Take A Boat

By: David Pierce
So you’ve decided to set sail and spend your next vacation cruising in the lap of luxury on boats the size of small cities to exotic ports of call. Now, how do you decide which cruise to choose and where to go when the number of choices can be staggering? By being aware of a few simple guidelines and suggestions, you can narrow your choices down and find the perfect ship to the perfect destination.

First, decide how long you want to cruise for. A lengthy transatlantic voyage is obviously out of the question if you only have a long weekend to spare for your vacation. Cruises that last only three to four days are inexpensive, but you’ll only visit one or two ports. Plus, your fellow passengers are more likely to be of the youthful, partying variety. Week-long cruises are the most popular, are relatively inexpensive, and generally visit more ports of call. Seven days, however, can pass by very quickly, and your fellow passengers are still more likely to be partiers. Finally, cruises longer than seven days allow you to visit more ports of call in more exotic locations, such as South America or the Mediterranean, and you’ll be more relaxed with more sedate fellow passengers. Unfortunately, the amount of money and vacation time required can be cost-prohibitive. Knowing how much time you have to spend on a cruise necessarily narrows your choices of where you will be able to travel to. If more exotic locations do appeal to you but you have a shorter timeframe, you can always assess the viability of flying to your locale and then taking a three or four day cruise once you are there.

For example, cruising to an Asian country can be extremely expensive, but once you’re in China, a cruise down the Yangzhi is pretty reasonable.

Next, consider how much money you have to spend. There is a great deal of variability in prices, and you can constantly find great deals on the internet or through a travel agent. Just don’t forget to factor in port charges, cruise cancellation insurance, and airfare—if it’s not already included in the price of the cruise. Knowing your budget in conjunction with your timeline will help you narrow down your choices.

Time and money are not the only deciding factors. Other factors include whether you want to travel in the summer or in the winter, whether or not you want a cruise that will allow you to explore your hobbies, and how many ports you want to stop in. Nothing is more frustrating than being stuck at sea, while you know that you’re sailing past gorgeous, sun-drenched islands. Some destinations are easily accessible and actually more popular in the winter—the Caribbean, Mexico and the Panama Canal, for example—but travelers have to beware of hurricane season. Alaskan and European cruises, on the other hand, are typically not available in the winter.

In addition to money, time and itinerary, consider any possible preferences you might have for a particular cruise ship. While differences between the ships have narrowed over time, some are a bit more luxurious than others. Read evaluations of cruise ships online or in travel publications, interview acquaintances, or ask a travel agent.

Finally, once you have decided how much time you have, how much you want to spend, who you want to cruise with, and where you want to go, you will often face having to decide between very similar options. Let’s use, as an example, the Caribbean. How do you know whether you want to go East or West? What in the world is the difference? Both have sandy beaches, clear blue water, and plenty of sun; both offer a variety of water sports and opportunities for shopping; and both are located in practically the same place geographically. If you check out the time you spend at sea, however, the ports of call you visit, and the shore excursions offered, you will find slight differences between the two. Eastern Caribbean cruises usually set off from Florida, spend less time at sea, and hop from island to island, visiting places like Puerto Rice and St. Maarten. You will have more opportunities to shop and to enjoy the beach. Western Caribbean cruises, on the other, visit ports of call that are geographically farther apart, such as Cozumel and Jamaica. They depart not only from Florida but also from Texas and Louisiana, and they spend more time at sea. Shore excursions, however, are more unique than simple beachcomber activities, including opportunities to see Mayan Ruins and lush tropical rain forests.

In the end, remember that, with all of the options available for your next cruise, now is not the time to sacrifice what you really want—whether it’s the opportunity to have your hair braided in Nassau or whale watch in Alaska.

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