Beginner’s guide to cruising

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All aboard! There has never been a better time for cruising. If you’re thinking of setting sail for the first time, Brian Johnston has some tips for a fun time at sea.

Sit on the deck with the sun on your face and a glass of bubbly in hand. Gaze over blue bays and beautiful harbours, mighty fjords or shimmering reefs. Better yet, do it all without having to lug a suitcase, read a map, traipse from hotel to hotel or worry about where to eat.

Cruising is surely the ultimate in relaxing holidays and is now more exciting than it has never been, with something for everyone. Spectacular mega-ships cater to those hankering for glittering entertainment and a sociable nightlife. Boutique and river ships offer a more intimate atmosphere, while floating resorts cater to families or those holidaying with grandchildren.

Meanwhile, adventure cruises head to remote destinations, themed cruises absorb you in art history or culinary pleasures, and river cruises enable you to explore far inland. Have fun, improve your skills, indulge your enquiring mind: that’s modern life on an ocean wave.

The only drawback is that so many options can be confusing. Don’t worry. A good travel agent can point you to a cruise line that suits your interests and budget, and there’s a wealth of information online.

Here’s what to think about when booking your first cruise:

1. Start early. Last-minute cruise deals are becoming rare. Plan at least four months in advance to get the best price and cabin choice.

2. Choose the ship. Size, amenities, entertainment options, luxury levels and ambience vary greatly, so do your research.

3. Choose the cruise. Destination, style of shore tour and cruise length – from three days to many months – should be considered.

4. Check inclusions. Most package deals cover meals and onboard activities and entertainment. But you usually pay extra for drinks, shore excursions or speciality restaurants.

5. Upgrade. Pay for the best cabin category you can afford, especially if marking a special occasion. A larger cabin, higher deck and larger external window (even a balcony) is worth the extra.

6. Think about excursions. Standard city tours can be enjoyable – and cheaper – on your own. Spend money on more interesting options, such as scenic flights or cultural visits.

7. Make plans. You don’t have to pre-book shore excursions, spa treatments or speciality restaurants, but doing so beats the onboard rush and can save you money.

8. Book travel insurance. It covers you against costly cancellation fees, delays and medical emergencies.

9. Extend. Often you get little scheduled time in departure and arrival ports, so consider booking hotel nights, so you can relax before and afterwards.

Before you sail, you get a package of information giving details of your itinerary, ship and what to expect. Keep luggage to a minimum, since cabin storage can be limited. However, bear in mind that some ships have an evening dress code, while shore excursions may require recreational wear.

There’s something thrilling about pulling away from the dock and setting sail. The first night usually comes with an extra buzz and party-like atmosphere. Next day, passengers settle into their own rhythm, whether it’s a busy social round or quiet time for two.

Many people cruise just to enjoy the resort-like facilities of the ship: not only swimming pools, spas, casinos and cinemas but everything from ice-rinks to climbing walls and croquet lawns. You can attend cooking or language workshops, dance lessons or trivia competitions. Comedy clubs, Broadway-style shows and circuses provide evening entertainment. It’s entirely your choice to do as much or as little as you like.

Shore excursions are also optional so, if you want, you can stay on board or go ashore by yourself. These organised, pre-planned group tours cover sightseeing in ports, inland trips, or activities such as snorkelling, scenic flights, beach barbecues or white-water rafting. Time in port may be a few hours or the entire day and evening in larger cities.

Most of all, as you embark on your first cruise, don’t worry too much: first-timer cruisers aren’t uncommon. Cruise staff are generally very helpful, while regular cruisers – those old salts with the wind in their hair – are happy to explain how things work. Just relax and enjoy. If you think sailing into the sunset is something that only happens in romance novels, it’s about time you tried it for yourself.

CONSIDER THIS: TOP CRUISES

Start your cruising in Australia or New Zealand. From short trips to major journeys, large cruise liners to intimate ships, our own backyard offers an affordable experience for everyone.

  • QUEENSLAND: P&O Cruises takes in the pleasures of the Whitsundays, Cairns and Port Douglas
  • BARRIER REEF: Short, small-ship cruises with Coral Princess to Cairns, Townsville and Lizard Island. 
  • NORTHERN COAST: The Barrier Reef, Cape York, Arnhemland and Kakadu on a remarkable journey with Coral Princess.
  • KIMBERLEY: Orion Expedition Cruises combines luxury and adventure; some itineraries focus on Aboriginal art. 
  • TASMANIA: P&O Cruises sets sail to colonial history and national parks.
  • GORDON RIVER: Lady Jane Franklin II explores southwest Tasmania’s rugged wilderness on day cruises.
  • MURRAY RIVER: Captain Cook Cruises offers a four-night float on a paddle steamer.
  • AUSTRALIAN CIRCUMNAVIGATION: Sail around the entire continent from Sydney in 28 nights on Dawn Princess.
  • AUSTRALIA TO NEW ZEALAND: Cruise from Sydney to Auckland over 12 nights on Celebrity Century.
  • NEW ZEALAND: Mid-size MS Zaandam takes in New Zealand’s superb scenery, including Milford Sound and Bay of Islands.

To find out more about cruises in Australia and New Zealand, go to individual cruise-line websites, or browse these useful pages:

www.cruisingaustralia.com covers Australia only, from the big ships all the way to scenic harbour cruises.

www.cruiseaway.com.au is clear and comprehensive, with a useful overview of cruise lines and destinations.

www.cruising.com.au includes the detailed itineraries of just about every cruise imaginable.

www.cruises.com.au has a news section to keep you abreast of the latest in cruising.

www.creativecruising.com.au highlights some smaller, more interesting cruise options.

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62 Comments

Total Comments: 62
  1. 0
    0

    The information is good, I know nothing about cruises but am considering doing one.Busybee.

  2. 0
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    Good information, wondering about tips and gratitudes, are they included in price?
    OLDMILL

  3. 0
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    Tips usually direct to your cabin steward and waiter in dining room

    , but most big ships have a daily amount they
    add to your account which is for all other crew to share, people you don’t see.

    You have the right to have the amount deleted or altered on your account at end when cruise ends

    Pixi. Previous passenger & soon again in August. Enjoy if you go

  4. 0
    0

    I am cruising since 5 years now so I know, ,the tips and gratitudes are included with [email protected] all other cruises charge you $11,50 or $12.00 US a day.I gave normally additional Tips,like $20 cash to waitress 2013 cruise and to our roomservice.I ordered also Breakfast in the room especially if we were on land and I had a Tour booked and gave $1 US normally tip. I always changed cash into small notes for that reason.

  5. 0
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    Does anyone have any information about spending a few months or longer on a ship? I feel that I need a life changing experience before its too late.

    • 0
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      Perhaps you should enquire with one of the cruise lines regarding employment. From what I learned while talking with crew on my last cruise ship, they are usually employed on short term contracts. The pay isn’t great but if you pick the right company, you could be in for the time of your life.

    • 0
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      I was fortunate enough to do a world cruise, Sydney to Sydney, last year – 104 days, with Princess. Met many pensioners, some of whom go every second year or so – depends on your savings priorities! A wonderful life, visiting new places & also having relaxing sea days. Advantages of cruising (ocean & river) is that you unpack once & all meals are included.

  6. 0
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    I’m thinking about a European river cruise. You know, the typical Amsterdam to Budapest 15 day cruise.
    Has anyone done that cruise or similar. If so, which cruise company (there’s so many) and how was the experience?

    • 0
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      Wonderful river cruising between Amsterdam & Budapest. All shore excursions (choice of 2 every day) plus all meals & lovely local wines with dinner – all included. For Aussies, the Aussie companies are best because there are more Aussies on board! I’ve travelled with APT (Budapest to Amsterdam) & Scenic Tours (Basel to Amsterdam) – both were excellent in every way. I’ve also done the 7 nights between Budapest & the Black Sea, but with another company, that doesn’t attract as many Aussies. It’s long flights to Europe, so do as much as you can before facing the long flights back home.

    • 0
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      I wish I had the money to do this cruise “Golfer” however my Brother and his wife did it last year with APT, they never stop talking about it. They will be backing up again for sure. So that to me speaks volumes, as they watch their pennies!!
      So go and have a wonderful time. Just reading the brochures makes me salivate!!

    • 0
      0

      I wish I had the money to do this cruise “Golfer” however my Brother and his wife did it last year with APT, they never stop talking about it. They will be backing up again for sure. So that to me speaks volumes, as they watch their pennies!!
      So go and have a wonderful time. Just reading the brochures makes me salivate!!

    • 0
      0

      I wish I had the money to do this cruise “Golfer” however my Brother and his wife did it last year with APT, they never stop talking about it. They will be backing up again for sure. So that to me speaks volumes, as they watch their pennies!!
      So go and have a wonderful time. Just reading the brochures makes me salivate!!

    • 0
      0

      I wish I had the money to do this cruise “Golfer” however my Brother and his wife did it last year with APT, they never stop talking about it. They will be backing up again for sure. So that to me speaks volumes, as they watch their pennies!!
      So go and have a wonderful time. Just reading the brochures makes me salivate!!

    • 0
      0

      I wish I had the money to do this cruise “Golfer” however my Brother and his wife did it last year with APT, they never stop talking about it. They will be backing up again for sure. So that to me speaks volumes, as they watch their pennies!!
      So go and have a wonderful time. Just reading the brochures makes me salivate!!

    • 0
      0

      I wish I had the money to do this cruise “Golfer” however my Brother and his wife did it last year with APT, they never stop talking about it. They will be backing up again for sure. So that to me speaks volumes, as they watch their pennies!!
      So go and have a wonderful time. Just reading the brochures makes me salivate!!

    • 0
      0

      I wish I had the money to do this cruise “Golfer” however my Brother and his wife did it last year with APT, they never stop talking about it. They will be backing up again for sure. So that to me speaks volumes, as they watch their pennies!!
      So go and have a wonderful time. Just reading the brochures makes me salivate!!

    • 0
      0

      I wish I had the money to do this cruise “Golfer” however my Brother and his wife did it last year with APT, they never stop talking about it. They will be backing up again for sure. So that to me speaks volumes, as they watch their pennies!!
      So go and have a wonderful time. Just reading the brochures makes me salivate!!

    • 0
      0

      I wish I had the money to do this cruise “Golfer” however my Brother and his wife did it last year with APT, they never stop talking about it. They will be backing up again for sure. So that to me speaks volumes, as they watch their pennies!!
      So go and have a wonderful time. Just reading the brochures makes me salivate!!

    • 0
      0

      I wish I had the money to do this cruise “Golfer” however my Brother and his wife did it last year with APT, they never stop talking about it. They will be backing up again for sure. So that to me speaks volumes, as they watch their pennies!!
      So go and have a wonderful time. Just reading the brochures makes me salivate!!

  7. 0
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    This is good information. Regarding tipping, as pixii said, most cruise lines charge a set amount per day which on our last cruise our travel agent included in the fare, some others on the cruise had it deducted from the onboard account that was set up at the time of boarding.
    The tips collected this way are divided up among the behind the scene crew. Other crew such as bar staff and cabin stewards rely on tips from the passengers.
    Any shore excursions should be booked with the cruise line rather than on shore. This way you can be sure you are going to be back onboard before the ship sails. Go on a shore excursion with anyone else and you are totally reliant on them getting you back to the dock on time and there is no guarantee that is going to happen.

    • 0
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      Quite often the shore tours offered by local companies are much cheaper, more flexible & very few problems with return to ship – they do it all the time. You can check the reviews on TripAdvisor or join the conversations for your particular ship/cruise on Cruise Critic & make new friends even before you board! I’ve successfully done “private tours” with small groups (organised through the Cruise Critic members) in Mumbai, Jordan & Iceland. The itineraries are very flexible to the group’s needs.

    • 0
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      With some cruise companies you can pay a set amount added into your account when booking.

  8. 0
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    Gran. Somehow I don’t think the Cruise lines will employ someone of my age! but thanks.

    Gra. Could you be more specific about your cruise Sydney-Sydney with Princess? Which one and how much please.

  9. 0
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    Sweet pea – Princess is currently advertising for the 2014 world cruise (check their website). They depart the southern hemisphere in May, in order to be in the northern hemisphere during summer. Cheapest price for 104 nights is about $19,000 per person, twin share inside cabin.

  10. 0
    0

    I am about to depart on my first long cruise on QE2 and am wondering how much local currency I should get before departing. Has anyone got a suggestion?

    • 0
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      These ships are “cashless” in that everything you spend on board, including the price of any booked shore tours, is put on your ship card. You settle your account by credit card either at the end of the cruise, or after each segment on a long cruise. For Europe these days, it’s great with just the Euro, though if you want to spend on-shore in UK, you would need UK Pounds. American dollars go a long way in many ports. But I find it’s acceptable these days to use a credit (or even debit card) on-shore. I have made great use of the GE Money 28 degrees Mastercard – no annual fee & no exchange rate charges. Enjoy your cruise – a great ship with great itineraries!

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