With a record number of travelers and steadily growing number of ships at sea, interest in and growth of cruise travel is at some of the highest levels ever. According to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), demand for cruising has increased 62 percent over the last decade. Cruises are popular across all income levels, and age groups, with younger generations – including millennials and Generation X – embracing cruise travel more than ever before.

New cruisers are increasingly taking to the sea, too. A recent CLIA survey found nearly half of non-cruisers expressed interest in taking an ocean cruise.

“Cruises are very popular and are a fabulous way to vacation, providing relaxation and fun while at sea and the benefits of experiencing a variety of unique ports of call during the journey,” said Kim Wiesmann, Regional Manager for Travel with AAA Kansas. “For first-time cruisers, it can be confusing and a little overwhelming trying to decide on a destination, a cruise line and consider arranging all of the logistics involved.”

AAA’s Wiesmann suggested that, as much as any type of trip, working with a professional travel agent to help you book a first cruise can make the process smooth and stress-free, creating a vacation that meets all of your expectations.

So, You Want To Cruise, Now What?

Once you decide you want to take to the seas for your next vacation, here are some tips from AAA Kansas travel experts on how to get started:

Determine Your Destination – There’s a cruise itinerary to meet just about every interest, including the Caribbean, Panama Canal and South America, Alaska, New England and Canada, and European river cruises, to name a few.

Work with a Travel Agent – The wide array of cruise lines, destinations, fares and amenities can be overwhelming and time-consuming to navigate for most vacationers. An expert travel agent can help determine the best cruise for you and handle all of the details. AAA travel agents, because of their strong relationships with cruise and tour companies, can often secure discounts, special perks or VIP experiences not available directly to consumers.

Learn What’s Included – From food and beverages to entertainment and activities, there are many variations in and options for what is included with your cruise package and what may be an added expense. Work with your travel agent to understand these cost options and choose the options in advance that best fit your needs and budget.

Traveling to Port – Make travel arrangements via car or air to get to the port for your cruise ship’s departure. Your travel agent can help book flights or a rental car, if needed. Consider arriving the day before your cruise departs and staying at a hotel close to the port, allowing you to relax and board without the worry of delayed flights, traffic or other unexpected delays. Some hotels near the port will offer free or discounted cruise parking and a free shuttle to the ship.

Plan Shore Time – Book organized tour excursions or private tours at your designated ports of call through your travel agent or combine a scheduled tour with independent exploration time. However you choose to explore on land, just be sure you’re back on the ship in time for departure.

Get Prepared, Set Sail, Have Fun – Once your cruise is scheduled, take time to research the amenities of your ship, and book on-board entertainment and dinner reservations early through your travel agent to get your preferred times. Your travel agent can also help with tips on what to pack and how to maximize your time and budget while on a cruise. Relax and enjoy!

Matt Bert, a travel agent with AAA Kansas, said some of the most popular cruise destinations and itineraries right now for Kansans include the Caribbean and Alaska. He said he’s seeing an uptick of Mediterranean cruises as well. For first time cruisers, Bert suggests the Caribbean as an enjoyable and easy destination “and maybe even departing out of Galveston, Texas, since you could drive there if you wanted to.”

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