There are three cruise planning decisions that you should never delegate entirely to someone else – even if that person is your travel consultant or spouse:
These aren't independent decisions. They are intermeshed with one another, and you must always consider the views of those traveling with you. If you can't arrive at choices all of you can endorse, someone will leave the cruise feeling badly shortchanged.
Deciding Where & When You Want to Go.
One of the cruising grounds on my wife's and my bucket lists is the Norwegian coast inside the Arctic Circle. Another item on our bucket lists is seeing the Northern Lights in all of their splendor. Therefore when Viking Ocean Cruises announced a series of cruises from London to Bergen, Norway, in January-March 2018 on the Viking Sky, we felt Viking had planned these cruises especially for us. At $5,899 for the cruise on one of the world's newest and finest ships, we figured what was there not to like?
We were about to lay down a partially-nonrefundable deposit when I got to thinking about the kinds of cameras and gear I'd take on this cruise. Then the realization hit me: Most of the photo opportunities would occur at night, even if "night" were 3 p.m.!
That got me reconsidering the itinerary. Did I really want to spend about $15,000 cruising in freezing temperatures in darkness 22 hours each day, or was there a better cruise I could select for January 2018?
This led to us making reservations, for about the same cost, on the Azamara Journey's 18-day sailing from Bali to Exmouth & Perth, and then to Adelaide, Melbourne & Sydney. Sure we wouldn't see the Northern Lights for this trip, but we would put into many other beautiful ports and have better opportunities to photograph animals, which we both love to do. Besides, we will have about 16 hours of daylight and warmth as well.
This is a long way of saying that it’s easy to make a mistake, whether you or your travel agent plans a cruise. Last year we took advantage of a last-minute schedule change which took the Oceania Riviera into Haifa, Israel, for three days, rather than following its originally planned itinerary that would have taken it to Turkey. We were so excited about the itinerary change on one of our favorite cruise lines, that I neglected to do my usual due diligence, and carefully examine the cruise schedule, along with its ports.
It was not until after we boarded the ship, that we discovered that our three-day visit to Israel involved arriving Friday evening, the start of the Sabbath (Saturday) ,and laying over until Monday, which happened to be the Israeli national holiday of Remembrance Day. That meant that most restaurants and tourist attractions would be also closed down from Sunday evening through Monday. Hence, of our three days in Israel, only Sunday was a normal tourism day. My wife, who had never visited Israel before, was sorely disappointed. I felt "taken" as well as the implications for visiting Israel over the Sabbath and Remembrance Day had never been explained on the website, or by the Oceania phone bank’s booking agents.
For reasons such as these, it's probably best to try to select up to three itineraries that you would like equally well, and then make your selection based on the ships, cruise lines, costs and the dates you're scheduled to be in the places you most want to visit. When you get down to your three favorite itineraries, it would also not hurt to speak to knowledgeable friends or travel consultants such as us. It you would like a detailed analysis of your three strongest cruise possibilities, we offer that service on our website. It called the Cruise Finder Package and you can read about it at http://www.cruisesandcameras.com/gifts--consulting-packages.html.
Selecting the Cruise Line & Ship
It's a mistake to react to a TV advertisement, a mail brochure, or a call from your travel agent by deciding on-the-spot that you want to go on a particular cruise or even cruise line. With only a little work or conversation, you can first narrow down your choices to several viable options and then make your decisions. This is where the free search engines and planning tools contained on the Cruises & Cameras website (www.cruisesandcameras.com) prove their worth.
If you've already narrowed your choices down to 2-3 itineraries and 2-3 cruise lines, spend a few pleasurable hours examining the strongest possibilities before arriving at a preliminary list of the "final three" you wish to examine in more detail.
In selecting cruise lines and ships, narrow down your choices by first identifying the kinds of cruise lines which you prefer.
Regardless of whether you’re an experienced or first-time cruiser, our agency specializes in Premium cruise lines and ships and our staff has travelled as paying passengers on nearly ever ship in this category . The other categories we recommend for specific destinations are Riverboats and Specialty. Both of these can be attractive alternatives for experienced cruisers and for first-timers who can’t see themselves on traditional cruises.
I recommend Mid-Market only if Premium vessels aren’t available at an affordable price on the itineraries you want to consider. I recommend Mass-Market cruise lines only if you are the kind of person who favors Las Vegas or Atlantic City, over San Francisco or Barcelona, for land-based vacations.
To decide which cruise lines suit you, the best online tool is the Cruise Critic website (www.cruisecritic.com). Its combination of professional reviews, client reviews and the content of the bulletin boards for specific cruises can’t be beat. Be sure to look at the cruise boards for past cruises as well as future ones.
For the most part, if you have decided on a few itineraries and cruise lines, the choice of ships will follow, as most cruise lines only have one or two ships sailing in a particular area at one time of the year. The major exceptions are ships engaged in world cruises or repositioning cruises. These are apt to appear in unexpected places and they are sometimes lower-cost alternatives to ships that usually sail in a particular region.
When you get to the stage of selecting specific cruises and ships, the free Tandem Cruise Search Engine (http://www.cruisesandcameras.com/cruises.html on our site is your best friend. It goes right down to the cabin level in permitting you to select the ship, the accommodations, and the availability of discount packages and particular cabins. However, we suggest you call us before placing a deposit on a cruise or paying for the entire booking.
These days, it’s becoming common for at least 10% of your deposit to be nonrefundable, no matter how far in advance you book. We can often give encouragement, or warn you of pitfalls, of a cruise in seconds. Just ask us, the advice will always be free.
Identifying Three Activities In Which You Most Want To Participate.
When you’ve selected the itinerary, cruise line, ship and sailing date you think you want, you're not done with the important stuff that you shouldn't delegate entirely to anyone else. The final step to ensure that you will look forward to your cruise in the months ahead; and then look back on it fondly.
When it comes to our Azamara Journey cruise halfway-around Australia, the three activities that I'm most looking forward to, are:
Just writing these words increases my feelings of anticipation for this cruise. I can hardly wait for it to begin in January. If you can assemble the same kind of list for your forthcoming voyage, you know you are making a great choice.
Steve Frankel has been a paying passenger on about 50 high-end cruises covering more than 100,000 sea miles. He's also an avid travel photographer and author who has written eight books and hundreds of feature articles. He founded Cruises & Cameras Travel Services (C&C) 15 years ago, but in 2017 he transitioned it to an on-line travel agency.
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