In today’s tough economy, every dollar counts when planning your cruise vacation. With careful planning and research; travelers can enjoy the benefits of traveling via cruise ship without the worry of wasting their hard earned dollars on unnecessary expenses. Whether you are a couple planning your honeymoon or anniversary cruise or a family looking for a relaxing getaway; here are some tips to help you get maximum enjoyment of your much deserved cruise vacation.
Tip #1 Choose the Right Cabin for Your Budget. For many first time cruisers, the decision of which category of cabin to choose is a bewildering and complex decision. A good first step might be defining terms in the hopes of clarifying the options. Most cruise cabin layouts can be summarized into four different cabin types:
1. Inside cabins do not have a window or ocean view or any natural sunlight. The inside cabin is the least expensive option but still affords the budget traveler all of the same out of cabin amenities enjoyed by other passengers.
2. Outside cabins have either a porthole or full picture window from which the passenger can look out. Contrary to popular myth, all outside cabins are above the water line regardless of the deck location.
3. Balcony or Verandah Cabins are a step up from the outside cabin and usually have a large ocean view window punctuated by a door opening out to a balcony or veranda. Most standard cabin balconies are large enough for a couple to sit out and read or converse.
4. Suites vary in size from junior suites, which may be slightly larger than a balcony cabin; to one bedroom suites, which have a bedroom apart from the main area and are typically double or even triple the size of other cabins. Bathrooms also tend to be more spacious than the standard cabins and may have additional amenities such as whirlpool tubs.
Now that we’ve defined terms, we can progress to the heart of the issue. Which cabin is right for you? My recommendation is to review the options available with a qualified cruise counselor who can clarify the options available. Here are some things to consider:
1. Price -Since almost all modern cruise ships are one class, possible budgetary limitations should not preclude choosing a cabin which fits the finances available. In a one class environment, all facilities, entertainment, and dining are equally available regardless of cabin choice.
2. Number of people traveling- A cabin which might be perfectly adequate for a family of two could take on an entirely different perspective by adding up to three additional persons. Choosing one cabin or dividing into two or more is of course, also a budgetary issue. In recognition of the increased number of families taking cruises, some lines have added family cabins which are designed to comfortably accommodate additional persons. Some cabins which are side by side may have interconnecting doors to become adjoining as opposed to simply adjacent. Some ships even offer interconnecting balcony doors in the event that there is not a connecting door between cabins.
3. Cabin location- Cabins located on higher decks are generally priced higher than cabins located on lower decks. In most cases, most passenger facilities are located on mid to higher decks making the distance from lower decks to pool areas, spas, buffet areas, and other public areas further away. The location issue is minimized by high speed elevators that contract the difference in deck location to a matter of seconds in either direction. On modern cruise ships which are constructed in a modular format, cabins on lower decks are identical in appearance and size to higher deck cabins in the same category.
Tip #2: Shore Excursion Options. For most cruise passengers, arranging shore excursions is an easy task. Travelers can reserve tours in advance online prior or visit the shore excursion desk onboard during your cruise. Port lectures are also available prior to arrival in each port offering guidance and suggestions. As part of the desire to satisfy consumer preferences, cruise lines have significantly expanded the scope of choices to accommodate individual interests. Sports themes such as hiking, rafting, and cycling are just examples of special interest tours commonly available. Passenger literature defines the level of physical activity required for each trip so that passengers are not expected to perform tasks they are unable to do.
In spite of the expanded inventory of excursions available, some passengers choose not to reserve their shore experiences through the cruise line channel. There are three common reasons for this:
1. Budget – Cruise line sponsored shore excursions tend to be pricy and this is especially true for families.
2. Special interests not covered – Despite the expansion of offerings, there are many interests which are not adequately covered.
3. Prefer to set your own pace and agenda – A set itinerary does not always allow for individual variations.
Here are some suggestions to accommodate budget minded cruise passengers who are arranging their onshore experiences independently:
1. Hire a private driver/guide. Families of four will find that their cost of hiring a private driver/guide may entail 50% or more in savings compared to taking the equivalent tour arranged onboard. There is also the convenience of setting your own pace and basing the itinerary on your interests.
2. Utilize public transport or walk. Local English speaking guides are usually available at the major sites of interest and will provide the same commentary as the ship arranged tours at a significantly reduced rate. Arranging public transport does require more effort than the alternative but gives the added benefit of traveling with the local inhabitants, and an alternative to the insulated motorcoach.
3. Find organized shore excursions similar to those offered onboard. These are often available upon arrival at the port and the savings is commonly 20% to 40% for a comparable experience. Please check the credentials of the tour company providing the service. Government license and insurance is an important factor in your choice of an alternative tour. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for their documentation.
Shore excursions are an important factor in the enjoyment of the overall cruise experience. The guidance and advice of a qualified cruise consultant should be used to assist in making decisions. More adventurous passengers may choose the independent route but should do their homework to determine what their plan of action will be at each port.
Leisure Larry is the broadcasting moniker of Larry Fishkin, who has been assisting travel consumers in making the right vacation decisions for more than 35 years. He currently has a regular radio travel segment on KGO, the largest AM station in Northern California. Having experienced more than 150 cruises and traveled worldwide; Liesure Larry shares his knowledge with savvy travelers looking to maximize their travel dollar. Visit Larry’s blog for more travel tips: http://blog.travelthemesanddreams.com/