I have been on over 10 cruises- on several lines. I have several “favorites” for different reasons, and I am always looking for my next sailing. In Winter, I enjoy sailing in the Caribbean, and would be happy if the ship just went to the middle of the Gulf of Mexico and dropped anchor. Actually, that is not quite true- I like putting my feel on solid ground ever day or two, but the experience on the ship can be as important as the ports visited.
I really want to try river cruising, but the cost is just too high at the moment. For now, I will stick with ocean cruising.
Here are links to some of the cruise lines I am familiar with:
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Finding affordable deals can be a challenge- especially of you are a solo cruiser like me. I use a variety of resources to find the great deals, but I almost always book my travel through the same agent, Ginger Kramp. When you find the deal you want (no matter where you find it), she can usually match it. The best part of booking with Ginger is her high level of customer service. Before I met Ginger, I booked a couple of cruises though online sites, and I learned quickly that- once they have your money- their customer care is lacking. Ginger will always be there for you, and for those who don’t like looking for cruises on the web themselves, she can help you cut through the options. She can be reached via Email at ginger@mcgeheecruise,com. She can help you with all aspect of your trip, including air reservations and travel insurance. Tell her I sent you!
Other things to keep in mind for your bargain hunt:
Last minute deals often offer the best discounts. Different lines have different requirements for when the final payment is due on a sailing. Generally, it is two or three months out, and after that time has passed, the line will continually assess how full the ship is, and they will offer discounts to entice folks into the cabins. If you can be flexible and you aren’t “married” to a particular sailing, this can be a great method. Bear in mind that airfares to go up when you get within a few weeks of a sailing. You should also be prepared to pay 100% of your fare when booking through this option.
General Cruise Information:
Cruise Critic has been around a long time, and it is probably the most comprehensive collection of information... basically "All Things Cruises". You can find extensive information about each cruise line and each ship, and you can learn about each cabin category and the amenities for a specific ship. There are also tons of reviews for all of the ships, and there is also the "Boards" section where you can post thoughts or questions, or you can get acquainted with some of your fellow cruisers on your sailing. I have actually attended Cruise Critic "Meet and Greets" on several of my sailings, and it can be a fun way to form a community (it is sort of hit or miss).
Carnival Cruise Lines
I have never sailed with Carnival, but I am including a link in this list because of their prominence in the ocean cruise market. In the past, I have shied away from sailing with them because they used to have a reputation for being "party ships". I think they have slowly cleaned up that reputation, though, and most people I know who sail with them love them. They tend to offer the best prices in the market.
I really enjoy the cruises I have taken with Celebrity. I think I enjoyed the food on their ships more than any other, and I liked the cabin size and appointments. At one time, they offered reduced single supplements on many sailings, but as of late that isn't the case. I suppose the good economy helps them fill their ships without offering deep discounts. Hopefully, I will have the opportunity to sail with them again someday.
Costa is an Italian cruise line, and it is the one I used for my Greek Isles cruise. I can't really say much about this line that makes it stand out above the rest. Perhaps it was because it was a European trip, but on my cruise the number of smoker and smoking areas (think: all lounges) was stifling. My sailing was just a couple of months before the infamous Costa Concordia disaster- when 32 people died. That was enough to steer me away from them going forward.
Holland America Cruise Lines
Holland America Lines (HAL) is a subsidiary of Carnival Cruise Lines, although is appears to be a separate entity when it comes to management and operation. I like their fleet of mid-sized ships (in the 2,000-3,000 passenger range), and they have a reputation of catering to a more geriatric crowd. The decor on the ships is more "old school".... very stately and traditional. This line's pricing is not as competitive as some of the other lines, and they tend to offer fewer "free perks".
This is Italian cruise company whose fleet is very modern and rapidly growing. The decor of their ship is beautiful, and the entertainment on board is very good. MCS's pricing is very competitive, also, but a lower price point can also mean a you will be sharing the ship with less "seasoned" travelers. The guest cabins on MSC ships are smaller than on most lines.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) is one of me favorites. Their ships vary greatly in size and age, but their staff and crew really do put for the effort to make you feel welcome and well taken care of. Whether I am traveling solo or with others, I always want a solo cabin, and NCL has cabins designed for solo travelers on many of their newer ships. Better yet, they quite often offer the best price breaks for single occupancy on their "regular" cabins- reducing or eliminating the dreaded "single supplement".
Princess is one of the most well-known and mainstream cruise companies. It was the setting of the television show, Love Boat. Like many of the lines, their new builds keep getting bigger and bigger, and I personally like more moderately sized ships. One of my Princess cruises was to Alaska and it included at 4-day land component, from Fairbanks to Whittier. Watching the Princess operation at their lodges and on the Alaska Railroad was fascination- the epitome of a "well oiled machine"- no glitches.??
For Researching Cruise Fares:
Cruise Compete can be a big help if you have a particular sailing in mind. Through this site, you can specify the sailing, and different cruise agencies will offer bids for your itinerary.??
CruisePlum is a great resource for cruise bargain shopping. They offer deals in a number of categories, and it is a great starting point in your search.
VacationsToGo is another great place to do your research for cruise deals. The offer a number of categories (solo travelers, 55+, military discounts, etc.) and their last minute deal list can be very helpful.??