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How To Choose The Right Cruise – My Ultimate Cruise Guide

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Thinking about trying a cruise holiday but not sure how to choose the right cruise? My ultimate cruise guide should help.

It seems every year there is a new cruise ship launch with even greater innovation and ground-breaking facilities on board. Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas has eight different neighbourhoods on board, including Central Park complete with 12,000 trees and plants. Norwegian Encore has a race track on the top deck, while Celebrity Edge has a floating platform where you can dine right at the water’s edge. Cruise companies are frantically trying to out do each other and knowing how to choose the right cruise is not an easy task.

Cruises have changed dramatically in the last number of years. What was once considered the ideal vacation for retired couples, cruising has slowly evolved to become more popular with families and the luxury market. Gone are the days when you had to sit with strangers for dinner, wearing your finest ball gown. While formal nights are still popular on some cruise lines, you can choose whether to embrace them or not.

I have seen many cruise ships over the years and I can honestly say there is a cruise for everyone. However, knowing how to choose the right cruise to suit your style, requires a lot of planning. The quote ‘the journey is the destination’ springs to mind. It is not only the destination that you need to consider, the cruise line, cruise ship, and time of year are equally as important.

I always recommend engaging with a cruise expert. They will be able to recommend the right cruise to suit your own taste and budget, however my ultimate cruise guide should give you some tips and tricks on how to choose the right cruise. 

 

How to choose the right cruise ship

A mistake that is often made when choosing a cruise is remember that the cruise line and the cruise ship are equally as important. Just because you liked cruising on Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas in the Caribbean in February, this does not necessarily mean you will like cruising on Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas in the Mediterranean in July.

Jewel of the Seas can hold 3, 500 passengers and crew, but Wonder of the Seas can hold almost 9,300 passengers and crew. Both will offer a completely different cruise experience. Cruise ships are often referred to as floating hotels, but just as hotels vary greatly in size and standard, so do cruise ships.

You can choose the mega cruise ships can carry 9000 passengers, or opt for a smaller intimate river cruise, like Uniworld’s SS Catherine, which carries 159 passengers. 

 

Before you choose the right cruise, ask yourself these questions:

 

What type of holidays do you like?

Before you book a cruise ask yourself what type of holidays do you like. Do you prefer to stay in a boutique hotel and dine out somewhere new each night, or is a lively all-inclusive resort more your style?  There are cruise ships to suit families and thrill seekers, as well as more intimate cruises with exclusive spas and adult-only pools. 

What time of year are you travelling?

Mediterranean cruises tend to attract a lot of families during the summer months, while Caribbean cruises in the winter attract lots of couples. Both cruises with Royal Caribbean will offer a completely different cruise experience.

How old is the cruise ship?

I was on some of MSC older cruise ships and didn’t like their dark interiors and old fashioned decor. However, when I cruised on MSC Seaview I had a completely different experience. MSC Seaview is s bright, airy, elegant and sophisticated – she completely changed my view on MSC Cruises and now I consider it one of my favourite cruise ships.

If you are booking an older cruise ship, check when it was last refurbished and read the latest reviews to know what to expect.

One thing for sure is there is a cruise out there for everyone, and hopefully my handy cruise guide will help you choose the right cruise for you.

What is the dress code?

Cruises not only vary in size and style, but also with regard to dress code. Formal nights are common on most ships but this does not mean you need to wear black tie. In fact I have cruised on many ships and have rarely seen anyone wear Black Tie suit or ball gown.

Royal Caribbean have one or two formal nights over a seven day cruise . 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.

I have listed some of my favourite cruises for first time cruises, couples, families etc to help you choose the right cruise. 

 

What is included in the cost?

Cruises vary in price and standard but one of the main things to consider is what is included in the cost. Most packages are more expensive to book on board so always try to get these included in the cost of your cruise.

If you are booking an all-inclusive cruise, check that your favourite drinks are included.  If drinks are not included in the cost, I recommend pre-purchasing a drinks package in advance, as prices can be expensive on board.

Check if gratuities and WiFi are included and pre pay these if possible too. The recommended tip amount is 20% with Royal Caribbean so pre-paying these can be a massive advantage. If you are cruising the Med you should be able to check emails and messages when in port so you may not need WiFi. However, if you have lots of days are sea you may wish to purchase WiFi.

The itinerary will determine the amount of days at sea. Mediterranean cruises generally visit a different port each day so if you are dining out at lunch time you may not need to pre-book a speciality dining restaurant. However, if you are sailing transatlantic or have lots of sea days you may not want to eat in the main dining room every day. One of two speciality dining meals per week is ideal so try to get this included in the cost of your cruise.   

I have listed some of my favourite cruises for first time cruises, couples, families etc to help you choose the right cruise. 

Best cruises for first timers:

A seven night Mediterranean Cruise is always a firm favourite for first time cruisers. Flights are plentiful and inexpensive making Med cruises great value. Many fear that that they won’t like cruising so tend go for a mainstream cruise that won’t break the bank. However, I should point out that statistics show that over 90% of cruisers cruise again.

There are a variety of Mediterranean itineraries to choose from, with Western Mediterranean cruises taking in Spain, France and Italy, and Eastern Mediterranean cruising the Greek Isles, Croatia and Italy.

Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and MSC’s newer ships are the most popular, but bear in mind there will be lots of families cruising during July and August. 

Marella Cruises, part of the TUI holiday company offer great value all inclusive cruises with flights, transfers and checked baggage are included in the cost. 

While Princess Cruises have kids clubs and plenty of entertainment for children, they don’t tend to have waterparks, virtual reality etc and therefore can be better suited for couples looking to cruise the Med in the summer time. For couples or friends looking for a more luxurious option Celebrity Cruises have 5-star Edge class ships cruising the Med this summer. 

 

Best cruises for young couples:

Mediterranean and Caribbean cruises are the most popular with young people. Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line or MSC Cruises newer ships are just some of the favourites and have great entertainment, night clubs, and lively pool areas. If you don’t want lots of children at the pool, make sure you avoid school holidays.  

Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Class ships have seven different neighbourhoods, including Central Park which is lined with trees and speciality dining options. You can fly across the ship on a zip line, enjoy surfing in the Flowrider, try your had at ice skating or rock climbing, and slide down the Ultimate Abyss.

With robots serving you drinks from the bar, and a superb outdoor Aqua Theatre, they are a great choice for a young couple looking for some adventure, modern style. However, drinks packages are expensive with Royal Caribbean, so make sure to book these in advance to secure the best value.

Norwegian are also very popular with young couples as they offer great value all-inclusive rates. Norwegian Cruise Line is similar in style to Royal Caribbean with lots of activities on board. Norwegian Encore has a race track on the top deck!

I loved the expansive outdoor space on MSC Seaview. She has 20 different bars and lounges but my favourite was the Sunset Bar which played music until the small hours.

Carnival Cruise Line but are a good choice for young people looking for a lively cruise in the Caribbean, while Virgin Voyages unique adult-only cruises are perfect for couples who don’t want to share the sun decks with young children! 

Sarah Slattery, The Travel Expert reviews cruising
Norwegian Epic.

Best cruises for older couples:

Older couples have the pick of the crop as they can usually travel at any time. Princess Cruises are a popular choice for four-star ocean cruises while Celebrity Cruises are arguably the best choice for those looking for a more luxurious option.

As well as the Mediterranean, Norwegian Fjords and Baltic Capitals cruises are popular for couples who don’t want to travel long distance. However if flight times are not an issue,  you can’t beat Alaska for the dream cruise destination for older couples.

More intimate cruises 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. They tend to attract an older age group than ocean cruises and are a great way to find out if cruising is right for you.

Arena River cruises offer great value 4-star river cruises which are ideal for couples who want to try a cruise for the first time. Uniworld are the more luxurious choice in river cruises. Owned by the parent company who owns Ashford Castle, these five-star river cruises feature lavish designs, and offer fine dining and outstanding service. 

For the ultimate bucket list adventure, take a transatlantic voyage on the Queen Mary 2. It is a very different feel and experience on board to other cruise ships, where dressing for dinner is still the norm.

Sarah Slattery, The Travel Expert reviews cruising
Uniworld’s River cruise ship – SS River Royale

Best cruises for families :

Despite what you might think, cruises are a great choice for families and offer excellent value for money when you consider all your food and entertainment and most children’s activities are included in the cost.

I love the freedom that cruising brings with children, particularly with older children. I love to see them using their independence enjoying various activities on board, while I relax by the pool. I never worry that they will get lost, and you choose the right cruise will never hear the children say ‘I’m Bored!’

MSC Cruises are fantastic value for families – kids travel free up to the age of 18 once sharing a cabin with their parents. MSC Meraviglia and Seaside-Class ships have aqua parks and virtual reality games rooms on board, and many of their cruise ships have Lego play areas.

Norwegian Cruise Line offer great value all-inclusive cruises that are packed with adventure. More of the newer ships have waterparks, kids clubs and teen zones.
 
Royal Caribbean are renowned for their family friendly cruise ships. With everything from water parks, surf simulators, zip lines and even sky diving simulators, these ships are a teenagers dream. Royal Caribbean have a private island in the Bahamas with a water park on site, making a Bahamas cruise an ideal extension to a family holiday in Orlando. 
Disney cruises are ideal for families with young children, although there are tween and teen clubs on board. Theme days like Star Wars and Marvel days are big hits with families, and getting the chance to meet your favourite Disney characters on board is a dream come true for many children. 
 
 
 

Best cruises for adventure:

Hurtigruten will let you search for the Northern Lights or Polar Bears  They are not a luxury cruise line and 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.

Expedition cruising is growing more and more popular with many choosing to cruise to places that are not easily reached by land or air – Antartica and the Galapagos Islands being two of the favourites. Cruise lines such as Ponant and

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.

 

Best cruises for foodies:

The quality of food on board most cruise ships is generally very good, however Celebrity Cruises Edge Class ships offer some unique dining experiences. There are four different main dining rooms on their Edge Class ships, which gives the impression you are dining in a speciality restaurant, without having to pay any additional costs.

However, food lovers such not miss the opportunity to dine on the Magic Carpet on Celebrity Edge Class ships. This takes al-fresco dining to the next level. Favourite seafood dishes from RAW on 5 are served here which is one of Celebrity Cruises top speciality dining experiences.

Another unique experience is the use of 3D table animation in Qsine. As well as having the menu created by a Michelin Star Chef, your table comes to life with Le Petit Chef experience – this is available on Celebrity Edge Class ships. 

 

 

Best cruise for entertainment:

Finding the best cruise for entertainment really depends on your own taste and style. Pool games and karaoke bars might appeal to some, while others like West End style shows and live music. 

I loved the Aqua Theatre on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Class ships and the late outdoor bar on MSC Seaview. Norwegian Epic is renowned for its lively atmosphere. There are 12 bars including an Ice Bar and an outdoor night club as well as top performances by bands such as the Blue Man Group.

Entertainment on cruises usually reflects the type of cruise and the clientele, but I suggest you engage with a cruise expert, they will advise which cruise ship suits your needs and tastes.

 

Best cruise for luxury:

Silversea, Regent, Seabourn and Crystal cruises are the market leaders in luxury cruising.  If you seek the luxury yacht feel then the smaller Silversea ships with butler service are one of the best in luxury cruising. Alternatively, Uniworld is the ultimate in river cruising. Uniworld offer a 5-star all inclusive river cruises 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 more relaxed.

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

 

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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