Ocean or River: Crafting your perfect cruise

EnCompass Magazine

Cruising has significantly changed over the years, and you’ll be amazed at what you can experience on—and off—a cruise ship.

Nowadays, there are so many options to choose from, but how do you know which one is best for you?

That’s where we come in. We’ve gathered the best advice from our expert AAA Travel Agents to help navigate your course. We’re here to take you through all the phases of your journey. Ready?

Where and when

This is probably the most fun part of the entire process, deciding where to go, and equally important, when. Today, you can cruise nearly every part of the world—in all shapes, sizes, themes, and adventures. So, there actually is something for everyone. It all comes down to what you want to experience—history, culture, activities, entertainment, etc.

There are great deals if you book early or sail during the off-season when there’s fewer people, but, then again, maybe you want to go to a destination to experience it at its peak. You may be able to find deals during these times as well.

Research and planning

Many of us start this process by doing lot of research online. However, there’s almost too much information available on the web today, and if you don’t know what to look for, it can be overwhelming.

No matter how much information you gather, each cruise line will say it has the best product, the best experiences, and is a perfect fit for your needs. Reality check: this is simply not the case!

While each cruise line offers guests an amazing experience, it may not fit what you are looking for. This is why we recommend speaking with a travel agent. He/she will help determine what’s most important to you, by asking pertinent questions about your situation, budget, expectations, etc. Then, find the cruise that best suits your needs. Besides, this is what a travel agent does—shops for the best vacations for travelers, so you don’t have to.

PRO TIP: It doesn’t cost extra to use a travel agent.

Ocean voyage or River cruise

Now let’s narrow down which cruise experience you’d like to have. Here’s what you can expect:

Ocean Cruising

  • Capacity – Ships carry as many as 5,000 passengers; however, there are smaller, 200–300 passenger options available, which offer a more up-close and intimate experience.
  • Cabins – Available in several categories—Inside, Oceanview, Balcony, and Suite—on different levels, with varied prices. Choose where on the ship you’d like your cabin: front, back, or mid-ship (which is best for those affected by motion). Note: Even the smallest-sized cabins provide enough space and comfort for a good night’s rest.
  • Things to do – Ships are full of activities to keep you entertained while at sea (and even in port), with Broadway-quality shows, casinos, dancing, arcades, children’s programs, fitness centers, luxury spas, and sports activities, like rock climbing, basketball, miniature golf, ice skating, and surfing, just to name a few.
  • Dining – Plenty of options to fit your schedule, including formal, casual, specialty restaurants, and buffets with a variety of cuisine—most of which are included in your trip. However, you’ll usually pay extra for beverages.
  • Motion – You will feel the motion of the ocean; however, today’s ships have reduced much of the severe rocking with large, stabilizer-bar technology.

PRO TIP: Typically, internet access, shore excursions, specialty dining, gratuities, and most beverages are extra; however, cruise lines frequently have promotions that include these perks. Your travel agent can let you know when these are being offered.

River Cruising

  • Capacity – Longboat ships are smaller, more intimate, and hold far fewer passengers—no more than 200, and usually less. You’ll get to know your fellow passengers and the crew well, and it’s common for people to make life-long friendships.
  • Cabins – All face out and have spectacular views, yet are generally smaller than ocean liners, and typically hold two to three people. So, a family of four or larger may need to book more than one cabin.
  • Things to do – Since the majority of your time is spent off-ship, meandering through beautiful, bucolic rural areas and small towns along the way, there are fewer activities onboard. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be bored. River cruises allow you to have a richer, more immersive, cultural experience, as you’re mostly traveling off the beaten path and generally dock in the center of town.
  • Dining – Most river cruises are all-inclusive, offering sightseeing, shore excursions, exquisite meals of locally sourced, regional cuisine, and beverages, including alcohol at meals, in the price. Dining times are more regimented than ocean cruises.
  • Motion – River cruising is more like gently floating down the river than “cruising,” so you probably won’t feel any motion.

PRO TIP: Don’t overpack. Don’t feel like you need to have a different outfit for every occasion.

Booking your cruise

Before booking your cruise, there are a few more things to consider.

  • Member Benefits. AAA has negotiated special benefits and amenities for members that other agencies do not receive. This may be fare savings, cabin upgrades, shipboard credits, and others. Your agent will let you know which benefits, if any, are available on your sailing.
  • Shore excursions. Nearly every port of call has a myriad of choices to consider. Don’t be surprised if there are 8 to 12 excursions for every port, and the more popular ones fill up quickly.
  • Travel Insurance. We recommend protecting your trip. A small investment up front, in case something goes wrong, is worth the risk of larger expenses when it does. Your agent will go through the available options, and can secure this for you.

PRO TIP: Shore excursions can really enhance your experience. Your travel agent can make recommendations based on his/her experience and feedback from other clients.

Learn about your destination(s)

We know you’re excited; however, it may be months before you actually take your cruise. Use this time to read up on your destination, learn a bit of the language, customs, and places you’d like to visit during your free time. Your agent will also keep you updated, let you know when your final payment is due, and go over your travel documents with you when they arrive.

Travel day

Getting to your cruise ship includes flying to your destination, and preparing the day of embarkation schedule. To ensure you get the best possible experience, your agent will recommend that you get to your embarkation city at least one night prior to the start of your cruise. This will let you get rid of your jet-lag, so you don’t begin your journey bewildered and exhausted—or worse, suffer a flight delay and miss the boat.

Your travel agent will also make your hotel arrangements, transportation to/from airport, hotel, and ship, as well as offer sightseeing options and restaurant recommendations.

PRO TIP: Limit what you see on your first day, so you’ll feel refreshed to start your journey. Don’t try to squeeze everything in.

On ship

Once on board, settle into your stateroom, then make sure to attend the ship’s safety orientation. Afterwards, take some time to explore the ship and get familiar with your surroundings. If you’re on a large ocean liner, this could take some time.

Now, kick back, relax, and enjoy your vacation. Get out of your comfort zone and experience new things. Explore the towns, and get to know the local people. They’re a great resource for finding places that aren’t the most popular, which often create the best memories.

PRO TIP: Specialty restaurants can enhance your onboard dining experience, and adding a multi-day specialty dining package is a great value.

Returning home

Once your cruise is finished, consider a post-stay to experience anything you’d like to see in your final port. Your travel agent can even make these arrangements when booking.

Once your home, meet with your agent about what you enjoyed and what you didn’t. This gives you both a better idea of what to look for when you start planning your next adventure.

Final thoughts

Many people believe that they can plan their dream vacation on their own. But travel agents speak the language of travel every day. They know what to look for, and who to contact, even when they don’t know the answer.

Do yourself a favor. Allow yourself to sleep at night knowing that you chose to travel with a credible company, your upcoming trip was tailored to meet your goals, and you got the best deal. That’s what you’ll get with AAA Colorado.