Eli Orzessek answers your travel questions.

I've never been on a cruise before, but I've been thinking about it for my husband, kids and me. We're looking at doing one fairly close to home, so around the Pacific or Australia would be great. Do you have any tips on how to get a good deal on a cruise holiday?
Tracey

When you consider how much accommodation and food costs on a holiday, cruises are actually pretty great value — when you break down the cost by day, it's often a better deal than most hotels. I've done one cruise before and found the sea days to be particularly relaxing — there's something to be said about slow, scenic travel.

I've asked my contact at helloworld for some tips on nabbing a great deal and making the most of the experience — she's come through with really helpful advice. Hopefully this will help you make an informed decision when booking your dream cruise.

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1. Book well in advance — as in a year out. This is especially important for those wanting to travel during the school holidays, Christmas, New Year or in the high season — which depends on where you're going. In our area that would be the summer months, but for the Northern Hemisphere it would be more like June or July.

2. School holiday sailings can sell out up to six to nine months in advance and cruises have an limit on how many children can be on each sailing, so often the cruise can still be available but the child allocation is full.

3. Most cruise ships travel at close to 100 per cent capacity so leaving it to the last minute can often cost you more or you end up in a category of cabin you don't really want. So if you're after a room with a balcony or a suite, you'll definitely want to book early, as they sell out fast.

4. When you are offered a guarantee option (an unassigned cabin with an upgrade possibility), this can be good and bad. Good because it could hopefully mean you might get upgraded. But the downside is you could also end up in a part of the ship where you don't want to be — i.e. up the front or down the back. Often you don't know your cabin number until just before you travel or when you board. If you are laid back, this can be a great way to go but if you like to know your plans exactly, this can be a stressful option. If you book late though — this is often your only choice.

5. Sign up to a travel agency database who actively promote cruises, as this will keep you informed of the latest specials. In most cases, travel agents have advance notices of sales and will send out a notice in advance. Often the best deals come straight in to your inbox and are never advertised.

6. One ship does not fit all. Look for agents who have completed their Cruise Lines International Association training, as they will be able to advise you what ship is the best choice for you. It is worth getting good advice rather than being driven by the cheapest price.

7. Buying online from an unknown offshore operator is not always cheapest. Often taxes, gratuities and local fees are not disclosed in the price online. Due to cruise line regulations here in NZ, you will find most cruises are quoted by travel agents in NZD and include all taxes.

8. Ask your travel agent whether they hold cruise events — film nights, expos, ship lunches (a very special treat) and let them know you are keen to attend to find out more information.

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9. If you can — treat yourself to one exceptional shore excursion on every cruise — something that will create memories for a lifetime.

10. When boarding your ship you may not see your luggage for a few hours so take a little carry-on wheelie bag with you for immediate enjoyment. Pack your togs, Jandals, sunscreen, hat, a few toiletries and anything else you need to kick-start your holiday.

Email your questions to askaway@nzherald.co.nz
Eli cannot answer all questions and can't correspond with readers.
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