Top tips for cruise planning: cruise do's and don'ts
By Cruise International | 4 Mar 2022
Whether you’re a first-timer or an avid cruise fan, make sure you’ve ticked everything off your travel checklist with our expert tips on where to book, what to do before you depart and how to make the most of your time on board.
Top tips for cruise planning: dos & don’ts
Do: Consider a longer cruise
“We are certainly seeing a trend for longer cruises. Take the opportunity to see more of Europe on a 15-day cruise or even longer with our new Epic Voyages, taking in two or even three eight-day cruises combined.”
– David Winterton, Global Director of Brand & Marketing, Emerald Cruises
Don’t: Worry about flying
“There’s no need to be put off by the idea of flying – there are many wonderful itineraries where you can travel by rail. And you can opt for a small ship where you’ll get a lot more space on board per guest.”
– Sarah Lancashire, Brand & Marketing Manager, Scenic
Do: Read the small print
“One of the most important things to look out for is hidden costs, which can really bump up the price of a cruise. These include items such as soft and alcoholic drinks, shore excursions and gratuities, all of which are included within the cost of a Celestyal cruise.
“It’s also important to look into whether your cruise line will offer authentic experiences on board and ashore, as it is these experiences that will enable you to truly understand the destination, its customs and its culture.”
– Jo Reid, Country Manager UK, Celestyal Cruises
Don’t: Forget travel insurance
“You must remember to get adequate travel insurance. This has always been important, but now, with the possibility of Covid impacting your travel plans, make sure you have adequate insurance to cover you against all eventualities, from a cancelled holiday through to lost luggage.”
– Antonio Paradiso, Managing Director, MSC Cruises UK & Ireland
Do: Check the latest rules
“When booking a cruise at the moment, check the requirements for vaccinations and testing for both the cruise line and the ports of call you are visiting – both when you book and again a couple of weeks before you travel as they are always being updated.
“The good news is that currently many of the requirements for vaccination are being relaxed.”
– Simone Clark, Senior Vice-President of Global Supply, Iglu Cruise
Don’t: Leave it until the last minute
“We are seeing strong pent-up demand for this year, particularly for balcony and suite accommodation. So if there is a specific destination or time of year you are wanting to travel, get it booked now to avoid disappointment!”
– Jamie Loizou, Managing Director, AmaWaterways
Do: Extend your trip
“Consider a pre or post-cruise stay. Why not make the most of your flights or rail travel and spend longer in your cruise embarkation or disembarkation city?
“European river cruises start in cities such as Porto, Cologne, Lyon, Paris and Vienna – they are wonderful places to explore in more depth before or after you set sail.”
– Lucia Rowe, Managing Director, A-Rosa River Cruises UK & Ireland
Don’t: Be predictable
“You don’t always have to travel in the same season. River cruises are great for returning travellers who wish to visit a destination again but want to see it from a different perspective.”
– Rob Stapley, Senior Cruise Product Manager, Titan Travel
Don’t: Forget your face mask
“Carry a supply of comfortable masks with you for your safety. Well-fitting, high-filtration masks will make your travel experience so much more comfortable, and you will be safer too.”
– Edwina Lonsdale, Managing Director, Mundy Cruising
Do: Feel reassured by Covid protocols
“The health and wellbeing of guests and crew is our number-one priority, and we have a wealth of measures on and off our ships to make cruises as safe as possible. Every guest must be fully vaccinated before departure. Our dedicated team ensures each ship and cabin is scrupulously clean, with touchpoints and shared equipment disinfected regularly.
“Enhanced policies across the ships include the use of hand sanitisers, contact-free services, social distancing and PPE. River cruising has always been one of the most rigorous sectors when it comes to health and wellbeing and we’ve enhanced it further, so this is the ideal time to catch up with travel once again.”
– Stuart Milan, Channel Director, Riviera Travel
Do: Book through a travel agent
“Travel agents play a vital role in the holiday experience, matching the customer with the right cruise line, ship and itinerary. They are also best placed to help those holidaymakers trying a cruise for the first time.
“Choosing a suitable cruise can seem a daunting process, but agents have the expertise and access to the best resources to help those who may want some additional guidance.
“They also work with a variety of cruise lines – and often travel with those lines – so they can offer personal and professional insight on different cabins, destinations, excursions and more, as well as on other complex issues such as travel insurance. From tips on finding a romantic bistro in a port city and the best times for onboard dining, to sourcing the most adventurous sea voyage for an upcoming trip, travel agents have the answers.”
– Andy Harmer, Managing Director, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) UK & Ireland
Do: Use your future credit before it expires
“Do you have a future cruise credit still to use? Now is a great time to check the expiration dates of any credits received during our pause in operations and plan your return to ultra-luxury travel on a Seabourn cruise.
“We’ve extended our Worry-Free Promise so guests booking a cruise before March 31 and travelling before September 30 have the option to cancel a booking up to 30 days prior to departure on any new bookings and receive a future cruise credit.”
– Lynn Narraway, UK Managing Director, Holland America Line and Seabourn
Do: Book early for the best value
“If you are a little nervous, book something closer to home – and what better than the Mediterranean? It is and will be the top-selling cruise destination this summer. But if you have a bucket-list trip in mind, now is the time to secure that trip of a lifetime for 2023 or 2024.
“We all love something to look forward to and booking early still gets you the best value. Look at all-inclusive holidays too, which include flights, transfers, hotels and everything while on board your cruise.
“Silversea now includes door-to-door private executive transfers between home and the airport. In the current challenging travel environment, it makes sense for the cruise line to take care of every element of your journey.”
– Peter Shanks, Managing Director UK & Ireland, Silversea Cruises
More tips on planning your cruise
Cruise planning is incredibly exciting, because a cruise holiday is whatever you want it to be. It’s a floating luxury hotel that makes the world your oyster. It can be an adventure or the chance to laze on a sun-soaked deck. It can take you on a leisurely journey to the prettiest ports around the Med or it can transport you to exotic destinations around the globe.
Even on the biggest ships you can find quiet places to chill out – and most days you’ll find yourself in a new port of call. It’s no wonder almost two million people from the UK and Ireland regularly choose to cruise…
Choosing a cruise
There are two ways to book a cruise. Cruise companies all sell direct, but there’s also a growing band of specialist cruise agents that run offers from a huge array of companies on one website (with experts at the end of the phone). Increasingly, the agencies put together their own top-value packages, such as pairing cruises with pre- and post-voyage stays.
Cruises come in all shapes and sizes, from short breaks to Le Havre or Guernsey from Southampton, although others depart from alternative UK ports. Around a dozen UK ports are used for departures, including Liverpool, Newcastle, Harwich and Tilbury on the Thames.
Nick Wilkinson, vice president and MD of Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) for UK & Ireland, Middle East and Africa, says: “I’d recommend some of our fantastic European cruises for new to cruise guests. These offer numerous ports at exciting, culturally rich destinations. It’s great having breakfast against a daily changing picturesque backdrop, and looking inland to breathtaking views.
“These cruises offer a wide range of excursions, ideal for those who want to explore new cities by day and be entertained on board with amazing shows at night. Most of these cruises are seven days.”
Ocean or river?
Ocean cruises sail off into the sunset and offer mind-blowing scenery and the excitement of sailing on medium to big-sized ships; while some of the luxury brands such as Silversea, Seabourn and Regent are all-inclusive; some lines such as Royal Caribbean and P&O Cruises offer drinks packages.
Classic river cruises – perfect for starters – are on the Rhine and Danube, gliding through the heart of a timeless Europe. “Those wanting to weigh up the differences between the ocean and river cruise experience might consider what they want from a holiday,” says Rob Stapley, cruise product manager at Titan Travel, which has its own river ships and sells many ocean and river cruises, adding extras such as its VIP door-to-door travel service.
“Ocean cruises are also, on the whole, more relaxing than river. River cruises make more regular stops and attract people who are interested in local culture. On rivers, there’s rarely the need for getting glammed up for dinner and the smaller size of the ships encourages a more intimate atmosphere.
Getting a deal
Do you book early or late? There are great deals when a new season’s ocean cruises go on sale, possibly more than a year earlier. Early bookings often combine a good price with perks such as a cabin upgrade (possibly a balcony instead of an interior cabin), onboard spending money or a drinks package.
Fantastic savings can be made with last-minute bookings, but savings only tend to apply to companies with bigger ships (some carry 6,000 people and they need to be filled), and rarely in school holidays.
Keep a watch on cruise company websites, particularly in ‘wave season’, January to March, traditionally peak booking season, when everyone wants your business.
Bringing the family
Ocean cruises are popular with families, and with many sailing from Southampton and other UK ports, they can be especially convenient. Almost all ships have free children’s clubs with attractions from computer games to basketball.
The bigger ships are playgrounds for children, with the likes of waterslides zipping over the edge and back. And destinations are attractive, too – whether getting off and heading to the beach or exploring exciting cities. Prices can be good if you have a youngster sharing your room. River cruising is usually an adult affair with most companies.
There’s a myth that when you arrive somewhere you head off on a (paid-for) excursion. Excursions can be fantastic, but add considerably to the holiday cost. Many cruise terminals (for example, Naples, Genoa and Barcelona) are close to the sights.
Don’t feel you have to do a place to the full; it’s often more fun to potter around the waterfront even in a modest town rather than get on a tour bus. Excursions can be booked on board, but can be full and cost more than if you book before you go.
Yes, there’s more food on a cruise than you can eat in a lifetime, for free. Fabulous breakfast buffets that only get put away so they can bring on lunch. Afternoon tea, pizza and burgers by the pool, and big dinners. But the new thing is speciality dining – restaurants that you pay for, either through a cover charge or by the dish but below high-street prices.
It can involve eclectic cuisine or, increasingly, oh-go-on-then offerings such as Margaritaville burgers or Jamie’s Italian. Some companies offer a deal when you book, giving you a discount across several restaurants.
Unless you’re sailing with a luxury line, drinks, mostly, aren’t included on ocean cruises. An exception among the big boys is Norwegian’s Premium All Inclusive. Most companies offer packages, some including all drinks, some simply wine with dinner.
Drinks and/or wine with dinner can be found on upmarket cruises on smaller ships. River cruises are more attuned to including drinks or wine with dinner, but check to see exactly what’s on offer before you book.
Choosing a room
Inside or out? Window or balcony? A lot depends on what you want to spend, although many modern ships are geared towards balcony cabins (or ‘staterooms’). A balcony gives you your own outside space with table and chairs (those on Marella’s Marella Explorer even have a hammock), but if you like being out and about the added cost may not seem worth it.
Some companies, such as Royal Caribbean, have ‘virtual balconies’, floor-to-ceiling TV screens with a live feed of the outside view for inside rooms. Also, while seasickness shouldn’t really happen on a big modern ship, if you’re at all worried about it, then choose the lowest and most midship cabin.
Again, this is an essential element of cruise planning. The cruise company will tell you what you need, but often short visits to a country bypass the visa system – in Russia, for example, if you’re on the cruise line’s excursions, you don’t need a visa, but if you want to explore on your own, you will need one.