How to Pick the Right Ship for You

by Fran Golden

How to Pick the Right Ship for You

by Fran Golden

Cruising can be a delightfully carefree vacation experience: The crew tends to your every need, and you get to visit multiple destinations without having to haul your bags between them. But don't make the mistake of thinking that any ship will do the trick. Your choice can affect everything, including the type of food you eat, your accommodations, and where you travel, so make the decision carefully. And remember that ships within the same fleet can vary greatly (a brand-new vessel with state-of-the-art facilities feels nothing like a ship built in the 1990s). Here are our five steps to help you pick exactly the right ship.

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Relaxing by the pool on Ruby Princess / Princess Cruises
Saona island, Dominican Republic
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1. Choose your destination first.

You can cruise practically anywhere in the world where there’s a sea, or even a long river. Think about where you want to go and what kind of experience you crave. There’s a big difference between a sunny Caribbean beach itinerary, a nature-focused Alaskan cruise, and an exotic sail through Southeast Asia. Narrow your search down to just the ships that do your ideal itinerary, and the number of vessels to choose from will be much smaller — and the choice much easier.

You can cruise practically anywhere in the world where there’s a sea, or even a long river. Think about where you want to go and what kind of experience you crave. There’s a big difference between a sunny Caribbean beach itinerary, a nature-focused Alaskan cruise, and an exotic sail through Southeast Asia. Narrow your search down to just the ships that do your ideal itinerary, and the number of vessels to choose from will be much smaller — and the choice much easier.

Accessible Ocean View Balcony Stateroom on Anthem of the Seas
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2. Set a budget.

Cruise pricing varies by cabin category and length of itinerary (as well as the sale price you snag), so know your budget. If it’s tight, consider a cruise of less than a week, such as a quick getaway to the Bahamas from Florida. If you can afford to splurge, luxury lines have vessels that travel for multiple weeks or even months around the world in high style.

Cruise pricing varies by cabin category and length of itinerary (as well as the sale price you snag), so know your budget. If it’s tight, consider a cruise of less than a week, such as a quick getaway to the Bahamas from Florida. If you can afford to splurge, luxury lines have vessels that travel for multiple weeks or even months around the world in high style.

Ziplining in Belize
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3. Consider your vacation persona.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that all ships have the same amenities. When you cruise with your kids, your needs are completely different from those of a honeymooning couple or a group of late-night revelers who plan to hit the casino, bars, and dance parties. Before you start researching ships, be honest about who you are and what you want out of your cruise vacation.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that all ships have the same amenities. When you cruise with your kids, your needs are completely different from those of a honeymooning couple or a group of late-night revelers who plan to hit the casino, bars, and dance parties. Before you start researching ships, be honest about who you are and what you want out of your cruise vacation.

Oceania's La Reserve
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4. Know that size does matter.

Cruise ships come in all sizes, and one size does not fit all. A general rule of thumb? If you prefer to travel to big cities with lots of hustle-and-bustle (plus a wide variety of restaurants and bars), a mega ship is the better choice for you. If you generally choose smaller towns, where everyone knows your name at the grocery story (or, in this case, in the dining room) then a more intimate ship — where the passenger count is in the hundreds, not thousands — will be a better fit.

Cruise ships come in all sizes, and one size does not fit all. A general rule of thumb? If you prefer to travel to big cities with lots of hustle-and-bustle (plus a wide variety of restaurants and bars), a mega ship is the better choice for you. If you generally choose smaller towns, where everyone knows your name at the grocery story (or, in this case, in the dining room) then a more intimate ship — where the passenger count is in the hundreds, not thousands — will be a better fit.

Formal party on Oceania
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5. Preview who’s on board.

The best way to have a memorable cruise experience is to make friends — or at least travel with like-minded people. Your fellow passengers can make the difference, and this holds true whether you’re 8 or 80. We've watched older travelers bond by the pool, young couples connect at wine tastings, and even toddlers discussing characters who were clearly having more fun than if they hadn't met.

Our advice: Carefully read our expert ship and line reviews to see who else will be on board. Cruise line brochures and websites can also provide hints, so be sure to scan the photos. You don’t want to be the person who expected casual and ends up on a formal cruise, or who wanted quiet and gets stuck with a rowdy crowd.

The best way to have a memorable cruise experience is to make friends — or at least travel with like-minded people. Your fellow passengers can make the difference, and this holds true whether you’re 8 or 80. We've watched older travelers bond by the pool, young couples connect at wine tastings, and even toddlers discussing characters who were clearly having more fun than if they hadn't met.

Our advice: Carefully read our expert ship and line reviews to see who else will be on board. Cruise line brochures and websites can also provide hints, so be sure to scan the photos. You don’t want to be the person who expected casual and ends up on a formal cruise, or who wanted quiet and gets stuck with a rowdy crowd.

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