Cruising – How to choose the right cruise for you.


From surf simulators to spa treatments, designer shopping to sky diving, cruise companies are frantically trying to out do each other. Larger ships with ever more innovation are being launched each year. So for those of you who haven’t tried it yet, how do you know which cruise to choose?


Cruising is now one of the fastest growing markets in the travel industry with over 30,000 people cruising from Ireland last year. I have seen many ships and I can honestly say there is a cruise for everyone out there. Cruise ships are often referred to as floating hotels and in some cases they are more like floating cities. You can choose the massive ships like Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas which can carry almost 8000 passengers and crew, or a smaller intimate river cruise like Uniworld’s SS Catherine, which carries 159 passengers.

I decided for this post I needed some help from a cruise ‘expert’ so I spoke to one of Ireland’s top cruise specialists Niki Stanford, from Nikki has been on 28 cruise ships and has been selling cruises for 16 years. Niki constantly keeps up to date with online training. The cruise industry is always changing and she likes to  ‘keep up to speed on it all”.

Sarah Slattery, The Travel Expert on which cruise to choose
A cruise ship docked in Venice.

Best cruise for first timers:

A seven night Mediterranean Cruise is always a firm favourite. Usually sailing from Barcelona or Rome and taking in the best the Western Mediterranean has to offer. For many people it is price driven and these tend to offer the best value. People don’t want to spend too much on their first outing in case they don’t like cruising. This rarely happens though because over 90% of cruisers will cruise again.

Sarah Slattery, The Travel Expert reviews cruising

Best cruise for young couples:

Mediterranean and Caribbean cruises are the most popular with young people. Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line or MSC Cruises are ideal and have excellent facilities on board. Facilities are key as many want good entertainment at night time as well as sports activities on board. Royal Caribbean’s latest ships offer sky diving, zip lines, surf simulators and even an ice rink! With robots serving you drinks from the bar, they are a great choice for a young couple looking for some adventure, modern style! Norwegian are also very popular with young couples as they offer free style dining, with no formal nights and a more relaxed atmosphere on board.
Sarah Slattery, The Travel Expert reviews cruising
Norwegian Epic.

Best cruise for older couples:

The Baltic states are always a firm favourite sailing with older couples. Sailings from Copenhagen or Amsterdam are very popular, particularly itineraries taking in the Norwegian Fjords and Russia. Some cruise lines include overnights in popular cities too.
This year has seen an increase in the transatlantic voyage on the Queen Mary 2. With excellent prices on offer and it is probably on most cruisers  ‘bucket list’. It is a very different feel and experience on board to other cruise ships. The Queen Mary 2 is Cunard’s flagship and is “the most magnificent ocean liner ever built and probably the most famous cruise ship in the world”.
River cruising is also very popular. A more intimate cruise on smaller ships and the ability to dock in the heart of cities, has made river cruising one of the fastest growing sectors within the cruise industry.
Sarah Slattery, The Travel Expert reviews cruising
Uniworld’s River cruise ship – SS River Royale

Best cruise for families :

Cruises are ideal for families and excellent value for money. Niki doesn’t understand why more families do not cruise. A fear of the unknown perhaps?  The food and service excellent – you would need to go to a 5 star hotel to find similar service, says Niki. The entertainment is superb from west end style shows to Cirque du Soleil, it truly is endless! You will never hear the children say ‘I’m Bored!’
MSC Cruises are fantastic value for families as child prices are heavily discounted in comparison to other companies. Kids aged 11 and under just pay port charges so technically they ‘cruise free’. Above 11 and under 18 they pay a little more, but still gives amazing value considering the food, entertainment and kids clubs are all included! Some of their ships have water slides on board, others have a lego club and even a Formula 1 simulator!
Royal Caribbean offer a more active holiday for families. With everything from rock climbing walls, surf simulators, zip lines and even sky diving simulators. These ships are a teenagers dream.

Best cruise for adventure:

Hurtigruten will let you search for the Northern Lights or Polar Bears!  They may not offer the same facilities on board  but they are truly made for adventurers. The stunning scenery and the true local experiences have made them extremely popular in recent years. Celebrity Cruises Xpedition ship is the luxury ship for adventurers but you will need to plan way in advance, this ship is booked up as soon as it goes on sale!
Sarah Slattery, The Travel Expert on which cruise to choose
The Northern Lights, Iceland

Best cruise for food:

It is difficult to choose one cruise line over another as the quality of food on board most cruise ships is excellent. However, some of the cruise companies are offering unique experiences, beyond the typical main dining restaurants and buffets. Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises offer many speciality restaurants on board, some are included in the price of your cruise and some incur a supplement. “Qsine” on Celebrity Cruises is the ultimate in modern dining. From the iPad menu to the different tastes and experiences on offer it’s is more of a dining experience than a dinner date!  Wonderland restaurant on the Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas offer a bizarre take on the Alice in Wonderland movie, with unusual statues and odd chairs, you almost feel you are in the movie.  They call it imaginative cuisine! You are given a blank menu and a paintbrush, the waiter will then instruct you to dip the paintbrush in the water and paint the canvas and as if my magic your menu appears!

Sarah Slattery, The Travel Expert on which cruise to choose
The Tuscan Grille, one of Celebrity Silhouette’s speciality restaurants.

Best cruise for entertainment:

Generally speaking entertainment is of a very high standard on most cruise ships. Niki loved the Two70 venue on Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas. “It takes advanced robotic and human artistry to a level, I have never seen on board a ship! It has to be seen to believed and experienced. That along with a Candy Floss martini, they offer in the bar!” It is a very personal choice however, some want west end style theatre shows and others want non stop daily entertainment. By speaking to a cruise expert, they will advise which cruise ship suits your needs and tastes.
Sarah Slattery, The Travel Expert on which cruise to choose
Theatre on board Celebrity Silhouette.

Best value for money cruise:

MSC Cruises are the leaders here. But Niki is keen to point out that just because they are cheap it doesn’t mean that they are not good! She has sailed many times with MSC and thinks the food and service is brilliant but they just don’t have the added extras that some of the companies offer these days, this is why they will not be higher priced. They offer modern service with a Mediterranean / Italian flare without breaking the bank. If you don’t need a huge choice of eating venues or rock climbing walls then they are ideal. Their staterooms and furnishings are beautiful. Sophia Loren is the godmother to their ships, so the sense of style and class flows through!
Sarah Slattery, The Travel Expert reviews cruising
MSC Preziosa.

Best cruise for luxury:

Silversea and Crystal cruises are luxury at its best.  If you seek the luxury yacht feel then the smaller Silversea ships with butler service and luxury surroundings are one of the best in luxury cruising. Alternatively if you want to try something different, Uniworld is the ultimate in river cruising. Like a floating boutique hotel, Uniworld offer a 5* all inclusive cruise, with fine dining and outstanding service. Celebrity Cruises offer luxury with a modern style and are not as expensive as Silversea or Uniworld. Their food and service is excellent and the overall feeling is quite relaxed.

Sarah Slattery, The Travel Expert on which cruise to choose
A suite on board Celebrity Reflection.

Best Cruise if you don’t want to fly:

Fred Olsen’s MS Boudicca will operate six sailings from Ireland in 2016 including a nine night spectacular trip to the Norwegian Fjords in July and a 14 night Rugged & Rural Canada cruise in September.

Sarah Slattery, The Travel Expert on which cruise to choose
Norwegian Fjords


Any other advice?

Select your stateroom wisely.

Look at the deck plans before you choose your cabin / stateroom. You may wish to be close to the swimming pool or away from the nightclub. If you don’t want to be awoken at 7 am with the sound of people going to breakfast, don’t select a stateroom beside the lift or stairs. Some ocean-view staterooms may have a view of life boats, they are usually called obstructed view rooms. Perhaps it is better to select a full seaview room or even a balcony cabin and watch the sunset beneath the horizon.


Check the dress code.

Some cruises have one formal night, others have two or three. If you don’t want to dress up, you can avoid these in most cases, by going to the buffet restaurant for dinner. Norwegian Cruise Line offer a freestyle cruise concept where it is casual and relaxed throughout. There are no set times for dinner and no dress code, so for clients that do not want to dress up this is ideal! Cunard and P&O Cruises are more strict on their formal nights and really encourage it for their guests. Cunard even offer masquerade balls, and the Royal Ascot Ball!
You can see from the list above how varied cruise ships are. Some offer dress codes, speciality dining options, some have non stop entertainment, others are quieter and more low key. This for me is why speaking to a dedicated specialist is so important before booking your cruise.

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