Cruises are more popular today than at any point in the last 20 years, according to recent figures from the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).
If you’re a first-time cruiser, it’s possible you don’t know where to start. Similarly, if you’ve had some time away from the seas, you may need a refresher on what’s actually important when it comes to booking a cruise.
Here, we’ve listed what is essentially a tickbox checklist of factors that can make or break your cruise holiday if not properly considered.
How long should you go on your cruise for? Is a week too short? Is two weeks too much?
Without having been on a cruise before, it may be tough to gauge just how many nights is right for you and perhaps the best way is to apply the same logic as if you were going to a dry-land resort. If you usually go for a week, then in the first instance, adopting the same approach seems wise.
How many port destinations should I include and which should I choose?
This sort of depends on how the duration of your cruise. The longer the cruise, the more countries you’ll be able to visit.
A seven-night cruise will generally allow enough time to visit four Mediterranean countries: Spain, France, Italy, Malta, with five stop-offs. However, opt for 11 nights and you can include Greece or Morocco there too and eight stops.
You won’t be able to choose exactly which destinations your ship visits because a ship’s itinerary is pre-decided but you do have the option of choosing between different ships and picking one that stops off at places that take your fancy.
How can I plan my itinerary?
You might not have much control over when exactly the ship pulls into port destinations but how you spend the rest of the time on land and at sea is entirely up to you.
The MSC For Me smartphone app is a very effective way of planning your time. It pulls together 6,000 points of connectivity, 700 digital access points, 358 informative and interactive screens, and 2,244 cabins around the ship to let guests place reservations and organise their time on board.
Guests can book services, restaurants, excursions and tickets conveniently from their mobile device. The app also features a smart maps-esque function that helps guests find their way about the ship.
Available initially on MSC Meraviglia, the service will be rolled out onto other MSC ships soon.
Where should I embark from?
If you’re dead-set on embarking from the UK, then it has to be Southampton. However, you can depart from almost 40 other ports, in European countries such as France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Portugal and Denmark.
There’s also the option to embark from places further afield like Abu Dhabi, Cape Town, Barbados, Argentina, Mexico, Cuba, the United States and Japan.
What kind of packages and extras should I add?
Every guest aboard an MSC Cruises ship would probably need a drinks package of some sort.
Rather than pay for drinks with cash like you would if you were down at the local pub, you can pay for an all-inclusive drinks package.
These can include water and soft drinks, as well as various alcoholic beverages.
For those who like to keep updated with what else is going on in the world, an internet package will be essential.
There are three packages, catering for three different levels of usage, from the casual Facebook user to the heavy-going YouTube streamer.
Any guests celebrating a special occasion such as a honeymoon, anniversary or birthday, there are myriad packages available of varying extravagance to ensure it is a time to remember.
When is the best time to book my cruise?
While flights and hotels dip and peak at certain times of the year, that isn’t really the case with cruises and as it stands, there isn’t a one size fits all rule for working out when your cruise fare will be the lowest.
Perhaps a more appropriate question would be whether to book early or leave it late?
Book well in advance and you’ll have the pick of the ship regarding accommodation and where you stay.
What can and should I bring on the cruise?
Much of what you’ll need will likely be readily available on board, but it should go without saying that you could bring along any medication you’re currently taking and enough to comfortably last you the trip. Some medication may also require a referral note from a doctor.
Clothing is an important one, as dress codes come in force during certain times. In the day, you’ll be fine in relaxed casual wear. However, guests will be required to don formal wear (a tux for gents and a gown for ladies) for gala nights.
Certain countries - especially those of a religious nature - will call for more reserved and modest clothing, so make sure you’re able to cover up when necessary.
Bring a few different types of footwear too, such as comfortable walking shoes, casual slip-ons and smart evening shoes.
A camera and maybe some compact binoculars are also a good call.
Who should I go with?
Who do you want to go with? Close friends, casual acquaintances, siblings, parents, offspring, your next door neighbours? Chances are if you know you’ll enjoy seeing them every day for a week solid then they’ll make for worthy cruise companions.
Apply the same rule as if you were going on a regular dry-land holiday, and it’s highly likely you can’t go wrong.