5 tips for choosing the best cruise

Whether you are celebrating a milestone anniversary, planning a family vacation, or traveling with a group of extended family or friends, cruises offer something special for everyone. Cruises are also more affordable than ever.

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  • Whether you are celebrating a milestone anniversary, planning a family vacation, or traveling with a group of extended family or friends, cruises offer something special for everyone. Cruises are also more affordable than ever. It is not unusual to find cruise deals that include lodging, dining and entertainment for less than $100 per person, per day. Many people are "hooked" after their first cruise and return to their favorite cruise lines year after year.

  • However, not every cruise is right for everyone. Here are five tips for finding the right cruise for you.

  • 1. Itineraries

  • Where do you want to go? Does the white sand of Caribbean beaches or the dramatic scenery of Alaska appeal to you? How about a cruise through the Mediterranean or Baltic Seas of Europe? Adventurous travelers can even find cruises to the Galapagos Islands or Antarctica. Once you answer this question, your range of options will narrow considerably.

  • Don't forget to add the cost of flights and hotel rooms to the cost of a cruise. A 7-night Caribbean cruise from Miami may cost hundreds of dollars less than an Alaskan cruise from Seattle, but if you live in the Western U.S. and will spend a full day flying to Florida plus book a hotel room the night before departure, the cost of a short flight to Washington may level the playing field.

  • 2. Scheduling

  • Travelers with flexible schedules will find more options and bargains than those who choose to travel on specific dates. Caribbean cruises are available year-round but are more expensive in the summer than in the spring or fall. Alaskan and Balkan cruises are only available during the summer and will be more expensive in July and August than in June or September.

  • 3. Cost

  • As with most things in life, you will get what you pay for on a cruise. Travelers seeking the lowest price will probably be delighted with budget cruise lines, such as Carnival and Norwegian. Both offer a lot for the price. For travelers who prefer luxury and are willing to pay for it, lines such as Crystal and Silversea offer better quality service, food and amenities. Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Princess, Disney, Holland America and others fall somewhere in-between, offering travelers ample opportunity to find the level of luxury they prefer.

  • 4. Personality

  • Most cruise lines try to offer something for everyone, but ultimately some lines are more beloved by mature cruisers while others are preferred by younger travellers and families. On our last cruise, we met a young married couple who described themselves as "old-at-heart" because they liked the quieter, sophisticated style of cruise lines such as Celebrity, Princess or Holland America. Energetic travelers and families may prefer the kids clubs, rock climbing walls, cartoon characters and even hairy-chest contests on Royal Caribbean, Carnival or Norwegian.

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  • On traditional cruises, passengers dress up for dinner and dine at the same table, with the same dining companions and waiters, at the same time every evening. It's an elegant experience and a fun way to meet new people. If traveling with a group of family and friends, an assigned table and time is a convenient way to be sure you'll meet each day to swap cruise stories. However, this style of dining is not for everyone and several cruise lines now offer guests the option of dressing casually, arriving at any time and sitting at a different table, (even a table for two) every evening. If you fall into the latter category, be sure to choose a cruise line, such as Norwegian or Celebrity, that offers a nontraditional dining plan.

  • 5. Consider using a travel agent

  • The details of booking flights, hotels, and transportation, in addition to the cruise itself, can be confusing and overwhelming. When in doubt, don't hesitate to call a travel agent. Travel agencies usually offer competitive prices. Despite the added costs of convenience and customer service, they provide expertise and access to deals that will save you money. Travel agents often have personal experience with specific cruise lines and ports-of-call. A reputable agent will have the advice you need to plan your perfect cruise vacation.

  • Many resources exist to help travelers research cruise lines, ships and itineraries. Sites, such as expedia.com and travelocity.com, or the individual cruise line websites, are good places to find pricing, itineraries and reviews. Cruisecritic.com is a great place to find detailed reviews and information on every aspect of cruising. Find detailed information on ports-of-call at tripadvisor.com or published travel guides from your local library or book store.

  • Finding the right cruise may take time and effort, but it also part of the fun of planning a special and memorable vacation.

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Allison Laypath is an expert on family travel and author of the family travel blog. With her family, Allison especially enjoys road trips, national parks and local field trips. 

Website: http://www.tipsforfamilytrips.com

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