Cruising has become a big industry. The most recent figures (2010) available indicate that between 2005 and 2110 16 million (worldwide) booked cruises.
There are many cruising lines and all claim to offer the best deal and to be the best, but the reality happens to be completely different.
In general, the bigger the boat and company, the poorer is the quality of service offered. Big companies rely on volume and small profit margins. Small high-end cruise lines charge high prices, but compensate through their far superior services and food quality.
Cruising is a competitive industry (at least in the USA) and relatively well controlled. Regardless, authorities cannot control everything.
Selecting a cruise line depends very much on where you want to go. In the summer, Mediterranean cruises are popular, Caribbean itineraries tend to be inexpensive.
“Relocation” cruises involve boats sailing from one region to another pending on season e.g in winter from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean and reversed the process in summer. Prices are considerably less for such cruises.
Cargo ships also take on passengers, but they are much slower, offer no entertainment, call on few ports, and are therefore much less expensive. Obviously, you will not want to select a cargo ships sailing off the coast of Somalia!
You can do your research on the Internet or contact a specialized company, but do remember that travel agents are in the business for profit.
Ask questions about the past of the cruise line and read the “fine print” of any contract before you sign.
Cruise companies, according to information available, limit their responsibility to a maximum of $ 71 000.00 in the USA and ascertain where the jurisdiction is applicable (An American company may register its boats in panama for tax and juridical reasons).
Between 2005 and 2010 only 16 deaths related to marine accidents were recorded. By and large cruising is safe but never 100 per cent.
But you must check security arrangements of each cruise lines.
Most cruise lines employ security experts to ensure that all who enter the boat are indeed “real passengers”.
I did experience on Holland-America Lines a few years ago that evacuation procedures are not demonstrated well enough to be effective. They are routine and last no longer than 30 minutes and are essentially ineffective.
Then you must enquire about food quality and safety. In most cases food is in abundance, but of low quality (a lot of starch), except in luxury lines. Of course you must ask about food safety. Boats are closed-environments when it comes to food, and once a food contamination occurs it spreads.
In 2011 14 outbreaks of gastrointestinal illnesses on ten boats were recorded. Hundreds of passengers were affected. Cruise companies now clean more thoroughly and disinfect every nook and cranny of boat kitchens. Contaminated raw foods may enter boats through deliveries, and may be mishandled or improperly stored on the boat.
Most cruise companies state that they adhere to a no-tipping policy, in fact they do announce that tipping of employees are recommended during the last dinner on the boat, and more or less force you to leave a tip. An envelope is placed on the table, which is clearly marked with your room number.
In many instances the cruise line will promise champagne and serve poor-quality sparkling wine. Some claim to serve caviar Upon request and unlimited) , but serve cheap lumpfish caviar.
Check the cleanliness of the their back-of-the-house (aka kitchen) reports published by the US Coast Guard inspectors.
A good way to reduce up-front cost is to book everything at the beginning e.g land excursions and extras, whatever they may be.
Take the less expensive inside cabins; these don’t provide a view of the sea from the cabin.
Study prices of all excursions and if possible, compare with the prices of local agents. You will find huge discrepancies in favour of cruise line.
If you happen to know a subject well i.e archaeology on Mediterranean cruises, marine biology on Caribbean cruises, or wine, you may be hired as guest lecturer for a fee or even earn a free passage.
Look up when and where the boat was built, its safety features, and nationalities of crewmembers and how safety and security measures are applied.
I know, a lot of research needs to be done before you decide, but if you want to enjoy your cruise and to be as safe as possible, spend the time to ascertain everything that counts.
Here is a partial list of recommended cruise lines: ( includes one boat and its capacity
Crystal Cruises (Arranges cruises all over the world)
Crystal Serenity Capacity 1070 passengers
Regent Seven Sea Cruises (Arranges cruises all over the world)
Seven Seas Voyager Capacity 700 passengers)
Cunard (Arranges cruises to the Baltic Sea, Hawaii, and other parts of the world)
Queen Victoria (2014 passengers)
Celebrity (Caribbean, Mediterranean, Relocation cruises)
Celebrity Solstice (2850)
Viking River Cruises ( European Rivers)
Viking Neptue (150)