Now is the time to book: Cruise advice, deals, destinations

Tour the world, stay in one place (WTOP's Rachel Nania)

WASHINGTON — Ladies and gentlemen, grab your suit, your sunscreen maybe some Dramamine — and get ready to sail. As those in the cruise industry say, “It’s wave season.”

Matthew Phillips, director of travel for AARP, said from January to March, most cruise lines promote and feature their best offers of the year with discounted rates, onboard upgrades and airfare credits.

If you’ve never been on a cruise, Phillips makes a convincing argument for testing the waters. And for veteran voyagers, he shares emerging trends and destinations that will kick your wanderlust into high gear.

**COMMERCIAL IMAGE** In this photograph taken by AP Images for Oceania Cruises, Oceania Cruises' new ship, Marina, arrives in North America for the first time on Friday, Feb. 4, 2011 in Miami after her maiden voyage from Barcelona, Spain which began Jan. 22nd.  At 66,000 tons and carrying 1,250 guests, Marina features 10 dining venues including Jacques, the first namesake restaurant for Chef Jacques Pepin.  Other highlights include a full-service Canyon Ranch SpaClub, Bon Appetit Culinary Center, Owner's Suites furnished exclusively in Ralph Lauren Home, and a grand stairway custom-crafted by renowned French glass master, Lalique.   (David Adame / AP Images for Oceania Cruises)
Why cruise? Perhaps one of the best reasons to opt for a cruise is the convenience of staying in one place while traveling to multiple cities and countries, Phillips said. “You only have to unpack once, but wake up in a different place every day. You can have a consistent hotel experience in a variety of different locations,” he added. Another plus: No matter the size of the ship, there are endless activities to keep guests entertained, both on and off the boat from zip-lining, to cooking demonstrations, spa treatments and art exhibitions. (AP Images/David Adame) (AP IMAGES FOR OCEANIA CRUISES/DAVID ADAME)
Atmosphere at the Celebrity Cruises Great Wine Festival to Benefit LegalAid of Orange County at Hanger 244 on Saturday, May 31, 2014, in Irvine, Calif. (Photo by Todd Williamson/Invision for Celebrity Cruises/AP Images)
The modern cruise experience Cruising today is not the same as it was 10 to 15 years ago. For starters, on-boat dining has evolved from set seatings in a large hall, to multiple culinary outposts and smaller, specialty restaurants scattered throughout the ship. Sometimes, these spots come with a small upcharge, but Phillips said it’s often worth the extra fee. More cruise lines are also expanding their onboard options to cater to different demographics, understanding that some guests want to relax in luxury, while others crave adventure. “It’s not just one-size-fits-all; there are so many different types of cruise passengers, and the cruise lines recognize this, so they create a variety of different offers that really appeal to different folks,” Phillips said. Big ships with a night life focus still exist, but so do smaller, more boutique boats. The luxury cruises often come with a bigger price tag, but Phillips said they pack value. “A lot of the upscale cruises have a lot of amenities that are already included in the price.” Plus, the smaller boats can access smaller ports, thereby expanding your travel options. (Todd Williamson/Invision/AP) (Todd Williamson/Invision/AP/Todd Williamson)
FILE - In this May 2, 2016 file photo, Carnival's Fathom cruise line ship Adonia arrives from Miami in Havana, Cuba. On Wednesday, Dec. 7, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian cruises announced that they had received permission from the Cuban government to begin sailing from the U.S. to Cuba. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings plans sailings on ships from two of its brands, Norwegian Cruise Line and Oceania. Royal Caribbean will also sail on two lines, Royal Caribbean International and Azamara Club Cruises. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa, File)
Hot destinations Cuba is a destination in demand at the moment. Phillips said this is a great option for those who are intrigued by the country’s food, culture and history, but confused about current travel restrictions. Mediterranean and European river cruises are also popular, and Phillips recommends Alaskan cruises with a few days dedicated to exploring on-land sites, including Denali National Park for those who want to wake up to a view. “An Alaskan cruise is a wonderful way to see a different part of the country that a lot of people really haven’t had the chance to see,” he said. (AP/Ramon Espinosa) (AP/Ramon Espinosa)
** FOR STORY SLUGGED CRUCEROS **  Royal Caribbean's "Radiance of the Seas" is shown in Seward, Alaska, in this Sept. 7, 2007 photo, dwarfing the fishing boats in the port. (AP Photo/Beth J. Harpaz)
When you should cruise When you decide to set sail really depends on where you want to go. Phillips said winter is the perfect time for a trip to warm-weather destinations, including the Caribbean, Mexico and Hawaii. Alaska is best reserved for late summer/early fall, as are many Mediterranean ports. If you set sail in March or April, expect to be among a few spring breakers. “Just be aware of that and for some people, they’d have a blast along with the spring breakers,” Phillips said. Families with children in school are more likely to travel in the summer. (Associated Press/Beth Harpaz) (ASSOCIATED PRESS/Beth Harpaz)
This July 2012 photo shows the countryside during a cable car ride in Rudesheim, Germany, while at a stop on a waterway tour on the the river ship Avalon Felicity. The small scale of river ships, which typically carry no more than a couple hundred passengers, is a large part of their appeal, in contrast to ocean-going mega-ships that carry thousands. On a river ship, you don’t need a GPS device to figure out where the lobby or the dining room is. And there’s a sense of intimacy, with plenty of cozy moments.  (AP Photo/Anne D'innocenzio)
Deals and decisions Regardless of when you decide to say “bon voyage,” Phillips said now is the time to book. Most of the cruise lines offer their own deals; some travel discount companies may have additional savings. One thing to consider when looking at the price of your cruise is what it includes. Some packages don’t cover the costs of alcohol, exercise classes, shore excursions or onboard seminars. Others include everything from spa services to safaris. Phillips said do your research: Knowing the trip you want as well as your budget can help narrow your decisions and steer you in the right direction. “If you’re taking the time to invest in a cruise vacation, you really want to have as much of a good experience as you can,” Phillips said. And never discount advice from others who have already taken to the seas. “Talk to friends or family who have been on a cruise and find out what they liked or what they would recommend, because I think people who know you or who you know and trust and you have similar interests, they’re going to give some of the best advice,” Phillips said. (AP/Anne D’innocenzio) (AP/Anne D'innocenzio)
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**COMMERCIAL IMAGE** In this photograph taken by AP Images for Oceania Cruises, Oceania Cruises' new ship, Marina, arrives in North America for the first time on Friday, Feb. 4, 2011 in Miami after her maiden voyage from Barcelona, Spain which began Jan. 22nd.  At 66,000 tons and carrying 1,250 guests, Marina features 10 dining venues including Jacques, the first namesake restaurant for Chef Jacques Pepin.  Other highlights include a full-service Canyon Ranch SpaClub, Bon Appetit Culinary Center, Owner's Suites furnished exclusively in Ralph Lauren Home, and a grand stairway custom-crafted by renowned French glass master, Lalique.   (David Adame / AP Images for Oceania Cruises)
Atmosphere at the Celebrity Cruises Great Wine Festival to Benefit LegalAid of Orange County at Hanger 244 on Saturday, May 31, 2014, in Irvine, Calif. (Photo by Todd Williamson/Invision for Celebrity Cruises/AP Images)
FILE - In this May 2, 2016 file photo, Carnival's Fathom cruise line ship Adonia arrives from Miami in Havana, Cuba. On Wednesday, Dec. 7, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian cruises announced that they had received permission from the Cuban government to begin sailing from the U.S. to Cuba. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings plans sailings on ships from two of its brands, Norwegian Cruise Line and Oceania. Royal Caribbean will also sail on two lines, Royal Caribbean International and Azamara Club Cruises. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa, File)
** FOR STORY SLUGGED CRUCEROS **  Royal Caribbean's "Radiance of the Seas" is shown in Seward, Alaska, in this Sept. 7, 2007 photo, dwarfing the fishing boats in the port. (AP Photo/Beth J. Harpaz)
This July 2012 photo shows the countryside during a cable car ride in Rudesheim, Germany, while at a stop on a waterway tour on the the river ship Avalon Felicity. The small scale of river ships, which typically carry no more than a couple hundred passengers, is a large part of their appeal, in contrast to ocean-going mega-ships that carry thousands. On a river ship, you don’t need a GPS device to figure out where the lobby or the dining room is. And there’s a sense of intimacy, with plenty of cozy moments.  (AP Photo/Anne D'innocenzio)


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