest lecturers and distinguished experts for enrichment presentations on topics from politics and science to diplomacy and journalism.
- Viking River Cruises – Viking is the world’s largest river cruise line touring Europe, including Russia, and China. Fares included guided shore excursions in each port of call. Its passengers are generally older (55+), well traveled and physically active.
- Uniworld River Cruises – Uniworld provides a unique river cruise experience with 500 departures, sailing on 9 rivers in 16 countries throughout Europe, Egypt, and China. Its elegant, boutique hotel-style cruise ships accommodate an average capacity of 134 guests and provide an intimate experience that is frequently recognized by Zagat in the category of Top Cabins and Top Dining.
By far, the most challenging aspect of choosing to move a cruise vacation up your bucket list is deciding which cruise to take for the first time. It can be a daunting experience with all the choices. Fortunately first-time cruisers have many tools to help them. The internet is a wonderful thing when it comes to research, especially when others do the research for you. There are numerous websites that review or provide previous cruiser reviews of cruise lines, destinations, and shore excursions. Beyond cruising in particular, these sites also provide valuable travel tips in general. Some of the popular ones are:
Cruise Critic – As the oldest online cruise review site launched in 1995, Cruise Critic has over 5 million visitors and is ranked the #1 cruise information website by Hitwise. Its site visitors outnumber the visitors on all its competitor sites combined. It rates 275 ships and 60 cruise lines. In addition to its own ratings, cruisers who join the site can provide ratings as well, not only for ships but also ports of call, shopping, tours and many more areas. Their website has message boards with threaded discussions by its members. Truly a collaborative site, Cruise Critic brings the power of customer experience to its cruise reviews.
Cruise Mates – Launched in 1999 by noted cruise authority Anne Campbell, co-founder and former editor-in-chief of Cruise Critic on America Online, Cruise Mates offers extensive professional reviews by its staff in addition to those by cruisers. Its focus is more on formal reviews by travel professionals with fewer customer reviews than Cruise Critic. Customer reviews stand alone as separate entries unlike the threaded reviews on Cruise Critic.
Cruise Reviews – Owned by Internet Brands, the same owner of Cruise Mates, Cruise Reviews is much more traveler-review focused than Cruise Mates, so it complements that site nicely.
Fodor’s Cruise Reviews – Long recognized for its printed travel guides, Fodor’s Cruise Reviews provide the same quality of entertaining travel editorials on cruise lines and their ships. Broken into linked sections, each review is easy to navigate and locate the exact information you are looking for.
Making Your Cruise Dream a Reality
Making your cruise dream a reality is less difficult than you may think. With the many choices and destinations available, it is natural to have some anxiety about the planning decisions involved in deciding which cruise to take. A good travel counselor can reduce the anxiety that comes with making decisions about a first cruise. They have a variety of resources, including literature and videos from the cruise lines that can help educate you about the cruise experience. Most importantly, a travel counselor can make cruise recommendations based on knowing your likes, desires and personality saving you frustration and money in the long run.
Passport and Travel Requirements
Unless you are planning to cruise only U.S. ports, you will need a passport. Passport requirements vary by destination. In our post-9/11 world a passport provides indisputable identity verification and is acceptable for all types travel. Showing up for a cruise without your passport will be a show-stopper because you will not be allowed on board. The easiest way to apply for a passport is to follow the guidelines found on the U.S. State Department website. Some countries require visas as well and these requirements sometimes change. Your cruise counselor or the cruise line can provide current information. The Cruise Critic website also has a very helpful travel page with information on the latest passport requirements. They also have a handy page with other travel rules and regulations, as well as tips that can answer many of your cruise travel questions.