For people new to cruising it’s a valid question. And I’m not just talking about the port of embarkation.

I’ve been in the travel industry since 1984, and I truly believe cruising is the most complicated market segment for customers to navigate. There are ships, and there are ships. And their offerings vary in so many ways, that even knowing where to kick off a conversation with a customer can be baffling.

Unless you know your stuff.

Cruising is booming at an unprecedented level. New ships with an astounding array of attractions, features, options, celebrity chefs, cabin types, robot bar tenders – you name it – are slipping out of shipyards at a rate of knots. Every other day, it seems, there are more announcements from a roll-call of the world’s cruise lines – Carnival, Silversea, Uniworld, P&O, Cunard, Seabourn…the list goes on. Ships are getting bigger, smaller, longer, higher, fancier, all with best-in-class offerings trying to lure experienced cruisers back to sea, and attract a new generation of customer to fill the vessels of the future. It’s an exciting time to be a cruise expert.

So, where does one start?

A good place might be to sit with someone who’s at the top of their game. Someone who can run a gentle set of filters by you to gauge your preferences and develop a conversation around those. We asked one of our resident experts – Maria Theodosatos – this very same question. Maria is part of the brilliant team at Spencer Travel Eastside and is an Accredited CLIA Cruise Masters Consultant.

Maria’s approach is to assume nothing, and start with a very important question: Have you cruised before? 

Maria advises that, “If the answer is ‘yes’, then the subsequent questions will follow naturally. If they say ‘no’ then I would start from first principles, describing the various types of cruise ships (large, small, high end luxury, all inclusive etc.), the cruise lines, their itineraries and the things I think set them apart from each other. It’s one of the most rewarding parts of my job. It takes time but is totally worth it. Cruising is not, for the most part, a budget experience. Price points can be significant, and for many their first cruise is the trip of a lifetime. It’s important to get it right.”

If Maria were styling a trip for someone who had cruised before, her process would be quite different. “I would ask about their preferred cruise lines and what they liked about the on-board experience – that way I can start to gauge the type of ship they may like before going deeper.

“Are they wanting a cruise with more sea days to relax or are they using the ship as the mode of transport to take them to a number of ports – what destinations are they interested in? Are quality culinary experiences important to them – more and more clients are real foodies and are drawn to specialty experiences in that space. Some will want every sip and morsel included in their up-front pricing, so they don’t have to worry about a bill at the end of the cruise.

“Are entertainment options and on-board activities important? Do they want shore excursions geared more to the history of the area – all this will determine the ship as well”, Maria continues.

Interestingly, unlike buying an airfare, the ‘budget’ conversation typically happens further into the conversation and knowledge exchange. “It’s not unusual for a customer not to know at the outset, but even a ballpark figure will help me narrow down the options. And if they are travelling as a group or with family, that will bring a specific group of options into focus, too.”

Are we there yet? Not quite. With an indicative budget Maria and her expert colleagues will work through important details, discussing cabin types (inside, outside, balcony, stateroom, amenities, butlers, concierges – the list goes on), assessing client personalities, their ages and interests. “I believe these to be as important as any other part of the process. It’s classic match-making. Trust me, putting someone on the wrong ship will put them off cruising forever!”

I’m inclined to believe her.

Next time you find yourself considering a cruise holiday. Seek out someone like Maria and take that journey together.

Much better to say bon voyage than bonne chance with that European river cruise, non?