Tips & Trips Podcast Episode 12: Want to Book a Cruise?

Last updated on 12/02/2019

Want To Book a Cruise? With Cruise Critic

In this episode of "Tips & Trips", we talk with Cruise Critic to learn what's ahead for the cruise industry in 2020 and top destinations to visit this winter.

JULIE: Thanks for joining us at Tips and Trips. It's Julie Loffredi here with InsureMyTrip. We have Erica with us, the Senior Editor over at Cruise Critic, one of our friends.

ERICA: Hello.

JULIE: Hey Erica. So, you guys are really the largest cruise community. I mean if you are looking to book a cruise, you're on the fence, I mean you guys have it all - thousands of reviews. If you go to the website and you’re a first-time cruiser, where should you begin?

ERICA: It really depends on where you are in your process. If you're not sure about whether you want to take a cruise, if it's something you're kind of considering, you're excited about it, you have some concerns, we have articles that talk about just the basics of cruising. We have an entire section called What to Expect on a Cruise that takes you through the nuts and bolts of anything, everything. If you're looking for the best family cruise options, the best luxury cruise options, things like that, we have stories on the site. But if you want if you have questions and you want to talk to real cruisers we have an entire message board section where you can post your questions or read what other cruisers are talking about to get a sense of things. We also have ship reviews and cruise line information so if you're at that level “hey I saw this TV ad about the next new carnival ship or the next new Royal Caribbean ship and I want to get more information about that” or “I live in Baltimore and grandeur of the Seas sails here what is that ship like” you can go and look up reviews both from our team of professionals whose job it is to give unbiased reviews of the ship or from hundreds and thousands of cruisers who have been on the different ships and can give their experience. So you can really get kind of a rounded view of what people are saying and what to expect.

JULIE: And do you think cruisers are like researchers? You know, like they really want to do their homework before they commit?

ERICA: I think it depends. There are so many people who are cruisers that we get all types. I know there are some people are like "my parents want to take us on a cruise and so we're just showing up."

JULIE: Yeah, right.

ERICA: And then there are some people who probably enjoy the pre-trip planning as much as they enjoy the cruise themselves. And people can book cruises a year in advance, which gives you all this time to research what you're going to do onboard, which restaurants are you going to make reservations for, what are you going to do in port, are you going to book a tour, are you going to go on your own? And we definitely recommend that if you want the best possible cruise experience that you do some advanced research. I mean you don't have to dedicate all of your free time to it but you will have a better experience if you research what you want to do onboard and what you want to do in port and make sure you set things in motion to make sure you're able to do those things. Because cruises go to so many amazing places and sometimes you can have a great time just wandering around in port but other times you really miss out if you don't know what it is you want to see and make sure that you see it.

JULIE: Yeah and I remember last January Cruise Critic and InsureMyTrip we kind of collected our data together and pinpointed a few weeks out of the year that more travelers prefer to book a cruise and it turns out it was late January.

ERICA: Mm-hmm.

JULIE: Why is that?

ERICA: It's cold.

JULIE: Right.

ERICA: I mean that's kind of the flip answer but it's true right I mean a lot of people book cruises in the winter and that's twofold. One is that it's cold in a lot of places and people are dreaming of that Caribbean getaway of warm sun and sand and surf and things like that, so it is a time when people are really thinking about those tropical vacations. But also it's because it's a new year, the holiday season is done, people spend the fall they're prepping for their Thanksgiving travel or their Christmas or winter break travel, and then that's done. And in January February people are looking, they have this new year ahead they've got all this vacation time they haven't used yet, they really start to plan for the coming year and so between those two things a lot of people start booking their cruises. The industry refers to it as Wave Season because there is sort of a wave of bookings and cruise lines know that and so they usually make sure that that they have deals or incentive offers or value-adds in place to make sure that people booked with them when they are thinking about this sun and sand getaway.

JULIE: And I think on our end we looked into when people actually buy their travel insurance policies for cruises and found with the so-called Wave Season it seems on our end it peaks in late January but it remains strong through about March and then it kind of maybe dies down just a little bit through spring and summer. So I mean there's definitely some kind of rhythm there.

ERICA: Exactly, exactly. And that's seen industry-wide. And we would say, and you probably would say this too right, that we recommend that when people are booking their cruise, they do book travel insurance. A cruise is something that you book far in advance so you don't know what's going to happen. Final payment is usually required roughly 90 days before your cruise, it depends on the actual sailing. And so once that happens you've invested all this money and then there are several months when things could happen, things could go wrong, so we recommend travel insurance. And we recommend booking it as soon after you book your cruise as possible, especially for people with pre-existing medical conditions.

JULIE: Yeah good tip there, something we always say over and over again. When it comes to destinations are you all at Cruise Critic seeing some, I don't know, exotic destinations popping up? Or some surprise destinations that seem to be building traction heading into 2020?

ERICA: Sure. A couple of destinations are gaining traction because there is a rise in what we call expedition cruising which are smaller ships going to more adventurous places and those are Antarctica and the Arctic. We're also seeing new ships coming out for the Galapagos this year and next year. And so with more of these ships - they're ice class, which means they have strengthened holds so that they can go to these sorts of colder climate areas, and with lots of people with bucket list travel, we're definitely seeing a rise in those. They are not for everyone right - it's not warm, it's more active and you're going to be boarding Zodiac in full-on winter gear, but you're also seeing icebergs and you're seeing penguins and going to places that you never thought you would go to.

JULIE: Yeah I mean how else would you possibly explore that part of the world? I mean it just must be amazing.

ERICA: Exactly and you really need a ship to do it. I mean you can fly to Antarctica but you know if you really want a comprehensive Antarctica vacation and you're not a scientist a cruise is the way to go. Other exotic places I guess I mean Asia is hot right now. Japan especially I don't know if you consider that exotic but for many people far away in a very different culture so we're seeing a lot of cruise lines going there.

JULIE: And I know last year we talked a lot about river cruising gaining steam. Are you still seeing a very strong interest in river cruising? I think Viking had announced new ships and new ports so and that's really geared for a lot of folks who enjoy the calmer seas right?

ERICA: Yes, so if you're concerned about seasickness, which many first-time users are, a river cruise is excellent because there aren’t big waves, you're on a river. And also you're not spending a lot of time at sea with a typical cruise. If you're sailing from say Miami to the Caribbean there's going to be at least a day of transit where you're spending the entire day at sea. River cruises are usually not like that. You sail overnight and you wake up in port and you're right there and you spend the day exploring and then you get back on the ship, have dinner, go to sleep, wake up, and you’re in the next port.

JULIE: Yeah.

ERICA: So it's good for that and they generally get a slightly older, kind of more retired demographic, but the river cruise lines have really been developing their more active options lately. Some of them are bringing staff onboard to lead both fitness kind of activities onboard – yoga, exercise classes - but also in port do hikes and bike rides and things like that. And there are a couple of lines that actually have special cruises that cater to families. So it's like all of cruising - it is no longer just the domain of retirees, there's really something for everyone. But again, like we always say, you’ve got to do your research and make sure you're picking the right ship, the right line, the right sailing, the right itinerary for your specific interests.

JULIE: And I know another big one a lot of cruise lines were adding longer time in port, less at sea, so that trend will likely continue. Also, technology is a big one - internet capabilities, new technologies - anything new coming in 2020 or are you just seeing better Wi-Fi?

ERICA: Better Wi-Fi is really the big thing. Princess Cruises, as you may know, has launched its Ocean Medallion efforts and they continue to roll that out onto new ships. Their Sky Princess which is debuting at the end of this year is built with all of their latest technology already incorporated in it and you wear these sort of RFID bracelets or chips. They give them to you on a lanyard and you can buy accessories to wear them in different ways. They open your door before you get there and they let you order food or drinks to where you're sitting, and there are screens on board that let you plot out maps from like where you are on the ship to the next place, or to find somebody in your travel party. So it's really cool and helpful technology that is expanding every year.

JULIE: Mm-hmm yeah so it seems as if a lot of cruise lines are really becoming more and more customer-centric and figuring out what the needs are and offering enhancements to cruise lines.

ERICA: Yeah especially because historically cruise lines have prided themselves on service but now we have cruise ships with six thousand people on board. So how do you offer good service when you also have so many people? And I think they're using technology to sort of bridge that and make that more possible.

JULIE: Got it. All right. So, Erica, we talked about a lot. What are some of your tips for cruisers that are looking ahead thinking about where to go in 2020? Let's start with destinations - what are some of your top picks to consider?

ERICA: Well Caribbean and Alaska are always great destinations. If you've never gone on a cruise a Caribbean or Bahamas or Mexico, depending on where you live, are always a great a introductory cruise. They're easy, they leave from a lot of home ports around the US so you don't necessarily have to travel far to get to your cruise to set sail, there are so many itineraries, there are options throughout all the cruise lines so you can really find something that works for you. Alaska is a great destination for cruising because many of the ports that the cruise ships visit aren't easily accessible by land, so you really need a cruise to see them. And then the cruising between them is so scenic - you're in the Inside Passage, there are all these beautiful locations around you as you sail. And Alaska is often a bucket list destination for many people. And it's easy, you can cruise out of Seattle. You don't actually have to fly to Anchorage, though you can and you can tack on time to Denali and things like that in a land tour after afterward if that's what you're looking for. But you can get to some pretty impressive places just out of Seattle and that's cool for travelers who want that experience but maybe don't have the budget to fly to Alaska and do a fancy land trip there.

JULIE: And if you're flying in - you know say we're up in New England, so we're always flying down to Florida to get on a port, get on the cruise ship - do you recommend flying in the day before or a few days prior or what's your recommendation as far as getting to that cruise ship on time?

ERICA: Sure. So, first of all, you should know that if you're in New England there are cruises out of Boston and New York and Baltimore and Norfolk so just that people realize not all cruises leave out of Florida. You have more options of course if you do. But know that there may be a cruise port closer than you think. But in terms of if you're flying into a cruise, we always recommend you arrive the day before. Because it's air travel, you never know what's going to happen. Especially if you're taking a winter cruise out of a place like New England - is there going to be a blizzard that day that shuts down the airport? Is there going to be a threat of snow? Is there going to be ice? It always makes sense to come in the night before so you can get acclimated. Especially if you're doing a very far cruise. If you're flying Europe or Asia there might be an overnight flight that gets you in the morning of the cruise but I wouldn't want to cut it that close, you don't want to miss the ship if something goes wrong. So fly in the night before, get a hotel near the port, some hotels will have shuttles to the cruise port so that you can have your transportation taken care of, and then you can really get a feel for things. If you want to run to the store and pick up something for your trip the next morning you can do that and then you can get on your cruise you don't have to worry, you don't have to stress, that's always our recommendation.

JULIE: And finally, if you end up going on the cruise, when you come back to jump on Cruise Critic and write about your experience, right Erica?

ERICA: Please do, please do. It helps all the future cruisers when they can read an array of different opinions and really get a feel for that ship.

JULIE: All right well thank you so much Erica over at Cruise Critic. That's our go-to source for all sorts of cruise information so thanks again for joining us and thanks for listening to Tips and Trips.

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