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For many people, a cruise holiday would be a dream come true; the kind of exciting experience that finds itself on numerous bucket lists. It’s something that is greatly anticipated for months and months in advance. A cruise, after all, isn’t typically the kind of cheap holiday you can just take last minute – it’s something that requires planning, forethought and at least several new outfits!
As a cruise is a very different type of holiday from the usual package deals, there is more to consider. While most of the time it is (excuse the pun) plain sailing, if you are booking your first cruise, it’s worth being aware of a few factors that have the potential to change your holiday experience.
Our guide deciphers all your cruise considerations:
As with any holiday, there are many options available – location being the least of them. The type of cruise you choose will have a bearing on your travel arrangements and insurance requirements.
You will board the ship at a British port and typically make your own way there. Parking is usually available on site, or you may be able to arrange coach transfers via your tour operator.
This is a great choice for those with more time on their hands or the desire to explore a certain location further, as you can extend the holiday by staying in a hotel after the cruise.
This is the mini-break of the cruise world; a shorter trip usually of up to four days in duration which is perfect for first-timers. Common destinations include the Mediterranean or take in major European cities like Bruges, Paris and Amsterdam.
With this option, usually for far flung destinations, you will fly to the departure point and get a transfer to the port. Flights and/or accommodation where necessary are usually booked through the cruise operator but there is the added pressure of cancellations which could delay you meeting the ship.
Sickness is a big consideration for cruise passengers, particularly given the recent media coverage of the Norovirus and other gastrointestinal illnesses – not to mention plain old seasickness. Most cruise ships have a medical centre on-board, staffed with doctors and nurses at all times who can provide treatment should a medical emergency arise.
While you should bring any required medication with you, it’s likely that seasickness tablets and wrist bands will be available. Some medical centres may equally offer acupuncture or a seasickness injection, should tablets prove ineffective.
Despite the recent publicity, Norovirus is not a ‘cruise ship illness’ and so should not dissuade people from taking this kind of holiday. Operators are obliged to report any sickness, which is why it makes the news, but there are many procedures in place to halt the spread. These include use of stronger disinfectants, greater communication and removing ‘help yourself’ buffet options. Most outbreaks are contained and don’t affect other passengers.
A point to bear in mind is that you may be charged for any medical treatment, as they operate out of UK jurisdiction and can be viewed as private health care. All cruise operators insist on adequate insurance to cover any medical emergencies and costs.
While all efforts will be made to stick to the agreed itinerary, there may be occasions when the operator needs to change it. This could happen prior to departure or during the cruise. Most operators will include a clause in your contract which allows them to do so, but you do still have some rights.
Whether or not you can claim for compensation depends on the reason for the change. You might be able to obtain a refund/ partial refund or substitute trip. At the very least, the operator would be obliged to source alternative accommodation for all passengers.
Changes will only happen in extreme situations, however, such as mechanical problems, bad weather or political unrest. Otherwise, the cruise companies could be accused of mis-selling.
As above, the cruise operator will insert a clause in your agreement which allows them to make changes to your itinerary, but these should be with good reason and you should always be notified.
If circumstances prevent a stop at a scheduled port, you may be able to claim some sort of compensation but it depends on the reason for deviating. It’s important, therefore, to read the small print and understand all the policies before signing. Check your travel insurance, too.
A guaranteed cabin is one which is allocated by the cruise operator at the last minute and about which you have no say. It’s a bit of a gamble, as you don’t know what sort of room you might end up with, but it can be a cheaper option.
Whether or not they are a good idea depends on your appetite for risk. Your room will never be lower than a clearly stated standard and there is a chance that you could end up with an upgraded suite. You do relinquish any say with regard to the room, though, including location. Should you wish for two rooms to be situated close together, for example, this might make you abandon this option.
Upgrades do happen and are more likely to occur in this situation than if you had booked an allocated cabin. Just make sure that you understand the operator is under no obligation to give you a great room with a sea view or balcony – something that could give you a different cruising experience altogether. However, if staying in an inside cabin on the lowest deck doesn’t worry you, then why not?
Once you’ve booked your cruise, you can decide on the types of tours and excursions you want to take. Your operator will offer a plethora of trips; the advantage of which is that you don’t have to make any arrangements yourself and can be confident that the activities and companies running them are vetted and reliable.
Is it worth arranging any third party excursions, then? Well, there is the potential for saving money if you book independently. You could find the very same tours that the cruise operator runs, but priced at a lower rate. Or you could find tours that more closely match your interests. Additionally, the tours might be less busy than the cruise-organised alternatives.
Providing you do sufficient research and read some reviews, then it could be a good idea. It’s crucial to check timings, to ensure that you’re returned to the ship on time as it won’t wait. Remember to account for the time to get from the ship to the activity, should transfers not be included.
Tipping is always a grey area, especially on cruises. Some operators include an automatic gratuity to passengers’ accounts to cover tipping. This can in some cases add around $10 per day, per person to the overall cost of the cruise. Other operators may simply add a percentage to restaurant bills.
However, these gratuities are not compulsory. It’s possible to have them removed from your account by visiting the Reception or Guest Relations desk, or if you call in advance. Do read the small print in your contract before signing and if you are really uncomfortable with the system imposed, then call the operator for advice. Ignorance can leave you with a much more expensive trip.
That’s not to say you can’t tip cruise staff independently, of course. It’s perfectly fine to give cash to those who have provided great service and if the truth were known, many of them depend on it.
If you need to cancel your cruise, then you should contact the operator in the first instance. Your contract will include information about the cancellation policy. This procedure should also be followed if you want to remove a passenger from your booking.
Cancellation fees are usually levied and can vary in price depending on how early you cancel – the later you leave it, the bigger the charge. If you’ve booked a promotional deal, the cancellation rules could differ so check carefully before signing up.
Transferring and amending a booking will similarly incur fees. Usually, you will be given a time limit within which you must take a substituted cruise, otherwise you risk losing your money. Any excursions, activities and other elements would need to be re-booked.
These unforgiving policies highlight just why travel insurance is so important. Understanding the operator’s cancellation and amendment policies are one thing; knowing that you are covered for any eventuality is quite another.
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