No matter which side you're docked on, we can all agree on two things: Cruises offer unparalleled value (the all-inclusive cost covers lodging, meals, entertainment and transportation) and convenience (you explore many places, but unpack just once). Finding the right ship is just the beginning. You'll also need to know the lingo, the gear and the etiquette. Read on. We've got everything to float your boat.TIPS + HOW-TOS
the consummate cruiser
The Consummate Cruiser has dozens of voyages under her belt and saltwater running through her veins.
Our Pick: Panama Canal
Consummate cruisers want to come home from vacation with bragging rights. Sailing through the Panama Canal gives them just that. By transiting the world's most famous shortcut, the ship skips the more than 3,000 miles and approximately 13 days of travel it takes to transit around South America. A cruise is the only way to experience the legendary canal, an engineering feat that took more than 20 years to complete. The massive ship squeezes through it with just inches to spare, while the staff spares no luxury. They greet you by name and remember your dessert preferences. A Panama Canal authority narrates the entire transit, so rise early to stake out an on-deck viewing spot. (14-night Celebrity Cruises Panama Canal itinerary, departing from the West Coast or Florida, celebritycruises.com, 800-437-3111; spring fares from $899)
Runner-Up: Atlantic Ocean
Crossing the Atlantic in a Cunard ship is another must-do for serious cruisers. (6-night Cunard Queen Mary 2 transatlantic crossing, departing from Brooklyn, NY, cunard.com, 800-728-6273; from $795)