For most vacations, there are plenty of established tools like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and myriad travel guides that travelers can turn to in order to help plan their itinerary. But with cruise vacations, it can often be a real challenge to get the unbiased info necessary to really rock out your trip.
With our third cruise vacation now under my belt, here’s my list of top online cruise-vacation planning resources that I turn to every time I’m looking to set sail.
This is pretty much the holy grail for the cruise industry. In addition to having lots of editorial features on the cruise industry and reviews of every ship, Cruise Critic also features an incredibly active message board community where you can ask questions, do research, read user reviews of cruises, etc.
One other unique feature of Cruise Critic is the “roll call” boards. Here, you can pre-meet others that will be on an upcoming cruise that you’re also on, and depending on the cruise line, register for a meet-and-greet event onboard your ship.
We’ve found that these meet-and-greets can be quite beneficial. On both Norwegian and Celebrity cruise lines, the meet-and-greets are usually attended by senior ship officers; good people to know in case anything goes awry on your vacation. In addition, on Celebrity, Cruise Critic members that had registered for the meet-and-greet were invited to an exclusive tour of the bridge, which was pretty neat.
CruCon is an online travel agency, and though their website looks and operates like it was built by a fifth grader in 1996, I’ve routinely found them to have some of the best priced cruise packages available anywhere.
For example, for Celebrity Cruise Line, CruCon usually has lower rates than you’ll actually find on the Celebrity website, AND you’ll get an additional $300 in shipboard credit (money that you can spend onboard for drinks, specialty dinners, etc.) in addition to whatever perks Celebrity is offering. I’ve booked with CruCon twice now and been pleased with the experience both times, though if you’re looking for a travel agent that will do a lot of “hand-holding” to help you make your decision, this isn’t that type of service.
To get the best value out of CruCon, your best bet is to sign up for their email list. Email subscribers get early access to the website’s two biggest annual sales, on Black Friday and Memorial Day. Try to book about a year out or more (or alternately, check out their super-last-minute fares), and remember to keep an eye on prices after you book too — if prices drop, you can usually get rebooked at the lower fare and/or get your cabin upgraded.
Whereas with a hotel, you book a “type” of room but don’t know your specific room number until you check in, on cruises you have the advantage of booking the exact cabin you want. DeckPlanGenius is a tool you’ll want to use once you’ve settled on a particular ship/itinerary, but have not yet booked into that specific cabin. They have information and reviews for specific cabins on all the major cruise lines, and can give you useful info on the pros and cons of a specific “room”.
The types of things that DPG would be able to tell you: is the room near an elevator or stairs (which may be a pro for some for convenience, or a con for others because of noise)? Is the room located underneath a busy public facility like the buffet, or the gym? Does the balcony have extra room (which often occurs on “cut out/cut in” rooms)? Is the view obstructed by the life boats? Etc.
Additionally, you’ll see reviews from individuals who have actually stayed in that cabin to tell you what to expect. I like to check it out just before I head over to CruCon to book.
So there ya go. What online tools do you use when planning a cruise vacation? Tell us in the comments.