Considering taking a cruise for your next vacation? You’re not alone. According to the Cruise Line Industry Association, 25.8 million people cruised in 2017. But with more than 50 cruise lines to choose from, each with its own personality, making the right choice presents a dizzying challenge, particularly if you’ve never cruised before.
“First-time passengers often have preconceived notions about what they will and won’t like,” said Carmen Roig, senior vice president of marketing and sales, Crystal Cruises. Research supports Roig’s experience: A recent study by CLIA indicated many services and activities clients deem important, such as child care, are underutilized, while onboard entertainment and shows, a deciding factor for only about 36 percent of passengers, see around 70 percent of a ship’s guests by the end of the cruise.
So what’s the best way to determine which cruise line is right for you? Experts say once you’ve decided on a budget and a destination, look through each line’s specific offerings to build a profile of what’s important and what’s not. Once you’ve narrowed your choices down to two or three lines, sit down with an experienced travel advisor who can fine-tune your notes with real-life experience. “A client recently booked herself in top-tier lodging in a middle-market cruise line,” said Sandra Sparks, advisor, Pro Travel International, a Virtuoso-affiliated agency located in Tarzana, California. “She’d assumed that her big suite would come with priority boarding, but it didn’t, and she was disappointed. A travel advisor would have known that and steered her to a different line.”
Michela Bisciglia, travel planner, Specialty Cruise and Villas, part of the Virtuoso network of travel agencies located in Gig Harbor, Washington, says determining where you land on the topic of inclusions — the activities and amenities included in the cruise fare — should be among the first things to consider in choosing a cruise line. “Some clients love the idea of not getting a bill at the end of their vacation or being able to join friends for a drink and not worry about who will pay the check at the end of the night,” she said. “Others feel like an all-inclusive cruise forces them to pay for everyone else’s splurges and activities. Once you add it all up, the cost is really about the same, so it really boils down to preference. Value is absolutely subjective.”
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