While there are no hard and fast rules guaranteeing a quiet getaway on a crowded cruise ship, we've compiled some basic tips to help you tune out distractions -- and fellow passengers -- while you cruise. But first, here's what to avoid as you aim for a serene sailing:
Inside cabins. Don't book a windowless, cheerless, 150-square-foot stateroom cabin if your idea of relaxation means spending time alone or as a couple, away from cruising's stereotypically chummy, social scene. Living in cramped quarters only forces you out more into the ship's hustle and bustle.
World cruises or "Grand Voyages." If you've the soul of a hermit crab, these lengthy voyages aren't for you; they attract affable crowds of repeat cruisers and promote social bonding amongst crew and passengers. In other words, you'll be drawn out of your shell, regardless of how much you long to stay in there.
Theme cruises. These full or partial charters essentially take over a ship or a substantial number of cabins. Nearly everything revolves around the theme, and the experience is all about connecting like-minded folks socially in big-group activities.
School holidays. The minute school's out, mainstream cruise ships tend to fill with children -- especially on itineraries of less than seven days. That isn't a problem if you're cruising as a family. Choose Disney Cruise Line for the littlest ones or Royal Caribbean for tweens and teens, as both have ideal setups to whisk your brood off to play, and out of your hair. But if you're booking a grown-up cruise, you'll find a more relaxing atmosphere on posh lines like Regent Seven Seas, Paul Gauguin Cruises, Seabourn Cruise Line or river lines like Uniworld. Looking for a more budget-oriented getaway? Stick to the mainstream lines when school is in session.
Now, our top tips for finding peace and quiet when you cruise:
Book a sanctuary: Big balcony suites make for an idyllic retreat, with extra living space inside and a private verandah outside. No fighting over chairs! When the crowds on deck or in public areas become overwhelming, you can seek solace in your cabin. Even standard balconies work well for this -- so long as the balcony is truly private. (It shouldn't afford a view of you to passengers on decks above.) And since balcony cabins are an increasingly standard feature on newer ships, you may be able to upgrade affordably, especially if you book during a balcony or upgrade sale.
Live at the spa: Spa suites and cabins, a recent trend on cruise ships, allow passengers to create their own spa-themed experiences onboard with accommodations near the spa, V.I.P. spa privileges and soothing in-cabin amenities like spa showers and yoga mats. However, perks vary widely from line to line. Residents in AquaClass cabins on some Celebrity Cruises ships get unlimited access to the spa's Persian Garden aromatherapy steam room and Relaxation Room, as well as access to their own specialty, healthy-eating restaurant called Blu. Costa Cruises passengers booked in Samsara Spa cabins or suites receive two spa treatments, two fitness classes, unlimited use of the thalassotherapy pool and a reserved table in the Samsara restaurant. Other lines with spa accommodations include Carnival Cruise Lines, Holland America and NCL.