A guide to choosing a cruise

There's a good reason why cruising is the biggest and fastest-growing sector of the tourism industry: there's an ideal cruise for everyone, no matter who you are or what you're looking for — or even what you want to avoid. Here are some tips to get your started.

Near: You don't have to travel far to get seaborne. Cruises around our coast are popular (especially since you can skip buying medical insurance) and give a new perspective to places you thought were familiar. Cross the Ditch — it can be like a millpond — and call in on Tasmania on your way to Sydney's unarguably glamorous harbour. And then there are all those Pacific islands just a couple of days' sail away.

Far: There's hardly any bit of coast you can't sail to on this planet. From Antarctica to the Arctic Circle, the majority is accessible and there's no easier way to explore. All you do is step ashore, in St Petersburg, Montreal, Patagonia, Cape Town, Istanbul, Tokyo, Reykjavik — plus most places in between. And beyond: some cruise lines offer inland expeditions too, to visit gorillas in Rwanda, or Bolivia's salt lakes, even Tibet. Bucket list totally taken care of.

Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Bliss has everything from a giant slide to a go-kart track on board.

Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Bliss has everything from a giant slide to a go-kart track on board.

Mini: This can be the nearest most of us will ever get to our own private boat. Catamarans taking around 18 passengers are poking into some of the world's prettiest nooks and crannies. How about taking a look at the extraordinary Horizontal Falls in Western Australia's Kimberley? Or dive from the deck into the Adriatic when you moor off one of Croatia's exquisite Elaphiti Islands. Nose around the Galapagos Islands and be ignored by its wildlife.

Mega: The current upper limit is Royal Caribbean's Oasis-class. These ships house 6780 passengers, served by 2100 crew. On board are features like a real park with 50-plus trees, a zipline, a 10-storey slide, a funfair. There are a number of other ships which are built on nearly as grand a scale. You'll hardly know you're at sea at all: they're an entertainment-rich combination of city and holiday resort that just happens to be floating, which you'll only notice if you go to the railings and look over. Plus, of course, when you anchor (often, because of the size) out in the harbour of the next port. It's impossible to be bored on these ships.

The Viking Sun cruise has a world cruise itinerary on offer for 2019.

The Viking Sun cruise has a world cruise itinerary on offer for 2019.

Medium: Between these extremes are exploration ships from 30 passengers upwards, small ships that cater for up to 600 guests, and your regular cruise ships catering for increasing thousands of people. At one end you get intimacy but probably fewer entertainment choices; and at the other, glitzier shows and more activities, but also more queues and less personal attention.

Expensive: Most ships offer an upper level, sometimes literally, for those who want to splash out. Some lines, like Silversea and Seabourn, cater exclusively for the luxury-lovers on their elegant, small ships where you get your own butler, everyone knows your name and nothing is too much trouble. Naturally, you pay for this — but pretty much everything on board is complimentary, from drinks to wi-fi to tips, so that's worth factoring in.

Economy: Your cruise fare can actually work out cheaper than a regular holiday, given that it includes your accommodation, transport, entertainment, food and possibly even some drinks. There are special fares to look out for and if you're not fussy about the destinations, you can find some great deals. Just beware of those ship-arranged shore excursions: they can cost a lot more than doing it independently.

There's a cruise for every type of traveller.

There's a cruise for every type of traveller.

Busy: Apart from the onboard activities on the mega-ships, if you want to be active, consider an expedition ship. These are smaller vessels that still offer comfort but also ways to get up close and personal with the surroundings — and their inhabitants. So you might be nose-to-beak with thousands of penguins, or diving to a wreck, snorkelling with turtles and rays, kayaking or hiking. Too physical? On a regular cruise ship you can buy ingredients at a local market in France, and learn how to cook them. Or you could work on your photography skills, learn about wine, do stand-up, study art, learn history.

Relaxed: Port after port to explore can be tiring. Just want to take it easy? Then look for a repositioning cruise, when a ship is moving locations for its next cluster of cruises. Spending days at sea crossing the Atlantic means you have no tourist work to do and can simply chill right out. The fares are usually pretty good too.

Family-friendly: Got kids? No problem — the bigger ships have children's programmes and separate areas. You can even find specific family cruises where the whole ship is devoted to making sure you all have a good time, together and apart. Of course the ultimate here is a Disney cruise, likely to blow small minds, and yours too if you're up for it.

Cruises to far-flung destinations like Antarctica are becoming increasingly popular.

Cruises to far-flung destinations like Antarctica are becoming increasingly popular.

Sophisticated: There are plenty of cruises that discourage children because they have no facilities for them. That doesn't mean quiet and dull, but everything is geared towards more refined tastes, from dining to entertainment. And there are also, cough, adults-only cruises…

Sheltered: Worried about seasickness? Storms and rough seas do happen, and even big ships with stabilisers can be miserable places to be trapped if you're prone to motion sickness — and, in the worst cases, even if you're not. So consider the river cruise. There's a wide choice of type of ship, and route, and you're guaranteed never to bounce. You're also never out of sight of land, there's something to look at 24/7, and you nearly always stop right in the middle of a historic city or town.

You're still weather-dependent, though: too much rain, and you can't fit under the bridges, too little and the ship won't float. But there are always coaches.

Sign us up for the dessert buffet on a cruise.

Sign us up for the dessert buffet on a cruise.

Quick: You needn't commit to weeks afloat. You can just do a long weekend, if all you want is a taster.

Slow: Or you could spend months doing a round-world cruise, where you'll meet some people actually living aboard. That's an option too.

Cruise life can be as slow, or as fast-paced as you choose.

Cruise life can be as slow, or as fast-paced as you choose.

This story originally appeared on www.stuff.co.nz

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