A Beginner’s Guide To Picking A Cruise Line

So you think you want to take a cruise?

First, let me just say that you’ll likely love it. I’ve been cruising for more than 25 years, on just about every line that’s out there, and I can tell you it’s a wonderful way to travel.

It’s not for everyone, of course. There are plenty of people who have tried it once or twice and just aren’t fans. There also are plenty of Never Cruisers out there — people who, for various reasons, wouldn’t even think of getting on a ship for a vacation.

Determine The Type Of Itinerary And Experience You Want

"The most important factor for travelers who don't consider themselves typical cruisers is to pay very close attention to the itineraries that intrigue you. Is your ship calling in huge ports that attract megaships or does it focus more on smaller, harder-to-reach places?" Brown says. "Typically the smaller ships tend to offer more in-depth opportunities for exploring, and by smaller we mean about 1,200 passengers – or less," she adds. She also suggests checking out itineraries that offer ample time at port and overnight stays to experience the local dining and nightlife scenes.

"Don't limit yourself to oceans and seas. There are also river cruises – say, on the Rhine in Germany or the Seine in France or along the Danube through four or five different European countries," Perrin says. "River ships are much smaller than most ocean ships – they carry about 160 passengers, as opposed to 2,500 or more – so they're easy to adjust to and you needn’t worry about any rocking motion," she explains.

Age Limits Aboard Cruise Ships

It’s important to note that no cruise line except Europe's Costa Cruises accepts babies younger than 6 months of age on board, and some set the limit at 1 year. And if you’re considering a luxury cruise or expedition ship, know that many don’t allow children under the age of 14.

Special Interest Cruisers

Pursuing your passions (and hobbies) while on vacation can make that holiday much more fun. Cruise lines know this, and so a number are creating "specialty" cruises, partnering with outside companies to do so. That might mean a heavy metal music cruise with performances by people you admire; a bridge tournament sailing; or a cruise for people interested in scrapbooking, politics, or cooking. The types of specialty cruises seem to grow each month.

Aren't All Cruise Lines The Same?

Not exactly. With all cruise lines, on both their big ships and small ships, you can always expect a high-quality experience and top-notch customer service. While cruise lines all offer slightly different things, you’d still expect them to give you fantastic experience on ships that are very well maintained.

But that’s pretty much where the definite similarities end, as it’s rare for one ship to try and cater to all different age ranges and personality types. While most cruises are open to everyone, it’s a good idea to look a little deeper to find one that is ideal for you.

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