Choosing the right cruise for you

By BootsnAll | February 20th, 2009

Choosing cruiseBefore you begin shopping for a specific cruise, you’ll want to know what your options are. The first cruise offer you see might seem very tempting, but there are hundreds of different cruises from which to choose, and plenty of ways to save money along the way, so you should consider the big picture before you commit.

How long would you like to go for?

The most popular cruises are:

3 or 4 nights Most of these go from Southern California to Baja California and back, or from the Miami area to the Bahamas and back.
7 nights In a week you can do an extensive tour of the Caribbean, or of the Mexican Riviera, or of Alaska starting from the Seattle area.
10 nights+ – You can go to many different places with an open schedule, with Hawaii, the South Pacific, through the Panama Canal, and the Mediterranean (leaving from Europe) being the most popular among them.

What time of year would you like to go?

Caribbean These go year-round, though June is slow and July through September is officially the hurricane season, so these cruises tend to be cheap and they have a tiny chance of being disrupted. Christmas through March is the peak season.

Baja Mexico These 3 or 4-night cruises go all year round and there isn’t really a cheap season.

Mexican Riviera These week-long cruises that usually stop in Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco, Cabo San Lucas, and/or Mazatlan go from October through May, and are often the same ships that go to Alaska during summer.

Panama Canal These longer cruises normally start in September and go through May.

Tahiti/South Pacific These epic cruises go from November through April.

Hawaii The 10+ day Hawaii cruises go all the way from September through May, just like the Panama Canal cruises.

Mediterranean The Mediterranean Sea is colder than many people expect, and so cruises only go from April through October, and summer is peak season so deals can be found in the fringe months.

What is your budget?

Most cruises start around $100 per day, per person, but of course they can go up to many times that price if you want a suite with a balcony and other extras. It’s also not difficult to find cruises that are well under $100 per person per day, but for those you have to approach things differently. The absolute lowest prices tend to be available a full year in advance (often onboard that same cruise itself) and also with “last-minute” deals, which actually tend to be offered between one and four weeks ahead of the sailing date.

There are downsides to both these options, of course, since booking a year in advance means you are locking yourself in for something long before you know if you’ll be in the right mood at that time, and booking at the “last minute” means having to choose from what’s still available at the time. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the last-minute offers tend to be for cruises that aren’t the most popular at that time of year, so you have to be flexible and open-minded if you are looking for the “cheapest” cruise.
Keep this in mind when comparing prices of cruises

This is a common speech among fans of cruise vacations, but it’s important to be clear what you need to budget for and what you don’t. The price you see listed for your cruise will not include airfare to the initial port, although most online outlets will happily price that part in once you are ready to buy. So a cheap cruise out of Miami might not be so cheap if it costs you $600 roundtrip per person just to get there and back.

The other part to remember is that almost everything you’ll do is included in the price. A couple considering a cruise that costs $799 each for a week might think that $1,600 is quite expensive, but remember that this covers your accommodation, food, and entertainment for the entire sail. If you instead decide to have a romantic week in San Francisco, the hotel for the week would easily cost $1,600 alone, and then after meals and entertainment you’d likely double that.

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