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Caribbean Cruise

How to Book a Cruise: 10 Great Tips

Caribbean cruise
Credit: Wikimedia
Booking a cruise is easy. Booking a cruise at a great price is harder. It takes time, effort and patience.

People who have been on multiple cruises can book them easily and know intuitively when and how to go.

The process of planning and booking a cruise may feel intimidating for first-timers. The following tips will make it all much easier.

1) Time of Year

Deciding when to go is the most important part of all because the time of year determines the location, cruise lines and especially the price.

For example, few people would recommend a Caribbean cruise in September because that month is the high point of the Caribbean hurricane season. Weather is risky, and few people want to cruise in rain and heavy winds. Winter, spring and early summer are better times to go.

South America is south of the U.S. and Canada, but it is winter in South America at the same time it is summer in North America. Summer for North Americans is a bad time to take a cruise in South America.

If the time of year is important because of children in school or work schedules, choosing when to go is limited and as a result there are fewer options for where to go.

If there are no such restrictions, the options are wide open.

2) Length

When to go is related to the length of the cruise. Some cruises, such as Florida to the Bahamas, may last only three days. Others that go around the world last for months.

But the most common length is usually around seven days and six nights with some a little longer and others a little shorter.

The length of the cruise also is a factor in how much it will ultimately cost. A great way to figure out the value is by dividing the total price by the number of days or nights. More often than not, a shorter cruise will cost more on a per-day basis, so longer cruises typically are a better value.

3) Itinerary

When cruise planners have decided on the time of year and length of the cruise, where to go becomes the next choice.

Northern Hemisphere cruises of course are most popular during the summer, but they also tend to be more expensive then for the same reason. Better prices often are available in the spring and drop in the fall in the Caribbean because of the hurricane season.

Western Caribbean cruises are usually more popular in the winter and early spring. Eastern Caribbean cruises are more popular during the late spring and early summer.

Alaska cruises are most common in the summer to take advantage of warm weather. Mediterranean cruises are also popular during the summer, but they can suffer from high temperatures and heavy crowds. Late spring and early fall are better times for a combination of price and moderate temperatures.

4) Cruise Line

What are the best cruise lines? There is no easy answer to that common question because all of the major cruise lines try to find a niche based on price and amenities.

Carnival Cruises is the most popular cruise line, but it is largely the result of having lower prices and fewer amenities than, say, Royal Caribbean.

Instead of worrying about which cruise line is best, focus instead on setting a budget and finding a cruise line, location, itinerary and time of year that fits the budget.

5) Ship

It is no exaggeration to say that some people cruise dozens and even hundreds of times in their lifetimes. These people develop a great knowledge about individual ships.

First time cruisers should not be as concerned about which ship to take with possibly one exception.

It does make sense to see what each ship for a particular cruise line and itinerary has to offer for entertainment while onboard ship. Some offer unique experiences such as a climbing wall or wave pool while others do not. But keep in mind that ships with special amenities tend to be newer and have higher prices.

6) Cabin

Cruise ship
Choosing a cabin is the next step in the process of planning a cruise. For some people, it is extremely important and for others not important at all.

The price of a cabin within a particular ship and on a particular cruise is mostly based on its size and location.

Four typical sizes or types of cabins are interior, ocean view, balcony or suite with each type costing more.

Because ships have multiple levels, the higher the level of the cabin, the higher the price because higher-level cabins are closer to restaurants, the sun decks and other amenities. Likewise, the lower the level, the lower the price.

Cruisers on on a tight budget will want to get an interior cabin on a lower level for the best possible price.

7) Onboard Amenities

Most major cruise lines offer pools (usually small ones), libraries, casinos, theaters, snack bars, shops, restaurants and other common amenities.

What really stands out from one to the other is the entertainment and the quality of the food, both of which are reflected in the price.

The less expensive cruise lines will have entertainment that is mostly provided on ship by cruise employees. Better cruise lines will often bring in professional entertainment.

Likewise, the better cruise lines will offer great food, especially at dinner, but nearly all of them offer restaurant-quality meals. Most cruise lines have casual buffet-style restaurants, more formal sitdown restaurants and fee-based specialty restaurants.

8) Excursions

Cruise ships have plenty to do on board, but it's the destinations and especially the excursions that often are the most memorable part of cruises.

Docking at a Caribbean island usually involves: a) walking into town to shop; b) finding a good place to eat; and c) doing something fun with the remaining time.

Cruise lines offer planned excursions for every port for an extra fee. Some of the excursions are routine, such as touring a town or island with a guide, while others are more extreme, such as climbing a volcano, snorkeling among reefs or swimming with sea creatures.

When getting ready to book the cruise, take a few minutes to see what excursions the ship offers and note the appeal. Some aren't worth the money while others can generate lifetime memories.

9) Vendor

Cruises can be booked three ways online:

  • The cruise Web site such as Norwegian, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Princess and Celebrity
  • A general travel site such as Expedia, Priceline and Travelocity
  • A cruise specialty site

If the itinerary and dates are set, do visit multiple sites as early as possible and track them for what they have to offer.

Don't hesitate to call them and ask questions. They are eager to sell, and so they will be eager to offer help and information.

10) Price

Anyone who has followed most or all of the previous nine steps will find that booking a cruise based on a fair price will be much easier as a result.

Visiting any of the booking options on a regular basis will make it clear that prices change often depending on supply and demand.

Another factor in pricing may be a difference simply in one week to the next. So it is helpful to have at least a little flexibility on the time to go.

Finally, keep in mind that early bookers often will find good deals. But last-minute bookers may find even better ones.

To get a better sense of timing, look at some cruises that will take place within a matter of weeks. Compare their prices to other cruises going to the same location months or even more than a year ahead.
Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.

 > Category: Cruise Tips   Cruise Tips   

August 08, 2019
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