I would say the first thing when deciding on a cruise is to "get a guy or gal", call the cruise line and get a personal cruise consultant. We have a guy that we have talked to for at least 5 years that is our main point of contact at the cruise line, he calls us several times a year with deals and offers and when we are ready to book our cruise we call him and he customizes the cruise to fit our needs, price, cabin location, dinner times etc.
Cabin type and location vary depending on your preferences and how much you want to spend, we have tried interior, ocean view (window), balcony and mini suite. An interior cabin on a lower deck is the most economical choice but keep these things in mind when considering one of these cabins..........way down low in the ship tends to be closer to the engine rooms or anchors so they can be noisy very early in the mornings when they are using the propellers to dock the ship at the ports, it is generally quiet when you are at sea.
If you need sunlight to regulate your sleep rhythm then an interior cabin is not for you, if it's a 3 or 4 day cruise it's probably ok but if it's 7 days or longer the lack of sunlight can affect your sleep pattern. Everyone is different so you might be totally fine, I just know for me the lack of sunlight made it hard for me to sleep, I would wake up super early and constantly check the time because I didn't have light to tell me that it was morning.
An ocean view cabin will cost a little more than an interior but can still be a very economical choice with the benefit of a window or porthole.
Of course a balcony is more money and honestly I love having a balcony so much that the extra money is worth it. I have coffee delivered to my room everyone morning (that is a free service) and I sit out on my balcony and drink my coffee and just bask in the extraordinary feeling of being on the ocean thousands of miles away from everyday life.
When you buy an excursion through the cruise line you have the security that you will get back to the ship in time and will be safe, I recommend doing that your first few cruises until you learn what is offered at each port. We don't usually go on the cruise excursions anymore, we buy basically the same thing right when we get off the ship with private tour operators, you have to be very careful and smart about who you deal with and always triple verify that you will be back to the ship on time. We've been able to go to some really fun places because it might just be a van with 2 or 3 couples instead of a huge busload of people and the driver can take us wherever we want and customize it to our interests. Again be very careful, they should be operators that have clearance to be in the secure area right outside the cruise ship.
Spending money and shopping on the ship: You think when you buy the cruise that all your food and accommodations are paid for so you won't spend much more......that is so far from the truth. They will try to get you to spend more money around every corner. There is Bingo, casino, after hours kids club or yours want to do build a bear, there is premium restaurants that aren't included in the price of the cruise, They have a small mall where they put out jewelry, clothes, perfumes, watches, memorabilia etc..and it's on "clearance" so you need to get carnival tote bags and pj's and a gold bracelet because it's the last day of the clearance but honestly they do it on every cruise. You can pay to have your clothing dry cleaned or laundered, or you can rent a suit or gown if you forgot to bring your formal wear, you can buy flowers for your loved one and have a special cake brought to the dining room so they will sing Happy Birthday. It all just depend on how much you want to spend, we've gone enough times that we know what it worth it and what is not. Don't forget you've got gratuities at the end of the cruise that will add on several hundred more dollars. I'm just saying all this because you need to budget to spend money during the cruise as well, not everything is included.
This small list doesn't cover everything, just a few of my tips, I can do part 2 and get into more detail.
I can tell you that we have had some of our most amazing experiences on cruises and our daughter has been able to have those same experiences which is priceless to me.
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