Cruising isn’t just back — it’s hitting a new high-water mark. By the end of 2023, the number of passengers sailing worldwide will reach 106 per cent of 2019 levels, according to the latest projection from the Cruise Lines Industry Association (CLIA).
If you’re among the many boarding a cruise ship for the first time, you might be wondering where to start. We’ve compiled advice from top travel experts across the industry, who have collectively sailed on more than 1,000 cruises.
Consider the size of your ship
“For never-cruisers turned off by the clichés of mainstream cruising, like huge crowds, pool games, amusement park-style gimmicks and loquacious cruise directors, my advice would be to look into lines that go to less travelled places, on ships that value enrichment, fine cuisine and culture. Those can include lines like Oceania and Viking with mid-sized vessels catering to adults; immersive adventure/expedition-style lines like Lindblad and UnCruise; the yachtlike and/or sail-augmented ships of Windstar, Star Clippers and Sea Cloud; the mega yacht-style trappings of Scenic or Emerald; and just about any river cruise line.” — Peter Knego, cruise writer and historian and founder of the YouTube channel MidShipCinema
Don’t automatically dismiss an inside cabin
“Don’t listen to advice that tells you to only pick balcony cabins or suites, or that inside cabins are bad — they’re not. The best cabin, on any cruise, is the one you can afford.” — Aaron Saunders, Calgary-based senior cruise editor at Cruise Critic
“If your dream cruise itinerary — say, to Australia, Europe, Japan or South America — seems beyond your budget, consider booking an economical inside cabin or one with a restricted view. You will still enjoy the ship’s general amenities and experience the ports of call.” — Toby Saltzman, Toronto-based cruise writer
Pay attention to what’s included
“Some more expensive ships are like all-inclusive resorts, so every shore excursion and every glass of wine is included. Other ships, however, expect guests to purchase drink packages for not only beer, wine and liquor but also specialty coffees, etc., and require guests to pay for their shore excursions. It’s important to know what you’ve bought. “ — Liz Fleming, editor-in-chief of Cruise & Travel Lifestyles magazine
Book dining, spa visits and excursions in advance
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found an intriguing specialty dining venue on a ship only to learn it was booked up. Save yourself the hassle and reserve ahead of time, especially now that cruise ships are sailing at typical capacity. You can always cancel a reservation if your plans change, rather than finding yourself at the buffet when that wasn’t your plan. The same goes for excursions and spa treatments, which can book up fast.” — Andrea Zelinski, senior editor, cruise at Travel Weekly
Arrive early to your embarkation port
“Arrive at your departure port a day in advance of your trip — or even two. It’s the only way to ensure you won’t miss your ship. Many cruises depart in the afternoon, so it might seem just fine to fly or drive to the port on the morning of departure. But all it takes is a moderate flight delay or a pileup on the highway to mess up those plans. If you’re delayed in your arrival at the port, the ship will not wait for you. If you’re travelling overseas for a cruise, we recommend travelling to the port two or even three days in advance, so you have some time to recover from jet lag, too.” — Gene Sloan, cruise team lead at The Points Guy
Prepare for possible motion
“Although cruise ships have stabilizers to keep steady, smaller ships can get rocky when it’s extremely windy and there’s no land around to blunt its force. Pay attention to ship announcements, especially when they caution about the weather. That’s probably a good time to pack motion sickness medicine in your purse or pocket, or read the directions and decide whether you should take it as a preventive measure. The same goes if you have a chance to ride in a submersible, as you might feel a bit of sloshing around at the water’s surface before the submarine gets going.” — A.Z.
Look for internet off ship
“Wi-Fi can be pricey on-board but easy to find on shore. When you disembark for your daily excursions, check to see if the cruise terminal building offers free internet access. If it doesn’t, you’ll find that most cafés in the port area will.” — L.F.
“Many new cruisers don’t realize the walls of a cruise cabin are magnetic. So, we always recommend bringing some magnetic hooks. They are great for hanging bags, hats, coats and other items to save vital space in your cabin closet. One of our space-saving cabin hacks is to bring an over-the-door shoe organizer, which is great for storing small items, like toiletries, medications, sunglasses and small electronics. You will have quick access to them during the trip, without cluttering up the bathroom or desk counter.” — Heidi and Don Bucolo, co-founders of EatSleepCruise.com
Don’t forget layers
“Always bring a sweater, even if you’ll be spending the entire time in the Caribbean in July. Cruise ships tend to be over air-conditioned, especially in the dining rooms and theatres. You don’t want to be forced into buying an overpriced sweater in the ship’s gift shop because all you have are short-sleeved or sleeveless tops.” — Dori Saltzman, senior cruise editor at Travel Market Report
Check out the pool on a port day
“Pool areas can get quite crowded, especially on sea days. On those days, get up early to snag yourself a spot. But the pro tip is to use the pool areas on port days, when most people are off the ship. The same goes for the spa, which is less crowded and has fewer reservations when people are on land.” — A.Z.
Take time to scope out the ship
“Don’t forget to explore all of the ship. These days, vessels have gotten so big that it might take a bit more effort to find one’s favourite haunt. But it’s better than not discovering it until the last night of the cruise. Equally important, and seemingly the opposite, remember to not preplan too much. Just enjoy the cruise spontaneously and be in the moment. (This applies to shore excursions, too.) Even if you stumble upon your favourite venue at the end of the sailing, there’s always the opportunity to rebook and experience it all over again, but this time as a repeater.” — Jason Leppert, cruise editor and host of YouTube channel Popular Cruising
Enlist your very own travel expert
“Cruise lines have different ‘personalities’ and cater to different age groups and interests. With so many to choose from, first-time cruisers will find selecting the right one overwhelming, and booking the wrong ship can ruin their vacation and turn them off cruising completely. A travel adviser — especially one who specializes in cruises — can help. He/she will ask the right questions to determine your needs and interests and will recommend the ship that best matches what you’re looking for.” — Ming Tappin, New Brunswick-based cruise writer of Your Cruise Coach
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