Cruises are a great way to get the most bang for your buck on a vacation. All you have to do is pay for your flight to the ship, then it takes you from stop to stop while acting as a hotel and restaurant for the week.
My cruising experiences:
I went on my first cruise when I was 7. We didn’t have much money, so we had an inside room on a lower floor. Based on what I remember, it was similar to Jack on the Titanic. I can’t recall which line it was, but it was one of the cheaper, family-friendly ones – either Royal Caribbean or Carnival – and it went from LA to various cities in Mexico. Our first few days were spent at sea and the boat was just constantly rocking, making me feel ill. I never actually got sick, but having the feeling all week is just as unpleasant. Since then, I have had more experience on the water and don’t get seasick or nauseous on the open ocean. This past Christmas, my family and I went on a cruise in the Caribbean. We took Celebrity, a line which is more common for the older crowd or families with adult children like mine, and had rooms with balconies. I believe it’s the window that makes all of the difference. Because we had an inside room last time, we had no window. We were just left to sit there and feel the rocking of the ship. This time, not only did we have a window, but we also had a balcony. Being able to get fresh air if you need it and see the land passing you by really helps ground you so you don’t feel the motion as much, sort of like a dog with it’s head out the car window. If you get motion sickness, definitely get an outside room.
The food on Celebrity was outstanding; my brother was grazing in the cafeteria nearly the entire time we were onboard. Similar to airlines, there were different classes that you could book, so we treated ourself to the middle class level. This had an exclusive restaurant for our class, rather than eating the same cafeteria food day in and day out.
While cruises definitely get you the most for your money, charges can definitely sneak up on you. Taxes and gratuities are not built into the prices; this is something we learned would be rather pricey, especially since we were eating at a sit-down restaurant every night for dinner because of the class level we booked. Though your food is included, drinks are not. My brother had just turned 21 so he was very excited to be on the first family vacation where he was legally allowed to drink, and we were in the Caribbean, so how can you turn down a Caribbean Rum Punch? Cruise lines know that you will likely want to drink on your vacation, so they offer different levels of packages. GET THEM! If you plan on drinking alcoholic beverages onboard, this is the absolute best way to do it. I think the calculation ended up being that we had to have two drinks per day to make the purchase make sense. Another place where prices creep up on you is excursions. You can book tours for each stop of the ship through the concierge, but it is quite pricey. If you are planning far enough in advance, look to see which stops have sites you’d like to see and research booking excursions on your own rather than through the ship. You can also just wait until you disembark to catch a taxi on your own, or maybe you will just want to lay on the beach of that stop. To make sure you see all there is to see each stop, doing research before your trip is critical.
There are SO many cruise lines now, how do you choose? The 2015 Cruise Critic Awards have just been announced and below are the winners:
- Best new ship: Viking Star of Viking Ocean Cruises
- Best ship refurbishment: Star Breeze of Windstar Cruises
- Best for luxury: Crystal Cruises
- Best for families: Royal Caribbean International
- Best for romance: Windstar Cruises
- Best itineraries: Azamara Club Cruises
- Best for adventure: Un-Cruise Adventures
- Best for shore excursions: Azamara Club Cruises
- Best value for your money: Carnival Cruise Line
- Best dining: Celebrity Cruises
- Best entertainment: Royal Caribbean International
- Best nightlife: Norwegian Cruise Line
- Best suites: Royal Caribbean International
- Best inside cabins: Disney Cruise Line
- Best standard cabins: MSC Cruises
While cruises around the Caribbean and Mexico are quite popular for Americans, there are also a ton of river cruise options throughout Europe and even Africa. This type of cruising is becoming more popular, so the Cruise Critic Awards have included a “River” category for the first time this year.
- Best river cruise line: Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection
- Best new river ship: SS Maria Theresa of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection
- Best dining: AmaWaterways
- Best cabins: Avalon waterways
- Best shore excursions: Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection
- Best itinerary: Viking River Cruises
- Best for active cruisers: AmaWaterways
- Best value for your money: Emerald Waterways
MSN Travel did an article about the Cruise Critic Awards here if you would like to read more.