Planning a cruise is a big decision and not your typical trip. Out to sea with hundreds, if not thousands of strangers, makes cruising a much different travel experience. However, the right cruise can be the trip of a lifetime, not to mention the value of a cruise that is often greater than other trips. Nonetheless, there are many components of a cruise that can make or break your trip. Today we discuss the five most essential components of the perfect cruise.

The ship. Choosing a ship isn’t quite like choosing a flight. There are many more considerations like size, amenities, food, and drink service, with type of ship often being one of the most important considerations. If you don’t prefer crowds and want something more low-key, then a small ship with no more than a few hundred is probably for you. However, if you want a more standard cruise experience and don’t mind crowds, than you’ll be looking at traveling with as many as a few thousand travelers.

Destination. The most important question you’ll be answering here is: Where do you want to go? Other factors that will have to be weighed will include preferences like language, climate, and scenery. Consider not only where you’ll be cruising, but what stops you’ll be making along the way. The South Pacific, Caribbean, Pacific Northwest, and Mediterranean Sea are a few of the more popular cruising routes.

Shore excursions. Shore excursions can often be the best part of a cruise. It’s that time of the cruise when you aren’t limited by being on water and can explore new destinations with the people you’re traveling with. This is really where you can customize your trip based on the things you want to do along the way. Make sure, however, more than ever that you’re following your trip itinerary so you don’t hold up the ship by being late when returning from excursions.

Trip length. My recommendation is always for the longest possible trip. While there are short three and four-day trips available, they often don’t offer the opportunity to relax and experience new destinations like longer cruises that are at least a week. If having plenty of stops and shore excursions are important to you, then opt for a cruise of at least a week.

Cruise theme. What’s your personality? This is the most important question you’ll have to answer when choosing the theme of a ship. If you don’t have any kids, you’re not likely to be considering a Disney cruise. If you like meeting other travelers, consider a larger cruise that offers amenities and events that foster those opportunities. Having the right cruise ambiance can often set the theme for your trip.

What’s the most important component when planning your perfect trip?