Cruise Basics

Why should I consider a cruise vacation?

Cruising is an excellent vacation value because so much is included in your cruise price: your accommodations, meals, pampering service, fun activities and lavish entertainment. In between visiting exciting ports of call and discovering new cruise destinations, you can lounge by the pool, enjoy spa treatments, work out, leave your kids to play in the supervised kids’ center, take in a lecture or class, play casino games, or more. And perhaps best of all, you only have to unpack once!

What if I’m not sure if I’ll like cruising?

There is a cruise line and ship for just about every type of traveler. We sell thousands of cruises each year and rarely do we have customers who aren’t eager to cruise again. Our cruise agents are happy to assist you and help guide you to the right choice.

Where can you cruise and when is the best time?

That all depends on where you'd like to travel. The Caribbean is a year around destination, though you may wish to avoid hurricane season (August till early October). Some destinations, like Alaska, are seasonal. You can only cruise to Alaska between May and September. Our cruise experts can help guide your choice.

Cruises visit practically any destination accessible by water -- the Caribbean, Bahamas, Alaska, Bermuda, Europe, Hawaii, the Greek Isles, Asia and the Orient, Australia & New Zealand, Tahiti, the Galapagos Islands, the Amazon, Africa, around South America, India, the Panama Canal and even around the globe on a world cruise.

Will we fit in with the type of people that take a cruise?

Cruising has become so popular, and today’s cruise ships so advanced and so diverse in what they offer, that you’ll find all types of people aboard. The newest ships are so well designed you can find many intimate places to relax or socialize. As a result, you can be as private or as sociable as you’d like. Certain lines may attract certain types of customers more so than others, and we can help guide you to the best choice.

Are there cruises that will be appropriate for all generations of my family?

Yes. Multi-generational groups and family cruises are very popular. The larger ships offer a variety of activities and services to suit your entire family. Your kids can spend the day with the ship’s youth counselors on a treasure hunt, while you get a massage at the spa, brush up on your stroke at a golf clinic, learn how to play the piano, or participate in a cooking demonstration.

Choosing and Booking your cruise

Should I book directly with the cruise line?

In some cases you can, but there are important reasons why it may not be to your advantage to do so. Only a small percentage of bookings are made directly with cruise lines, and for good reasons. High-producing agencies such as ours that specialize in cruise vacations will always be a better bet than booking with the cruise line directly. We can offer you the best rates, and in some cases our group rates will be lower than what the cruise line will charge, We offer amenities on a variety of cruises that can include prepaid gratuities, shipboard credits and complimentary shoreside excursions. Cruise lines’ staff are not professional experts, have limited training, know only about their own product, and are not properly staffed to provide the level of service our qualified cruise experts do.

Why should I book my cruise with TravelStore?

Our goal is to provide the cruise that’s the best fit and value for you. We pass on all available savings, have group pricing on hundreds of cruises,  and negotiate exclusive offers for our customers on select voyages.  Most of our cruise specialists are certified by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) as Accredited Cruise Counselors (ACC’s), Master Cruise Counselors (MCC’s), or Elite Cruise Counselor Scholar (ECC’s). There’s hardly a ship that at least one of our cruise specialists hasn’t been on (and often more than once). Our recommendations aren’t based solely on our own points of view, but also on feedback from the thousands of travelers we’ve booked on cruises.

When is the best time to book?

The best time to book a cruise is as soon as you've decided to take one. Don’t wait. You want to secure a reservation at the best price as well as get the best available stateroom in the category you select. The best staterooms always sell out first, and the most expensive and least expensive staterooms are the first to sell out.

A year out is not too early to be planning your cruise. Prices usually rise as it gets closer to departure. While this isn't always the case, it's more the case than not. Waiting until the last minute in hope of a last minute deal works occasionally, but rarely. And if you book early and the price drops, our agents are on top of the change and will rebook and/or re-price you, except the rare occasions where the cruise line may not permit us to do so.

How do I choose the cruise line and ship that best meets my needs?

The number and variety of cruise ships increase each year, so finding the right cruise ship is more complicated than ever. It’s more valuable than ever to find a cruise expert who can guide you. You don’t just want the best priced cruise vacation, you want the one that offers you the most satisfying experience.

We classify cruises in the general categories of Luxury, Premium and Popular. There also are niche categories like River Cruising, expedition cruising, and private yachts. Our cruise agents can help guide you.

Is bigger better when it comes to ship size?

One measure of size isn’t the overall size of the ship, but the space ratio: how many passengers there are relative to the ship’s size. Some travelers assume smaller cruise ships offer more intimate cruise vacations. While this is generally true, there are some larger ships that are designed for fewer passengers, thereby providing each passenger on board much more space. Popular cruise line ships have a lower space ratio per passenger (less space) than Premium or Luxury ships. Generally, the larger the vessel, the more amenities it will offer. We can help answer your questions and advise you on the choices that may suit you best.

What types of accommodations are found on a cruise ship?

There are four major types of accommodations on a ship—suites, balcony staterooms, ocean-view staterooms and inside staterooms. Within these are additional options: mini-suites, family suites, cabins with larger balconies based on location, etc.

What's does "inside" or "outside" stateroom refer to?

An "inside" stateroom is one that does not have a window or porthole. These are the least expensive staterooms on a cruise ship. An "outside" or ocean-view stateroom, is one with a picture window or porthole, and/or a glass door to a balcony or verandah. Cruise lines also make distinctions when there are obstructed view staterooms (the view is partially blocked by some part of the ship). "Outside" cabins, because they offer a view, are generally priced higher than "inside" cabins, which do not have a view.

What is the best stateroom location?

To some degree this depends on your personal preference and from a practical standpoint, on availability. Generally, there is less motion the closer you are to the water line and the more mid-ship you are. Some people like to be higher up and nearer to the public areas of the ship, (not unlike those desiring higher floors in a hotel). It used to be that mid-ship staterooms were the most desirable because older ships didn’t have the sophisticated stabilization systems of today’s cruise liners. Today’s technology has advanced enormously, and location on most ships is much less of an issue. Some of the most desirable staterooms may face the front (forward) of the ship, or the back (aft) of the ship. .

What does “category guarantee” mean?

When you make your cruise reservation, you will either be confirmed in a specific stateroom or offered a “category guarantee.” This means the cruise line is unable to confirm a specific stateroom in the category you wish to book and guarantees you will be assigned a stateroom in that category, or possibly a higher category -- at no additional cost. You will be advised of your stateroom prior to sailing. Either way, you are assured accommodations on the cruise. Some travelers prefer a “category guarantee” in the hopes they will be upgraded to a higher category than what they’ve paid for.

How do I get my cruise documents?

After your cruise booking is paid in full, we will advise you when your cruise documents are available. Some cruise lines mail documents to us which we in turn review for accuracy and forward to you in a timely manner (generally two weeks prior to cruise departure). Many cruise lines now provide documents electronically by email. If you are unable or prefer not to receive your documents electronically, your agent will print and mail them to you. Because there is a cost associated with providing printed documents, some cruise lines have a fee when a customer wants electronic documents printed and mailed for them. Your TravelStore agent can advise you accordingly.

In most cases, cruise lines have forms that can be completed online in advance of your departure that speeds up your boarding procedure. In addition, you can often view and pre-purchase shore excursions, and make reservations at alternative dining venues, spa appointments, etc.

All About Cruise Pricing

Do we offer a lowest cruise price guarantee?

Yes! On many cruises we also have exclusive offers. Prices for cruises are established by the cruise lines, not by travel agencies. Sometimes there are price differences based on an agency promoting group rates on select cruises, where the group price can be lower. (We maintain hundreds of such groups.) Also, cruise lines do change their pricing – it’s never static – except on group dates. If you do find a lower price, please let us know and give us the opportunity to research and assure you the best possible price.

What happens if the price goes down after I book my cruise?

We do our best to monitor price fluctuations, but the cruise lines may not advise you or us of price decreases if they occur, In most cases cruise lines do not allow confirmed passengers to rebook if a lower rate becomes available. If you see a lower advertised price for a cruise after you've booked, please let us know right away. We'll review the promotions the cruise line may be offering, and work with the cruise line to secure any savings or secure an upgraded stateroom. However, once final payment has been made, adjustments generally can’t be made. The cruise line has the final say and it depends on whether your booking qualifies based on the promotion's "fine print."

What’s included in the cost of a cruise?

Your cruise fare includes accommodations, all meals onboard ship (including 24-hour room service), onboard daytime activities, and on most ships, night-time entertainment including live stage shows. One reason cruising is a good value is because you'll know what most of your cruise vacation will cost before you go. Generally your only extra expenses will be airfare, drinks and shore excursions (if not otherwise included), pre- or post-cruise extensions, and personal services such as spa treatments, hairstyling, and casino games and the like.

What determines the price of a cruise?

There are basic price differences between Popular cruise lines, Premium cruise lines and Luxury cruises. However, a suite with private balcony on a popular cruise may cost as much as a lower-priced stateroom on a luxury cruise!  We can help you compare the value.

Beyond these category differences, the cost of your cruise depends on your choice of accommodations, from the least expensive inside stateroom (a room with no windows) to a suite with private balcony, Jacuzzi and butler service. Generally, the least expensive staterooms are found on the lower decks of the ship (but above the water line!) and increase in price on higher decks. "Inside" staterooms are less expensive than ocean-view staterooms. The most desirable staterooms are those with private balconies or verandahs.

What are the taxes, port charges and handling fees?

The port charges, taxes & fees are charges assessed by government and other agencies, security fees, costs incidental to entering or leaving ports, costs incurred while in port, waste removal, and other port-related functions. Taxes associated with any flights could also be part of this category if airfare is included in your cruise price.

Why is it so expensive for a single person to cruise alone?

Cruise lines base their rates on double occupancy. When traveling alone, you will be charged a supplement to cover the cost of the unsold berth in your stateroom. It's not unlike hotel pricing, which is usually quoted as a room rate, rather than a per-person rate. A hotel room costs the same regardless of whether one or two people occupy the room, while cruise prices are quoted per person, not per stateroom.

Before Your Cruise

Should I always book the cruise line's airfare and when should I plan to arrive?

That depends on your needs and travel plans. The cruise line's airfare charge is not always your best-priced option for airfare. As with all airfare pricing, however, the only way to secure the best airfare is to pay for it in full when you reserve it. We can advise you on your best airfare options.

Regardless of who books your airfare, is it advisable to arrive a day prior to your cruise and overnight prior to your cruise. This helps ensure that any flight cancellations or delays that may occur, or misrouted luggage, won’t preclude your missing the cruise ship’s departure or mar your vacation. Most cruise lines offer a pre-night hotel package, and we can arrange these for you, too, usually at better value.

What about shore excursions?

In each port of call, you have the opportunity to get off the ship and enjoy shore side excursions. Every cruise line arranges a variety of shore excursions they sell either in advance (online once you are paid in full) or onboard. While booking shore excursions with the cruise line is convenient and in some cases recommended, these are not necessarily your best deals or options. We can arrange better custom shore excursions exclusively for you or your group, and on some cruises we offer a complimentary private car and driver. Ask us!

When do I have to check in for my cruise, and what is required?

New laws went into effect in 2008, requiring all cruise passengers to check in at the pier for their cruise at least 90 minutes prior to sailing time. The reason for this is cruise lines are now required to turn in final departure manifests within that time frame. Guests not checking in 90 minutes prior to sailing time may be denied boarding. This reduces the amount of time guests have to wait for their final boarding documents at the pier. At the pier, you will need to show proof of citizenship and in most cases, when cruising to any non-U.S. port, that will mean a passport.

Onboard the cruise

Do we have to dress up on a cruise?

Generally not as much as you may think, but that can depend on the cruise you select. Today's cruise vacation is far more casual than years ago. During the day, dress is casual on all cruise ships. In the evening, many cruise ships are casual and some are dressy. But even on those cruise ships where dressing up is the norm, there are dining options available that preclude dressing up. On most cruises, except those that have casual dress code around the clock, there are two dressy or formal occasions per week. This implies a suit or sports coat for men, and cocktail dress or dressy attire for women. Some guests still wear formal attire on "formal" nights, but it's becoming rarer.

What about tipping onboard?

As in any spa, restaurant or bar, tipping is appreciated, expected and deserved. A number of luxury cruise lines have all-inclusive pricing with a "no tipping" policy. But on most cruise lines, tipping is standard for your stateroom steward (who cleans your room every day), and your dining room waiter and busboy. Tipping guidelines are often printed in the cruise documentation you'll receive, and you can check with a cruise expert who books your cruise to update you on your cruise's tipping guidelines.

What kind of food can I expect on a cruise?

Dining can be a highlight of a cruise vacation, and most cruise lines offer alternative dining venues in addition to the main dining room. There is often a small charge to dine at an alternative restaurant onboard ($20 - $35 per person), while on some all-inclusive luxury lines, there is no charge. Cuisine varies by cruise line and type of cruise, and all cruise ships can cater to most any dietary requirements. On the best luxury lines, cuisine will be superior to that of lower-priced popular lines.

Can I dine with whom I please?

On ships that have an "open seating" policy, you get to decide. On ships that have fixed seating in the main dining room, you will be assigned a table where you will dine each evening. On most ships, you can request a table for two, four, six, eight or ten, and our cruise expert will take your request and pass it to the cruise ship when your reservation is made. By having your own dining table each evening, your waiter and serve staff get to know you and your preferences. While some guests prefer to dine alone or with their family, others enjoy meeting new people and have others to talk to at the dinner table. (For breakfast and lunch meals are usually open seating.) On most ships that offer alternative dining venues, you would make a reservation to dine at one of these.

Will we be bored on a cruise?

We can't think of a customer that's come back from a cruise and said they were totally bored! There's fun & enjoyment onboard for every family member: kids and teens have special events; adults have a huge range of activities, day and night. So the whole family can have a fine time. On a cruise you can do as much or as little as you like. For many travelers, cruising is a stress-reducing way to travel, and lazy days at sea between ports of call are the perfect remedy for recharging your batteries.

What kind of entertainment & activities are there on a cruise?

Entertainment onboard ranges from Broadway-style musicals to Vegas-style nightclub revues. There are theme cruises featuring Big Bands, jazz, sports and other celebrities, and guest chefs. Most [larger] ships have lavish facilities for passengers to enjoy a variety of pursuits. For fitness buffs, glass-walled health centers and spas overlook the sea and offer the latest exercise equipment and treatments. Aerobics, Pilates, step, spinning and yoga classes are usually offered (sometimes for a slight fee). Some cruises, especially premium cruises and luxury cruises, offer outstanding guest lecturers and onboard learning and enrichment experiences.

Are there things for children to do?

Many cruise ships have year-round children's programs with trained youth counselors on board. Newer ships have playrooms, teen discos, video arcades or computer rooms. Some ships even have "kids only" shore excursions. Our cruise experts will be able to tell you about the ships best suited to children and families.

Are there any age restrictions for onboard activities?

There are age restrictions onboard, which may vary slightly. Guests must be 21 or older to be served alcohol (proper I.D. is required). Guests must be at least 18 to enter the casino; usually at least 17 to use the gym/spa facilities.

What about cruising with infants?

If you are traveling with an infant(s), cruising is among the most convenient vacation options. Some ships offer private babysitting for services for infants as young as three months. Often the sitter is a crew member working on their off-hours and with some experience babysitting. Most ships provide cribs upon request as well as high chairs and booster seats in the dining room. If you need to store or heat up some milk or formula, you'll find the onboard staff willing to assist. Some cruise lines do have age requirements on how old children have to be in order to cruise with their parents. In some destinations on some ships, children are dissuaded. Your cruise expert can advise you any such restrictions.

What’s available for teens?

Ships these days offer some of the hippest stuff made just for teens. Teens like to mingle with others in their age group and have a place they can claim as their own. Clubs, discos, computer labs, soda bars, coffee houses and DJ booths are just a few of the places they can hang. Then there’s hanging out at the pool, in-line skating, ice skating, miniature golf, arcade games, feature movies, rock-climbing walls, Ping Pong, basketball and volleyball, to mention a few options.

Will I be able to relax onboard without worrying about my kids?

Most parents find vacationing on family cruises is safer and therefore more relaxing than on a land-based vacation, because there aren’t places for children to get lost or to disappear as on land. Shipboard youth activities are directed and organized by a staff that has been specially chosen to work with kids. They are highly qualified and educated in the fields of child psychology, child development, education and recreation. Cruises have strict requirements for staff and most require certification in First Aid and CPR. Some cruise lines even provide parents with beepers so they can be contacted at any time. Cruise ships have proven to be very safe environments for families traveling with children.

Can cruises accommodate passengers with disabilities?

Yes. All ships are required to have some staterooms for those with disabilities and welcome people with special needs. There are staterooms that are wheelchair accessible, complete with roll-in showers, lowered closet bars and other amenities. Some cruise lines also cater to passengers with visual or hearing impairments. Guide dogs are welcomed with prior notification. It’s important to note that any condition or disability that may require special attention should be brought up at the time the cruise reservation is made. Cruising is the perfect vacation, especially if you have a special requirement! Ships will have wheelchairs onboard for emergency needs. Persons requiring use of a wheelchair will need to bring their own on the cruise. For more information, speak with one of our special needs cruise expert  or visit

Is cruising safe?

The U.S. Coast Guard has declared cruise ships operating from U.S. ports to be one of the safest forms of transportation. Safety at sea -- of both passengers and crew -- continues to be the cruise industry's number one priority. In 2004, the International Maritime Organization, the United Nations body that sets global maritime safety standards, implemented the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code, and the U.S. implemented the Maritime Transportation Security Act. All guests require proper travel documentation at embarkation. Any guest traveling without proper documentation will not be allowed to board the vessel and no refund will be provided. All packages and provisions brought onboard are scanned with hand-held detection equipment. All luggage is being scanned. Security personnel are stationed at all points of entry to the ship. Passengers are photographed and issued an identification card with their photo to use to get on and off the ship in port.  U.S. laws protect American cruise line passengers. The FBI and federal authorities investigate and prosecute crimes involving Americans in international waters.

What are the safety standards for cruise ships?

All cruise ships must meet standards set by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). Ships operating from U.S. ports are also subject to U.S. federal and state regulations. The U.S. Coast Guard inspects all ships sailing out of U.S. ports four times a year. The International Council of Cruise Lines (ICCL) sets guidelines and mandatory standards for cruise companies seeking or maintaining membership in the association. These standards meet or exceed international and U.S. laws and regulations that apply to cruise ships.