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Can't decide if a cruise holiday is for you? While they've become an increasingly popular holiday choice, especially among over 50s, you may still be unsure of what to expect. We've put together this guide with advice from gransnetters on accommodation, entertainment, what to pack and what to do on board. Plus, our 12 secret cruising tips will help you plan and enjoy your holiday at sea.
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This might seem obvious, but research is key. There are now more cruise options than ever before, and more destinations to choose from, so the more you know, the less stressful booking a holiday becomes.
Be sure to check out different cruise destinations and talk to family or friends who have been on a cruise before. It's a good idea to plan how long you want to go on holiday for and, decide if you want to try out a shorter cruise for your first time (3-7 days) or go for longer (14 days) and potentially visit more places.
"If you live in reasonable travelling distance of a cruise port, most cruise liners have a ship visit programme. This gives you the opportunity to get a feel for a ship and see the cabins as well as the public areas. There is a charge, but it does usually include a very nice meal. We've done it a couple of times."
"On a river cruise, there is the advantage of unpacking only the once, but seeing lots of places. And it's easier to follow on the map where you are; you can look out for landmarks!"
Each trip and cruise liner will have different dress codes, so it's worth reading all the information on the website before you commence the
not so fun task of packing.
We've compiled a list of some of the most important things you'll need for a cruise trip in our handy packing guide, but be sure to seek the advice of seasoned cruisers on our travel forum - there will, no doubt, be others in the same boat (not literally).
If your departure point is in another country, (meaning you'll have to fly in order to get there) double check what documentation you'll need to take with you, baggage allowance and think about what to wear on the flight, plus any medication and extra items you'll need to bring with you.
"One thing we do take with us, if going on an older ship and if case weight will allow, is a multi-point suitable extension lead - cabin sockets are rarely where you want them to be and it's also helpful for charging multiple items at once. New ships should be fine socket-wise. If it's a non-UK ship, you may need adapters as well, but that information should be on the cruise site."
A cruise holiday doesn't have to cost the earth. There are always bargains to be had, especially if you travel outside of the school holidays and book during 'wave season' (between January and March). Cruise organisations like Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) often have promotions and last minute deals - perfect if you're the adventurous type!
"Look on the cruise channel on Sky - there are lots of bargains!"
Do you prefer the hustle and bustle of lots of people and entertainment options or would like a more relaxing break? Before you book a cruise you can see what kind of entertainment, bars, restaurants and the amount of passengers there will be on board with you. This will help you know if there will be enough to keep you occupied when you're at sea.
"The benefit of a smaller ship is going to less well known ports, but the entertainment on the larger ships is very good."
"You have to be honest with yourself about what type of cruise you want - same as any holiday. No use picking a big glitzy ship if you prefer staying in small family-run hotels."
Although lots of cruises depart from Southampton, if you want to start further afield you could look into ones that leave, for example, from Miami or Mykonos. You'll have to plan if you need to pre-book flights to the departure point and what travel documents and currency you need to pack.
"We travel from Southampton, a bit of a slog now, but booking a hotel the night before extends the holiday and makes life easy. Many cruise companies offer a car parking and return taxi package, but there is also good parking at the cruise terminal. We find the whole process easy and stress-free."
"Personally, I would rather fly and pick up the cruise in a warm place than start in the unpredictable UK."
Check if there are any compulsory dress codes you will need to consider when you pack. NCL let you wear what you like, from casual wear to getting dressed up - it's completely up to you. Whether you feel like donning a ball gown or relaxing in flip-flops, cruises have plenty of bars and restaurants that you'll feel at home in. Most ships will have dining options that range from casual buffet style dining to gourmet restaurants and champagne bars.
"We went on a cruise last year and we enjoyed dressing up, but the buffet was still open for those who didn't wish to join in with the formal evenings."
"We have a friend who hates dressing up. He is now a cruise convert. Most have a buffet restaurant which is casual, serve yourself and eat any time. If you are happy with this rather than formal dining you can dress as you please. The dress code is usually in the cruise company's brochure."
Day trips from ports of call are organised in advance, but there's never any pressure to go on them if you'd rather relax on the ship for the day instead. There's also the options of solo excursions if you prefer to do your own thing.
"If you organise your own excursions, don't plan to leave the ship for an hour or two after docking as organised trips often have priority."
Cruises are designed to offer lots of opportunities for socialising and meeting new people at dinner. However, if you'd prefer to just eat with the people you're on holiday with you can always request private tables. There are always lots of options for places to eat on board - NCL have up to 21 on each ship! You're free to enjoy everything from a four-course meal to helping yourself at a buffet.
"Make sure you get a table for two. You can always talk to people at other times, but I think food is for enjoying and not for making small talk or listening to boastful conversations about previous cruising exploits from comparative strangers."
"If you are travelling as a couple you will be together all day and night. Go for a large table - you will meet new people, many of whom will be only too happy to pass on hints and tips. If you go for freedom dining where you turn up for dinner when you want to, you will probably be seated with new people every night."
There are enough restaurants and sittings to go around all the cruise guests, but if you prefer quieter dining and eating outside of rush times then you might want to plan ahead, or even enjoy breakfast in bed with room service.
"We avoided the breakfast bun fight by eating breakfast in the formal dining room - very civilised. We hadn't realised it was an option for the first few days."
Tips are often included by the ship but if you want to make an additional tip to staff to show your appreciation it will be gratefully received. Some guests on cruises like to tip staff, especially if they've had a dedicated person looking after them, but this isn't an obligation.
"Tips are generally added to your account each day, but you always have the option to make your own arrangements."
"I've just come back from a 12-day cruise and the tips were £66. I think that's pretty good value."
Don't worry about not knowing your way around the ship or forgetting what day the ship is docking. There will be lots of crew members on board to answer any questions you have about directions, meal times or booking trips
"Once on board, it's worth asking your cabin steward anything you are unsure about - they know it all!"
Cruises will have staff and facilities to provide assistance you may need on the holiday. If you are likely to need assistance this helpful guide contains all you need to know about accessible cruising.
"I am disabled and use a mobility scooter on board. Cruising is the only way I can have a holiday on my own using rooms with disabled access and manage to see other countries."
"A lot of people use mobility scooters around cruise ships. I use a fold up luggie which will fit any cabin, but you may need to book a disabled equipped room with a bigger one."
You can usually take a certain amount of your own booze on the ship (best to check how much beforehand!) so you can have a tipple in your cabin before the night gets started.
"As for alcohol, why not take your own with you to drink in your cabin? We bought local booze at stops!"
"You can take your own soft drinks on board and use the fridge in your cabin. I like a particular brand of canned soft drink not stocked on any ship, so I take my own for cabin use."
Cruises can be a great way of seeing countries and cities that you might never have thought you'd get to see. You'll have chances to meet lots of new people and try foods and have experiences you wouldn't get anywhere else.
"What one person loves, another will hate, so just because someone thinks a particular cruise destination is wonderful, it may not be suitable for you."
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Whether you're a first-timer, single traveller, person with a disability or holidaying on a budget, there's a cruise for everyone.
Enjoy a three-night break around the Mediterranean, visiting beautiful Barcelona, Naples and finishing your trip in Rome. Especially suitable for travellers who want to save a few bob with a low cost cruise. Also great as a taster cruise for first-timers. See more short cruises with NCL.
Take a cruise to Norway and Iceland, departing from Southampton and find out what it's really like to live in the far flung Fjords. Feeling active? Go for a mountain walk or peaceful kayak tour. You will also, of course, be able to explore the exciting city of Reykjavik.
Opt for a trip to Orlando via Lisbon, home to delicious Basque-country tapas and the famous pastel de nata. Feel free to organise your own trips into the city or go on the tours organised by the cruise.
"You don't have to go on the organised trips. In fact, we don't and wander by ourselves instead."
"Nights are spent far from civilisation on the wild sides of the lochs. Lots of lovely walks and other activities between stops - canoeing, biking, etc (all optional). It was one of the best holidays we've ever had."
For a fabulous Mediterranean cruise try a winter break for some sun when the weather turns and you fancy a cheaper holiday.
For a cruise designed specifically for solo travellers, try one of NCL's cruises. They offer a large range of cabins, including the industry's first Studio stateroom for solo travellers and a variety of exclusive events for single guests to make the experience as memorable and as fun as possible.
NCL offers the ultimate in freedom, flexibility and choice with Free at Sea. You can design your perfect cruise holiday by adding two offers from only £99pp. Choose from - Premium Beverage Package, Speciality Dining Package, WIFI Package, Shore Excursion Credit and Family & Friends sailing at a reduced fare. And if you book a suite or The Haven, you'll get all applicable offers included.
With 17 ships, 122 countries and over 300 ports of call, discover what it really means to Feel Free at Sea. Take a look at NCL's guide to their Free at Sea offers which will help you plan your cruise trip so you can relax before you travel.
Are you in need of more travel advice? Join the conversation on our travel forum.