If you are new to cruising Nicholas Dalton gathers experts’ advice on how to prepare for a cruise.

iStock-for-web-350_000008488012MediumPlan your budget – make a list of extras (tips, excursions, any travel costs) so that you know what the end price will be, and how much you’ll be happy to spend when you’re away.

There are excursions available in every port, many of which can give you a good overview of a destination. Pre-booking often gives you better prices, and guarantees you get the ones you want, so it is advisable to think ahead and prepare for a cruise.

But don’t make the mistake of feeling you need an excursion to help you see a place every time you get off the ship. Cruise lines make lots of money from them and want you to think they’re indispensable – but they can involve long spells on a coach when you’d have a nicer time just wandering around the port or city on your doorstep.

If you are new to cruising make sure you have valid insurance – even modest Mediterranean cruises try to find new destinations, often outside the safety of EU medical cover.

Top Tip

Pack swimming gear in your hand luggage so you can head straight for the pool when you get on board – your bags can take a while to be delivered on a 4,000-passenger ship!

How to get the best deal on a cruise

To get the best deal on your cruise you must “Be flexible,” says Raphael Giacardi, cruise deal expert at Travelzoo. “If you’re looking at booking your first cruise, you probably won’t want to pay over the odds. Prices change radically depending on the sailing date – it might be that you can score a bargain by taking the same cruise a few weeks earlier or later. Also, check how much similar cruise lines are charging for equivalent or comparable itineraries.”

When you are searching for the best deal look closely to see whether tipping is included – some cruise lines add a sum per person per day to your bill, which can add several hundred pounds to the cost per couple.

However, if you like the good life, ultra-luxury cruising can be a great deal. Philip Ordever, VP of international sales at Crystal Cruises, says a cruise that includes champagne and other top-shelf drinks, as well as wine pairings with dinner, can be had for £130 a day.

Specialist cruise travel agents have access to all the cruise lines’ offers and can often tempt you with a better deal by foregoing part of their commission.

Prices change dramatically in the run-up to a cruise, and are at their highest a few months before departure. If you’re happy with pot luck you can find bargain late bookings (especially if you hold your nerve until the last week) but these tend to be on the big ships; small vessels tend to sell out.

The best deal (at least one that gives you a good price allied with choice) comes as soon as the cruise has gone on sale, generally a year or so in advance. It might also come with money credited to your account to spend on board (and if you’re not on an all-inclusive cruise, do remember that drinks can add to your final bill). Online booking often brings a discount, maybe five per cent.

My First Cruise…

Julie-Peasgood-for-web“I went on the QE2. I fell in love with the whole concept of cruise holidays – and was really impressed with the food.”

Julie Peasgood, TV present, travel expert and new Contributing Editor for Cruise International

Read How to Find and Plan a Cruise

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