If you've been waiting to take a cruise until you are richer or older or cared less about your waistline, it may be time to stop waiting and set sail.
"In the U.S. only 20 percent of Americans cruise, according to Cruise Lines International Association, and families represent a large demographic," said Melissa Paloti, of CruiseCritic.com, which helps travelers plan cruises.
Paloti said resort-style ships such as the Norwegian Epic and Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas offer round-the-clock activities that can be great for families. Norwegian's new Epic cruise ship has 128 Studio staterooms for singles, which are great for solo travelers. Paloti provided tips for newbies:
Use a travel agent: A good travel agent can help virgin cruisers narrow their choices, especially if they are uncertain what type of cruise suits them. They can explain hidden cruise costs such as alcohol and gratuities to help you avoid an unpleasant bill at the end of your cruise.
Dining options: Most cruises let passengers choose either "traditional dining," where they dine with the same group of people at a specified time every night, or "flexible dining," where they aren't tied to a specific time.
Deals: A last-minute booking or a repositioning cruise (where a ship may need to be relocated from one ocean to another) can provide great savings. Less flexible travelers often get better prices by booking far in advance.
Payment: "Always pay for any cruise with a credit card, and review your credit card statement to make sure your final payment goes directly to the cruise company. Buy travel insurance from a third party rather than the cruise line," Paloti said.
Safety: "Cruising is an incredibly safe way to travel, with more security and built-in features than any hotel in the world," said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor-in-chief of CruiseCritic.com.
See cruisecritic.com, smartertravel.com and budgettravel.com for more tips.