All aboard…

A cruise? That’s for the much older generation, surely.

Putting your feet up on a cruise, blue sea, blue sky and blue nail varnish

A long, luxurious trip when you have time and money, when everyone dresses for dinner and no one is remotely interested in their actual destination.

Where rich old women sit at the captain’s table bedecked in jewellery and rich old men drink whiskey and play bridge.

Well, while some have this rather clichéd image in our heads, cruises today can have much more to offer to many more people. As a travel counsellor, I see people from all walks of life, and it seems that taking to the high seas for an adventure is becoming one of the most popular ways to holiday.

If you’ve never tried it before, it can be a little daunting knowing where to start. What company to use? Which ship is best for you? When is the best time to travel? So I’ve put together some of my top tips to help you find your perfect cruise…

Where should I go?

A lot depends on when you want to go on your cruise.

Caribbean cruises are normally available between November and March avoiding possible hurricanes from June onwards.

Mediterranean cruises are popular and busier in the summer months. It’s warmer from May through to September, although many Mediterranean cruise ships sail the whole year round.

cruises - coldIf you’re looking for stunning scenery then perhaps the Norwegian Fjords are the place for you.

Just remember though, because of the location it can sometimes mean lower temperatures out of the main summer season.

With so many cruise companies offering so many varied itineraries there truly is something for everyone. Many cruise ships allow passengers to fly and meet the ship so you can start in one place and finish in another, giving you the chance to experience some really far-flung places.

Which company should I cruise with?

This depends on who you’re travelling with. Some companies specialise in family cruises, couples cruises or activities-based cruises. Some ships even have celebrity chefs on-board:

  • Celebrity Cruises offer family picnics on real grass, Zumba classes and even an Apple iLounge. For couples there are plenty of on-board spaces tailor made for parties of two – from wine bars to speciality dining venues and double pool loungers.
  • Princess Cruises are a popular choice with new and old cruisers. The newest of Princess Grand-class ships – Crown Princess, Emerald Princess and Ruby Princess – blend big ship options and small ship cosiness. They are an American-style cruise line where the dress code is often more relaxed and informal than that of many of their competitors.
  • P&O currently have seven ships and the new Britannia arrives in spring 2015. With a variety of options, some family friendly and others adult only, they’re always a popular choice for cruisers. There are three adult-only ships, The Arcadia, Adonia and Oriana. Arcadia is a great pick, especially for British couples. Splurge on a suite for upgraded amenities like whirlpool baths, champagne and chocolates on arrival, daily canapés and full-sized his and hers toiletry sets from The White Company. You can visit Marco Pierre White’s restaurant, Ocean Grill, for top-notch cuisine. It’s a worthwhile splurge, particularly if it is a special occasion. The East Bar is a great place to enjoy a sundowner (that’s colloquial British for an evening cocktail!). With its warm terracotta, rust, chocolate and cream décor, it would also make a lovely venue for a reception following a wedding in the Viceroy Room.
  • Cunard is very different again, as it’s typically English in style and very luxurious with exceptional service. To celebrate their 175th anniversary in May 2015, all three of its sister ships will meet in Merseyside. Popular with those over the age of 50, Cunard is the ultimate in tradition and great for travellers who want to remember cruising as it once was. Passengers tend to really stick to (and enjoy) the dress code and several formal nights. The emphasis is on elegance – a string quartet plays in the ballroom and tea time is a special occasion with white-gloved waiters. Plus, passengers in premium cabins get their own á la carte dining room away from the crowds.
  • Norwegian Cruise Line gives you the freedom to dress up or down with no schedules, set itineraries or meal times. Freestyle Cruising leaves every decision to you so you can choose how you want to cruise.

Butler service on a cruise linerThere are lots of others to choose from, including Fred. Olsen, MSC Cruises, Azamara Cruises, Carnival, Costa, Holland America, Disney Cruises, Silversea Cruises and Swan Hellenic.

Experience butler service, 6* ultra luxury, spas, river cruising, Broadway-style shows and lectures in atriums… whatever you want from your cruise there is more than likely a company who offer it.

There are many videos online and websites with advice. Forums for cruisers are popular so you can always get a good indication of what’s on offer.

What sort of cabin is best?

An inside cabin has no window. An outside cabin will have a window or porthole, allowing you to see outside and gain natural light. Some outside cabins have restricted views, but you will need to check when you book, as it’ll depend on the location on board the ship. Sometimes obstructed views can be a little cheaper. Balcony cabins allow you to experience great views and sea air!

One thing to bear in mind if you’re a non-smoker is that balcony cabins are sometimes popular with smokers because on some ships smoking is restricted to balconies and certain other outside areas. If that would bother you it may be worth considering a cabin as far forward on the ship as possible.

onboard a cruise linerSuites are often larger with the addition of extra luxury and separate living and sleeping areas. You might even get a butler!

For stability, mid ship and low down is best. That way you should have less movement, which could be important if you suffer from sea sickness.

The better cabins tend to be higher up. If you want to avoid noise then stay away from the lido or deck areas. Perhaps put a deck between you and these areas.

Also in terms of noise, it’s better to stay away from lifts and other public areas.

Are there any bargains to be had?

Yes there most certainly are! It’s certainly beneficial to book as soon as the new brochures are published as fares tend to go up nearer the sail date. However, there are still bargains to be had if there are spare places when the sail date approaches. It’s worth being on an agent’s mailing list to get notice of all the great offers.

Another trick is to look out for when ships are re-positioned (for example, when the Caribbean season starts a ship may move over from the Mediterranean). You can sail to the Caribbean and fly back, which means more days at sea.

Cruise liner coming in caribeanWhen it comes to cruising there is something for everyone and every budget.

People tend to say that once you’ve cruised you’ll be addicted.

There are so many forums and so much online help for new cruisers so it’s worth getting online and seeing what advice you can find from fellow cruise lovers. I often find Google is a great tool and usually can refer you to the perfect place to answer any cruise related question you may have.

It’s time to shake off the dated image of cruises and discover everything this type of holiday has to offer. I’ll leave you with this brilliant quote from Mark Twain:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, dream, discover!”

Kirsty Fisher

About Kirsty Fisher

I’m a travel counsellor with over 12 years’ experience working in the industry, in both leisure and business. I have many customers who love to cruise – visit my website to find out more.

  • Kay Garrett

    I’ve just arrived home from my first cruise and can vouch that the Norwegian fjords are beautiful! Really enjoyed the whole experience, and our kids loved it too – much more of a family holiday than we’d ever have imagined. The Emerald Princess was massive and we were really well looked after – had to be a bit careful not to overindulge as the amount of food on offer was crazy!