Cruise ship floats past snowy mountains
The first part of planning a cruise is deciding on the destination, and when it comes to cruises, the sky is really the limit.
Photo Credit: iStockPhoto / Teacherdad48

Planning the Perfect Cruise Vacation Starts with Picking the Right Cruise

Your Complete Guide to Cruise Planning

With thousands of itineraries and over two dozen major cruise lines, trying to find a cruise that’s the best for you can feel overwhelming. Before you even get to the cruise tips that will ensure you make the most of your vacation, you need to know how to book a cruise that fits your tastes.

These things to think about will help you evaluate your options and plan a cruise that’ll be the unforgettable experience you hoped for.

Where to Take Your Cruise

Do you imagine yourself on a luxury ship in the Mediterranean, on a party boat to the Caribbean, on foodie cruise in Scandinavia or an adventurous expedition cruise in Antarctica? Perhaps you want something more local, where the focus is on the history, such as aboard a Chicago River cruise. The first part of planning a cruise is deciding on the destination, and when it comes to cruises, the sky is really the limit.

While Alaskan and Caribbean cruises have long been mainstays, there are options around the world, including South America, Asia, the Indian Ocean and well beyond.

The destination is probably the easiest part of your decision as you probably have at least a few places in mind. In fact, when it comes to cruising, you can actually choose multiple destinations you’d like to visit.

The time of year you plan to go may have some impact on your decision, too.

For example, if an Alaskan cruise is what you had in mind, you’ll need to go between May and September due to weather constraints. The Caribbean is generally available all year round, and because the region is so vast, it’s actually broken up in three general areas, so you’ll want to decide which islands you’d most like to see according to the region: Western Caribbean (Grand Cayman, Jamaica, Mexico), Eastern Caribbean (U.S. and British Virgin Islands, St. Maarten and Puerto Rico) or Southern Caribbean (St. Lucia, Guadalupe, Dominica, Grenada, Aruba, Curacao).

There may be places you hadn’t thought about for cruising too, such as the British Isles. Luxury vessel Hebridean Princess is based in Ireland and Scotland and offers a number of voyages that combine the two, featuring highlights like castles, distilleries and charming villages.

Cruceros Australis specializes in expeditions throughout Patagonia, such as its four-night cruise from Punta Arena, Chile to Cape Horn, Argentina which includes excursions to national parks and glaciers.

Cruise ship heads towards an islandThink about the destination, the weather, and your budget when choosing when to go on your cruise.Photo Credit: iStockPhoto / ginosphotos

When to Go

When to go is also an important part of picking a cruise. If Alaska is your top pick but you’d rather not go when everyone else does, you’re limited to May and September, when kids are in school but the weather is mild enough that cruising is possible.

Oftentimes, the shoulder season is the very best time to travel, with discounted rates as well as fewer tourists to get in the way of your view.

Keep in mind that hurricane season in the Caribbean is from June through November, and while you’ll be able to get the biggest bargains this time of year, there is a slight risk that your trip will be affected by a hurricane. You can increase your odds of smoother sailing by choosing the Southern Caribbean, which doesn’t get hit by severe storms as often.

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Cruise ship floats past a town with mountains in the backgroundSome cruises lines specialize in shorter cruises, while others rarely offer anything shorter than 10 nights.Photo Credit: iStockPhoto / joyt

How Much Time Do You Have?

How much time you have can make a big difference in the number of options available to you. Some cruises lines, like Carnival, specialize in shorter cruises, from three to seven nights, while others, like Oceania, rarely offer anything shorter than 10 nights.

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