Cruise Vacations – A Complete Guide to Choosing and Planning Your Cruise

Cruise Vacations – A Complete Guide to Choosing and Planning Your Cruise

Whether you’re a first-time cruiser or a seasoned traveler, this complete guide will help you plan a memory-maxing journey. Learn how to select the right cabin and itinerary to fit your budget and style.

You’ll also find out what extra costs—excursions, spa treatments and specialty dining, for example—to expect and how to factor them into your budget.

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Cruise vacations can be a great value. Your fare includes lodging, food and a wealth of entertainment and onboard amenities. But, like any travel option, there are additional costs. It is important to determine your budget at the beginning of the planning process, and consider the possibility that a few extra expenses may creep in during your trip.

Some of these expenses might include alcoholic beverages, specialty dining, internet access and gratuities. Fortunately, most of these extras can be avoided by planning ahead. Aside from avoiding the temptation to purchase unnecessary souvenirs, you might be able to save money by purchasing Wi-Fi minutes or packages before the cruise, a soda package if you’re a frequent drinker and shore excursions or other activities ahead of time. These savings can make a huge difference in your final bill and can help prevent bill shock that can derail an otherwise fabulous cruise vacation. Pre-booking can also help you secure reservations for popular activities or dining options that may be limited in availability once onboard the ship.


The choice of destination is an important part of the decision to cruise. Whether you’re craving Caribbean sunshine and sand, an enriching trip around the Mediterranean or have Alaska on your bucket list, there’s a cruise out there to match your interests.

The itinerary also affects what’s included in your cruise fare. Some alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, specialty dining and spa treatments are extra. Also, your cruise line may automatically add gratuities to your final bill.

You’ll need to consider additional logistical items as well, such as arranging for someone to watch your children or pets. You’ll also need to ask your post office to hold your mail and update your data plan with your cell phone service provider before the trip. Finally, you’ll need to make sure you have the proper travel documents, such as passports and visas. This will make the difference between a smooth sailing and one that is fraught with delays or even cancellations.


A cruise ship is more than a mode of transportation; it’s a floating resort. Your cruise fare usually includes lodging, food and entertainment. On some cruises, the price also covers gratuities.

Your budget and destination choices may affect your choice of ship. If you’re a first-time cruiser, for example, you might consider shorter two- to five-day trips to the Caribbean from ports all along the U.S. East Coast and the West Coast or to Mexico from Florida or Texas.

If you prefer cool weather cruising, think about a fall trip to Canada and New England (Princess has been a leader in this category for years), or a winter cruise to Alaska’s glaciers and fjords (also pioneered by Princess and Holland America). You may want to learn something while on vacation — a goal that’s easily accomplished on some exotic cruises featuring lectures by experts such as historians and geographers. You can also sign up for enrichment classes on many ships.


Cruises offer incredible value, especially when you book through a trusted travel agent. Your agent can advocate on your behalf should anything go wrong during your sailing and may be able to unlock add-ons like beverage and dining packages, Voom(r) high speed internet and amazing experiences not included in your cruise fare like a day of VitalitySM Spa pampering, a behind-the-scenes tour of the ship’s galley followed by brunch or VIP seating at shows.

For example, consider starting or ending your family’s cruise in Galveston where thrills abound at the Historic Pleasure Pier, the water park brilliance of Schlitterbahn and the tasty food of Café du Monde. Or, discover the mystical beauty of New Orleans with an Audubon Zoo visit, a spooky all-ages walking tour of the French Quarter and swamp tours that take you in close proximity to the wild crocodiles of Louisiana.

Nicolas Vaughan

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