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Tips For Planning The Best First Cruise!

Updated on June 27, 2017

Tens of millions of people go on cruises each year, but if you are planning your first cruise it may seem like you are planning a trip to the moon. You are unsure of what to pack, what ID you need, and have no idea what to expect while on board. Planning your first cruise can be a confusing task, but it does not have to be!

Begin with the simple tasks; the basics, if you will. These are the most common areas that people make their first mistakes when planning their first cruise. After you have reached a decision on these basics, you will have a great foundation for an excellent first cruise.

Below, you will find a few, simple tips that can help you maximize your fun, while minimizing your stress! These tips will help you plan a great first cruise, avoid some common mistakes, and help you remember to have fun while doing so.

Where Should I Go?

For most cruisers, destination is the easiest question to answer, but many choose the wrong destination for their first cruise! You are about to be on a ship with a few thousand strangers going to a strange place. You may have to fly to the port you are leaving from and will probably be booking hotel rooms. When planning your first cruise, I recommend keeping it as simple as possible!

An eleven day cruise to Alaska is certainly a wonderful trip, but planning for eleven days on a ship, a train, a plane, and in a hotel can be a ridiculous task, as well as the fact that if you wanted to be cold, a North Carolina Ski Resort may be a better vacation. Also, there are many things to do on Oahu, Hawaii, but if you are going to spend the money to fly to the island, why not stay on the island. Conversely, planning a 3 day mini-cruise could be a waste of money and time: you are home before you begin to relax. And taking a short cruise to somewhere like the Florida Keys may be beautiful, but what is the point of cruising to somewhere you can drive?

I feel the optimum time frame for a first cruise is 4-5 days. You have enough time to relax, but it is a short enough vacation that planning for time off, kennel stays for pets, and money for spending is much easier. For this reason, I believe cruises to the East or West Caribbean are optimal for first time cruises. These areas are cruise friendly, less expensive than many cruise theaters, and perfect distances to accommodate short to medium length cruises.

When Should I Go?

For each person, there will be better times than others for you to plan your cruise. If you are looking to take a family cruise, obviously during Summer vacation would be best for school. If you are looking to get away from children and teenagers, Summer vacation would be the worst time.

For trips in the Caribbean, almost any time of year can provide a great cruise getaway, but there are some areas of concern. Hurricane season for the Caribbean is from July to November, and while you can have an excellent time during this period, be sure to know your cruise line or travel agency's procedure for rescheduling or refunding in case of a hurricane. Also, January through March is considered the windy season in the Caribbean. These months will produce more waves, and if you are concerned about motion sickness, you may decide this season is not for you.

In the end, you will have to weigh out the best time for you. If saving money is a concern and you are not worried about hurricanes or possible extra waves, Fall and Winter could be the best time for you. If money is not a concern and you don't mind a full ship, Summer may be more your style.

Which Cruise Line Is Best?

Ask 5 friends who have been on a cruise before which line they prefer and you will get at least 3 different answers with all five having different reasons ranging from "they had the best food," to "they have the top golf course on a cruise ship." While there are way to many cruise lines to break down here, I can give you some insight into the three main cruise lines in the Caribbean cruise theater.

Carnival Cruise Lines is probably the most advertised cruise line in the US. They offer many 4-5 day cruise packages in both the East Caribbean and the West Caribbean. These ships generally hold around 2,000 - 3,000 passengers and have all of the standard cruise amenities. Carnival is an excellent choice for all first time cruisers, but specifically for the family cruise. Carnival is slightly less expensive than the other two lines, and both its size and its amenities make it easier for a group with children.

Royal Caribbean also offers many 4-5 day cruises in the Caribbean, but slightly less than Carnival, however, Royal Caribbean has much more added ammenities and newer ships. These cruises will cost a little more, but you have more balcony rooms, more dining choices, and teen/child areas are more secluded from adult areas.

Norwegian cruises tend to be a bit pricier than the above two choices, but "you get what you pay for." These cruises, while less numerous, offer every amenity you can imagine; from fine dining to entertainment, no cost is spared. The accommodations also offer more flexibility with multiple room suites available with common living areas and balconies with personal hot tubs.

Book It Yourself, Or Use A Travel Agent?

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For many travelers, booking your travel has become as natural as buying your own groceries. Still others of us get massive headaches worrying about where to book, how early to book, and not forgetting the small things. If you feel comfortable booking the cruise an any added accommodations yourself, be sure to do your homework. Read up on each cruise line, destination, and what exactly you need to expect. Showing up at customs with insufficient ID, for example, could ruin an otherwise well-planned vacation.

For the rest of us, however, utilizing a travel agent, for at least your first cruise, can save a world of agony. Let your agent tell you the benefits of each cruise line, the ups and downs of each destination, and the needed extra accommodation for before departure and after arrival. This person can be an excellent asset to answer your questions while preparing and is well worth the money.

Your Foundation Is Laid!

Now that you have the information you need to decide on the basics, your foundation is laid!  There are plenty of small decisions to make for your cruise, such as shore excursions, what to pack, and where to buy gifts, but overall you can rest assured that you will have a fun trip.


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