First time taking a cruise? Here’s what you need to know.
Cruise vacations are becoming an increasingly popular way to travel. In fact, in 2016, over 11 million Americans went on a cruise vacation. There’s a reason why cruises are so trendy.
“Cruising is an awesome vacation as far as getting a good bang for your buck. You get lodging, transportation to foreign countries, and food all at one low price,” says Lance Cothern, a personal finance blogger at Money Manifesto and cruise aficionado.
Still, cruises can be intimidating for the uninitiated. What exactly is included? How do meals work? Aren’t the cabins small? What about seasickness? And for Pete’s sake, how much is alcohol going to cost?
Fear not. I spoke with cruise experts Joel Parker, from Financial Freedom Community, and Lance Cothern to get the scoop on what you need to know.
Select your cabin carefully
The cabins on cruise ships are generally divided up among these types, in order of highest to lowest cost:
Veranda cabins with private balconies
Ocean view cabins with windows or portholes that you can’t actually open
Interior cabins with no views
For those looking to save a few bucks, Parker recommends skipping the expensive veranda cabins unless you’ll be in a position to use them well and often.
“My most recent cruise only had two days at sea and the premium veranda room went unused. However, on our other cruise, we had several days at sea and used the veranda almost every day,” he says.
Unless you book a highfalutin’ suite, chances are your cabin will be smaller than you’re used to with a traditional hotel room. You don’t necessarily need to skimp on packing, but now’s definitely not the time to bring your entire collection of fine china.
Additionally, cruise ships get creative with the design of the rooms. For example, most cabins come equipped with two twin beds, regardless of how many people will be sleeping in the room. Couples can push these together to form a bigger bed. The bathroom might also come with a clothesline or bar that you can use to dry bathing suits.
Food will be plentiful
There’s good news and bad news when it comes to food on cruises.
First, the good news is that free food at designated restaurants and all-you-can-eat buffets is included with your cruise fare. This is usually pretty standard American food, like hamburgers, hot dogs, and barbecue. You can even take this food back to your room with you, although you can’t take it off the ship in an attempt to save on food while on shore excursions.
The bad news is that premium restaurants like steakhouses, Italian trattorias, and sushi joints typically aren’t free. You need to pay out of pocket for those. Furthermore, since the free places are … well … free, they tend to get crowded, especially during regular mealtimes.
To get around this, Parker advises to “make dining reservations in advance so you can avoid being locked out of the free sit-down restaurants.”
Now, more bad news: alcohol and even soda generally aren’t free (although free soda is included on Disney cruises), and they can be expensive on the ship. However, “most cruise lines allow you to bring on a 12-pack of soda per person and a 750 mL bottle of wine if you like,” says Cothern. It’s a good idea to check your cruise line’s policy before you do this, just to make sure.
Additionally, you may also be able to purchase an all-you-can-drink package at the beginning of the cruise. This may be a cheaper option if you plan on buying a lot of drinks, but make sure to read the fine print and run the calculations so you know if it really is a deal or not.