Choosing Your First Cruise Holiday - Useful Info
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It was the early part of 1998 that we started talking about the year’s coming holiday and where to go, based on cheap flights available. At that time we were going away with another couple and this time they suggested taking a cruise. “A what?” I asked, struck with absolute horror at the thought. I explained in my own imitable way that there was just no way of getting me to spend 14 days on a cruise ship cooped up in a little cabin with the “Blue Rinse Brigade” for company and ballroom dancing for entertainment. The weeks went by. The wife was saying we should ‘Give it a try’. In the end I was out voted 3 to 1 and relented. What had I let myself in for? June 1998 has us all boarding a coach at Palma Airport, Mallorca and heading for the dock area and a small ship called Sapphire. On arrival at the quay side we were guided onto the ship where we booked in and were then shown to our cabin by a very smartly dressed cabin attendant. Already I was impressed with the efficiency and the décor but I wasn’t going to let on to the others. The cabin was an inside on the lowest deck but spacious and spotlessly clean with a large walk in shower. The more I saw the more I liked it. Over the following 2 weeks I became used to the excellent service, great food, excellent entertainment and waking in a different port or country nearly every day. The ‘Blue Rinse Brigade’ where were they? Certainly not on this ship. By the end of the 2 weeks I had changed my mind about cruising. Now with well over 30 cruises completed all over the world I am totally hooked on this type of holiday.
When people now ask what a cruising holiday is like, I tell them that their hotel is a ship which visits many different places and you only have to pack your suitcase once. I personally think that is a fair description.
So how do you choose your first cruise? Well, there are several questions you will need to ask yourself and the most common ones I have listed below with answers that I hope will assist.
Another way is to do a ships visit, where you go for a day out on a beautiful ship while it is docked in a UK harbour. Have a look at this great article, which gives you updated information on ship visits in 2018.
If you don’t like flying and the never ending waits, queues and luggage restrictions at airports you can board your cruise liner in the UK. This enables you to sail away with the setting sun as a backdrop whilst sipping a pre-dinner drink at one of the ship’s deck bars. There are cruise terminals at Southampton, Dover, Harwich and at other ports around the UK. Another advantage of cruising from the UK is the no weight restriction on baggage. And when the cruise is over you step off the ship and probably into your car for a fairly short trip home compared with being at an overseas airport with a long flight ahead of you.
The next question is usually, ‘How do I choose the right ship?’ This to me is the most important part. Choose the wrong ship and you will hate the holiday and never cruise again. Choose the right one and you will become an enthusiast like myself.
Ships come in many different sizes, commonly referred to as tonnage. They range from the small Boutique ships carrying up to 250 passengers below 20,000 tonnes through to the large Resort ships, some of which now carry up to 6,000 passengers and are weighing in at up to 225,000 tonnes. Ships are also like hotels in that they come in various grades from those offering a no frills cruise up to 6 star ships which exude luxury and quality. The bigger the ship the more varied amenities you have to choose from.
Other favourite questions are ‘Which is the best cruise line?’ To this the real answer is “The one that suits your needs best and with whom you enjoy travelling”. As for ‘Which is the best ship?’ again it is “The one you enjoy most”. The right cruise ship for you is the one that will come closest to what you enjoy most in a holiday, carrying the people you enjoy mixing with and going to the places where you want to go.
Another favourite question is ‘Where should I cruise to?’ Once again this is very much personal choice. The areas are quite separate and distinct. Those served by the major cruise lines are basically, Mediterranean East and West, The Fjords, The Baltic, The Caribbean, Alaska and South America. These are probably the most popular areas where ships of all tonnages sail to. There are areas that do specialist cruises usually with small ships and go to places like the Galapagos Islands, Antarctica and The Amazon. Then there are the re-positioning cruises. This is when a ship leaves for instance the Caribbean in the spring and sails to its summer destination in Europe. Then at the end of the season does the journey to its winter destination. These cruises are usually very good value for money and if you want relaxation they are ideal as they usually spend 5 or 6 days at sea crossing the Atlantic. One shouldn’t forget world cruises. P&O Cruises ships start their world cruises from Southampton in January and they usually arrive back in Southampton in about April. Because of the long distances involved you can on these cruises book for ‘A Leg’ of the journey which is a segment of it if you don’t want to do the full cruise. These are very good for visiting parts of the world where cruise ships do not normally visit on the typical 7/14 day voyage.
Many ships now offer alternative dining. Up until recently it has been the norm to have 2 sittings for dinner. Early at about 6pm and late at about 8.30pm. You would be allocated a table with between 2 and 10 other people on it and this would be your table for the duration of the cruise. Personally I still like this arrangement as I believe that dinner is a time when you get to know your fellow travelling companions and have discussions on the day’s activities and places visited. However many people now want to dine when they want and with whom they want. Because of this the ‘Freestyle Dining’ system was introduced firstly by Norwegian Cruise Line some years ago but now many other cruise lines have integrated the system along with normal ‘Club Dining’. Many ships have introduced specialty restaurants on board which are associated with famous chefs such as Marco Pierre White, Gary Rhodes, Todd English, Michel Roux and many others. These restaurants attract an extra charge.
Many questions concern cabins or ‘Staterooms’ as cruise lines like to call them. There are basically 4 types of cabin. Inside, Outside, Balcony and Suite. Starting with the lowest grade this is an inside cabin. Most modern cruise ships have the same basic design as a hotel room. Enter through the door and the bathroom is on one side and hanging space on the other. Going past these you are in an area with bed, dressing/vanity unit etc. Most are between 130 sq. ft. and 180 sq. ft. They will be equipped with drawer storage, telephone, television and a safe. The bed will be either a large double or 2 singles. In older ships the beds are often made into settees for during the day whereas newer ships with larger cabins usually have a separate settee. The bathroom will consist of toilet and shower unit as well as a basin set into a vanity unit. There are always large and small towels which are changed daily. Depending on the class of ship will depend on what toiletries are supplied. They will range from a basic soap dispenser in the shower and bars of soap by the basin to separate bottles of high quality shampoo, hair conditioner, body lotion, mouth wash etc by well known fragrance companies. Showers will have either a curtain or be a cubicle with sliding doors. Within most showers is a small retractable clothes line.
An outside cabin is basically the same as an inside but with the addition of a window or porthole. It’s on older ships you are more likely to find portholes whereas in the newer larger ships the windows will vary from small to large picture styles. The size will also very much depend on where the cabin is located on the ship. Those near the bow and lower down towards the waterline tend to have smaller windows. Some ships give the option of a larger outside cabin calling them ‘Larger De Luxe’ or some other such name. Usually it is just the area that is bigger.
Balcony cabins are what they say. They have balconies. Quite often the actual cabins are the same size as other cabins but have a balcony which is connected to the main cabin by ceiling to floor glass sliding doors. The balconies on most ships have a table and 2 chairs on them so that you can have breakfast or dinner on them whilst watching the world go by. However once you have had a balcony cabin it is fair to say that you will always want one. They have many advantages such as a place to retire to for peace and relaxation after a morning around the swimming pool. A place to sit and have afternoon tea and read a book. Order dinner and have it on the balcony whilst watching the red fiery ball of the sun sink below the horizon when at sea or watch the sun come up whilst having breakfast depending on which side of the ship you are.
Lastly there are suites. These are the most expensive cabins on the ship and many have a separate sitting area from the sleeping area. Some even have walk in dressing areas, large baths, jacuzzis and butler service. Your butler will make sure your every whim is attended to and will even help you unpack and pack at the end of your voyage. The grand suites on some of the large ships even have a baby grand piano and a separate dining area for entertaining. These suites are the top in luxury but they come at a cost.
As a general rule if you think you might suffer sickness from the movement of the ship the best place to book a cabin is in the middle of the ship. This is not just midway between the bow and the stern but also relates to the height of the ship. If it has 12 decks then deck 5, 6 or 7 will be better than the highest deck as you will feel less movement.
The final question that is asked on a regular basis concerns tipping “Gratuities”. Some ships have gratuities included and some recommend a set amount per day. Some now charge a ‘Service Charge’ per day per passenger. The amount varies according to the cruise line. Most of the cruise lines charge in $US but some use £UK. It is a well known fact that P&O have one of the lowest rates.
This review is not meant to be exhaustive. There are many questions people have about cruising and there is no better way to get those questions answered than by joining Silver Travel Advisor and then asking them your questions.
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