With Confidence: Book Your First Cruise

So, you want to book your first cruise. That's no surprise. After all, Travel Pulse reported an impressive 11.3 million cruise passengers traveled to the Caribbean in 2018, an annual increase of 6 percent from 2017.

Now you want in on some of that fun. But which cruise is right for you? You're in the right place. Here's a how-to guide to select, book and pack for your first ever cruise.

Deciding Where to Vacation

For many people, cruises are a preferred way to travel in just about any season. But where will your first cruise take you? While the cruise ship itself is a destination of sorts, the ports of call you visit will be the highlights of your trip. The Caribbean is the most popular cruise destination in the world — and for good reason. With great music, food and beaches, a Caribbean cruise is a tropic lover’s dream.

Then again, you may want to consider setting your sights on Alaska if you're more interested in breathtaking vistas and desolate beauty. In fact, the best Alaska cruises offer you an untamed wilderness of fjords, glaciers and mountains that tower over even the largest cruise liner.

Conversely, to enjoy a few cultural experiences as well as fun in the sun, consider the Mediterranean. From the Greek isles of Mykonos and Crete to the inspired architecture of Venice, Italy, the summer months promise blue skies, warm waters and a cultural frontier.

Being Mindful of Any Last-Minute Deals

Sometimes vacations are a matter of being in the right place at the right time — and cruises tend to be no different. Do your research but don't impulse buy the first cruise package that tempts you. Remember, just like flights, prices are in a constant state of flux and change from season to season.

With that in mind, sign up for a cruise marketplace alert that notifies you when prices change. Generally, cruises cost less when you book them further out from the sail date. An alert email will tell you when new cruise deals are available, as some of the larger cruise companies offer cheap, last-minute getaways to the most popular locations.

Knowing About Any Hidden Expenses

The term "all-inclusive" only applies to the most expensive cruises. Oftentimes, major cruise packages include meals, snacks and entertainment. But while onboard the ship, there are often other amenities you must pay for out of pocket.

While ports of call are a highlight of just about any cruise, many cruise liners offer shore excursions that allow you to tour cities and town and/or the surrounding area. While these tours typically range from $50 to $100, there's no reason you can't explore ports independently. Research any ports of call before you embark on your cruise, check to see if any walking tours are offered, and book your own guide, if you decide you want one.

After adventuring, you'll want a bit of a wind-down. Like so often is the case, your stay on a cruise liner doesn't include the price of alcoholic beverages. Furthermore, a mandatory gratuity of about 18 percent is commonly added to any food and beverages that are considered extra.

The point is: Your tab can really rack up, fast. Knowing this, take advantage of happy hour prices when you want to drink and look for events that offer free drinks such as art shows and a captain's cocktail party.

Have Fun and Enjoy the Open Seas

You now have the knowledge and expertise about how to book your first cruise with confidence. So, after determining where to vacation, keeping tabs on cruise deal alerts, and knowing how much extra money you'll need onboard the cruise liner, all that's left is deciding when to head out on your maiden voyage.