How to pick a cruise

Woman enjoying cruise ship
July 25, 2019 | Maggie Tomasek

The cruise industry continues to grow, with an estimated 30 million travelers expected to set sail in 2019. Dozens of cruise lines can take you to hundreds of destinations worldwide, and each ship’s onboard services and perks can vary wildly. With so many cruise options available, we break down how to pick a cruise.

Key questions to help you pick a cruise

What is your budget?

Cruises are often all-inclusive, but that can mean different things. Usually, your cabin, onboard meals and entertainment are covered; shore excursions, alcoholic drinks and spa services typically cost extra. You’ll also need to pay for transportation to and from your port, and you might want to spring for the trip insurance too.  Knowing your budget before you even start your search can help you narrow your cruise options. Also, make sure you follow these tips to get the most for your money on a cruise.

How long do you want to be away?

Most cruises are in the 4- to 11-day range, though you can also find quick two-day getaways and epic six-month around-the-world voyages.  Don’t forget to add travel time to the length of your trip. If you can only take off a week from work, it might make sense to pick a cruise that you can board a little closer to home so you don’t spend too much of your time off just getting to the ship.

Where do you want to cruise?

Are you interested in experiencing the antiquities of the Mediterranean? Do you want to explore nature on an Alaskan cruise? Or is a tropical getaway to recharge your batteries more your speed? The destinations are seemingly endless.

What kind of cabin do you want?

Inside cabins are the cheapest option, but they are also windowless and often cramped. If you get seasick easily or want a more luxurious experience with a private balcony or other amenities, you’ll need to upgrade. Be sure to consider any cabin upgrades as part of your overall budgeted cost.

Are you taking the whole family?

Some cruise lines cater specifically to families, while others have strict no-kids policies.

Do you mind a crowd?

The bigger the cruise ship, the more people on board, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be more crowded. However, many cruises feature traditional seating for dinner, with assigned times and tables, so you might be eating with people you don’t know. Other cruise options feature open seating and alternative dining venues.  Along those same lines, it’s important to note that some cruise ships have “formal” nights or require suit jackets at dinner. If that’s not your thing, then you’re better off picking a cruise with a strictly casual dress code.

What amenities are most important?

Cruise lines are different, and so are the actual cruise ships. If you’re traveling with the whole family, kids’ facilities might be a priority. Spa services, casinos, pools, exercise classes –onboard amenities can run the gamut, so consider them among your other cruise options.


Once you’ve answered these questions, now you’re ready to dig into your online research or talk to a travel agent to pick your cruise.  After doing your research, if you decide maybe a cruise isn’t for you after all, check out these alternatives to popular vacation spots or some spectacular budget vacation ideas for under $5,000.

Maggie Tomasek is the PR & Content Strategist at Alliant. She began her career as a journalist for newspapers in Utica, N.Y., Des Moines and Cincinnati before moving to Chicago in 2009. Maggie is an eight-time Chicago Marathon finisher and a lifelong creative writer with a passion for comedy. Her mom instilled in her a great sense of fiscal responsibility, and her big sister told her to throw that responsibility out the window every once in a while in the name of life experience. So far, that combination of financial advice has worked out pretty well for her.

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