What we consider luxury, ultra-luxury, or an elevated cruise experience is very different from customer to customer. Most important is that the expectation of your cruise matches your real-life experience both onboard and onshore.
However, we believe some areas can make or break a great cruise vacation. We call them the five pillars of a great cruise vacation. You want to get it right in these five areas long before you even hit the “book” button with the cruise line.
1. Service, service, service
Pampering at any level allows you to enjoy being looked after in a way that, let’s face it, doesn’t happen at home. And you don’t have to book with a luxury or ultra-luxury cruise line to enjoy excellent service and attention to detail.
Good service is a must-have on any cruise. You will be spending a lot of time on the ship, and it is essential to have friendly and attentive staff available to meet your every need. That includes a warm welcome when you step on board and attentive servers who remember your name and favorite drink. You will feel pampered and relaxed throughout your vacation with top-notch service.
Remember, it is something you pay for and should be expected. Some cruise lines include the service fee (gratuities) in the price, while others have this as a separate charge.
For example, meeting and chatting with your cabin steward on the first day will ensure that your specific wishes are noted. If you need more space, ask them to remove a chair or side table you don’t need in your room. Do you need more clothes hangers? Have you just popped a light bulb? Or do you prefer not to have a turn-down service each evening? Let them know, and you will be cared for throughout your voyage.
2. Your cruise cabin
Your cabin, your castle. Don’t underestimate the importance of a comfortable cabin. Your cabin is your home away from home while you are on a cruise, and choosing the right one is essential.
However much time you think you won’t be in your cabin, I assure you that your cabin size and location will matter to you once on board. The size and amenities of your cabin will depend on your budget and preferences. Whether you opt for an interior stateroom or a luxurious suite, you want to ensure your cabin is spacious enough for your needs.
Research is vital to it getting right. Read what earlier cruisers have written about cabin choice on Facebook groups or learn about common mistakes to avoid when choosing a cabin. Then decide what is important to you.
Do you want the fresh air and endless horizons of a balcony view? Is it essential to be close to the elevators due to mobility issues, even though you may hear more in the corridor outside your door?
Often getting it right means having a flexible budget and deciding if the larger cabins in a better location are important enough to you to spend the extra dollars.
3. The right cruise ship
Are you dreaming of a beach retreat, an amusement park with thrill rides, or a ship that offers some Broadway glitz? Are you looking for a cruise vacation that suits your family with young children or a cruise ship with a party atmosphere to share with friends?
Perhaps you need something smaller, more personal, and with particular experiences in mind? Such as exploring remote locations and natural wonders on an expedition cruise. This type of journey, where you interact more with nature than other cruise guests, maybe what you are after.
A cruise ship is like a floating city; choosing one with the amenities and activities that interest you is essential. Many options exist, from pools and spas to fitness centers and entertainment venues. Some ships also offer unique experiences like zip-lining, ice-skating, and rock climbing, so research the ship’s offerings before booking.
One of the benefits of choosing a specialized cruise is that the onboard activities and amenities are tailored to your interests. For example, a nature-focused cruise might offer wildlife conservation, ecology, and geology lectures. It may also feature guided tours of local natural landmarks and wildlife habitats.
Or you may just be looking to hang out by the pools with your kids and have access to excellent fitness facilities during your time onboard. Figure out what matters to you; that is the essence of a great vacation.
4. The dining experience
Who doesn’t enjoy great food? Even if you are not a foodie, you will appreciate the variety of dining options on board cruise ships. Indeed one of the most talked about aspects of cruising is the dining experience.
An outstanding culinary experience and its value to your cruise cannot be underestimated. Food is a significant highlight of any vacation, and cruises are no exception. Most cruise lines offer many dining options, from casual buffets to formal dinners in upscale restaurants.
Many ships also have celebrity chefs onboard who design menus and offer cooking demonstrations. With so many options, it’s essential to research and choose a cruise that offers the dining experiences you enjoy.
5. Your cruise itinerary
Your cruise itinerary is arguably the most critical factor in planning a great cruise vacation and can make or break your holiday at sea.
Whether you are interested in exploring new cultures, relaxing on a pristine beach, or experiencing natural wonders, the destinations you visit will shape your entire vacation experience.
Be sure to research the ports of call and shore excursions available to ensure that you choose a cruise that fits your interests and preferences.
Many specialized cruises also offer unique shore excursions that cater to the interests of their passengers. A wildlife-focused cruise may offer guided hikes through the rainforest or visits to local nature reserves. These excursions provide an opportunity to see rare and exotic wildlife up close and to explore parts of the world that are not typically accessible to tourists.