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How To Choose The Right Cruise – The Cruise Guide

Cruise ships at Cococay (1)

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

It seems every month there is a new cruise ship launch with even greater innovation and ground-breaking facilities on board. The world’s largest cruise ship, Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas has eight different neighbourhoods on board, including Central Park complete with 20,000 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.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Cruising has changed dramatically in the last number of years. What was once considered the ideal vacation for retired couples, cruising has 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.

 

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

These cruise deals from Ireland will give you an idea of what is possible, but make sure to read my cruise guide below to know how to choose the right cruise.
 

 

 

How to choose the right cruise ship

how to choose the right cruise for families

A mistake that is often made when choosing a cruise is that people assume that the cruise line is the most important component of your cruise holiday. I believe the cruise ship and time of year you are travelling are equally if not more 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.

There are mega cruise ships can carry 9000 passengers, as well as intimate river cruises, that carry 150 passengers. 


 

 

 

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

 

What type of holidays do you like?

 

 
 
 
 
 
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When on holidays 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.
 

 

 
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.
 

 

 
My favourite cruise experience was on Celebrity Beyond. I loved it modern design and relaxed atmosphere, but if I was travelling with younger children I would probably choose a different cruise ship.
 

 

 

What time of year are you travelling?

Independence of the Seas

Mediterranean cruises tend to attract a lot of families during the summer months, while Caribbean cruises in the winter attract lots of couples. Couples should avoid Easter holidays / Spring Break in the USA, and while Mediterranean cruises are very well priced in the winter time, do you want to be cruising the Med on a cold November day?
 

 

 

How old is the cruise ship?

 

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

 

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

Read: My review of MSC Seaview
 

 

 

What is the dress code?

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Formal nights may be 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 full length 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 at all, this is ideal.
 

 

 
Cunard and P&O Cruises are more strict on their formal nights and encourage it for their guests. Cunard even offer masquerade balls, and the Royal Ascot Ball.

 

 

 

What is included in the cost?

best cruise holiday

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 what the drinks package includes. Most ships have a variety of drinks packages available and you may need to opt for the premium drinks package depending on what your favourite tipple is.

If drinks are not included in the cost, I recommend pre-purchasing a drinks package in advance, as drinks prices can be expensive on board.

review of msc seaview

Check if gratuities are included and pre pay these if possible too. The recommended tip amount is 20% with many cruise lines, so pre-paying gratuities can be a massive advantage.
 

 

 

How many days are you at sea?

how to choose the right cruise for long days at sea

If you are cruising the Med you will likely be stopping in a different port each day. You may want to dine out when in port and therefore not feel the need to pre-purchase a speciality dining package.
 

 

 
However, if you are on a transatlantic cruise or have lots of days at sea you may not want to eat in the main dining room or buffet restaurant for lunch and dinner every day. If that is the case it might be an idea to pre-book a speciality dining package in advance.

Positano view

The same applies to WiFi. You should be able to check emails and messages when in port so you may not need to pre-purchase WiFi if cruising the Mediterranean. However, the opposite applies if you have lots of days at sea.
 

 

 
I hope my top tips for booking cruise holidays have been helpful. I have listed some of my favourite cruises for first time cruisers, couples and families below to help you choose the right cruise. 
 

 

 

Best cruises for first timers:

Marella Discovery
Marella Discovery

Many first time cruisers fear that that they won’t like cruising so tend go for a mainstream cruise that won’t break the bank. This is completely understandable, however, statistics show that over 90% of cruisers will want to cruise again.

A seven-night Mediterranean Cruise is always a firm favourite for first time cruisers. Flights are plentiful and usually inexpensive making them great value and easily accessible.

solarium on wonder of the seas

There are a variety of Mediterranean itineraries to choose from – Western Mediterranean cruises visit Spain, France and Italy, while Eastern Mediterranean cruises visit the Greek Isles, Croatia, Italy and sometimes Turkey and Montenegro too.
 

 

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

Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, MSC and Princess Cruises are the most popular with Irish holiday makers during the summer months. However, it is important to remember that Mediterranean cruises are very popular with families during July and August.
 

 

 
Mega ships can be a bit daunting for first time cruisers, so it might be a good idea to try one of the main cruise lines’ smaller ships. Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas is still a massive cruise ship, but carries 4370 guests versus almost 7000 on the brand new Wonder of the Seas.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Princess Cruises offer kids clubs and plenty of entertainment for children, but they don’t tend to have waterparks, surf simulators or virtual reality games rooms, 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’ 5-star Edge class ships are cruising the Med this summer.
 

 

 

Best cruises for young couples:

MSC Seaview
MSC Seaview

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 offer 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 the Boardwalk, and 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.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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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 – see more on this below.
 

 

 
Norwegian cruise ships are also very popular with young couples as they offer great value all-inclusive rates. Despite the name, Norwegian Cruise Line is an American cruise line, and is similar in style to Royal Caribbean with lots of activities on board.
 

 

 
Norwegian Encore has a race track on the top deck. 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.

Sarah Slattery, The Travel Expert reviews cruising
Norwegian Epic.

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 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.
 

 

 

Best cruises for older couples:

 

 
 
 
 
 
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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 flying time is 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.

MS Arena River Cruise Ship

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 and offer a selection of 5-star river cruises. Owned by the parent company who owns Ashford Castle, these cruise ships feature lavish designs, and offer fine dining and outstanding service.

Read: A river cruise on Uniworld’s SS Antoinette
 

 

 
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.
 

 

 

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 your food, entertainment and most children’s activities are included in the cost.
 

 

 
We have enjoyed a few family cruises and I loved to see my children using their independence enjoying various activities on board, while I relaxed by the pool. I never worried that they will get lost, and if you choose the right cruise will never hear your children say ‘I’m Bored!’
 

 

 
MSC Cruises offer 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.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Norwegian Cruise Line offer great value all-inclusive cruises that are packed with adventure. Most of the newer ships have waterparks, kids clubs and teen zones.
 

 

 
Norwegian Encore has a race track on the top deck, and I was the first person to test drive it! The race track is 1,150 feet long, sprawls over two decks and extends up to 13 feet over the side of the ship – it really is hard to fathom unless you see it, or in my case race it.

 
 
 
 
 
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There is also an outdoor laser tag arena and an indoor room with high-tech virtual reality games that is like nothing else I have seen on a cruise ship – this is a teenagers dream!

Read: My review of Norwegian Encore

Royal Caribbean are renowned for their family friendly cruise ships. With everything from water parks, surf simulators, zip lines and even sky diving simulators. Royal Caribbean also 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. 

Read: My review of Harmony of the Seas

Read: 10 reasons to choose Royal Caribbean for family cruises

how to choose the right cruise for families - disney cruises

Disney cruises are ideal for families with young children, although there are also 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.

Read: My review of Disney Magic cruise ship
 

 

 

Best cruises for adventure:

antartica bucket list cruise holidays

Hurtigruten will help you search for the Northern Lights. They are not a luxury cruise line and do not offer the same facilities on board as some of the main stream cruise lines, 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.

 

 

 
Celebrity Cruises Xpedition ship is the luxury ship for adventurers but you will need to plan way in advance, this ship can get booked up as soon as it goes on sale.

Read: 25 bucket list holidays around the world
 

 

 

Best cruises for foodies:

The Magic Carpet on Celebrity Beyond
The Magic Carpet on Celebrity Beyond

I have found the quality of food on board most cruise ships to be generally very good, however I will find it hard to beat Celebrity Cruises Edge Class ships. There are four different main dining rooms on board, 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. 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 luxury:

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Knowing how to choose the right cruise for a luxury experience is probably the most difficult. Silversea, Regent, Seabourn and Crystal cruises are the market leaders in luxury ocean cruising, however if you seek the luxury yacht feel then the smaller Silversea ships with butler service might be a better option.
 
I loved Celebrity Cruises relaxed modern style and are more reasonably priced than the above mentioned. Their food and service is excellent and the overall feeling is less formal than some of the other luxury ocean cruise lines.
 

 

 
If river cruising is what you seek, Uniworld offer 5-star all inclusive river cruises with fine dining and outstanding service.

how to choose the right cruise for a honeymoon
A suite on board Celebrity Reflection.

 

 

 

Best cruise for winter holidays

how to choose the right cruise for winter holidays

With the possible exception of Northern Lights cruises, the majority of people who cruise during the winter are looking for sunshine. The Caribbean is one of the most popular destinations, with various itineraries covering the Western, Eastern and Southern Caribbean islands.
 

 

 
However, if travelling from Ireland don’t overlook cruising around the Emirates. With daily flights to Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Doha, and sunshine almost guaranteed, this would be my choice for value.

Many cruise companies offer fly-cruise packages with drinks packages and speciality dining options included. You will find they are mostly 8-night itineraries that consist of seven night cruise which includes an overnight stay in Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Doha.
 

 

 
I hope my cruise guide will help you choose the right cruise for you. Remember to contact a specialist cruise travel agency who can suggest the best cruise to suit your style, taste and budget.
 

In The Media

Travel Hot Spots for 2017 – As Seen on TV3’s Saturday AM

TV3-Cover-SatAM

Spain, Portugal and Croatia are looking like the top short haul destinations this year while America and Asia lead the way in long haul travel. Check out my travel hot spots for 2017 as seen on TV3’s Saturday AM.

  

European holiday destinations 

Sunway

Spain and Portugal will remain the most popular short haul holiday destinations in 2017. 1.8 million Irish holiday makers went to Spain in 2016 and this year should attract similar numbers. The Costa Dorada could be the big winner. There are flights from Dublin, Shannon, Cork and Knock serving Reus, Girona or Barcelona. Sunway and Falcon Holidays both offer package deals to Salou and Cambrils. The combination of the iconic city of Barcelona and the opening of Ferrari World at the already popular Port Aventura theme park, make it an ideal choice for all the family.

Travel hot spots for 2017

The Algarve has almost fifty flights per week from Irish airports, in the peak Summer months. Aer Lingus have added a new service to Porto, and Lisbon is already a popular city break destination. Sunway have introduced a direct flight to Sardinia in Italy, a welcome return for those looking for nice beaches in Italy. Ryanair, Aer Lingus and Aegean air are all flying to Athens so this should help those looking to travel to the bucket list destinations of Santorini and Mykonos.

Croatia may prove to be the hot spot for people looking to go somewhere different but want to be close to home. Aer Lingus have introduced flights to Split and they also fly to Pula and Dubrovnik, while Ryanair fly to Zadar. I was in Pula last year and loved it, you can read all about my stay here.

Fly from Dublin to Pula with Aer Lingus on the 23rd of May and enjoy a seven night stay in the popular Splendid Hotel for only €349 per person, including airport transfers. Situated right at the waters edge, this is a great choice for a relaxing break and is within easy reach of the city of Pula. Use my exclusive code TRAVELEXP10 to save 10% off the hotel cost.

Click here for more details.

Travel hot spots for 2017
Amphitheatre in Pula

City Breaks

WOW air have increased flights from Dublin to Reykjavik and added on a service from Cork. It looks like Iceland will remain popular in 2017 for weekend breaks and as a holiday destination. KLM are now flying four times a day to Amsterdam as well as Aer Lingus and Ryanair so this could prove another cheap city break option.

Porto for me will be the big winner. When Aer Lingus announced they were flying to Porto, Ryanair decided to increase their flights. We now have 8 flights a week to the small city of Porto – it could prove to be this years top city break destination. It is one of Europe’s oldest cities and almost feels medieval. It is also a good choice for food lovers. You will find some excellent restaurants serving traditional Portuguese food and wine, at a fraction of the cost you would pay at home.

I found a great deal to the 4* Cristal Porto hotel in May, highly recommended on tripadvisor, this modern hotel ticks all boxes. Fly from Dublin on the 11th of May and enjoy a three night stay here for only €237 per person.

Click here to book flights: €75pp:

Click here to book hotel: €162pp

Travel hot spots for 2017
Porto 

Cruises

Cruise Holiday

One of the fastest growing sectors in the travel industry, cruise holidays should have another bumper year. The competition has never been greater. Most major cruise lines have dedicated Irish websites now and many travel agents and tour operators have dedicated cruise departments. Free all inclusive drinks packages, half price kids offers and even free flights, will I am sure, entice Irish holidaymakers to cruise in 2017. New destinations like Cuba will make it easier for visitors to visit Havana without paying the increasing accommodation costs. River cruises are also proving popular for discerning clients. For those who don’t want to fly there are also cruises operating directly from Ireland in 2017.

travel hot spots for 2017
MSC Meraviglia

MSC’s Get more, Get All campaign offers free WiFi, free all-inclusive drinks package and €50 on board credit. This deal is also available on their brand new luxury ship, MSC Meraviglia. Fly from Dublin to Barcelona on the 8th of September and enjoy a seven night Med cruise, visiting Spain, France, Italy and Malta for only €1399. This price includes an upgrade to a balcony cabin, a FREE all-inclusive drinks package, FREE Wi-Fi and €50 on board credit.

Click here for more details:

 

Long Haul destinations

Flights to the States have grown to unprecedented levels. New routes to from Aer Lingus to Hartford and Miami and extra flights to Los Angeles, Orlando, Chicago and New York, should translate into a bumper year for Irish tourists to the USA. The addition of low cost flights with Norwegian Air from Cork to Boston and New York, as well as WOW air flights via Iceland, should ensure lots of good deals for Irish holidaymakers.

travel hot spots for 2017
Miami

With two direct daily flights to both Dubai and Abu Dhabi and now a new daily service to Doha with Qatar airlines, getting to Asia, Africa and Australia has never been easier. No lengthy lay overs in Heathrow and with so many flights, prices will be very competitive. Ethiopian airlines‘ Dreamliner aircraft made many news reports when they offered cheap direct flights from Dublin to Los Angeles this year. They have now added extra connections from their hub in Addis Ababa to South Africa. This means that flights from Dublin to Cape Town are easily accessible and hopefully well priced too.

 

Prices are correct at time of issue but are subject to change.

 

Sarah

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