7 Steps to Cruise Planning

cruise planning checklist

Cruise Planning Made Easy

Take the guesswork out of planning your perfect cruise vacation with our proven 7-step vacation planning system.

Step 1. Where do you want to go?

Probably the hardest part of any cruise vacation (besides going home) is pre-cruise planning. A lot of thought and effort go into the research phase to discover where to cruise.  Each region is different and offers unique experiences. Typically a cruise passenger will choose to cruise close to home to see if they are suited for the sea, then they will venture off to a warm-weather destination. After that, the world of cruising opens up and you might be more inclined to try exotic or boutique cruise experiences. ink to places to cruise

First-time cruisers or seasoned cruisers will find plenty of ports to explore in popular cruise destinations. For suggestions about where to cruise check out our Destination Guide

Step 2. Pick a Cruise Line

The best cruise line for you is the one that you will feel most comfortable on. The right cruise line for me, may not be a good match for you. As you can see, there are a lot of companies competing for your cruise vacation dollars. Carnival Cruise Line is the largest, with 25 cruise ships, and counting (they will add at least four to the fleet in the next 5 years). Following right behind is Royal Caribbean, which currently has 24 cruise ships. 

My #1 tip is to not pick a cruise line based only on price. You could possibly ruin your entire vacation.

Mainstream 

  • Carnival Cruise Line
  • Costa Cruises
  • Holland America Line
  • MSC Cruises
  • Norwegian Cruise Line
  • Princess Cruises
  • Royal Caribbean International

Premium 

  • Azamara Club Cruises
  • Celebrity Cruises
  • Cunard
  • Disney Cruise Line
  • Oceania Cruises
  • Paul Gauguin Cruises
  • Seabourn Cruise Line
  • Viking Ocean Cruises
  • Windstar Cruises

Luxury 

  • Crystal Cruises
  • Hapag-Lloyd Cruises
  • Regent Seven Seas Cruises
  • Silversea Cruises

River Cruise 

  • AmaWaterways
  • American Cruise Lines
  • American Queen Steamboat Company
  • Avalon Waterways
  • CroisiEurope
  • Crystal River Cruises
  • Tauck River Cruises
  • Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection
  • Viking River Cruises

Expedition 

  • Alaskan Dream Cruises
  • G Adventures
  • Hurtigruten
  • Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic
  • Ponant
  • Quark Expeditions
  • Silversea Expeditions
  • UnCruise Adventures

MSC Davina

Step 3. Purchase

A deposit is required to hold your space. The final payment is usually due at or before 90-days prior to sailing. Make sure to understand the cruise line’s cancellation policy should you have to change your plans. Once you have put down your deposit, make sure to consider purchasing trip insurance. There are advantages to purchasing a policy at the onset of the deposit. 

Step 4. Prep for the Cruise

The fun begins. What will you need to bring on the cruise? Who will take care of your pets? How will you get to the port? What other details do you need to arrange in advance?

This is also a good time to visit the cruise line’s website and start your online registration. Use your booking number to pre-register.  The next two steps guide you through the steps of booking shore excursions and customizing your onboard experience.  We put together a rather large cruise packing list that you can check out to make sure you don’t forget something. 

Step 5. Pre-Book Shore Excursions

Although you could always book shore excursions on the ship, popular activities sell out fast. You might also decide that you could explore on your own, or reserve an organized tour offered by an outside vendor. 

Step 6. Book Onboard Activities

Visit the cruise line’s website portal for booked guests and pre-purchase any onboard amenities that strike your fancy. This is the time to book any alternative dining venues, if you can. So many times on the big ships you will be shut out of speciality dining reservations because the prime time spots go to guests in suites and passengers with loyalty program status. Many cruise lines have mobile apps that you can download and use months before your cruise. In fact, I was setting sail on Harmony of the Seas and used the Royal Caribbean International app to make reservations for shows, look at a daily planner, see menus for restaurants, and read helpful tips. Also, since I already complete completed the online checkin process, I was able to save the SetSail Pass to my mobile device in the app.

Step 7.  Ready to Cruise

Visit the cruise line’s website portal for booked guests and pre-purchase any onboard amenities that strike your fancy. This is the time to book any alternative dining venues, if you can. So many times on the big ships you will be shut out of speciality dining reservations because the prime time spots go to guests in suites and passengers with loyalty program status.