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To cruise or not to cruise? That is the question. Cruises haven't always been as attractive as they are now (all that dashing from port to port never sounded all that relaxing, did it?), but they can be quite the popular holiday choice, especially for those over 50. So here's how to find the right cruise for you, plus 15 secret cruising tips that'll see you through any cruise holiday.
There are a myriad of different cruise companies to choose from and an even greater number of options available, so the more you know the more stress-free booking becomes. It's important to do your research. Look at:
Be sure to check out different cruise websites and cruise reviews via Facebook and Cruise Critic and talk to family or friends who have been on a cruise before. Also decide what size ship you'd prefer to be on - smaller and medium-sized often allow for more flexible dining and dress codes.
A few questions to ask yourself:
Need some extra help choosing? Take our cruise quiz and let the internet gods decide for you.
"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!"
"You just have to research and look at reviews on Cruise Critic and Facebook, which are both really helpful."
Each company and cruise liner will have a different dress code, so it's worth reading all the information on their 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). And if you're a notorious over-packer, check out our tips on how to pack light for your holidays.
If your embarkation point is in another country, meaning you'll have to fly in order to get there, remember to think about what to wear on the flight and double check what documentation you'll need to take 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."
"Look on the cruise channel on Sky - there are lots of bargains!"
"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."
"For a virgin cruiser, I would suggest you try a British ship. We have just returned from a Fred.Olsen cruise which was the best ever! Although we were on a small ship, everyone was polite and friendly. We cruised round the Canary Islands, had lovely weather and enjoyed good food."
"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."
"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."
"If you fear seasickness, go for a cabin in the middle of the ship or lower down. There's least motion there."
"Most are fine with a double bed or twin beds, but there are a few where they are more like bunks and folded away to make room during the day."
"You don't have to go on the organised trips. In fact, we don't and wander by ourselves instead."
"If you plan to organise your own excursions, don't plan to leave the ship for an hour or two after docking as organised trips often have priority."
"Be prepared for a fair bit of walking. We prefer mid-sized ships, but these are growing as the largest are now enormous, so walking from the dining room to the theatre can take time. Perhaps five to 10 minutes so you may need to rush to catch a show. Even returning to your cabin after a long day trip ashore can seem like a day-long hike!"
"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."
"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 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."
"Once on board, it's worth asking your cabin steward anything you are unsure about - they know it all!"
"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."
"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."
"What one person loves, another will hate, so just because someone thinks a particular cruise line is wonderful, it may not be suitable for you."
No matter whether you're a first-timer, single traveller, person with a disability or holidaying on a budget, there's a cruise for everyone.
For those who have never been on a cruise before and fancy dipping their feet in, a Rhine River Cruise is the perfect choice. Explore Germany's most famous river, historic towns and fairytale castles completely hassle-free. Book here.
Enjoy a three-night Amsterdam and Antwerp weekend break with Cruise & Maritime Voyages. Especially suitable for travellers who want to save a few bob. Also great as a taster cruise for first-time cruisers. Book here.
Take a cruise to Norway and find out what it's really like to live in the far flung Norwegian 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 Oslo. Book here.
Opt for the round trip of Norway with Fred.Olsen Cruise Line for spectacular views of the Northern Lights and a chance to see all of the Norwegian coast. As one gransnetter says, "Both times we went on an astronomy voyage on the Trollfjord ship, with Dr John Mason as on board expert, to see the Northern Lights. They did not disappoint." Book here.
For this, one gransnetter highly recommends the Fingal of Caledonia: "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." Book here.
For a fabulous Mediterranean cruise, try P&O or Royal Caribbean. One gransnetter (who went on a Royal Caribbean) says, "No seasickness, amazing food, do as you want, lots of great stops around Italy, France and Spain, entertainment for everyone and quiet places like libraries and sunbathing spots on the many decks. No hint of hi-di-hi and no pressure to attend formal dinners if that's not for you." Try the Mediterranean in winter for a cheaper holiday. Book here.
For a cruise designed specifically for solo travellers, try one of Saga's small-ship cruises. They offer a large range of cabins and a variety of exclusive events for single guests to make the experience as memorable and as fun as possible. Book here.
If you're not quite sure whether to take the plunge, here are our tips for travelling by yourself - it could well be the most liberating experience of your life.
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