Gary Bembridge is the author of the recently published Cruise Traveler’s Handbook – the essential guide for any novice cruiser. He also has a website Tips for Travellers, where he offers tips and advice on all aspects of travel, including cruising.
Our U.K. Editor Adam Coulter caught up with Gary to quiz him about his top tips for first time cruisers, his favorite cruise destinations – and some predictions for cruising in the years ahead.
Q: What are the top 3 most important things for a new cruiser to know?
A: 1. Choosing the right cruise line for you is essential to having an enjoyable cruise experience. They are all so varied and different – you could cruise the same region calling on the same ports, but the line and ship you’re on will create a different vacation. Use a travel agent to help you find the right cruise line versus trying to do it on your own.
2. You need to be careful when comparing fares for what seem to be similar cruises. Different lines include and exclude varying things (e.g. Some include gratuities, some do not. Some include drinks, some do not. Some have free transfers into the town you are docked in, while some have charges).
3. Make sure you have budgeted for potential add-on costs including excursions, gratuities, drinks (you can cut down costs on many lines with drinks packages), internet usage and dining in venues with surcharges (your fare will include food in the main dining room, buffet and room service).
Q: Can you give us three predictions for the way cruising is going and what we can expect in the coming years?
A: 1. More niche and specialist cruise lines and ships catering for more specific types of passengers who want to a more tailored experience that the larger ships cannot offer.
2. Opening up of new destinations to existing cruisers. The Caribbean and Mediterranean are busy and many cruisers have been there a few times. I think we will see cruise lines opening up more of Asia, South America, Africa and the Arctics to provide new places to travel to.
3. I think Asia travelers will be the big focus for cruise lines and companies to tap into the vast potential there, and we will see more ships and on board experiences for that market emerging.
Q: What are your favorite cruise destinations (and why?)
A: The Caribbean. It is magical touring from island to island, each seemingly more stunning than the next. Great weather, great beaches, food and people!
I also love the transatlantic crossings, especially on the Queen Mary 2 with all the tradition and ceremony involved.
Q: Tell us about your most memorable cruise.
A: Crossing the Atlantic on the Queen Elizabeth 2 in force 10 gales with 50 plus foot waves. The ship rocked all over the place and many people lay low. It was a thrilling experience and I loved the feeling of being at sea when it was a bit wild and untamed.
Q: What are your top 3 predictions for ‘new’ destinations?
A: 1. The Arctics – we are seeing more mainstream cruise lines focusing on this region.
2. South America – cruising is growing fast there and I think more Western European and USA cruisers will head there.
3. Africa. I think more of that continent will open up to cruising, and try to attract the revenue that other regions are.
Q: How can cruise lines do more to get new to cruisers onboard?
A: Help to overcome the myths about cruising. A lot of time is spent on telling people how their line is different to the other – but the big opportunity are people that have never cruised by enjoy “resort style” holidays – and they need to show how cruising can beat that experience.
Q: Anywhere in the world, price no object: Where would you go right now?
A: Alaska. I have not been and I want to go!