Thinking about Cruising

The Norwegian Jade in San Marcos Basin, Venice

Thinking about cruising?  This article is for those persons that are considering taking to the seas but have never done so. The experienced cruiser is welcome to make comments at the conclusion but for newcomers there are a number of criteria to consider. Remember, all cruise lines and their cruise ships are not created equal.

First, decide where you want to go when you start considering cruising.

  • Where do your interests lay?
  • What area of the world have you dreamed of visiting?
  • What attractions are nearby the ports of call that interest you?
  • Do you think you’d prefer a small ship or a large ship?
  • A middle tier ship or a luxury ship?
  • Once you’ve picked your destination there are other choices to make………… See Picking a Cruise and Luxury Cruising Ships.
  • The size of the stateroom you will occupy on each ship varies by category and ship classification. To see detailed information on the topic please see Stateroom Footage
  • The least expensive stateroom is an inside stateroom. Most will have the basic amenities like a bathroom with a shower and twin beds convertible to a double. The square footage will be fairly standard for this room classification. Most rooms have small safes to aid in securing your property. If you don’t mind being in a room with no windows and prefer not to see the ocean this is a good choice. If you will read a lot between ports and prefer not to use the public areas like the library to read, again this is a good choice. For either privacy reasons (like a honeymoon) or budget concerns, this fits the bill when thinking about cruising.
  • Ocean view staterooms come in several classifications such as partially obstructed view that is less expensive (there might be something like a lifeboat support structure visible), a small porthole, a full ocean view window, or some cruise lines have an ocean view with ceiling to floor windows. Others have ocean views with a balcony that others simply call Balcony Staterooms or Verandah Staterooms. The terminology tends to vary with different cruise lines.
  • Balcony staterooms (also called verandah on some ships) have a balcony that some cruise lines include in their square footage specs. Others do not include the balcony in their square footage.
  • Mini-suites offer additional square footage and oftentimes a bathtub to accompany your shower. Depending upon the cruise line it can also mean other amenities like a mini-bar, coffee pot, etc. Depending upon the cruise line these might also be in a balcony stateroom.
  • Additional suites that vary greatly in size, layout and amenities are too many to go into detail on. When thinking about cruising you will see Owner suites, Penthouse suites, Romance suites, Family suites, Haven suites, Courtyard suites, Aqua suites, Concierge suites, Sky suites, Sunset suites, Royal suites, Celebrity suites, Master suites, Duplex suites, Garden Villas, etc. The list goes on…and as new ships are christened…new suite names also make their debut.
  • What amenities you would like in your stateroom (shower or tub) when you are thinking about cruising?
  • When you desire amenities other than the basic bathroom with a shower and a room safe then you have to check what stateroom category offers what you want. This is important when thinking about cruising.  In our case, I prefer a bathtub to relax in so on some ships that means we book a balcony, other ships we have to book a Mini-Suite to get it. However, there are cruise ships that have tubs in all staterooms so you just have to seek that criteria.
  • A mini-bar is nice to have so you have a cold soda available without having to trek to a bar but it’s not a necessity. Your room steward will bill you for what you use because soft drinks are typically not included in your fare. If you are in a port and purchase some coke etc. it’s nice to have a spot to keep it cold.
  • Another item we like is a coffee pot in the room. Yes, you can get room service which is free (but with a gratuity charge added), or trek to a deck with beverages  But if you don’t want to wait the coffee pot is nice to have.
  • Internet is a “biggy” for us. Some ships have Wi-fi throughout the ship while others only have it available in designated areas like a bar or lounge area. Some suite classifications have the internet connection available in the stateroom which is a definite bonus. Whichever offering you have available, you typically purchase your online minutes from an “Internet Café” located on the ship. Some large suites include this extra amenity at no additional charge.
  • If your stateroom configuration has a small sitting area, it’s preferable to have it between the bed and the window so less light reaches your bed. Some ships like our favorite, the Norwegian Jade, have a curtain to pull across the room so that if one person wants a nap while the other is on the internet or reading, the curtain separates the areas nicely and blocks out light.
  • When thinking about cruising, choosing the price range that fits your budget is important because you have your cruise fare plus the standard $12 per day, per person gratuity that is automatically added to your onboard account which is payable upon debarkation. You don’t want any “sticker shock”.
  • Other charges will be for soft drinks, alcoholic drinks from the bars, and wine if you choose to have it with your dinner. There are numerous events that happen daily onboard to keep you entertained that are included in your fare such as regular dining rooms, fast food cafes, late night pizza cafes, nightly performances in the main ballroom and craft lessons. Some ships have bingo (additional fee) or other group activities.

How many bars and restaurants are onboard? If you plan on using the main dining room on the ship for your dinner (and perhaps lunch or breakfast) then you typically choose an early dinner seating (usually 6pm) or a late dinner seating (usually 8pm). A lot of passengers enjoy this arrangement because they get to know the persons assigned to their table during the evening dinners during the voyage.

I have to admit, that we’ve met other couples that we’ve kept in contact with even when the trip is over when we’ve chosen this option but frequently, especially when we are aboard a Norwegian Cruise Lines ship, we prefer the Freestyle dining which they pioneered.

You go to the dining room anytime during the serving hours and you are seated either by yourself or if it’s crowded you can choose to sit with others. Many cruise lines are offering a similar arrangement with their own variations implemented. When thinking about cruising keep this in mind.

How many of those restaurants are premium ones? A few years ago it started out that there were just 2 or 3 specialty restaurants aboard the cruise ships that you paid an additional charge to dine in. However, over the last couple of years they have expanded to have a lot more. Some ships have premium dining outlets that start at $10 per person. 

Reservations are typically required and the cuisine is frequently excellent. It’s like having a wonderful meal in a high class French, Japanese or Italian restaurant for a nominal fee of approx. $25-$50 depending upon the venue For example; you’d pay far more for Filet Mignon and Lobster at a restaurant on shore.

Our ship was moored nearby the Moby Vincent, a fun Italian cruise ferry that operates out of Livorno, Italy near Florence

When thinking about cruising is your preference for fewer children (or more) on your cruise? We are retired and prefer to have fewer children aboard when we are thinking of cruising. Some cruise lines such as Disney and Carnival cater to families that travel together on the sea. If you are planning to travel with children then those companies are a good starting point for you.

If you are thinking of cruising and want to have a quieter trip where children are certainly present but not in large numbers, then some of the other lines such as Norwegian and Celebrity might be your choice. Most  cruise lines have child care centers where children are kept amused while their parents are active elsewhere. Simply look at the on-board amenities available on each ship and you can choose wisely.

When thinking about cruising remember that most ships today are non-smoking and only have designated areas for smokers although some cruise lines like Norwegian do still allow smoking on their suites with balconies.

Some cruise lines have a smoking lounge or cigar bar that is ventilated and cordoned off from other public areas and many of the casinos have smoking areas. If you smoke that is something you would have to check on if you are thinking of cruising.

When you take a land excursion you can frequently overlook the harbor and see cruise ships moored. This is a view while on our tour out of Marseilles.

When thinking about cruising find out what shore excursions are offered? You can check the excursions offered for your destination of choice on the websites of the cruise lines. You can either purchase the excursions prior to your voyage, usually at a discount, or book the excursions on board.  Some excursions fill up quickly but it has been our experience that we can sign up a few days beforehand while on board. 

There are numerous other vendors besides the cruise lines that offer escorted tours and they often have better prices but keep in mind, if something goes wrong and (for example) the bus breaks down…the ship will not wait for you to return.

You will be responsible to get yourself to the next port of call to meet the ship. If you are adventurous and decide you want to make your separate plans you can do so. Many ports are very close to town where you can grab a bus or cab inexpensively.

I was tempted a few times but a few years ago we had a bus break down in Cairo on the way back from Saqqara and had to wait for a replacement bus which made us an hour late for the ship’s departure time.

The captain was waiting on the gangplank, the engines were running, the harbor pilot was aboard and the tugs to pull us out from the dock were hooked up and ready to go…they only waited for us because it was the Cruise Line excursion and they always wait for your return. Since then, I’m not tempted. When you are thinking about cruising this is a valid point to keep in mind.

Below is a photo of Star Princess moored in Venice

While thinking about cruising be aware there are scads of options. Brochures or online information is very informative giving you details about the theme of a particular cruise. This will give you an indication of the ages of many passengers.

If it is lauded as a great cruise to celebrate Frank Sinatra and you’re 20 years old, that might not be your cup of tea. We’ve found that as long as there is no theme involved and we book when children are in school, it fits our needs.  The passengers then tend to be a good mix of young and old with fewer children.

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     By Carolynne Woods, © Copyright 2010-2020. International Travel   All rights reserved images and text