In October, we asked Sun readers for their best tips on planning a winter cruise vacation. We received so many thoughtful and detailed responses, we can't print them all but here is a selection of comments, edited for space.
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Book early if you are planning a cruise on a new or popular ship. Check Cruise Critic or other cruise web sites with a forum for your ship. You can "talk" to people who are going on your ship. Many are avid cruisers with good advice. Research the places you will visit. Pick something to do that will not take eight hours. Don't rush to see everything.
-- Steve Lise
We have enjoyed different cruise lines and found each has different benefits or features. In broad strokes, we have found Celebrity (Eclipse and Constellation) to suit us best overall, though Costa (Classica), MSC (Opera), Princess (the former Royal Princess, Tahiti and Island Princess) and Holland America Line (Oosterdam) also have nice features and charm. We usually take tours by hiring local taxis and often meet interesting folks on shore. On arrival in a port, we have a leisurely breakfast and wait until the ship tours leave so we miss the crush of passengers disembarking at the gangway. When ashore, we always plan to re board a bit early so we can have a quiet drink and a swim before getting ready for dinner. We always explore the ship from stem to stern so we are familiar with all the features. Food is usually plentiful so try to get exercise se whenever you can. My wife and I never take the elevators during the cruise.
-- Mike and Marilyn
I've only cruised twice: Princess and Celebrity. It's a close call as far as which we preferred, but I think Celebrity gets the nod. My tip would be to do your homework once you pick a cruise line and itinerary. We are not ones for pre-booked shore excursions, so we do our own thing at each port. If you "Google" the place ahead of time, it makes a world of difference. Cruisecritic.com has a wealth of information.
-- Name withheld
We enjoy taking family cruise vacations instead of going to all inclusive resorts. On a cruise you get to see three to four different islands and have great views of the ocean while getting there. And there are great shows and activities on board.
-- Bach Patel
If travelling on the Carnival Fantasy, don't forget your hair dryer as there are none in the cabins. If you like a small older ship, this refurbished vessel could be for you. Personally I prefer newer ships like the Carnival Dream.
- Nick and Jack
I've done a lot of cruising! For a young adult who loves to play, party and relax, I suggest Royal Caribbean. The ships are top notch. The food is always great and the on board activities are the best. From surfing machines to zip-lining to lounging by the many pools. The night life is great with many bars and shows. Try the western Caribbean cruises. These islands are paradise. Don't take the ship's shore excursions. Many of the same trips are offered by local operators at the ports for a fraction of the price.
-- Patrick Anthony
We pick cruises that do not have "dress-up" evenings just country-club casual. This will lighten the load you take on board. Leave a copy of your itinerary and documents at home for family.
-- John Fuller
I have sailed on five different lines since the 80s, and have settled on Celebrity for the last 20 years because of the perks. Here are a few tips:
Consider back-to-back cruises for great savings on the second cruise.
I use a cruise to renovate my wardrobe. I leave good quality used clothing behind, and dispose of underwear. My travel companion leaves her dresses for the female cruise staff.
Don't hesitate to fill out the cruise rating questionnaire. They do listen. I had a personal call from the VP of Celebrity when I had issues on my last trip.
If you are on a budget, inside cabins are economical. I now always have a balcony for the privacy away from the deck mobs.
The ship can be the destination. If you don't feel like getting off, stay aboard and be pampered.
-- Harold McDermott
We prefer smaller ships -- easier for getting on and off in port, and you get to visit some out-of-the-way spots where larger ships can't go. We have sailed Princess, Windstar and Oceania with the latter being our current favourite due to price, service and itineraries. Food is a bit too gourmet for my taste but everyone else seemed to enjoy it. If cruising, leave a couple of days early to allow for travel delays. We have spent time in Rio de Janeiro, Rome, Fort Lauderdale, Tahiti and Istanbul before cruises. Don't take the cruise line's pre-cruise packages or transfers -- they are outrageously expensive. Favourite places to visit: French Polynesia, eastern Mediterranean, eastern Caribbean as far south as Devil's Island, Panama Canal. We've seen Roman and Greek ruins and our next cruise is to Central America to see Mayan temples.
-- Cynthia F.
Do not plan on always using an ATM. The ATMs on land dispense the local currency so, depending on where you are travelling, you can only use that currency while you are there. The service charge for using a cruise ship ATM is exorbitant! I was charged $6.50 for one transaction!
We have cruised over a dozen times. Here are a few tips: With your camera, take a picture of your contact information from home. If you lose your camera, someone might pick it up and send you the card. When in port, always be back to the ship on time, especially if you rent a car, boat, bikes or are travelling on non-ship-affiliated tours. The ship will leave on time and you will be on your own, which can mean considerable cost and inconvenience to rejoin the ship at the next port. Always have your room key with you when you disembark/re-embark the ship. You will not be allowed exit or entry without photo I.D. AND your room key.
-- Daniel Guertin
Never ever fly to your cruise on the same day. Cruise documents state that the ship will not wait for passengers. Anything can happen when you get the airport such as a maintenance issue or bad weather or something else beyond your control. Spend the extra money on a hotel the day before and have peace of mind. Royal Caribbean by far is the best cruise line, with amazing service and great destinations. You get what you pay for. Don't try to sneak booze onto the ship they will take it away. Last but not least go to dinner every night, and tip your waiter.
Only pack half as much clothing as you think you need. Many ships have coin-operated laundry rooms available. We have done two Mediterranean cruises, Alaska, Hawaii and have booked a Danube River cruise for the spring. Take lots of pictures and do a photo book after you get home -- a wonderful souvenir. Take comfortable walking shoes.
-- Marianne Tracey
Create a PDF of all your documents and take it with you in case the originals are lost. Browse the cruise line web site for the ship's stateroom locations. Prices are based on locations. For instance, mid-ship can be more expensive then forward or aft. Also check for laundry and elevator locations). Great deals are available when ships are repositioned at the end of the season for Europe and the Caribbean. Don't forget hurricane season runs until the end of November. You can do as much or as little as you want on a ship, but have a great time.
The best cruise line depends on who you are cruising with. If you are travelling with kids, you can't beat Disney. If it's just a couple, we love Royal Caribbean. Celebrity is also good but the crowd is slightly older. Both have great food, good service and lots to do. I have also cruised with Norwegian but was NOT impressed by the food.