Cruise Booking Tips

Cruise Booking Tips

by Mark Faldmo, Jr
VP-Marketing Columbus Travel

Cruising is a wonderful way to vacation. Now that the CDC has a pathway forward for cruises to start back up its time to start thinking about that upcoming cruise vacation. This post is geared toward the first-time cruiser, but there are good points to review if you are an experienced cruiser.

Know the full cost.

There is more to a cruise than just the cruise fare and taxes that you see advertised. Items not included in the basic fare are gratuities for ship personnel, drinks, shore excursions, spa and many ships have specialty dining that are an additional charge.  These are the basic costs and depending on the ship there may be some additional cost for activities.

The good news is that post Covid cruise lines are offering options for a more inclusive cruise. They may be offering all or a combination of items like pre-paid gratuities, free drinks, free wi-fi, free shore excursion credit, free specialty dining etc. The cruise rates that include these sometimes can be more expensive than just the basic cruise rates which are just cruise and taxes, but it can certainly help you budget better.  Even if there is a difference in the price you usually will come out ahead by choosing the more inclusive rate, but always compare and make sure it is right for your situation.

What is the deposit policy?

Most cruise lines have two tiers of deposit.  You can choose from a refundable or non-refundable deposit. Usually, the non-refundable deposit will come with a better cruise rate, while the refundable deposit can be a higher cost, but you can get a refund on the deposit amount until you make final payment. I usually recommend the refundable deposit unless there is a huge price difference.

Cruise at the right time.

Keep in mind that there are certain times of the year when cruises will have a larger number of children and/or college students. These age groups can change the cruise experience.  If you go during times when these age groups are more prevalent you may want to consider a longer cruise.  Usually, longer cruises 8+ days will have fewer children and college students.

Cruise ships are not created equal.

Many first-time cruisers only look at the cruise itinerary and not look at the ship.  Most cruise lines have ships of all sizes, ages and built-in activities. You should consider the purpose of your cruise. Do you want to relax or is the itinerary important? Do you have children that want the activities that some ships have? Some of the newer ships have all the bells and whistles, but are large and can be crowded, while some smaller (maybe older) ships may not have all the bells and whistles, but may be more suited to your idea of a vacation.

If budget allows choose a balcony cabin.

Your cabin is one of the most important aspects of your cruise. There are some people that say I will never be in my cabin so an inside cabin is OK. However, a balcony cabin will make your vacation more enjoyable. Many cruisers say that once they have cruised in a balcony they will never cruise again in a lower category. Most balcony cabins have a floor to ceiling glass sliding door and provide ample light and extra space where you can relax. Plus, some itineraries like Alaska, Panama Canal and in Europe have some very scenic cruising. If you have a balcony you don’t need to fight the crowds on deck for a good place to view the scenery.

Choose the right cabin location.

There are cabin locations that are better than others.  You want to choose your cabin based on convenience.  For instance, I find the hallways to be long.  I like to choose a cabin that is located near the elevators and stairs. Some people would choose the opposite because these areas tend to have more people walk past your cabin.  You also want to take into account the ship layout and choose a cabin closer to areas you think you’ll visit most. For instance, you may want to be close to the theatre, spa, certain restaurants or the pool. It’s all your personal preference. Some places to avoid are the front of the ship. It’s more prone to sea motion and there can be noise when the ship is docking or dropping anchor. The back of the ship (usually lower decks) can have engine vibration and can also have some noise related to docking or dropping anchor.

Other things to consider is whether your cabin is beneath (or near) certain venues.  For instance, if you are below the pool deck you will hear walking and some pool noise. If your cabin is near the theater you may hear noise related to that venue.  Cabins located under a restaurant you may hear walking and moving of tables. If you are prone to motion sickness you will want to be midship as low as possible.

When is the best time to board the cruise on the first day?

Most people are so excited to cruise they get to the port too early and end up waiting several hours.  This can be frustrating and make for a bad start to your vacation.  I recommend arriving at noon or later, but also at least 2.5 hours before the ship is scheduled to sail. COVID disclaimer – cruise lines have not released what their boarding procedure will be when they start cruising again. Please see cruise lines boarding information.  Initially in the first few months and most likely for all sailings in 2021 the boarding procedure will require longer times needed for boarding due to testing requirements and new cleaning procedures.

When onboard talk with crew and ask questions.

The first-time you board a cruise ship can be an overwhelming experience and it is easy to get lost on a cruise ship.  Crew members are always happy to help.  Also talking with crew is very interesting. Learning about where they are from and making friends is a special part of a cruise that many people enjoy.  There are so many crew nationalities you can learn a lot. Making friends and being interested in your cabin steward and meal waiters will usually result in better service and a more enjoyable cruise.

Plan your onboard daily activities.

Most cruise lines have an app that is a daily planner. Make sure to download this before you board. If you don’t have the app the daily schedule is usually printed on a daily newsletter. There are so many things to do on a cruise that it’s hard to fit them all in. I like to look each night in the app or when the newsletter is delivered and plan out the next day’s activities and entertainment.

Don’t wait to start planning your cruise. Cruise rates are great and bonus amenities are plentiful.

Mark Faldmo, Jr is the Vice President of Marketing at Columbus Travel and is a third-generation travel advisor.  He has been on over 130 cruises and loves to travel.