We’ve said it before and will continue to shout it from the top deck: there’s a cruise for everyone, even for those who don’t like cruises.
Because there are countless destinations and a bevy of experiences on offer across the globe, and dozens of cruise lines with hundreds of ships, each with its own set of features, amenities, and activities, finding the cruise and cruise itinerary best suited to you can seem daunting.
For example, do you want to take a cruise simply to find some much-needed R&R, or are you up for adventure in different ports? Do you want to visit new countries, try new foods, and put your Duolingo practice to use? Or would you prefer to stick close to home, island hop, and sample the beaches and rum available in the Caribbean?
Let’s take the mystery out of choosing a cruise itinerary. Here’s what you should consider when searching for the pitch-perfect cruise itinerary for your next vacation at sea.
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Choosing a Cruise Itinerary Based on Destination(s)
Whereas hotels root you to a single spot on dry land (or, in the case of over-the-water bungalows in the Maldives, just above the waves), one of the reasons to take a cruise instead of any other kind of vacation is that ships are always on the move, taking you to myriad destinations and offering up a mix of experiences in an exciting variety of ports, private islands, cities, and countries. You can bounce around the islands just off the coast of Florida on the biggest ships at sea, see glaciers in Alaska’s Inside Passage, or board a small ship to cruise to some of the most remote places on Earth. One of the ways to choose a cruise itinerary, arguably the first step in doing so, is to decide if you want a destination-based itinerary or not.
The most popular cruising destination for first-time cruisers, and frequent cruisers alike, is the Caribbean. This is because the weather is warm, the sun is almost always shining, the waters are generally calm, and the prices for these cruise itineraries are some of the cheapest you will find anywhere because you can sail around the Eastern or Western Caribbean for anywhere from two to 10 days. Also, Florida is, by and large, an affordable place to fly into, and the port cities of the state are easily accessible from anywhere, including Orlando in the center of Florida.
For American travelers, European ocean and river cruises are enticing because, among other reasons, you can check many countries off your bucket list in a single week at sea. Of course, getting to an exotic embarkation port like Barcelona, Rome, Amsterdam, or Athens, for example, will likely cost more than the airfare to Miami, but in turn, your destination-based cruise itinerary may include some of the most stunning and thrilling European cities, like Nice, Naples, and Reykjavik. While the Caribbean offers the chance to chill out with toes in the sand, part of the appeal of a destination-heavy cruise itinerary in Europe is the chance to go deeper into the port cities and discover the lavender of Provence, the architecture of Gaudi, the opulence of the French Riviera, the fjords of Norway, and so much more.
Choosing a Cruise Itinerary Based on the Type of Vacation You Want
Not all cruise itineraries are the same, and therefore, some cruise types may not fit your personality or help you get all that you want out of your cruise vacation. You need to reflect upon what type of cruise you dream of—romantic, family-friendly, one built around pure rest and relaxation, cultural exploration, love of nature, or a cruise full of adventure and expedition. Knowing this will help guide you as you pick not only the perfect ship but also the cruise itinerary. A private evening beach party on a cruise line’s private island may be ideal for a cruise to celebrate an anniversary but less so for a spring break family vacation, while a once-in-a-lifetime expedition cruise with hiking and zip lining excursions may fulfill the dream of some, it could be a nightmare for those with mobility issues or anyone looking to unwind and destress at sea
Choosing a Cruise Itinerary Based on the Ship
Many of the newest ships on the water are destinations unto themselves, making the actual itinerary and ports of call a secondary consideration. In fact, many cruisers don’t even bother disembarking onto land because the food and fun available on the 16, 18, or 20 decks of the newest and biggest ships at sea are more than enough to make a vacation memorable! If the amenities onboard the ship are your number one concern, consider booking the cheapest sailing on the ideal ship for you, regardless of where it will actually go.
Choosing a Cruise Itinerary Based on the Cruise Length
There are many differences in cruise lengths from an on-board and in-port experience standpoint. Maybe you only have a few days of vacation time left at work, meaning your cruise itinerary will have to be compact, or maybe you are planning a multi-week journey in South America or Asia, generally speaking, the longer the cruise, the more robust the itinerary with the most ports of call on offer but also, the most sea days. If you get bored easily or are worried about seasickness, short cruises in placid waters may be the best choice for you.
Choosing a Cruise Itinerary Based on the Embarkation Port
While cruise fares can provide incredible value when compared to other types of vacations, the value proposition changes dramatically when you add airfare into the equation. This is why it’s important to consider the embarkation port when choosing a cruise itinerary. “Where can we leave from?” may end up being more important than “Where can we go?”
Choosing a Cruise Itinerary Based on Your Budget
When trying to figure out how to choose the best cruise itinerary, it’s difficult to ignore the need to consider your budget. Sure, the Australian and South Pacific itinerary will make you dream, as will the Antarctica expedition, but you’re probably working with a real-life vacation budget that isn’t five figures! Thankfully, there are plenty of budget-friendly cruise itineraries that will provide you and your family with great vacations.
As you search for the best cruise itinerary for you, your interests, and your budget, consult the many reviews, articles, and resources from our Fodor’s cruise experts.