Cruising is an unbelievably customizable vacation. With nearly endless combinations of itineraries, lines, and ships, everyone can find a cruise to match his or her interests — and budget.
The downside to all of these choices? What should be a simple process can become a nightmare of research if you don’t have a good plan of attack. Toward that end, we nailed down the most difficult parts of finding a cruise and came up with a way to make every one of them a bit easier.
Tip: Never been on a cruise before? Check out the first few sections of our Guide for First-Time Cruisers to see if cruising is the right vacation for you.
1. Choosing a Destination
Problem: OK, so maybe having the choice of where to cruise is a good problem to have, but that doesn't make the decision any easier. While tropical beaches are a safe bet for first-time cruisers, heading south isn’t the only option. If you’re not looking for beach days, cruising is a great way soak up European culture or immerse yourself in untouched Alaskan nature.
2. Selecting a Line
Most lines have a completely unique feature, like Celebrity's Lawn Club Grill with a half-acre of real grass. - Photo by Celebrity Cruises
Problem: There are close to 20 major cruise lines sailing out of the U.S. alone. No two lines are exactly alike, and choosing the right line can make or break your vacation. Sail with the wrong line, and you can find yourself on a ship filled with screaming children when you wanted peace and quiet, or on a ship with seniors when you wanted to party.
3. Picking a Ship and Sailing
Problem: By this time, you should have a destination, a potential cruise line or two, and a good idea of when you want to take your cruise. You’re almost done, right? Not even close. Bigger lines have dozens of ships, and while their newer vessels may be state-of-the-art, their older ships might be run-down and in desperate need of refurbishments. Plus, each ship has a different itinerary and embarkation ports.
Solution: For custom search results, punch your desired criteria (line, departure port, date) into our cruise finder. Clicking on a cruise will give you a wealth of reviews — which you can sort by passenger type like couple, family, etc. — plus ratings, tips, photos, and prices.
Tip: If you’re having trouble deciding between a couple of cruises, click the "Compare" check box next to the cruises you’re interested in to see all the important info (ratings, itineraries, ship features, etc.) for up to three cruises side by side.
4. Choosing a Cabin
Cruise ship cabins are typically between 100 and 200 square feet, so even a few extra feet can make a difference. - Photo by Disney Cruise Line
Problem: Newer cruise ships have close to 40 different cabin categories. No, that’s not a typo. While there is a significant amount of overlap between categories, all of them have slightly different layouts, square footage, and amenities. To make the decision even more difficult, the pictures provided by the lines are often taken at the most flattering angle possible with a wide-angle lens. Oh, and did we mention that some cabins have terrible locations, like near the crew quarters or underneath a dance floor?
Solution: Start by reading our Step-by-Step Guide to Picking a Cruise Ship Cabin. Then head to the Cruiseline.com web page of the ship you plan to book and click on Cabins. It will bring you to a page like this where we break down all of the available cabins by size and amenities. If you know the type or number of the cabin you plan to book, you can even filter our reviews to see if there’s one from someone who stayed in that room. Best of all, we have a constantly growing database of user-submitted cabin photos so you can see what the rooms actually look like.
5. Price Fluctuations
Problem: You’ve finally narrowed down your options to a couple of cruises. Now you can take a deep breath and — wait, did the prices change since the last time you checked? Yes, they probably did. Cruise fares can fluctuate at a moment’s notice, especially as the sail date draws closer.
Solution: Sign up for Cruiseline.com’s price alerts. You can track the prices of multiple cruises, and we’ll even send you an email if a cruise drops below your preferred price — only if you’d like us to, of course.
6. Booking Shore Excursions
From kayaking and snorkeling to hiking and zip-lining, there's an excursion for every taste and activity level. - Photo by Royal Caribbean International
Problem: Sure, you can spend every day lounging on the nearest beach, but that doesn't make for great photos or stories. Most ships are only in port for about eight hours, so don’t expect to line up several activities. In addition to all of the excursions offered through the cruise line, there are countless independent vendors you can book through.
Solution: Head to our excursions page, enter the cruise you’ll be sailing on, and we’ll give you the best excursions available, from wine tasting to scuba diving.