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What Every Cruiser Needs to Know About Choosing their First Cruise

Are you planning to go on your first cruise? Which is the right cruise for you? With hundreds of cruises to choose from, which one is right for you? Here is a step by step guide to help you choose your first cruise. I’m also sharing my cruise carry-on bag packing list as a free printable below.

How to Choose the Right Cruise for First Time Cruisers

Step 1: Duration of Cruise

The first step to choosing the right cruise is to narrow down the number of days for your cruise. If you can only take 1 week off from work, you are limited to a cruise that is 7 days or less. While if you are flexible with the number of days, you have more options as to where you can go.

For example, if you only have 7 days and you are based in the US, that means Mediterranean cruises and Asia cruises are out because you will need extra time to travel to the cruise ports. That means, you can only cruise from the US cruise ports.

How to Choose Your First Cruise

Step 2: Departure Port

After deciding on the number of days for your cruise vacation, it’s time to choose your departure port. The choice of your departure port is dependent on a few factors, such as your proximity to the cruise port and the time you have to fly to another port. 

For example, if you live near the New York cruise ports and have only a week off from work, it’s better to cruise out of New York rather than looking for other departure ports. If you fly to Florida, you’ll need to take two extra days off for travel, since you’ll have to fly in the night before. 

If you’re flexible with the number of days for your cruise vacation, then you are lucky, you can choose a departure port based on where you want to go.

Step 3: Where Do You Want to Go

Once you have figured out your departure port and the duration of your cruise, you can then start thinking about where you want to go. For the most part, your departure port will dictate your itinerary. 

For example, if you’re cruising from Florida, the itineraries will be to Caribbean ports and Panama Canal. While if you’re cruising from Seattle, you’re looking at mostly Alaska cruises. 

If you want to do a Western Mediterranean cruise, you will cruise out of Barcelona or Civitavecchia (Rome). If you’re cruising out of New York, your itineraries are Canada/New England cruises, transatlantic cruises, Bermuda cruises, and Caribbean cruises. If you’re cruising from Los Angeles, your itineraries will be Mexico cruises, Pacific Coast cruises, and Panama Canal cruises. In short, it all depends on where you want to go. 

Another way to think about it: What kind of vacation do you want? For example, do you want to go to the beach? If so, stick with Caribbean, Mexico, and Bermuda cruises. 

How to Choose Your First Cruise

Step 4: Budget

Your budget is a big factor in determining exactly which cruise is right for you. If you’re on a limited budget, you may want to choose older cruise ships since they are usually a lot cheaper than the newer ships. You can also look into mainstream cruise lines like Carnival Cruise, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise. 

Alternatively, if you have a more generous budget, consider luxury cruise lines such as Silversea, Seabourn, and Regent Seven Seas.

Step 5: Pick the Cruise Ship 

Once you’ve figured out where you want to go and your budget, it’s time to narrow down on the cruise ship. The best approach is to pick the cruise ship based on onboard activities and amenities. 

Every cruise ship is unique in terms of the amenities and activities that they offer, for example many Royal Caribbean’s cruise ships have aqua theater shows similar to Cirque du Soleil, some Norwegian Cruise ships have ice bars and some Carnival Cruise ships have a Roller Coaster. 

Deciding which cruise ship to choose will depend on whether you are traveling with your family or as a couple. If you are cruising with kids, then consider their age and interests.

For example, if you have teenagers, they might enjoy Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas with bumper cars, indoor sky diving and surfing. While, if you are traveling as a couple, you may want to visit the Ice Bar on Norwegian Breakaway. Check out my list of cruise ships with mind blowing amenities

Step 6: Cruise Lines

I left picking the cruise line for last because it’s the least important factor in choosing a cruise. Since this is your first cruise, you don’t have any allegiance to a particular cruise line, so any cruise line will be fine.

People often ask which cruise line is the best, and to be honest, having been on over 25 cruises, I find them all to be quite similar. The mainstream cruise lines like Carnival Cruise, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise, Holland America, and Princess Cruise are all essentially the same. You can’t differentiate one from the other. They’re all equally good. 

Although people have stereotypes for each cruise line, like Carnival being fun and for young people, Royal Caribbean being for families who want flashy amenities, Norwegian Cruise Lines being for young families, Holland America being for retirees, and Princess Cruise being for older people.

I’ve cruised on all of these lines with my kids and can’t tell the difference, except for the onboard amenities. I don’t feel like Norwegian Cruise is more geared towards the younger crowd versus Princess Cruise being for the older crowd. Both lines have plenty of things to do for families and retirees. It’s simply a stereotype. 

I believe that the more important factor in choosing a cruise line is the ship itself, the onboard activities and the cost of the cruise fare, rather than the cruise line. Are you ready to search for a cruise? Maybe you’ll get lucky with a last minute cruise deal: 10 Tips for Cheap Last Minute Cruise Bookings

Free Cruise Carry On Bag Packing List

Get Your Free Cruise Carry-On Bag Packing List

Sign up once and you will get access to ALL exclusive content on this website. After unlocking the printable, just save the printable image and then print it. Use it as a checklist to pack your carry-on bag so you don’t forget anything! I hope you like it!

Packing List for Cruise Carry-On bag

Check out these cruise packing lists with free printables

Alaska cruise packing list

Caribbean cruise packing list

25 Things People Forget to Pack for a Cruise

Cruise without Seasickness: Genius Tricks You Need to Know

11 Unspoken Rules on Cruise Ships- You Wish Someone Told You

10 Rookie Mistakes that Waste Money on a Cruise

15 Things I Wished I had Known as a First Time Cruiser

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