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Cruise Vacation Planning Tips

Make your next cruise vacation one to remember!

Improvements and upgrades in cruise ships over the past ten years, as well as the addition of many new destinations and itineraries have made cruise vacations one of the easiest and most affordable ways to see the world.

It beats driving across the country, and with the ability to hop from island to island, hot port to hot port, cruise ships open up a whole new realm of travel that is not available via land transportation.

But the seemingly endless amounts of information on the Internet and the complex list of choices for destinations, ships, vacation packages and cruise lines can make planning your cruise an overwhelming endeavor.

Here are a few tips to help you plan your next cruise vacation and find the cruise that is just right for you:

  • Who will go on the cruise?
    Many of the details for your cruise will depend on who is going with you. Is it a family trip with young children? Is it a romantic vacation with your significant other? Maybe itís a Girls Only getaway.

    Each of these groups likely describe the perfect cruise differently, with kids needing lots of play and water activities to keep them busy, lovers preferring privacy and low-key surroundings, and friends usually wanting excitement, parties, and chances to socialize. Once you determine whoís going on the cruise with you, you can plan the next step.

    With your travel companions selected, you next need to decide what kind of ship you prefer, where you want to leave from, where you want to go, and how long you want to be gone.

    From here on out, there is really no ideal order to complete these steps. My suggestion is that you start with the one thatís easiest to decide. Usually that is the length of the trip. Most people have a set amount of time they can be gone from work and home.

    Typically, cruise lengths start at three nights and run anywhere from seven to 14 or more days. Pick what works best for you.
  • Your desired cruise destination
    When it comes to destinations, most people have an idea of the area they want to visit. Some have had their hearts set on a larger than life Alaskan cruise. Others prefer the spicy offerings of the Caribbean. Maybe sultry South America is your preference, or your going to go big and shoot for a transatlantic destination.

    If you have an inkling of what part of the world you want to see, you can visit cruise lines on the Web and find out more about those locations, who goes where, and what there is to see.

    Carnival Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruise Line, Princess Cruise Line and the other larger name operations have a wealth of information as well as features to help you plan your cruise online. They also have cruise representatives available to assist you via telephone, and your travel consolidator of choice also has access to cruise information.

    The websites and travel consolidators can also provide information on what type of documentation is needed for each destination, tourist activities and sights to see, and other travel considerations that might affect your decision.
  • Port of departure
    For some people, the point of departure is not a negotiable option. Maybe you live in New York, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, or one of the other more popular cruise ship home ports.

    It probably doesnít make sense to drive across the country when you have a port of departure right in your backyard. Typically, the port of departure determines the general choice of destinations. If you are set in you choice of ports, start there and see what is available to you.

    If you are not near a port of departure or have flexibility in that area, you can choose from locations around the coastal United States.

    Most cruises leave from a port that is closest to the trip destination, for example Alaskan cruises leave from the Washington area, Caribbean cruises leave from Florida, etc. If you want to go to the Bahamas in January, you will probably need to leave from a port located in the southern part of the U.S.

    But you can have some fun with this if you have a little extra time. Maybe you decide to make your vacation part road trip and explore along the way to your port of departure.

    Maybe you choose a city that you have always wanted to see and fly in a few days ahead of time to spend some time sightseeing. Perhaps your decision will be based on more practical matters, such as a relative who lives in New York City and will let you stay there instead of renting a motel.

    Airfare can also affect your choice of departure ports. Some cities are notoriously expensive for flights at certain times of the year. And others may not have service from your area. When you consider all these factors, choosing your port of departure becomes fairly simple.
  • The cruise ship
    The features and amenities available on modern cruise ships are simply amazing. From spacious suites to five star restaurants and complete spa facilities, you can find all the comforts of home and often chose from more goodies than at a hotel or resort.

    Some people are particular about the type of ship or the cruise line they choose. If you have specific companies or ships in mind, that is the obvious place to start in narrowing down your research and planning. 

    Some ships will clearly have the gung-ho, "I-want-to-do-it-all" traveler in mind. They have rock-climbing walls, workout areas, and a multitude of other active type options. They have activities that appeal to younger, single, couples or groups.

    While other ships are geared toward families and include kiddie pools, free meals for kids under a certain age, and a host of activities geared toward tots, teens and families.

    Some cruise ships have a more elegant or romantic atmosphere. There is ballroom dancing, Jacuzzi tubs in the suites, and luxurious spas. Again, what you decide will likely be determined by who travels with you.
  • Land Activities
    One other area of your vacation planning that can be handled on line is the scheduling of off ship activities and tours. The sights and services available at a port of call are often some of the main reasons we pick a particular destination or cruise line.

    Some cruise packages include certain land activities or are scheduled by your cruise director. And you can make arrangements for activities once you reach a port of call. But with limited time ashore, it makes sense to scout out what is available, locate car rentals, tour guides, etc. and make a tentative plan.

    At many cruise destinations, it isn't unusual for mopeds to be completely rented out or tours to be booked full on the days that ships come into port. Many of these arrangements can be made and reserved ahead of time, saving you time and hassle when you get on land.

    You're most likely going to have to make some hard choices because there wonít be time to do everything. Planning ahead will help ensure that you get to do the things that are most important to you.

Part of what makes a cruise so much fun is the amazing number of options available to vacation travelers. By considering a few key aspects of your vacation needs, you can devise an organized plan for managing the information and arranging the cruise vacation of your dreams.

About the author:

C.J. Gustafson is a freelance writer and photographer who travels extensively on work and family vacations. A cheapskate by nature and necessity, she is always on the lookout for bargain travel deals and affordable vacation destinations.

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