Part I of our cruise routes series helps you select the best route for your holiday. Read on for the best cruise routes for first-time cruisers, families, couples, older cruisers and those with plenty of time on their hands.
Going on a cruise for the first time can be daunting. The first thing to be aware of is that a cruise doesn’t have to cost you your life savings. Don’t forget, the price includes food, accommodation, day- and night-time entertainment, gym membership, kids clubs and flights. It doesn’t usually include spa treatments or shore excursions. Plus, early booking discounts are available. In many cases cruises are a more affordable option than land-based holidays.
Once you’ve set your budget, it’s important to decide what you want from your cruise. The variety of cruises available is staggering, from mini cruises and world cruises to Caribbean, Mediterranean, Baltic, Alaskan and Antarctic cruises, and they cater for a much greater range of holidaymakers than the ‘newly wed or nearly dead’ cliché would have you believe.
If you’re travelling as a couple, you’re going to have a different set of priorities to those holidaying as a family or in their retirement. Likewise, if you’ve only got a few days to spare, you’re going to want a completely different experience to those lucky cruisers who have entire months at their disposal. The beauty of the cruise holiday is that there’s something for everyone.
We’ve divided our recommendations into traveller type (families, couples, older cruisers, the time-rich and the time-poor) and your interests (adventure, culture, sun and getting to know a port). Here’s our guide to choosing the best cruise based on your traveller type:
Families are brilliantly catered for on cruises, and we don’t just mean the food. When it comes to choosing a ship, the basic rule is ‘the bigger the better’. The larger ships have kids clubs, babysitting services, multiple dining options and all kinds of activities for all ages, from spas and golf driving ranges for mum and dad, to swimming pools and climbing walls for all the family. Kids are so well taken care of that you could easily go for days without seeing them! And the environment on cruise ships is safe and contained enough that there’s absolutely no need to worry.
The best routes for families are in the Mediterranean and Caribbean, where the warm weather means kids can make the most of on-board swimming pools and outdoor activities.
As a couple you can be as sociable or as coupley as you choose. Obviously there are plenty of other people to mix with and the unique cruise liner atmosphere means it’s easy to get talking over a formal dinner or while taking part in dance classes or team games such as volleyball. When you’re feeling romantic, you can indulge in some pampering for twosomes or enjoy the view from your private balcony.
You can also get married on board – the captain can legally marry you! The only criterion is that you must be in a port or no more than 5km (3 miles) from land. Most cruise liners will sort the whole ceremony out for you, including photo albums. There might even be a few upgrades in it for you.
The most romantic destinations are the Caribbean, for honeymoon-standard white-sand beaches and colourful rum cocktails, and Alaska for snuggling up in front of jaw-dropping views of mountains and glaciers and a spot of whale watching.
For older cruisers
A more traditional cruise suits the older traveller. A mid-sized ship is cosier, cheaper and you can explore ashore by day and enjoy some on-board entertainment in the evening. You usually have to dress for dinner and can choose a child-free ship.
Top destinations for older cruisers include the fjords of Norway, northern Europe and the Baltic. Retired travellers might also find the time for a round-the-world cruise taking in the delights of the Far East, Europe and the Americas (see For time-rich cruisers below).
For time-poor cruisers
Cruises don’t have to mean endless days at sea. Mini cruises are becoming more and more popular with time-famished holidaymakers. They’re also a great, non-committal way to get a taster of what a cruise is all about, so perfect for first-time cruisers. Mini cruises generally last four to five days and include all the usual on-board entertainment but you get more for your money than you would with a land-based holiday as you usually visit two to three destinations in that time.
You can cruise to destinations in the Baltic, France, Spain and Channel Islands directly from the UK, or fly to ports in the Caribbean or Spain and Italy for Mediterranean mini cruises.
For time-rich cruisers
Lucky, lucky time-rich travellers! A round-the-world cruise is the ultimate in cruising. Usually lasting anywhere from four weeks to three months, these cruises take in just about every type of destination you can think of. A typical trip, starting in the UK might take you across the Atlantic to the Caribbean and USA, through the Panama Canal to a few ports in South America before cruising on to some South Pacific islands, including Hawaii, then on to the New Zealand and Australia. Asia comes next, followed by Africa or the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean. Of course, you can do this in the opposite direction or join a cruise for just a section. Themed cruises, such as visiting Commonwealth countries, are also available.
A world cruise is a hassle-free way to experience plenty of different cultures without having to deal with the hassles of airport check in, lost luggage or arranging your own transport. One thing worth asking is how long the ship stays in each port – with all that time at sea you’ll need more than one day on land at a time.
Check out our cruise guides and Cruise routes: which is right for you? part II for help choosing a route based on your interests.