There is something special about sailing out of Sydney Harbour to discover the world. Cruising is one of our favourite holidays. Not only does it provide an all-inclusive holiday package, but also a combination of enforced relaxation and the opportunity to visit new destinations.
At sea you can relax by the pool and take in the vast expanse of ocean around you. Do nothing, or enjoy the incredible range of on-board activities on offer. In port, you can also choose from so many guided tour options.
We also enjoy the fact that your hotel floats along with you. No packing, unpacking and lugging suitcases around. Once on board, you also have a pretty good idea of exactly how much everything is going to cost, so there are few hidden surprises.
We know that cruising doesn’t appeal to everyone. Maybe it’s because you’ve never tried it. Or perhaps you’ve been on a cruise that you didn’t enjoy. It all really comes down to making sure you choose the right cruise for you. There are so many great cruises departing from Sydney, it can be hard to choose. Here’s what we look for when we are researching and planning a cruise.
Choosing a cruise destination
So where would you like to cruise to? The South Pacific Islands, New Zealand or perhaps around Australia? We literally spend hours trawling through cruise sites looking for the ideal cruise.
- You won’t see much on a five day cruise stopping at one or two ports, but you will have plenty of relaxation.
- Similarly, an itinerary-packed cruise gives you lots of sightseeing, but can become quite exhausting. Those lazy days at sea really are an ideal way to relax and unwind.
- If you’re not sure if cruising is for you, why not try a short “sampler cruise.” There are many short cruises leaving from Sydney that take in only one or two ports.
Once you’ve decided on your destination, it’s time to narrow down exactly which cruise you want to take.
Choosing a cruise line
Choosing exactly which cruise to take can be very confusing. There are so many similar cruises out there, with wildly different prices and amenities. This is where you really need to have a think about what you are expecting to get out of a cruise.
- If you a dreaming of quiet, romantic relaxation by the pool, then you are probably going to be disappointed with a family focussed cruise with water-slides and kids amenities. There are going to be many loud, noisy children on board who are enjoying their holiday. And why shouldn’t they?
- For those looking for a great party atmosphere, the more upmarket cruises are likely to be geared towards seniors. Many of whom will be in bed by 9pm.
- Styles of cruises vary between the different lines. If you love dressing up to the nines in formal wear for dinner, then the more upmarket cruises will certainly cater to your holiday style. However if casual dining is your thing and you don’t even own a ballgown, you probably want to look at a cruise that offers “any-time dining” and doesn’t have compulsory formal nights.
- We usually opt for a middle-range cruise which has a limit on the number of children and relaxed dining options. No, we don’t object to children on a cruise, we had five of them ourselves. It’s just that as empty-nesters we are now “relax by the pool” sort of cruisers. As I mentioned above, no point booking a family oriented cruise and them complaining that the pool is full of children splashing and diving. Or booking a low budget “party cruise” and complaining the ship is full of young people partying until the early hours of the morning.
Choosing a cruise cabin
Once you’ve decided on your exact cruise, it’s time to choose your cabin and you’ll notice a marked difference in the varying cabin prices. The choice of both the type and location of cabin is probably the most important decision you’ll make. On most cruise lines there are basically four types of cabin:
- Inside cabins. These are the cheapest cabins on the ship and the prices that are advertised on any cruise site. As the name suggests, they have no windows or portholes. If you don’t think you’ll spend much time in your cabin, then they are a great budget option. We however find them a little claustrophobic and you have to rely on your alarm clock to wake you each morning, as there is no natural light.
- Ocean View cabins: A great alternative to an inside cabin, an ocean view cabin will have a window or porthole to let in the natural light and give you a limited sea view. You usually can’t open the window to let in the sea breeze however.
- Balcony Cabins: A balcony cabin is our favourite way to cruise. The rooms are a little larger and you have a small private balcony to relax and enjoy the view. You can also let the cool breeze through your room on a balmy Pacific night. While we certainly appreciate having that private balcony space, we have also managed to find a quiet deck space when we have cruised in an inside cabin.
- Suites: The suites are the best rooms on the ship, and certainly come at a price. You’ll usually find a private bedroom, sitting room and full bathroom. A little like flying business class, we’ve never really been able to justify the extra expense. But if you are looking for a luxurious holiday, they are certainly the way to go.
Just remember when choosing your cabin, whether you book an inside, ocean view or balcony cabin they all enjoy the same food, activities, amenities and excursions. The suites will certainly have additional premier services, which are reflected in the cost. You may choose to spend less on your cabin, leaving more to spend on your holiday. The choice is really yours.
Location of cruise cabin
Like any real estate, the location of the cruise cabin can have a huge impact on the enjoyment of your cruise. Look carefully at the deck plans, including those above and below your chosen cabin.
- A cabin directly above or below public areas, bars, restaurants and pool areas is likely to be noisier.
- Being located close to the elevator or laundry is convenient, but you will have a lot more traffic past your cabin.
- If you are choosing an ocean view or balcony cabin, check that it is not “obstructed”. I can think of nothing worse than embarking to find there is a life boat located directly in front of your window. On one cruise, we luckily discovered there was a set of service stairs running over the top of the balcony in the cabin we were considering. So take very careful note of what is around your cabin.
- If you are worried about sea-sickness a mid ship cabin will be the most stable. Choose a lower deck in the middle of the ship.
Choosing your shore excursions
Part of planning your cruise is choosing what shore excursions to go on. Your cruise line will have an online portal, where you can go in to manage your booking and book your shore tours. Yes, these excursions are expensive and you could almost certainly do them cheaper yourself. But we’ve found a few very good reasons to just accept the cost as part of our cruise.
- The tour operators know the local area well and can take you to some great organised cultural events. They also know the best times to visit to avoid queues, crowds and other time-limiting factors.
- While we did greatly enjoy a taxi ride around Vanuatu, you need to be really careful when booking your own tour. If you are late back to the ship, they may not wait for you and you will have to find your own way to the next port. Anyone who has taken a cruise is familiar with the “slow clap” given to the inconsiderate stragglers who have held up the ship’s departure. If you are with a cruise-organised tour, they will wait if something unforseen has happened.
- Do book your excursions before you leave, otherwise you may miss out. It would be very disappointing to find yourself on the three hour scenic bus tour, instead of the harbour cruise and snorkelling you would have liked to be on.
On board your cruise
Once you board your ship to set off into the Sydney sunset, there a few little things to consider.
- Nearly all cruise ships are now cashless, so there is no need to carry a large amount of cash. Everything is added to your account and charged to your credit card at the end of the cruise. There will be a currency exchange to purchase a small amount of local currency before you embark at each port. Do spend a little in each port, as the cruise industry and your souvenir shopping does make a difference to these local communities.
- Do check your account balance each day to track how you are spending, and make sure there hasn’t been anything charged to your account in error.
- Be aware that most cruise lines will add a daily surcharge per person as a “tip”. Make sure you find out what this is and factor it into your budget.
- Check the drinks packages offered by cruise lines very carefully to make sure they are going to give you the best value. If you don’t drink alcohol, or are only going to have one or two drinks each night you are probably better paying as you drink.
- If you think you may be prone to seasickness, invest in a pair of pressure point wrist bands which you will pick up at your pharmacist. A motion sickness tablet each night before bed also makes a huge difference. Avoid alcohol and greasy food. If you do feel a bout of nausea coming on, I always find sipping dry ginger ale really helps.
So hopefully these tips have been helpful in planning your dream cruise holiday.