So you have booked your cruise and are looking forward to a well deserved vacation. You have started to think about what to pack. In addition to packing there are a number of things that you should think about before you leave. Here are a few items that you make sure are on your checklist to make your trip stress-free.
Looking for something ‘different’ to do for that high school reunion? Are your corporate retreats getting dull and boring? Maybe it’s time to spice things up a bit and create unique, everlasting memories at sea on a group cruise.
A cruise ship is both a floating hotel and your home away from home, so the cabin type you select is an important part of ensuring that your cruise holiday will feel perfect. Everyone has different priorities and there are many options when it comes to selecting the perfect cabin for you.
There are four basic cabin types to choose from when you cruise. Here are the main cabin types available on most cruise ships:
Interior Cabins (commonly referred to as Inside Cabins):
Inside cabins are usually the least expensive staterooms on a ship. They are located on the interior of the ship and have no windows. Most cruise lines install a mirror or drapes to make the rooms feel less confining; Disney’s newest ship will actually have ‘virtual’ windows to give passengers the sense that they are not in an interior stateroom. Who chooses this cabin type? Those who are very budget conscious. Parents often put their older children in an inside stateroom across from their own oceanview or balcony cabin. Travelers who are rarely in their room or who do not enjoy spending time in their cabin also select this type. But remember, when you are in a destination like Alaska, the view is the reason you’re there. Also, the length of the cruise may be a factor. On a shorter cruise one may not spend as much time in a cabin. However, on a longer cruise selecting a cabin with a window or a balcony may be more important. So, take a look at where and how long you will be traveling and think about how important the views will be to your overall cruise experience.
Oceanview Cabins (commonly referred to as Outside cabins):
This refers to the minimum cabin that provides a window or port hole to the outside. Often, the windows are not large but they do provide natural light and views that you don’t have with interior cabins.
Balcony cabins provide sliding glass doors onto terraces, allowing for extraordinary (and private) ocean or destination views. You can relax on you balcony in the morning with a cup of coffee and enjoy the views. On sea days you can get comfortable with your favorite book. In the evenings enjoy a glass of wine on your balcony as you get ready for dinner.
Suites are next as you go up in category and price. Suites almost always include balconies or verandahs and some even have separate sleeping areas or private bedrooms and larger bathrooms (often with a tub and/or separate shower) as well as larger closet space. The décor becomes more opulent and additional amenities are often included – all the way up to your own butler!
A guaranteed cabin really applies more to a rate than to a stateroom. If you are offered a guarantee rate for a ship and sail date, you are really taking an option on a category of cabins rather than a specific cabin. In most cases, your cabin number is assigned at some point prior to departure, although there are instances where a cruise line may opt to wait until you board to assign your cabin.
Why select this option? The main reason is price. A guarantee stateroom is less expensive to book than a confirmed cabin assignment. However, there is a catch. A guarantee stateroom can be assigned in any part of the ship. Guaranteed cabins may have an obstructed view (in other words, part of the view may be hidden by a lifeboat or other obstacle), may be on a lower floor or a higher floor, or in the very front or very back of the ship. So why would you ever consider booking a guarantee? Because cabin guarantees may also be upgraded at the discretion of the cruise line. So, depending on how full a sailing is, you might find yourself paying for a cabin with a porthole and finding yourself in a balcony cabin – a cabin that would have been considerably more expensive if you had selected that cabin initially. The bottom line is that a guarantee rate is great for someone who really does not care where they are placed on the ship. You should not select a guarantee cabin if your cabin location is critical to you, if you are traveling with others that you need to be close to, if you need to be near an elevator or have other specific requirements. In any of these cases you should opt to pay a little bit more and select the stateroom you really want.
All cabins have full bathrooms with a shower, toilet and sink.. Some cabins even have a bathtub in the higher categories. Other features include a television, in-room safes and a blow dryer on most ships. Some cabins also include a refrigerator.
Selecting the right cabin is a personal decision based on a number of factors including price, cabin size, cabin location, cabin amenities and the itinerary. Do your research before selecting a cabin. Look at the deck plans for your particular ship. Read the descriptions and look at the cabin sizes, locations, amenities, features and prices. Considering all of these factors will help you to choose the right accommodations. Also, the advice of a cruise specialist to help you to understand all of your options can be invaluable.
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.