9 essential steps on how to plan and book a cruise trip

If your cruise vacation starts when you first board your flight you are doing it all wrong. The planning stage is where the excitement starts. Here are our best tips on how to decide on a destination, then plan and book a cruise trip that will give you value for money and unforgettable memories.

Many cruise guests prefer to let a travel agent do all the work when planning a trip. But to really save money, consider planning your own vacation.

The benefits of investing time in planning your trip

Not only will you save money but you also get the added bonus of always being in control of your plans. And you learn so much from the research process you will probably end up doing more fun activites and seeing more new places than you ever thought possible. 

In other words you won’t just get a standard package from a travel agent that they have sold numerous times before.

So, it’s time to discover where you really want to go.

Remember, planning your own vacation will save you money and at the same time gives you a much richer vacation experience.

The real value of a cruise vacation consists of 3 parts:

  • the planning stage
  • the actual trip 
  • the memories created that your will share for years to come

Together these 3 parts form the true value of any holiday regardless of trip length and budget. 

Step 1: Define your budget to book a trip that fits your wallet

Your travel budget will of course always dictate and determine the type of vacation you can plan. Start as early as possible to save money for your dream vacation. When you have established your budget and just how much you have and are willing to spend on your vacation, then move onto the planning.

It may seem obvious but it is a really important step. And it is vital that you are honest with yourself. 

Afterall, where is the fun in being away on holiday and feel like everything is too expensive. 

Exactly, no fun at all. 

So set a budget that you are comfortable with and then stick to it. And if it’s a little less than what you had wished for, research ways in which you can save money and cruise for less before choosing your destination.

When you are trying to book a trip it is easy to get lost and dream for hours. It is of course harmless but do stay on point and look within your budget. Why look at trips and alternatives outside you reach? It is unlikely to make you feel better about the option you are actually booking.

We all have a budget when we book a trip. Period. The tríck is to make the most with the budget you have.

Step 2: How long are you planning to be away? When will you travel?

We already established that your travel budget will have a great impact on the type trip you can plan for your next vacation. 
Now, the second key factor is time and it really boils down to:

  1. the amount of time you can and want to spend away on your vacation
  2. when you want to travel

With regards to the amount of time you want to be away it is important to be precise as extra days directly translates into more cost.

As for when you want to travel we have the seasonal factor where peak season means higher prices but we also, especially on shorter trips, have the option to travel on less popular days to save money on flights and accommodation.

Step 3: Decide on the type of trip to narrow down your search

To make it even easier to book a trip you need to limit your searches. One way is to look at the type of  trip you are planning. We favor and promote cruise vacations because they offer great value for money and it’s a chance to see many destinations in one and the same trip.

But a cruise is not for everyone You may also be considering a different adventure focusing on:

  • Beach
  • Citybreak 
  • Culture
  • Adventure and activity
  • Romantic
  • Food and wine
  • Family

This step is meant to help you focus on the destinations and locations that meet your needs. It is easy to get sidetracked and spend hours reading long articles about perfect beaches and snorkeling while actually planning a weekend city break.

Step 4: Decide on your destination

When we reach step 4 we should already know the following

  • Budget: How much money are you prepared to spend?
  • Time: For how long and when are you travelling
  • Type of trip: What type of trip are you planning?

With this information we recommend a two step approach to finding your ideal destination.

1.Use the services of Kayak or Momondo Explorer

Using the Explorer function on Kayak or Momondo will allow you to enter the data from step 1 – 3 and see which flights that are available and at what cost.

Now, keep in mind that these price comparison sites are very flight-only centric so do not enter your entire travel budget in the filter. A tip is to start high and then work your way down to see what you can get for less.

At the same time, if you are choosing to book a cruise, know where your departure port is. The top cruise destinations go from major port cities such as Rome, Barcelona, London, Southampton, Miami, New York etc. Focus on seeing what you prices you can get to port destinations.

2. Let your travel agent have a go at booking your trip

Contact your local travel agent and give them the same information and see what they arrive at. If you want a cruise vacation, ask them to look at all possible cruise deals with a variety of cruise lines.

We are not saying you should contact your travel agent with the intent to steal their ideas.  Quite the opposite. We suggest you contact your travel agent to give them a chance to win your business.

Please do not hesitate to contact your travel agent. I remember sitting on the other side and all we wanted was a chance to deserve your business. 

Any travel agent worth their salt will jump at the opportunity to win your business by offering a great deal. And also, a professional travel agent should within minutes know if there is an opportunity. So be a friend and give your local travel agent the chance to book your trip.

So, what if the vacation options you find do not appeal to you? Or even worse, there are no available options within your budget for the time and duration you have specified?

You have two options:

  1. Change budget, time or any other input in step 1 – 3 and go back and see where you land.
  2. Take a look at how you can save more money and ways to stretch that travel budget a bit further. Then go back to step 1 and start again. 

Now, you can of course also look into purchasing your vacation on credit. But if you do, be careful not to overspend with money you do not have.

Remember how we already established that it is no fun to spend your vacation and not being able to afford anything? 

And, if you do decide to pay on credit, we recommend you try to pay off the whole cost of the trip before your vacation actually starts.

It is no fun to come home after a vacation and have to pay off a trip that is already taken place.

Step 5: check insurance based on results in step 4 and type of trip

Now, given the options generated in step 4 you need to check the cost and availability of insurance coverage. It is easy to book a trip but you need to keep our budget in mind.

Each individual is different but Covid-19 has once again taught us all that insurance coverage is important and it is also important to understand the details.

You need to ask yourself questions such as:

  • How much will travel insurance cost? What does it cover?
  • Do you need additional cancellation insurance cost? What does it cover?
  • What will it cost you if you are forced to cancel your trip if you  
    • are denied entry into your destination ?
    • do not want to travel due to health worries or concerns?
    • need to cut your trip short?

Step 6: Book flights

I have written an entire article on how to book cheap flights that make sense. 

But generally speaking you should book your flights by checking several booking platforms.

1. Price comparison sites

We recommend Momondo, Kayak and Skyscanner

2. Airline websites

Find our which airlines that traffic your desired routes via Google flights and then visit the airlines website directly.

3. Contact your local travel agent and ask them to quote you a price.

Again, your travel agent will find it tough to compete on flight only but please do give them the opportunity to compete for your business.

Unless you are in the market to book a package trip you are generally better off booking flights and accommodation separately. 

Why? 

Well, whereas flights get more expensive closer to departure we see the opposite trend for accommodation. 

I do recommend doing a quick check for accommodation before paying for your flight. This is merely to avoid picking the weekend/time of year when there are major conferences, sport events or the like making accommodation sparse and very expensive.

Step 7: Book accomodation

When it is finally time to book your accommodation you should not be afraid to haggle.

You have several excellent booking platforms to complement your options of going direct or even contacting your local travel agent.

Booking accommodation is fairly straightforward but there are a few points I want to make to help you avoid unnecessary discomfort and expenses.

  1. Is it an all inclusive price including all taxes, resort fees, breakfast, etc.?
  2. Does the hotel offer airport pickup? Discounted? Complementary?
  3. Is breakfast included for all guests in the room? 
  4. Is parking available / complementary? 
  5. Twin vs double bed. If important, ask before booking.

Step 8: Final preparations

Now it is time to finalise your insurance coverage and start looking at activities at your destination.

I do recommend booking major attractions beforehand to avoid queueing. But everything else only needs to be penciled in on a rough outline. 

Step 9: Practical details

1. You need a back-up credit card for peace of mind (if nothing else) 

What do you do if you lose your credit card? Or maybe it is simply denied and you have a bill to pay. Get a backup card and if you have a Visa, get a Mastercard and vice versa. American Express is also a great option but unfortunately not accepted everywhere.

2. Keep ATM fees under control

In many places cash is still important and ATMs are excellent when you need local currency. But the fees can be hefty. So why not look into a better solution and save yourself some money. 

Do check with your current bank or look into The Global ATM Alliance.

The Global ATM Alliance is a group of large international banks with the joint initiative to limit the fees on ATM transactions at another bank inside the network

Member banks include:

  • Bank of America (United States)
  • Barclays (United Kingdom)
  • BNP Paribas and affiliate banks (France, Ukraine, Turkey, Poland, Morocco, Italy, New Caledonia, Réunion, Guyane, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Luxembourg)
  • Banca Nazionale del Lavoro (Italy)
  • Deutsche Bank (Germany, Belgium, India, Spain, and Portugal)
  • Scotiabank (Canada, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Guyana, and the Caribbean)
  • Westpac (Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea)

3. Sign up for airlines and hotels membership programs for extra perks

We all love freebies and travel companies love members. So it really is a win-win that may get you stuff like a free bottle of water upon check-in at the hotel, later check-out at the hotel, priority boarding at the airport or discount on transfers from the airport. 

Need more cruise booking tips? We’re here to help!

If you need help deciding on the best cruise for you, these articles will help you along the way. They are full of good advice and travel tips to help you book the perfect cruise for you and your family:

Italy Cruise Package – Venice, Florence and Rome

Cruise from Venice – the essential guide

Cruise from London – the essential guide

Cruise Package – Mediterranean cruise from Rome 2022 – Royal Caribbean International

Best cruise deals and how to get them

Cruise from Barcelona – the essential guide

Meet the author: With more than 20 years experience from the travel industry, Mattias offers tips, expert advice and a unique perspective anchored in having worked with market leading cruise lines, tour operators, consolidators, airlines and hospitality suppliers. Read more..