Everything to know before booking a cruise: your ultimate guide

 cruise ship on water

Jessica Taylor Yates

Posted January 25, 2024

Ready to become a cruiser? From booking and planning, to what to pack and where to go, here’s tips and tricks for heading on a voyage across the seas.

Whether you're planning a short getaway within Australian waters or an international tour exploring cosmopolitan cities abroad – the huge variety of cruise options can be exciting, if not a little overwhelming.

Where do you go, and how many days do you spend at sea? Do you want a singles cruise, one with the family, a luxury cruise or even a party '80s cruise? Find out what to do with our guide to 11 things to know before booking your next cruise.

RACV Members save on a range of cruise packages around the world. 

Bon voyage!

sydney cruise

You may opt for a longer cruise overseas, or a shorter cruise around Australia. Image: Shutterstock

Your cruising questions answered: tips and tricks for booking a cruise

1. When is the best time to book a cruise?

Savvy travellers know the prime time to snag the best cruise deals is typically between January and March. Not only does it tend to be a cheaper time of year to book a holiday with sales still rolling after Christmas, but the ‘wave season’ for cruises begins, where many cruise lines offer deals, discounts, and onboard credits.

The ‘wave’ refers to the ‘tidal wave’ of cruise promotions that are offered in this promotional period that comes after Christmas, like shopping on Black Friday or Boxing Day.

Taking advantage of these seasonal offers can lead to significant savings, making it an ideal period for booking your dream cruise.

2. Where is the best destination to go on a cruise?

Choosing your cruise depends on the kind of holiday you are looking for, and who you will be travelling with.

A cruise can accommodate every kind of traveller, from a solo trip around Australia's natural wonders, discovering the jewels of the South Pacific on a romantic cruise for couples, or perhaps an exotic tour through parts of Asia with family or friends.

You could even go all out on a scenic cruise through the stunning landscapes of Alaska, or take a once-in-a-lifetime a luxury voyage of Antarctica.

Basically, cruises can take many forms on the world’s great oceans. Think about what you want out on the seas - whether you’re looking to explore as many regions as you can in a short space of time, if you would rather visit a few destinations at a more leisurely pace, or if you’re looking for the best cruises for couples, kids, families, or singles over 50.

Find the cruise that’s right for you with a range of cruise packages available worldwide.

3. How long do I want to be on the cruise?

Determine the duration of your cruise based on your preferences and schedule. Whether you're seeking a short weekend escape or an extended three-month world tour, the options vary widely.

Short cruises are perfect for first-time cruisers, providing a taste of life on board, while longer voyages offer enriching, immersive experiences in various regions.

Consider the balance of days at sea versus port stops, as longer cruises often include more time at sea with onboard entertainment and activities.

4. How many stops will there be, and what can I do there?

Carefully examine the itinerary to see the number of days you'll spend at different ports and at sea. While some may enjoy waking up to a new location every morning, others might prefer the leisurely pace of a day at sea.

Alternatively, if you’re travelling with the kids in tow, you might be looking for a good cruise for families that’s shorter in length, with plenty of activities both on board and on land.

Once you’re set on your destination, research the shore tours available at the ports you'll visit. Booking these early ensures you secure your preferred experiences, whether it's a day trip to a sun kissed island, or a lūʻau off the coast of Hawai’i.

Asking your travel consultant these questions will help you to choose the cruise that is best for you.


Check out the entertainment on board, like themed shows and musicals. Image: Shutterstock
Some cruise lines can feel like a city on board! Image: Shutterstock
Families can experience all the best cruises for kids can offer, such as kids clubs, roving characters and daily activities. Image: Shutterstock
A journey on a cruise is half the fun of the trip. Image: Shutterstock

5. Who is the cruise for?

Consider the type of passengers you're likely to encounter on your cruise to determine if it caters to families, solo explorers, luxury-seeking couples, or party enthusiasts.

Cruise lines may offer amenities and activities like kids' clubs, fine dining, family friendly activities, or lively onboard parties to appeal to different age groups and demographics. 

6. What facilities and activities are on board?

The best part about cruising is that your transport is part of the attraction. There are many things to do on a cruise, whether you’re solo, a couple or family, ranging from ballroom dancing and art classes, to live music and waterslides. Check dining options, spa and gym facilities, and the kids' club offerings to determine the cruise that best meets your needs.

Some cruises even provide unique experiences like whisky tastings, and live entertainment such as musicals, comedy clubs and bands, ensuring there's something for everyone on board.

7. What should I pack for a cruise?

What to pack will largely depend on your destination and the weather, however, there are still some cruise essentials that you can pack for any voyage.

This includes your documentation – identity documents, insurance documents and visas if needed, as well as toiletries, medication, sunscreen, charger and any required adapters, phone, hat, day trip bag and pyjamas. 

Read our comprehensive FAQs on cruise packing, including preparation tips, packing lists and what to wear on a variety of different cruises here.

8. What's included in the cruise – and what costs extra?

Cruise lines differ when it comes to inclusions both on board and at your stops. Some may be luxury all-inclusive, while others may have activities on land or on board that you pay for as optional extras. It is important to check what’s included in your cruise package regarding accommodation, meals, and onboard entertainment.

Keep in mind that there may be potential extra charges for day trips and activities, specialty foods, alcoholic beverages, room service, onboard classes, babysitting services, and day rate charges.

If you’re looking for one of the best cruises for families, find out the types of attractions and entertainment on board.

Overall, cruises offer the ability to have your accommodation, transport, meals, and entertainment organised for you in one package, with the added convenience of unpacking your luggage just once.


man and woman enjoying a beverage on the deck of a cruise ship overlooking the water

Cruises can take you to unforgettable luxury destinations, while only needing to unpack once. Image: Shutterstock

9. Do I need a passport or visa to go on a cruise?

In short, this depends on where you are travelling to. If you are going overseas, you will need a valid passport, and you will also need to check the visa requirements of the places you will be visiting.

In Australia, you will require a legal identification document. It is best to check with your travel agent about the documentation needed on board.  

10. Do I need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to go on a cruise?

While being vaccinated is not a legal requirement for cruises in Australia, certain cruise companies and destinations may require it. Check the fine print of any documentation that may be required to embark.

11. How do I book a cruise?

Browse online or speak to an RACV Travel & Experiences consultant to plan your dream itinerary for your luxury cruise.

Consider the balance of port days versus sea days, and keep an eye out for overnight stays, which give you more time to discover destinations. Themed cruise itineraries, such as country cruises or specialty cruises for children or families, add a unique touch to your travel experience.

You can also come and chat to a travel agent in person at the RACV Store for expert advice on destinations and cruise lengths, and assistance with building your dream cruise itinerary.

RACV Travel & Experiences is at 448 Little Collins Street, and open Monday to Thursday, 9:00am to 5:00pm for walk ins or appointments, or call 1800 850 888.


RACV Members save more on amazing cruises when booking with RACV Travel & Experiences.
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