What should you be looking for and thinking about when planning an ocean cruise for a group?

Make assumptions about what a cruise holiday is and you could well miss out. It’s perhaps the most fast-paced, innovative sector of the travel industry right now and you’ll be spoilt for choice, from ship style to onboard entertainment.

Formal or relaxed, big or small?

If you think you have to don a dinner suit and dine at the same table at the same time slot every evening, think again. Over the past decade there has been an explosion of choice. No longer do you have to adhere to times and rules; you are on holiday after all.

Luxury to three star, traditional or modern, big or small. The same questions apply to cruise ships as to land-based hotels and resorts. The question to ask yourself is, why type of holiday would my group prefer – because everything is covered.

Mega ships such as Royal Caribbean International’s Harmony of the Seas can sleep over 5,000 passengers. If may sound like a lot of people, but cruise ships are designed to provide space and quiet corners. That said, a more intimate ship accommodating several hundred guests might be more suited to people seeking calm.

Want something modern; try Freestyle Cruising with Norwegian Cruise Line; there’s always a choice of styles in accommodation, entertainment and dining. Or, if you want to stay clear of families, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines offers adult-only cruises to destinations like Canada and Russia.

Get the food experience right

As ships get bigger, so does the array of dining choices. Even the mid-size ships now have more restaurants to boast about, meaning meal times can suit your mood. There are many different styles of dining, from a sit-down meal to being able to grab a quick slice of pizza to take away.

The larger, main restaurants will usually be included in the price of the holiday, but anyone in your party can upgrade their dining experience if they want. Holland America Line’s recently launched Koningsdam, for example, has its own microgreens area; a glass-encased growing area that is used to grow fresh ingredients that feature on the menu of the ship’s Culinary Arts Centre restaurant.

Bigger ships might also boast cuisine cooked by some of the world’s leading celebrity chefs, where a small supplement will usually be well worth it. The only problem is they can be highly popular, so booking ahead is a good idea, even before you travel.

Be entertained your way

Large-scale musicals, comedy clubs, piano bars, nightclubs, bowling, karaoke booths, casinos, live bands, you name it – there is something for everyone when it comes to onboard entertainment.

Activities can go hand-in-hand with special interest cruises. Hurtigruten’s Norwegian coastal cruise is astrology themed, while P&O’s Britannia offers a cake-making voyage around Lisbon and Spain.

But you can also opt to learn a language, improve your photography skills, organise card tournaments and more. Lectures, celebrity appearances, onboard surf simulators, rock climbing, basketball, golf and croquet are more examples of the wide range of entertainment and actives available.

Age groups – what to think about

Cruise holidays are very popular with the over 55s market but the net is widening. With more ships there is now a cruise holiday for all age groups.

Companies like Saga, Cunard, P&O Cruises and Fred. Olsen are still hugely popular with mature travellers, while the likes of Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival, and Royal Caribbean now have massive appeal for younger people and especially families with children.

Carnival Vista, for example, not only features the cruise industry’s first IMAX theatre at sea, but also a suspended open-air cycling experience called SkyRide.

Being a group onboard

Do you want to organise cocktail parties, perhaps games or exclusive excursions? Most things are possible. But perhaps once onboard, your group will want to mainly disburse and do their own thing.

As you would expect, free places are offered depending on the size of your party. Some cruise lines will include free coach transfers, welcome parties and exclusive use of lecture theatres too.

How can you get a taste for cruising?

Companies and tour operators now often give group travel organisers ship tours, which include presentations and lunch. It allows you to meet the team, see the state rooms and facilities whilst a ship is docked at a domestic port.

You might also like to consider booking a mini-cruise. Why not replace one of your short breaks on land by taking a cruise? Three nights is a nice introduction to what you can expect and you can usually depart from a convenient UK port.

P&O Cruises, MSC Cruises, Star Clippers and Saga are just some of the companies that offer mini-cruises for those wishing to get a taster of life at sea.

Find out more at the Group Leisure & Travel Show…

Putting thought into the type of cruise holiday your group is looking for is important. Speak to a specialist cruise line, agent or operator who will be able to advise you.