Thinking of taking your first cruise? If you’re feeling overwhelmed, that’s understandable. Between finding a port to sail from to finding the right itinerary to choosing the right ship, there are a surprising number of decisions that can go into finding a perfect cruise.
And if you haven’t taken a cruise before, then you can feel especially lost in deciding among your options. After all, how can you know what’s the right cruise for you if you’ve never taken a cruise before?
The good news is that while there are definite differences between cruises, it’s still a choice among good things. So no matter what you choose, you won’t go wrong. It’s not as if some cruises are terrible while others are fantastic. However, there are some cruises that you might find better for you personally than others.
That’s why we have rounded up some tips and advice on selecting the best first-time cruise for those people that have never taken a cruise before. The tips below should help you figure out the best cruise for your specific situation so that your first cruise is also your best.
Choosing the Best First Cruise Tip #1: Know What You Like Before You Pick a Cruise Line
Even before you step foot on a ship, you still have a good idea of what you like and what you don’t like when you take a vacation. Use those likes and dislikes to help focus on the best cruise line for your first trip.
For example, are you the sort of person who likes to stay in luxury and be pampered when you travel? Or do you have no problem staying in more modest accommodations as long as you get to take your trip and meet your budget?
These sort of decisions can steer you toward the best cruise line for your first time. In this example, you likely don’t want to sail in an interior cabin on Carnival if you’re used to staying at the Ritz-Carlton when you travel. Likewise, an ultra-luxury cruise may feel stuffy if you’re the sort of person who wants to take a cruise to party.
So how can you tell if a cruise line will fit your style? Let the cruise line marketing guide you. The cruise lines know their target audience and gear their websites and brochures toward that group. If you see people that look like you — or people you’d want to be friends with — when you look around a cruise website, then chances are it’s going to match what you like.
Choosing the Best First Cruise Tip #2: Know the Pros and Cons of Trip Length
Think that the difference between a 5-night cruise and a 7-night cruise is just two nights? Think again. Trip length can make a major difference in your enjoyment on a cruise.
For one, the trip length can change the makeup of your fellow passengers. A general rule of thumb is that the shorter the cruise, the younger and more active the crowd will be. So if you’re looking for more of a party atmosphere, check out cruises that are gone for no longer than five days. These trips will typically have younger passengers and a more festive atmosphere.
If you like to have a calm, quiet cruise, then you are going to have better luck picking a longer trip (ideally 7 nights or more). There’s no guarantee, but these trips are usually filled with older crowds who have the time and money to sail on a longer cruise. That’s not to say that everyone will be using walkers to get around (far from it), but it’s less “Spring Break” and more “relaxing vacation.”
Choosing the Best First Cruise Tip #3: Time of Year Makes a Difference
The time of year you set sail on your first cruise will make a difference in your trip as well, but not just because of weather. Instead, different times of year will see different crowds that might make an impact on your enjoyment.
Put simply, when school is out you are apt to see more families and students sailing. Times like Spring Break and summer vacation see a large influx in these groups as it’s easier for them to travel without taking time off of school. If you are the sort of person who would rather sail with an older crowd, then look for cruises that sail while school is in session — January through April (except March) and September until the Christmas holidays.
One of the good things about being able to sail when school is in session is that you can find cheaper deals. Without families filling cabins, the cruise lines offer lower rates to help spur bookings.
Choosing the Best First Cruise Tip #4: Which Ship Is Right For You?
Earlier in this article, we mentioned knowing what you like before you pick a cruise line. The same principle applies to selecting the right cruise ship for you.
The advancements in cruise ships have grown in leaps and bounds. Today’s cruise ships are larger, grander, offer more activities, and offer more amenities than ever before. Even compared to ships built a decade or two ago, the differences can be stunning.
Of course, all of those new features come with a price. Demand for sailing on the newer ships is high and that means prices rise accordingly. You can often find a similar trip on an older vessel for hundreds less than a sailing on a brand-new ship.
So does the ship make a difference? Absolutely. On a cruise you’ll spend the vast majority of your time onboard. It’s just like how choosing the right hotel can make a difference in a land-based vacation.
That’s why it’s important to know before you book the sort of things are important to you. Do you want to be amazed by the latest razzle-dazzle aboard a brand-new ship, or having dozens of different restaurant options onboard? Or are you perfectly content hanging out by the pool with a drink in your hand and reading a book — which can be done on any ship?
If you don’t need the latest and greatest, then which ship you pick isn’t that important. But if you want constant variety and to be “wowed” then look to sail on a larger and newer cruise ship.
Choosing the Best First Cruise Tip #5: Selecting Ports
Perhaps nothing causes as much stress for first-time cruisers than picking the right ports to sail to. Searching around online you’ll find an enormous amount of opinions on every port — ranging from glowing reviews to dire warnings to stay away.
The truth is, there is a lot of difference between the ports of call. Some have aggressive vendors trying to make a living, while others are much more relaxed and welcoming. Some ports are large, commercialized centers that cater to cruising while others are relatively new with limited infrastructure dedicated to cruise passengers. Still others are private islands owned by the cruise lines specifically for their passengers.
In all likelihood, you won’t find a cruise that has nothing but “perfect” ports. Depending on what sort of atmosphere you like, ports will all vary in how much you enjoy them. For instance, Nassau is one of the most visited ports for cruises departing Florida, yet some people aren’t fans. Meanwhile, many cruises that sail to Nassau also stop over in a port owned by the cruise line, such as Royal Caribbean’s CocoCay. These private islands are a favorite among many passengers.
Since the ports will vary, it’s a better idea to look for cruises with excursions that sound the best to you. Your time in ports is limited; most stops are only 8-10 hours before the ship moves on again. To get the most out of your time, it’s a good idea to look for excursions that offer up unique experiences while also helping you navigate an unfamiliar port. These excursions can include everything from just hanging out on a beach to trips to historic spots like Chichen Itza to extreme adventures like parasailing.
By focusing on what you’ll do in port instead of the port itself, you’ll be free from the worry of trying to pick the perfect ports for your first cruise.
Have more questions about selecting your first cruise? Let us know in the comments below.