Thinking of taking a cruise? Have you cruised before? Do you know what to expect? Have you thought of everything? Here are some cruising tips you may not have thought about…
Cruising is the best way to travel. You unpack once, do not have to drive anywhere, no cooking or cleaning, and you awake in a new port or location every day.
Each time you cruise you acquire a new cruising tip, a new resource, or just come up with a new idea you never thought of before. Talking to other passengers, the crew, and the locals in ports is great way to discover something new.
You may find something here you didn’t already know, whether it is your first cruise or your twentieth cruise.
Planning Your Cruise
Get the full experience, don’t take a short three or four day cruise. These are trips for the person who just needs a quick getaway. Yes, it may be cheaper and a way to get your feet wet in cruising. But, consider the expense of getting to the port, it is the same whether you are going for three days or a week. You get more bang for your buck on a week or more. On a three night cruise you only get one free night. There is more to experience on your ship than can be done in such a short period of time. Although a longer cruise may cost more overall, it breaks down to less money per day, with more experiences per cruise!
When to Book Your Cruise
Generally, booking earlier is better. There are better selections of cabins and early-bird discounts are offered. You are locking in a price guarantee and a payment plan. Smaller ships, popular dates and certain destinations tend to book up the fastest. Guests who book early are more likely to get upgrades as the cruise lines try to make more room in the lower decks and inside cabins for the last minute deals.
Last minute deals can be a bargain but, generally are in the lower deck ocean-view and inside cabins. There is usually full payment required up front on last minute deals. Bookings on longer cruises, repositioning cruises and in slower seasons tend to have more last minute deals.
The cruise lines can arrange for your transportation from the airport to the pier and to the airport upon your return.They can usually get the flights cheaper than you can due to volume discounts and should be booked with the cruise.
When booking your cruise make sure to get all the credits you deserve. Discounts are available based on what state you reside in, your age, military, firefighter and police discounts, and, if this is not your first cruise, past guest discounts. Check with your credit cards for cruise deals. Your frequent flier programs and hotel loyalty programs may also have specials.
Choosing Your Cabin
Most cabins are designed for only two guests. Others are set up for family or up to four guests. Even suites are usually not designed for more than four. Multiple or connecting cabins are needed for larger groups. Some ships have single rooms or standard cabins can sometimes be booked for single travelers.
The least expensive cabins are the inside rooms on the lower decks. The cost increases as you move to higher decks and to the oceanview or balcony rooms.
If you are concerned about the motion of the ocean, higher decks are better and stay mid-ship. The motion is more obvious on the lower decks, aft and bow of the ship. This is also reflected in the price for the cabins. This perhaps seems counter-intuitive and contradicts information you may find elsewhere but, from experience, it is true.
Try to avoid cabins near the elevators or the activity centers on the ship. There will be more guest traffic and thus, more noise around these cabins.
Next to the really pricey suites, balconies are the highest cost cabins but have many advantages. Upon rising in the morning, go out on your balcony, check the weather, get a preview of the day’s port and check out your new surroundings. A balcony provides your own private sanctuary away from the crowds. If you tend to get claustrophobic, the balcony gives the appearance of more space in the cabin.
Ocean-view cabins are also a good choice if you prefer a view without the balcony cost. You can still look outside to check the weather and see the port. The windows can vary in size from a simple porthole to a picture window and, no, they do not open.
Packing & Storage in Your Cabin
Pack light as storage space in your cabin will be at a premium. Try to determine what activities you will be participating in and only bring items you will need. What are the dress codes for the dining room? Are there formal nights you will want to dress for? Always bring your swimsuit for the pools, hot tubs, and shore activities. Bring some extra hangers and plastic bags for dirty clothes. You will have several small drawers for personal items, a small closet with maybe a dozen hangers, two or three shelves, and a safe for your valuables. Counter space in the bathroom is minimal but there are usually several small storage spaces above the sink. Don’t try to live out of your suitcase, it will take up too much space. Store the suitcases under the bed.
When you are booking your cruise you will be asked to make a dining choice. Typically this will be Early Dining, usually 5:30 – 6:00 PM, or Late Dining, 7:30 – 8:00 PM. Some cruise lines also have Anytime Dining or My-Time Dining. This means you may dine anytime during the dining room hours. This is a great option if you want to enjoy the dining room but still be flexible. Early Dining is good, however, this could be inconvenient as you may have to rush to dress for dinner after returning from your day onshore. Late Dining affords you more time when you get back on board but, if you are hungry, you will have to wait or hit the buffet.
Aah! The Buffet! That all inclusive, all cuisine, anytime option for the truly hungry. While there may be restricted hours for the full buffet, there is usually something available at all hours. Pizza, burgers or hot dogs, and deli style sandwiches are examples of food which may be available either at the buffet or another venue 24/7.
While you can obviously eat all you want at the buffet it is important to know cruise lines do allow you to order multiple appetizers, entrees, or deserts in the dining room. If you like being waited on and served each individual course, the dining room is for you. You can check the menu for each day and decide what you want for each course in advance or, just decide to take a chance at the buffet for tonight. Quite often the buffet may offer some of the same items from the dining room as well as many more choices. You may also load up your plate(s) at the buffet and take it to your cabin to dine more privately or go out on deck to dine alfresco.
Another option is the specialty restaurants on larger ships. These offer high end fine dining experiences at a price. These vary from steakhouses and specialty seafood to Mexican or Italian cuisine. Some require an additional cover charge and some are priced per item off the menu. You decide if it is worth the additional cost when other excellent options are included in the cost of your cruise.
You can buy a bottle of wine in the dining room. The waiter will recork your unfinished bottle and serve it to you the next night. You cannot bring alcohol on-board when you first embark, with one exception, most cruise lines allow a bottle of wine to be brought on-board for a private Bon Voyage party. You can open it in your room or take it to the dining room. Beware, there is a corkage fee for opening it in the dining room.
For breakfast, there is always the buffet. If you prefer a more sit-down experience, there are no reservations required in the dining room. Always be sure to check all dining options and choose what works best for you.
What Else Do You Pay For
When you see a price posted for a cruise, beware there are more fees. Added on to that will be port taxes and fees averaging around $100 per person. This pays for the cruise line’s use of the port.
You will be requested to pay gratuities per guest per day. These typically are no more than $15, which does add up, $105 for a 7 day cruise. These apply to all guests of any age. Most cruise lines offer an option to pay gratuities in advance for a reduced rate or you can pay when you settle your onboard account before disembarking. Check with your cruise line for the actual amount.
You also must pay for soft drinks, beer, wine, cocktails and specialty coffees while on board. Cruises are now offering prepaid packages for these items which allows unlimited consumption with few restrictions. There are different levels of these packages available; soft drinks only, or beer and wine, or the all inclusive unlimited package. Only tap water, tea, regular coffee, juices, and milk are complimentary. Again, check with your cruise line for the cost of these packages. Many have discounts for early booking.
There is a fee for Spa access and Spa treatments. Generally, access to the fitness center is complimentary. Some cruise lines charge for room service meals, some do not.
Parking at The Pier
Cruise ports have available parking lots for a cost. There are other less expensive options.
Many hotels offer free parking for your cruise if you stay as little as one night before or after. Some offer parking for a small daily fee without a stay.
There are also off-port parking lots nearby, much cheaper than the port lot. You can find these within walking distance or they will offer their own shuttle to the port. Be sure to select a secured lot. Just search for port parking online.
What Can You Buy in Port and Take On Board
The cruise lines have “Port Shopping Talks” and a “Port Shopping Expert” on board. This expert will give a presentation prior to each port stop with tips on how to get around the port city and where to find the best bargains.
If you attend these talks you may score some specials, coupons, or grab a promotional give-away. If you miss the talks you can catch them on your cabin TV.
Think before you buy, not everything can be taken on board. Alcohol and weapons or blades of any kind will be confiscated and returned to you upon disembarking. Any raw or un-packaged food will not be allowed to be taken off the ship or brought on board. Pre-packaged foods or snacks are fine.
In most cases, all purchases made in ports and on board will be tax and duty free. Exceptions include but are not limited to, European cruises where the European Union levies a tax on these items. Also, purchases in the home U.S. ports will have all usual taxes. There are allowances on overseas purchases you bring home before you are charged an import tax. The most significant of these are alcohol, cigarettes, cigars, and precious gems/jewelry. As these allowances change from time to time, check with your cruise line or the U.S. Immigration and Border Patrol.
One interesting note, if you cruise out of a port in Texas, like Galveston, be prepared for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission to be waiting to collect their tax on your purchases. This may be the case at some other states’ ports as well.
What If You Get Seasick
Motion sickness, seasick, mal de mer, nausea; whatever you call it, it is unpleasant and nearly everyone is susceptible now and then. Even experienced cruisers are not immune.
Common cures for this condition are Dramamine or Bonine, both of which can be purchased over the counter and many cruise lines provide these for free. The only common side effect is drowsiness which can be increased by alcohol.
A widely used prescription remedy is a Transderm Scop, a patch applied behind the ear at least eight hours before exposure.
If you prefer more natural remedies, give these a try:
Do not sit or lie down, keep moving.
Keep hydrated, cut back on food and alcohol.
Get out of your cabin and go to an upper open deck. The fresh air and sea breeze will help.
Eat a green apple or suck on a lemon wedge, anything sour will do. (this tip was from a crew member)
Have a piece of ginger or ginger candy.
Eating dry crackers will help settle the stomach.
All of these are tried and true remedies.
Another holistic remedy is a Sea-Band. This is a plastic band worn around the wrist. It has a plastic bead which presses on a pressure point on the palm side of the wrist. It is non-prescription and comes in adult and children’s sizes and has no side effects.
Every cruise offers a large variety of things to do while in port. There are many tour operators contracted with the cruise lines. You can choose these excursions prior to boarding or choose while you are on board. Some popular excursions fill up fast. If you book your excursion through the cruise line you are guaranteed to get back to the pier in time to re-board and the crew will know if there has been a delay or other incident. These are all very safe and convenient but, convenience comes with a price.
Do your research prior to taking off for your cruise. You will likely find the same or very similar excursions from reputable operators at a lower price than offered by the cruise line. Just verify they will get you back in time and have contingency plans for unforeseen events. Research your ports of call, sometimes it is better to explore the area on your own if close by and save the excursion fees for other things.
While this is a lot of information, the more you travel, the more you will discover. On your cruise, talk to other guests, crew members, locals and shop owners in each port. You will be amazed by what you can learn and who you can meet! Soon you will be giving advice and cruising tips.