Cruising has become a major part of the tourism industry, with millions of passengers each year.
Cruise ships are organized much like floating hotels, with a complete hospitality staff in addition to the usual ship's crew. It is not uncommon for the most luxurious ships to have more crew and staff than passengers.
The number of Britons taking cruises is forecast to quadruple within 12 years - five million Britons taking a cruise every year by 2020
The majority of the 44 new ships being built over the next five years will cruise for European brands, and spend most or all of the year in Europe.
If your heart is set on a particular ship, itinerary or cabin, or if you are tied to certain dates, especially if you have children, early booking is the key.
If you are a floating customer, prepared to consider any cruise line, destination or grade of cabin, and if you are flexible on dates, you can save a huge amount on brochure prices.
There are dozens of cruise lines, scores of ships, and hundreds of destinations – so do your research.
Most cruise lines offer you the opportunity to play at some of the world's greatest golf courses while your ship is in port.
You can be as active (or inactive) as you like. Cruise ship activities range from working out in a high-tech gym to sitting on the deck and reading a book. You can learn computer skills, a foreign language, how to play bridge, or how to dance. You can enjoy Las Vegas-style entertainment or a classical pianist. Many cruise ships spend all day in port, so you can explore all the fascinating parts of the world.
Most cruises are not all-inclusive. In an effort to keep the basic price low, most mainstream cruise lines charge for everything that could be considered "extra", from wine to bottled water. As ships become more creative in their onboard activities, more things come at a price. However, the basic cruise fare still includes room, board, and the traditional cruise ship amenities such as a swimming pool and entertainment, so you can cruise and only have to pay for tips and drinks if your choose.
So how do you go about choosing the right cruise? The answer is to first decide what kind of cruise appeals and then to do your homework into the various lines that might fit the bill.
Here are some questions to consider before making your choice:
· Do you want an American-style cruise on a big ship with lots of activities, or does a smaller ship with a majority of British passengers appeal more? Europhiles might like to try one of the Italian lines.
· Do you like the idea of dressing up on formal nights or would you prefer to leave the suit and tie at home?
· Do you want to eat at a time and table assigned by the ship or the flexibility of dining when and where you want?
· Do you want a ship with lots of children on board or would you prefer a line more popular with the over-50s?
· Do you want a good choice of activities on board or do high-brow lectures and peace and quiet appeal more?
Inside rooms without a view on the lower decks are the cheapest, and prices rise the higher up the ship you go and as you graduate to outside cabins and balcony staterooms.
One of the most popular ways for cruise virgins to get a taste of a holiday at sea is to take a mini-cruise. You get a couple of nights on board, which is ample time to see what is it like, and you won’t have wasted too much money if you find it’s not for you. Apparently, though, most mini-cruise first-timers are soon booking their full-length holiday at sea.