Are you a newbie cruiser? Do you have a bunch of questions and preconceptions standing between you and that Caribbean sunset? We answer those questions so you can decide if a cruise is for you
From being a holiday for well-bred golden oldies, cruising has become the holiday of choice for hundreds of thousands of British holidaymakers. Some 1.62 million Brits took a cruise in 2010 – and that number is forecast to rise to two million by 2014, according to the Passenger Shipping Association, cruising’s official trade body.
These are the people who shrugged off their preconceptions that cruising is only for privileged people who dress up in black tie and tiaras every night and play bridge and shuffleboard all day, and discovered that in fact cruising is a great-value holiday for all ages.
So whatever you want to do, whether it’s a West End show or wine tasting, a character breakfast with Mickey Mouse or ziplining, there’s a cruise line that offers it
And if you do still have any niggling doubts about whether a cruise is the holiday for you – turn over – and you’ll find them soon put to rest.
1. Won’t my cruise be full of old people playing bridge and shuffleboard?
Not if you choose one of the modern resort-style ships. These are made for families and are packed with activities to keep everyone entertained. There are rock-climbing walls, abseiling walls and swimming pools. Royal Caribbean’s ships have ice-skating rinks and surfing parks, Disney Dream has a water coaster, the new Carnival Magic has a ropes course with nets, tightropes and moving beams to clamber over and NCL’s Norwegian Epic has waterslides and SpongeBob on board.
There are kids’ and teens’ clubs, cinemas and live entertainment for all ages. On some ships, you might well find some people taking part in a bridge tournament, but the great thing is that you can choose how you want to spend your cruise.
2 I’m travelling alone. Will I feel left out?
A cruise is one of the best holidays around if you’re travelling alone, especially if you choose a small ship with single cabins, as there’ll be lots of other people also on their own to make friends with.
The exception to this small-ship rule is Norwegian Cruise Line’s huge Norwegian Epic, which holds 4,000 passengers but has 128 single cabins that come with exclusive access to a solos’ lounge, where lone travellers can meet up. These cabins do not have a single supplement, so you do not have to pay extra for travelling solo.
Several other cruise lines, notably Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, Saga Cruises and Spirit of Adventure have single cabins, and other cruise lines are revising their approach to single supplements.
3 Isn’t it very expensive?
If you put the cost of a cruise against a land-based holiday in Spain it will look expensive, but look at what’s included in the price – accommodation and three
meals a day, plus afternoon tea and snacks (though you usually pay extra for the speciality restaurants), and usually flights and transfers too. Some British cruise lines include gratuities; ultra-luxury cruise lines include
alcoholic and soft drinks and gratuities; Regent Seven Seas Cruises includes unlimited shore excursions as well. Lots of capacity means there are some fantastic deals and deep discounts at the moment, making cruising exceptional value for money.
4 Do I have to sit with other people at dinner every night?
In the past all cruise lines operated a two-sitting dining system in the evening. You were allocated an early or late sitting (usually 6.30pm or 8.30pm) and a table, and you ate there each night, sharing with the same set of passengers. But most cruise lines have now introduced open dining as well, which means you can eat when you want, either just with your family, or sharing a table if you prefer.
You’ll need to choose if you want fixed or open dining when you book your cruise. The majority of cruise lines also have speciality restaurants, serving steaks, French, Italian or Asian dishes. These cost extra on most lines (but are usually included on the ultra-luxury lines), and you book a table just as you would in any restaurant at home.
5 I don’t want to dress up in black tie every evening
You don’t have to. These days most cruise lines have just one or two formal evenings per seven-night cruise, and the rest of the time it’s smart casual, although a few have semiformal dress codes, which just means that men must wear a jacket. NCL and Island Cruises are casual cruise lines, so you don’t even have to take a jacket; Princess Cruises, MSC Cruises and Royal Caribbean, among others, have formal nights but a smart suit will suffi ce. On some cruise lines you can escape formal nights altogether by dining in the buffet.
6 Aren’t the cabins really small?
Accommodation on cruise ships comes in all sizes, and what you get depends on how much you pay. The cheapest cabins are inside, which means they don’t have a window, nd most are quite small. If you spend a bit more you can get a room with a balcony, or a suite. Some of these are very big, with two or three bedrooms, a living/dining room, and a couple of bathrooms. The Owner’s Suites on Oceania Cruises’ new ship Marina measure 2,000 sq ft, bigger than many New York apartments, and even include a fitness room.
There are cabins with third and fourth berths, which are popular for families, but tend to be cramped.
A better bet are the cabins with connecting doors, so that you can have the kids next door and still keep an eye on them.
7 Doesn’t it get boring?
That’s one word you don’t hear on a cruise. There is so much going on during the day, with wine-tasting and painting classes, lectures, pool games, shows, films, spa treatments and sun bathing that the only problem you’ll have is fitting it all in. Cruise lines also tend to ramp up these activities on sea days, when most new cruisers are worried about what to do.
The kids will have non-stop activities to attend in the children’s clubs, and there are pool parties and discos for teens. Sometimes you might need to find that poolside lounger – just to have a rest!
8 Isn’t it very claustrophobic?
Not at all. Most seven-night cruises have a day or two at sea, but the rest of the time you’ll have days ashore to explore, either on your own or on a ship’s excursion. If you are prone to claustrophobia, choose a port-rich itinerary, with one or no days at sea, and avoid the inside
cabins. Instead, treat yourself to a balcony stateroom or suite, so you can open the door and enjoy fresh air, and have a private space to escape to now and then.
9 I don’t want to fly
You don’t have to. Some 653,000 UK cruise passengers took a no-fly voyage in 2010, up 10 per cent on the previous year, partly because people wanted to avoid airports, but mainly because it’s so easy. You drive to the port, hand your luggage to the porters and check in, and your holiday starts right there. Your bags are delivered straight to your cabin, and there’s no limit on how much luggage you take, unlike flying.
Most cruises from the UK go to the Mediterranean and Northern Europe, but if you have the time you can sail to the Caribbean, South America and right around the world, for example with P&O Cruises and Cunard Line.
10 I get seasick
Modern ships have stabilisers, which helps to smooth the ride, but since there is always a chance of rough seas the best advice is to have some seasickness pills to hand just in case. The ships’ doctors can also administer injections, which are supposed to be good and don’t make you feel drowsy (although you do have to pay for them). If you are still worried about mal de mer, consider a river cruise. You’ll see great sights and the waters are always calm.
Read our First Time Cruise Guide here