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Share some tips for people new to traveling


klfrodo
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Since this board is for "First Time Cruisers", I thought this would be a good place for some of us more experienced travelers to share some hard-earned lessons learned. I'll start with some of my ideas.

 

1. 3rd party hotel and car rental web sites.  Yes, you can save some money by booking thru these sites. However, there is a downside. You are not the hotel or car rental agencies customer if you use these sites. You are the booking agents customer. The booking agency is the hotel or car rental companies customer.  If there are any issues with the reservation, the hotel or car rental agents will just tell you to deal with whomever you booked with. You are last on the priority list when it comes to resolving issues. If the money you save is balanced against your expectation, then this can be okay.

     Example: You need a room for 5 but the website booking agency books you into a King room, the hotel when you arrive can't/won't/may not help you. They reserved the room that the booking agency sent to the hotel. It's not a You/hotel problem, it's a you/booking agent problem.

My first time running into this was a business trip. I booked thru an online site. At the end of my stay, I needed a copy of the portfolio so I could expense the stay. They couldn't give me one since the booking company was their customer, not me. I had to call customer service of the booking site to get a copy of my portfolio.

 

My advice - Book direct. It may cost a few dollars more but now you have status, and you are the proprietor's customer. They will now bend over backwards to help resolve any issues.

 

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If taking two pieces of luggage on a trip and checking them, put some of each kind of clothes in each piece so that if one bag is late arriving at your destination, you will still have some clothes to wear of each type.

 

Don't book an early flight on your day of disembarkation from a cruise that causes you to become stressed whether you will make your flight or not.  Book a later in the day flight so that you can enjoy a nice breakfast on your ship and and have a leisurely disembark.  

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Keep these in your cruise Carry-On bags.

  • Passport, ID and any necessary paperwork to board the ship. If you leave them in checked luggage, it could take hours to locate your bags.
  • Necessary Medications.
  • Electronics. Not so much that they might get stolen in checked luggage, but they could get damaged in those massive luggage corrals.
  • Swimsuit. Especially if you're going to be onboard before the cabins are available. Switch to your swimsuit and go enjoy the pool.
  • One change of clothes for dinner. Your luggage SHOULD get to your cabin before dinner time, but in case it doesn't have one fresh change of clothes for dinner. Restaurants always cut you slack on the first night so don't worry about dress code. Fresh, clean clothes always feel good at the end of embarkation day.

 

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2 hours ago, rkacruiser said:

If taking two pieces of luggage on a trip and checking them, put some of each kind of clothes in each piece so that if one bag is late arriving at your destination, you will still have some clothes to wear of each type.

 

Don't book an early flight on your day of disembarkation from a cruise that causes you to become stressed whether you will make your flight or not.  Book a later in the day flight so that you can enjoy a nice breakfast on your ship and and have a leisurely disembark.  

 

And to add for disembarkation day, look to see what the cruise line has for excursions that day. Most folks don't realize the cruise lines do offer excursions to 'kill time' and then they take you directly to the airport. We've done that a few times, super easy and convenient. 

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1 hour ago, WheresWalter said:

 

And to add for disembarkation day, look to see what the cruise line has for excursions that day. Most folks don't realize the cruise lines do offer excursions to 'kill time' and then they take you directly to the airport. We've done that a few times, super easy and convenient. 

If you flight is late afternoon or evening, many hotels offer “Day Rates”. They don’t advertise these, you have to call and ask.

Take bags to your room, go to the pool, catch a quick work out in the gym, take a nap, grab a shower, or whatever until it’s time to head to the airport.

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My husband and I like to get on the ship as early as they'll allow us. I would rather get on board early and kill a few hours than race to the port later in the day, trying to get there before the ship leaves without us. The buffet and main dining room are usually open for lunch, and sometimes there's a BBQ on the pool deck. The pool is always open (although we've never been able to take advantage of this since we usually travel out of the Northeast in late fall/early winter). It's a great time to walk the whole ship, explore everything, and get the layout fixed in our heads.

 

If the cruise line offers a deal on the airfare, think twice before taking advantage of it. Last year, we got a buy one, get one free from NCL. They honored our preferred airport, but the flight they booked was pretty late in the day. We couldn't switch to an earlier flight unless we forked over a lot more than the tickets would have cost us if we had booked on our own. We had a medical situation on our cruise and would have preferred taking an earlier flight home once we got to New Orleans, but we were stuck with our late evening flight. It worked out okay but we would have been happier with a little more flexibility. Other passengers told us they also received less-than-desirable flight times.

 

I have to second what @WheresWalter said regarding the airport transfer excursions. We did a 3 hour bus tour sightseeing in New Orleans. It cost us a little more than just getting a taxi or Uber to the airport. It wasn't fabulous, but it wasn't a bad way to kill some time. They stopped twice so we could get off the bus - once at a cemetery and once at a bakery famous for their beignets. It was a lot better than sitting in the airport for hours.

 

Use the cruise line's app to keep track of events, reservations, and excursions. I use the NCL app but I still use my highlighters to mark up the paper Freestyle Daily that we get every night. Not every event shows up on the app so it's necessary to still go old-school.

 

Invest in magnetic hooks. Of all the suggested items I've seen on this board, this is the one that was a big game-changer for us. We hang all sorts of stuff from them. They keep things handy and help cut down on the clutter in our cabin.

 

And the most obvious suggestions: Be flexible and open to new experiences. Do something you normally wouldn't do - sing karaoke, go ziplining, volunteer for a show. Meet new people. Talk to people in the restaurant, in the theater, in the Atrium. You're on vacation - have fun!

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11 hours ago, MaggieNY said:

Invest in magnetic hooks. Of all the suggested items I've seen on this board, this is the one that was a big game-changer for us. We hang all sorts of stuff from them. They keep things handy and help cut down on the clutter in our cabin.

 

Oh man we just found these hooks from Sail Pak that are ridiculous. I swear they could hold 10 pounds each if they didn't slide down the wall from the weight. 🙂 They also have a sweet waterproof backpack that I can't wait to try out in December when we head out on our next cruise. 

 

11 hours ago, MaggieNY said:

And the most obvious suggestions: Be flexible and open to new experiences. Do something you normally wouldn't do - sing karaoke, go ziplining, volunteer for a show. Meet new people. Talk to people in the restaurant, in the theater, in the Atrium. You're on vacation - have fun!

 

Can I just say I never do karaoke in public, but when we cruised Virgin's Scarlet Lady we did 2 hours of karaoke in one of their private booths. I have not had that much fun in I don't know how long. We laughed so much. So yes, get out there and try something new every single time! 🙂  

 

Especially with dining. A cruise ship is a great place to try out foods you've never had before. If you don't like it, they will swap it out, no problem. It's not like a land-based restaurant where you get 'that look' if you don't like something. On cruise ships, they know folks might be experimenting with food and if you don't like it, they will make sure you get something you do like. So experiment with foods you've always wanted to try but were nervous to do so at home. 

 

Edited by WheresWalter
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Travel insurance is a good idea for most people. A good comprehensive plan should cost less than 10% of your non-refundable trip cost. Comprehensive plans typically cover trip cancellation, trip delay, lost/damaged luggage, medical expenses, emergency medical evacuation/repatriation of remains. While cruise lines offer a plan most cruisers can obtain better coverage for less from online insurance "stores", such as www.insuremytrip.com. Each plan is going to be different and it is important to understand any and all exclusions. Most plans operate on a pay first, reimbursement basis so you'll need to keep paperwork until you apply for reimbursement (and note that many hospitals in ports will require payment up front for treatment, even if you have insurance).

 

Before buying a plan check to see what you have already. Does your health insurance provide coverage in a foreign country? Does your credit card offer any trip coverage if used to book the trip? Even if you do have some coverage remember that medical evacuation (medevac) can be very pricey, so it might be prudent to get a plan that covers that (and many plans also include repatriation of remains, which can also be expensive). And while insurance may be a good idea also remember that it doesn't cover every eventuality, some things aren't going to be covered no matter how good the policy is. Google is your friend and reading several articles about travel insurance should give you the info that you need to make an informed choice.

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15 minutes ago, sparks1093 said:

Before buying a plan check to see what you have already. Does your health insurance provide coverage in a foreign country? Does your credit card offer any trip coverage if used to book the trip?

 

Excellent advice on the Trip Insurance. We never cruise without it, almost 20 years now.

 

Most U.S. based health insurance plans do not offer coverage outside of the United States. And if they do, it's greatly reduced. The poor couple on a Carnival ship recently is the perfect example of why you need trip insurance. The wife developed a bad pneumonia while the ship was in transit to Jamaica. She was evacuated off the ship in Montego Bay to be treated at a local hospital. The medical evacuation flight to the U.S. was $40,000 alone, but they had no trip insurance. So she was required to stay in Jamaica for up to 20 days until her oxygen levels came up for her to be safe to travel. All medical expenses were the responsibility of the couple because they did not have insurance.

 

Another tip, never buy the insurance through the cruise line. It's never as good as what you get through third parties. We get anywhere between $500k and $1M in medical evacuation and $50k to $100k of emergency medical services coverage per person for anywhere from $150 to $400 depending on the overall cost of the cruise and where it's going. In the case of that couple in Jamaica, we would have been able to cover a medical evac flight back to the U.S. if we so chose to do that. Travel Agents are a good resource for independent insurance as is Insure My Trip website. 

 

Remember you buy insurance for when you NEED it. Not when you're planning for something to happen. 

 

Here's the Carnival / Jamaica story if you have not seen it. https://abc13.com/houston-woman-stuck-in-montego-bay-jamaica-carnival-vista-cruise/12217285/

Edited by WheresWalter
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Make sure you passport is good for a minimum of 6 months, watch the expiration date.   You never know when opportunity will strike.  
 

always carry at least two credit cards and leave the one that pays your utilities at home. 
 

get the Uber app. 
 

remember there is Walmart everywhere, if you forgot it you can replace it.

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Number one thing is to not skip the Muster Drill.  I know it seems as boring as the seat belt demo on an airplane, but a) they will track you down if you miss it, and b) it could be cause for your being unceremoniously kicked off the ship with no refund.

 

Number two: you can bring a plugging strip to help plug in the myriad devices you need to charge, but make sure that it is not a surge protected power strip -- that might cause it to be confiscated.

 

Number three: if you are taking a lot of photographs, take extra memory cards, and switch them part way through the cruise.  If one gets corrupted, as will sometimes happen, you won't lose everything.

 

Number four: bring luggage that is pretty flat when empty, i.e. a duffel bag, etc., and when unpacked, put the suitcases or duffels under the bed to save space.

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On 10/24/2022 at 1:15 PM, klfrodo said:

3rd party hotel and car rental web sites.

Adding a few thoughts:  

- If you book through a 3rd party site, be sure to write down WITH WHOM you booked that room and your CONFIRMATION #.  Being old school, I write this all in my paper calendar.  We booked a long weekend trip last year, and circumstances forced us to cancel-- not thinking, I called the hotel.  They (rightfully) told me I didn't book with them.  Since I had written down whom I booked with, I was able to call them.  

- Often when you book -- with a hotel or with a 3rd party -- you're given the option to pay a smaller amount in exchange for a no-cancellation policy.  Understand that you're rolling the ice when you make that choice.  If someone gets sick or whatever, you're going to be out the money for that hotel.  

- We like Priceline.  About two weeks before a trip, I always call the hotel directly and tell them, "I'm a Priceline customer arriving on ___.  Can you please be sure I'm booked in a room with a king bed (or whatever else matters to me)"  Almost always, they're able to make this happen.  

- Again, we like Priceline -- but we mostly use it for short stays.  Say, a long weekend trip or a night-before-cruise trip.  If it's a week-long trip, I usually want more control over my room choices.  

On 10/24/2022 at 5:52 PM, WheresWalter said:

Electronics. Not so much that they might get stolen in checked luggage, but they could get damaged in those massive luggage corrals.

  • Swimsuit. Especially if you're going to be onboard before the cabins are available. Switch to your swimsuit and go enjoy the pool.
  • One change of clothes for dinner. Your luggage SHOULD get to your cabin before dinner time, but in case it doesn't have one fresh change of clothes for dinner. Restaurants always cut you slack on the first night so don't worry about dress code. Fresh, clean clothes always feel good at the end of embarkation day.

Two notes on the above: 

- Theft can happen.  My sister and BIL are frequent cruisers, and they were cruising with newbies.  They told their friends to pack their electronics in their carry-ons, but the friends didn't listen -- and their ipad disappeared in transit. 

Same trip:  My sister and BIL had a fight when their suitcases arrived, and the Little Debbie oatmeal cookies he'd bought special for the trip were not in the suitcase.  He blamed her, but when they got home, the cookies weren't in their kitchen either.  

- I don't think you need to carry clothes in your carry-on -- makes it heavy.  If you want to swim, wear your suit under your day clothes.  Suitcases arrive FAST now; rooms tend to open a little after 1:00, and suitcases are almost certainly going to arrive by 2:00 at the latest. 

Disclaimer:  We're always among the first to board, so our suitcases are kinda "first in line".  

On 10/24/2022 at 5:53 PM, WheresWalter said:

 

And to add for disembarkation day, look to see what the cruise line has for excursions that day. Most folks don't realize the cruise lines do offer excursions to 'kill time' and then they take you directly to the airport. We've done that a few times, super easy and convenient. 

Disembarkation notes for people who drive to the port: 

- Fill your gas tank before you arrive at the port.  This means when you leave the ship, you're ready to hit the road and put some miles behind you ... without stopping. 

- When you park, you'll be excited and ready to board the ship ... but take one moment to note where you left the car.  If your memory isn't so good, take a picture of the nearest sign post.  

On 10/25/2022 at 7:59 PM, MaggieNY said:

My husband and I like to get on the ship as early as they'll allow us.

Yes, I make it a point to stay up late /try to get the earliest check in time -- this is easy for us because we drive to the port, so we aren't following the airline's schedule.  When we board, we like to eat, then go to the tip-top of the ship and walk down-down-down, exploring and finding things the interest us.  By the time we've done those two things, rooms are usually open.  

On 10/26/2022 at 7:14 AM, WheresWalter said:

Oh man we just found these hooks from Sail Pak that are ridiculous

I just have some plain hooks that used to be in my classroom, but we love them.  Ours are actually clips (not hooks), and they keep our desk cleared of junk (we request paper versions of the daily Compass).  One hook holds a small quantity of masks, another holds my husband's hat.  They take up next-to-no room in the suitcase and make a difference in the room.  

On 10/26/2022 at 7:49 AM, WheresWalter said:

Another tip, never buy the insurance through the cruise line

I used to think that -- and maybe it's because I'm mid-50s and my husband is almost 60, or maybe it's because my husband is a stroke survivor -- but other insurance companies are now WAY MORE EXPENSIVE than the cruise insurance.  

 

I used to say that 3rd party insurance choice companies are good because they allow you to insure JUST what you want, whereas the cruise line gives you two choices:  Yes or No.  Anyway, because we're close enough to drive, we don't really need to insure our luggage.  And our health insurance will pay out of network.  

 

I have had to cancel a cruise -- we had Royal Caribbean insurance for that cruise, and they paid fairly and quickly.  Off-topic, but we had a prime corner aft balcony for that cruise.  I've always wondered who was thrilled to get that highly coveted-room at the last minute.  

 

What everyone -- regardless of age or health status -- needs is emergency evacuation insurance.  Any of us could fall and be hurt.  Evacuation back to an American hospital is incredibly expensive -- could be literally life-changing expensive, and you don't want to make a choice between your health and your finances.  You can't afford NOT to do this.  

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2 hours ago, Mum2Mercury said:

I used to think that -- and maybe it's because I'm mid-50s and my husband is almost 60, or maybe it's because my husband is a stroke survivor -- but other insurance companies are now WAY MORE EXPENSIVE than the cruise insurance.  

 

Not sure where you're pricing your insurance these days, but most third party insurance is cheaper or at the same price as the cruise lines. The coverage offered through the cruises lines is not nearly as good as the third parties.

 

For example, a cruise line might offer $50,000 in emergency medical transport and $10,000 in emergency medical while the third party offers $500,000 transport and $50,000 emergency medical for the same amount. 

 

We never pay what the cruise lines are asking for insurance and we get better coverage elsewhere. If anything insurance rates have gone down since we started cruising with more competition. We're both 56. 

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On 10/24/2022 at 2:53 PM, WheresWalter said:

 

And to add for disembarkation day, look to see what the cruise line has for excursions that day. Most folks don't realize the cruise lines do offer excursions to 'kill time' and then they take you directly to the airport. We've done that a few times, super easy and convenient. 

When using this option, do they stow your luggage while you’re on the excursion? If not, what do you do with your bags between disembarking and checking in at the airport?

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5 minutes ago, mdkf2021 said:

When using this option, do they stow your luggage while you’re on the excursion? If not, what do you do with your bags between disembarking and checking in at the airport?

It is usually a bus tour option with airport drop off and your luggage is stored on the bus.  At some ports the airlines offer a pickup service so you can be free for the day.  Some lines  will offer a luggage service onboard with your disembarkation notices for a fee

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6 hours ago, WheresWalter said:

 

Not sure where you're pricing your insurance these days, but most third party insurance is cheaper or at the same price as the cruise lines. The coverage offered through the cruises lines is not nearly as good as the third parties.

 

For example, a cruise line might offer $50,000 in emergency medical transport and $10,000 in emergency medical while the third party offers $500,000 transport and $50,000 emergency medical for the same amount. 

 

We never pay what the cruise lines are asking for insurance and we get better coverage elsewhere. If anything insurance rates have gone down since we started cruising with more competition. We're both 56. 

I checked 3-4 companies, but it's been months -- I can't remember who I checked.  I was surprised.  

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Good advice so far, but I didn't see anything about earplugs.  They come in handy if your cabin is under the dining room when they are scooting chairs and tables at 2 A.M. and when the live band cranks the amps to high.  I swear that the band (Blood Power) almost made me deaf.  Possibly the best band that I have heard on a cruise, but definitely the loudest.

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On 10/24/2022 at 5:52 PM, WheresWalter said:

One change of clothes for dinner. Your luggage SHOULD get to your cabin before dinner time, but in case it doesn't have one fresh change of clothes for dinner. Restaurants always cut you slack on the first night so don't worry about dress code. Fresh, clean clothes always feel good at the end of embarkation day.

And if not for dinner, just in case your luggage is lost. At least you'll have *something* to wear. 

 

My recommendations/advice

  • Sometimes a car service/"limo" can be cheaper or more value than a rental car, cruise line transfer, or Uber/Lyft. You get a professional driver who helps you with your luggage, too. We've used this a few times now and overall hasn't been that much more of price premium.
  • Check if your credit card or preferred airline gives miles/points for booking with them. I use an AA credit card primarily, and American's cruise site seems to have some generous flight mile bonuses often.
  • I don't often carry cash, so what I've learned is that while the ship has an ATM consider breaking it into small bills at the casino cashier so you don't have wads of all $20's, or stop at a bank before you depart. 
  • Along the lines of day-beds at a hotel after disembark, look for "resort for a day" passes as an excursion option if that's the kind of excursion you like. They're often the same or better resorts than what the cruise line offers and for less money. Sometimes the resort might include transfer service to and from port, or it's easy enough to get a taxi at the port.
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On 10/24/2022 at 2:53 PM, WheresWalter said:

 

And to add for disembarkation day, look to see what the cruise line has for excursions that day. Most folks don't realize the cruise lines do offer excursions to 'kill time' and then they take you directly to the airport. We've done that a few times, super easy and convenient. 

What do they do with your luggage while you're on the excursion?

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Assume something is going to go wrong on the way to, during, and from your vacation- especially when pairing air + cruise as your trip. If you go in with some flexibility and a good attitude, it'll roll off easier and be much more enjoyable of an experience when something doesn't quite work out the way you thought it might.

 

I can never quite understand the folks who, by the time they walk onboard, are already super cranky and take it out on the crew. If you choose to be happy and choose to be in a vacation mindset, things will go much, much better (and the staff's drink pour will be much more generous, too).

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On 10/24/2022 at 7:06 PM, klfrodo said:

They don’t advertise these, you have to call and ask.

 

Some do! There's a website called day use that is helpful for these and has specific times listed that the room is available for. Most do have better rates than that website, but I know many folks enjoy the convenience of online booking vs calling.

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We like to bring a very small, light Bluetooth speaker to have in the room. It’s nice to listen to our choice of music in the room — not at a loud volume so as not to be heard by our neighbors.

 

We also make copies of our passport, credit cards, license —- just to have in case something would get lost.

 

🚢 We haven’t cruised since the industry started back up and we are so excited to sail away in the spring.

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