Florida Guide > Cruising
How to Choose a Caribbean Cruise
Many people decide to combine a stay in a private villa in Orlando with a cruise to the Caribbean, and if you have the time to do this it is a great combination.
Orlando is ideally situated for a cruise as there are several ports which are the jumping off points for Caribbean cruises, including Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, Port Canaveral and Miami. Of these, Miami is the furthest away, at around 250 miles, with Fort Lauderdale approximately 20 miles closer. The most convenient ports are Tampa, which is around an hour and a half from our villa, or Port Canaveral, which is just over the hour. Each of the ports offers different cruise ships and itineraries. Carnival, for example, has many ships which sail out of Tampa, whilst Princess and Holland America tend to favour Fort Lauderdale, with Royal Caribbean having many sailings out of Miami and Fort Lauderdale. The Disney ships sail mainly out of Port Canaveral. Choosing a cruise may seem quite daunting as there is so much on offer, but this guide should give you some idea of what is available.
Many of the cruise lines are owned by Carnival – including Princess, P & O, Costa, Holland America, Cunard and, of course, Carnival itself. Royal Caribbean own Celebrity, whilst Norwegian Cruise Lines are independent, as are Disney Cruises. There are numerous options available when choosing a cruise – from 3 or 4 night ‘tasters’ visiting the Bahamas, to the longer 7, 10 or 14 night cruises, which will take you further afield, and may even visit the Panama Canal, and the more southerly ports such as Aruba and Curacao. Decide how many days you wish to cruise, and how far you would like to sail.
If it is your first time, and you are not sure if you will like the experience, then try a 3 or 4 day cruise to give you a feel for cruising. I bet you will wish you had longer, and will soon be booking another cruise. However, from our experience, these shorter cruises have a very different ‘feel. ’ The short, 3 day cruises, in particular, are often much more hectic, as they attract parties of people who tend to party hard when they only have a short time on the ship. We have even noticed a subtle difference between the 3 and the 4 day cruises on the same ship – we prefer the 4 day cruises as they are generally less hectic, with fewer party goers! But maybe that is just our age!
If there are particular islands or ports you wish to visit then that may be a priority. Some ships visit a new port each day, but that can be very tiring. Others have sea days which are wonderful for chilling out or taking part in activities – your choice of course. Most ships will spend a day at one of their fabulous private islands, so that is another bonus.
One thing you need to decide on is what size of ship appeals to you. Do you want something that is smaller and around 70, 000 tons, or do you want to try one of the mega cruise ships at over 200, 000 tons? The choice is yours. However, on the very large ships you will have a huge range of activities and facilities, and despite what many people think, you actually get more area per person on the larger ships than you do on the smaller ships, as the amount of space goes up exponentially. So don’t think that a smaller ship will be less crowded. We have found that the huge ships are far less claustrophobic and crowd free. You will, of course, have times when more people are gathered in communal areas (disembarkation for example) but that is true of whatever size of ship you go on, and these days everything is very well organised. Those ships which have large numbers of balcony cabins will have fewer people using the communal deck areas as many people will sunbathe on their balcony instead of sitting around the deck. Thus the deck areas will be less crowded.
Just as there are dozens of itineraries to choose from, so there are numerous ships and cruise lines, each of which have their own style and experience. Carnival is often known for its ‘fun’ ships, which attract a younger clientele. They are great value, but as with everything, you get what you pay for, so they often have fewer ‘frills. ’ Holland America and Celebrity appeal to the older market, although that is not to say that there won’t be plenty of diversity of ages on board. Celebrity pride themselves on 5* cuisine. Princess and Royal Caribbean attract families, and Royal Caribbean, in particular, has introduced a huge range of activities for the whole family to enjoy, including rock climbing, ziplining, water parks, Carousel, whirlpools, boxing ring, miniature golf, Aqua Theatre, flow-riders, ice skating and kids’ clubs which cater for children up to teenagers. The kids facilities on their two mega ships, Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas, have to be seen to be believed, and even offer a kids theatre, and science laboratories. Norwegian Cruise Lines have moved away from the more formal style of cruising, with freedom to eat whenever, and wherever, you wish and less formality.
The sort of cruise you book is really based on what you want yourselves. Think about your priorities, and then try to match them with the various ships. If you have young children then a full programme of kids’ club activities may be what you need – this way mum and dad will have some freedom to relax whilst the children are occupied by trained youth workers. If you are more mature, then maybe high quality restaurants are a priority. If you have teenagers then ships with lots of activities may be more appropriate. If you have young adults in the party then choose a ship which offers some nightlife – maybe a disco, or film shows. If you like set mealtimes then look for a ship which has traditional dining, but if you like to be more relaxed and decide when and where you eat, then look for a ship which has personal choice dining – or maybe a combination of the two, as on the Princess ships.
Finally, your choice of available cruises will ultimately be determined by the dates you wish to travel, and how much you want to pay. You will certainly have fun choosing your cruise, and you can find out lots of information by going to the individual cruise lines’ websites. Have fun!
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