To Cruise or Not to Cruise? Tips for choosing a cruise

Tips for Choosing a Cruise | This Is My Happiness

Cruises have been on my mind a lot since our cruise last month. Before then, I hadn’t been on a cruise since my first cruise experience—a cruise to Alaska with my dad in my early 20s. There are two main things that I remember from that cruise: first, the magnificent nature that we saw both from the ship and during our excursions, and second, the slightly awkward feeling of being on the ship, which included tacky theater productions, long dinners with forgettable food, and me hanging out in the casino because there were no other activities that suited my taste.

Fast forward almost 20 years and … while it seems some ocean cruise lines haven’t changed much, what has changed is the variety of cruise options (see below for more on that!). In fact, I believe that everyone can find a cruise experience just right for them, especially if they follow some tips for choosing a cruise.

Tips for Choosing a Cruise | This Is My Happiness

Why choose a cruise?

Until recently, cruises haven’t been at the top of my list, but I now see cruises as a smart travel choice. My change of heart came after some trial and error with family trips. My in-laws and I enjoy taking a family vacation when we visit them in Brazil every year. Last year we took a road trip through the historic state of Minas Gerais, and while that was a wonderful trip, it was also challenging. Driving from one destination to another, checking into hotels, and looking for places to eat took up so much of our precious time; this was all the more frustrating because we were traveling with kids.

In contrast, once we got on the cruise ship last month, everything was easy. Convenience was especially appealing to us as this was a multigenerational trip (3 seniors, 5 adults, and 4 kids ages 4-11). In short, taking a cruise for a family vacation is an convenient, fun way to travel. Why?

Tips for Choosing a Cruise | This Is My Happiness

You basically check in once, check out once, but go to many places over the course of one trip.

Many of travel’s decisions are made for you. You never have to wonder where you will get your next meal, how to get from one place to another, or how long to spend in each place.

There is something for everyone on a cruise. All family members can find something to do and then meet up at various points throughout the day; on some ships, there are even kids’ clubs where children can play with other kids while you do something else.

For these reasons alone, a cruise is an excellent option for families. When you have several family members traveling as a group, a cruise allows everyone to relax together without bickering about where to go or what to do, and a cruise is especially convenient when traveling with kids.

However, cruises are certainly not just good options for families! My husband and I would definitely take a cruise as a couple if the destination were right.

Tips for Choosing a Cruise | This Is My Happiness

The verdict: cruises are great IF you choose the type of cruise carefully.

Based on my experience, these are my tips for choosing a cruise. Here is what I would look for in my next cruise:

  1. I’d avoid large ships with many, many passengers. Times to check in, get off the ship at ports, and wait in line for everything from dinner reservations to the buffet seemed long due to the sheer number of people on board. There were so many people that the ship often felt crowded. This became more apparent as the cruise ended and more than 2000 people had to vacate their rooms and wait for hours to leave the ship. Perhaps this was a weakness of the cruise line, but I would choose a small ship next time.
  2. I’d avoid itineraries with too-quick port visits. I would look for a cruise that either guaranteed quick and easy port arrival or that allowed for full day visits. In contrast, our time in Montevideo was extremely limited, and our time in Buenos Aires was hampered by inefficient means of getting from the ship to the port and then to the center of the city, and this was disappointing.
  3. I’d choose a cruise line that has itineraries well suited to my interests. As a wine writer, I love exploring wine regions; as a former art history major, I love architecture and history; and as a nature buff, I love hiking. I would choose a cruise that would allow me to explore one of my interests.
  4. I’d choose a cruise line that has good food and wine. Because passengers spend quite a bit of time on board, the food and drink experience should be top notch, focused on quality over quantity. In fact, the food and wine can be a cultural experience, allowing passengers to try food and wine from a certain region. And better yet would a cruise line that has wine included in the price of the cruise so that passengers can relax and enjoy a glass of wine without dealing with pre-paid cards or room charges every time.
  5. I’d choose a cruise line with comfortable rooms with a view. Our room was one of the highlights of our cruise–it was spacious and well laid out, and this ended up being so important to our experience. In the future, I would look for a room with a large window so that I could watch the scenery any time of the day and, of course, a comfortable bed to rest after a day of walking in port.

A solution: CroisiEurope.

Tips for Choosing a Cruise | This Is My Happiness

After doing some research on cruises that would fit my above needs, I discovered CroisiEurope and now have their fantastic-sounding European cruises high on my travel wish list.

A trip through the romantic Loire Valley, past some of France’s most beautiful castles? Or a cruise through the Douro Valley, Portugal’s historic wine country? These are just two of their cruises; in fact, CroisiEurope has the largest number of European cruise destinations of any cruise line. The company uses small ships with a more intimate cruising experience, and the company is family-owned, making it a great value.

What tips for choosing a cruise do you have? Have you tried CroisiEurope? Would you be interested in a small cruise company?

Last image courtesy CroisiEurope


  • I’ve never been on a cruise and never had much interest…but this family trip perspective made me think twice. Nevertheless, I have a feeling that my 2,5 years-old son would need to grow up a little bit more. What do you think?

    The Douro valley cruise looks like a winner, I wouldn’t mind taking this trip myself with my wife, leaving the little one with the grandparents. Maybe when the real recovers a bit of its value…

    • Jenna says:

      I agree, 2.5 years old is too young. My younger son really enjoyed the cruise at age 4, and the older one (age 8) LOVED it, but I wouldn’t choose a cruise from the MSC line again. There were many positives about the cruise, but there were too many negatives to make me consider them again. I agree that the river cruise would be a nice choice for a couple. CroisiEurope offers a good value, but yes, it’s less so with the currency situation in Brazil now.

  • The CroisiEurope cruises sound nice! I think a river cruise appeals to me the most because of the constantly changing scenery. Really good food would also be high on my wish list. I would take high quality ingredients and smaller meals over massive all you can eat buffets any day! Maybe a smaller cruise company is my answer!
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    • Jenna says:

      Yes! The idea of having all that food ready at all times was appealing the first day or two, but after that, I was really looking for quality ingredients and good dishes. We did have a few, especially at dinner, but overall the food could have been much better.

  • I am so glad you enjoyed it. I love cruising, I have been on small to very large ships. Smaller ships don’t often have the good ballast that the larger ones do, so for ocean cruising makes me more prone to seasickness. I can easily find quiet spots on the large ships to relax and read on sea days, crowds have never been an issue, I also love to people watch in the piazzas on board. One of my fondest memories was waiting in a long line in St. Barts to board the tender. It began to rain – hard, there was no cover. We all laughed as we got soaked and continued to laugh on the tender and as we boarded the ship to be handed towels! While I enjoy all types of travel, cruising is most relaxing for me.

    • Jenna says:

      Nice that you’ve never had a problem finding a quiet place to relax. I did have a hard time on this last cruise. There actually were a few places that were always quiet, but they were over-air-conditioned or dark. Not what I was hoping for. But I agree, cruising is relaxing!

  • Well you’ve certainly discovered that cruising is great for family get-togethers! We enjoyed a special Alaska cruise with my (Janice) parents, siblings from around the world and all the grand-children. And it worked because everyone could go their own way during the day, but come together for dinner (and there were no decisions about which restaurant to go to, etc.).

    But, yes, when we cruise on our own, we prefer the smaller ships that have exotic or fascinating itineraries – like the deluxe riverboats we cruised on in Myanmar and also between Botswana and Namibia.

    And good food? You bet that’s important!

    Another cruise line you should check out is Voyages to Antiquity. They only have one smaller ship, but their itineraries are port-intensive and all guided shore excursions are included. They also have excellent guest lectures — and each day they feature local dishes, like Croatian sausages. Most guests are somewhat mature (but you will find a few younger couples). Prices are quite remarkable (well-priced) for what you get.

    We’re now booked on Viking Ocean Cruises on their new “Viking Star” for a Baltic cruise this summer. We’re quite excited, because we’ve never been to St. Petersburg or the Norwegian fjords!
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  • Pam Hausler says:

    A friend and I booked a CroisiEurope Blue Danube cruise in 2015 and it was great. The food was excellent with wines included in the cruise price however, if you wanted something different the option was there to buy one.

    I found the staff all helpful and most spoke English although the first language is French. I have some food allergies which, after advising the kitchen once, was accomodated with no problems.

    The large cabin windows were wonderful but the cabins were small and the bathroom very cramped. Just as well we are both slim women! We thoroughly enjoyed our CroisiEurope cruise and I for one look forward to doing another. 😀

    • Jenna says:

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience on a CroisiEurope cruise. I would love to take a cruise on the Danube one day.

  • Hung Thai says:

    Great tips. I’m not a fan of cruises but as you put it, it really depends on the cruise line you choose. It’s also nice just showing up and the rest is taken care of for you. But I don’t like being stuck on a boat for long periods of time. I was on a cruise to Mexico from Long Beach and those days on the ocean were difficult after doing all the stuff on the ship.
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    • Jenna says:

      That’s why the river cruises appeal to me. I believe they make more frequent stops, and there are no long “days at sea.” At least on a river cruise, you have changing scenery to view at all times.

  • I haven’t been on a cruise. So these tips come in very handy for planning my first cruise. Thank you very much.
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  • Meagan says:

    These tips are amazing! I have been thinking about going on a cruise for a while and I am really glad I read this before I booked on for my family and I. I have a 5 year old nephew so my question was going to be if he was too young for a trip like this. But since you mentioned your 4 year old son had a great time, I am not so worried. Thanks for sharing!

  • Currently, my husband and I are looking to go on a cruise this summer. Since we have never been, we want to make sure we find the right one to provide an enjoyable experience. I hadn’t thought about the time allotted for port visits, but that is definitely important to consider.

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