If you are a first time cruiser you are bound to have questions. We all did. Here are some tips to help you make some important decisions for you first cruise.
Cruise lines: how do you choose? The best way to do that is based on who is going. For a family I recommend Royal Caribbean, hands down they are the cruise line that will have something for all ages. Are you traveling in a group? Where does everyone want to go? Itinerary is probably most important. Do some research and decide where you want to go based on what time of year you are planning to travel. If you are going as couple you should probably choose based on your age and what the cruise line has to offer as far as activities. Do you want a nice spa with a thermal suite? Do you want a cruise that has cooking or wine classes? Do you like to go dancing at night? These are all things to research for you trip. Staterooms: how do you choose a stateroom? Now I know everyone says they are not going to spend a lot of time in their room so who cares what kind they get? I care! I am sorry but for me I am not going to enjoy cruising in a closet. No windows, no balcony, really? I do not think so. You are on the ocean and you want to see it. And you do not want to see it necessarily squished up against strangers. If you are going to cruise you should feel, hear and smell the ocean breeze. It is part of the experience. For me nothing less than a balcony will do. If you are traveling with kids, spring for the closet across the way to put them in. It will do wonders for your relationship. Trust me.
Shore Excursions: do you or do not you go on them while you are on your cruise. Well here is the thing, shore excursions over all are a great adventure. I am not saying that they always end up perfect or go the way you plan but more than likely either way you will have some stories to tell when you get home. Honestly for every cruise I have been on when I have done shore adventures, that cruise was better. Walking around the town and shopping is okay but a shore excursion will make you feel like you are part of the culture. You are learning something you would not if you just walked around and shopped. I am not saying do one in every port. Just most ports. Take a break and walk around the town of the port that has the best shopping. Do some research. See what everyone else liked doing there. Take an excursion. Have an adventure.
Dining: Lots of people want to know early, late or my time dining? Which is best? Well in all honesty it is different for every cruise and for every person. Early is great if you do not have a lot of late port stops or you plan to get back on the ship by 3 or 4. Also if you want to catch the early night show and do some of the other night life such as dancing or the piano bar, start early. Late is good if you are going to be in port late and are going to be just going to the show and going to bed because you are going to be up early to go into port. Now the difference between my time and traditional is a little bit of a different question. If you like meeting new people at dinner and dining with them for the rest of your cruise. Traditional is the way to go. The thing with My Time Dining is you may have to wait. If you are not traveling with a large group and you just want to eat when you want for the whole cruise My time dining is the way to go. If you are with a group but you want a different time than the traditional dining My Time is a great option. Make a reservation for your group first thing in the morning so you do not have a long wait.
I am going to give you a bit of a trick to My Time Dining with a group. You do not have to make a reservation everyday. The first full day on your cruise call to make your reservation for My Time Dining when they open in the morning. When you go to dinner that night if you like your table, your wait staff and the time you are eating go to the Maitre 'd before you leave and tell him how much you loved it and ask if you can keep that table and time for the rest of the cruise. He will do it for you and you do not have to think about it again. If you did not care for it, do it again the next night and if it is better keep it!
My last big tip for first time cruisers is this, use a travel agent! You knew that was coming, right? I know I have a bias opinion because I am one but here is the thing, we are an underused resource. Travel Agent services are free. We travel, a lot. We have knowledge of the itinerary, cruise lines, ships, shore excursions and ports. I do hours of research for my clients to make sure they get the vacation of their dreams. I want you to come back happy, relaxed and wanting to take another vacation! All the questions you have can be answered with a phone call. You can tell your travel agent where you want to go and then go back to what your were doing.
The last tip: Enjoy your cruise!