Cruising Special: What's the right cruise for me?

  • © Marco Polo Travel Magazine


Every year, over 1.7 million Brits book a cruise – and figures are rising. Let Marco Polo help you choose the right cruise for you:


These days, there's a ship somewhere for absolutely every taste – you just have to find it. And the matching route of course. Whereas cruise ships used to constantly change routes and were able to make it (halfway) around the world in a year, today's ships will often follow the US example and repeat the same routes every week or every other week, ending in the same port they left from. And that's the case nearly everywhere on the globe, as long as the weather plays ball – business clusters in the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, the North and Baltic Seas, and lately also in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea.


Prices rise from the inside to the outside

Those plumping for a cruise for the first time are spoilt for choice – and it's not a good idea to let yourself be guided by the price alone. Every company has special offers, and bargains are available in any category. However, irresistible-sounding offers of the '£399 per week full-board' variety are usually for inside cabins. These are the cheapest options and are windowless cabins on the wrong side of the corridor, followed by outside cabins with blocked views, because a lifeboat is dangling outside your window for instance, or the window points towards the promenade deck, so that anybody taking a wander on deck can look in.

The most expensive options are outside cabins with a balcony. However, warning bells should go off in your head when you see the two words 'French Balcony'. This fine phrase usually hides a window as high as the room which you can open, French door style – however, instead of a real balcony with a deckchair all you get is a railing, right behind the pane. Passage prices are also dependent on the size of the cabin and the number of beds. Some great-looking deals apply to inside cabins with four passengers sharing – and work out a lot more expensive when used by only two people.

Here's the good news: many companies offer early-bird booking discounts offering exceedingly attractive conditions compared to traditional package tours. Often there are additional benefits such as vouchers for shore trips or onboard credit for bar drinks or casino chips. Cruise ships often operate a full-board policy, meaning that every meal, down to the afternoon cake and the big midnight buffet are already included in the fare, while drinks cost extra.


Sometimes coffee, tea and water are included in the price, in other cases all non-alcoholic drinks, in yet others table drinks such as selected wines and beer. There are also plenty of all-inclusive deals. So look carefully when comparing prices. American companies in particular have taken their cue from budget airlines' trick of separating out services from the original package of transport and catering and sell them for a fee. Some companies then offer, for instance, the option to purchase specific beverage packages on top of the price for the trip. It has to be said that packages like this are still cheaper than paying for every single drink on board separately.


What is a fair price for a decent cruise?

When looking for the right ship - and an acceptable price - the rule of thumb is to calculate the accommodation price of a hotel on dry land you like and where you could see yourself staying. Add the rough costs for eating at a restaurant, again of the desired quality, including starters, main courses and dessert plus dinner drinks. Don't include anything for the use of the swimming pool, nada for admission to the evening show, and zilch for the cinema – and what you end up with is the fair average day rate for a cruise aboard a ship in your category. Considering the services included this will rarely be below £85 – and may easily add up to several times more.


The next question you should ask yourself is: am I someone who likes the hustle and bustle and enjoys socialising, as well as plenty of entertainment? Then you will be happy aboard a ship following the American concept of the 'Fun Ships' with giant water slides and a large casino – such as Carnival Cruises. If you're bringing the children or if it was your childhood dream to shake the hands of Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse on a sea voyage, you might want to choose a Disney Cruise Line trip. If you'd rather tone things down a notch or two, Royal Caribbean could be the right cruise line for you. If you stand by a certain quality and sophistication, more calm and more style, a Cunard liner could be your best choice.   


Quick check: 5 questions, 5 answers for cruise newbies  


Why are cruises so cheap?

This is only the case at first glance. Those very attractive publicised prices often apply to inside cabins only available on selected dates. In 2012, many cruise companies had problems filling their ships following the Costa Concordia disaster. The market has now recuperated, demand is rising – reducing the companies' need to create discount offers.  


How many categories of cabin are there?

That varies from company to company and from one ship to another. Often you can choose between eight and twelve different categories – colour-coded on the individual ship's deck layout in the catalogues or on the websites. The cheapest options are inside cabins sleeping several people, the most expensive are outside cabins with balcony or – if available – suites, some of which stretch across two floors.


How can it be that I booked full board and still have to pay extra for my food?

Generally speaking, meals are included, and nearly all ships offer a choice of several restaurants. More recent and larger ships especially now boast one or two particularly fine restaurants. If you want to take your meal there you have to pay an upgrade fee. Meaning your full-board regime, while taken into account, is not sufficient.  


What do I have to pay extra for?

Again, this varies from one ship to another, and from one concept to another. Generally speaking you can assume that massages and on-board spa treatment will incur extra costs – but also internet use and shore trips.    


What's the deal with tips on ships?

Some companies charge each passenger a fixed daily rate as an obligatory tip, and debit the amount off your credit card at the end. The only way to avoid this is to specifically insist that you don't want to pay this just before the end of the trip. However, on US ships tips make up part of the service crew's salary. Other companies place prepared envelopes in the cabins on the second-but-last day where you can put tips at your discretion. Yet others emphasise that all tips are included in the package. If you're particularly happy with the service, nothing's to stop you from giving a tip anyway. 


Taken from the Marco Polo Travel Magazine 



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