If you are like me and want to know everything before going on your first ocean-going cruise, then I have it all covered for you here. With some of these simple tips, the excitement and anxiousness of leaving land behind will make your cruise sailing run much smoother.
Before your cruise:
Cruising is one of the most convenient ways to see the world lying in the coastal areas and meet new people while doing it all in a very relaxed manner. No hotel rooms to change, you only unpack and pack once and don’t have to worry about getting from one port to another.
1. Do some homework - ask yourself the following questions to better understand what is your cruise style and that of others travelling with you.
- Are you interested in the time spent at the ports or on the ship?
- Do you want a brand new ship with all the best amenities or one that will take you where you want to go?
- Do you prefer a large ship, which means 3000+ guests or a much smaller intimate experience
- What part of the world do you want to go and when is the best time to go there?
Consider - weather, peak tourist season, economy, political situation, and other factors as that may impact what you want to see and experience.
2. Planning - consider the type of rooms you want to book that best suit your needs. While it is possible to score some great last-minute deals in non-peak seasons. Most of these deals do no included room selection, once you add on your room selection the price very quickly starts to creep up. If you want to go with the rooms offered by the cruise line on the sale price indicated - there are chances that you may not like the location and type of room.
- Are you prone to sea-sickness? Then book a cabin in the middle of the ship, not too high up.
- Are you travelling with children? Ensure your cabin configuration will give you the most space.
- Are you after the views? Get a balcony cabin with unobstructed views
- Are you sensitive to noise from public spaces like elevators, restaurants, theatres, bars etc? Make sure to book a cabin that is sandwiched between other passenger decks.
- If you need more than one room and want to be on the same deck, make sure to let your travel advisor know about this.
- Do you want early or late dining? There are many dining options but if you prefer the traditional sit-down dining, then choose this according to your preference of timing. Take into account if you want to watch shows after dinner - those generally start around 7:30 pm.
Many travellers book vacations months in advance and even up to a year when considering world cruises.
It is crucial to buy travel insurance through a company that gives you the security that you can get a refund. These days even cruise lines are offering travel insurance that covers trip cancellation, trip interruption, lost/delayed baggage, missed flight connections, emergency medical transportation in addition to medical coverages.
If you are employed and have travel coverages through work - those will cover all aspects mentioned above except for trip cancellation and interruptions.
3. Consider pre & post-cruise activities - are your embarkation and disembarkation ports different and you have never been there? Then this calls for some pre & post planning activities so you can get the most of your visit in these cities.
- Whenever possible, it is always advisable to fly in a day early and stay in a hotel with the vicinity of the cruise port.
- Most cruise lines have preferred rates with hotels near cruise terminals that also have shuttles to take passengers to and from the ship.
- Most cruise lines also have pre & post-cruise tours - this is an excellent way to spend time in the new city. Your travel advisor can make all these arrangements for you.
4. Reserve ahead - once your cruise is booked, consider reserving (at least - some cruise lines allow this) or booking shore excursions, spa treatments, tickets for exclusive onboard shows and specialty dining restaurants. These can also be done onboard but doing it before boarding will save you time standing int he customer service line-ups or on the phone. Once reservations are made, you can always adjust the times, cancel or switch things around with your online login. All these can be done months in advance of the cruise start date.
- Check on beverage packages included in your fare or do you need to buy that
- Check if you require an internet connection - buying a package is more advantageous
5. What to pack - space is a premium onboard ship unless you are in a suite, storage in the cabins are limited. Some packing guidelines are:
- Make a packing list
- Include at least one night of formal wear
- Include at least 2 nights of semi-formal wear
- Plenty of sunscreens, extra bathing suits, hat and sunglasses for warm-weather cruises
- Pack layers, outerwear and comfortable shoes for cold weather cruises
- All your prescriptions and over-the-counter medications
- Enough sundries
- Pack a change of clothing, toiletries, medications in your carry-on when boarding - the checked luggage may not show up in your room well after dinner.
Most items like over-the-counter medications, sundries, sunscreen are available onboard and ports of call but those can be pricey and the brands you use may not be available.
During your cruise:
Now you are onboard and checked into your cabin of choice, devoured on some delicious servings of food.
Let’s get some safety checks done.
1. Safety Drill - this is mandatory for every cruise line regulated by the Maritime Authority to hold a safety drill before sailing out of port. So grab your life jackets (it is those orange jackets you will find on your cabin storage shelves - if you don’t have enough for each one of you - just let your room steward know). Gather at your pre-assigned muster station for instructions on what to do in the vent of an emergency.
It is crucial that you go over these safety instructions with elders and children in your group and have a plan in place. Children must be well attended at all times, no hanging on railings and balconies. Adults should also stay off railing and balconies after excessive drinking.
Always carry the ship’s information with you, in the event you need to get in touch with the ship staff.
If you are exploring ports on your own, make sure to be back on board by the posted ‘all aboard’ sign.
2. Shopping - I have several shelves full of mementos from our first 5 cruises and then we also brought back mementos for family & friends back home.
- Ensure what you are buying adheres to the customs regulations back home or you will have to leave those behind
- Any alcohol purchase will be held by the cruise staff until the end of the cruise
- Mindful when buying wood carvings - some countries do not allow those in due to the risk of transporting insects etc in the carvings
- Souveniers sold onboard can be pricey as well as those sold close to ports.
3. Onboard Spending/add-ons - your cruise fare includes meals in the main dining rooms, buffets, entertainment, room service (in some cases) and most public space. It does not include:
- alcoholic drinks, soft drinks and specialty coffees & teas
- Shore excursions
- Spa treatments & use of thermal baths etc
- Cover charges for specialty restaurants
- Internet services
These are add-on services that can be prepaid prior to the cruise or bought onboard. It is always a good idea to keep a tab of your onboard spending, since each guest has a credit card on file, every add-on purchase gets charged the cabin. Your onboard account information can be requested at the customer service desk or printed at kiosks available throughout the ship - this can help manage stick shock when settling the final bill on the last day. It also gives you an opportunity to review all charges and dispute any that you do not agree to instead of waiting until the final day - the line ups at the customer service desk on the last day can be extremely long.
3. Did you like the cruise experience - hopefully you enjoyed it and want to do it more often. Most cruise lines will offer guests that are already onboard discounts for booking future cruises. Takeup on those discounts if you enjoyed the cruise line, just let the agent taking your deposit know to add your travel advisor’s name on the booking - this will allow your travel advisor to handle the booking on your behalf once you are back on land and ready to book.
Some cruise lines also allow you to put down reduced deposits - even if you don’t know where you want to go, these deposits generally do not expire for four years.
There are also benefits to sailing repeatedly with the same cruise line, including discounts and freebies depending on cruise lines and level of loyalty points. The more you sail with a particular cruise line the better the perks get.
After your cruise:
You are back home, unpacked and ready to get back on with life and possibly dreaming about another cruise to another part of the world.
Your travel advisor can play a very crucial role in ensuring that you have a seamless cruise experience. They are experienced in cruise bookings and can handle an aspect of your cruise booking from the time you decide to go to when you come back home.
Stay tuned for my tips on river cruising...