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Cruise Lines From Booking to Shore Excursions

Updated on October 7, 2009

Cruising In and Outs

Booking A Cruise 101

Hello there... Ok what does this guy who writes all this stuff about UFOs, psychic dogma, and how to what-evers know anything about cruising? Well believe it or not I actually worked for a major cruise line in my past as one of their booking agents. I booked groups and standard passengers for three years and learned an awful lot in that time frame. So here is where I'll help you get the best for your money... I'll let you know what you are in for and how you should plan, when the best times to go are and how to get the most out of your cruising experience.

Booking A Cruise:

Ok... so you want to book a cruise, you're ready to hit the high seas, soak up some sun while sipping umbrella drinks on the white sandy beaches next to a aqua blue lagoon with the wind and sea mist wafting in your face, well there are some things you should look into before you just take the plunge and call any old cruise line.While I worked for the cruise industry many people would call in to book a cruise but have no idea what type of destination they were looking for or what type of cruise line was best suited for them.

It pays to explore your options. Let me go through some tips when it comes to destinations first and then take a look at what you should look for in a cruise line.

The Caribbean cruise - Best time to go (Fall - Winter) nice for the younger to middle-aged people with families. Many beautiful atolls and private beaches, and ports of call galore.

  • Pros - affordable, many stops at beautiful touristy ports of call, family and youth friendly atmosphere.
  • Cons - weather and acts of god cancellations to ports of call. At any time a port of call can be rerouted to another port of call because of hurricanes and weather or other problem.

The Mexico Cruise - Best  time to go (Spring - Summer) Sometimes called the youth cruise by those in the industry. Mexico cruises are geared towards party type cruising for people in their twenties. Beautiful tourist ports of call.

  • Pros - Great for younger couples and singles. Beautiful ports of call with trendy night life and dance clubs (no natives partying with you in the night clubs BTW unless they are serving you), and geared for those that want to party.
  • Cons - Though the cruise is cheap the costs when in port for the tourists are outrageous. These cruise trips can end up costing you more than you planned on spending. Be smart and take only the money you plan to spend and budget it out well.

The Alaskan Cruise - Best time to go (Spring - Summer) Very nice leisure type cruise geared more towards a more mature cruiser. The awe and beauty of Alaska is something everyone should see once in their life.

  • Pros - The majesty of the Alaskan glaciers and their beauty, the shore excursions by rail to the ANWAR... and the friendly culture of the Alaskan natives are all worth the price of a cabin and passageway to Alaska.
  • Cons - Unfriendly to younger people. If you are a young twenty something and think that this is a cruise for you then I hope you don't mind dinning with older people (thank goodness for open dinning and the 24hr buffets), or sitting at the pool with grandma and grandpa Jones talking about the good old days. You may be better off just taking a plane to Anchorage and getting on a bus to a train station and then going to one of the many Denali National Forest Resorts. These are awesome and believe it or not are usually owned and operated by the cruise lines!

The Hawaiian Cruise - Best time to go (All Year) Hawaii is a beautiful place although expensive for a non-local tourist. Hawaiian cruises tend to be long and though they are great for the open ocean traveler one should consider how long they will be at sea. Visiting Hawaii can be a great experience, if you choose Hawaii as a destination use your smarts to book shore excursions... find a real luau to attend, this may mean booking it yourself within the time you have at your port of call (don't get sucked into the cruise lines sales pitch about the luau's they offer, you'd be better off at a home town buffet!) Plan a helicopter tour or a surfing lesson, these things are fantastic and worth every penny. These are the highlights of Hawaiian get away.

  • Pros - Fun and family friendly, beautiful ports of call, fun shore excursions
  • Cons - Expensive and extensive as far as length of cruise.

Longer Extensive Cruises (Europe, Mediterranean, Nothern Europe, South America, Tahitian Cruises, and Asia) - Best time to go (All Year) These are geared for those that want to see the world and can afford to do it. History lessons in every port. These extensive and long cruises are for the person that wants to get away for a week or two. Plan to spend a long time on the ship and get your shore excursions to ruins and tourist places like land marks booked and planned quickly since they tend to fill up fast. Always be smart and look into off the beaten path places to visit (you can have a much funner experience if you just take the time to explore your options). 

  • Pros - Historical and cultural in nature.
  • Cons - Extensive in length and not geared for those with small children.

Choosing A Cruise Line:

This can be just as important as your destination. Knowing what cruises have to offer will help you have a better time when it comes time for your trip. Always check out what the cruise line offers in regards to your needs.

Family - If you have kids you may want to take a Disney Cruise or perhaps a Carnival family friendly cruise. There are many cruises geared just for family vacations and when you call or talk to a travel agent they will know what is best for you. Don't assume that the nicer the cruise line is the better it will be for your family adventure. All booking agents are trying to sell you a cruise and they will use whatever sales pitch or tactics they can to get you to book with them even if the cruise itself is not family oriented. Some lines have kid friendly activities and clubs that you can enroll your children into so they can have youth friendly activities while you and your loved one go and have your adult fun for the day. Look for attractions like water slides and games that your kids can do while you are cruising.You don't want your kids asking when its going to end two days into your cruise.

Maturity and Elegance - For the seasoned cruiser there are many luxury cruise lines geared to pamper and delight from dinning to excursions and larger sized cabins these cruise lines a set to make your cruise and time on the ship the very best it can be. The more mature cruiser will love the vistas and views from their cabins, they will eat five star cuisine while they dine at the captains table, and they can gamble their hearts out at the casinos on board. This is a luxury cruise in all essence of the word. Taking a luxury cruise is like staying at a floating five star resort.

The Getaway Artist - A mid level cruise is great for middle aged couples with no kids. These are the main stay of the cruise industry and a world in between the two fore mentioned cruise types. With fine dinning, open dinning, fun activities, night life, luxury entertainment on board, gambling, spas, gyms, and fun ports of call... they pander to all those delights of the cruise experience.

How To Book 101

So you know who you want to cruise with, what time of the year you want to go, and where you want to go... GREAT! Now lets talk money. How much are you willing to spend? How can you get a good deal? What is the best way to get the most for your money?

Travel Agents - Oh you've seen them, Carlson Wagon Light, Tripple AAA and even some small Ma and Pop Sun Shine Travel types that sit in the corner of the open air mall next to the News and Smokes. They are everywhere and they wouldn't be if they didn't work. The truth is travel agents and agencies take the headache out of planning your vacation. They offer a valuable service to those that want to have a great vacation without all the footwork. TA's call into a cruise line a book multiple cabins at a group rate which is lower than the standard rate. They can get deals on a cruise and then pass that along to the client. Great for all travel arrangements from air-fare to resort deals travel agents get you what you want and need. They make up their money by charging fees at the back end of the bookings and travel plans on commissions and though you may not save money, they do take the hassle away from travel. Most even give their clients gifts like gourmet candies, flowers, spa treatments and other amenities offered by the cruise lines to their clients as a thank you for using them.

Direct Bookings

  • Calling direct it is good to know what you are wanting. Always ask if there are any cancellations or earlier departure dates... these are great for deal seekers because if a person cancels the cruise line has cancellation policies and they still make money from the canceled booking and then book the cabin at a lower rate to those who are booking later.
  • Ask about amenities, and other freebies that the cruise can throw in for you, these are things like bath-robes and other small fry type stuff that just make the trip a little better.
  • If traveling with friends and family try getting a group rate ask if you can get a group discount for booking multiple cabins all at once.
  • Always ask about Travel or trip and Cancellation Insurance... better to have it than not to. You don't want to have to cancel a cruise and loose half the money you spent to go because Aunt Mildred past away. Insurance allows you to recoup some of that loss at a price but much less than that of half your trip.
  • Ask the agent if there are any deals right now... If you don't mind going to a destination that isn't really for that time if year and you just want to cruise you can get great deals if you book out of what is called wave season.
  • Look into shore excursions, ask for information on the ports of call. You can find good deals outside those offered by cruise lines but always make sure they are from notable recognized dealers with a good track record and that they are within your time frames.

Well I hope you know what you are doing when you take your cruise now and all I can say now is Bon Voyage!

Cons of Cruising!

Acts of God or Unplanned Acts of War:

If mother nature or an unstable government decides to reek havoc on one of your destinations the cruise lines reserve the right to pick another port of call that is away from the danger or to cancel the port of call all together without offering the cruise passengers a refund. This is always in the small print of all cruise lines and you should know it if you plan your cruise!

Cancellation Policies:

Most cruise lines like hotels and air travel have cancellation policies that can bite hard on the wallet should you need to cancel. Always make sure that if you must cancel that you are doing it in a timely manner. Check and ask about the cancellation policies of the cruise line you book with and also ask about trip cancellation insurance when booking your trip.

Cutting It Short:

If the cruise ship experiences damage or technical problems or if there is an outbreak of gastric intestinal disease (yes it happens) then the cruise line reserves the right to cut the cruise short. Most of the time they will offer a refund or a rebate for a future cruise but it is as the discretion of the cruise line customer service dept.  


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