According to ABC News, 16 million Americans took a cruise vacation in 2006. Even more are estimated to travel in 2007. Cruise travel is relaxing, stress-free, scenic, and offers activities for vacationers with a wide variety of interests. But, how do you pick the cruise line that's right for you? Consider the following:
- Set a budget. Before you make a call to your travel agent or visit that cruise company website, determine how much money you can spend on your cruise vacation. Cruises come in different price ranges, just like other vacation options. The least expensive voyages are the three- and four-night cruises that depart from South Florida and Southern California. If you've never cruised before or if you only have a little time or money to spend, one of these could be the right cruise for you.
Longer cruises and those that begin in overseas ports are more expensive than seven-night cruises from the United States. Also, some lines, such as Crystal Cruises and Seabourn, offer pricier, more deluxe cruises with fewer passengers, more elegantly appointed staterooms and more complementary extras.
- Determine your destination. Although you could argue that the ship is truly the destination on a cruise, most vacationers choose a cruise based on the ports the ship will be visiting. Some lines specialize in a particular destination. Holland America and Princess Cruises are the recognized leaders in Alaska cruising; Royal Caribbean and Carnival are known for their Caribbean cruises; and Norwegian Cruise Lines offers regular cruises to Bermuda during the spring, summer and fall.
- Examine your interests. Cruise lines vary somewhat in the activities they emphasize. Carnival Cruises is known for its vibrant nightlife; Crystal Cruises is known for its lecturers and special-interest cruises; and Disney Cruise Line, of course, is known for its family magic. Defining the type of cruise you are seeking will help you pinpoint the right cruise line for you.
- Visit the CLIA Web site. The Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) is the world's largest cruise organization, designed to promote cruising to North American passengers. Their web site contains a wealth of information to help potential cruisers choose the sailing and cruise line that's right for them. Among their resources are cruise ship profiles, destination profiles, and a blog about what's new in the cruise industry. They will even give you a list of cruise agents located near you.
- Enlist the aid of a travel agent. A good travel agent can be invaluable in searching for the right cruise at the right price. Because she works with cruise travel on a daily basis, a travel agent will be able to identify cruise specials as soon as they become available. Look for an agent that specializes in cruise travel and/or a CLIA-certified agent.
Taking some time to choose the cruise line that best matches your budget, interest, and lifestyle will go a long way to ensuring that you and your family have an enjoyable cruise vacation.