Cruising: It’s one of the most interesting, comprehensive and economical travel options available, and yet it’s not always a go-to thought for many of us when we’re thinking about planning a vacation. We often tend to think in terms of finding new cities to explore, but in cruise travel, it’s not the destination but the journey that counts. And what a journey it is. Cruise ships are floating cities at sea, with multiple entertainment and food options included in your price. For the duration of your cruise, you’ll have a temporary new home and base of operations so that when you pull into new ports, you won’t have to worry about dragging luggage or navigating foreign hotels. On board, you can eat and drink to your heart’s content, see comedians, gamble in casinos, join in Karaoke contests, try your hand at trivia and see full-scale stage productions at sea. You can go dancing, meet new friends, get pampered and soak up the sun. Cruise travel can also offer great value. Right now, you can cruise for as little as $42 a night (plus taxes, for a four-night roundtrip cruise from Miami with stops in Key West and Cozumel, Mexico). When you consider the fact that the price includes all your meals and entertainment on board, the cost is practically negligible. In other words, cruise travel can be one of the most affordable travel options available. But, as my friend travel writer Sarah Sekula explains below in “Luxury at Sea,” you can also choose the other end of the spectrum and opt for a pricier, once-in-a-lifetime luxury cruise.
Here’s what we talked about on The Daily Buzz: Choosing the Right Cruise for You:
• Think about destination and departure point: Start off by asking yourself two questions: What type of locations would I like to visit, and where can I depart from most conveniently and affordably? There’s a huge difference between an Alaskan cruise and a Caribbean cruise, for example, so if you have your heart set on one experience over the other, factor that into your decision. And think about the expense of getting to and from your departure point. If you live in Florida, for example, you could simply drive to Port Canaveral, Miami, Tampa, Jacksonville or Ft. Lauderdale, saving yourself the expense of an overnight stay and a flight. There are also cruises from many ports around the country, so check for ports in your neck of the woods. If you’re not within driving distance of a cruise port, check into flight and hotel prices before you begin pricing cruises, because you’ll need to add those costs on.
• Consider the length of cruise you’d like to take: There’s big difference between a three-night cruise and a seven-night cruise. The former is a great taste of life at sea; the latter is more of a commitment and a longer escape, with further-flung ports of call. Which one is right for you? It depends on cost, how much time off you have, and how long you’re comfortable being disconnected from your life. Never cruised before? Get your feet wet with a three-night cruise and work your way up from there.
• Begin shopping for price: I like to start with Travelocity.com/cruises. They have a great cruise shopping page that allows you to shop by destination, length of cruise, month, departure port and cruise line. Then, you can sort results in several ways, including my favorite way: by price. Once you have an idea of prices, shop around by visiting the individual cruise sites. Sometimes, the cruise lines offer slightly better prices themselves on their individual sites. Don’t forget to check the boxes if you’re over 55, if you’ve cruised before, if you’re a member of the military, or if you live in the state where the cruise departs from. Sometimes, you can get extra savings for those reasons.
• Compare cruise lines: Different cruise lines are incredibly different. Oftentimes, the lower-priced cruises tend to cater to a younger demographic, so they may be party ships a bit more than the higher priced lines. It all depends on what you’re looking for. Spend a little time on each cruise line’s site, check out the virtual tours of the boat you’d be on, and see what activities and dining options are offered on board.
• Visit CruiseCritic.com. If there’s one piece of information that you take away from this article, let it be this: CruiseCritic.com is the best cruise-shopping resource. My mother actually introduced me to it; it’s invaluable. Before you decide on a cruise, check the reviews on CruiseCritic.com to see what other cruisers have to say about it. You get an official review by the Cruisecritic staff, as well as hundreds of guest reviews. You can even find the onboard menus! You’ll be an expert before you even get on the ship! Other things we mentioned on the show:
Finding walking tours:
Visit Google and search for "self-guided walking tour of" followed by the name of your port. In other words, you might search for "self-guided walking tour of Nassau," or "self-guided walking tour of Key West."
Visit CruiseCritic.com for their guides to ports.