Whether you’re considering booking your first cruise or got your sea legs years ago, we have plenty of advice to help you get the most from the experience:
A is for ADVENTURE
Active travellers who love a challenge and have a passion for wilder, more remote landscapes should look for an expedition cruise. Top choices are Antarctica and the Galapagos, but these cruises also sail to more mainstream destinations. A is also for accessible.
If you have mobility issues, you’re better off on an ocean cruise. River ships don’t all have lifts and have few accessible cabins.
B is for BOOK NOW
Booking early gets you more choice of cabin categories and departure dates – and maybe a discount, too. So if you know what you want, buy it as soon as you can, especially for seasonal, bucket-list trips like Alaska or fall foliage cruises and family or other group celebrations.
C is for CABIN…
…aka “stateroom” or suite. Always check what you will get before choosing, as a suite won’t always include two or more separate rooms. Lower-deck cabins may have smaller windows or portholes; inside cabins have neither. And a window doesn’t guarantee an unobstructed view.
D is for DINING and dress codes
Creative, and contemporary menus incorporating some of the best ingredients? You will find all of this at sea, along with dishes to suit most dietary needs. Some ships have 20 or more restaurants, allowing you to eat when you want and where you want (although dining in some “speciality” restaurants may incur an extra charge). Many ships have a casual/informal dress code, while others request collared shirts and jackets in one or two venues. Cunard, P&O Cruises and Fred Olsen Cruise Line offer one or two “formal” nights (which means dinner jacket or tuxedo for men, cocktail or evening wear for women), depending on the length of the cruise.
E is for EXCURSIONS
Look at the cruise line’s website to see what shore tours and activities are on offer and, where possible, book in advance (some tours require a minimum number of people in order to operate). You can also buy excursions on board. Research distances before booking – some excursions involve several hours of coach travel. You may decide it is preferable to sightsee independently or organise your own tours instead.
F is for FAMILY
Multi-generation cruising is fun for everyone. Many ships have interconnecting cabins. For a large group, consider booking a suite for one couple, giving a space for you all to meet.
F is also for fitness, and gyms on board modern ships rank with the best in terms of equipment. Work solo, with a trainer, or join a class. If there’s a promenade deck you can also clock up miles of brisk walking with daily circuits.
G is for GRATUITIES
Check what and when you will pay; practice varies from ship to ship. Some all-inclusive lines include gratuities; most others add a daily charge to your room account automatically, which will appear on your final bill.
H is for HEALTH
Cruise ships are very hot on this − you’ll soon get used to the on-board hand-gel dispensers, as you leave and re-board the ship and at the entrance to all restaurants. Some, but not all, ocean ships have a doctor.
I is for INCLUDED
What is and is not included in the cruise fare will decide the true cost of your holiday, so do the sums. What seems cheap won’t be if you have to pay for all drinks, including bottled water, and any excursions you take.
J is for JUST YOU
Good news for solo travellers: more ocean ships, especially new builds, have single cabins, and more are making other cabins available for single occupancy and eliminating the single supplement on certain sailings. Tailored on-board events and hosted dinners make it easy to meet fellow travellers.
K is for KIDS’ CLUBS
If you choose a ship with age-appropriate kids’ clubs, your children will have a great time. Before blithely booking, look into the availability of such facilities and activities; not all are offered all day, every day. Some lines, including P&O Cruises, offer babysitting services.
L is for LUXURY
If fine dining, quality wines, exceptional service and high space-per-passenger and crew-to-passenger ratios are what you’re looking for, check out Crystal Cruises, Hapag-Lloyd, Oceania, SeaDream, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, Scenic and Silversea. New, larger ships such as Celebrity Edge may not be all-inclusive, but they offer superlative suite options and facilities nonetheless.
M is for MASSAGES
Ship’s spas can spell sheer bliss, especially on sea days (when you won’t be the only one seeking a slot). Study the spa menu before booking a cruise.
It’s worth looking out for daily promotions, which can bring big savings. Access to the thermal suite is usually complimentary. Keen spa-goers can book spa suites on some ships.
N is for NEW SHIPS
Recent launches include Celebrity Edge and Holland America Line’s Nieuw Statendam. Among the next exciting batch are MSC Bellissima and Grandiosa, the luxury Scenic Eclipse, Royal Caribbean’s Spectrum of the Seas and the world’s first hybrid ship – Roald Amundsen, a new vessel for Hurtigruten.
O is for ON-BOARD SPEND
All purchases on a ship are made using a card that is also your room key. You will be given receipts to help keep track of your spend. Most lines add VAT and service charges to meals and drinks. Make savings with duty- or tax-free shopping, and look for big-name brands on board. Ship shops don’t open when in port.
P is for PORTS OF CALL
These can make the difference between a mediocre and a memorable cruise. Top port must-sees include an early-morning arrival at New York or Venice, and waking among Monte Carlo’s yachts. When ships dock some way from a town, a free shuttle bus is usually laid on.
R is for REPOSITIONING
When ships move to another hemisphere to begin a new season – sailing from the Med to the Caribbean in autumn, for example – they often carry passengers at greatly reduced fares. Lines offering repositioning cruises include Celebrity, Princess, Silversea, Windstar and Fred Olsen.
S is for SEA DAYS
Relax in the spa, join a cooking class or attend a lecture. Some ships have excellent libraries. Cunard has a planetarium.
S is also for seasickness: even sailors suffer. Reduce the risk by choosing a cabin midships, on a lower deck where there is less motion.
T is for TENDER
This is the smaller boat or boats (with life jackets and comfy seats) that takes you ashore to port when your ship has to anchor at sea. You’ll be instructed on how to board safely.
U is for UNDER SAIL
If you like the idea of sailing but don’t want to get your hands dirty, pick a cruise line that offers the experience. Among the most popular are Star Clippers and Sea Cloud Cruises.
V is for VERANDAS
On ocean ships, a veranda or balcony is your private (but possibly overlooked) outside space. Sometimes a section of floor – albeit indoors – is “decked” and designated a balcony. Recent launch Celebrity Edge has “infinite veranda” rooms than can be closed off with bi-fold doors. Check floor plans, deck plans and videos online.
W is for World Cruises
More and more lines – including Cunard, Crystal, Seabourn, Holland America Line, P&O, Princess Cruises and Silversea – offer these; most set sail in January. Ports of call and the number of sea days will determine which suit you best. Some are more than 100 days, but most lines also sell shorter segments.
X is for EXCLUSIVE
Increasingly, for a price, cruise ships are allocating exclusive-use areas. The bigger the ship, the greater the benefit. Check out Seabourn’s Penthouse Spa Suites, the Spa Suites on Europa 2, MSC Cruises’ Yacht Club, The Haven by Norwegian, and the Resort Deck on Celebrity Edge.
Y is for YULETIDE
Europe’s Christmas markets run from late November to late December, and destinations such as Funchal (Madeira) and Sydney Harbour are popular for fireworks displays at New Year. Katherine Jenkins and Michael Ball will join P&O Cruises’ shorter cruises to Zeebrugge for trips to Bruges and Brussels later this year. The window for Christmas cruising is short, so book now for 2019 or you may miss the boat.
Z is for ZODIAC
These robust inflatable boats are not for the faint-hearted, but on expedition cruises they are the key to reaching remote and otherwise inaccessible destinations.