Travel

Planning Your Cruise

Look here for great tips to help you choose the perfect cruise and then get the most from your experience.

Getting the best value for your dollar
  • Book your cruise as early as possible for the best value.
  • If you are cruising alone and choose not to share your cabin, anticipate a “single's supplement” charge ranging from 10% to 100% of the per person rate.
  • Repositioning voyages can be a great bargain. When a cruise line moves a ship from one region to another between seasons, many lines offer outstanding deals.
  • If you're cruising alone, inquire as to if your line has a “guaranteed share rate.” This program finds a roommate of the same sex and avoids the addition of a “single's supplement” to your fare.
  • Discounted rates are often available during a destination's off-season. If you're flexible, look for cruises during those months.
  • A three-or four-day cruise is a quick, inexpensive way to rejuvenate your spirit.
Getting the right room
  • If you are concerned about getting seasick, the cabins with the least amount of movement are located in the middle of the ship, both vertically and horizontally.
  • Inside cabins, those that do not provide an ocean view are the least expensive way to cruise.
  • Outside cabins typically have a porthole or a window. More lavish outside cabins may have private balconies.
  • Cabins located near the ship's laundry, generator, galley or clubs tend to be a bit noisier than others.
  • If you have special needs, be sure the ship can accommodate your needs before you book.
  • Suites usually provide a separate bedroom, living area and bathroom - these are the most expensive. Some come with a private balcony.
  • Not all cruise lines have the same definition of a “suite.” Some cruise lines consider larger cabins with a curtain dividing the sitting and sleeping areas a “suite.” Be sure to investigate what type of “suite” you will be getting before you book.
Getting the cruise you want
  • If it's imperative you stay wired while onboard, check the ship's facilities before you book. Most cruise ships have an Internet café and some even have in-cabin data ports.
  • An increasing number of cruises offer accommodations for family reunions, birthdays, anniversaries, business meetings and other special events. If you have reason to celebrate, ask what packaged amenities are available.
  • Most cruises offer pre- and post-cruise packages that include accommodations, excursions and transfers. This can be an excellent way to extend your vacation.
  • If you seek relaxation, consider an itinerary that balances sea days with port days.
Being part of the crowd
  • Check the ship's demographics carefully; particularly if you are travelling alone or with children, to be certain you selected the right cruise for your family.
  • Most cruise lines offer special children's programs and activities. If you have kids, inquire about children's facilities before booking.
  • Three- or four-day cruises tend to attract younger passengers, as do cruises on weekends and school breaks.
Choosing the right ship
  • Smaller ships (accommodating 500 passengers or less) are good for an intimate environment that tends to feature highly personalized service and, often, unique itineraries.
  • Medium-size ships (accommodating between 500 and 1,000 passengers) have a fair amount of onboard activity and entertainment without the volume of people on a mega ship.
  • Large ships (accommodating over 1,000 passengers) cater to travellers who crave a variety of entertainment options, high-tech facilities and plenty of new friends.
Before you leave home
  • Identification requirements vary with every trip. Be sure to know exactly what type of I.D. you will be required to present before you go.
  • Notify the cruise ship of any special dietary restrictions or requests at least 60 days prior to departure.
  • Leave copies of your passport, airline tickets, traveller's cheques and credit cards with a family member or a friend back on the mainland.
  • Some countries require certain immunizations to enter. Discuss your travel plans with a doctor. It may be necessary to bring proof of immunizations with you.
  • If you are prone to motion sickness, consult your doctor prior to departure. Motion sickness medications (such as Dramamine and patches) often do well to curb nausea.
  • Setting up a web-based e-mail account before you depart (such as Hotmail, Yahoo or AOL) makes it easy to e-mail friends and family while you're abroad.
  • Always call to confirm your flight 24 hours prior to departure.
  • If you have any ongoing medical conditions, ask your doctor to write up a brief medical history for you to travel with.
  • When you receive your cruise documents in the mail, take the time to go over them in detail and verify that all the information is correct.
  • Double-check your flight information and airline documents for accuracy.
  • Remember, if you book “cruise only”, you are responsible for arriving at the port in time for check-in, security and departure.
  • If you plan to bring a hair dryer or an electric razor, inquire with your cruise line as to what the cabin voltage will be. You may need an adaptor.
  • Leave the ship's contact information with a friend or family member back home. This information can usually be found on the cruise line's web site or by contacting them directly by phone.
  • If you book an air/sea package and you miss the ship because of a late or cancelled flight, rest assured that the cruise line will take care of getting you to the next port.
  • Check-in and security procedures can be involved. Be sure to arrive at the embarkation area at least two hours prior to sailing. If you board early, there are plenty of activities that begin before the ship leaves port.
  • Most lines send an onboard credit card application form with the tickets. To save time, complete the form beforehand and bring it with you when you check in.
  • Some lines help you save time by allowing you to complete your immigration and embarkation forms online. Check with your cruise line.
  • You'll be given a receipt when you hand over your passport upon boarding. If not, ask for one.
  • Don't purchase duty-free alcohol to drink onboard. It is confiscated until the last day of the cruise.
  • Reading up on your ports of call (in guidebooks and on the Internet) can greatly enrich your journey. In addition, most ships have a library with information on your destinations.
  • Want to learn to scuba dive? Consider doing the class work at a local dive center before you leave and save the open water portion for your trip. This will minimize your time sitting at a desk while on vacation.
What to pack
Clothing:
  • Most ships have exercise facilities and classes. If you plan on working out, don't forget gym clothes and shoes.
  • Some cruises travel through multiple climates. Make sure to pack accordingly.
  • Life aboard a cruise ship is generally laid-back and casual. Pack for comfort.
  • Footwear should include walking/running shoes and, if you're headed some place warm, sandals.
  • Even when cruising warm weather destinations, consider packing a sweater/sweatshirt, water repellant jacket and hat.
  • Though most dining areas on larger ships have a dress code, not all do. Options outside of the main dining room, such as a pizzeria or buffet, will generally allow t-shirts, jeans and shorts.
  • When the dress code for a dining area is described as “casual,” plan to dress in “golf” attire. T-shirts, jeans and shorts are not allowed.
  • When the dress code for a dining area is described as “informal,” plan to dress “business casual”. Women generally wear dresses or pantsuits, while men usually wear lightweight jackets.
  • When the dress code for a dining area is described as “formal,” women should be prepared to wear cocktail dresses or gowns, while men should consider wearing business suits or tuxedos (though not required).
  • Most ships that have formal events offer tuxedo rental onboard, eliminating the hassle of packing one.
  • Almost every ship has laundry service (including dry cleaning), but the tab can add up. Consider bringing a small amount of detergent for washing clothes in your own cabin.
  • Most ships have powerful air conditioning. A sweater or sweatshirt may come in handy.
Necessities:
  • It's easy to forget sunscreen and sunglasses with all the excitement of an upcoming cruise. Be sure to pack them if you're travelling to a sunny destination (including Alaska).
  • Bring a camera. Don't forget extra film, memory cards, batteries, charger, etc.
  • Never pack your passport, visa, license, medications, cruise documents or airline tickets in checked luggage. Keep such items with you.
  • If you take prescription medication, be sure to pack enough for the entire voyage. Ships tend to only stock general medications and ports may not have what you need.
  • Pack a written list of your medications, including the name of the drug, dosage and times taken, in case they are lost.
  • Items to pack in your carry-on bag include: perishables, liquor, cash, credit/debit cards, jewelry, business documents, travel and health insurance information, laptops, computer disks, cell phones, cameras, binoculars, film, videotapes, CD's and cassette tapes.
  • Bring credit cards and travellers cheques instead of large amounts of cash.
Luggage:
  • It's wise to use hard-sided luggage. Garment bags with hanger hooks protruding from the top may snag and do damage.
  • Put a card with your name and address inside your luggage as well as on the outside.
On board ship:
  • Thousands of pieces of luggage come onboard at roughly the same time. Don't panic if your luggage isn't in your cabin when you arrive. It may take a few hours for it to get to your room.
  • Two-way walkie-talkies are a great way for family members to keep in touch while onboard the ship. If you don't have your own, many ships rent them for the duration of the voyage.
  • Many ships sell an “unlimited soft drink” cup for kids. If you're travelling with young ones, this can be a wise investment and save you some significant cash.
  • The onboard staff is a valuable source of information. Most have visited your ports dozens of times. Ask your cabin stewards, waiters, etc., any questions you may have.
  • Plan to spend an average of $10 USD to $15 USD a day for tips.
  • Plan on giving gratuities to waiters, headwaiters, shore guides, spa and salon experts, cabin stewards and other staff who display exceptional service.
  • Double-check that bill. Many lines add a 15% gratuity automatically to bar, beverage, wine and deck service tabs.
  • It's never wise to leave valuables out in the open in your cabin. Lock them in your luggage or see if the ship has a safe.
  • Many cruise lines offer in-cabin babysitting. Take advantage of this service.
  • Learn the exit route from your cabin to the open decks, in case of emergency.
  • Sign up for spa services, sporting events, salon appointments and other activities as early as possible.
  • In the unlikely event that you book an air/sea package and your luggage does not arrive, the airline is responsible for delivering it to the next port. Give the airline an itinerary and a list of port agents.
  • If you have any issues with your cabin, report them immediately.
  • Though not all ships offer tables for two in the dining area, yours may. If it's your preference, ask if your request can be accommodated when being seated.
  • At first, you may wish to carry the deck plan with you. Take a walk and familiarize yourself with the layout of the ship and learn how to reach your cabin from the main stairways.
  • Items that are not included in your cruise fare may include: alcoholic beverages, soft drinks not consumed at dinner, laundry, phone calls and casino gaming.
  • Got your eye on that something special in the onboard mall? Resist the urge to buy until the last day of the cruise. Many items inevitably go “on sale.”
Shore excursions:
  • Shore excursions can book up fast. If you haven't booked them before you depart, think about doing so as soon as possible after boarding.
  • Remember to budget for shore excursion expenses. Excursion prices can vary greatly depending on your port of call, cruise line and activity.
  • If you are elderly or physically challenged, check with the cruise line to make sure all the ports can accommodate your needs.
  • If you're concerned about the drinking water and food onshore, ask your cruise director or physician for recommendations. In certain ports, some items (particularly water) may be off limits.
  • You're never obligated to take an organized shore excursion. To explore a city more in depth or see something not included on an organized excursion, consider exploring on your own.
  • If you explore on your own, you may not be covered by your ship's insurance. It's wise to check the details of your ship's policy beforehand.
  • If you explore on your own, keep an eye on your watch. If you miss a launch, you'll have to meet the ship at the next port, at your expense.
  • During a shore excursion, always carry identification, the name of your ship and its docked location. Bring a photocopy of your passport with you as well.
  • Leave valuables, excess cash and unneeded credit cards aboard while on shore excursions.