Each year 22 million people take a cruise – and that number’s on the rise. The number of people taking cruises has grown 23% in the past five years.
But even given cruising’s popularity, only about 10 percent of adult Americans have ever sailed on a cruise ship. Once they do, they’re hooked: 96% of first-time cruisers ultimately book another cruise within three years.
If you’re considering taking your first cruise, what do you need to know?
Start With An Advisor
With cruising, travel advisors are possibly even more important than with standard flight-and-hotels travel. All cruise ships and cruise lines are different in their own way. Virtuoso travel advisors have often been on a variety and can guide first-time cruisers to a ship and line that’s right for them.
“We tend to know which cabins have obstructed views,” explains Miami-based Virtuoso advisor Arlene Feen. “We also know if a cabin is located below the pool or the theater. There is often noise you don’t think about that will be heard.”
If you’re looking for an advisor who’s an expert on cruises, check out this list on virtuoso.com.
Review Offers Carefully
There are numerous offers in the cruising world; always navigate the different options with your advisor. “Be wary of offers that are a ‘guarantee’ basis,” says Shelley Greenan, a Virtuoso advisor in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. “An upgrade in category is not always an upgrade in cabin location.”
Similarly, Greenan notes: “Do try to take advantage of pre and post offers. They can be a great way to start and extend your vacation.”
Buy Travel Insurance
Your plane is late – and the ship leaves without you. You make the ship – but your luggage doesn’t. You have an emergency or illness during the trip and need to go to a hospital. First-time cruisers might not anticipate how much can go wrong and how to protect themselves.
Travel insurance can cover all those situations and more. “Tell your advisor what you’re most worried about,” says Harrison, Arkansas-based Linda Allen, a travel advisor and Virtuoso Cruise Committee member, “and they can send you information from a company they have a strong relationship with.” (Allen has written about the same topic on her own website.)
Check the Weather
Be prepared with basics for any weather, such as a light rain jacket you can wear in port or a sweater for chilly evenings. It’s best to check the 10-day forecast for the locations you’ll visit on the cruise (most first-time cruisers begin with a 7-10 day excursion). Let that be your guide in determining what to bring along and what to leave at home.
That said, be cautious around packing. “Pack everything you think you need,” says Allen, “then put half of it back. Most first-time cruisers come back and say they brought twice as much clothing as they really needed.”
Virtuoso traveler Ray Pasquin, who hosts a syndicated cruise and travel special radio show, has been on 85 cruises. (Yes, 85.) He strongly advocates port research before the trip: “If you do a bit of pre-cruise homework, it will make it easier to decide whether to take one of the ship’s tours or explore the region on your own.” Because you’ll have limited time in each port, you’ll want to know what your must-see sights and experiences are beforehand.
Similarly, Feen notes, “If you’re going with friends, you can ask your advisor to arrange a private shore excursion. Most of the time, it’s the same price as the cruise ship, and you don’t have to sit on the bus waiting for 35 other people.” Another bonus: private shore excursions can be customized to your exact tastes and interests.
Buy the Internet Package
Accessing the web is significantly more expensive at sea than on land. That can surprise first-time cruisers. “I would purchase the Internet package,” advises Feen, who also offers a tip for how to conserve precious online minutes. “The best way to do it is to open the e-mail and download what you need/want, then log off the Internet. Write your replies and then log back on to send them.”
Savor The First-Time Cruiser Experience
Once the booking is complete and the research and logistics above are checked off, sit back and enjoy every minute. “It’s going to be a great experience of food, fun, and exotic locales,” says Pasquin.
“Looking forward to a cruise can be just as much fun as delighting in the memories when you return,” adds Allen, who has been on hundreds of cruises in her career.