My family loves to cruise. In fact, we are so into taking cruise vacations that it’s often the first thing I recommend to friends and family – especially if they’re looking to unwind at a more leisurely pace. However, as much as I adore exploring the high seas while indulging in all-you-can-eat ice cream, cruising can be overwhelming, especially if you’ve never cruised before and don’t know what to expect. Here are 10 tips to ensure a most memorable cruise vacation.
1. Do your research. Are you travelling with young ones – in which a family-friendly ship would be more your speed – or are you vacationing with older children, who would prefer a more sophisticated experience? On-board entertainment, ports of call, cabin size and options such as dining and shopping vary from ship to ship, so you’ll want to narrow down the type of cruising experience you’re looking for and then select a cruise line that can fulfill your travel desires.
2. Set a budget. The wonderful thing about cruise vacations is that they come in all shapes and sizes – literally! You could do a 3-night Caribbean cruise aboard a 6,000+ capacity ship or a 10-night transatlantic cruise aboard a more intimate vessel. And, just like the size of the ship, the cost of your vacation can be adjusted, too.
For first time cruisers who don’t want to break the bank, I often recommend a 4- or 5-night cruise of the Caribbean. For repeat cruisers, you’ll find 7-night sailings will offer the best value. Plus, when you bundle your flights and port transfers with a reputable tour operator such as Air Canada Vacations, you can save money and have peace of mind that you’ve covered most of your vacation costs up front, too.
3. Familiarize yourself with cruise culture. Did you know that on Royal Caribbean cruises, formal nights are observed by most guests, and tuxedo rentals are available? Or that on Disney Cruise Line sailings, many cruisers decorate their doors with personalized magnets to represent the family members inside? Each cruise line has a specific culture, and learning about the nuances of the “regulars” will go a long way to help you make the most of your vacation.
4. Pack stretchy pants. #Cruiselife is all about the #foodielife. With access to 24-hour buffets and/or room service, speciality dining restaurants and more snack stops than you can wrap your head (or stomach) around, there’s no doubt that cruises are a food lover’s dream. Some of my most memorable meals have been served aboard cruise ships, and because you’ll find everything from chicken nuggets to snow crab legs, you can be assured that even the pickiest eaters will be catered to.
5. Plan to do everything – or nothing at all. Cruise ships are brimming with so many things to see and do – live shows, games, movies, concerts, lessons, organized sports, you name it – that you can conceivably spent your entire day (and night) taking part in one of the many activities offered onboard or ashore (while in port). If you’re a go-go-go type person, your thirst for busy-ness will be quenched – and then some.
However, you can also stretch out on a sun deck, lounge by a pool or simply hang out with friends at a restaurant or café. You control the tempo of your vacation.
6. Ditch the kids. Most family-oriented cruise ships have excellent kids clubs – in fact, on many of the cruises we’ve taken, our boys have begged to spend their time taking part in the fun, curated activities provided by the cruise staff. It’s a win for both parents and kids; little ones will have the chance to meet new friends and try new things, while mom and dad can carve out some precious alone time, taking in a specialty restaurant, enjoying an afternoon at the spa or as my husband and I often do – sneaking in a leisurely nap!
7. Get off the ship. One of the most popular reasons to take a cruise vacation is the ability to see multiple islands or cities while enjoying the convenience of packing and unpacking only once. So, you’ll definitely want to take advantage of the ports of call outlined in your itinerary.
Whether you roam through the streets of Barcelona or sunbathe on a private beach in the Bahamas, once again you control the pace. Most cruise liners outsource excursions to local companies (at an additional cost), but will offer you the convenience of booking the tour before or during your sailing. I often recommend that first time cruisers book at most one excursion on their first cruise, allowing them to get a sense of what is offered without overscheduling their vacation.
8. Remember cruises are cashless. Everything you purchase, over and above what is included in your cruise, such as souvenirs, specialty food or drinks, visits to the spa or port adventures, is automatically charged to your stateroom. While this is incredibly convenient for those who can responsibly manage their vacation budget, it’s nevertheless a caveat to those who may go a bit overboard (but not literally) with their spending.
9. Be one with nature. I can’t explain it, but you’ll feel it, I promise. There’s a line in one of my favourite songs by Lee Ann Womack, I Hope You Dance, which says, “I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean.” This, friends. When you first board your cruise ship, it will feel huge. Gigantic! But when you’re sailing in the middle of the ocean, with absolutely nothing in all directions as far as the eye can see, suddenly you’ll realize just how small we really are.
10. Let an expert take care of the details. Convinced you need to cruise into the blue? Don’t be shy to call Air Canada Vacations – especially for first time cruisers. Their team of cruise vacation experts will find the perfect sailing for you and take the stress out of planning. Be sure to ask about one of these current promotions:
– Europe cruise savings for early bookers: book a flight & cruise package to Europe and save $200 per couple. Book by April 20th 2018.
– Sail Into Celebrity Savings: book select Celebrity Cruises and get up to $400 in SAVINGS per couple, plus 2 FREE perks with a total value of up to $1,950 per stateroom, third and fourth guests get 50% OFF their cruise fare and 10,000 BONUS Aeroplan® Miles per couple. Book by April 4, 2018 .
– Alaska Land and Sea Exploration Event: book any 2018 Holland America Line Alaska Land and Sea Journey and get $100 US in Denali dollars, $100 CAD in Dawson dollars and 50% reduced deposit. Book by April 2nd.
– Carnival Cruise Line Loves Canadians: book a Flight & Cruise package to get a HUGE discount just because you’re Canadian! Get up to $50 onboard credit per stateroom – offer also applies to groups and kids! Book by May 31st 2018.
(Visit Air Canada Vacations for full terms and conditions.)
Almost immediately after I disembark from a cruise I begin planning my next. I hope you’ll have a chance to sail away soon! If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments. Bon voyage!
This post is sponsored by Air Canada Vacations. The opinions on this blog, as always, are my own.