As the days get longer and the sun shines warmer, a lot of people start thinking about the sea. Well, there’s no better way to get up close and personal with the Caribbean, the Pacific, and Europe’s legendary rivers than hitting the water on one of these luxurious, but affordable, cruise ships.
WORLD’S BIGGEST CRUISE SHIP FROM $607
Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas recently completed its first trials and is preparing for its debut in May, offering the chance to be one of the first to sail on the world’s biggest cruise ship. With a crew of more than 2,000, seven “neighborhoods" (including a tree-lined Central Park, boardwalk, promenade, and other distinct areas), and 20 dining options, Harmony of the Seas is the newest in Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class fleet. Thrill-seekers will enjoy the tallest cruise-ship slide, Ultimate Abyss, a kids area called Splashaway Bay, and my particular favorite, the Bionic Bar, where robots craft the cocktails (not kidding). And Royal Caribbean’s commitment to onboard technology can make your trip more convenient: Geraldine Ree, Senior Vice President of Sales at Expedia Cruise Centers, notes that “Royal Caribbean’s Royal IQ App lets you track your luggage to your stateroom.” Harmony of the Seas’s maiden voyage is in May, a short sail from Southampton, UK, to Cherbourg, France. Western Mediterranean cruises are planned for this summer and fall starting at $607, with Caribbean cruises planned for the fall and beyond.
CARIBBEAN CRUISE FROM MIAMI FROM $549
The Norwegian Getaway sets sail from Miami for seven days exploring some of the Caribbean’s most alluring ports, including the Bahamas, Jamaica, the Caymans, and Cozumel, Mexico. And "Norwegian’s iConcierge App enables you to book shore excursions and make reservations at the ship’s specialty restaurants,” says Ree. You'll love the delicious Miami-inspired and Caribbean cuisine and great entertainment and nightlife aboard the Getaway.Book this deal from Dunhill Travel Deals starting at $549.
BAJA MEXICO CRUISE FROM $344
The Carnival Imagination leaves Long Beach, California, for amazing Catalina Island, then on to such Baja Mexico highlights as Ensenada, Puerta Vallarta, and Cabo San Lucas on a five-day cruise that’s perfect for shopping for authentic Mexican clothing and crafts, hitting the beach, and maybe even knocking back a little tequila. Cruises.com has a deal that starts at $344.
DANUBE RIVER CRUISE FROM $999
“River cruising continues to gain momentum,” says Ree. “With only nine new ocean ships being added to waters in 2016, there will be 18 new river cruises to debut throughout the year. River cruises are especially popular with multigenerational cruisers. River cruise lines are designing family-focused sailings and family-friendly design elements on board, such as bigger cabins.” We especially love how these smaller ships make more stops in beautiful little cities and towns across Europe. On this Danube cruise you’ll spend eight days exploring gorgeous Vienna and the fairy-tale town of Melk in Austria; Bratislava in Slovakia; and amazing Budapest, Hungary. Book NOW at YMT Vacations and you can nab a deal at $999 per person.
TIPS FOR CRUISE NEWBIES
Ree also offers some advice for first-time cruisers:
Try to jump into “onboard life” – cruise lines offer cool events ranging from educational port lectures to raucous Dancing with the Stars, Shipboard Idol, and talent shows that bring the house down.
Sign up early for activities like cooking classes, fencing, or rope climbing; some sessions fill up fast.
Take care of anything you need from the Pursers desk on the second-to-last day of the cruise; on the very last day, lineups start early and remain pretty long until you disembark.
If you're flying to your embarcation port, buy your plane tickets early and splurge a little on nonstops.
Throw in a swimsuit in the carry on! Who wants to wait for the luggage to be delivered when a pool or beach are available?
Choose a ship and destination together as a family. This allows all of the family members to “buy in” and get involved, building the anticipation for every family member.
Make reservations as far in advance as you can. Adjoining and “across the hall” cabins become more difficult to find the closer you get to departure.
Fly in a day before the cruise to ensure that temperamental weather doesn't cause you to miss the boat.