Picking a Cruise

The Norwegian Jade, seen here leaving Venice, is a medium sized ship.

Picking a cruise for your first voyage can be a little intimidating. You might feel a little overwhelmed at all the choices bombarding you but relax and consider this quest to be an adventure. After a couple of cruises, we have discovered that we enjoyed having a floating hotel which encompasses fine meals in chandelier lit dining rooms, fast foods (such as a hamburger or a pizza) available 24/7 and just unpacking your bags once for the voyage.

Familiarize yourself with the ports of call and how many days you will be at sea. We’ve found that a different port everyday can be hectic so we look for a day at sea in between a few ports of call. It all depends on your energy level and how many places you want to explore.

Seen below is Celebrity Solstice in the Fort Lauderdale area

Picking a cruise destination is your starting point.

  • Where do you want to go?
  • Does the Mediterranean beckon to you with its exotic ports of Venice, Rome or Monte Carlo?
  • What about Istanbul that spans two continents where you can travel over a long bridge from Europe into Asia?
  • Do you yearn for warm, sunny days in the Caribbean?
  • Instead of flying to Europe would you enjoy a transatlantic cruise?
  • Are the Greek Islands with their varied personalities appealing?
  • The Baltic, Northern Europe, the Far East, Australia, Alaska, Panama and South America are additional options to consider.

Seen above is Norwegian Epic which is one of the largest ships.

Picking your cruise ship size is the next step, once you’ve settled on your destination. Big ship or small ship? If you want a large selection of facilities, restaurants, bars and crowds of people then the big ships are your best choice. The big ships also tend to be less expensive for standard accommodations but still offer suites if you want to pay for more space. However, in some ports of call the large ships can’t berth at a dock facility and you have to be tendered (taken ashore on small boats) which can result in some delays getting ashore.

Smaller ships , Luxury Cruising Ships,  offer a cozier atmosphere and frequently the service is more personalized (as well as more expensive) because there are fewer people. The smaller ships can also dock in smaller harbors so the destination ports can be off the beaten path. If cost is not a big concern then by all means enjoy the smaller ships.

Seen below is Azamara Quest, one of the smaller luxury ships that is able to visit a range of ports because of it's trimmer size.

How long do you want to be gone?  Those taking their maiden voyage may opt for a shorter cruise while they get their sea legs and learn the advantages of cruising.  Old time cruisers are more likely to see how far they can go on their budget (if they have one) and the time to book will vary.  Some book early to get some promotional pricing but others with flexible schedules watch for heavy discounts closer to the sailing date as ships try to fill their staterooms.  Being retired we tend to fall into the latter bunch.

Picking your cruise style can make the difference between enjoying your cruise tremendously and perhaps simply just liking it. Basically, there are two choices....

Traditional is the old style of cruising that was pretty much the only option until Norwegian Cruise Lines introduced Freestyle Dining. The traditional style is with set dining times, shared tables and dressing for dinner along with one or more formal nights with full formal dress.

Nowadays, the dress is more business casual at dinner and the formal nights are still pretty dressy affairs but not necessarily requiring a tuxedo.  However, even this varies with the cruise line.  Remember that dressing up is optional and you can simply opt to eat at one of the simpler restaurants that night, but we've found that it's fun to dress up on a few of these occasions. 

However, in contrast, Modern style is the freedom and flexibility to do what you like, eat at any time during the dining rooms operating hours, opt to share a table during busy times or not…the choice is yours. There are still one or more formal nights and it’s a great time to dress up and feel posh…or skip it and dress in normal evening business casual.

Whichever style you choose, the formal night is usually a night to get your photograph taken by the ship’s photographers, perhaps even with the Captain, and these photographs make good souvenirs of your trip.  Of course you can use your own camera if you want.

Shown above is the children's pool area, slides are to the right but out of view here.

Picking a cruise also involves choosing an adult-only cruise, family-friendly, or a mix of both. You will find that some cruise lines, such as Disney, cater to the kids and have many family oriented amenities such as fun rooms, water-slides and have playrooms where children can be cared for while the parents are involved in other activities.

Other cruise lines such as Carnival also are family oriented. We have found some of the cruise lines such as Norwegian and Celebrity tend to have facilities available for children but the mix is fine for our taste.

Picking a cruise with a departure point close to home or flying across the country is also a topic to look at. We are in the Seattle area and it seems like every place we go it involves getting on long flights such as departing from Barcelona or Rome for our Mediterranean cruises.

When picking a cruise we envy those in the Northeast areas like New York where it’s a quick jaunt to go overseas so picking a cruise in Europe or the Caribbean is more tempting. However, the Alaska cruises depart from Seattle and when the season changes and ships are repositioning to warmer climates there is a cruise to Panama that we have taken, mainly because it left from our home city and that meant just one flight, the return one from Ft. Lauderdale.

Departure cities have been added in the past few years and Galveston, New Orleans and Boston are cropping up on the departure list more frequently.

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