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Cruise Virgins, by Harry Pope

This is the first in a series of articles about what to do when you go on your first cruise. Just because you might be an experienced cruiser, carry on reading because it could be interesting in any case. As an English writer inevitably my articles are about European cruising, but a lot of the advice is applicable world-wide.

It will cover booking, best time of year, most suitable ship for you, getting there, checking in, disorientation, cabins, tips, going ashore, dining, entertainment, the last day, interesting cruise web sites. And anything else that occurs to me when I have started writing them.

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Gibraltar sunrise

This one will cover booking your cruise. I know of at least one UK cruise line that will not deal with travel agents any more, so if you call in to book, you can, but you don’t get such good deals, and passenger assistance as well as advice. The travel agency works on a very small margin, less than 5%, there are also travel ‘clubs’, such as Bolsover, Iglu, Cruise Critic, and a few more, they also act as agencies dealing direct with the cruise line. The advantage here is direct communication, because the cruise lines have offices that struggle to cope with the phone demand, often keeping you waiting for an hour to answer a simple query.

My wife Pam usually books the cruise, she has far more savvy when it comes to booking, and she also takes a lot more interest in details than I do. It’s how the holiday works for us, and it starts with the adverts in the newspapers. They always have a lot of choice, we tend to be flexible with our travel dates, but if you are more fixed then this is an excellent starting place for you. I would also suggest that you Google in your cruise line, possible dates, destinations, and you should have a lot of choice appear. The bookings agencies are often prominent, the lines such as P&O, or MSC further down, and then you will see what itinerary is on offer. Are you going to join and depart ship in UK, or fly to pick up in a foreign port? The flight is usually included, some prefer to drive their own car and park portside at a daily rate, some of the dearer cruise lines include transport from home to ship.

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Captains Table on our 40th wedding anniversary cruise

Before covid, it was possible to leave the cruise until as late as the day before, taking a chance on which ship would have spare capacity, contacting the cruise line and asking what they had available. It was possible to get some cracking deals in this way, cabin upgrades, drinks packages, if I had the nerve I would still try it, just to see if I could. Onboard, it’s a form of one-upmanship to compare prices you have paid for your cabin, but bear in mind that some people might not be so truthful. On our last 16 night cruise to the Canaries when we chatted to other passengers universally they said that they were in an outside cabin with a balcony. Come on, you can’t ALL be in one of these, unless you are sharing and it’s getting mighty cosy.

Back to booking, most people go down one of three routes, booking direct with the cruise company, booking with a travel agent, or online with a cruise travel ‘club’. Some will ring the company, ask lots of questions, and then go to a travel agency. The disadvantage here is your personal cruise access on their web site, because it has been booked through an outside agency you won’t necessarily find it easy to download. Online you can book your excursions, as well as drinks package, and also download and print your luggage labels.

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One of the Saga Spirit ships

My advice? If it’s the first time, then go direct to the cruise line, they will patiently guide you through


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