There is no doubt that once you take the plunge on your first cruise vacation, you never go back. Or so I’ve heard. According to a 2014 CLIA report, 62% of cruisers were repeats and 69% believed cruises to be a better value over land-based vacations. For those new to cruising, here is when you should opt for a cruise instead of an all-inclusive resort.
When you want great entertainment and nightlife
Cruises are definitely the way to go if you are searching for spectacular entertainment. Everything you could ask for is available – from casinos and lounges to comedy and tribute shows to live orchestras. Hit the disco dance floor in your regular Saturday night attire or enjoy a classy jazz bar if you are looking for something more formal.
The shows onboard rival those of Las Vegas and NYC’s Broadway, offering both homegrown ship productions and Tony Award winning musicals. Carnival Cruise Line is great for those who like the Las Vegas atmosphere or Cancun-style nightlife. It is more informal than other cruise lines and offers both a busy vacation and fun for all ages. The new Carnival Vista will have 17 bars, countless live concerts and theatre, karaoke, movies by the pool, a game show, casino, comedy club, nightclub and more.
Holland America guests will be captivated by Dancing with the Stars shown on every cruise, while those who get to sail the ms Eurodam can enjoy the smooth sounds of B.B. King’s Blues Club. On a Royal Caribbean cruise, guests can experience Broadway at Sea, where famous musicals like CATS, Mamma Mia!, and Chicago can be watched for free. The one-of-a-kind, whimsical Cirque Dreams and Dinner can be enjoyed on the Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Epic while the Caribbean itineraries of Norwegian Epic host the Blue Man Group’s energetic performance full of paint and techno.
Even river cruising offers entertainment, though it is usually more upscale and tuned-down, catered to an older crowd of cruisers. Avalon Waterways has special interest cruises like the Jazz River Cruise, which offers nightly entertainment by a jazz expert as well as onboard performances by local jazz bands. Depending on your age group and interests, our travel agents can recommend a ship with entertainment catered to you.
When you are looking for a large hotel
Hotels range in size, from less than 100 rooms to over 1000. Those who prefer small boutique hotels made for romance and relaxation may not find their serenity at sea. If you enjoy the activity of large hotels, a cruise ship can provide that same type of hustle and bustle, with ships as large as 2500+ staterooms. Mega-resorts like the new Baha Mar complex in the Bahamas are impressively large, accommodating more than 2,000 guests. But mega-ships like Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of Seas and NCL’s Norwegian Epic are even more packed, hosting upwards of 4,000 passengers.
If you are keen on achieving true peace and quiet on your vacation and do not like large, overwhelming hotels – a cruise may not be the best option. Though there are quiet spaces on ships as well, relaxation is usually not the focus, while activities and entertainment are. Smaller ships are available and may be able to match your needs: Celebrity Xpedition sails to the Galapagos Islands with just 98 guests and Star Clippers Star Flyer carries just 170 guests in luxurious comfort; both make you feel like you’re sailing on a private yacht. River cruise lines like Uniworld, AMA Waterways and Viking River Cruises generally carry less passengers.
When you want outstanding food and drinks
If dining is number one on your list, cruises definitely take the cake. Yes, some resorts have gourmet cuisine, but there are also many cases where the food quality is less than satisfactory and does not meet the standards of its guests. Picky eaters and those with medical-related dietary needs can rest assured that they will be content with the food on a cruise. Ships are equipped to handle food allergies, fine dining expectations, and varied culinary tastes.
Guests who still want more dining options may have the opportunity to upgrade and experience more luxurious indulgences. For example, on a Princess Cruise, $20-$25 can upgrade you to their alternative dining options: a dinner at the Italian Trattoria or New York style steakhouse, a great option for a special occasion. Beverage packages on a Princess cruise includes unlimited drinks up to $10 in value and start at $49 USD per person, per day.
If you are not a big drinker and do not think you will get your money’s worth, you don’t have to purchase these packages. If you opt to purchase the package, all of your premium bar needs will be met. Wine and beer lovers will be happy while those who do not enjoy alcoholic beverages will not have to pay this added fee, unlike visits to all-inclusive resorts where the price of alcohol is included in the package price and there is a limited drink selection available.
Onboard larger ships, more restaurants are top-quality – and even celebrity chef-approved. Top Chef at Sea is featured on almost every Celebrity Cruise sailing with quickfire challenges and Top Chef night in the main restaurant. On the Top Chef Signature Sailings, you’ll be joined by some of the show’s talented contestants for meet and greets, cooking classes, private dinners, and chef-hosted shore excursions. On the new Carnival Vista ship, you’ll find the mouth-watering Guy’s Burger Joint. Food Network star Guy Fieri brings his best burgers to sea for free, and he even stops by the ship for quality checks.
Foodies can also arrange a culinary-themed river cruise. AMA Waterways offers itineraries like the beer-themed Netherlands-Belgium cruise and the France and Spain wine cruise. Avalon Waterways also offers culinary river cruises where food lovers can explore the flavours of northern France.
When you want to sightsee and get bored on a resort
When debating between a cruise or all inclusive, think about what is on your vacation checklist. Is it a great beach and pools, relaxation, and quiet time? Then you may be better off at an all-inclusive resort. On the other hand, do you get bored doing the same thing day after day at a resort? Do your preferences include sightseeing multiple destinations and partaking in fun-filled activities and excursions? Then a cruise is for you. With lots of exciting itineraries, you can sail the Caribbean and hop from beach to beach, discover Europe’s charming cities on a river cruise or even experience itineraries in Africa and Asia, like AMA Waterways’ Vietnam and Cambodia cruise (which, by the way, has no solo supplement!). At the end of October, Norwegian Cruise Line will be sailing to South America for the first time in 10 years. There are tons of unique opportunities for different itineraries and offshore excursions – consult your travel agent for a personalized recommendation.
When you are travelling with teens
Cruises are great for many types of travellers, especially those vacationing with a few couples or groups of friends with diverse needs. A cruise guarantees fun for kids of all ages, in particular, teenagers who are weary of being bored at an all-inclusive resort: too old for the kids club and too young for drinking and the disco.
For younger ones, cruises offer activities likes movies under the stars, supervised programs for different age groups, scavenger hunts, and pizza parties. Characters like Nickelodeon (on NCL) and Dr. Seuss (on Carnival) are onboard to make the experience even more special. For teens, many ships have exciting waterparks, rock-climbing walls, mini golf, IMAX theatres, and more. Carnival Vista even has SkyRide — a guaranteed blast for anyone brave enough to bike around a ship high above the deck on a suspended course (you will get an amazing view!).
When you have a budget starting around $1500 per person
Sometimes people overlook how affordable a cruise can be and opt for an all-inclusive vacation simply because they do not know the rates. If you are planning on spending $1500 on a vacation, our agents can help you select cruises within your budget. If you are not sure exactly where you want to go, a cruise is a cost-effective way to see several Caribbean islands or European cities at once and go back to your favourites later.
For example, we price-compared a cruise in the Eastern Caribbean with all-inclusive resorts in the same area. A 7-night Carnival cruise in May totaled $1572 per person including taxes and flights. Sailing takes you to San Juan, St. Thomas, Barbados, St Lucia, St Kitts, and St Maarten. If you wanted to stay at a 5-star hotel on one of these small islands, package prices start at approx. $2060 for the same month ($1140 if you drop to a 4-star in St. Maarten). Cruises provide opportunities to see many places at once and allow you to check more off your bucket list for less. (Keep in mind, beverage packages are extra on a cruise).
TIP: If you book your next cruise onboard your current one, you can take advantage of savings. Deposits are typically refundable and you can transfer itineraries and even transfer your booking to your travel agent to take care of the rest.
When you want all this and are travelling alone
Many cruises offer single cabins without charging the single supplements that resorts do. If you are travelling alone, there are many ways to meet people: make friends with the staff and bartenders, take classes, head over to the disco, sign up for shore excursions, and just keep a smile on your face – after all, you are on vacation and you will be stuck with the same people for the whole duration.
Carefully consider your dining plan options so you can have dinner companions every night. You can usually select your table size from groups of 2, 4, 6, and 8. I would opt for the largest table – there is bound to be someone you will click with. Decide between early or late seating, and keep in mind that earlier dining times tend to be filled with more families. With late seatings, you have more time to freshen up from your day in port. You may even enjoy dining alone at one of the specialty restaurants one night for some “me-time.”
On Holland America’s ms Koningsdam itineraries, all singles are at the front of the ship’s main deck. AMA Waterways’ Vietnam and Cambodia cruise has no solo supplement, as well as some of the Norwegian Cruise Line sailings. NCL even has a lounge for people registered in single cabins to meet others and organize port excursions. Avalon Waterways also waives the single supplement on select Europe river cruise departures.
When you have a dietary, mobility, or medical need
Cruise ships are very accommodating to the needs of different passengers. They offer accessible staterooms for people with disabilities and offer assistance at embarkation and debarkation for those with wheelchairs. They also have a medical centre with licensed physicians and nurses and medication onboard. Seasickness is a common concern, but one that is often washed away after a first cruising experience (seasickness medication is available onboard).
Also of note, Carnival offers The Great Vacation Guarantee on all 3-8 day sailings to The Bahamas, the Caribbean, the Mexican Riviera, Canada/New England or Alaska…a perfect option for first-time cruisers. If you let them know you’re not happy within the first 24 hours of departure, they will refund 110% of your fare and get you back to your embarkation point for your flight home.
Still not convinced? Check out our 8 reasons to cruise.
For more information on cruising or for help determining whether a cruise or all inclusive vacation is for you, contact one of our travel experts at 1-800-665-4981 or browse online.