10 Questions to Ask Your Cruise Line Before You Book

by Fran Golden

10 Questions to Ask Your Cruise Line Before You Book

by Fran Golden

Booking a cruise seems like a pretty easy transaction — one price, pay it, you're good to go. But there are some questions that you should have answered before you plunk down your money, especially if this is your first cruise. Here are 10 questions to ask before you book your cruise.

10
On a Princess cruise / Princess Cruises
Sea View Pool on Nieuw Amsterdam
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1. What is included in the fare?

The initial fare you're quoted may include port charges, fees, and taxes ... or it may not. At the same time, a fare may include more than you think — such as an onboard spending credit to use for alcoholic drinks, spa treatments, or other extras. Conversely, make sure you understand what charges you'll encounter on board, such as automatically added gratuities.

The initial fare you're quoted may include port charges, fees, and taxes ... or it may not. At the same time, a fare may include more than you think — such as an onboard spending credit to use for alcoholic drinks, spa treatments, or other extras. Conversely, make sure you understand what charges you'll encounter on board, such as automatically added gratuities.

On Norwegian Breakaway
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2. Do I qualify for any discounts?

There are lots of surprising cruise discounts out there that you might not know about. You may get an extra 5 percent off, for instance, if you're older than 55 or a teacher or an active or retired member of the military. Cruise lines also do targeted deals based on where you live, especially for Florida and New York residents.

There are lots of surprising cruise discounts out there that you might not know about. You may get an extra 5 percent off, for instance, if you're older than 55 or a teacher or an active or retired member of the military. Cruise lines also do targeted deals based on where you live, especially for Florida and New York residents.

Disney Magic in Galveston
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3. Can I save if I tweak my travel dates?

The reality in the cruising world is that one week may be a hot ticket, with any remaining cabins selling at big prices, while the very next week may be pretty open and bargain-priced. It pays to be flexible. If you're planning to cruise in, say, October, you may want to ask about the best deal in that month rather than on a specific date.

The reality in the cruising world is that one week may be a hot ticket, with any remaining cabins selling at big prices, while the very next week may be pretty open and bargain-priced. It pays to be flexible. If you're planning to cruise in, say, October, you may want to ask about the best deal in that month rather than on a specific date.

Mini Suite on Norwegian Pearl
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4. What are cabins like in the next category up — and down?

The difference in price between the cabin you want and the next category up may not be a deal breaker. For just a few bucks more a day you could be in cabin with a much better location, or with a larger bathroom. On the other hand, if you don't care about being on a lower deck, it might be worth downgrading to save a few bucks.

The difference in price between the cabin you want and the next category up may not be a deal breaker. For just a few bucks more a day you could be in cabin with a much better location, or with a larger bathroom. On the other hand, if you don't care about being on a lower deck, it might be worth downgrading to save a few bucks.

Oceania Veranda Stateroom
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5. What's the best cabin in my category?

Not all cabins are created equal, even if they have the same amenities and square footage. And just like real estate, it's all about location, location, location. You don't want to get to the ship and find your cabin comes with a constant beat from the nearby disco or squeals from the kiddie pool. Nor do you want to suffer through the sound of the crew stacking lounge chairs each night before they scrub down the deck.

Not all cabins are created equal, even if they have the same amenities and square footage. And just like real estate, it's all about location, location, location. You don't want to get to the ship and find your cabin comes with a constant beat from the nearby disco or squeals from the kiddie pool. Nor do you want to suffer through the sound of the crew stacking lounge chairs each night before they scrub down the deck.

Disney Dream's Senses Spa
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6. What can I book in advance?

It's not unheard of for spa treatments, cabanas, popular shore excursions, and prime specialty dining reservations to book up even before the first passenger boards the ship. Find out what you can make reservations for as soon as you book your cruise. 

It's not unheard of for spa treatments, cabanas, popular shore excursions, and prime specialty dining reservations to book up even before the first passenger boards the ship. Find out what you can make reservations for as soon as you book your cruise. 

Carioca's on Disney Magic
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7. What are my options for dinner seatings?

Some ships still use the traditional early- and late-seating dining scheme, where you're assigned a dinner time and table and that is your slot for the entire cruise. You'll want to pick your time in advance. If you're looking for more flexibility, ask what other options might be available, including specialty dining restaurants (which may carry a fee).

Some ships still use the traditional early- and late-seating dining scheme, where you're assigned a dinner time and table and that is your slot for the entire cruise. You'll want to pick your time in advance. If you're looking for more flexibility, ask what other options might be available, including specialty dining restaurants (which may carry a fee).

Strolling on deck
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8. What is the dress code?

Packing all the wrong things for a cruise can be an embarrassing and hard-to-fix problem (it's not like you can just run to the mall). Be clear about the dress code as soon as possible. And remember that "casual" on some ships means shorts and flip flops for everyone, while on others it can mean crisp sundresses and nice sandals for women and polo shirts and khakis for men. 

Packing all the wrong things for a cruise can be an embarrassing and hard-to-fix problem (it's not like you can just run to the mall). Be clear about the dress code as soon as possible. And remember that "casual" on some ships means shorts and flip flops for everyone, while on others it can mean crisp sundresses and nice sandals for women and polo shirts and khakis for men. 

Carnival Elation's Lido Deck
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9. Who else will be on board?

It's not just family reunions that book large blocks on cruise ships. Theme groups have been known to book several dozen cabins, or even half of the ship. The result: You may find yourself amid a crowd of rowdy rockers or, eek, knitting fanatics. Families may want to inquire how many kids will be on board and choose their sailings accordingly. Same goes for adults seeking R&R who want to avoid the school-break crowd.

It's not just family reunions that book large blocks on cruise ships. Theme groups have been known to book several dozen cabins, or even half of the ship. The result: You may find yourself amid a crowd of rowdy rockers or, eek, knitting fanatics. Families may want to inquire how many kids will be on board and choose their sailings accordingly. Same goes for adults seeking R&R who want to avoid the school-break crowd.

Viking Sea in Venice
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10. What happens if the price drops?

Like the price of a plane ticket, the price of a cruise can fluctuate wildly between when it goes on sale and the final booking. While some cruise fares are non-refundable, many are not. Ask upfront what happens if the price drops after you put down your deposit. While you might not get a cash refund to make up the difference, you might be able to negotiate for a cabin upgrade or onboard credit.

Like the price of a plane ticket, the price of a cruise can fluctuate wildly between when it goes on sale and the final booking. While some cruise fares are non-refundable, many are not. Ask upfront what happens if the price drops after you put down your deposit. While you might not get a cash refund to make up the difference, you might be able to negotiate for a cabin upgrade or onboard credit.

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