This week's commentary by TravelPage.com's European Cruise Editor, Malcolm Oliver focuses on the many challenges facing first time cruisers.
The Big Question
One of the most challenging questions that we are faced with in the 'CruiseTalk' forum comes from fist-time cruise passengers. The question is "which is the best ship and cruise line". Now it's a very obvious question to ask if you have never experienced a holiday afloat, but a definitive answer is difficult to provide. It's a bit like asking; "what is the best car to buy". The answer is; "it depends".
If I was feeling pedantic, my answer might be "I recommend a Duplex Penthouse on the Queen Mary 2's 2007 world cruise". However, this is probably not the answer that the first timer is looking for - unless the first timer happens to be Bill Gates.
Choosing the right cruise depends on a wide variety of factors that only the person booking the cruise will be able to judge. There is now such a vast range of cruise lines offering different experiences, on very different ships, with different itineraries, at different prices that making a decision, or recommendation even, can be daunting.
So where do we begin? Well, certainly the budget available will be a defining factor for many of us. There is also the question of what type of experience are we looking for. Smaller ships offer a more intimate, refined and possibly more formal experience, with a price tag to match. In contrast, the bigger mass market ships are better for those looking for a more casual 'party' atmosphere and good value. Some ships are more suitable for mature passenger, some for the younger crowd, and others for families.
The ship's itinerary can also be an important factor. Are our first timers looking for a one week, two week or longer cruise? Are they looking for lots of ports of call or more relaxing days at sea? Would a transatlantic crossing with no ports of call, appeal? Do they want to cruise from their local port or do they want to do a 'fly-cruise', possibly to a more exotic destination? Are they looking for tropical island paradises or fascinating cities? What time of year do they want to cruise? It's important to remember that certain itineraries such as Alaska have a season (May to September) while other itineraries such as the Caribbean can be enjoyed all year around.
The ship itself can be an important factor. Some mega-ships are such amazing 'floating-resorts' that they can become a very important component of the overall holiday experience. As great as these floating theme parks can be however, will our fist timers happy with the idea of sharing a ship with 3,000-4,000 other people? Alternatively with a small no-frills ship like EasyCruise One, it is the ports and that are the main attraction and not the ship, which has very basic facilities.
If a person was going to buy a second-hand car, but knew very little about them, they would almost certainly seek the advice of someone who does. Curiously, some people have spent a similar sum of money booking a family cruise, yet do not really have a clue what they have booked. So if anybody is about to book their first cruise, I strongly recommend that they do the research first. If they don't, they could spend a lot of money buying the wrong experience.
So how do they do that research?
Well, they could collect the brochures and buy a guide books, but often times those publications are merely promoting the message developed by the cruise lines' marketing department. I suggest that those interested in getting an objective idea of what to expect to consult a variety of sources, such as the reviews provided by TravelPage.com readers and the experiences of forum members at CruiseTalk.
Our members have cruised on every major cruise line in the world and most of the minor ones to. They can tell you which ships have the best gymnasium or which ships have the best food, depending on your preference. I particularly recommend the vast collection 'Readers Reviews' that provide unfiltered access to the experiences of real people. And the best part is, all of this information is free and available to anyone, anytime.