April 30, 2012 — Wow. There is just so much to learn about taking a cruise that it is hard to know where to start. Here is the first of a series of articles about cruising that we hope will help you sort through the many first-questions you need to address. We start here with general tips, Part 2 covers more specific types of cruises. These articles are by Patricia Kennedy who has taken and thoroughly enjoyed many cruises all over the world. If you want to share your cruising experience, contact us via the Contact Us link, or post a Comment to this article.
One of the first things many folks do when they retire is plan a great vacation. Now that you have time to travel, cruising offers you world-wide options.
Finding a cruise that you will enjoy shouldn’t be difficult, since the cruise industry operates on a simple, but inspired, strategy of offering something for everyone. The harder initial decision is deciding upon the specific itinerary, the type of cruise, and size of the ship that floats your boat – so to speak.
An ocean voyage across the Atlantic? A cruise that circumnavigates New Zealand? A riverboat down the Mississippi? As long as there is navigable-water, there is a cruise to enjoy. There’s even a new trend in cruising according to a recent New York Times travel piece — music cruising — where a floating rock festival is grafted onto a passenger ship.
Yours truly and her faithful traveling companion have enjoyed many cruises over the years from a trip down the Nile and another up the Yangtze, around New Zealand, and several Caribbean vacations — all of which were fantastic experiences. This article is not a complete cruise-how-to, but I’d like to share my best advice on how to select a cruise that’s right for you.
1. Start With An Overview
- You might want to start with one of the many printed travel books that cover cruising, but this should be viewed as a starting point only because information changes so frequently. Try to find a book that was published no earlier than 2011 for the most reliable information. Your favorite independent bookstore or Amazon are always good resources.
- For an Internet resources check out Cruise Lines International Association’s website. CLIA, the world’s largest cruise association which is dedicated to the promotion and growth of the cruise industry, is composed of 26 of the major cruise lines serving North America.
- There are also many cruise ship blogs that you might want to peruse for the latest information and hottest trends in cruising. Blogs are also a great for tips on how to make the most of your trip. Two blogs to try are Frommers.com Cruise Blog and another sponsored by Cruise Critic.
2. Determine Your Budget
You can do a budget cruise, or you can embark on a sky’s-the-limit option. It’s up to you to decide just how much to spend. Once you’ve done that, you should be able to find just the right cruise. If you’re looking for a bargain, though, some experts suggest the following two tips:
- Book very early – more than nine months in advance
- Book late – just a few weeks before sailing
3. Include Expense Money For Excursions and Side Trips
Almost every cruise offers many land excursions. These can be really fun and interesting, but be sure to inquire as to the cost as they usually come at an extra cost. My traveling companion and I find that these extra jaunts so worth the money.
4. Decide Where You Want to Go
OK, that sounds elementary, but you have literally the world to choose from. Your budget, available time and the season will all influence your decision. Start with a Google search — using cruising for retirees as your search term– and you will find more information than you can possibly absorb. But after several hours with this information, you should be able to narrow down your dream trip to several geographic options. Explore this link to an About.com page that has well organized information on the many geographic options to choose from with lots of great detail.
5. Explore Your Options: Ship Size
Next think about the type of ship that would best suit you. Do you want to enjoy the myriad activities that a 5,000 passenger ship offers? Or does a 100 passenger ship that offers a special itinerary such as visiting the antiquities along the Nile seem a better choice for you?
- CruiseAdvice: This site provides comprehensive, professionally-written and well organized cruise ship information, including, which are the best (and worst) cabins on board the ship, cruise ship activities, dozens of ship pictures and video tours of cruise ships and more.
- How to Choose the Perfect Cruise Line For You is the next article in this series and will be published soon. It will discuss detailed information about cruises tailored to specific interests with suggestions for cruise lines that specialize in just those interests.
6. Explore Your Options: On-board Activities
Should you choose a ship with special services for older folks? Or one where lectures are part of the daily program? Our Danube River cruise included on-shore musical performances. We were prepared for each concert by a renowned Yale University professor of music who enhanced our enjoyment enormously. Many universities offer such education-enriched cruises such as the Harvard or Yale’s Alumni Associations.
7. Challenge Yourself
Sometimes side trips require accessing a mode of transport that might feel a bit of a challenge to you such as climbing into a rubber Zodiac boat to visit a remote island, or riding a donkey up to the top of a scenic view in Santorini. Be sure to ask the tour director about the level of difficulty before the trip, but if your health and mobility allow, go for it. We’ve found that the cruise ships’ staff are very helpful, and know just how to assist when needed.
8. Find Out Who Else Will Be On Board
You’ll be traveling with a group – and often in tight quarters. You probably won’t want to be on a cruise ship that caters to spring-break students. And perhaps you’d rather not share a vacation with young children (unless you specifically want to cruise with your grandchildren!). If you’re like me, you do not enjoy late-night partying in the corridors at 2 am, nor temper tantrums in the dining room.
Here are some tips to consider if you want to be on a ship that limits the number of children:
- Do research to find out which cruise lines have mostly adult-only facilities on board.
- Scroll through online forums such as Cruise Critic for real-life feedback, including comments on the ships that cater to adults primarily.
- Choose a cruise date during the school year, especially at the beginning of the school year when parents are more reluctant to take children out of school.
- Choose a longer itinerary. Families tend to choose shorter trips.
- And, of course, avoid Disney cruises if you’d prefer to be child-free.
- Crystal, Holland America, and Princess are known for catering to more mature adults.
9. Don’t Think of This as Your One and Only Cruise
Don’t feel as if you need to pick the perfect cruise the first time. Chances are you’ll find that you love cruising and will enjoy finding another option for your next trip.
10. Talk to a Travel Agent Who Specializes in Cruises
Finally, get some expert advice! There are travel agents who specialize in cruises, and then there are travel agents who specialize in cruises for retirees. Again, Google is a great resource here. Review the various sites that come up when you key in Travel agents who specialize in cruises for seniors. Here are a few suggestions:
Part 2: Part 2 covers information about cruises tailored to specific interests.
Do you have some great tips for our readers about how to enjoy a great cruise? We’d like to hear those in the space below.