I get asked by friends and acquaintances all the time how they should figure out what cruise to take. Well, of course I tell them to read the hundreds of articles I've written and the cruise guidebooks I've co-authored with Matt Hannafin. But some still want more, they want a check list. Here are some questions to ask yourself before figuring out which cruise suits your personality best:
Would you rather jump off a cliff than take a bus tour or wait in line behind 500 hungry shipmates in a buffet line?
If you're more of a fleece and Crocs person than a gold sandals and designer bag gal, go for small and hands-on and join the active egg heads attracted to lines like Lindblad Expeditions, Travel Dynamics International, Quark Expeditions, Hurtigruten and Celebrity Xpeditions. The lecturers are excellent and you'll definitely get your feet wet exploring remote regions in places like Antarctica, the Arctic, Galapagos Islands, and Africa.
Do you have high-class tastes, but you're not old or stuffy?
A line like SeaDream Yacht Club fits the bill -- the line's pair of mini-cruise liners carry 200 passengers in casually elegant yacht-style surroundings with five-star food and service sans the cuff links and the Rolls Royce attitude. Along similar lines, the sleek yachts of Windstar are also a good bet. On these ships, the focus is as much on water sports off the side of the ships as it is on decadent dollops of caviar and swilling champagne.
Do you want a genteel experience, marble-clad suites, proper service and dressy dinners?
The high-end lines of Seabourn, Silversea and Regent Seven Seas offer well-accoutered suites with marble bathrooms and fancy toiletries, doting service, five-star food, and low-key entertainment. You'll be cruising with a few hundred others, instead of thousands, and wouldn't subjected to loud music by the pool, exuberant art auctions, ubiquitous photographers and the other trappings of the larger mainstream ships.
Do you have a posse of kids under age 10?
Your choices are easy: warm weather itineraries on giant family-friendly ships from the majors Â? Disney, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Norwegian Cruise Line.
Do you have young children under age 3?
Drop-off kids programming starts at age three on most ships. If your kids are younger, NCL's and Carnival's programming starts at age two, Cunard's QM2 at age one and Disney's at three months. If you want to dine out sans kids in the evening and your children are good sleepers, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Holland America and Crystal offer private in-cabin babysitting for an hourly fee -- an off-duty cabin stewardess will sit in your cabin and mind your offspring for a few hours (this worked great for me when my kids were between about nine months and two years).
Do you want to put together a girls-only getaway for you and a couple of your 30-something best friends?
Avoid the top lux lines like Silversea, Seabourn, and Regent Seven Seas where the average age is in the 50s and 60s and the vibe is sedate. Avoid anything longer than a week, which will also attract an older, chilled out crowd. The biggest party will be on weekend cruises aboard the bustling biggies of lines like Carnival, NCL, and Royal Caribbean.
Are you cruising with your elderly parents and your young kids?
To please all ages, choose a big ship that offers childcare and kids' activities as well as adult activities ala lectures, seminars and classics like bridge tournaments as well as musical and cabaret-style entertainment. If your budget is big, go for higher-end Crystal or Disney, if you'd rather spend less than more, go for Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Costa, Carnival, NCL, Princess, or Holland America.
Are you the Las Vegas type?
It sounds cliché, but it's true: If you like the buzz and vibe of a glitzy casino, then a big ship ala Carnival, Royal Caribbean, NCL, and Costa will work for you. It's splitting hairs, but for a somewhat muted Vegas vibe, go for Princess, Holland America, or Celebrity; they offer slightly more toned-down ships but still with plenty of entertainment and dining options.
Do you think you'll hate everything about a cruise and are only considering it because your best friend or husband or mother really wants you to come along?
If so, choose an anti-cruise -- from the swashbuckling tall ships of Star Clippers to the steamer-style Asia-based river boats of Pandaw and cozy 6- to 12-person barges that ply the canals of France and focus on gourmet cuisine and top regional wines with companies like French Country Waterways and the Barge Lady. Or go exotic, say, with Hurtigruten up the coast of Norway, Lindblad Expeditions to Antarctica, or Paul Gauguin Cruises in French Polynesia -- you'll be so bowled over by the destination you won't even remember you're on a ship.
Talk with fellow Frommer's cruisers on our Cruise Forum.