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9 things you need to know before you cruise


9 things you need to know before you cruise

story by: Anna Sarjeant

Reading time: 7 minutes!

If you're keen to embark on a cruise but have no idea what to expect, do, pack or organise, here's the ultimate cruising guide. Skim past at your own risk, this is the most useful 7 minute read of your life...

1. Cruises attract a diverse range of guests
You could be forgiven for thinking all cruise ships attract a guest list of American retirees in their late 70s, if... IF... the year was 1986. 
Times have changed people, and in 2017 there is a cruise to suit every style of traveller; whatever age bracket you fall into. River cruising now also appeals to younger couples who want to cover a large volume of ground but don’t want to coordinate every aspect of the trip themselves. Whereas many larger cruises now offer connecting staterooms and suites for families. You won’t find many five year olds opposed to a Disney cruise, or the ‘Seuss at Sea’ children’s programme on the Carnival Freedom ship. And for those who are in their twilight years, the traditional fuss-free cruise we all grew up with, never actually went away.  


2. Use a travel agent
Of course we’re going to suggest that. But in all honesty, heed our advice because it does make sense to use a cruise expert, especially if you’re new to cruising. Due to the extensive range of cruise companies on the market, you really will benefit from someone breaking every option down for you. Everything from the time of year you intend to travel, to the ship size, cabin specs and itinerary choices, if you don’t ask, you are likely to end up with the wrong cruise for your tastes. Travel consultants can also guide you through visa requirements, because you won’t be able to board without all those in check. And last but not least, if by chance you have a problem during your cruise, your HOT consultant is just one phone call away: they’re particularly good at ironing out any ripples on a rough patch of water.  


3. Pack appropriately
Easier said than done but more than necessary when you’re living in confined quarters. This gets difficult when you consider the vast range of activities available to any given cruise goer. From city walks to more strenuous hikes, lounging by the pool and formal dinners, one minute you need your scruffiest trainers, the next an elaborate ball gown. So what to do? We suggest the following five packing tips

  1. Layer: An oldie but a goodie, this will help you go from balmy days to cooler nights.
  2. Coordinate: Follow the three colour rule. If your suitcase only contains three key colours, every piece will complement one another.
  3. Laundry: Most cruise liners now offer this facility which means you can pack less and wash often.
  4. Save space: Leave 20 - 30% of your luggage free for souvenirs.
  5. Pack a small ‘essentials’ day bag for larger cruises – to use while you wait for your larger (checked bag) to be delivered.

Click here for even cleverer cruise packing tips.

4. The food isn’t as sinful as you’d think
We don’t mean it isn’t dripping in delicious fats, sugar and rich dressings, and we certainly don’t mean it isn’t readily available; expect a steady supply of breakfast, brunch, pre-elevenses, elevenses, lunch, dinner and so forth. But what most people find is that the activities are so extensive, you’ll need every single kilojoule to power you through. Excursions, guided walks, Zumba classes and dancing lessons, even if you opt out of a daily tour and stay on-board, you’ll probably be enjoying a few laps of the swimming pool. There are ample activities to reduce the guilt you’re feeling for having three rounds of cooked breakfast washed down with a croissant. And one of the greatest joys of any cruise is the high calibre dining. Don’t let a good chef go to waste - get tucked in. 


5. Activities are extensive
To reiterate, the activities are seemingly never-ending. You can (if you so wish) be busy from morning until midnight. Gone are the days where only land-based excursions and nightly cabaret shows filled your agenda (although they still can if you’d like), in 2017 cruise ships are equipped with ice rinks and dance halls, rock climbing walls, rope courses and more casinos than you can throw your black jack at. Even the smaller river cruises boast wine tastings and cheese tastings and fascinating history lectures from well-respected historians. You can watch movies and acrobats, spend three hours in the gym, four in the spa and then practice your golf swing on the deck. Good luck squeezing any time in to sleep.


6. Cruises are exceptional value for money
Consider all the activities we’ve mentioned above, and then the never-ending supply of food we mentioned just before that. Then there are the sheer number of ports you’ll call at; the places you’ll visit and the multiple destinations you’ll cram into one week - all rolled up into a price that won’t make your retinas stand on stalks. In fact, the more you eat, drink, play and visit, the better value the entire experience gets. Throw in a couple of pre-dinner happy hours and three samba lessons with a dance instructor and boy, you’re almost making money.


7. Cruise holidays aren’t school trips
Meaning, you’re not going to be in trouble if you don’t partake. Nothing on-board is compulsory and yet we know (because we asked) that those who have never cruised before presume it’s highly structured and regimented. To the contrary, cruises – big and small – are incredibly relaxed. In fact, they’re designed that way. The nature of the game is to do as you please. Heard of a great restaurant that exists in Paris? While you’re docked, simply ask front desk to make you a reservation, no one will be tutting when you don’t appear for dinner on-board that night. Just like when you stay at a hotel, you’re not expected to dine in the adjoining restaurant. Don’t fancy an excursion? Don’t do it. Feel like staying in bed until mid-morning? Go for your life. No one is coming knocking at your door at 9.01am with a clipboard and a disappointed frown on their face. This is your holiday, so do whatever suits your own interests and preferences, even if that means you do nothing at all.  


8. Get to know the staff
On smaller river cruises, the staff go out of their way to know you by name, and it certainly adds a pleasant intimacy to the experience. There’s something rather charming about greeting the head chef every morning and him already knowing you like your eggs ‘sunny side up.’  Or that the maître d'hôtel knows you have a bad relationship with gluten - and makes sure it's flour free bread on your table. Whereas on the larger cruise ships, it pays to get acquainted with the bar staff on the very first night. From then on, always visit the same bar (and bartended) and you will likely receive a more personalised service. On any ship, make sure you ask the staff lots of questions – no one knows your route better than they do. More than that, no one can give you better advice about the ship and its facilities than someone who lives on one.


9. There’s a cruise to suit every style of traveller
We cannot stress this enough. As a potential guest of the high seas, you really can indulge your every cruising requirement: ship's age, amenities, crew, guest to staff ratio, ports called at, things included - whatever your sea faring heart desires.

Here are some of our favourite cruises offering highlights you may not have thought of:

  1. Disney’s cruises are quite simply a child’s dream holiday. On water.  With non stop on-board children’s programmes dedicated to smaller guests, you’re never too far from fancy dress and pirate nights, Disney shows and Toy Story….The Musical!!
  2. For the ocean liner experience of yesteryear, complete with black tie evenings and silver service, Cunard is your go-to. It’s like stepping back in time to the golden era of elegant cruising.  
  3. Prefer a more relaxed approach to cruising? How about partaking in a craft beer programme on-board Princess Cruises?
  4. Art lovers will revel in the $60 million worth of fine art which sits on the walls of Celebrity Cruise's five largest ships - Eclipse, Equinox, Silhouette, Solstice and Reflection.
  5. For those who want more bang for their buck, you can’t go wrong with Seven Seas. Their Voyager, Mariner and Explorer ships all boast an incredibly generous all-inclusive itinerary. Including unlimited shore excursions, open bars (and in-room minibars), complimentary Wi-Fi and all-inclusive dining restaurants.
  6. Like the idea of a cruise but not the hordes? Seabourn’s four ships have fewer than 300 suites each.
  7. Stay local with Paul Gauguin. Their only focus is the South Pacific, better yet, the liner boasts its very own private island - Mota Mahana in French Polynesia. 100% exclusive to guests.
  8. Can’t leave the dogs in a kennel? You needn’t on-board Cunard’s Queen Mary 2. The only ocean liner in the world to feature pet friendly facilities, including pet playrooms and kennel masters.
  9. If you don’t want to spend full days at sea, consider a river cruise. You’ll sail through the night instead, waking to a new destination the following day.
  10. History lovers might also benefit from a more intimate river cruise, whereby the smaller vessel can access age-old waterways and places that are pockmarked with ancient stories.  
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