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A guide to cruising.
There is no doubt that a cruise holiday offers exceptional value for money but there is so much more to consider before choosing. There really is something for everyone, whether you want to relax by the pool or go ice-skating! The dining options suit everyone too with itineraries to suit any budget.
It’s important to choose the right cruise company as they differ enormously. Whether it’s a large ship sailing the Caribbean or a small vessel sailing the Rhine or whale-watching in Antarctica, there really is something for everyone.
Often the main consideration when choosing a cruise is the ports of call. You can visit multiple destinations but only unpack once! Your floating hotel will take you from city to city, island to island or completely off the beaten track.
A river cruise is very much about the destination where the constant changing scenery can often take you through more than one country. You can choose a more familiar European river or further afield like Russia, Asia, Africa or USA. You could visit St Petersburg & Moscow or sail the Mekong taking in Ho Chi Minh City & Phnom Penh. Music is very much the theme on a Mississippi cruise which would stop at places such as Nashville, New Orleans or Memphis for Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley.
Ocean cruising opens up the whole world! The Top 4 destinations being the Mediterranean, Northern Europe (inc Baltic & Norwegian Fjords), Caribbean & Atlantic Islands (Canaries & Madeira). There is also Alaska, Antarctic, USA, South America, Middle & Far East & Australia/New Zealand/South Pacific.
The Med is divided into two, East & West. Eastern Med cruises offer a variety of interests from the beaches of Greece to the Mosques & Palaces of Istanbul. These cruises are Port intensive meaning you can sometimes visit more than one in a day, especially around Greece & Croatia. The destinations are usually the main attraction of a cruise here. Western Med covers France, Spain, Italy & Tunisia. A range of ships from Ultra Luxury to smaller or family orientated ships cover this area in both summer & winter and some sail direct from the UK.
Northern Europe is also perfect for those not wishing to fly as you can choose from most UK Ports and sail all year round. On these cruises grand palaces and museums are abundant and easily reached so perfect for culture lovers.
The Caribbean is probably the most popular region in the world for cruising, attracting thousands of visitors every year – the vast majority from USA & Canada. Each island is culturally different and most have restored their colonial buildings, some of which are open to visitors as are banana plantations, rum distilleries & spice estates. Of course they also offer their unrivalled beaches and water sports.
The Atlantic Islands of the Canaries & Madeira always appeal to those wanting to sail from the UK. Often offering a Spanish, French or Portuguese port on the way, they include a full day or two at sea at the beginning & end of the sailing. The warmer winter temperatures appeal to those wanting to spend Christmas/New Year away with the world famous firework display in Funchal for New Year to enjoy.
Round Britain cruising is becoming more and more popular although, already huge with American visitors. What better way to see our beautiful isle?
If you can’t decide which area to choose and have the time to spare, you can always indulge in them all and take World Cruise! Spending the whole winter in sunnier climes on board a luxury ship is rarely regretted! It can be done for less than £10,000 but most opt for a larger cabin with balcony when spending 3 months on board.
Wherever you choose, choose carefully as the ports of call really are a huge part of the cruising experience. Visit places you’ve always wanted to go!
Another very important consideration is the size of the ship. There are ships that carry 50 passengers and others up to 6000. You should find the right combination of all the factors. Do you like to dress up for dinner? Are you wanting to relax in the Spa or looking for adventure? Do you want some culture? Maybe you’d prefer a European style ship rather than an American style?
Contemporary & family cruising offers a huge choice of companies & ships, from around 2000 to 6000 guests. They are often more casual with a wide selection of entertainment & activities.
Traditional cruising refers to a style of ship. Often smaller ships which are not new builds and therefore don’t have the latest innovations. They may not have an abundance of dining options or activities but this is precisely the appeal to those choosing this style of cruise. The focus is on value, comfort, dining, service and a relaxed atmosphere. The average age group is higher and suits adults only, principally the British and often sail from the UK.
The Ultra Luxury & Premium ships are usually smaller in size with a higher staff to guest ratio and exceptional service. Food & drink is a high priority and often are All Inclusive. They tend to visit the smaller ports and some are much like private yachts.
Expedition cruising has become very popular and more adventurous! These are very different cruises and are appealing to the intrepid traveller. Visit the many wonders of the world on an expedition to the Antarctic, Alaska, Galapagos Islands or South Pacific.
River Cruisers carry approx. 150 guests and are relaxed & informal. They are a great alternative to a city break or coach tour.
As mentioned, there are increasingly more & more cruises that depart from the UK which suits those that don’t wish to fly. This often starts with a day or so at sea which gives you the chance to unwind and get used to your new home. There are now over 20 cruise ports in the UK. Of course some destinations cannot be reached from UK so you will need to fly. This allows you to experience some of the most fantastic destinations in the world. It’s easy to arrange flights and transfers and even an extended stay prior to or after the cruise. If you want a 2 weeks holiday but only a 1 week cruise, you can combine the cruise with a beach or city stay.
Next you’ll need to think about the cabin. There are generally four types of cabin but as a rule, the higher up the ship you are, the more expensive it is.
Suites are the largest and most expensive but therefore the most luxurious cabins. They may include your own butler, could be on 2 levels, have a large balcony, and possibly have a Jacuzzi. It’s worth considering a suite if travelling with family/friends.
Balcony cabins are a good choice for those who like to sit outside and watch the world go by (literally!) You could have your breakfast or even dinner on your balcony if you wish.
Outside cabins have a window or porthole. Cheaper than balcony cabins but still have a view. Some larger, newer ships offer a view of the interior of the ship – perfect for people watching!
Inside cabins are on the interior of the ship and do not have a window. Ideal if you want to keep the cost down.
Dining on board is an important factor too and can vary between ships. There may be world famous chefs & speciality restaurants alongside the main restaurants. The larger the ship, the more variety but typically breakfast can be in the main restaurant or a buffet style elsewhere. Lunchtime is a choice between the main restaurant or a café, pizzeria or just a burger by the pool. Afternoon tea will also be served and later dinner, usually at one of two set times. There is usually a choice of other venues to eat if you choose not to eat in the main restaurant that night. Some cruise lines offer open dining, where you may dine anywhere at any time with no formal dress code. The smaller ship & river cruises may only have the one sitting and fewer venues.
Another important factor is how much and what kind of entertainment is offered. These can be West End style productions, comedy clubs, piano bars, nightclubs, cinemas, casino & live bands. During the day there will be a wide choice of activities for all ages. There may be lecturers on board or enrichment programmes for example, culinary/arts courses, wine tasting, dance lessons photography, languages. Larger ships have a greater choice of sports activities such as personal trainers, ice skating, rock climbing, surfing, golf, bowling, basketball. The smaller vessels can offer a water sports platform for scuba diving, windsurfing, snorkelling & jet skis. Spas are always popular and offer extensive facilities.
Once you’ve done your homework or taken advice and chosen the cruise all you have to do is sit back and decide which (if not all!) of the ports you wish to go ashore. Shore excursions are offered by the cruise company and there will usually be several for each port, varying in length, ability and interest. Sometimes the ship docks right in a town or beach where it’s easy for you to get off and explore at leisure. Other times it may dock further from a town and a taxi journey may be needed. If you choose to explore on your own, it is your responsibility to get back to the ship in plenty of time before it departs at the end of the day. The ship won’t wait for you! On some itineraries the ship may stay in one port overnight, allowing you to take longer excursions or the chance to sample the local nightlife.
Common questions answered.
What’s the age range?
Single, couples, families & friends can all find a cruise to suit them. Different cruises appeal to different people but all bring a mix of ages.
Are cruises expensive?
No. You’ll find a cruise for every budget but when looking at the price, remember to take into consideration what is included ie food, accommodation, activities, entertainment plus all the destinations. Some cruises also include gratuities & drinks & shore excursions. (Watch out for drinks packages offered too).
Will I be seasick?
Ships are well stabilised and you usually can’t tell that you’re moving! Generally, the larger the ship, the less movement you’ll feel. If worried, take medication with you and choose a region & time of year where it should be calm.
How much do I tip?
Gratuities (tips) are often a worry but they needn’t be. Different companies vary but mostly they can be pre-paid before you go or are automatically added to your on board account. Some luxury ships include them. Ask what the options are at time of booking.
I’m disabled, can I cruise?
Yes, but adapted cabins are few so get booked up quickly. The older, smaller ships are less likely to offer disabled facilities whereas the newer, larger ships have far more. You may not be able to go ashore on days where a tender is in operation. Each company & ship varies so ask for advice.
Will my mobile phone work?
Yes. Some ships have contracts with land based companies; others have connect services in place so rates vary.
Can I smoke on board?
Most ships have designated areas to smoke but restaurants are usually non-smoking.