How to Plan a Cruise
Vacation is all everyone thinks about, especially when summer is right at the corner. Cruise trips have always been a very tempting choice of vacation for many people and for plenty of reasons. Maybe it is the fact that they include everything you wish, and you can find, all on a ship. The salty breeze, plenty of different people, watching the horizon and the sunset from a balcony, countless options of food, entertainment and destinations are some of the advantages of a cruise vacation. Yet, as any other kind of vacation, cruises have also their difficulties and details to be considered when it comes to planning and organizing them. Cruising is a restricted type of vacation, since you are on a ship and you follow a pre-planned schedule, except some short shore excursions. But that does not entail that going on a cruise is a simple decision to make. You do have many things to think about and do some research yourself for. There are plenty of issues to consider before embarking on such an incredible adventure. So, the question is, how do you plan a cruise? What is the right way to choose a cruise and how to book it? And what if something unexpected occurs? And, are there any traps I should be careful of? These questions and many more will be answered right away further down.
First, you have to think whether you like cruise traveling or not. It is very simple if you think about whether you like being at sea or not. If you are keen on ships and sailing or you enjoy being out at the open sea, breathing and smelling saltwater, then cruise traveling is exactly what you need.
Another reason to choose a cruise vacation is if you are a fan of travelling in many places in relatively short time. There are cruises that can have even a different destination and stops at a different port every day. You can choose cruises that will allow you to visit many places or just one or two where you can spend some days staying there, too. And most of these places are beautiful, exotic islands and beaches, away from the crowded ports and tourist attractions.
Cruises are also almost as a tradition for honeymooners and newlyweds or people of older age that find it much easier to cruise rather than going on a different kind of vacation, a more independent one might say. Cruises in general are a perfect option for those who do not want or cannot spend the time needed to plan their vacation and care for all the details included. So, by choosing to go on a cruise, most of the times you sign for a specific plan, carefully outlined and according to which your vacation is going to unfold. This makes the preparation and the trip itself much easier and simpler for you. But that does not mean you have to stick to the plan. Going on a cruise gives you all the freedom to either enjoy yourself anytime and anyway or just take your time and rest at your cabin. It’s your choice!
When a cruise vacation should not be your choice
Of course, not everyone will find cruises ideal. And they are not, especially for people who get easily seasick. Cruises are not like short boat rides. You are going to be travelling on a huge ship day and night in a row, so you will not have the freedom to get out anytime or hope that it will soon come to an end. Therefore, if you do get seasick easily then you should not force yourself to endure a trip like that. You can always of course check and find cruises that sail in calm and smooth waters and not during hurricane season.
In addition, health issues are very important and should be taken into consideration before deciding whether you are going on a cruise or not. If you suffer from a chronic illness that need constant care, if you are mobility-impaired, or if you are pregnant and close to giving birth then you should consult your doctor before deciding to go on cruising. Usually, most cruise agents do not encourage women being past their 5th month of pregnancy to take a cruise.
Apart from health issues, cruises may not be the right option if you are traveling with very young children. Children are best to be of a certain age that will allow them to understand the basic safety rules consisting an integral part of cruises. Very young children need constant care that will deprive parents of some valuable free time. Had their children been older and disciplined they could act autonomously and understood rules and directions.
You should also avoid cruising if you do not have a passport or if you have paperwork issues in general (visas, green cards, residency permits etc.). Even if cruise agents and lines tell you that passports are not necessary you should always have yours. It would be better to have sorted out any problem with your paperwork before embarking on a cruise. Especially when cruising around different countries it is very important to have planned thoroughly issues like that, so you do not have problems during your trip (read: All You Need to Know About Travel Documents).
Finally, as we have mentioned, cruises are commonly known for their pre-planned type of vacation. If you like having the control of the organization of your trip or if you want total freedom, then cruises are probably not a good choice for you.
How do I book a cruise?
After you have decided that a cruise is a suitable vacation for you, the next step is to choose how to book one. There many advantages and disadvantages whether you choose to book a cruise through a full-service agent, an online agent or from direct booking.
First, concerning the full-service agent, you have a lot to gain; you will get all the attention needed and your wishes and tastes will be considered. This type of agency is best those who have a family or travel with a big company, or if it is the first-time cruising, so a cruise specialist with experience will be a lot of help. You can also have discounts, deals and offers that are only available in agencies and can be very money-saving and beneficial for your budget of your trip. In addition, agents know the cruise ships, lines and their reputations and will offer you information that will help you make your choice easier.
Of course, there are some drawbacks; agencies are relatively a small business, so you may not have all the support that you need if something wrong occurs. Agents also take a commission and bonuses by the cruise lines if they encourage customers to choose these cruise lines. So, you can always do your own research when an agent offers you a choice of a cruise line, because you do not want to end up with what an agent recommended to you because he/she will have a bigger commission out of it, instead of what you really want.
Nowadays, the full-service agent experience has become better through technology. Online booking and agents are far more convenient for people that are common with technology and are flexible in their needs, such as young couples traveling. In this case, the control of choices lies in your hands. You can book the cruise whenever you want and find what is best for you undoubtedly. Online agents are also much easier to communicate when something goes wrong, through telephone, internet etc. As full-service agents, online agents, too, have special offers and deals for their clients.
Some of the disadvantages of the online agencies are the fact that because of the size of these online companies you may not have the feeling that you are treated as a special client, but rather as another one out of millions. Generally, online agencies may be impersonal and slower when serving you, as they are large businesses with millions of clients.
Direct booking is another way to book your cruise and probably the most beneficial for you as it usually offers the biggest discounts and sometimes even refunds. Because you are communicating directly with the cruise line, they cannot blame you or an agent for any possible misunderstanding or mistake. Cruise lines are always very creative when it comes to shore excursions or discounts because they want to lure you back and encourage you to choose them again. Of course, in many cases you can combine a direct booking with an agent and benefit from both.
But as in the other cases of booking there some disadvantages; in direct booking you only have the cruise line’s people to turn to if something goes wrong which may not be enough or quite helpful, depending on the kind of the problem. In addition, cruise lines often host agents on their ships that may mislead you into taking a decision for a future vacation that will bound you with the agency and the cruise line for their benefit.
Therefore, all the ways of booking have pros and cons and you should surely choose the way that fits you best and feel most comfortable with. In all cases though you should check for the details of the booking. One such important detail is the travel insurance in case you miss your cruise. Some cruise lines offer travel insurance, but it is unlikely that many of them will offer a refund or a credit for a future vacation. Make sure to inform yourself about all the different and complicated in many cases insurance policies before choosing an agent and a cruise line.
How about booking a shore excursion?
Cruise vacation is not all about being on board. One of its best advantages is that it can combine sea and land, with the planned shore excursions that are available while cruising. These excursions vary from short visits and tours at historical attractions to a full day stay on a destination. Shore excursions are mostly booked through the cruise line itself - you can always check their websites to get informed about their provided excursions - due to the common belief that you are not going to be left behind if you run late.
Nowadays, you have other options too to book you shore excursions; You can find many independent from the cruise line companies that specialize on booking excursions for your cruise travel. These companies may be online ones, but many are local tourism companies and organizations that can provide you with many options of shore excursions where you already are or any other part of your cruise trip. These businesses always offer many discounts and are less expensive than the excursions offered by the cruise line because the cruise line always gains a commission out of your excursion. Some of these independent companies even commit to fly you to the next stop of your cruise, if you were to run late and be left behind. Before booking your excursion, either through the cruise line or an independent company, you can always consult their online websites and check for reviews and comments by previous clients, so you can get an idea of what to expect.
What if a problem occurs?
Like any other vacation, many things can go wrong with cruises, too. But this should not be discouraging for you because if you are well informed there is nothing to be afraid of and doubtful for. First, as a passenger and a client you have rights that the cruise lines and agencies cannot just overlook. Some of them are the following;
You can end your trip and get off the ship when it is docked at any time of the cruise if your essential needs and expectations are not fulfilled.
You can have a refund if your cruise is cancelled or ended earlier than expected due to a mechanical dysfunction of the ship. In such a case, you also have the right to have been timely and of course to be transportated to your destination or home city from where the cruise ended or even to stay overnight if needed.
You also have a right to proper medical care while on board.
These rights have been established after several incidents and complaints from customers and exist to protect the passengers’ care and comfort. Therefore, it is important for passengers to acknowledge them in case a problem appears. Most cruise lines are aware and have agreed to respect these rights, but a passenger is surely more benefited from them when acknowledging them.
I booked the wrong cruise! What should I do?
Passengers’ rights are quite important but what happens in the case of booking the wrong cruise? It can happen to anyone, but it is not a problem that cannot be solved. Of course, the first and easiest step to avoid such a condition is to have been informed before you made your choice of cruise. But mistakes happen and if it does happen and you book a cruise that you ultimately do not find that you like, you can always ask kindly if there is a chance to change your sailing date and transfer it earlier or later than planned, to a more convenient and preferable cruise for you. If you discover that you do not like the cruise while on board, well, there is not much you can do, except you have the right to disembark when the ship docks, as we have mentioned - refund is probably unlikely - or you can stay and try to enjoy yourself as it is.
What’s the cost?
The price of a cruise can be estimated with various ways according to whom is more beneficial to. Cruise lines offer prices and include some extra fees and taxes that will ultimately be paid by you. But by listing them separately cruise lines make their prices seem cheaper than how much actually cost. Extra fees and taxes are also relevant as they vary, depending on the country/countries you are visiting and are refundable in cases of something occurring. There can be also extra charges by the agencies or the cruise lines, later in the booking, that include travel insurance, shore excursions, lodging, tours etc. All these can be added to the price you are initially given and can double or even triple it, so pay attention to the extra fees and charges that an agency or the cruise line usually try to impose on you in order to increase their income and commissions.
An effective way to avoid all these extra charges is not to always rely to what an agent suggests to you and accept what he/she recommends. Most of what an agent will recommend to you will be to increase his/her commission, so you should doublecheck and ask yourself if you really want to go on that shore excursion or not, before booking it and adding to your final fare. Do not hesitate to be negative and answer “No” to all kinds of suggestions by the crew of the cruise ship or ask them directly the price of a service, because everything on a cruise, as in airports, are always overpriced. You do not want to end up trying to figure out when all these surcharges summed up.
Another tip is this; in most of cruise ships you have a magnetic room key. This can function as extra charges, a money magnet as well, since many of the services on board, mainly concerning entertainment, add charges to your room key. So, if you travel with your kids, be extra careful with your room key card and the extra charges that it can add on to you. You can deauthorize it and then give it to your children or ask a key that can not be used for any other activity other than opening the door of your cabin.
Gambling and arcade games are another way to lose money and exceed your cruise budget. Tables and slot machines can prove to be huge problem for the passengers who are prone to gambling. Stay away from gambling during your travel as more as you can because there will be no refund for the money you will lose. If your self-control is not strong enough while the temptation is, then you should book a cruise without casinos and slot machines, so you can enjoy your cruise without spending all your money.
For advice on how to travel on budget, read our article here.
Be careful of the “small print”
All your rights on board are validated by the mutual contract you and the cruise line sign. In this contract there are always some details that the agencies and the cruise lines may not want to highlight. These details consist the “small print” of the contract and you should not skip reading them because it could lead to future problems with the cruise line and the agents. Some of the things you can find out in the small print that can make you rethink your choice are the following;
your rights on board are determined by the laws of the country the cruise ship is registered to, the international law and the federal maritime law and not by the laws of your country.
In the small print you may also read about the commitment of the cruise line to the pre-planned schedule of the cruise and that the cruise line owns no responsibility towards you, and of course no refunds, if a change occurs in that schedule.
Another detail that may not be so obvious in the contract and can be used against you is that there is usually a specific time-limit to express your complaint or deliver a recommendation letter. This time-limit is usually short if you think all the processes that need to be done for your complaint to reach the cruise line.
Problems may occur with the medical care offered by the cruise line. But in the contract, you may find clauses in which the cruise line does not accept any responsibility on behalf of the doctors’ mistakes or carelessness.
All these details and clauses may not be obvious in your contract at first sight, but you do have to be careful. You must read the contract very thoroughly before you sign it, because after you have signed it without knowing about the small print, any problem or complaint associated with it will not be solved at all or its solution will not be in favor of you.
Ηow do I express my complaint?
It is not uncommon for passengers to have formed some complaints after or during their travel. The importance lies in how you will express these complaints and make the agents and the cruise lines listen to you, help future passengers or solve any problem of yours. Of course, these complaints must be reasonable. Many are those who have extremely high expectations for the cruise they have chosen and end up having an extremely big complaint list. Usually this kind of complaints are the result of a poorly planned vacation.
On the other hand, there are many passengers that have many little problems and complaints which are realistic and more easily resolvable. If you wish the cruise line to pay attention to your problem or complaint and actually try to resolve it, then the best thing you can do is express your complaint right away. It is never a bad idea to kindly express your discontent and ask for a change. Of course, it is best to focus on just one thing at a time and make suggestions of what you think would work best so as the problem can be fixed as soon as possible. If you wait and wish that the problem will be fixed sooner or later without informing the cruise line, then it will probably pile up to the point it will become unbearable for you and ruin your trip. In addition, if you try to contact the cruise line after your trip has come to an end most likely you will be completely ignored and probably will face the same problem at your next trip, too.
Cruise vacation, as any other vacation, can be very entertaining, with many surprises and lots of adventures. But in order to fully live such a great experience you have to pay close attention to details, comparison-shopping, and careful planning and organization of the trip and the choices you have to make.
Edited by Sophia Gkoutziomitrou
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