Once you find a great cruise line and itinerary, you should consider other factors that will affect your final cost. Below, we've listed some of the key questions you should ask yourself. Note that an experienced travel agent, thorough website, or guidebook can be extra helpful in sorting out these matters for you.
- What kind of cabin do you want? Cruise cabins are much smaller than hotel rooms, so if you're worried about feeling claustrophobic or have more than two people sharing a room, you may want to consider booking two rooms or a suite. Inside cabins are the least expensive, but you won't be able to look outside to check the weather or to see if the sun has risen or set. Oceanview cabins come with a window, but if you're looking for privacy, don't choose one that looks out over a public area. Cabins with balconies and suites are the most expensive options, but you'll also get the most spacious rooms.
In addition, consider location on the ship. Midship cabins tend to feel the movement of the ship less than cabins in the front or rear of the ship, and cabins on higher decks often are more expensive than similarly sized cabins on lower decks. Cabins located close to public areas, such as lounges and the kids' center, can be noisy from passing traffic, thus less desirable. For more information about cabin selection, read our story on how to choose the best cabin you can afford.
- What kind of dining experience are you looking for? Classic cruises have assigned early and late seatings for dinner. Late seatings tend to be more popular because you won't have to rush back from your shore excursion and immediately get ready for dinner. With assigned dining, you must choose whether you want to sit only with your travel companions or if you'd prefer a larger table where you can meet your shipmates.
Cruise lines with open seating allow you to eat anytime the restaurant is open and choose your dining companions on a daily basis. Some will sit groups of two at larger tables, so you can meet new people. Lately, some cruise lines have begun offering a choice between assigned and open seating. Norwegian also offers "freestyle" dining, where you and your dinner party can choose from a variety of onboard restaurants and eat at any time there's availability. However, if you have your heart set on eating at a certain locale on a certain night, you'll need to make reservations early.
- Will you need to buy transportation to or from the ship? If you have to fly to your departure port, you will need to purchase airfare. You can either book your flight through the cruise line, which has set prices, or you can try to find a cheaper fare on your own. However, should your flight be delayed, the cruise line is only responsible for getting you to the ship if you book through them. Otherwise, you're on your own.
As an alternative to flying, see if a cruise line has a departure port within driving distance from your home. These homeport cruises have become quite popular in recent years, and allow you to save money on transportation to and from the ship. If you drive, however, keep in mind that you'll likely have to pay for parking at the port or at your hotel.
- Do you need to book shore excursions in advance? The most popular excursions, such as golfing in the Caribbean and helicopter tours in Alaska, sell out very quickly. If you do not book in advance, you should head to your ship's tour desk as soon as you board to make reservations. For less popular excursions, you can make arrangements onboard, though be mindful of the cutoff time for booking. Resourceful travelers can look into booking excursions on their own, rather than through the cruise lines. While this can be cheaper, you are not guaranteed that you will return before the ship departs should you encounter delays.
- Should you buy travel insurance? Because you have to pay a lot of money up front to book a cruise vacation, travel insurance is a recommended way to protect your vacation dollars.
For answers to these and other questions, visit the "Booking" section of SmarterTravel.com's Cruise FAQ.