Tips for first time cruisers ...

Planning your first cruise may  be a challenge for those who never have taken an organized tour or vacation. How do you plan that first cruise? Family and friends often get together to discuss where they want to travel or vacation next. You might have heard cruise tales from and seen (or been subjected to) cruise vacation pictures taken by your family and friends, or read in magazines and the Web about how much fun (and economical) cruising can be. If you want to "take the plunge" and go on your first cruise, where you should start?

First-time cruisers should probably work with a travel agent who is experienced in booking cruises. However, before you contact the travel agency or cruise line, you will need to have the answers to the below questions.

Q No 1 : Who can be on cruise ?

All age groups are welcome and planned for on a cruise ship. You will be able to find a cruise that will give any age group from toddler to great grandmother a memorable vacation. Friends of mine with teenagers often say they have found it to be the best family vacation yet. If you don't have kids or don't want to be around them while on vacation, there are some cruise ships that are almost adult only or won't have many children.

Q No 2 : How Much is your Budget ?
Plan your expenditure for your vacation. You can decrease your budgeted cost some by

 *   having more than two persons per cabin,
 *   being conservative and booking early (more than nine months in advance),

The minimum price on a "mainstream" cruise line for a Caribbean cruise seems to average about $500 per week.

Q No 3 : How Long Is Your Vacation?

If you have less than a week, you are probably restricted to the Bahamas, Mexico, parts of the Caribbean, or a "cruise to nowhere". A "cruise to nowhere" allows passengers to cruise for a long weekend out of port into the ocean and then return. No ports of call are made by the ship, but you can get a feel for what a cruise is like.

A week's vacation will open up the Caribbean to you, and depending on where you live you can even get to Europe, Hawaii, Alaska, or the South Pacific.

If you can squeeze out ten days to two weeks, you will have many more options--including all seven of the continents.

Q No  4 : What is the best time to travel?

Cruises are usually a little cheaper in the spring or fall. Students of economics will know that this is entirely due to supply and demand. Best time to travel is Summer and spring.

Some people are fearful of fall hurricanes, but cruise ships can deal with those by altering their itinerary, although you may see different destinations than what you planned.

Some locations have short cruising seasons. For example, if you are going to Alaska or northern Europe, you will have to cruise between May and September. If you are going to Antarctica, November through February is the season.

Going to the tropics is a little easier. The temperature will not vary much with the seasons. What does vary is the rainfall. The dry season for most tropical locations like the Caribbean and Hawaii is in the summer, and the rainy season is in the winter. This does NOT mean it will rain all of the time. You just need to be prepared for more rain. Afternoon showers are more common. Of course, if you are coming from Canada or the northern U.S., some warm rainfall is not a problem if you have left piles of snow at home!

If you are going to the Mediterranean, summer is the high season, but some ships cruise there year-round.

Q No 5 : What are the timings for Dinner?
Dinner time varies with the cruise line or ship. There are three possibilities--early seating (about 6:00 pm), late seating (about 8:00-8:30 pm) or open seating (anytime within a given time frame like 6:30-9:30). Note that some mega-ships have added a third fixed seating and made early seating earlier and late seating later.

Most ships will give you a choice of seatings. There are advantages to both. Early seating might mean you have to get up earlier (although most ships have open seating for breakfast and lunch). It also means that you might have to rush for dinner if you are on a shore excursion that lasts until the late afternoon, or can't tear yourself away from the beach or pool. The advantage to early seating is that you can then go to the shows after dinner and have more time for nightlife before bed.

Another note about dining. On a ship with assigned seating, you will also be asked what table size you prefer. Most ships have tables for two, four, six, or eight (and sometimes ten). Oftentimes, the numbers of "two-tables" are limited, so if you "want to be alone", be sure to tell your travel agent or cruise line in advance

Q No 6 : What is the best option for Cabin ?
Cabin selection is normally a function of how much you want to spend. However, many cruisers will book the cheapest room available at the time of booking, preferring to save their money for shopping or shore excursions. Deck plans for most ships are available in hard copy from the cruise line, travel agent, or you can view them online. If you book early enough, you will sometimes get an upgrade to a better cabin. You might also note that on most ships a cabin mid-ship and on a lower deck will "ride better" in rough seas than one near the bow or on a higher deck.

If you are on a one-way Alaskan cruise, you might want to select a cabin on the shore side. However, the ship's captain will usually turn the ship around in the glacier-cladden bays and give everyone an opportunity to see the spectacular scenery from their cabins.

I personally am a little claustrophobic and like to be able to peer out my window in the morning to see the weather, so I usually book the cheapest outside cabin I can with a window or porthole.

When determining your cruise budget, be sure to check to see how much more one of these cabins might be. It might be worth your money! Beware--you might get spoiled like me and look for a balcony first!

Q No 7 : Do You Like to Dress Up?
Mainstream cruise lines used to always have one or two dress-up nights on a seven-day cruise where passengers would wear formal or semi-formal attire.

Along with the general trend towards more relaxed dress, some cruise lines have started to feature "resort casual" or "country club casual" dress every night. On these ships, they probably won't care if you want to be more formal, but you might feel awkward if you showed up without a tie for a semi-formal dinner on a more traditional ship. If you want to eat dinner in jeans, shorts, or very casual attire, you need to look towards small sailing ships like Windjammer of have dinner in your cabin or in one of the casual buffets most mainstream ships have.

Look at the brochure and Web Site pictures and read the brochures/schedules carefully on ships that you are considering. If all of the pictures of people dining show everyone in semi-formal wear, then you will want to take along either your black suit, tux or white dinner jacket. Ladies will need either a silky suit, cocktail dress, or something "glittery." If you want to leave that tie and other semi-formal wear at home, then look for cruise ships with more relaxed dress for dinner.

I love dressing up for dinner, but hate having to pack the extra "stuff". With all the airlines strictly enforcing the suitcase weight guidelines, women should probably only take one or two evening outfits and just wear them more than once or mix and match the pieces.

Some special Tips to make your cruise ride really enjoyable :

1. Pack your swim suits in a carry on bag so you can swim when you get onboard.
2. You’re allowed to bring a 12 pack of soda and a bottle of wine per adult. Do it! ;)
3. Find a map right away when you get on the ship. Study it.
4. Take advantage of the great spa treatment specials while at port. Do bargains at the spa.
5. The main lobby deck is a wonderful, quiet spot to lounge and read. So enjoy the place.
6. Get sea sick? Try Sea-Bands. They really do help!
7. If you want a good seat by the main pool, be sure to bring towels and save your chairs on the way to pick up breakfast.
8. Wear elastic waist pants or a flowing dress and order Carnival’s Chocolate Melting Cake every night! ha. ;)
9. Formal night is really not that formal. Business casual is fine.
10. Be prepared to walk up and down a lot of stairs. Stairs are everywhere on a cruise ship and also WAY faster than waiting on the elevators.So be ready for that.
11. Bring a power cord to plug in more than one item and a nightlight.
12. Get a room with a balcony.
It’s worth the extra money, especially if you have kids who need to nap. I enjoyed reading and napping myself on our balcony!

13. Take advantage of the kid camps. They are SO worth it! Having time alone with your spouse is priceless.

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  1. Very complete tips you share here. Thanks.

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