Choosing the Perfect Cruise Itinerary

Map of the world with pinpoints indicating desired cruise destinations
Planning the perfect cruise itinerary takes time but is totally worth it. | Author: Capturing the human heart.

Choosing an itinerary can be a daunting task at the best of times. You can be left scratching your head at the amount of choice that you have and which type of cruise would be best for you. The volume of choice can almost be a bad thing as you simply can’t make any decisions.

There are steps you can take though, to make your life easier. In this article we will guide you through the process and enable you to have a clear idea about exactly what cruise itinerary is right for you. Before you know it, you’ll be sailing off to some of the best destinations in the world. 

Why is planning a cruise so complicated?

There are many questions that you need to consider before you book your cruise and it’s important to get answers to these in order to prevent any mistakes. A lot of people get frustrated as they are not sure what they need to take into account. This can be even worse for novice cruisers. 

The number of people going on your cruise is a vital consideration as this can affect the types of cruises that you can board. If you are taking children, for example, then you need to know which cruise lines are suitable for younger passengers. 

Your budget is always going to be a key factor in deciding your cruise itinerary and you need to ask yourself how much luxury you want, how long you want to travel for and on what type of carrier. Answering these questions will help to narrow down your options and allow you to have a clearer picture of your ideal schedule. 

After you have answered those questions then there are also other questions such as whether or not you have a favorite cruise line, what type of shore excursions you would prefer to be on and what type of activities you want to do aboard your ship.

As we can see here, trying to match the type of cruise that you want along with the destinations that you prefer to see can present some difficulties. Answering these initial questions will help get you started and once you’ve finished reading this you’ll have a clear idea on how to choose a cruise itinerary that is perfect for you.

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What does choosing a cruise itinerary entail?

In choosing a cruise itinerary there are different factors that you need to take into account. Choosing the right cruise destinations for you can be difficult enough but sometimes you might be restricted by your budget, your embarkation port and the dates you can travel. 

There are standard routes that a lot of cruises will take as they know that these are favorites among frequent cruisers. For a lot of passengers this will give them an easy selection as they will choose a small region to travel rather than caring about specific islands or destinations.

For longer cruises though there might be some variants on these well-known routes. This will add a greater number of destinations to your cruise and allow you to see a wide variety of different places that you’ve never seen before. 

For more experienced cruisers, choosing the right itinerary can even be more difficult as you don’t want to repeatedly go to the same destinations that you have been to before. This is why cruise companies will alter their routes to prevent them from becoming stale. Therefore, you should check out which new cruise itineraries have been added by the cruise lines. 

In order to choose the best itinerary for you, you need to know where you can depart from, which area you want to visit and see which destinations are offered. Different cruises offer different things, even in a very similar area and here we will break it down for you.

Where is your nearest embarkation port?

Very few people are fortunate to live close to a port that supports cruise ships and for the vast majority of passengers this means an initial period of travel before you can set off on your cruise. There are only a handful of ports that are situated in North America

There are numerous departure points dotted around the coasts of the USA and Canada and there is plenty of choice for those that live relatively close to the sea. There are also embarkation ports in other parts of the US, namely Hawaii, Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands.

While these may be great for some people, they can still present a lot of difficulties for others. If you live anywhere central then all of these ports are going to be an option as it will take a considerable amount of travel to get there. 

A cruise ship from Royal Caribbean lying at the port waiting for a queue of passengers to board
The embarking port plays an important role when it comes to choosing your cruise itinerary. | Author: dmsgy4

Starting your cruise abroad

It’s also worth pointing out that you don’t have to stay in the country you’re in to set sail on your cruise. There are many great itineraries available that start in the western Caribbean, for example, where you can fly out to a beautiful destination then head off on your cruise from there. You shouldn’t feel restricted to just using the port closest to you.  

Travel to the cruise port

Once you’ve chosen your embarkation point then you are going to have to work out how to get there. The first question you will have to ask yourself is if you are going to drive to your port or whether you are going to fly.

For cruisers that live far away, this is not going to be much of a question as whether or not you should fly there. For those that don’t mind driving, you have to consider fuel and toll charges as well as parking fees, in addition to finding a secure parking lot or garage where you can be confident in leaving your vehicle for the duration of your cruise. 

For a lot of passengers, they will either fly to an airport then go straight to the cruise port or stay in a hotel the night before, to make sure that they can get there in time. Choosing how best to get to your port also requires some forward planning as you want to make sure that you get there without any mishaps.

Some cruise companies will host a shuttle from a hotel to the embarkation port, or you also have the chance to get a taxi to ensure that you get there on time. If you’re traveling directly from the airport then you also have the option of getting a taxi or you could also look for public transport, which can be a bit more inconvenient and riskier. 

Pick your ideal cruise destination

When it comes to your cruise, choosing the right cruise destination is going to be vital as you want to make sure that you are catering to your needs and what you want to see. There are many great destinations out there to visit.

It’s important to know whether or not you want the most relaxing cruise possible or whether you’d prefer to have something a little more adventurous. This could involve a cruise including visiting exquisite countries such as Antarctica or Alaska, or you might want to scuba dive in Mexico or hike in the luscious hills of St. Lucia overlooking the magnificent Caribbean Sea. 

The company you use is also going to be important. If you have young children then you might not wish to go to more exotic destinations and instead might prefer to stay closer to the North American coast and use a child-friendly ship with fun themes for your little cruisers.

If you are more interested in sampling different cultures and exploring history, then heading off to Europe or Asia might give you memories that you will never forget, with incredible shore excursions. It all depends on where your interests lie and how you want to spend your time. 

The view of the sea from Santorini in Greece, on which illuminated cruise ships sail in the evening
The cruise destination you choose should fit to your individual needs and wishes. | Author: Jordan McGee

Intermediate ports of call

In addition to amazing cruise destinations there are also intermediate ports of call that you are going to be visiting along your journey too. These offer a huge variety of unique experiences and can give you the opportunity to visit a destination several times - each time from a different perspective.

If you wanted to really explore a destination then looking for a cruise that offers overnight stays would allow you to have more time to take in more landmarks. This can take the stress out of constant clock watching and wondering when you have to be back on the ship.

Also, visiting destinations with large ports generally means that you don’t have to venture too far to immerse yourself in the new the culture and way of life there. Smaller ports often require transfers in order to get to where you want to go.

Choose your optimal cruise dates

The date that you are planning on heading off on your cruise vacation is important and choosing the right time to cruise depends on where you are going and taking in other factors such as temperature and also your budget too.

If you want to cruise when it is a regions off-season then there is a good chance that you are going to get a cheaper deal than you otherwise would. If you have a set budget, then this means that you might be able to take a longer cruise and see more destinations, but there are dangers such as hurricanes on a Caribbean cruise as well as monsoons among other natural climate related phenomena common in certain regions.

If you want to see a destination in peak season then it’s important to check exactly when that is so you can make the most of your trip. Booking your cruise early or getting a last minute deal can also give you great savings and allow you to get more out of your cruise.

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Select a cruise duration that suits you

The number of days at sea is going to have a large impact on the distance the cruise ship is going to be able to cover and the type of destinations that will be available to you. This could be the difference between having a North American tour and getting to see Europe.

How much you can get out of your cruise duration can depend on a few factors such as the type of cruise lines that operate from your embarkation point. Sometimes it’s worth going further afield to get the specific cruise that you are looking for.

If you intend on only going away for a week, then you are still going to be able to find a great range of destination options. If it is only going to be a matter of a few days with a short cruise then you are going to be a lot more restricted and you might have to look deeper in order to get the itinerary that you want.

River cruises are also a fun option

The traditional type of cruise isn’t your only option if you want a relaxing break away on the water. There are some great options in North America as well as a whole host of great river cruises that are available throughout Europe.

The Mississippi has a lot of great cruise options in various parts of its length and there are also fantastic river cruises in the likes of New York, Alaska, Florida, Minnesota and many more. The European options also enable you to sample a lot of history and culture.

River cruise ships won’t be as large as ocean liners but they can still offer a great amount of luxury. You’ll still be able to enjoy a similar experience as with bigger liners, just in a smaller ship environment, which some cruisers might prefer.

A river cruise ship docked at a small port on Venice with houses and trees in the background
Being a great alternative to ocean cruises, river cruises have amazing itineraries in North America or Europe. | Author: Mariamichelle

How can I decide if there are still too many options?

Even with all this information it can be hard to make up your mind. The great aspect of having all these brilliant cruise companies is that there are plenty of destinations, ships and duration to choose from to allow you to select your perfect cruise vacation.

A lot of the times you’ll see a great cruise only to find out that it doesn’t quite fit in with your budget. A great idea is to set up Cruisewatch alerts with your budget in mind so that any alerts you receive are affordable to you.

Enjoy the cruise itinerary search

Clearly there many aspects to think about when choosing the right cruise itinerary for you. If you consider all the points that we have looked at here then you are instantly going to be able to rule out a lot of itineraries that aren’t right for you.

That will leave you with a pool of options to choose from which is going to be a lot less confusing and will allow you to think with a lot more clarity. This will help you to enjoy the experience of choosing the best cruise itinerary for you that will meet your vacation expectations.

Check out these articles for more information on planning your cruise: