• Write a Review
  • Boards
  • Log In
You may also like
Dismiss
Choosing a Cruise Itinerary
Britannia in Norway (Photo: P&O Cruises)

Choosing a Cruise Itinerary

Choosing a Cruise Itinerary
Britannia in Norway (Photo: P&O Cruises)
Rebecca Barnes
Contributor
By Rebecca Barnes
  • Facebook
  • Pinterest
  • Twitter

With 195 countries on the planet today, and cruise ships operating in almost all of them, it’s not easy to choose a cruise itinerary.

Our members often post about their confusion over where to go, how long to go for and which cruise lines to travel with.

If this sounds familiar to you, read on for our tips on booking the perfect cruise.

Top 3 Things to Consider
Viking Sky in Tromso (Photo: Viking Ocean Cruises)
Start by thinking about the length of time you want to sail for, where you want to embark and what style of cruise you’re looking for -- rest assured, there’s a cruise for everyone.
1. Length: Itineraries range from weekend voyages to 100-plus-day trips around the world. If you are unsure about spending a week or more onboard a ship or it’s your first time cruising, why not look at a shorter itinerary? Ex-UK sailings, Greece and the Norwegian Fjords are regions in which you'll commonly find three, four and five-night cruises, but if you want to go further afield, then the Caribbean and the Bahamas also offer shorter sailings – you’ll just have to travel for longer on either side of your trip.
2. Embarkation port: Do you want to fly to your ship? Or would you rather sail from the UK? If you want to drive to a nearby homeport, your final destination choices will be more limited. However, this option means there’ll be no baggage restrictions and there should be a port not too far from where you’re based; some of the main UK ports include Dover, Tilbury, Southampton, Portsmouth, Liverpool, Hull, Plymouth, Newcastle, Bristol, Greenock and Dublin. If you don’t mind flying, a world of cruising is at your disposal, but you'll need to factor in the added expense of airfares and baggage restrictions.
3. Holiday style: It’s your time, so make sure you choose the right cruise to suit your unique holiday requirements. For some people, reading a book on board or a day on golden sands or by the pool is paradise, while others get their holiday fix sightseeing, shopping and interacting with locals. You’ll need to research potential cruise regions carefully to make sure that the ports of call you'll visit are in sync with your personal preferences.
Also, it’s worth bearing in mind that the most affordable cruise ships often visit the busiest, most popular ports -- if you want to venture off the beaten track and explore less popular destinations, you might be looking at a more expensive trip overall.

Destinations to Consider
Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, Italy (Photo: gali estrange/Shutterstock)
First-time cruisers tend to gravitate towards a few classic destinations, depending on their holiday preferences and interests. Here’s a roundup of what you can expect from different cruise regions.
Mediterranean: Many newbie cruisers choose to explore the popular Western Mediterranean, ticking off the likes of France, Spain, Italy and Portugal, where most itineraries are between three nights and two weeks. Now available year-round, these cruises operate from major ports such as Barcelona, Palma and Civitavecchia for Rome, but are also available from Genoa, Lisbon and Monaco.
If you prefer a short flight or want to depart from a UK port and require almost guaranteed sunshine, diverse ports of call and an abundance of history and culture, a Med cruise is a good option. There’s also plenty of cruise lines serving this region.
Northern Europe and British Isles: Offering year-round cruising with no-fly options, Northern Europe is a good choice for those looking for both ocean and river cruises, with itineraries generally ranging from short breaks to longer sailings.
Northern Europe cruises can include the Channel Islands, France, Holland, Belgium, Sweden, Norway and Denmark; river cruises can visit places such as Germany, Austria, Hungary, the Netherlands and France.
Some itineraries, meanwhile, focus solely on the British Isles, taking in destinations such as Edinburgh, Belfast, and the Orkneys. 
Greek Isles and Adriatic: Sailing around the Greek Islands and the Adriatic coast should appeal to those with an independent streak, but unlike traditional island-hopping, the convenience of a cruise means you only need to unpack once.
This is another region that’s relatively easy to reach from the UK and destination highlights include Crete, Santorini, Mykonos, Venice, Croatia and Montenegro.
Baltic: A fascinating region to explore on the water, the Baltic is home to Russia, Estonia, Finland and Latvia. Stockholm and Copenhagen are also popular ports for embarkation and debarkation.
You can cruise out of the UK to the Baltic or, if you have more time on your hands, there are plenty of fly-cruise options.
St. Martin (Photo:Sean Pavone/Shutterstock)
Caribbean and Bahamas: Many first-timers choose to cruise the Caribbean and Bahamas, where itineraries tend to be up to two weeks long. These cruises operate mainly from Florida ports, but are also available from New Orleans, Galveston and New York.
On these sailings you’ll be transported to island paradises where you can soak up the sun, try watersports, sample local cuisine, shop for souvenirs, and even stop at a private island owned by the cruise line (which you can't visit unless you're on a cruise ship).
Standard Caribbean itineraries are either Eastern Caribbean (visiting Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. Maarten) or Western Caribbean (visiting Grand Cayman, Jamaica and Mexico). Southern Caribbean cruises are either longer or depart from Puerto Rico to visit a range of islands, such as St. Lucia, Barbados or Martinique.

Fly Cruise vs Ex-UK
Fly-cruise: Fly-cruise destinations open up a world of possibilities -- if you have the time and budget you can fly to all corners of the world and embark on the voyage of a lifetime.
This option is ideal if you want to cruise in and around far-flung destinations without taking days to get there and back. You’ll also have the pick of cruise lines, from ocean liners to expedition ships and smaller luxury vessels. 
Ex-UK: There are many advantages to starting your cruise at a UK port, including no flights to book, no baggage restrictions and arguably less stress.
Today, there are more destinations to choose from than ever before, as more and more cruise lines choose to sail from UK shores. As well as Europe, the Baltic and the Mediterranean, you can now cruise to the Caribbean on lines including P&O and Fred. Olsen.

Cruise Lines to Consider
Marella Explorer (Photo: Marella Cruises)
Deciding what kind of ship you want to sail on is an important factor in ensuring an enjoyable cruise, and may actually dictate where you decide to go in the end.
Cruise lines departing from the UK include Cruise & Maritime Voyages (CMV), Fred. Olsen, P&O Cruises, Saga Cruises, Hebridean Island Cruises, Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean (during the summer months).
Mega ships: These 3,500-plus passenger behemoths generally visit the greatest-hits ports, making them good options for first timers. They also offer lots of tour options and plenty of facilities onboard for all generations. However, the popular destinations they visit can also be crowded with multiple cruise ships and packed with tourists, so don't expect secluded beaches and hidden gems.
Small ships and yachts: Ships carrying fewer than 1,000 passengers can dock in smaller harbours to visit out-of-the-way destinations and escape the crowds. However, you'll pay for the privilege. Most small ships are classified as luxury, with top-notch dining and service, plus higher base fares.
Riverboats: River vessels ply the major rivers of Europe, Asia, South America and the U.S. They're small with minimal onboard attractions, but they offer more time for passengers to explore on land than ocean-going ships, which often spend multiple days at sea. They're also a good choice for those who get seasick, as rivers are calmer than the ocean.
Expedition ships: Rugged, ice-strengthened vessels explore the far corners of the Earth, including Antarctica and the Arctic. You'll find onboard expedition teams that are knowledgeable about science and nature, Zodiacs for water-based exploring and, occasionally, surprising luxury touches.
Deciding what kind of ship you want to sail on is an important factor in ensuring an enjoyable cruise, and may actually dictate where you decide to go in the end.
Cruise lines departing from the UK include Cruise & Maritime Voyages (CMV), Fred. Olsen, P&O Cruises, Saga Cruises, Hebridean Island Cruises, Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean (during the summer months).
Mega ships: These 3,500-plus passenger behemoths generally visit the greatest-hits ports, making them good options for first timers. They also offer lots of tour options and plenty of facilities onboard for all generations. However, the popular destinations they visit can also be crowded with multiple cruise ships and packed with tourists, so don't expect secluded beaches and hidden gems.
Small ships and yachts: Ships carrying fewer than 1,000 passengers can dock in smaller harbours to visit out-of-the-way destinations and escape the crowds. However, you'll pay for the privilege. Most small ships are classified as luxury, with top-notch dining and service, plus higher base fares.
Riverboats: River vessels ply the major rivers of Europe, Asia, South America and the U.S. They're small with minimal onboard attractions, but they offer more time for passengers to explore on land than ocean-going ships, which often spend multiple days at sea. They're also a good choice for those who get seasick, as rivers are calmer than the ocean.
Expedition ships: Rugged, ice-strengthened vessels explore the far corners of the Earth, including Antarctica and the Arctic. You'll find onboard expedition teams that are knowledgeable about science and nature, Zodiacs for water-based exploring and, occasionally, surprising luxury touches.

How Cruise Critic Can Help
Cruise Critic is a valuable resource for planning your next cruise (Photo: leedsn/Shutterstock)
Now that you've got the basics, it's time to choose your itinerary and plan that cruise. Still perplexed? Here are some additional resources you might find helpful.
Cruise Critic's Cruise Reviews: Read cruise ship reviews by Cruise Critic's experts, as well as fellow cruisers. See how they rate the various ships on cabins, dining options and more.
Destinations: Get advice on the best attractions, restaurants and activities in ports of call around the world.
Advice: Looking for the best cruises for families, seniors or couples? Want the lowdown on cruise line policies, new cruise ships and industry trends? You'll find it all in our Cruise Planning section.
Cruise Styles: If you're looking for more information on cruises that fit your lifestyle (family, gay and lesbian, travelers with disabilities) or specialty cruising (world cruises, theme cruises and river cruises), you'll find your own niche here.
Cruise Critic's Message Boards: Correspond with other cruisers about all things cruise-related and ask questions of experienced travellers on our forums.

Updated January 08, 2020

How was this article?
Scroll down for the next article
Want to cruise smarter?
Get expert advice, insider tips and more.
By proceeding, you agree to Cruise Critic’s Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.
Cookie Consent