More than 20 million people will go on cruises this year, spending approximately $1,800 per traveler weekly, according to Cruise Market Watch. The advantages people find with cruising include the opportunity to explore numerous luxury destinations without checking in and out of hotels, having facilities and entertainment all in one place, and the chance to make friends with fellow travellers. Due to inclusive fares covering transportation, accommodations, entertainment and food, it’s not an expensive way to vacation.

But before you say anchors aweigh, it will certainly pay you to find out a little more about luxury cruising. Because while it all sounds terrific, you might find some unexpected surprises and gotchas.  The following are things you should know before taking your luxury cruise.

Research Online, Book Through an Agent

That way, you’re sure to get the most up to date offers, plus any insider discounts. “An experienced cruise representative can get you the ideal voyage in the ideal stateroom or suite at the ideal cost”.

The “experienced” part is very important when working with an agent. You need somebody with “real-world experience” and who’s been on the cruise ship you’re thinking about, so you can ask about the quality of the food and entertainment, get an idea of what’s included in the fare, plus discover the style of the cruise line you are thinking about. Some cruises are intimate and formal, some are more family-friendly, and others are just huge party boats.

Book Early

While lots of cruise destinations are available year-round, the very best staterooms aren’t. The top accommodations on the leading ships are generally reserved up to 2 years ahead of time. Booking early has other perks, too.

[su_quote]If the price drops before you make your final payment, the cruise lines will generally honour the lower price, but you may have to push for this, With many people aiming to book last-minute deal, you end up with the better stateroom and you save money.[/su_quote]

Sign up with Loyalty Programs

Before you book a cruise, make sure you’re signed up for the line’s rewards program. It’s generally complimentary, and there’s no barrier to start racking up free benefits. It’s not like you have to be loyal to any one cruise line either. Join them all!! That’s simply the fastest way to get advantages like complimentary gifts and food, wi-fi, top priority reservations and service, and on-board discounts.

Checkout Cruise & Flight Options

Cruise Lines have huge deals with the airlines as they handle so many flights. When you talk to your agent, ask for a comparison of the cruise only and fly cruise options.

[su_note]Less than 30 % of all airline tickets are booked with the cruise and going around them could save you hundreds, particularly when you’re opting for more unique schedules, like to Europe or South America. If you can, use your Airline Points to buy tickets.[/su_note]

Self-bookings also mean you have control over the times and number of flight connections. On the downside flight delays can be a problem you will have to deal with. Always make sure you plan to be at your departure port a day or 2 before hand just in case.  When you opt for a Fly Cruise package with the Cruise Line the responsibility for making sure you arrive at the ship on time is theirs (unless you miss the flight!).

Budget for Extras

Unless you choose and All Inclusive Cruise, then you need to be aware that there will be a number of extras to budget for. On the newer ships you have specialty restaurants and these normally have a cover charge, alcohol and soft drinks will be extra as will gratuities and spa treatments etc.  These extras can soon mount up.

Tip & Gratuities

On an All Inclusive cruise the is nothing to worry about as these are included in the fare. On other cruises you are expected to pay gratuities to the staff and suggested gratuities are normally advised by the cruise lines.  You can prepay these or simply reward those in person at the end of your cruise.

Contact your Government

There are government-run sites you need to visit before booking a cruise. Depending on which country your are from, please check locally.  They can advise which has the most current travel alerts, about dangerous destinations and guidelines about visa and immunisation requirements.

DIY Excursions

The  cost of cruise line Shore excursions can be prohibitively expensive unless you are travelling with the All Inclusive Cruise lines where Excursions are all included.  Many River cruise companies do this as do Regent Seven Seas Cruises . A Cruise Line shore excursion  can be a great way to see the local destination and it is a very safe way  to go.  If the exclusion returns late to the ship, it will wait however they can be costly. The cruise lines make a lot of their revenue this way. Like airfare, you don’t have to reserve your excursions through the cruise line and it is often less expensive and more personal to organise your own. The re are web sites that can organise this so it is always worth doing a comparison.  The more experienced traveller will often choose this option.

Check your Travel Insurance

An absolute Must. Like everything else, you might get your insurance through the cruise line, but always check out the various comparison sites for competitive rates as these can differ enormously.

 Look for Repositioning Cruises

Many locations in the Mediterranean and Caribbean are available year-round. Others aren’t. When cruise ships are repositioning for the Winter or Summer seasons, you can find some great deals. It’s all weather-related, and some cruise lines offer repositioning cruises when they’re going to or from Europe or to or from Alaska. There are some great itineraries and even better prices if you shop around. Repositioning cruises generally happen throughout or after September and in March/April each year.

[su_note]Bottom line? Cruising can be an amazing experience but can be expensive. Plan well, and you can cruise the seven seas without worrying too much about the cost. It’s a fantastic way to see the world since you’re not packing and unpacking, not booking into and out of hotels, and not waiting in airports. The best part is not waking up in the very same boring location every day.[/su_note]