Many people are choosing to cruise as their choice of vacations these days. It can be intimidating both for the new cruiser and the experienced cruiser however to book a cruise and then actually go on the cruise as there can be many differences between cruise lines and their policies/procedures. I ran into this twice this year cruising on Celebrity and Norwegian cruise lines because I have cruised with Disney so many times, I just wasn’t sure about some things.
This blog will address many of the questions you may have regarding choosing a cruise, planning for the cruise, once onboard the cruise and disembarkation after the cruise. The blog will be continued over a few days as there is so much information I don’t want to overwhelm you. Once the topic has been covered, I will be including a link to our website with all the information there. This will allow you to search for particular topics and allow us to update the information as necessary. Please post questions that you may have so that we can answer them as well.
Booking the right cruise
Here is where the experience of a travel agent can help with selecting a cruise. There are many cruise lines, itineraries and ships to choose from. Some may not be right for you. You need to consider many factors.
- Where do you want to cruise from?
- Where do you want to cruise to?
- Do you have specific dates in mind? If so, do you have flexibility?
- How formal/casual do you want the cruise to be?
- How much do you want included in the cost (totally inclusive, mostly inclusive, pay for what you want)?
- How much is your budget?
Next you need to figure out the order of importance for each of these questions. For instance, if you want to cruise out of San Diego, but you want to do a Canadian/New England Cruise and you want to go in January, this can’t happen. You’ll need to set your priorities/what is most important to you and go from there.
Another thing to consider is that you cannot simply say you only want to go on a Contemporary cruise line when in your mind you are saying that because you figure the price is lower. It is better to use a dollar figure and be clear if the figure includes everything or just the cruise fare. There are a number of things that can cost you more on a cruise. You need to check to be sure that you understand what is included. If cost is your primary focus, you’ll need to know this to be sure you are comparing apples to apples. Things that may or may not be included in pricing are gratuities, beverages, shore excursions, spa reservations, merchandise, specialty restaurants, room service, photos.
Once you have selected a cruise line, itinerary and ship, the next consideration is the type of room you want. Many people say that they only want a place to sleep so it doesn’t matter. You should consider if you would be happy in a room without a window. For some this is not an issue, for others, it could be. You’ll want to make sure that you book the category of room that you will be happy with. Yes, cruise lines do offer complementary upgrades at times, but this cannot be guaranteed. If you book an inside room that you will not be happy with and don’t get an upgrade, you will not enjoy your cruise as much. The next category would be an ocean view room. This will offer some sort of window in the room. These windows do not usually open, but will give you a view outside. Some of these may be small porthole windows and some may be large picture windows.
The next category usually available is a balcony room. These rooms will have a deck outside of your room where you can sit outside and enjoy the water passing by. Some of the Royal Caribbean ships have a new category called a courtyard view. This room has a window that doesn’t look over the ocean, but rather looks over the interior courtyard of the ship.
If you are looking for more luxury, you will want to consider a concierge level room or suite. Some of these will offer spa amenities with the room, champagne or fresh fruits, flowers, concierge services, or even butler service. These rooms can be the size of a standard balcony stateroom up to a large multi-room complex (some are more than 2000 square feet!).
Once you have decided all this it’s time to book! We of course recommend you use a travel agent that is an expert with the various cruise lines to be able to give you the most information and assistance with your booking. Travel agents however are not created equal. In general, cruise lines do not allow travel agents to reduce its prices. Therefore, you will want to find a travel agent that is up on the current promotions with the cruise lines to get you the best offer available. You will also want to check out what value added services are offered by the travel agent. Many will offer onboard credits for booking with them. This is a great deal, but shouldn’t be the only consideration. If you are getting a large onboard credit, you may not be getting the best service possible. Keep in mind that the travel agents are using a portion of their commission to pay for your onboard credit. You will want to make sure that the agent you are using is well versed with the policies and procedures for the cruise line you are booking. You never know when something may go wrong with your plans so you will want someone who understands what to do in every situation. They may not have experienced every situation, but they know what to do or at least who to contact for every situation. You will also want to have an agent that you can reach in an emergency. Email isn’t always available if you don’t have a smart phone so you will want someone that you can call if a problem arises.
Most cruise lines will give you a courtesy hold for a period of 1-5 days to make a deposit. The exception to this will be if your arrival is within a certain number of days prior to the cruise in which case they will expect full payment. Cruise lines vary in what they require for the booking. Some require your age at the time of travel while others require your date of birth. Your address and phone number are always needed either by the cruise line or your travel agent. Make sure your travel agent has a number that you can be reached at when you are traveling as well.
Things to decide at the time of booking include whether or not you want insurance, dining times, table size and bed set up. We’ll cover these decisions more in a bit, except for bed set up. This mainly means do you want the main beds set up as a queen bed or as two twin beds. Many of the rooms will have this option, but not always. On the Disney Dream, they are reporting that the queen beds will not be able to be split as they are on the other ships.
Group Space is offered by many cruise lines. This usually starts at 8 staterooms (double occupancy). Some cruise lines will offer a “group discount” price. Many times you can also get a group amenity when you have at least 8 staterooms. This could be an extra onboard credit, bottle of wine, onboard reception or any number of things, depending on the number of “points” assigned by the cruise line for the group space. Some cruise lines require a small deposit on the rooms until you are able to put the names down, otherwise will allow the travel agent to hold space without a payment until much closer to the cruise. You’ll want to use a travel agent that knows the group procedures for the cruise lines you are considering. Group space is not the same on all cruise lines. I definitely have a short list of cruise lines that have the best group policies.
Cancelation and Payment Policies
Before you book, you will want to be familiar with the cancelation policy for the cruise you are booking. Some will vary depending on the itinerary booked. Most rooms will have a date by which you need to cancel in order to get a full refund. You will want to know what date this is (many times it is the final payment date, but that too can vary). You’ll also want to know if you add insurance prior to the final payment date if that is refundable should you have to cancel. Some exceptions to this would be for suites or concierge rooms. Many times the deposits on these are non-refundable though you can sometimes switch dates or even categories without losing the deposit (however, they will still be non-refundable if you cancel later). Most date changes will need to be made before the cancelation penalties start.
Payments start with the deposit which is either a percentage of the cruise fare or a set dollar amount per person. After the deposit, many cruises will not require additional interim payments and will just have a final payment date at which time the balance is due. If payment is not received by this deadline, you may not be able to get an extension and your reservation could cancel. The penalties that would set in at this time would be taken from the amounts you have paid and the remainder (if any) refunded to you. This is a date you absolutely do not want to miss. Longer cruises and some of the luxury lines will require interim payments. Again it is important not to miss any of these deadlines. Some of the cruise lines do not give you any leeway with the deadlines.
I have blogged about insurance before. I feel it is important when you are traveling out of the country. The expense just to get you off the ship and home if there is a medical emergency can be incredibly high. This really is a personal decision though. Some cruise lines are now offering a “cancel for any reason” provision either with the insurance they are offering or in conjunction with the insurance they offer. This means if you need to cancel the cruise for a non-covered reason and you are within the penalty period, there will be some concessions. On Disney Cruise Lines, once the insurance company has denied your claim, you will have the ability to apply the penalty portion to a future sail date (not including the insurance cost). On Celebrity this amount is 75% of the penalty portion.
Many of the policies offered through the cruise lines do not allow for coverage in the case of a pre-existing condition. The cruise lines that offer a “cancel for any reason” provision will still have you covered at least partially, but otherwise, you will want to know when the coverage takes effect (in many cases it’s when the final payment is made) and what will be covered. Otherwise, you may want to look at independent travel insurance.
A good place to start for this insurance is www.insuremytrip.com. They will ask you a few questions about the trip and then give you quotes from a number of different companies. This will give you a chance to compare policies and find the one that fits your needs. Using an independent company can also be a good idea when you are combining a number of activities together. Let’s say you are doing back to back cruises with a pre and post stay. Booking through the cruise line you will need two policies (one for each cruise) and this likely will not cover your pre or post stay. With an independent contract, you can combine your entire trip together in one policy.
If you do want to be covered for any pre-existing conditions and are purchasing an independent policy, you will want to look into this very soon after the deposit is made on the cruise. Some will waive the pre-existing clause if you add within a certain number of days after the deposit is paid. The problem with an independent policy or any policy that is non-refundable once it is added to the cruise package is that if you change your date, you may very well have to pay for insurance coverage again.
Stay tuned for Getting to the Port, Dining Times, Documentation, Itinerary Changes, your Typical first day onboard, and more!!