How To Find & Book The Perfect Cruise [In 10 Simple Steps]

Bradley Williams
Written By:
Bradley Williams
Last Updated:
July 9, 2023
Here is a straightforward rundown of how to book your next cruise. With simple instructions on how to find & get the best deal and then make the booking.
how to book a cruise

Although people often consider cruises to be more of an option for older citizens, in fact, cruises are starting to become more and more popular with every generation.

They are a great way to see a variety of destinations in a short amount of time, and you won’t have to do any of the traveling yourself.

You can simply just sit back, catch some rays, hit the pool, or take advantage of the many onboard services available!

The process of booking this kind of trip can often be difficult to get your head around - especially for first-time cruisers.

That’s why we’ve written this guide on how to book a cruise!

Follow the 10 simple steps in this guide, and you’ll have no problems booking the trip of a lifetime. 

We’ve also included some cheeky money-saving tips in there.

Let’s get straight into it …

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Step 1: Decide where you want to go

The first main step is to decide where in the world you’d like to go - an impossible task I know! 

You’ll typically find that you can eliminate half of the options by answering this very simple question - would you prefer somewhere warm or cold?

If your answer is the latter, then you’re typically in for a more active type of cruise, as many of the colder destinations include a variety of activities like hiking, kayaking, and wildlife-watching.

Of course, the most popular choice is somewhere warm and you’ll have endless options to choose from!

Here’s a quick breakdown of the most popular options...

Cruising Northern Europe

Lofoten islands Norway
Lofoten Islands, Norway

There are plenty of options if you’re looking to explore Northern Europe. This includes Iceland and Norway, and of course the Arctic Circle.

A popular option in this part of the world is to go on a Northern Lights cruise, and Fred Oslen is your best bet for this! 

This ‘In Search of the Northern Lights’ 9-day cruise will take you to a variety of destinations in Norway.

Your first stop will be Ålesund, and after that you’ll make your way up to Tromso, stopping off at other places along the way.

From there, you’ll cruise around North Cape & The Horn and then head back to Southampton along the Tjeldsundet Strait.

Northern Europe Cruise

Cruising the Mediterranean


Europe is one of the best continents for cruising as many of the countries are located relatively close together, so you can fit a lot in during your trip.

As an example, this 2-week Mediterranean cruise includes stop-offs in Spain, France, and Italy!

During this cruise you’ll get to visit a variety of awesome destinations in Spain including La Coruna, Mallorca, Barcelona, and Cadiz. However, you’ll also get to explore La Spezia in Italy and Marseilles in France.

This cruise also runs throughout the summer holidays making it the perfect option for families! In fact, there are kids clubs onboard and lots of entertainment options.

Cruising the Caribbean


The Caribbean is one of the most popular cruising destinations in the world and its not hard to see why! Boasting pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters and tropical climate, it’s no wonder so many people opt for a cruise here. 

This 13-night Southern Caribbean Cruise will take you to many of this area’s highlights. The great thing about this cruise, is that you won’t spend too many days at sea either.

On this cruise, you’ll get to explore Haiti, Puerto Rico, Martinique, and St. Kitts & Nevis. You’ll also visit some of the Caribbean’s big hitters including the U.S Virgin Islands, Barbados, and St. Lucia!

Caribbean cruise itinerary

Cruising North America


North America is one of the best places to go on a cruise as you’ve got some many options. 

Whether you’re looking to explore Canada, catch some sun in Hawaii, or admire the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, there are plenty of choices.

However, one of the most popular options is the incredible state of Alaska - famous for its wildlife, dramatic landscapes, and indigenous culture.

This 14-day Great Alaskan Explorer by Holland America Line will take you to some of the best places in this awesome state. You’ll sail from Vancouver and then you’ll get to cruise along the Inside Passage. 

Once you’ve entered Alaska, you’ll get to visit Kodiak, Anchorage, and Valdez. Not only that, but you’ll get to explore some harder-to-reach areas including Skagway, Sitka, and Ketchikan.

Alaska cruise itinerary

Cruising Oceania 

Oceania is a geographical area that’s made up of Australia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea. Here, you’ll find a wide variety of cruises available that offer a bit of everything! 

This 12-night New Zealand cruise with Celebrity Cruises offers the trip of a lifetime. You’ll have 4 sea days, and 7 port days so there’s plenty of exploring to be had.

The cruise departs from Sydney, and will take you to both the North and South Island. During your time here, you’ll get to explore the bustling cities of Auckland, Christchurch, and Wellington.

You’ll also get to visit some other popular spots including Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, Tauranga, and Dunedin.

Oceania cruise itinerary

Cruising Antarctica

Now, this is certainly a bucket list destination for us, and I can guarantee that it probably is for a lot of people! 

I mean, why wouldn’t you want to travel to one of the most remote places on Earth? Aside from the dramatic landscapes, you’ve also got a great chance of spotting wildlife! 

This Antarctic Explorer cruise lasts for 11 days and will offer you the adventure of a lifetime. You’ll depart from Ushuaia in Argentina, and then cross the Drake Passage before exploring the South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula.

It’s important to note that if you’re thinking of cruising to Antarctica, you’re going to need a lot of cash.

Before making a decision, you’ll want to consider what type of trip you’re after so here are a couple of questions you may want to ask yourself…

How much money do you have to spend?

Are you after a relaxed getaway or an action-packed adventure?

As you can see, there’s a lot to think about so grab a notebook and note down the destinations that interest you! 

For some inspiration, here are some guides to the most popular cruising locations:

Step 2: Consider whether you’re flexible with dates or not

The next thing to consider - how long do you have for your trip and are you flexible?

Now that you’ve got a list of your preferred destinations it’s time to think about when you want to (or can travel). 

This can inevitably help you narrow down that list, for example - you wouldn’t really want to head out on a cruise of the Caribbean during Hurricane season.

If you’re taking time off work to go on a cruise (which you probably will be) then it will all depend on your type of career. Some professions like health workers have to take time off way in advance, whilst others can be a bit more flexible with when they put in their dates.

For those who aren’t restricted but have a rough idea, you can simply have a browse to see what may be the best option for you.

If you’ve got specific dates in mind, then you’ll want to find an option that departs around those dates.

There are plenty of ways to do this, so onto the next step…

Step 3: Narrow down your options and shop around for the best deal for that specific cruise

First of all narrow down your list to two or three options, and then you can choose based on the deals you find.

If you’re flexible with your dates, then you can simply shop around to find a great deal. However, if you’re limited to a specific time then you’ll probably need to be a bit more resourceful. 

So - what’s the best way to book a cruise you ask? Well, that’s what I’m going to dive into now! 

Searching direct

The biggest cruise companies out there include:

I’d recommend checking out the cruise line websites first to see if they’ve got any special offers. Sometimes children will travel free, or you can get up to 75% off the second person's fee.

Some cruise companies even offer loyalty programs if you think cruising is going to be a regular thing for you! This is one of the best ways to book a cruise vacation, as you can save for future trips too.

If the actual websites have no deals that catch your eye, then you’ll want to look elsewhere. 

Local tour operators

local tour operator cruises

Next, I’d have a chat with local tour operators and travel agents in your area. They can often get you a much better deal, and you can save a lot of money this way. 

In the UK, I know that TUI offers some incredible deals, not just on their own ships, but also on the other big cruise lines out there.

If you’re in the United States, then why not check out Liberty Travel or Exodus Travels.

You can either ring up your local travel agent or if you head there, you’ll sometimes get better in-store offers. 

Metasearch Databases

Your other option is to search through a metasearch website like

This is honestly the best option if you’ve got no idea where to go. It offers the largest selection of cruise line deals on the web, and you’ll have an abundance of offers to choose from!

All you need to do is search your preferred country, or you can add specific filters to your search like your travel dates, departure port, and cruise line.

If you’re not sure of your preferred destination, then why not enter in a few different countries or places. Then, you’ll be given a list of the different options available to you! 

For example, if you type in Alaska (see the screenshot below), you’ll be given a variety of options. These will differ in regards to cruise company, length, and price.

If you’ve not inputted dates into your search, you’ll also be given sailing dates too! cruise selections

Some other fantastic websites like this include Crusiewatch, Cruisedirect, and Cruise Critic!

You can even check out TripAdvisor as they’ve got a dedicated cruise metasearch platform within their website.

Other ways to save money when booking a cruise

Here are some other ways to save money on your cruise booking:

  • Book early or fashionably late - you’ll get plenty of cheap deals this way
  • Sign up for email announcements - sometimes you’ll be offered a last-minute cancellation
  • Use a VPN to change your I.P location - this can sometimes lead to cheaper prices

The latter is one of our top travel tips and it’s saved us plenty of money along the way! 

BONUS: Make use of Points Bonuses when booking

booking with AMEX travel

This tip isn’t for everyone, but it’s a great way to save on future purchases. We’ve recently got an Amex Gold card to allow us to build up points through purchases, which we’ll later be able to spend on travel.

A cruise booking will likely be at least a few thousand, so if you book on this type of card you’ll rack up a lot of points for future use…

The one thing to keep in mind is that there tends to be more credit deals for US citizens, but there are some options available in the UK too. 

Here are some guides you may find helpful:

Step 4: Consider additional add-ons when purchasing

booking cruise extras

When you’re booking your cruise you’ll want to take a look at the additional add-ons. Often, there’s a lot to choose from so let's break them down for you! 

First of all, many cruises offer a drinks package that means you’ll save money. Some of these are unlimited, while some are limited to a specific amount of drinks but even so - it will work out much less in the long run.

Another package you’ll want to consider if you’re planning to spend a lot of time on your phone is the WiFi package. Otherwise, the cost can add up during your cruise! 

You’ll also find that many cruises include meals and a select amount of visits to onboard specialty restaurants. This is a big one that you’ll want to look out for. 

Lastly, some cruise companies offer ‘shore excursion’ packages where you’ll get discounts off your tours or a certain amount of credit that you can use against them. We’ll talk about the alternative to this next though…

However, in some cases, you won’t need add-ons to make the most of your money. Here are some examples of fantastic cruise offers:

  • Norwegian Cruise Line - they sometimes offer a ‘Free at Sea’ promotion which includes free WiFi, unlimited drinks, dining at specialty restaurants, and even excursion credits in some cases.
  • Celebrity Cruises - with this cruise company, you’ll often have your tips included as well as basic WiFi and a drinks package.
  • MSC Cruises - they offer an ‘All In’ package on some cruises that includes a WiFi and drinks package.

Aside from these packages, there will often be extra deals available like ‘2 for 1’ flights or onboard credit. 

Deals like this are why you’ll want to shop around before booking! 

Norwegian Free At Sea upgrade

An example of the booking process

To give you a rough idea, here’s an example of the booking process with Norwegian Cruise Line. 

If the offer is available, you’ll first be shown the ‘Free at Sea’ promotion’ which I just mentioned, and any other offers that can be added to your cruise.

Norwegian booking process finding cruise

As you continue with the booking, you’ll be asked to give the number of guests. From there, you’ll be presented with several cabin options.

The first one is included with the cruise price, whereas you’ll have to pay extra for the others!

selecting Norwegian cruise price

Once you’ve chosen your room, you’ll then be given a breakdown of your cabin, the offers/promotions that have been included, and the price.

Choosing Norwegian cabin

If you’ve chosen a cruise that doesn’t already include a promotion, then as you’re getting ready to pay, you’ll be presented with their add-ons section. 

To give you an idea of price, we paid £200 (around $240) each for the FREE AT SEA upgrade, and our cruise was 10 days. 

When you split that up, it cost us £20/day each. With this upgrade, we could have unlimited drinks as long as each one was less than $15 each (this will depend on the cruises’s onboard currency). 

So, with just two average drinks we’d already made the most of our money! Of course, we didn’t always have just the two either…

Step 5: Research your cruise itinerary and destinations

Now, this is one of the most exciting parts of going on a cruise - aside from the cruise itself obviously! 

After you’ve booked your cruise, you’ll want to take a look at the itinerary or even print it out if that’s more helpful. You can then easily see the number of port days you’ll have, and where they are. 

This way, you’ll get to research each city or destination you’re visiting. You can then note down the top attractions you’d like to see so you’re not missing out.

To continue on with our Norwegian Cruise Line example, here’s an itinerary for a Quebec cruise that they offer. Here you can see which stops you’ll be making and when! 

research booked cruise

If it's your first cruise, then you might be unaware that you can organize tours yourself. 

Yep, you heard that correctly.

Many cruise ships offer ‘shore excursion’ packages where you’ll think you’re getting a hefty discount, but the reality is you're not!

In my opinion, the prices of these shore excursions tend to be massively inflated.

Although a convenient way to see a destination, you’ll save a lot of money if you organize them yourself.

When we took a Norwegian Cruise we were given a $50 tour credit which seems great.

However, these tours are often $100-$200 more expensive anyway, so you’re definitely not getting a bargain.

An example of this is when we did a tour of the Curacao factory!

Not only did we pre-book our own tour time, but we used local transport to get there which cost us 50% less than what the cruise had offered! 

looking for destination tours

If you’re looking for help booking a cruise, then avoiding these excursion packages is one of my top recommendations. For more remote destinations, this may not be possible but it certainly is for cities.

Our top recommendations for booking tours and excursions yourselves are by using Get Your Guide and Viator.

Not only are they much cheaper, but you can read the reviews and decide for yourself whether it’s to your liking.

Leading on from the Quebec cruise itinerary that I’ve just mentioned, you can check the likes of Quebec City for tours and excursions using these two websites.

Just make sure you check the amount of time you’re at port for, as you don’t want to be left behind. Trust me, if you’re not there to board in time - the cruise ship will leave without you! 

Step 6: Create a packing list

Now that you’re no longer asking ‘how do I book a cruise?’, it’s time for the next step - to create a packing list.

Naturally, what you pack is going to depend on where you’re going, the length of your cruise, and what kind of activities and excursions are available.

This is especially the case when it comes to clothing!

If you’re heading to the Caribbean then your luggage is primarily going to consist of swimsuits/trunks, shorts, t-shirts, and light jackets. The majority of your clothing will be lightweight too and you’ll want to avoid dark colors if you can.

For those planning to head to Alaska, Norway, or even Antarctica, your packing list is likely going to include thermals, thick jumpers, underlayers, and a warm coat. 

The good thing about cruise lines is that many of them don’t have a weight limit when it comes to luggage. This means you won’t have to stress about what you can and can’t take.

However, if you need to fly to your departure port rather than drive then you’ll need to keep that in mind. Although your cruise company may not have a weight limit, your airline certainly will.

Other items to pack for your cruise

Aside from clothes, there are plenty of other things you can pack but just don’t go overboard. Many people choose to take toiletries along, but some of these often come free in your cabin.

Some other items you could pack include:

  • Book
  • Playing cards
  • Small gaming console
  • Camera 
  • Drone 
  • Quick drying towel
  • Dry bag

When taking tech items, just make sure you’ve got gadget insurance for them first. 

If you’re unsure of what to pack, then you can check out our cruise packing list!

It breaks down everything you need to know including what to pack for both hot and cold destinations, miscellaneous things, and items that you might not have even thought of yet.

We’ve also included some tips on what not to pack for good measure…

Step 7: Arrange any transportation that may be needed

When booking a cruise, this isn’t often the first thing that comes to mind. However, as you get further into the booking you’ll be offered this option.

If you’ve not included transfers in your booking, and you need to travel to the port then this is something you’ll need to research.

For those relatively close, you can research taxis, shuttle services, or the parking situation if you’re within driving distance. Just keep in mind the length of your trip, and how much your parking is going to cost.

If you need to fly to your port then you can research cheap flights on Skyscanner or find a cruise ship that offers a great deal. For example, some cruises offer ‘2 for 1’ flights which are likely to save you a lot of money! 

booking flights to a cruise

Not only should you consider this when it comes to reaching the port, but keep this principle in mind whilst you’re on the cruise too.

Rather than pay the excursion prices as we mentioned before, take local transport and pay for the tours yourself. The transportation that’s offered may be convenient, but that’s part of the reason why the tours have such large price tags! 

The same goes for hotel rooms. 

If you’re having to travel down the day before and stay overnight, you’ll find it’s often cheaper to book an overnight stay rather than include it in your cruise.

You might get lucky and benefit from a special deal that the cruise company is offering, but otherwise, you’ll tend to get a better price for hotels if you book yourself. 

There are plenty of incredible vacation rental sites that you can use to find some fantastic deals. However, if you’re looking for even more savings, then check out our guide on how to get cheap hotel rooms

These are all things that can save you a lot of cash and will give you more spending money for the trip itself. So, do a bit of research before simply including all of these in your package. 

Step 8: Make sure you’ve got travel insurance

You’ll find that many cruise line companies will offer insurance and it will be for an extra charge. 

Although this sounds like the best option, you’ll often find a better deal if you look around yourself.

For those in the UK, your best bet is to use comparison websites such as Compare the Market and Travel Supermarket. They’ll give you a run-down of the best insurance deals! 

If you’re in the United States, then the two popular providers tend to be SafetyWing and World Nomads.

You can check out our in-depth review of SafetyWing here if you’re looking to learn more! 

In fact, some bank accounts and credit cards often have extra benefits such as travel insurance. You might already be covered so why pay extra to book insurance with your cruise line?

I also know for a fact that some paid plans with Revolut offer free travel insurance. We’ve used Revolut since our first backpacking trip in 2016, so we can highly recommend them!

For more information, you can check out our in-depth guide to Revolut to see the other benefits of using them…

With the current climate, you’ll want to make sure your cruise covers COVID-19 as some cruises still require you to take a PCR or lateral flow test before boarding. The last thing you want is to cancel due to COVID, but not be able to get your money back! 

Like with any good travel insurance provider, you’ll also want to make sure your policy includes trip cancellation, medical expenses, pre-existing health conditions, and lost or stolen baggage.

Just keep in mind that you’ll need cruise insurance rather than standard insurance. Many providers offer this, but just double-check before you buy a policy! 

Step 9: Check you’ve got all the necessary documents

I’m going to start off by saying that the documents required will be different depending on where you’re traveling to.

If you’re cruising through another country then you’ll obviously need your passport. However, even if you’re traveling within your home country - most cruise liners will require your passport anyway.

Some will accept other forms of identification if you’re not cruising abroad, but the likelihood is that you will be! 

If you’re a US citizen then there’s such a thing as a ‘closed loop’ cruise. If your cruise begins and ends at a US port, then you won’t need a passport. 

However, you will need a boarding pass and some form of government photo ID like a driving license!

Not only that, but you’ll need to research whether you need a visa or not. This is one of the most important documents for any cruise and isn’t one that you want to forget about! 

Next on the list is either your COVID-19 vaccination record or a negative COVID test depending on what the cruise’s rules are. 

Again, this will be different with every company so you’ll need to check this when you book. Some companies don’t even require COVID testing anymore - oh, how the world is changing!

For those traveling to African countries or parts of South America, you may also need specific vaccinations and evidence of these. One of the main ones being Yellow Fever!

Some cruise companies will also require you to fill out a Health Status Questionnaire.

The best thing to do is check with your cruise company and this way you won’t be caught out when it comes to check-in and boarding. I’d recommend checking when you book so that you leave enough time to sort out a passport or vaccinations if needed.

To sum up, here are the documents you’ll need:

  • Your passport
  • Government photo I.D e.g. driving license (always good to have)
  • Visa - this is dependant on the country 
  • COVID 19-vaccination record OR negative pre-departure COVID test 
  • Specific vaccination records e.g. yellow fever (if needed) 
  • Health Status Questionnaire (not all cruises require this)

Step 10: Check in online and prepare for the adventure of a lifetime!

preparing for a cruise

After you’ve got all your documents together in the one place, it’s time to check in for your cruise.

Like with airlines, you’ll need to check in for your cruise and this can be done online. When you can do this will differ with every cruise line so you’ll need to double-check this!

However, generally, check-in tends to open up to three months before your sailing date. Even if you’ve booked your trip with a travel agent, you’ll need to do this step yourself. 

The requirements will be different depending on who you’re cruising with, but typically you’ll first need to set up an account with a username and password. From there, you’ll need to input your passport information and payment information, like you would with any trip.

Not only can you check in yourself, but you’ll also be able to check in for other people who are linked to your reservation number. 

Below (and above) is an screenshot of Norwegian Cruise Line’s check-in process to give you a rough idea of what to expect!

Another thing you'll need to think about is the security photos. These photos are almost like ‘headshots’ and they’re generally taken when you board the ship.

Some cruise lines do allow you to take these in advance though to speed up the process. You’ll just need to take the photograph in front of a plain background.

I’d recommend checking if your cruise line allows you to take security photos in advance, as this can save you a lot of time when it comes to boarding.

If you’re a regular cruiser then don’t forget to include your loyalty number upon check-in, as you’re likely to get credit for both this cruise and future ones!

After check-in, you’ll also want to make sure that you’ve printed your cruise boarding passes and luggage tags. 

Now, you’re ready to board so be prepared for an epic trip! 

Bonus Tip: Save some money whilst on your cruise

money saving cruise tips
Happy on board NCL

Now that you know how to take a cruise - the next most popular question tends to be ‘how to save money on a cruise’.

Well, don’t worry as I’ve got you covered here too! 

For starters, you’ll want to take advantage of the free services available to you rather than purchasing extras. Typically all cruises offer a fitness center that you can use free of charge.

This a much better option for keeping fit if you’re looking to save cash rather than splurging on a personal trainer or fitness classes. 

Some cruise lines even offer a free sauna and this way you won’t need to use the spa. If you do want to use the spa, try to during one of the cruise’s port days as the prices are often much cheaper!

Other free services on cruise ships

Another way to save money whilst on your cruise is to find a liner that includes tips in your deal, so you won’t have to spend extra during your trip. 

I’d also recommend avoiding the onboard laundry services as they’re often very expensive! Instead, pack a laundry soap bar and wash the necessities yourself (underwear, swimwear, etc).

There are also a couple of other things that you’ll want to avoid during your cruise if you’re looking to save some cash. This includes cruise photos taken by official photographers, ‘pay to view’ movies and TV, and premium restaurants. 

The latter is an important one! Besides the main dining option, you’ll often find that there are other ‘premium restaurants’ on board. 

You’ll have to pay extra to dine at these, although sometimes you may have some free evenings included with your package! 

For more information on how to save money on a cruise, check out our full guide here…

It includes plenty of tips on how to book a cruise for cheap, and also ways to save money whilst you’re onboard!

So, are you ready for your epic cruise?

Hopefully, this guide has given you a good idea of how to book a cruise for the first time!

Honestly, there’s nothing more exciting than booking a cruise and you’re in for a fantastic experience.

Whether you’d prefer to explore the Mediterranean or you’re heading to Norway to see the Northern Lights, you won’t be short of options.

The main things to consider when booking a cruise are your budget, time frame, and type of cruise - whether you’d prefer a relaxing getaway or an adventure cruise. 

There’s also a lot to think about if you’re looking to save money, but luckily, there are plenty of ways to cut costs - some of which we've mentioned in this post.

If you’re still thinking about where to go on your cruise, here is some travel inspiration:

Disclaimer: Fully research your destination prior to travel, or any products prior to purchase. We can accept no responsibility for anything you experience as a result of the information found on this website. Some posts may contain affiliate links, which means we receive a small commission for some purchases, at no additional expense to you. Read more here
Some images courtesy of Deposit Photos.
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