Buyer, Be Wary

It's very easy to allow cruise brochures and the hype of advertising (and even overly enthusiastic friends like me, who love to cruise) to create unrealistic expectations of what you're going to experience on your cruise.

That's why it's important to get an honest perspective of what you are likely to find when you cross the gangway and board the ship. Carrying unrealistic expectations onboard with you can easily diminish your enjoyment of a cruise.

Nothing will put a damper on your cruise more than stepping onboard thinking you're going to find perfection. Even on the ultra-luxury cruise lines there are areas you'll likely think can use improvement.

Aside from specialized cruise lines, such as sailing ships, etc., there are generally three levels of cruise experience -- budget, premium and luxury. It's only natural that your expectations will rise as the price goes up. The most noticeable change as you step up the pricing ladder will be the level of personal service you experience. On the luxury cruise lines, there's probably no request the staff won't rush to fulfill. On the budget line, however, the answer may be, "No, we can't do that."

Much of this has to do with simple numbers--the staff to passenger ratio. The luxury lines employ more staffers per passenger to cater to their guests, and devote more time and money to training them.

However, even on these luxury lines, the training does not include development of psychic skills. Regardless of which cruise line you're sailing, if there is something special you want, or have a problem you'd like dealt with, you have to ask. Becoming aggravated over a situation because "they should know" (what you want) will do nothing but raise your stress level. On ships, rely on the laws of buoyancy, not clairvoyance.

Researching before you book is a must. Read all the reviews (both professional and firsthand "average passenger" reports) that you can get your eyes on. Then after examining all the positives and negatives in everything you've read, make your decision--and discard all the information you've read. After all, we cannot expect our cruise experience will be the same as everyone, or anyone, else's. We all have different tastes, and different things that will please us.

The various cruise lines have different areas of strength and weakness. Once you've made a somewhat educated choice for your vacation, it's wise to walk onboard prepared to enjoy the particular strengths of that ship, or line.

If you choose your cruise based on simply finding great prices, and think the cruise line will adapt to what you are looking for in a cruise experience, you'll likely come home disappointed.

You have to weigh your options carefully, and once the choice is made, be willing to adapt to what that ship offers. That's the most likely road to success for enjoying your cruise vacation. Well, that and taking me along!

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