First-time cruising: how to choose the perfect boat for you

Cruise ship in Valletta, Malta

If, like us, you’re new to cruising and aren’t really sure where to start when it comes to choosing your ship, there are several things you need to consider. Getting it right can make or break your trip, so it’s super important to think about what you want out of your experience before making a booking. Not all vessels and destinations are created equal, with different aspects appealing to different types of traveller, which means while you might love one cruise holiday, another might leave you a bit disappointed.

So, what are the things to look out for when choosing your cruise? We’ve rounded up some of the key aspects to consider when picking a boat and a provider.

Size of boat

Cruise liners come in all shapes and sizes, and while there’s no single ‘best boat’ to suit everyone, there will certainly be a ‘best boat’ for you.

Some ships feel like huge floating resorts, and if you intend to spend a lot of time on board, these are a great choice. However, if you’re mainly there for the destinations and aren’t into shows, partying, or shopping, then a smaller vessel may be better. Start your search on sites like cruise118 which have information and deals on a range of cruise lines so you can see the different options available.

Something else to consider is that the larger the boat, the more people there will be on board. This can be a positive or a negative depending on your outlook. The bigger boats tend to have much more to offer when it comes to onboard entertainment and facilities, and you’ll have a greater choice of dining options too. Yet if you want a more intimate experience where you’re made to feel more like a friend than just a booking number, then going for a small boutique boat is ideal.

Boat cruiser on a river heading towards an arched stone bridge
The size of the boat will influence your cruise experience

Destination and route

Cruising isn’t all about the ship. It’s about the destinations visited too, so remember to factor this into your decision making. Some trips have long sea days with only a few hours on shore at each location, while others offer fuller days on land, giving you time to enjoy excursions further from the port settlement.

Island hopping routes around the Caribbean are a great choice for first-timers, giving multiple destinations to enjoy without too much time at sea in between each stop. You can explore everything from the rugged landscapes of Curacao to the sun-kissed coves of St Lucia on a Caribbean cruise. Or opt for a Mediterranean holiday where the coastal cities offer endless opportunities for shore adventures. Barcelona, Santorini and Rome are all popular choices, with heaps of bucket-list attractions at your fingertips.

Feeling adventurous? There are seafaring holidays out there that go above and beyond the traditional cruise experiences. Down in Antarctica you could set sail on a tall ship, exploring the icy landscapes as part of the crew. Or you could head down the Amazon River in Peru or Brazil on an expedition ship, discovering the delights of the rainforest as you go.

Cruise ship in Antarctica
Cruising in Antarctica

Type and number of shore excursions

The secret to picking the perfect cruise is all about getting the balance right between days spent at sea and time spent on shore. You need time on the water to chill and enjoy the onboard facilities, but you don’t want to travel all that way and not see much of the destinations you pass.

Some voyages spend a lot of time at sea with just a few short shore excursions, which might be just what you’re looking for. Yet if you’re keen to get stuck into exploring new locations, make sure you scrutinise the itinerary and route before booking.

Want a luxury cruising experience? Then look at the boats that go that extra mile, with exclusive activities and customised shore excursions that will make you feel like ocean royalty. Some operators like msc cruises take it a step further by offering private island experiences in the Caribbean. You’ll spend the day sunning yourself on pristine beaches and snorkelling in the turquoise waters far from the crowds.

Entertainment and facilities on board

If onboard entertainment is one of the main reasons for your trip, then make this the focus of your decision making when it comes to picking a boat. Theatre shows that are just as good as the ones in the West End, classical concerts and acrobatic extravaganzas are all part of the fun, with world-class performers keeping you on the edge of your seat. Be sure to check out the ship listing to see what entertainment will be provided on your voyage. Some shows may need to be pre-booked so don’t forget to ask about this too.

There’s often a lot of choice when it comes to activities too, although you’ll have more options on larger ships than the smaller ones. Go big if this is important to you! Some boats have everything from surf simulators and climbing walls to zip wires and go-karting tracks. However, if you’re looking for a more peaceful cruising experience then we suggest avoiding ships that offer these sorts of attractions, as it can get quite noisy on board.

Food is a huge part of any holiday, and cruising is your passport to a whole new culinary world. Most boats have several restaurants, serving up international cuisine as well as fast food favourites. Luxury vessels often provide VIP dining experiences, with top-notch chefs to elevate your cruise even further.

Cruise ship deck
Remember to consider the facilities on board

It’s time to board

If you do a bit of pre-planning and carefully consider what’s important to you on a holiday, you’ll be able to come up with the perfect cruise to suit your requirements. Factoring in things like boat size, entertainment provision and the type of shore excursions will ensure you have an amazing time at sea. Have you been on a cruise before? Let us know your top tips for first-timers in the comments.

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