Cruise Travel Tips
OK, so you’ve decided you want to do a cruise this summer. With the high cost and security pat downs of flying, cruise travel is becoming increasingly popular. Here’s a few tips that will hopefully help you make the most of your cruise.
Choosing & Booking a Cruise
- One of the first questions you need to ask yourself is what do you want out of the cruise. This answer to this question will determine your destinations, cruise duration and ship size. Check out our blog on How to Plan a Vacation.
- Search multiple online travel sites including the cruise line directly to figure out the best deal. Even if the price is the same you will find that some travel sites charge a “booking fee” and some provide extras such as free upgrades, on-board credit or airline miles / rewards points.
- If your travel dates are flexible the best prices are at start of the season and end of the season. For example, a cruise to the Caribbean or Bahamas in September or August will usually be more 50% or more less than in June.
- Book early, at least 3 months in advance to secure the best price and stateroom selection. Having said that, cruise lines do also offer last minute deals if you can sail next week.
- Read cruise travel reviews on the cruise line, ship and ports of call. Ships come in different sizes and have different options for dining, entertainment and other activities.
- When you are finally ready to book make sure you understand what is included and what is not. Read the fine print and cruise contract. This will vary depending on the cruise line. Typically the price of the cruise will cover your on-board accommodation and transportation (obviously), dining (alcohol and soda is not included) and entertainment. Following items will not be covered and you may want to factor it into your budget;
- tips – some cruise lines will pre-charge tips and allow you to adjust up or down after the cruise ($10-20 per person per day)
- alcohol and soda – you are not allowed to bring any alcohol on board for security (ha ha) reasons, any alcohol found in you carry on luggage will get confiscated. Some cruise lines do allow a bottle of wine/champagne per person. Your checked luggage is subject to random screening, so if you accidentally happen to drop bottle of scotch in your checked luggage you might get away with it
- shore excursions – these are offered by the cruise line and are typically overpriced. If you do have the time, energy and/or want to get off the beaten track, do some research and book your shore excursions separately.
- travel to/from cruise port – believe it or not, this is often overlooked (not you, the other people), factor into your budget airfare or gas, hotel and parking expenses if you don’t live close to the cruise port. Plan on arriving the day before sailing.
- Before booking make sure you have all the needed travel documents. You will most certainly need a valid passport and depending on your citizenship you may need a tourist visa. Use the form below to check if you need a travel visa.
- Make sure you take advantage of all available discounts such as resident rates, past guest rates, early booking , group booking discounts, military, senior discounts etc.
- Once you book, you will need to select a stateroom. If you are concerned about getting sea sick, a lower level towards the middle of the ship will be your best bet. You may also want to consider the layout of the ship and the locations of any entertainment and dining options that interest you.
- Staterooms located directly below entertainment or dining areas maybe noisier than others. If you are concerned about noise make sure that only staterooms or located directly above.
- Make a packing list. Check your cruise line for what is allowed on board and what is not.
- Most cruises will have a formal night. Ensure that your formal wear is pressed and packed. Irons are not available in staterooms and you cannot bring your own. The laundry may have irons, but you may have to wait in line.
- Make travel plans and hotel reservations if you need to travel to your cruise port. If you are driving, some hotels offer “cruise and sail” packages where they will allow you to park at the hotel and shuttle you to the cruise terminal. If you are flying, the cruise line may offer transportation to/from the airport. A taxi might be more cost effective if you have more than 2-3 people in your group.
- Insurance – consider if you need any trip protection insurance or medical insurance. As always, read the fine print.
Departure Day & On-board
- Arrive early at the cruise terminal. Remember a cruise ship can accommodate several thousand people and everybody needs to get on board within a window of 2-3 hours, so an early arrival can avoid the long lines.
- Safety on board – one of the first things you’ll do is go through a safety briefing, which will tell you what to do in case of an evacuation or other emergency. A cruise ship will have thousands of people on board, some good and some not so good, so please take normal safety precautions that you would take on land (i.e. don’t leave your wallet/cash/camera on your dining table while you go for seconds and expect it to be there when you get back).
- Health – all cruise ships will have a medical facility and at least one doctor on board. Keep in mind that this will be a general physician which can help with short term illness or non critical injuries. For anything more serious the on-board doctor can only stabilize you until the ship reaches the next port of call or a medical evacuation happens. If you do have any health conditions, please let the cruise line know so that necessary arrangements can be made. Always make sure that you pack any medication that you need.
- Familiarize yourself with the deck plan and layout of the ship. Some cruise lines will have a brief ship tour and/or introduction which you can attend if it’s your first time cruising or first time on the ship.
- Spend a few minutes planning which on-board activities you and your group want to do. If you have kids there are activities organized by age-group.
- If you do have a large group, figure out how you are going to communicate with each other on the ship (cell phones will not work). You could leave voice mails or notes in your staterooms. I’ve even seen folks bring walkie talkies on board, I wouldn’t do it, but hey, whatever floats your boat (no pun intended)
- Duty-free shopping is available on most cruises that travel outside your country of origin. Before you go crazy with the booze, keep in mind that you will have to go through US customs when you return, so do make note of your duty free allowance.
- It’s ok to say no to the paparazzi – while it’s nice to have a few good pictures taken, most cruise lines over do this. You will get your picture taken when you board the ship, when your dining, when you get off at the ports of call, when you get back in, at the formal dinner night and few dozen times in-between. If your sure your not going to pay $25 and buy the picture, just say “no thanks” and move on. Please note that you will have your picture taken once when boarding for security purposes which links to your stateroom key card. Obviously I am not referring to this.
- Most people including myself will not follow this last one, but I am going to say it anyway. You can probably have around 10-15 meals a day when on board, and most of these aren’t exactly low calorie. At the very least, go take a look at the gym and fitness facilities available. You’ll be surprised how well equipped the gym will be on most cruise lines.
Hope the above cruise travel tips are helpful. Feel free to post your comments or any additional tips you would like to share.