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You are about to be addicted to cruises. Cruising is such a great value and so darn easy. You get a lot for your money and you can be as lazy or as active as you like. There is something for everyone. I've put together a few items to get you acquainted with how cruising works, but if you think of any questions please let me know.
Here's what's included:
Here's whats not:
Required documents: Please visit travel.state.gov to see what you need to bring.
Flight times: If you are flying to the port I always recommend flying in the night before. I can help you with booking a hotel for the night if you wish. When booking your return flight I recommend a flight no earlier than 5 hours from the time the ship arrives - more if possible. Sometimes there are delays during debarkation and there is nothing worse than ending a lovely vacation in a panic.
Getting to the port: The cruise lines offer airport transfers that I can set up for you, or we can look at outside companies and/or private transportation.
Insurance: Always recommended. Emergencies happen, and the cruise lines do not make exceptions when you are inside of the cancellation penalty period. In addition to trip cancellation and interruption, the more comprehensive travel insurance plans available today may also cover emergency medical expenses; emergency medical transportation, when ordered by a doctor, to the nearest adequate medical facility; reimbursement for accommodations; and expenses. There are many scenarios you may never have thought of (medical emergencies in port, stolen items, etc). Click here for more information and please let me know if you would like a quote.
Money: On cruise ships they use a cashless system. All purchases are made with your cabin key, which is tied to your on board account. You can set this up when you do your online check-in with a credit card, or you can set it up with cash once you board (not recommended because of long lines). If you want to be able to use your credit card in port, please call them before-hand so they don't assume someone has stolen your card and freeze the account. Most ships have an ATM but the fees are high. You should bring some cash with you, but most places take credit cards. I do not recommend using your debit card since those have less protection than credit cards. In the wee hours of the last morning, an itemized bill will be slipped under your door. When you wake up, take a look at it right away to make sure everything looks good. If you need to dispute any charges you'll want to contact the purser right away. You can also check your statement along the way. Some ships will display it on your TV, some have kiosks, or you can go to the purser's desk.
Daily newsletter: Every night you will be given a newsletter to let you know what's happening and when the next day. Don't want to miss the hairy chest contest at the pool? Movie under the stars? Bingo? This newsletter will be your best friend. Please take it with you when you go into port. It has contact information on it in case you get into a situation on land.
Gratuities: The crew works very hard to make sure your vacation is magical. Some of it you can see, and some happens behind the scenes. Your cabin steward will attend to your cabin twice a day, keeping everything clean and providing turn down service. Your wait staff will make a point to get to know you and your preferences. It takes a village... For your convenience, the cruise line will automatically add the gratuities to your on board account. If you would prefer to pay them ahead of time, you may do so by contacting me. They are typically around $12 per person, per day (varies by cruise line and accommodation type), and they cover your cabin steward, wait staff, and other behind the scenes crew. If you purchase beverages from the bar or go to the spa, those are done separately and on the spot.
E-documents: Most cruise lines have switched to e-documents over the last several years. You will receive quite a bit of documentation, but you really only need to print your boarding pass(es) and luggage tags. Although you don't need to waste paper and ink, please read EVERYTHING very carefully.
Muster Drill: On every cruise, every passenger must participate in the muster drill. This is a safety drill so you'll know what to do in the unlikely event there is an emergency situation during your cruise. This is mandatory, so expect to spend about an hour on the first afternoon (sometimes less if everyone shows up on time).
Dining: Dining has become quite a bit more flexible over the past few years. Traditionally (and still available on many lines), you would choose either early or late seating (roughly 6 or 8pm) and you eat at the same table with the same people and the same wait staff each evening. This is particularly nice if you have allergies or preferences, since you only need to let your wait staff know the first night and they will take care of it from there. It's also great for groups because you have an assigned meeting place each night where you come back together, and you don't have to wait for a large table to become available. Sometimes you can request a table size (table for 2, etc.), but those are always on request only, and never guaranteed.
These days most lines offer flexible dining, where you can either just show up when you like, or in some cases you can make reservations for each evening based on your schedule that day. This is much like restaurant seating. If you show up during peak times, there may be a wait (especially if there is a large group). The upside is the flexibility and ability to choose whether you would like to share a table with other cruise guests or keep it private.
Outside of the main dining room, there are plenty of options for dining. In most cases you have access to food 24 hours a day. If you have allergies or need a special diet please let me know so I can note the booking, and you will also need to communicate with the crew throughout the cruise.
Cell phones and internet service: Please contact your cell phone provider for details and prices if you plan to use your cell phone while on your cruise. Internet on ships has come a long way, but is still not lightning fast and can be spotty. Each cruise line handles prices for internet service differently, but you can typically pay by the minute or purchase packages that are a better value.
What to wear: You'll want to double check based on the cruise line, but for the most part it's pretty casual. They prefer that you don't come into the dining areas in your swim suit, and some dining rooms don't allow shorts for dinner. Formal night is the exception. On this night they ask you to get dressed up and there is often lobster and/or prime rib on the menu. Some cruises have more than one formal night so be sure to check.
Shore excursions: If you book your excursion through the cruise line and the excursion runs late, the ship will wait for you. If you book with an outside company this is not the case. The other advantage is that if you have to miss a port for some reason you will be refunded, which is not always the case with outside vendors.
What to book ahead of time: Some cruise lines now require you to book your nightly shows in advance (or risk missing out). I also recommend booking any shore excursions you have your heart set on in advance. You can even book spa treatments ahead of time.
This should get you started, but don't hesitate to ask if you need clarification or if I've missed something. Click here to read another blogger's first cruise experience. She conquered her fears and was happy for it. Bon voyage!
Welome and thank you for visiting! I am a travel agent with a passion for good food, design, general craftiness...and of course TRAVEL. I treat everything in life as an adventure. Sometimes the journey is short and sweet and sometimes it's long and messy, but if we try to stay in the moment we can make most things enjoyable.