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Tips for finding the right cruise for you

Whether you’re the type of traveler who tries to cram in as many sights as possible into those two weeks a year you indulge in your wanderlust, or you like to kick back and relax on the beach with a cocktail in hand, there’s a cruise out there for you.

But if you’ve never taken a vacation on the high seas, you may be wondering where to even begin planning. Here are a few of our tips for first-time cruisers to ensure you have a seamless sail.

Cruising tips

Saving your silver You'll need to put those
Photo Credit: Carnival Cruise Lines / Andy Newman

Saving your silver

You'll need to put those Web search skills to good use and shop around for the best deals. Avoid airfare if you can -- fortunately, we live in a major cruise port city and near several others.

Once you've found a cruise, don't book online -- call instead. Reps can offer more deals and guide you to the best rooms. Speaking of rooms, decide what you want to splurge on; balconies are a great perk, especially on certain itineraries, but if you're pinching pennies, opt for a window, porthole or even interior room.

If you book early, make sure to check back frequently to see if the price has gone down. Most companies will honor a lower price and credit you the difference or upgrade your room.

Once you've decided that you love cruising, put down a deposit for your next voyage on board; it'll often get you perks for your next trip and most deposits are fully refundable if you change your mind.

Spots for all seasons

Where you go depends first on when you can get away, second on what you want to see and third on how much you can budget for.

Different regions have their high, shoulder and low cruising seasons, with various pros and cons for each. New England, for example, is best in September and October if you're looking for a prime foliage experience. However, you're best avoiding those months in the Caribbean, as it's the heart of hurricane season.

High season in Alaska is the summer months, though if you want a chance at spotting the Northern Lights, venture out toward the end of the cruising season in September.

If you're minding the purse strings, aim for shoulder seasons, as they're often cheaper but still before port towns start to shut down, such as October or November in the Mediterranean.

Finding the best match

Cruise lines offer different amenities and vibes. Some, like Celebrity, Oceania and Holland America, cater to a more mature audience, while others are best for families with young kids, like Disney Cruise Line.

If you're bringing your tweens or teens, opt for lines that offer entertainment for them, like Royal Caribbean or Norwegian, which provide such activities as rock-climbing walls, zip lines and dedicated spaces for the young'uns.

Carnival is more budget-friendly and has a reputation as somewhat of a party line, while Princess caters to the all-around experience for young and old.

On-board antics

A good cruise should cater to your every need, so take advantage of the various amenities on board.

Missing those days at the gym? Head to the fitness center or sign up for a Zumba, dance, yoga or other fitness activity led by cruise staff. Want to relax in your swimsuit? Grab your towel and head out to one of usually several pools, including some on certain cruise lines that are "adult-only." Feeling tense? Book a spa treatment.

And of course, there's daily trivia, a casino on board, bingo, an art gallery, high-end boutiques, entertainment, movies and the opportunity to indulge in all the food you can stuff down your gullet at almost any time of day. And that's just scratching the surface.

Testing the waters

Several cruise lines, including Carnival, Disney, Norwegian, Princess and Celebrity, offer weekend getaways or short cruises for three-, four- or five-night voyages, usually to the Caribbean or along the West Coast. They're a great way to get your sea legs before committing to a longer itinerary.

Cruise lingo

You'll likely hear these words while on a
Photo Credit: Disney / Diana Zalukcy

You'll likely hear these words while on a cruise. Here's what they mean.

Bow: The front of the ship, which is most forward when you're moving.

Stern: The back of the ship.

Port: The left side of the ship when you are facing forward.

Starboard: The right side of the ship when you are facing forward.

Lido deck: The top deck of the ship, where there is often a pool, bar and/or hot tub (pictured).

Promenade: An open deck that encircles the ship. This is often used as a place to walk or jog.

Helm: The steering equipment of the ship.

Porthole: A round window on the ship.

Muster station: A meeting place on the ship where people get into lifeboats during an emergency.

Tender: A small boat used to transport passengers from the ship to the shore, often used when the harbor is too shallow for the ship to dock.

Gangway: A ramp or stairway between the ship and the shore when docked.

Embark: To board the ship.

Disembark: To leave the ship.

Port of call: Where the ship anchors and passengers can go ashore.

Excursion: A land-based trip taken at port visits.

Open seating: Dinner seating, where tables are not assigned to guests.

(Katherine Barner)

3 cruises perfect for first-timers

Fun for the whole family : Disney Cruise
Photo Credit: Disney / Diana Zalukcy

Fun for the whole family : Disney Cruise Line's seven-night Western Caribbean cruise

If you're traveling with the kiddos, add a cruise to your annual summertime Disney World visit. Disney Cruise Line sails out of Port Canaveral, only an hour from the heart of Orlando. The seven-night Western Caribbean itinerary on the Disney Fantasy (pictured) gives a taste of life at sea with two cruising days on each end, along with a spattering of ports of call, including Cozumel, Mexico; Grand Cayman; Falmouth, Jamaica; and Disney's private island, Castaway Cay. Don't freak out over the price -- it's per couple, not person. Disneycruise.disney.go.com

Stay close to home: Carnival Sunshine's five-day Canada/New England cruise

Save a bundle and avoid a plane ticket by sailing out of the Big Apple. A great fall getaway is a trip up north to Canada and New England. Hop on the Carnival Sunshine for its five-day Canada/New England voyage, leaving from New York with one day at sea to St. John, New Brunswick, then Halifax, Nova Scotia, and one more day at sea to return home. With flexible dates, you can find great deals. Carnival.com

Making the most of a destination: Royal Caribbean's five-night Bermuda cruise

Bermuda offers the chance for a relaxing, beachy vacation. And to get the most from the port of call, it's nice to have an overnight docking there. With Royal Caribbean's five-night Bermuda cruise on the Anthem of the Seas, you get two full days to explore King's Wharf, Bermuda, along with two sailing days to enjoy the amenities aboard the ship. Plus, it leaves from the nearby Cape Liberty, New Jersey, so no flights. Royalcaribbean.com

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