Cruise ship Zuiderdam, Holland America Line, docked at port Willemstad at sunset.

To cruise or not to cruise

“What’s the best way to decide where and when to go on a cruise?”
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Now that cruise ships are back in the water, where do you want to go? As this particular travel landscape is still in flux at time of printing, there are some big benefits to doing the research now and reaping the rewards when you can. Here are a few steps:

  • Picture yourself in an environment. What do you want from this vacation? Sunshine and romance? Adventure and animals? Social activities or solitude? Maybe you’re ticking a bucket list to somewhere far-flung or looking for an inclusive LGBTQ2I-friendly cruise line or itinerary. Or perhaps you just want to sit and watch the world sail by. Nail this down in your mind’s eye.
  • Assess your activity level, make a list of things you like to do, then create a checklist to ensure the itineraries you scrutinize have what you want. If you like to hike and be outside all day, maybe a weeklong sail across the Atlantic isn’t for you.
  • Evaluate the vessel. There are cruise ships with 3,000 passengers and those with 50, both equally fun but in different ways. Your activity checklist will help with this decision, but there are also small-ship adventures, intimate yacht experiences, classic tall ships to sail on and even polar icebreakers. Take the time to consider the tiers of accommodation and where they’re located, considering the different layers of luxury, cabin sizes and balconies.
  • Research like mad. There are so many choices, planning a cruise is sometimes overwhelming, with destinations and itineraries to pinpoint, different cruise lines to vet, different ships to select and tiers of luxury to opt in to — not to mention travel protocols to stay on top of. And don’t forget to determine what’s included in the price and what’s not in terms of meals and beverages — usually, but not always, alcoholic drinks and some special meals will cost extra. Read the reviews online from other travellers and experts in the field like Cruise Critic ( Ask friends or your social media communities for advice.
  • Open the calendar.
    • The Western Mediterranean is best in June, with smaller crowds and better prices. The Eastern Med is hot and dry from October to March.
    • December through mid-April is high season in the Caribbean, but this is the warmest and driest time.
    • May and June are the best months to visit the Bahamas, because cruise ships and ports are less busy.
    • Go to Hawaii in the summer and fall for the least rain and fewest people.
    • In Alaska, June through August is the best time to witness the widest variety of wildlife.
    • Head to the Arctic between June and October, with nature on full display. The season for Antarctic expeditions runs from December to March, when it’s “summer.”
  • Go to the pros. For best rates book six months to a year in advance. Use a travel agent: They have the insider expertise to find deals and promotions you wouldn’t, and perks like upgrades and shipboard credits.
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