Planning a cruise, choosing a ship and finding the right itinerary can be overwhelming. The price of a cruise is a big factor when you decide to book a cruise, but it should not be the only factor. There are many factors to consider when you book a cruise. Don’t make the mistake of booking your cruise based solely on the price. Before booking your cruise, ask yourself the following questions to make sure you know how to compare cruise ships, cruise lines and itineraries so you can book an amazing cruise vacation.
How big is the ship?
Size really does matter when it comes to cruising. The average size of a new cruise ship has more than doubled in the last 20 years. Consider that the largest ships now weigh over 220,000 tons and carry over 5000 passengers and 2000 crew. The average ship size 20 years ago was about 75,000 tons and carried 2000 passengers and 900 crew. If you prefer smaller more intimate cruises you may have to look for an older ship or a smaller, lesser known cruise line.
Another issue you may encounter with bigger ships is that they cannot dock at certain ports due to their size. Either they cannot stop at certain ports at all or you will have to ride a tender boat from the ship to shore. While most tender operations do move quickly, this can eat up more of your time in port.
How old is the ship? When was it last refurbished?
The age of the ship should factor into your decision as well. Older ships tend to have less passengers and less amenities than the newer ships. Older ships will also travel cheaper routes like the Caribbean or the California coast. Cruise lines also use older ships that carry less passengers for more expensive itineraries that don’t sell out as many cabins. A perk of older ships is that they can often dock at ports that bigger counterparts cannot.
If you are considering traveling on an older ship, you may also want to find out when the ship was last refurbished. Most cruise ships are typically refurbished about every 5 years. The renovations can be minor cosmetic changes such as refreshing cabins or major changes such as adding space or completely gutting areas of the ship. Cruise ships do show wear and tear as time goes on and older ships run the risk of more malfunctions.
What are the embarkation and debarkation ports?
It is important to know where you will start and end your cruise. Most cruises that are 7 days or less start and end in the same port, but many cruises do not. Cruise lines may also offer similar itineraries, but start in different home ports. This is important because it will impact your travel costs getting to and from the ship. If the cruise is cheap, but the cost to get you to the ship is higher, you may rethink your choice of cruise lines.
How many ports are included?
The number of ports included on your cruise itinerary will also impact the cost. You may find two cruises that are similar in price, but if one offers more ports it may be the better deal. This decision also depends on you. If you like to explore new places you will want an itinerary that offers more ports. If you prefer to stay on the ship and lounge about and you like more sea days that will also impact your decision.
How long does this ship stop in each port?
This should be one of the most important questions you ask as you plan your cruise. Two cruise lines may visit the exact same ports, but the number of hours they are in port and the time of day they will be docked can vary greatly. I love to explore new places so when I plan a cruise I want to maximize the hours I will be in port. I also want to be sure that the ship will dock at a time of day when I can see and do more. If a ship docks too early or late in the evening, you may not get to see as much of the destination.
What is the cruise line known for?
Every cruise line has their own reputation. Some cruise lines are considered better for families, others are more for young adult cruisers and some are better for retired cruisers. This will impact the activities offered and the number of kids on board. If you prefer to avoid cruises filled with kids you will want to avoid cruise lines that cater to families. If you want family activities you will need to find a cruise line that caters more to kids. You can easily find this information by reading reviews at cruisecritic.com If you want an adults only cruise you can find a specialty cruise or wait for Virgin Voyages to start operating in spring of 2020. Virgin will cater strictly to adults.
What kind of dining options do they have?
Years ago when you traveled on a cruise ship your dining options were very limited. You could eat in the dining room at one of two set times or you could go to the buffet. Now cruise lines offer a variety of dining options. You can still dine at the main restaurants and the buffet, but you can also choose specialty restaurants or dine when you choose. Each cruise line is different so it is best to check what dining options the cruise lines you are considering offer.
What activities are offered onboard?
Most cruise ships have a standard set of onboard activities like bingo, trivia, gambling, art auctions and nightly entertainment. The rest of the onboard activities will vary greatly from ship to ship based on the cruise line, the ship size and ship amenities. Your ship could have rock climbing, ice skating, go carts, water slides, zip lines or any number of activities. Before you book your ship you may want to find out what it has to offer, because they are so different.
What programs are offered for kids and teens?
If you are traveling with babies, kids or teens you will want to know what kind of children’s programs your ship will offer. It is best if you check the cruise lines website or speak with a phone agent who knows their policies. While most ships have a dedicated youth staff onboard their programs, hours of operation and ages will all be different. You don’t want to be disappointed if you book a cruise and the ship does not offer the type of child care you need. Many cruise lines will not accept children under age two or children who are not potty trained in their programs. Cruise lines youth programs also have strict age groupings, so don’t try to lie about your child’s age. The staff in the youth program will have a copy of the ship’s manifest with all children’s correct ages.
Choosing a cruise is a big decision for most people. You want to be sure that you pick the right cruise for you and your traveling companions. Be sure that you answer all of these questions before you book your cruise. I have created a free printable cruise line comparison worksheet so you can compare up to 3 cruise lines side by side
Are you just beginning to plan your cruise? Here is How to Plan Your First Family Cruise. This will guide you step by step through the planning process.
Want to know what real life cruisers think about each cruise line? Check out the 2019 Cruiser’s Choice Awards.
Do you want to know how to create a budget for your cruise and cover all your expenses? Read my post on How to Plan a Realistic Cruise Vacation Budget
Are you getting ready to go on your cruise? Here are 10 Helpful Items You Want to Take On Your Next Cruise and The Essential Summer Vacation Family Packing Checklist