There are many ways of choosing a cruise, such as following in the footsteps of friends who are just back from a trip that stirred their passions, but as a veteran of 200 sailings, let me tell you the best way: go to a professional who knows the business such as a cruise specialist at Air Canada Vacations or a travel agency.
They know what’s out there, and they want to sell you a vacation that you will love. Why? Because they want you to come back with a smile on your face and give them more business. It’s as simple as that.
But first, think about where you want to go and when. There are a lot of choices, with dozens of ships of all sizes, at vastly different price levels and offering something for everyone.
For starters, who’s going? Some ships are better for couples, others suit children, while a few specialize in weddings with the captain doing the honours. Ships are great for families, sometimes several generations, who will have their own spaces, but can get together easily, such as for dinner.
Yes, meals are served on board (the understatement of the year) but you don’t have to put on weight because the newer vessels have fabulous spas and tremendous gyms to help you stay in shape. In fact, spas have become a very important part of cruising.
Sports fans who choose the right ship are well catered to with live, big-screen showings of top games, while I know from experience that Carnival Cruise Lines has a big golf program with rental clubs and shoes on board.
And if you want nightlife, Royal Caribbean International will find a way to keep you up all night.
Fact is, modern cruise ships are floating resorts. But why not see some of the world at the same time? There are epic destinations out there. A Mediterranean cruise, for example, can let you spend a night out in Monte Carlo or a day exploring Tuscany. In Spain, visit the Alhambra in Granada, while a Baltic cruise is the easy way to get to the treasures of St. Petersburg.
Closer to home, there’s the colonial charm of Bermuda, diving in the Bahamas, the thrill of a Panama Canal transit and ships that will let you go down the gangway to the beat of the samba. And almost anywhere, you can go shopping!
Be prepared to find the experience of cruising addictive, so regard your first trip as base camp. You might start with a honeymoon cruise to a faraway place, enjoy fun getaways in the Caribbean, and one day take the kids on a Disney cruise.
I’d start with a short cruise, say a week, and nothing too complicated. If you’re close to the east coast, choose a sailing out of Miami or thereabouts. Westerners might want a sailing from Los Angeles or Hawaii.
And while the big, new ships are so stable you hardly know you’re moving, if in doubt, ask for a cabin in the middle of the ship and on a lower deck. It will likely be cheaper too, and nothing wrong with that!
By David Wishart, who likes to write about cruises, and has taken more than 200 of them.