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How to Book Your First Cruise Vacation

Jan 15, 2008
Perhaps you've saved every dime for this day and now it's time to book that long awaited cruise vacation. Naturally, you're a bit edgy because this is your first time. You have probably sought advice from peers and travel agents.

Seeking recommendation from friends and agents is a good idea, but this is only a starting point for your research. You can't rely entirely on this information. Can you book until you've read or heard enough first hand experiences? Of course not! At this stage, you need to read the latest consumer reviews online for the vessel you're planning to go with. Don't get confused by the slew of contradictory remarks. Consider both the positive and the negative sides. This will help you in getting a better picture of the pros and cons, and aspects which you wouldn't have ever known before experiencing on board.

Cruise deals are available in plenty and it doesn't require much hard work to find one. Compare rates across different travel sites and shop around for a good price. Ideally, cruise rates on new vessels are always higher than older ones. If saving money is on your agenda, you should be looking for older cruise ships. However, make sure that your expectations are realistic. If you scour the Internet, you'll see that passenger complaints are the highest among these ships. There might be cramped fitness areas, or the cabins might need a re-paint.

In general, most cruise lines have the same menus, with slight variations. There isn't much difference in on-board activities or entertainment either. The only possibility is that in an old ship the choices are limited and the décor and accommodation facilities might need a refurbish. However, many cruise companies maintain a respectable degree of consistency across the fleet, in this particular area. But remember, when you're cruising an old ship, you're paying just about one third of the money required for a newer one. At any rate, if you want to strike a balance between amenities and rates, go for a ship that is less than five years old.

Cost cutting is possible if you're cruising off season. Caribbean cruises are affordable and the weather is great during the period from January through May. Christmas, New Years, spring break, and summer tend to be the most expensive. Comparatively, Thanksgiving and Presidents week are cheaper and less crowded. Besides, during this time, the weather is favorable in Mexico and the Caribbean.

As always, the early bird catches the worm! For the best rates, book your vacation well in advance, or within three months of the sail date. If you're making your own flight arrangements, be sure to arrive on the day before embarkation. Most cruises will not wait for passengers who are delayed.

In matters of cabins, most people prefer an outside cabin over an inside cabin simply because there isn't enough natural light in the former category. Besides, the higher the deck, the greater is the price. So, although a cabin on deck 7 will be the same as one on deck 3, the former will have a higher price tag. It is up to you as to what type of cabin you want. But remember that you're not going to spend much time in your cabin. A rule, per se, is that if the price difference between types of cabins is under $100 per passenger or just over, it's okay to pay for an upgrade.

When it comes to shore excursions, there's no bargain here. But it will enhance the entire experience. If you plan to go snorkeling, be sure to pack your own gear. Also, find out the best options before booking the cruise. Learn about the places and how easy or difficult will it be to get there. If your ship is at the port for the whole day, you can rent a cab to go to the spot and enjoy snorkeling for as long as you wish. But if the ship anchors only for a few hours, then booking a shore excursion is perhaps the best way to maximize your time and money.

Like any other holiday, proper planning is the key to a successful cruise vacation. Prepare a list of your needs and expectations, look up the price tags, and then draw your budget. When you know the specific areas where you need to spend and where to save, you can easily rearrange your priorities and expectations according to your budget. Then, you are good to go!
About the Author
Manoj Borah is a Senior Writer & Journalist working with CheapoAir.com, one of the top travel sites online. Manoj writes and reviews articles with special focus on à la mode vacation spots for budget travelers and road warriors, besides sharing tips and nuggets on booking cheap flights, hotels and cruises.
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