Travelers go the front of a cruise ship as it navigates the Panama Canal.
About 12 million North Americans took their vacations aboard cruise ships last year—many of them first timers discovering the pleasures of having a single ticket cover all meals and entertainment, unpacking only once, and traveling in comfort while others run the show. For a novice, though, the sheer variety of cruises can be daunting. To find one that’s right for you, start with the basics.
- Destination Popular cruise vacations visit the Caribbean, Europe, and the Mediterranean. But consider more intimate ships and novel areas—say, the Panama Canal—and expedition-style cruises to places such as Antarctica, the Galápagos Islands, or the Amazon jungle.
- Style Want to see a different port every day or two—or relax on board and enjoy programs on food, health, history, music, and other interests? Do you like to dress up for meals at regular times with regular tablemates on a ship with luxurious pampering, or to eat and dress more casually?
- Budget Ask yourself if you’ll feel confined in an inside cabin. It may be worth upgrading to one with sunlight and fresh air. It’s also important to understand the array of charges that may show up on your total bill—port fees, taxes, and other items beyond the quoted price. For instance, coffee, tea, lemonade, and breakfast juices are usually covered, but not soft drinks, bottled water, and alcohol.
- Timing There’s an art to knowing the best and worst seasons to go. Cruise industry trends can also determine good and bad times to buy your ticket. A good travel agent can guide you through the ins and outs to help you get your money’s worth.
AAA custom cruises and tours offer extra rewards for AAA members, including a Best Price Guarantee and 24/7 Member Care (help when you need travel assistance either at home or abroad), plus other perks such as early embarkation, onboard spending credits, and prepaid tips. For more information, visit any AAA branch.
This article was first published in March 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.