Cruise holidays: A beginner's guide

Take the mystery out of cruise holidays with our beginners' guide, including information on the different types of cruises, cabin selections and payment options.


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Types of cruise available

No-fly cruises

No-fly cruises will depart from a port in your home country.

Fly cruises

Many providers give you the option of flying to a port outside the UK from where you will begin your cruise.

Family cruises

Some cruises will cater specifically for families, providing entertainment and activities for children as well as adults.

Cruise-and stay-holidays

This provides a combination of cruising and staying on land at different holiday destinations, giving you the best of both worlds.

Cruise ship

Themed cruises

There are cruises centred on interests such as health and wellbeing, dancing or food and drink.

Mini cruise

All the fun of a normal cruise, but typically lasting between two and four days. 

Choosing a cabin

Your cabin will essentially be your home for the duration of your stay on the liner, so make sure that you pick wisely - the hardest part of cruising is choosing. The room types available could include:

Interior cabins

These tend to be a small and window-less economy option on an inside corridor, but if you're planning on spending most of your time outside of the cabin then it could be a cost-effective option.

Outside cabins

A typical sales cycle could see the price rising the closer it gets to the date you require, but then falling in the final weeks, days or hours as operators seek to fill remaining cabins

Outside cabins have a small window/porthole (which won't open) facing the sea. They tend to be of a higher standard than interior cabins and this will be reflected in the price.

There may be different grades of ocean-view cabins available - check with the provider before booking.

Balcony cabins

These cabins - sometimes called veranda cabins - will have an outdoor space to enjoy without having to go on deck, usually complete with lounge furniture. Bear in mind that they may not be private and could be overlooked.

Family cabins

Some liners will have dedicated family cabins available with a separate area for children so you're all able to stay in the same room. It may be possible to have an adjoining room for family members aboard some liners.

Suites

The most luxurious of cabins available on a cruise, these will usually include separate living, sleeping and bathroom areas, as well as amenities such as TVs, DVD players and wi-fi.

Some suites may have luxury extras, such as hot tubs, private butlers and saunas.

What to consider when choosing a cabin

It's not just the type of cabin that you need to consider, but the location as well.

Remember that there may be extras you'll need to pay for aboard the liner which could cause a hefty dent in your pocket

If you don't have the strongest sea legs then accommodation that's more centrally located could ease the effects of the ocean.

Also think about how close you'll be to certain amenities.

For example, if you're located near the bar and restaurant it could be quite noisy, if you have restricted mobility it may be easier to get a cabin close to a lift.

Cruise itinerary

Most cruise companies will provide you with an in-depth itinerary detailing the stops during your holiday and the excursions or activities that are available at these destinations.

Remember that you'll have to pay for certain excursions, though, so factor this into your budget before booking.

Reviews

Before you book a cruise, it can be a good idea to visit a review site such as Tripadvisor to see what previous guests have said about their experience.

You'll have access to impartial reviews on all aspects of the cruise, including entertainment, food and excursions.

Booking a cruise

There are different ways of booking a cruise, but the two main options are:

Visiting a holiday provider on the high street

There are companies that specialise in cruises, as well as general holiday providers who will usually offer cruise options.

Just like on any other holiday you should think about travel insurance - on some liners it's a necessity before boarding

If you're looking to travel on a specific liner or to certain locations, then you may find that visiting a travel agent on the high street is the right choice for a more personalised service.

Buy online

You may be able to find a great deal by looking for a cruise online, especially if you're able to be flexible about travel dates and the departure location of your holiday.

But it can be harder to add personal touches via a website.

When should I book a cruise?

All cases will vary depending on factors such as demand and how long away the booking is.

A typical sales cycle could see the price rising the closer it gets to the date you require, but then falling in the final weeks, days or hours as operators seek to fill remaining cabins.

It's possible that booking at the very last moment could save you money, especially if your haggling skills are good.

But, equally, if demand is high you may have to pay more and you have to factor in the uncertainty and the possibility of not getting your cruise of choice - or even being left out on the harbour!

Haggling

By shopping around for a cruise you can find the holiday that you want, and it could even be possible to haggle down the price.

Providers obviously want you to choose their package over their competitor's so may be open to offering upgrades or under-cutting their rival's price, giving you a real bargain.

Credit cards

Hidden extras

Remember that there may be extras you'll need to pay for aboard the liner which could cause a hefty dent in your pocket. These could include drinks, wi-fi, port tax and pay-per-view films.

Check with your holiday provider what's included and what you'll have to pay extra for.

Also be aware that tipping is almost expected on cruises and each cruise line will usually have a recommended gratuity amount. Check your bills to ensure you're happy with any service charge added.

Cover if your cruise company goes bust

Think about purchasing your holiday on a credit card for safety - if you pay between £100 and £30,000 you'll get protection under the Consumer Credit Act should the cruise line go bust.

If you choose to use your debit card, note that you won't be protected by your card provider unless you can prove that you've used an overdraft facility.

Alternatively, if you choose to pay by cash or cheque, you'll have to rely on the cruise line being a member of the Passenger Shipping Association (PSA), or on your travel insurance policy having the appropriate cover.Cruise travel insurance

Cruise travel insurance

Just like on any other holiday you should think about travel insurance - on some liners it's a necessity before boarding.

There are specialist cruise policies available which will provide you with the level of cover you need for sailing the high seas.

Such policies are tailored for being on a ship and could, for example, include higher medical expenses cover, missed cruise departure and missed shore insurance.

By Abbie Laughton-Coles