For novice cruisers, choosing the right cruise is not easy. Who do you trust for advice? The shipping lines are selling more and more on the internet, big travel agencies prefer you book with them on line. Some even charge you to talk and book with a consultant. As a senior, dealing with young consultants (who may not have cruised a lot) and asking their advice can be a minefield, although there are some very knowledgeable young consultants, writes John Pond.
Many 4 and 5-star ships are often very similar. Service, food and entertainment can be almost identical. Passenger capacity plays a very important part. Do you want a family holiday, with all the bells and whistles, or do you want more elegance, a personalised service and just the right passenger mix for you?
As I grow older, I guess I fall into the latter category. I love meeting and mixing with fellow passengers that I have something in common with, even if it is just the love of cruising.
Without wishing to sound elitist, I don’t want to mix with fellow passengers that have bought a drinks package and are determined to consume as much alcohol as possible to get their money’s worth. I don’t want to sit with someone in a hot tub eating a burger and consuming as much beer as possible, when prime rib is on offer in the main dining room, served on spotless linen by attentive waiters. Now let me say that for some, the former may be their idea of heaven, that’s great and there are ships at a price point which are designed for them.
With cruising becoming so affordable, many young adults and families with children are taking advantage of the great value cruise vacations on offer. They are so well catered for, with word class entertainment and a multitude of food choices. But is it right for you?
What do I look for in a cruise? First, I will admit that I am over 70, with a wife in her 60s. No kids or grandchildren. We have been on over 80 cruises worldwide and know our ocean and river ships pretty well. I look for understated elegance, great food and service plus a nice mix of fellow passengers who, as I said, do not live at the bar.
I should add that most ships, even the best value ones, deliver on service and food. Cabins may be similar. The 5-star top-of-the- line ships have higher fares, which tend to exclude many families and young adults. These ships, usually smaller, do not have the variety of entertainment and number of eating outlets. Often they include unlimited free drinks. This feature is rarely abused by the more senior passengers.
I find I make new friends easily on t hese ships and enjoy the unhurried more elegant ambience. I should also say that I love many of the attractions offered by some of the large 4-star ships, especially the choice of dining venues and often superior entertainment.
Destinations are becoming less of a factor when booking a cruise. And why should they be the key? You spend most of your time aboard anyway.
When in doubt, it all comes down to finding a knowledgeable cruise consultant. Make sure that you are booking with and asking advice from a certified cruise consultant. This will cost you no more and may make such a great difference to your vacation.
Pay the extra for a balcony or window cabin. Inside cabins are fine for families with children and those who place more importance on bar packages. Tell your consultant exactly what you are looking for in a cruise, as their wealth of information is at your disposal.
What can we expect in new ships for 2016?
In 2015 we saw P&O Cruises’ Britannia and NCL’s Norwegian Escape launched, as well as Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas, the world’s largest ship.
“When in doubt, it all comes down to finding a knowledgeable cruise consultant.”
“Destinations are becoming less of a factor when booking a cruise.”
There will be at least seven cruise ships launched in 2016, which include:
Holland America Line – Koningsdam:
Their largest in fleet and first in its Pinnacle Class.
Launch Date: April 2016
Royal Caribbean Cruise Line – Ovation of the Seas:
The third ship in Royal Caribbean’s Quantum Class.
Launch Date: April 2016
Royal Caribbean Cruise Line – Harmony of the Seas:
Royal Caribbean’s largest-in-fleet and third Oasis Class ship.
Launch Date: June 2016
Viking Ocean Cruises – Viking Sea:
Viking’s second ocean-going vessel.
Launch Date: April 2016
Carnival Cruise Line – Carnival Vista:
Carnival’s largest in fleet and first in its V ista Class,
Launch Date: May 2016
Regent Seven Seas Cruises – Seven Seas Explorer:
Regent’s largest in fleet.
Launch Date: July 2016
Seabourn Cruise Line – Seabourn Encore:
Seabourn’s largest in fleet.
Launch Date: December 2016
WARNING: Once you start cruising, it is very addictive and you will need to go often.
See you on a cruise ship soon, John Pond.
John is a seasoned Australian cruiser based in Sydney. He writes regularly for a host of cruising publications including The Retiree.
His early career was as a producer/director in the film and television industry, later switching to hotel and casino management, both in Australia and United States.