TV presenter, travel expert and Group Leisure & Travel columnist Julie Peasgood shares her advice on planning, and enjoying a cruise holiday.
I’m going to start by telling you that I’m a self-confessed cruise addict. It all started 20 years ago when I went on a soap-themed cruise on the QE2 (where I had to give my experience of being in C4’s Brookside) and it was love at first sail-away. Since then I’ve been fortunate enough to have travelled on 67 cruises, as an onboard speaker, TV presenter for the Travel Channel’s ‘Cruise Today’ programme, and as a travel writer – I write for the Mail on Sunday and I’m Contributing Editor for Cruise International magazine, as well as having my column in Group Leisure & Travel magazine.
To me, it is the most magical way to travel, and I do believe there is a cruise for everyone, regardless of age or budget. Cruising is the biggest growth sector of the holiday market, especially river cruising – and I am a confirmed fan of both.
Here, in no particular order, are my top cruise tips.
1) Use your mobile sparingly
Calls made in the middle of the ocean can be prohibitively expensive. It’s even an idea, especially if you’re travelling with kids (on a cruise), to take a walkie talkie, so you don’t have to call them on the phone and pay maritime roaming charges. Don’t buy the internet packages onboard either - find a wi-fi cafe when you dock in port and go online there – or if you’re on a river cruise wi-fi is normally included and available for everyone to use, so you can email or Facetime to your heart’s delight!
Pictured: P&O's Aurora.
2) If you really want to see the very best of a destination then travel with an expert, like Viking Cruises, who can give you behind-the-scenes and exclusive experiences that you wouldn't get on your own.
For instance you could have tea with a Babushka in Russia, shop for your supper in local food markets in the company of the ship’s chef – or you can even visit a silk weaver's home in Cambodia (which I was fortunate enough to do on Viking’s Mekong cruise). It was an unforgettable experience and I came away with about eight silk scarves because they were ridiculously cheap (and I fell in love with the silk weaver's family!) There are also talks onboard some river and ocean–going ships, covering everything from brushing up your French to learning about the different cheeses or wines of the countries you’re travelling through – so you can expand your horizons (as well as your waistline!) And incidentally, don’t forget to buy local wines in the cities you visit, because you can bring them back onboard to drink!
3) Ships often have fantastic spas onboard.
Don’t book your treatments on the first day though, as you’ll find that they often bring in discounts during the cruise. Also if you have a treatment - say a massage or a pedicure - it will be cheaper on a day you’re in port than on the days when you’re at sea.
Pictured: A Disney Cruise Line ship.
4) If you find you love cruising (as I’m sure you will!) then take the opportunity to book your next cruise whilst you’re still onboard.
There’s always a designated ‘Future Cruises’ desk for this, because are masses of benefits in doing so. The incentives vary between cruise lines of course, but they can include onboard spend (that means being given several hundred pounds credit towards your onboard bills) your gratuities might be paid for, drinks packages can be included and there are also general upgrades, which your travel agent can then sort for you when you get home.
5) Rise at sunrise to have the best attractions all to yourself and avoid the crowds.
It’s also the perfect time for photos, thanks to the soft diffused morning light - and any potentially dodgy areas in a city are usually less risky in the mornings too. The sail-in to ports is also often very early in the morning and this can be one of the best highlights of a cruise. I will never forget sailing into Rio at dawn and the light on the statue of Christ the Redeemer – jaw-dropping!