Posted January 3rd, 2010, 05:53 PM
1. Set your expectations realistically. Doubtless you’ve heard stories of how magical cruising is or how awful it can be. The reality is that it will have a few great moments, lots of good ones, and a few bad ones. The secret to getting the most out of your cruise is to remember that this is a vacation and vacations are not about stress. The staff and crew of a cruise ship have one goal in mind: make sure you enjoy yourself. If there is something wrong, tell someone immediately; someone will try to fix things right away. My wife had heard so many stories about the five-star gourmet food, she felt let down on her first cruise. We never actually had a bad meal. Most were as good as you’d get in a very good restaurant and a couple were outstanding. But her expectations were based on the service you see in old movies and modern ships simply can’t do that when carrying 3,500 passengers rather than 500. Do your homework and set a realistic expectation and you will have a memorable time.
2. Get your documents in order before you leave home. All cruise lines offer online registration these days. USE IT! When you have completed all the documents, print two copies. One you keep on you to check in, the other is in your luggage as a backup. We usually do three so that each of us has a copy in-hand. Make photocopies of your passport, medicine prescriptions, return airline tickets, and emergency contacts to put in your luggage as well.
Some cruise lines allow you to print your luggage tags from home as well. If you are concerned that they are too flimsy, you can get regular tags at the departure terminal. Just make sure you put your name and cabin number on them before you let the porters take them. And tip the porters $2/bag and they will make it to your cabin instead of going to Aruba without you.
3. Study the ship’s layout before boarding. These ships aren’t just big, some of them are HUGE! The key landmarks you want to have a mental map of before boarding is:
- where your cabin is (which deck, side of the ship and side of the aisle),
- where your dining room or other eating spots you’ll want to frequent are,
- where the gangway is (for exiting in port), where the elevators and stairwells are, and
- where the Purser/Guest Services Office is.
As soon as you board, don’t go straight to your cabin. Depending on how early you arrive, you may not be able to go to the cabin anyways as the hotel staff may still be cleaning it. Instead, head to the spa to make any reservations you didn’t make online before boarding (hint, hint). Head to the buffet deck for lunch and, about an hour before sailing, head for the open deck to get a good spot for watching your sail away
Stock up on batteries, memory cards, film, and videotape before sailing. Even if they have those items on board or in port – which isn’t guaranteed – you’ll pay 3x the cost. If your camera can use rechargeable batteries, bring a supply of them and a charger. Remember, everything has to go in your luggage and the airlines have gotten mercenary about both how many bags and the weight allowance for each (50 lbs). Don’t waste your weight allowance on a ton of batteries if you can help it. Don’t forget the chargers for your other electronics as well. A small netbook computer can do multiple duty as a place to download your camera and as a charger for devices that have USB interfaces (e.g. cell phones, GPS units, MP3 players, book readers). A must bring item is bug repellant! We were on an excursion to Mayan ruins in Costa Maya, 20 miles out in the jungle. When we realized we hadn’t brought any we ran down to the ship store – who didn’t carry bug repellant. As soon as we docked, we ran to the first store we could find since we only had 10 minutes before the bus left. None to be found. Diamond bracelets yes, bug spray not a drop. Fortunately, the tour guide had some when we arrived at the ruins or there were going to be a lot of cruise ship mosquito snacks that day.
5.Use two credit cards for your cruise: one for your shipboard account and a separate one for shopping. The reason is authorizations. When you check in, the credit card you use for your onboard account will get an authorization request for about $200 per day for however long your cruise lasts. This authorization freezes that much of your available credit line so an 8-day cruise has just frozen $1,600 of your available credit – even if you don’t spend a dime. The authorization will expire some time after your cruise has finished and you are home. Oh yeah, remember that hotel room you stayed in the night before sailing? They did the same thing when you checked in. So did that rental car company. Regardless of the actual charges, all those authorizations have sucked up your credit line and you may get that embarrassing ”I’m sorry your card was denied” when you try to buy that absolutely darling sapphire and diamond necklace in Grand Cayman.
When you’re using a credit card in foreign countries you may also get charged a currency conversion fee and a 2-3% processing fee. Check with your card company before leaving as not all cards charge this. Make sure you bring cash with you for incidental expenses and shops that don’t take your credit card. MC and Visa are pretty universal but AMEX and Discover are not. Don’t put all your money in traveler’s checks because you’ll have to find a bank to cash them in port. What do you do if the banks aren’t open or you don’t have time before the tour leaves to find a bank? Cabins have safes in them if you’re worried about taking a lot of cash with you.