5 things you must consider before cruising

Here’s what to consider when selecting your cruise.
By Anita Dunham-Potter
Travel columnist MSNBC News
updated 9:20 a.m. ET Oct. 20, 2008

It’s a blissful thought: sailing off into the sunset on a cruise vacation. Cruising can be an exciting and affordable vacation option. Of course, it’s important to find the right cruise at the right price for your getaway. After all, there are more than 160 ships in the fleets of the 24 major cruise lines and thousands of itineraries worldwide.

Style of ship and cruise line
Cruise lines have their own distinct personalities and ships that reflect them. The size of a ship really does matter. Large ship cruise lines Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean International provide a party atmosphere with glitz and high energy. Small ship operators like Silversea Cruises and Seabourn focus on quiet luxury and a more refined experience.

Where to go
Cruise ships can take you almost anywhere on the planet, from the Caribbean or Europe to Asia or Antarctica, so explore a range of possibilities before settling on a preferred route. When you’ve found a trip you love, go over the schedule carefully. If traveling internationally make sure you have valid passports, visas, and any required immunizations.

When to go
The holidays, spring break and summer are high season and that usually means higher prices. The shoulder seasons of mid-fall and early spring offer great cruise deals, and may be even more appealing than high season. An Alaska, European or Caribbean cruise in May or September, when the kids are in school, translates into fewer people in port.

Pick a stateroom
Consider your itinerary when reserving a stateroom. If you can afford to splurge, a balcony stateroom provides you a private space to relax and get away from the crowded decks. Still, not all cruises are ideal for balconies. A trans-Atlantic crossing doesn’t make a lot of sense for a balcony since the ship is at sea for days and the weather is often cold or too windy to enjoy the space. On the other hand, the appeal of a balcony on an Alaska, Caribbean, European or South American cruise offers amazing scenery that should not be missed. Smaller inside staterooms are adequate for budget-minded cruisers who seem more likely to spend most of their time utilizing the ship’s public spaces.

Getting the best price
Cruise lines offer travelers a host of discounts, so consider every source when looking for a deal. Check out your credit card as many offer discounts or points towards cruises. Look at all the clubs you belong to, from AAA, airline frequent flier programs and college alumni associations, to union memberships — see if they offer any deals or special rates for members. Also, if you’ve previously cruised with a cruise line you may be in for a repeat cruiser discount.

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