Find your room, unpack once, then travel round the world enjoying all the amenities you could wish for at a cracking price – it’s no wonder cruises are so popular.
The past 10 years have seen a global boom in cruising: in 2009 there were 17 million passengers worldwide; in 2019 that number is predicted to reach 30 million. The industry is growing as fast as the ships can be built, with $65 billion worth of ships on order over the next decade.
With all these new ships, new routes and new cruise options, what should you look for when you’re thinking about making a booking?
Large liner or smaller ship?
A cruise can have fewer than 200 guests, or more than 5,000.
Although you might imagine that having thousands of people on board would be a squash, it’s surprisingly peaceful: “It’s managed so well that except for disembarking and breakfast, there’s often no sensation of being crowded at all,” says Kevin O’Sullivan, CEO of the NZ Cruise Association.
In contrast, if you want to form strong social connections, you may be better off on a smaller vessel, because there are fewer guests and you run into the same people every day.
Taking the kids or looking for luxury?
For families, larger ships often provide the best facilities, with dedicated staff and activities for the kids, says O’Sullivan. If you prefer a kid-free holiday, “some ships do limit passengers so children are excluded – they’re usually luxury cruises and may cost a little more.”
Is there a cruise tailor-made for you?
Singles, age group and gay-friendly cruises have been around for a long time, but now you can also indulge your hobbies while you travel.
Locally, there’s an art deco-themed cruise to Napier, with themed events and the chance to get into costume. You can also choose among sports, music, culture or comedy cruises, just to name a few.
How much do they cost (and should you buy the drinks package)?
An eight-night round trip from Auckland to the Pacific Islands and back starts at around $1,000 (per person in a two-person cabin). You could spend a week travelling around New Zealand for about $1,500 or cruise to Australia and back over 16 nights for around $4,500.
Prices typically include all food and entertainment, but your drinks are tallied up and paid for at the end.
“Think carefully about what you’re going to drink on board,” says O’Sullivan. “You’re paying retail price, not Pak n Save price. You may find the drinks package is well worthwhile so you don’t get a bit of a fright when you disembark and they give you the final bill.”
Is the balcony room worth the extra money?
Balcony rooms are costlier than interior rooms, but they allow you to watch the ocean from your room; “I think it’s well worth it,” says O’Sullivan. “It’s a very nice feeling to be able to look at the water going past.”
DIY or talk to a travel agent?
If you enjoy the process of researching your travel online, that’s a great option, says O’Sullivan, and you can get an excellent deal.
But if you’re too busy for the DIY approach, you’ll find most travel agents are experts in matching passengers to the right cruises – in fact, it’s a major part of the job for many. Take advantage of their expertise and you can save yourself a lot of time and potentially some money, too.