Are you cruising for the first time? A cruise vacation is a wonderful experience. Here are a few tips and answers to some commonly asked questions that can help you make the most of your trip.
Packing for a Cruise:
Bring a carry on bag with bathing suit and everything that you will need on the first afternoon (sunscreen, hat, book, medicines, cameras) along with something to wear for dinner. If you have small children make sure you have enough diapers to get you through most of the day. This way you can enjoy the afternoon at the pool while waiting for your luggage. Luggage can arrive to your cabin any time between 4PM and 9PM.
Flight delays are possible. Arriving early reduces stress and protects against unforeseen issues. It’s best to arrive the day before if you are flying in. This way you can explore the port city and have a built in buffer in case of delays. If you cannot come a day early plan to arrive between noon and 1PM for most ships. Most ships pull out of port between 4PM and 6PM but don’t schedule a flight that arrives just an hour before. If you miss the ship it is your responsibility, both physically and financially, to get yourself to the next port if you booked non-cruise line air.
Cruise Documents and pre-cruise check-in:
Make sure that you have all of your documentation on embarkation day. Most cruise lines require you to pre-register for your cruise on line. This can usually be done after final payment has been made on your cruise. Don’t wait until that day to check the validity of your passport. Port security has increased in recent years. Make sure that the information on your travel documents matches those on your cruise tickets. Arriving at the port without proper documentation can result in denied boarding without a refund.
Know what is included:
Included: Meals, entertainment, accommodations, activities
Additional: Soft drinks and alcohol on most cruise lines, spa treatments, shore excursions, specialty dining, internet, gratuities on most cruise lines. Beverage packages are available.
Note: Inclusions vary from cruise line to cruise line. Be sure to check specifically what is included when making your booking.
Don’t over pack:
Things you will definitely need are a bathing suit, walking shoes for sightseeing, casual wear (type depending on the weather) and evening wear. Evening wear can vary from casual to formal depending on your preferences and the ship you are sailing on. Pack mix and match outfits to save room. Don’t forget batteries for your camera as well as an extra memory card for your camera. Save room in your luggage for shopping and souvenirs.
If you think you might be affected by motion sickness bring a wrist band or an ear patch to ease the symptoms.
Do your research:
Learn about the ports that you are going to visit. Check out the weather and what there is to do. Find out how far from the port a city center is. This will help you to determine if you might want to book a shore excursion and what type of an excursion you may want to book, or if you just want to explore a port on your own.
Shore excursions are an important part of every cruise. It’s not necessary to book excursions in every port but it is important to do your research in advance. Find out what is offered in each port and decide what is important to you. If there is a limited time in a large city it is sometimes good to book a short city tour to give you a quick overview of the city that you are visiting. This allows you to get orientated and to maximize your time in that port. Also, if the distance between the port and the city is far, then booking either a transfer or a tour that drops you off in the city center is a good idea. If you are in port where there may be a language barrier prebooking excursions can provide a certain comfort level. Lastly, if you are interested in an activity where space is limited (such as a helicopter tour in Alaska) it is a good idea to book that tour in advance to avoid disappointment if that excursion is no longer available when you arrive.
What types of shore excursions are available:
Group shore excursion: You can book an excursion as part of a group by booking with the cruise line or with an independent shore excrusion company. When you book as part of a group the costs are lower and you travel with many of your fellow cruisers. Transportation is usually via motorcoach.
Private shore excursions: Private excursions are exactly that. You will be met by the guide and driver at the port and you can see exactly what you want to see. You can customize your tour exactly to your liking. While private tours might be slightly more expensive you really have the ability to see what you want to see and maximize your time in port without having to wait for everyone else in a larger group tour. If you are traveling with four or more people the benefits can easily justify the cost difference. Private excursions should be booked in advance.
Independent travel: In smaller ports it’s quite possible to get off of the ship and explore on your own. You can create your own experiences, sample different cuisines and see different sights. Sometimes taking a quick taxi ride into town is all it takes. Be sure to know the price of the ride up front or make sure that the taxi is on a meter.
Book your shore excursions early:
Shore excursions can be booked in advance either through the cruise lines or through companies that specialize in shore excursions. If you wait to book on the ship don’t wait until just before the scheduled port arrival time or you will be disappointed. Shore excursions do sell out.
Bring a debit card and a credit card:
No need to travel with wads of cash. A debit card will allow you to take out local currency from an ATM machine. In this scenario you bank calculates the exchange rate. A credit card is charged in local currency and your credit card company calculates the exchange rate. This is always less expensive than what a local bank would charge to exchange USD or travelers checks. Plus it’s safer not to have to carry excess cash.
Note: Check with your bank and credit card company in advance to make sure that your cards are set up to be used in the countries that you are travelling to.
On board the ship cash is neither required or accepted. When you check in you provide a credit card, much like you would at a hotel, and all charges incurred will go on your shipboard account. The evening before the end of a cruise you will be given a detailed statement showing what your charges are. These will then be billed to your credit card. Some cruise lines allow you to settle your account with cash if you prefer.
Leave your expensive jewelry and valuables at home:
While they might look great anything can happen. There is no need to test fate. If you must bring valuables most cruise lines offer in-room safes or you can check your valuables at the front desk.
Check out the ships daily newspaper:
Every cruise line publishes an activity sheet which is delivered daily to your cabin. Here you will find listed all of the things that you can do on board the ship that day, dining times, special events and activities, contact numbers and more.
Keeping in Touch:
Cell Phones: Cell phones may work in the ports but roaming charges usually apply. Some cell phone carriers offer international plans which may save you money. On board ship most cruise lines contract with Cellular at Sea or a similar service. Using cell phone on ships is not cheap but is usually available in case of emergency. If you are not going to use your phone or PDA then turn it off as you might be charged for receiving voice mails and emails which can be quite costly.
Internet: Internet is available on almost all ships. Some ships even have wireless connections in your cabin if you are planning on bringing a computer. There are different internet plans offered depending on your usage and are usually fairly reasonably priced.
With a little advance planning and research you can make your cruise vacation memorable, fulfilling, fun and relaxing.