The essential questions you need to ask before booking a cruise


With so many ships, cruises, itineraries and fares on the market, it pays to find out as much as possible about cruising before you book.

Here are some questions to ask your agent.

What is included in my fare?

The wonderful thing about cruise ship holidays is that your fare includes your cabin, meals, some beverages such as tea or coffee in the main dining room, onboard activities, entertainment, and port charges and taxes. On some ships, wine at dinner may also be included. A few top-end cruise lines offer all-inclusive fares that cover beverages, gratuities and more.

What type of extras might I be charged for?

Generally, you will be charged for items such as soft drinks, alcohol, special teas and espresso coffee. You may find that a cover fee is charged at some alternative restaurants, such as those overseen by celebrity chefs. You will also have to pay for spa treatments, shore excursions, photographs, internet services, medical services and the like.

Do I need to book shore excursions ahead of time?

Shore excursions are organised by the cruise line and you will find a ‘shore tour desk’ on your ship where you can make bookings. Many cruise lines allow you to book excursions online before you leave home. If you wait until you board, book early to avoid missing out.

Shore excursions can seem expensive – are they worth it?

If you do your research, you can organise your own shore tours or go it alone. There are advantages, however, in taking organised tours, especially in exotic ports. Cruise lines generally use reputable guides who will have planned itineraries that help you make the most of your time ashore. The cruise line will also ensure that the ship does not leave until your group has returned.

What do the different dress codes mean?

Cruise ships often host evenings that require formal, smart casual or casual wear. Formal means suits and ties for men and cocktail or evening dresses for women. Smart casual may require men to wear a jacket and tie or just a jacket, while women need a dress or pants suit. Casual evenings allow men to wear sport shirts and slacks while women can wear dresses or pants. Ask your travel agent what is appropriate for your cruise.

If I don’t get along with my dining companions, can I change tables?

Increasingly, cruise lines offer the choice of when, where and with whom you dine. If, however, you are on a ship that allocates tables, you can request a change if you are not happy by speaking to the maître d’. They may not be able to make the change immediately but they will do their best.

Should I tip waiters?

You are not expected to tip any staff member during the cruise. Tipping policies vary from line to line, ranging from suggesting the preferred amount to tip, to charging gratuities to your onboard account or leaving envelopes for tips in your cabin on the last day of your cruise. Of course you can remove the charges from your bill and leave as little or as much as you like. Some lines, including P&O Cruises, do not allow tipping at all!

Are single travellers welcomed aboard?

Cruise lines work hard at making single travellers feel comfortable. Some, like Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Epic, offer single cabins and “private” public spaces for the people staying in those cabins, plus a range of onboard activities to make it easy to meet others.

Can I use my phone or access the internet?

Cruise lines are making it easier for passengers to access emails via internet cafés and wi-fi. Many also have mobile phone reception so your mobile will work at sea if you have access to international roaming. Check that charges will not apply, however. Generally, computer use will be billed to your account, as will any ship-to-shore phone calls you make from your cabin telephone.

Do cruise ships cater for guests on special diets?

Many cruise lines pride themselves on offering dishes that are low-fat, low-salt, vegetarian or heart healthy. If you have allergies that require you to eat special meals, ask your travel agent to check whether the cruise line can meet your particular needs before you book the cruise. It also pays to go to the reception desk and check again once you have embarked.

Is there medical help on the ship?

Qualified doctors and nurses are usually on board to provide services for a fee. Facilities vary from ship to ship, however, so if this is a concern, ask your travel agent to find out about the level of medical service available on the vessel you are thinking of cruising on.

What does fly/cruise mean?

This is the term used when the cruise and airfares are combined into a package. The advantage of a fly/cruise package is that your airfare may be discounted and the transfer from the airport to the cruise-ship terminal may be included.

Is it necessary to take out travel insurance?

The best situation for any traveller is that you take out travel insurance and never have to claim against it. While this may seem a waste of money, it guarantees peace of mind. Problems can happen: luggage can be lost; passports get stolen; you may need a doctor; or changes in travel arrangements may mean you miss your cruise (remember the international flight chaos caused by volcanic ash?). If any of those unhappy events befall you, your travel insurance will be worth every cent.