Friday, February 14, 2014

Cruising 101 - Booking Your Cruise


It's time to talk about cruising again!
Even though we don't currently have one booked, a cruise is never far from my mind.

So far in my Cruising 101 Series, I've given you some enticing reasons why you should cruise.
We've talked about Brits and cruising. I've given you some basic things to consider when selecting a cruise.

Now that you're convinced that a cruise is for you and you've selected the perfect cruise,
it's time to take the big step of booking that cruise!

Cruising 101 Tips for Booking Your Cruise

There are a few things to consider when it's time to book that cruise. 


The first is should you use a travel agent or just book online?  

For my first cruise, I was booking for a family group of six and I was pretty clueless as to how it all worked.  A trusted travel agent that specialized in cruising was immensely helpful in figuring out all of the details.  She got us the best rates, made sure we took advantage of a last minute price drop and helped us with travel insurance.  I would recommend finding a Cruise Specialist with a really solid, word-of-mouth reputation and letting them help you out, especially with that first time booking. 

Another option is to book through a third party discount cruise website.  I've never actually tried this, but if the deal is right, you can check out the reputation of the company and you read the fine print, it might be a good option. 
 
Since that first cruise, I now book everything directly with the cruise line's website.  Once you are booked, you can log in to the passenger section of the website to complete all of your pre-cruise paperwork, find answers to frequently asked questions and get information about extras and excursions (which we will talk about next time.)  Between the booking and the cruise, there are often phone calls to customer service with various questions and I've had really good luck with the customer service.

When should you book?

If you've picked out your cruise, it's best to book as early as possible as they do often sell out.  (Last minute bookings are for people who can be a little more flexible and chase the bargains.)  Typically, a 10% deposit is required to book a cruise with payment in full about 90 days out.  The further out you book, the more time you have to make payments.  

Be sure to read the cancellation policy for any cruise that you book.  And consider cruise insurance, should anything go wrong with the booking.  Once I'm booked, I monitor the prices for any drops or deals that I might be able to take advantage of prior to the cruise.


You also have some very important decisions to make at the time of booking involving eating and sleeping.
Two of my favorite things to do on a cruise.


What time would you like to have dinner each night?

Many cruise lines offer two dinner seatings in the main dining room(s), early or late seating.  The nightly shows are scheduled around these seatings.  So you may eat first and then go check out the show or eat after the show.  It's purely a matter of personal preference.  We usually pick the late seating as it gives us time to get back on the ship after a long day in port with plenty of time to relax and get ready for dinner.  If you don't get the seating that you requested upon booking, or if you change your mind, a visit to the Maitre d' will often solve the problem.

Most cruise lines are also now offering a more flexible dining option where you select the time that is best for you.  Then you just reserve a table the night before.  We tried this on our Baltic Cruise and were happy with it.  Although, we did kind of miss having a set table, wait staff and companions for the entire cruise.  It's part of cruising that we really enjoy.  We are still in contact with dinner mates that we've met while cruising and we enjoy the social aspect of a scheduled dinner seating. 

Which cabin will be your home for the cruise?

There are basically four types of cabins:  inside cabin with no view, outside cabin with a view (window/porthole), outside cabin with a balcony or a suite.  I've never stayed in a suite, but I have stayed in the other three types.  Obviously, a balcony is always my first choice.  It just depends on the prices.

The Baltic Cruise that we went on was more expensive so we opted for an outside cabin with a window and were completely happy with that.  The inside cabins are the same size and just as nice, but you never know what's happening with the weather and sea conditions outside.  And I want to experience the ocean as much as possible on a cruise.  But, if that's what I can afford then that's what I'm taking.

Each cruise ship then has a larger variety of cabin categories based on the room type, size and the deck where they are situated.  You can make a decision on the category of cabin that you want and book a "Guarantee."  This means that you will at least get a room in that category (or you may even get really lucky and get an upgrade.)  But, the cruise line will select the location of your cabin and you don't have any say in where you will end up on the ship.

This was the option that I picked for that first cruise.  I ended up in the very front tip of the ship at the lowest passenger level, which meant three things.  I really felt the movement of the ship.  I heard the constant loud smack of the water against the hull of the ship as it sliced through the water.  And each morning when we docked, I was awoken very early with the sound of the massive metal anchors sliding to to the seabed on their massive chains.  Do you know how long it takes them?  It seemed like forever.  Don't get me wrong, I had an amazing cruise.  But, since then, I've selected the actual cabin that I will be staying in for the cruise.  

I study the deck plans, compare pricing and book a specific cabin number.  I prefer to be mid-ship, mid-level which is where I feel the least movement.  (I've only experienced seasickness once during really rough seas, but I still prefer to be in a more stable area of the ship.)  I also look at the deck plans to see if I'm over or under a nightclub or dining room that might affect the noise levels.  And I chose a cabin that is close to a set of stairs and bank of elevators which makes getting around easier.  Some of those long hallways can seem endless.

We always use the cruise line website to book a specific cabin.  But, you can also do this if you book over the phone.   They will tell you which cabins are available and you can cross reference with the deck plans to make the right choice.  
If you go this route be sure to pay close attention to the details on the deck plan.  Does the room have an actual window or it just a porthole?  Is there an obstructed view?  Is it a family room with pull-down beds?  Is it adjoined with another room?  There is a chance that you could be asked to switch if there is another passenger that needs that specific type of cabin. 



 I guess, it all boils down to how much control you want to have.
(I've never denied having control issues.)
You can relax, make some basic decisions and just go with the flow.

Or you can do some research and make some more specific choices.  
 I'm a big researcher and I find that the more I know ahead of time,
the more relaxed I am during the actual cruise. 

If you are considering or planning a cruise, I can't recommend www.cruisecritic.com enough.
You can find out more than you will ever want to know about cruising.
You can even ask about a specific cabin on the forums to see if anyone can send you pictures.
It's been invaluable to us.  (They are in no way endorsing my recommendation,
I just really think it's a great website.)

My next post in the Cruising 101 Series will cover some of the extras that come along with a cruise
such as drinks packages and excursions.

I'm also going to put together a post of Best Tips.  So if you are a cruiser,
I would love to include your tips in that post.  Send me an email at selena_jones@me.com.

 
Do you have any tips or questions for booking a cruise?



7 comments:

  1. Great tips, Selena! No plans for a cruise in our future, but I pinned this just in case! :o)

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  2. This is AMAZING! I have never booked a cruise but I'm considering presenting one to hubs for November. This is way more than I even thought I would need to plan but I'm pretty OCD with travel plans in general so this sounds right up my alley :) thanks for the advice!!!

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  4. Jetlag and MayhemMarch 3, 2014 at 3:20 AM

    Great tips, thank you so much for this!

    ReplyDelete
  5. You are absolutely welcome! Thank you for reading and commenting :D

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  6. You are welcome, Debbie. You guys will love a cruise. So much fun!! Matt and I are getting antsy to plan another one soon.

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for commenting. I love to hear from you!