How to get the most out of an Internet cruise search when shopping for your next cruise vacation.
The Internet has taken the cruise search to new levels: Today, you can not only book a cruise online, but you can research every aspect of your cruise before you make a final decision. There is almost nothing you can't find on the Internet when it comes to cruise vacations. Here is a step-by-step guide to using Internet cruise searches to plan your next vacation.
Searches for Cruise Lines and Ships If this is your first cruise, your first consideration in a cruise search is deciding which cruise line fits your personality. Are you an outgoing person but conservative in budgeting? You might want to try Carnival Cruise Lines. Are you more conservative in your demeanor but more extravagant in your vacation investment? Maybe you want to step up to Celebrity, Princess or a luxury cruise line. The point is to match the personality of the cruise line to your personality.
To discover the personalities of various cruise lines, start with a Google search on "cruise reviews." We are sure you will find CruiseMates as well as CruiseReviews.com. CruiseMates has a full set of staff-written cruise reviews for individual ships, and each one has a section that says "this ship is best suited for" and "this ship should be avoided by people who prefer" to explain the appeal of each ship we review.
CruiseMates' reviews include in-depth information on all aspects of every line and their ships. There are all kinds of variables that distinguish one cruise line from another, so we highly suggest you read the cruise line and ship reviews, as well as specific feature articles in Cruisemates, to select a ship.
CruiseReviews.com has several reader-contributed cruise reviews that provide tales of personal experiences on various ships. While these reviews generally contain less factual information than the professionally-written ship overview in CruiseMates, they can still be very informative, since they offer the perspective of regular cruisers.
Once you have a sense of which cruise line is best for you, you'll have to narrow it down to a specific ship. You should then read our individual ship reviews. In addition, trying a search in our cruise message boards is a great way to find more specifics about your ship. If you don't find the answer you're looking for, you can ask questions of our fellow cruise enthusiasts.
Cruise Searches -- Itineraries After you pick a cruise line, but before you settle on a specific ship, you should decide where you want to sail -- Caribbean, Alaska, Mexico, Europe, etc. Most of the major lines have ships sailing in each of these cruising regions.
At this point you can go to the cruise line's web site and look through its offerings for specific itineraries and destinations. You could use the cruise search engine built into the cruise line web site, or just go to the section marked "destinations."
The search for the perfect itinerary is very important, because you are not only going to experience the cruise ship, you are going to visit exotic places. At this point you can select a specific ship based on where it goes, the duration of the cruise, and the cruise fare. All of these criteria can be found with a cruise search.
If you do not see the cruise itinerary you want in that cruise line's listings, it is time to do another cruise search in Google. Search for "cruises to (destination)" and see which cruise lines come up. You will surely see an alternative cruise line, so go to its web site and search for a different ship going to your desired region, and seek a more desirable itinerary. Read the cruise reviews for that ship.
Cruise Agency Search Engines Another valuable kind of cruise search is to go to the web site of a prominent cruise agency and see what's available. The good thing about these cruise search engines is that you can ask them to display several ships from different cruise lines at once. For example, if you want to go to the Mexican Riviera in April, you might find as many as six ships sailing that itinerary from almost as many cruise lines. You can also see the prices for individual cabin categories and decide whether it is worth it to splurge on that balcony cabin.
One of the most important things to remember about performing an online cruise search is that the wider you make your search, the more options you will see. For example, if you search for a specific timeframe and destination, you might see several different ships at different prices.
Getting the Best Price Once you have decided on a ship and itinerary, it is time to get the best price on that cruise. Prices for any given sailing (ship and itinerary) will vary according to the cabin category you select, and your departure date. The price for each cabin category will vary with each sail date.
At this point, it is probably easiest to use a travel agency cruise search engine, inputting your preferred cruise line, ship and cruising region. But be sure to keep your sail date time frame options open for now.
Being date-flexible is one of the best ways to get a better deal. If you limit your search to one cruise ship, it is a good idea to include a larger range of sail dates as cruise prices can vary a great deal from one week to the next. In the long run, the key to finding a great price online is flexibility. Do not assume that a ship's prices are the same week after week.
Shore Tours Another type of cruise search is for shore tours in the ports your ship will visit. Many people opt to buy shore tours from independent local operators rather than from the cruise line.
This can be a bit risky, in the sense that more things can go wrong. You might send the operator a deposit only to arrive in the port and discover the company is out of business, or the driver is sick that day.
Some people wait until they arrive in a port and hire a taxi. This can work well, but you have to be careful how you negotiate, and to pick someone with extensive knowledge and good English skills.
Or you can use a cruise search for "tours in (your destination)." If you find a good tour guide in Acapulco, for example, go to other sites with message boards or local tourist offices (also to be found with a Google search) and check out their credentials. Look for tour guides who respond immediately to email, have a telephone number, have a license if required, and who come recommended by other cruisers on the web.
Summing Up That is it for cruise searches. There are several reasons to use them, and nothing to lose. And remember to use all the tools and information in Cruisemates. The hundreds of thousands of cruisers who have in the past cannot be wrong.