Choosing a cruise, if its your first time, can be a daunting experience. All those different ships, big and small, luxurious and more relaxed... what to choose?
The best way to start, is by the itinerary, most cruise lines follow a pattern, and they sail away, intertwining with each other, with passengers watching one sail away as another arrives.
Obviously cost, is an important factor when choosing a cruise line that suits your budget, but cruising is a product that still has flexible pricing. All the companies, have a brochure price and a sale price, and they will bombard you with offers once you sign up to their websites. When a particular cruise is not selling well, or is just launched, the price will come down, once it starts to fill up, the price rises too. They will tempt you with onboard credits, cabin upgrades, and drinks packages, but in the end you must choose which suits you best. So here are a few pointers to help you get started.
Which cruise line, my personal opinion....
Norwegian, fun, bright colours, easy relaxed cruising, very very friendly, some older ships some new, great itineraries, and by far the most affordable. Its a great line to start with. It will be very easy to get hooked. The great thing about NCL, is the freedom to dine where and when you want to, you can dress up if you want, or dress down if you prefer, but even they have rules about attire in the evening. I have been on four NCL cruises and always enjoyed the lovely atmosphere and service with a smile. NCL offer an excellent range of cabins and are the first in their field to offer something for the single traveller. Medium to large ships, they are definitely to be recommended.
The very first line I went on way way back on a Caribbean cruise - I was hooked. Their ships are very well kept with a structure and procedure that’s hard to find fault with. They offer a variety of different cruise lengths and have a fleet of ships of all sizes. Some, in my opinion, are far too big.
Royal Caribbean have become quite pricey lately, this may be because of extensive advertising, and i would say, they are probably the best known cruise brand in UK. They do cater for everyone though and offer excellent food and very good onboard entertainment, including ice rinks and climbing walls!
I have a huge soft spot for this line, they manage to be competitive in price, have marvellous itineraries and beautiful ships. Please dont let that recent TV documentary put you off. It was not a good reflection on this wonderful company. Princess, in my opinion, have got it just right. They do cater for the more discerning traveller but are not in the top notch grade. They are comfortable, like a home from home, combining sophistication with relaxation. I cant recommend them enough.
Holland and America
Not really known that well in the UK, which is a great shame, because 'Holland and Barratt', as I like to call them, do exactly what they say they do, and then some. Very sophisticated, and classy. Small ships, with gorgeous furniture, some slightly old fashioned, stripped wooden decks and chrome are a feature, as opposed to some of the over glitzy new ships that are around. Their itineraries are second to none, offering real voyages as well as a cultural experience from Europe to South America. I did the Caribbean and Panama Canal, and could not have been happier. Everything is understated perfection. They are not the cheapest by far and I got the impression that they keep their clients. Life on board is like being in a very wonderful English country house. Downton of the Seas maybe?
Unfortunately I had a not so nice experience on this line and was very disappointed in the service and attitude of the staff. But the food was excellent and its well worth taking one of their Aqua Suites, which give you alternative dining which is superb. The cabins were smart, the ship was sleek and very trendy, but so much space was lost by grass areas, which you had to pay to go on. The atrium was messy. If you like your lighting neon and a crisp white atmosphere than this the cruise line for you.
I did a seven day Barcelona to Rome cruise on this line. It was a completely different experience which I thought was marvellous. These small sail ships can slip in and out of ports that the others ships can only dream of. If you want to skate on ice or zip line while on board, avoid this line. However if you want to feel like a you're on a yacht with like minded people and are happy to while away the evenings chatting on deck over a glass of wine or two, then don’t hesitate. They are expensive but for the experience... its worth every penny.
Probably the most famous cruise line in the world. Images of years gone by, trans atlantic crossings, sumptuous cabins, and a class system that is still there today, this is Cunard. No longer a British company, but still flying the flag. Its fleet of medium size ships stand out in any port with their smart design and simplicity. With journeys that circum-navigate the globe, the Elizabeth, the Victoria and The Mary, are un-mistakable. I have done several Cunard Cruises and enjoyed them - from two Southampton New York’s on QE2 and Queen Mary, to the Norwegian Fjords and a Grand Mediteranean.
Cunard is old world luxury. You must not even think of going to dinner without a tie. Every night is formal night and when it is formal night, you better make sure your tiara is on straight. Its a different world - not for everyone - but the closest you will find on the high seas that resembles Hollywood in the 1930’s.