Knowing how to pick a cruise helps both first-time and experienced passengers choose just the right cruise vacation for their travel preferences and budget.

The following review is integrated with Cruise Planning.

How to choose the right cruise?

How to pick a cruise means not only to know how to choose an island and hop around the Caribbean. Today we can enjoy first-class dining, spa services, zip lines, golf, gambling and even a water coaster ride, all while onboard the ship. Due to the endless array of options, picking the right cruise can make your vacation experience. To know how to pick a cruise means searching through piles of new itineraries and amenities being unveiled permanently. Choosing the right cruise for you can seem like a formidable task, especially for first timers. 

Follow our easy tips and help yourself find the best cruise experience, tailored to your personal preferences.

How to pick a cruise: 12 tips to narrow your options

  1. Where you want to go? First, consider the destination you want to go. One of the most popular destination for cruises is the Caribbean, and there is a reason why - it is great for families, couples, and even singles. Caribbean voyages are very relaxing because there is no pressure to get off the cruise ship early to explore. But if you like to explore, you better choose an itinerary with a lot of time off of the ship in ports of call like Europe, South America, why not Africa. One of the best sides of cruising is that it removes obstacles that make international vacation planning complicated, like transportation and language barriers. Cruising is one of the easiest ways to enjoy faraway destinations. But have in mind that not every cruise line goes to every destination. Some companies are stronger than others in specific areas.
  2. Which departure port and ports of call to choose? The initial departure port for your cruise can have a huge impact on travel plans. Some cruise ports, such as San Diego or the Port of Miami, are much more convenient to vast airports or other travel options. Learn more about the port in order to plan how to handle parking, checking in, luggage and other essentials. Learning about the ports of call on your itinerary can help you become excited about seeing new places or choose to investigate different itineraries. Get informed about local currency, cruise shore excursion options and popular attractions, to make the most out of your limited time in port.
  3. When to go? Often cruise vacations must be planned around school holidays, so you’ll have to choose a destination with optimal weather for the time of year that you can travel. The Caribbean, Mexico and Hawaii are popular destinations for winter cruising, but Southeast Asia and South America also offer good cruising weather for those looking for something adventurous. During the summer months, consider Europe or Alaska. The warm weather in these areas is worth the crowds you may experience. If you choose to save money and avoid crowds, consider cruising during shoulder season when fares are lower but weather is still reliable. Hurricane season cruising is another idea which is not so risky as it initially looks like.
  4. How long do you want to be away? The answer to this question can have a huge influence on which cruise line and ship you choose. There are lines, like Carnival, that specialize in shorter sailings of up to seven nights. Other cruise companies, such as Oceania, rarely offer a cruise of fewer than ten nights. There are a few lines on the far end of the spectrum, such as Holland America and Cunard, which operate around-the-world cruises of 100 or more nights on an annual basis. Another idea is to consider cruise ship retirement and stay at sea for a lifetime.
  5. Which cruise line and ship to choose? As we said above, different lines have different personalities. Cunard, for example, exemplifies the sophisticated classic ocean cruises, while Carnival offers modern party atmosphere aboard line's Fun Ships. Knowing the differences between cruise companies can help you choose the best for your getaway. Some passengers may prefer a regular mainstream cruise, while others choose the extravagance of a luxury sailing. A lengthy river cruise is the most intimate experience for some vacationers, while others may prefer a fun weekend trip instead. Adventure cruises, on the other hand, offer unique and exhilarating experiences. However, have in mind that even within the same cruise line, different ships offer different amenities. The largest ships may have more activities and dining options, while smaller ships feature a more laid back atmosphere and sophisticated ambiance. Choosing ship size - a boutique vessel or mega ship - has a huge impact on cruise environment. 
  6. What's your budget? Just like hotels, cruise vacations come in a variety of price points with different features to match. Mass-market cruise lines offer voyages for as little as US$400-500 per person, per week. More luxury lines like Seabourn and Regent Seven Seas charge as much as US$1,000 per person, per day. Fares can swing considerably depending on the season (on the same ship the same cabin will cost a lot more during peak summer months than in the fall). The lead-in price you may see in advertisements is often for a tiny "inside" cabin with no window onto the sea. And you may have to pay hundreds more for an oceanview stateroom with a balcony. Also, be prepared: you should learn what your cruise price inclusions are. Other expenses, except the cruise price itself, include drinks, specialty dining, gratuities, shore excursions, souvenirs and other items that can make at first a cheap deal much more expensive. While companies like Princess and Royal Caribbean include most onboard meals, activities and entertainment in the base cost. Guests have to pay extra for specialty restaurants (US$10-30 per person) and drinks. Mass-market lines usually add a gratuity for their staff that can be as much as US$12 per person, per day. There are also additional charges for everything from shore excursions to onboard Internet. At the high end, much more is included in base fare - extra charges are relatively rare. Regent and other luxury lines include the cost of drinks (including fine wines), specialty restaurants, gratuities and some shore excursions in their costs.
  7. How to choose the right cabin? If you’re planning to spend a lot of time on the cruise ship relaxing, you may wish to splurge on a larger stateroom. But if you plan to leave the vessel and take advantage of shore excursions every possible minute, then you may prefer to book a smaller cabin and save your money for tours. Likewise, if you are an extremely social individual and plan to spend more time socializing, it is not worth the budget to invest in private balcony. However, be realistic about the things you can tolerate. If you get claustrophobic without a window, the upgrade is mandatory. Or else, the money you save come at the cost of an exciting vacation. Interior ship cabins can be cramped but are great for short vacations or singles cruises, while a luxurious ocean view cabin or suite is perfect for a honeymoon voyage.
  8. Who are you traveling with? Consider your companions. Are you cruising with your spouse for a romantic trip, your kids for a fun family vacation, or you're part of a multigenerational group looking to have a good time and memorable shared experiences? If you are with your brood, consider Disney Cruise Line as it specializes in family entertainment. Other mass-market lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean are today leaders in family-friendly cruising and provide extensive onboard kids areas, family pools, deck-top water parks and other kid-friendly amenities. The biggest mass-market cruise ships tend to be the best for families, with a wide range of deck-top activities. If you prefer a line that will provide an intimate and romantic setting, the luxury lines such as Azamara Club and Regent Seven Seas Cruises offer some of the best value for exceptional style. 
  9. What's your cruise personality? Knowing how you want to spend your time is of great importance. Every line appeals to a different type of individuals. Carnival, for example, is known for a fun-loving crowd. Celebrity Cruises, by contrast, draws a more style-conscious and quieter customer. The two lines operate cruise ships of similar sizes, often at similar prices and on similar routes, but a regular Carnival cruiser would likely feel miserable on a Celebrity cruise ship, and vice versa. If you’re hoping to spend more time aboard during your vacation, you’d better choose a vessel with lots of activities. Royal Caribbean caters to guests of all ages with zip lines, rock climbing walls, ice-skating rinks and even bumper cars. Their entertainment is top of the line and includes Mystery Dinner theaters and Broadway-caliber shows that will entertain couples and families alike. If you’re less concerned with onboard activities and more interested in what you’ll see when outside the ship, consider choosing a sailing specialized in destination immersion. Azamara caters to a sophisticated clientele with priorities to maximize time off the cruise ship, with late port departures and overnight stays at ports. Oceania also offers late port departures, allowing guests to experience each visit to its fullest.
  10. How important is your cruise food? Dining has always been a big part of any experience at sea, and many cruise lines pride themselves on a huge selection of restaurants, placing far more emphasis on gourmet dining than others. Lines like Cunard, Crystal and Oceania have brought in big-name chefs (Todd English, Nobu Matsuhisa and Jacques Pepin) to create and manage restaurants. Diversity varies widely, with some cruise lines such as Norwegian and Royal Caribbean offering more than a dozen eateries on some ships. Considering a Food and Wine Cruise is another option.
  11. Do you want to get dressed up? In recent years cruise ships have become less formal. The days of black-tie formal nights are virtually gone. However, the dress code at sea varies from line to line, sometimes notably. Do you prefer to keep it super casual? Then you might want to sail with Norwegian, where "freestyle cruising" philosophy extends to the dress code and even bluejeans are allowed at dinner. By contrast, on Cunard, formal nights (evening wear for ladies, black tie for men) still take place several times per week, and guests wear jackets even on casual cruise nights. 
  12. How to get the most value by your cruise? Think about what you want out of your vacation experience and where you will end up spending the most and then choose a trip that offers the best value for that. Foodies should look for a line with a focus on gourmet dishes. If you value fine spirits and wine, consider choosing a voyage that offers all-inclusive packages including alcoholic beverages in the price. Azamara Club offers unlimited premium packages, as well as complimentary sodas, standard spirits and specialty coffees. Regent Seven Seas Cruises also provides unlimited beverages. If instead you prefer to explore each destination, in each port of call Regent offers free, unlimited shore excursions.

How to pick a cruise: research resources

Doing extensive research is of great importance before choosing a cruise. Cruise passengers must not only research the destination they are going, but also how to get there, which cruise line and ship they are most interested in. It may seem overwhelming to research so extensively a cruise vacation before booking, but there are a wealth of resources available to help vacationers decide how to pick a cruise:

  • Official cruise line, destination and departure port websites;
  • Cruise line, ship and itinerary reviews;
  • Travel brochures and videos;
  • Cruise travel informational websites and forums;
  • Cruise travel guidebooks and magazines;
  • Cruise travel agents.

Savvy cruisers will consult several resources while researching to be sure they have updated, complete information to make an informed choice. It seems like a lot of work to prepare for a vacation, but the research will pay off with a more enjoyable cruise. Unlike land-based vacation plans and resorts, if you haven't picked the most suitable itinerary for your interests or something is amiss onboard the cruise ship, you cannot alter your route or change your mind. Poor planning that requires cancellations or changes prior to sailing will result in hefty fees. Passengers who didn't do the needed research may spend more time lost, confused and uncertain, instead of enjoying their time onboard.

Knowing how to pick a cruise will help you find just the right trip for your vacation plan. Extensive research will help you choose the best line, cruise dates, cabin, and more to make your cruise an exciting vacation you can enjoy with confidence.