10/12/2010 12:56 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Pain-Free Cruising: Norwegian Cruise Line Goes Freestyle

The idea of going on a cruise causes many a traveler to hyperventilate. What if we miss the boat? Won't it be too many people? Where do I put all my stuff? Will I have to shower over the toilet? Do we have to sit with the same people at the same time in the same place every night for dinner? How about if we don't want to see the musical review on Thursday? And what if I just want to sit and read for seven days and my partner wants twenty-four hour entertainment?

The thing is, cruising is a great way to have as much fun on the journey as you do at the destination. Not to mention a great way to see a number of places all in one trip without breaking the bank. It'd be a shame to miss out on all of the benefits of cruising because you think all cruise lines are the same. The truth is, there are as many styles of cruising as there are types of potential cruisers. It's all about how you choose to cruise.

1. Choose the cruise line that's right for you. If traditional cruising with all of that assigned dinner seating and pre-scheduled entertainment rubs you the wrong way, find a cruise line that suits how you like to travel. Norwegian Cruise Line for example has a massive new ship named the Epic on which passengers can enjoy "freestyle cruising." Dining, entertainment, even disembarking is all at the discretion of the passenger.

2. Choose to arrive one day early. Forget flying in the day of the cruise. With all of the airline delays lately, it's more likely that you'll miss the boat than that you'll make it. So fly in the night before and stay at a local hotel convenient to the airport and the cruise terminal. In Miami, Florida, for example, guests can stay at the Epic Hotel and spend the next morning enjoying the hotel's hip pool instead of pacing the airport terminal hallways.

3. Choose what you bring wisely. If you're not sure if you'll need it, you probably don't. The less you have, the less you'll have to put away. And unless you're renting the Presidential Suite, even some of the best cabins have close quarters. Word to the wise, book a room with a balcony if you can swing it. On NCL's Epic, it's like having a second, outdoor living area all to yourself.

Although cruise lines are certainly getting wiser to consumers' distaste for lack of space. Norwegian's Epic has a curved wall design that allows for ample shower space far from the toilet and even the halls allow for passing by without rubbing shoulders with strangers.

4. Choose what you want to do. There's no right way to cruise. So if it's the thought of all of that shuffleboard and bingo that makes you cringe, not to worry. You can do practically anything and everything on cruise ships these days. The Epic alone boasts three waterslides, two rock walls, two bowling alleys, performances by Blue Man Group and Second City, a bevy of shops, Nickelodeon's Slime Time Live, a casino, an "ice" rink, and almost every activity you can imagine from bingo to art auctions.

5. Choose to get off the ship. One of the complaints people have about cruise ships is that they get tired of being on them. So, get off. On port days, you can choose to go ashore and shop, hit the beach, or visit local attractions. You can also sign up for excursions like snorkeling, zip-lining, city tours, and the like.

In Nassau, Bahamas, for example, you can opt to spend that whole day at Atlantis where you'll find a state-of-the-art water park, aquarium, beach access, dolphin adventures, snorkeling, and more than eleven swimming pools. Definitely worth jumping ship for the day. The place is heaven for adults and kids

Of course, port days can also be a great time to simply stay on board and have almost the whole place to yourself. And that may be the best cure for cruise claustrophobia of all!

5. Choose when to go. If you book a cruise over spring break, holiday vacation, or much of the summer, there will be lots of kids around. If that's what you're looking for, you know what to do. But if you're looking for a quieter trip on the high seas, book your cruise for less kid friendly times of year.

Some cruise lines even offer "themed" cruises. NCL, for example, offers an "All Access Nickelodeon" cruise with characters onboard and Nick themed activities for the kids. So, be sure to book early if you want in. (Or to not book during those dates if slime isn't your gig.)

Cruising isn't what it used to be. Thank goodness. Cruise lines, some of them anyway, are starting to pay attention to what consumers want. And the truth is, they want it all. Great food. Great entertainment. And space to enjoy it all. These days it's possible to get exactly what you want when you cruise from all-day sunbathing to all-night partying. It's all about how you choose to cruise.

To hear more about more about what happened when I did "choose to cruise," visit me at