Now, I suspect you already knew most of this stuff. If you found this article, then you're probably looking for information on which cruise line best fits your family and hopefully some tricks for finding discounts. With 20+ cruises under my belt, I've learned a trick or two when it comes to finding the best deals. So, lets get on with it and give you the goods you're looking for, right?
Picking A Cruise Line
With all of the different cruise lines it's hard to know which is best for you and your family. There are dozens of cruise lines, but we have profiled the most popular here.
Carnival Cruise Lines
Carnival is one of the largest and most popular cruise lines. They have 22 cruise ships with a new one, Carnival Magic, taking to the sea in 2011. Carnival boasts itself as the "fun ships". They cater to a younger family-oriented crowd, along with college-age kids during the summer and exotic cruises spring break. Carnival offers some of the best pricing of any cruise line with deals for several departure ports.
Celebrity Cruise Lines
Celebrity is one of our favorite cruise lines. It's a bit more elegant. They are still family-friendly, but also cater to couples and a mature crowd. You will find that both the food and service are a notch higher than most other cruise lines. They operate eleven cruise ships around the world.
Royal Caribbean Cruises
Royal Caribbean is probably our most favorite cruise line. They are a mix of the more elegant ships but also provide a number of activities and dining experiences. They control almost a fourth of the world's cruise market and currently operate 21 ships including the Oasis of the Seas which is currently the largest cruise ship afloat. They are building a sister ship to the Oasis called Allure of the Seas that should set sail in December 2010.
Disney Cruise Lines
Disney cruise ships are an extension of their Disney World theme parks. Disney caters to families with a focus on children of all ages. The ships have kid programs that keep the little ones entertained, enabling parents to get away for a while. They operate two cruise ships, the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder. They have a new ship, the Disney Dream, that is expected in 2012.
Norwegian Cruise Lines
Norwegian, a.k.a. NCL, is also one of our favorite cruise lines that caters to almost all crowds. They operate tencruise ships with the huge Norwegian Epic now afloat and cruising! NCL advertises itself as Freestyle Cruising which enable you to choose how you dine. Although alternative dining is available on many other cruise lines, NCL was one of the first to offer open seating and multiple dining options. Some do have a cover charge.
Princess Cruise Lines
Princess is actually owned by the Carnival Corporation but is a different experience. Much like Celebrity, they are a bit more elegant and cater to both families and couples. We have enjoyed our Princess cruises and would rate them high among the cruise lines. They operate 17 cruise ships that depart from ports all over the world. You may remember Princess as they were the ship used for The Love Boat TV series.
Crystal Cruise Lines
Crystal is a high-end luxury line that caters to a more mature crowd. They operate 2 medium size ships named Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity that travel the world offering several different itineraries.
Cruise Tips / Secrets
Here are a few tips and secrets we have acquired over the years of cruising. Keep them in mind when you are booking your cruise:
Resident Discount Rates - Many cruise lines offer resident rates for cruises departing from your state. These rates can be significant but you may need to ask to get them.
Book Guaranteed Rooms - When booking your trip, cruise lines sometimes offer what are called "guaranteed rooms". Basically that means, at minimum, you are guaranteed that category room, but are willing to wait for your cabin assignment. In many cases, this may mean you will receive a free upgrade. We've had great success getting upgrades.
Cruise Cabins - You will find that a large portion of the cruise cabins are exactly the same, with the only difference being which deck you're on and whether you're inside or outside. With the exception of suites with balconies, the outside rooms normally have one small window. My family has never seen the value in paying for a small window when you can always venture to the top decks and see the scenery. We also don't believe in paying to be on a higher deck. There is no special advantage between the decks, so consider booking the lowest-cost room available. Besides, you're not in your room all that much.
Check Cruise Line Website - Most cruise lines have a specific webpage that gives you there current specials or hot deals. These are often cruises that they are having a hard time selling. They don't always make finding these specials easy, but look on their sites for works like specials or hot deals. See our reference site for links.
Lastly, Don't Forget Your Passports - As most cruises visit ports outside of the US, you need to make sure you have a passport. Nowadays, this even includes Mexico, the Caribbean countries and Canada. The process can take as much as six weeks, less if you pay for an expedite.