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To Cruise Or Not To Cruise? Tips For Planning Your Next Cruise!

Some people love to cruise! In fact, they love to cruise so much, that cruising is the only type of vacation they take. They have been on dozens and dozens of cruises to all sorts of locations.

I’m not one of those people. I have been on two ocean cruises and two river cruises. While I see the advantages of doing a cruise, I feel that they are generally too restrictive. A cruise tends to limit where you can go and what you can see. It can also limit what you can experience in the places you do visit on the cruise.

My husband and I took a 16 day cruise in November. We sailed a total of 5,226 nautical miles. We spent 9 days at sea. We visited 3 islands in Hawaii and 3 islands in French Polynesia. The trip was amazing in so many ways!

Regatta
Our cruise ship – the Regatta!

But, would I do it again? Keep reading to find out. I will also share my cruising tips to help your next cruise be a great one!

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Is Cruising Right For Me?

Just like any type of travel, there are advantages and disadvantages of doing a cruise. Before you decide a cruise is right for you, make sure you explore your options.

Is The Price Really The Price?

One of the things people tend to like about cruising, is that you can often get really good deals. While that can be true, make sure you really do your research. Is the total price really the total price?

Cruises are not all-inclusive. The price typically includes your room, meals, non-alcoholic beverages, and on-board activities. Alcoholic beverages, excursions, spa services, and gratuities for staff are usually extra. So, before you commit to a cruise, make sure you understand all of the extras to make sure that the cost of the trip will still stay within your budget.

Surf and turf
On our cruise, we could dine in the specialty restaurants for no extra charge. I had surf and turf a couple of times during our trip!

Tip #1: If you plan to drink on the cruise, look into getting a beverage package. There are typically different options, so make sure you get the package that works for you. On our most recent cruise, a beverage package was included because we were return guests, but it only allowed us to have wine and beer with lunch and dinner. We decided to upgrade to the unlimited package for an extra $20 per day. Since we planned to have more than 2 or 3 drinks per day, it was worth the upgrade.

Tip #2: As an alternative to the excursions the ship offers, consider exploring on your own or hiring a private tour guide while in port. The excursions offered by the cruise line are often over-priced and very generic. We have had some of our best experiences in port with a private tour guide, and the cost was not any more than the excursions the ship offered.

Do I Get Sea Sick?

While this may seem like a silly question, it can really ruin a trip. On our most recent cruise, we had some pretty big swells while we were in the northern Pacific Ocean. When you are spending 5 straight days on the ship and you are rocking the entire time, even the most iron stomach can be bothered.

Tip #3: Even if you don’t typically get motion sickness, it’s a good idea to go on the cruise prepared. A lot of people on our recent cruise had on motion sickness wristbands (click on the link to find them on Amazon). You can also buy an over-the-counter motion sickness medication like Dramamine (click on the link to purchase on Amazon).

Also remember that on a cruise ship, your worst enemy might not be the motion of the ship, but the germs of your fellow passengers. We’ve all seen the news stories about some sort of virus contaminating a cruise ship. Make sure the cruise line you pick has cleanliness as one of its top priorities and wash your hands frequently once on board.

What Kind Of A Traveler Am I?

The type of traveler you are should also play into your decision. Do you like to have a set schedule or fly by the seat of your pants? If you like to have flexibility, cruising may not be for you. Do you like to unpack once or live out of your backpack? One of the big advantages of cruising is that you unpack once and visit multiple places from one home base.

What Cruise Is Right For Me?

Deciding you want to do a cruise is the easy part. Now you have to decide what cruise you want to do. There are so many choices!

Step 1: Where Do You Want To Go?

Not every cruise line goes everywhere, so determining where you want to go can play a big factor. Most cruise lines go to the Caribbean, but certain cruise lines only stop at certain islands.

Crossing the equator
During our recent cruise, we crossed the equator. The entertainment staff put on a whole ceremony for everyone who was crossing for the first time – including staff members!

If you are looking to go to more remote locations, your choices will be narrowed down for you. There are cruises that go almost everywhere (where there is water and a port). I have been on a cruise to the Mediterranean and visited countries like Montenegro, Croatia, Italy and Greece. On our most recent cruise, we not only visited the Hawaiian islands, but we stopped at an island in the South Pacific called Moorea, which is where Season 4 of Survivor was filmed.

Moorea in the South Pacific Ocean.
We got to visit a couple of pretty remote islands in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean during our most recent cruise.

Tip #4: If you are looking to visit smaller towns outside of the United States, you should look into a river cruise. Because the boats are smaller, they can dock in smaller ports than a big cruise ship is able to.

Step 2:  When Do I Want To Go?

We don’t have kids and, frankly, don’t like to travel around kids. So, we tend to travel while kids are in school – typically fall and spring. If you have schedule constraints due to work or school, make sure you research your itinerary and that it works for your schedule.

Tip #5: Consider traveling at off-peak times if you can. For example, we did our most recent cruise over the Thanksgiving holiday. Evidently, not a lot of people want to cruise the Pacific Ocean over Thanksgiving, because our ship was at less than 75% capacity.

Turkey dinner
Even though we were on our cruise over Thanksgiving, we still had turkey dinner – cruise ship style!

Step 3: Who Do I Want To Cruise With?

Different cruise lines cater to different demographics. We have cruised with Oceania Cruises twice now, and they definitely cater to an older crowd. The majority of people on both cruises were retirees. While that almost guarantees we won’t have kids on board, it also guarantees that everyone will be in bed at 10 p.m.!

Other cruise lines – like Disney – cater to families. This means there are plenty of activities to keep kids busy. It also means that if you aren’t a fan of traveling with kids around, you will probably be ready to jump overboard after the first day.

Tip #6: Many cruise lines offer “themed” cruises. Both of the riverboat cruises we have done were wine-themed cruises. Some of our family members did an Elvis-themed cruise several years ago. Several musicians also organize cruises (did you know you can go on a Rick Springfield cruise?) If you are really interested in something, a themed cruise is a great way to meet up with like-minded fellow passengers.

Step 4: What Amenities Am I Looking For?

You get what you pay for. Oceania Cruises are pricey. But, we get treated like royalty when we cruise with them. The bed on our last cruise was one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept in. The food at every meal was amazing. And, the staff is top notch!

My bed on the cruise
One of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept in!

The upside of Oceania Cruises is that they are smaller ships. The downside is that there isn’t a lot to do when you aren’t in port. We had a gym, a walking track, shuffleboard, a small putt putt course, a small pool, and a ping pong table on board. There was also a library, a small casino and a card room for the bridge players. Trust me. After 5 straight days at sea, we were a little stir crazy.

The pool deck on our cruise ship.
Our ship had a walking track around the top deck. It also had a small pool and two hot tubs on the pool deck.

Other ships have water slides, wave pools, and even malls. If you are looking to be entertained while on board, pick a ship that has a lot of things going on.

Gym on the cruise ship
Our cruise had a nice gym. You can’t beat the view!

What Do I Do To Get Ready For My Cruise?

So, you’ve booked your cruise. Now what?

How Am I Getting To (And From) The Cruise

Ship?

Most cruise lines offer transfers to and from the ship. But, be sure to understand if those are included or if you have to pay extra. Unless you are in some really remote place, it is almost always cheaper to take a taxi or Uber from the airport to the ship and vice versa.

Tip #7: If you decide to make your own arrangements, be sure that you know exactly where your ship will be docked. Cruise terminals can have multiple ships in port and it can be a bit confusing.

Our cruise ship in port.
This was our cruise ship docked in port in Tahiti. Make sure you know exactly where your ship will be docked if you are taking care of your own transfers.

If you aren’t a frequent traveler, or if you want to make your trip as easy as possible, go ahead and book your transfer through the cruise line. They will typically pick you up right at the airport and take you directly to the ship.

Tip #8: If you are booking your own flights, consider flying in a day or two early to give yourself a cushion. Remember, the cruise ship won’t wait for you if your flight is canceled or delayed. Giving yourself some extra time can relieve a lot of stress!

Plan Your Visits To The Ports

Believe it or not, some people don’t go off board when the ship goes into port. Those people are strictly there for the cruise and not the travel. But, assuming you plan to go on-shore, you need to plan ahead for each place you will visit.

The lifeboat on Oceania Cruises.
In some ports, your ship can dock. In others, you will have to anchor and take a lifeboat to shore. Make sure you plan for each situation!

If you plan to participate in the cruise line excursions, be sure to check to see which (if any) you have to book in advance. On the recent cruise that we took, some of the excursions had a capacity limit and they sold out.

If you plan to explore the port cities on your own or use a private tour guide, make sure you plan things out in advance. Do you need to rent a car or can you take a taxi? Or, can you just walk to town and explore on your own?

Tip #9: If you are looking to coordinate private tours with others on your ship, check out the website Cruise Critic. The site is a great resource for all things “cruising”. Specifically, they have a section called “roll call”. You sign up on the roll call for your exact trip, and you can meet others on your ship virtually.

What Do I Pack?

There are lots of things to consider when packing. What will the weather be like? Do you plan on spending most of your time by the pool on the ship, or exploring the cities where you are in port? What will you be doing while in port? Do you need water shoes? How about snorkel gear?

You should also investigate how formal (or informal) your particular cruise line tends to be. Some cruises are very formal and people really dress up in the evenings. On Oceania Cruises, even though it’s a higher end cruise line, it’s not formal dress in the evenings.

Tip #10: If you like to enjoy a cocktail (or two) in your room, find out what your cruise line’s policy is on bringing alcohol on board. Some cruises limit what you can bring on board. One of the things we like about Oceania Cruises, is there is no limit to what you bring on board, so long as you drink it in your room. We sailed from Los Angeles on our last trip, so we hit a liquor store before getting on board and stocked up for the trip.

Our veranda
I loved having a glass of wine on our veranda every night before dinner.

I’m On The Ship! Now What?

Now that you’re on the ship, it’s time to relax! Get familiar with the ship and where everything is located. I also like to spend some time getting to know the staff. Not only will you get better service from staff that you treat well, but you will hear some really interesting stories. Remember, the staff sign contracts and spend months on board ships. They have seen it all!

The staff on board Regatta.
The staff on our cruise ship was amazing! Make sure you get to know the staff on your cruise. It can really add to your trip!

I hope these tips help make your next cruise a great one!

Do you like to cruise? What tips about cruising do you have for others? What has been your favorite cruise itinerary? Let us know what you think by commenting below or e-mailing me at tips2livebywriter@gmail.com!

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