When you plan a land based vacation, you can pretty much go when it is convenient for you to do so. Cruising is a bit different though because you have to plan your vacation around the ship’s schedule. Some cruises, particularly in the Caribbean, offer sailings on a very frequent basis, so you can pick a sailing that is convenient for you.
Other sailings tend to be seasonal. For instance, cruise ships generally only service northern Europe and Alaska during the summer months.
The more exotic sailings may only happen once or twice a year, or may not be repeated at all. For instance, a few cruise lines have begun cruising to Antarctica, but typically only offer one or two sailings a year because there is such a narrow window of time when Antarctica is accessible.
When you are selecting a cruise, you certainly have to check the dates that the cruise is sailing and make sure that you will be available on those dates. However, there is more to consider than just when you can get off from work. The dates that you choose can impact the price of the cruise as well as the overall cruise experience.
Land based hotels located in tourist areas charge different rates depending on if you visit during the peak tourist season or if you go during the off season. The same thing applies to cruise ships. You can save a lot of money and avoid the crowds by traveling in the off season, but you may have to put up with bad weather.
Last year for example, Taz and I decided to take a Mediterranean cruise in late November, which is definitely the off season. We saved a lot of money by cruising during this time of the year, and according to our tour guides the crowds were extremely light compared to what they would have been had we gone during the summer. The weather really wasn’t too bad either. The temperatures were generally in the upper 60s during the day and the 40s at night.
Taz and I did the same thing the last time that we went to Alaska. We chose the cruise line’s last sailing of the year, which left in late September. Was it cold? You bet it was! But the cold weather kind of helped to make the whole Alaskan experience feel a bit more authentic. Besides, by going when we did we got to watch the whales as they migrated toward Hawaii.
Taz and I aren’t really into shopping, but it is worth noting that because we visited Alaska at the very end of the season, all of the shops were heavily discounting their merchandise. We were also the only ship in each port, which helped to keep the place from feeling too crowded. Having the peace of mind that came with knowing that we weren’t going to have to bunk with strangers because of a sewage leak in our cabin.
Although I would strongly encourage you to read reviews for any cruise that you are thinking about taking, I also recommend keeping an open mind as you read the reviews. Not all reviews are as they might seem.
For example, for any cruise there will be some hateful reviews from people who claimed to have a miserable time. Very often these reviews have been put there by competitors, disgruntled employees, or people who get their kicks from posting negative reviews.
On the same token, you also have to watch out for glowing reviews that might have been planted by the cruise line’s own marketing staff. These reviews are usually pretty easy to spot because they tend to be very polished.
Even if a review has been posted by a legitimate passenger, you can’t always accept the review at face value. For example, I put no stock in any comments complaining about the food on a ship because regardless of how good or bad the food really is on a ship it always draws complaints from reviewers.
Likewise, there are some people in this world who are impossible to please. If a review seems more like a rant and doesn’t contain any helpful information then I have to assume that it was posted by someone who is impossible to please.
Once I get a feel for which reviews seem to be legitimate, I try to get a sense of the overall passenger experience rather than focusing on individual comments. In other words, did most people seem to have a good time? Were there certain issues that kept coming up? Those are the types of things that are worth paying attention to when you read cruise reviews.