A cruise is a great way to relax and see some wonderful sights without having to worry about finding a hotel, a place for dinner, or even an evening's entertainment.
If you are considering taking to the waves for your next holiday, here are some of the things you should consider before you set sail.
Where to go
With so many seas and oceans in the world, there are plenty of cruise destinations to choose from. In Europe, the Mediterranean, Norwegian Fjords or the Baltic are well-served by cruise liners, while the Caribbean and Alaska are other popular destinations. There are also specialist cruises that can take you to more unusual places, like the Galapagos Islands, the Amazon, and even Antarctica, not to mention a round-the-world cruise. Repositioning cruises, where ships return, for instance, from the Caribbean to Europe for their summer services, are also available and can be a real bargain, as long as you don't mind a week spent crossing the Atlantic.
Cruises also vary in length, starting from a weekend break, so you will almost certainly be able to find a package that suits. If you are not a fan of flying, look for a cruise that begins and ends in the UK so you won't have to board an aircraft (or worry about booking flights) in order to get to your ship.
Just as the destinations vary greatly, so too do the ships themselves. A boutique ship may carry only 250 passengers, while the biggest liners can now carry anywhere up to 6,000 people. Similarly, they will vary in terms of standard of service, accommodation and luxury, with six star ships of the highest quality.
Known as 'staterooms', cruise lines usually offer four types of cabin. An inside cabin is the lowest grade, an outside cabin has the addition of a window or porthole, a balcony cabin does what it says on the tin, and a suite is also self-explanatory, and may come with dressing room, jacuzzi and even a butler service if you are prepared to pay a premium. However, no matter what cabin you pick, they are commonly equipped with bathroom, twin or double beds, storage, telephone, TV and a safe for your valuables.
Again, what is included in your fare price varies from cruise to cruise so it's important to know what you're getting for your money. For instance, an all-inclusive cruise will mean you can eat and drink for free, but many liners include speciality restaurants for which you'll need to pay a supplement. Excursions on shore are also sometimes included, but even where they are not, they can usually be pre-booked in advance and many cruise firms offer packages or discounts that can be added to your cabin account, so it's worth planning ahead.
The larger cruise liners come with entertainment, leisure facilities and other activities such as dance or cooker lessons, so find out as much as you can before you board so that you can make a plan that will mean you get the most out of the cruising experience.
And lastly, as a final note, make sure you know your stuff when it comes to the tipping policy. In some cases cash will be expected, but in others, service charges are automatically added to your onboard account. Finding out which could save you some embarrassment!
Have you been bitten by the cruise bug? What tips would you give to those who haven't tried it before? Leave your comments below...