Your Cruise is Booked, Now What? Part 2

ow that your cruise is booked, there are still a few more decisions to make and things to do before you actually pack those bags.

Questions about travel insurance, passports, shore excursions (or not), sea sickness (which needs to be addressed BEFORE you get on board)  need to be considered and decided upon.

First….if you haven’t yet booked your cruise, get tips on how to make those decisions and find the best bargains in Part 1 of this series:  Cruise Part 1: Finding Bargains and Booking 

HOW IMPORTANT IS TRAVEL INSURANCE?  

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Photo Credit: Ken Teegardin

While travel insurance is not something we purchase for ANY other type of travel, I absolutely recommend it for cruises.

  1. Unlike most other travel arrangements, cruises cannot be cancelled after final payment without financial loss.
  2. On a cruise, you are at the mercy of weather and decisions/events outside your control
  3. Cruises often take you OUT of the country where medical care may be harder to find or not covered by your regular health insurance.

Buy Travel Insurance!!!

The cruise lines offer insurance, but I’ve found those policies to be more expensive…with less coverage.  We purchase ours from a third party.  A good site for reviews on the various companies offering these policies, as well as tips on how to shop for a policy, what to look for, etc… is http://www.travelinsurancereview.net/

Policies can typically be purchased up to 2 weeks prior to your trip, however, to get coverage for  ‘pre-existing conditions‘, you will need to purchase your policy within a very small window of time – typically 7-14 days after the purchase of your cruise.  It’s a good idea to research insurance options simultaneously with shopping for your cruise so you can purchase the insurance within a few days of booking the cruise.

Policy costs are based on:

  1. Cost of your cruise
  2. Your age
  3. Level of coverage you opt for

The policies are really quite inexpensive but shop and compare before purchasing.  All policies are NOT equal  They all cover cancellation of your cruise, but some policies cover cancellation for SOME reasons and others cover for ANY reason.  They all have different coverage amounts for medical treatment, medical transport, lost luggage, travel delays, etc…  Obviously, the more coverage, the higher the cost.   Just find one that fits your age, your health issues/condition, and the health/medical condition of family members (as many policies cover cancellation for a death or illness of a non-traveling  family member that might interrupt your travel plans).

I read a story online recently about a woman who broke her arm in 3 places while on a Caribbean cruise.  She received medical care on the island per her insurance policy but upon returning home, had to have 2 repair surgeries due to the botched job by the hospital on the island.  Had she had premium insurance, they would have stabilized the arm, then flown her back to Miami and she would have avoided much of what she went through.  Just like anything else, you get what you pay for…  READ and ‘shop’ for your policy.

Claims:  We’ve actually submitted a claim on our insurance when travel plans were disrupted a few years ago.  We mailed receipts (needed in ALL insurance claims) and had to pay the charges upfront, but they reimbursed very quickly and with no hassle.  If we needed an incentive to always purchase insurance for cruises, THAT was it!  🙂

DO I NEED A PASSPORT?  

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Photo Credit; Craig James on Flickr CC Lic.

Obviously, if your embarkation port is out of the country, a passport is required to board your flight.  However, most cruise lines recommend passports for their passengers even when embarking from your home country or for cruises to the few Caribbean islands that don’t technically require a passport (for now).

Why??  If  you require medical or emergency transport or have to fly home for any reason during your cruise, you will NOT be allowed to board an aircraft in a foreign country without a passport.  Keep in mind, even an Alaskan cruise from a U.S. port cruises alongside Canada – which is a ‘foreign country’ to U.S. citizens. 🙂  An adult passport costs $110 but this is one expense that’s worth the cost….and these are valid for 10 years so could be used for several cruises. 🙂 🙂

NOTE:  For cruises departing from U.S. ports, the passport must be valid for 90 days from the END of your cruise.  Be aware, however, the ’90 day’ requirement is a U.S. requirement.  If you are cruising from another country, it can be up to 6 months – or more.  Find the information you need on this topic at http://m.state.gov/md231319.htm

ANOTHER NOTE: Make 2-3 copies of your passport’s information page.  Leave 1 copy with someone at home.  The 2nd copy is to take with you into ports (We leave our original passports in the cabin safe).  Another option is to scan the passport and e-mail (webmail) it to yourself so it can be accessed through any computer or smartphone. Some say that carrying the hard copy on shore is still a good idea even if doing this.  Bottom line is that there are varying opinions on whether to ‘take it (passport) on shore’ or ‘not take it on shore’…  I personally feel safer having copies with us….and originals in the safe.  We’ve never run into any problems. 

Children and Passports:  Children need passports just as adults.  It’s less expensive, but the child’s passport only lasts 5 years.  I’ve written an entire post on cruising with children as there are a few other restrictions/requirements that parents need to be aware of.  Cruising with Children

GETTING TO THE PORT

Whether you’re driving or flying to the port, plan to arrive at your port city the night BEFORE you board if possible. You don’t want flight delays or car issues to cause you to miss the ship!!  These situations are outside your control….Don’t Risk It.  🙂

23 Hawaii G12 213FLYING: If you are flying, you can either purchase your own airfare, or purchase airfare FROM the cruise line. In the past, airfare purchased from the cruise line was VERY expensive, but that may not necessarily be the case anymore. Where I’ve previously not taken the time to check their prices, I am now beginning to at least give them a look. What I have found in my recent research though is that that devil is in the details…meaning, it’s the fine print that can get you into trouble. An important question to ask is ‘When am I ticketed’ – that can determine how easy it is to change/cancel if flights are changed or cancelled or choose your airline, flight times and route….and how moderately sure you can be that the flight you buy is still ‘there’ on flight day. Of course as with anything purchased from the cruise line, the advantage is that if there are any delays or problems, the CRUISE LINE will get you to the ship at their expense.  However, travel insurance will do the same thing…

Bottom Line:  Read the fine print before buying your airfare from the cruiseline.    On our upcoming cruise, I checked with Princess on their EZAir….I’m buying it on my own.

Photo Credit: Ryan Dingman on Flickr under CC Lic.

DRIVING;   For drivers, parking your car is the next decision you’ll need to make.

  • Search ‘parking while cruising’ in your port city to find not only the parking lots run by the Port but also any independent parking facilities (usually cheaper) that may have online coupons or discounts. (typically no coupons for parking lots run by ports…)  Reservations typically will secure a better rate than renting on the spot.  These lots will have varied levels of security, fencing/covering or surveillance/monitoring. Check their websites or call with your list of questions.

    Houston Bayport Terminal

    Houston Bayport Terminal

NOTE TO SELF ON CRUISE DAY:  🙂  After parking, write down or put in your phone the location of your car in the parking lot.  If you have trouble remembering a parking place at the mall for the afternoon, imagine what it will be like after a 5 – 7 – 12 day cruise.  🙂

  • Find a hotel that allows you to park in their lot for free (or at a discounted rate)  if you stay with them before the cruise.  Some have shuttles to the port (possibly for a fee); others will require you to get a taxi (which may STILL be less than paying for parking). Even if you pay a little more for the hotel and transport, free parking may balance it out.  The disadvantage is that though the lots may be ‘busy’ and well lit…they probably aren’t ‘secure or ‘locked’.  Another thing we think about is door dings on our car…Cruise parking lots open and close on embarkation/debarkation day only. The rest of the time vehicles are parked and no one is door dinging anyone.  Hotel parking lots, on the other hand, have cars in and out constantly.  It’s a choice you have to make.
  • Some hotels are starting to ‘rent’ their parking places to any cruisers…not just those staying with them the night before.  This is a new practice, but worth checking into.  They typically will shuttle you to the port.  The disadvantage to parking at a hotel, again, is that the lots are not ‘secured’ and there are higher chances of door dings or damage.

HERE’S A NOTE TO CONSIDER:   If you drive to the terminal and the ship is not in port….do NOT park and go in!  How do I know this?  We were ON the ship the day it was 14 hrs. late returning to port (fog) and people were sitting in the terminal  (with no food) 12-14 hrs.  The ship was still out to sea….but they still got in line to board.  Just by way of information….You can’t board a ship that’s NOT THERE!!!  🙂  Watch the port cams on your phone and find something to do until it IS there….go sightseeing, go shopping, have coffee…   Be aware that after the ship gets to port, it will take a minimum of 2-3 hrs. to disembark the current passengers.  The Port Authority/Customs, as well as the crew, will need a little time before they begin boarding new passengers.  That’s the time frame you have.

GETTING TO THE CRUISE TERMINAL ON THE DAY OF YOUR CRUISE:

You have several options for getting to the terminal if you’ve flown in:

  • Transfers purchased from the cruise line from airport to cruise terminal
  • taxi or Uber
  • rental car (This may be the most complicated and expensive as you pay to rent a car, then pay to park that car…   However, in some cases, it may STILL be cheaper than buying transfers from the cruise line.  Comparison shop!
  • Stay in a hotel that offers shuttle service from airport to hotel to terminal.  Some hotels offer this service free while others charge.

 A Word About Sea Sickness:

This is something you need to think about BEFORE you board the ship.  Though most cruise lines dispense motion sickness pills to passengers free, do you really WANT to go to the medical facilities (where there may be people with Norovirus et al) to get them?  The generic versions are fairly inexpensive at Walmart, et al….  It’s just best to bring your own.

There are several remedies…

  • Pills:  Dramamine, Bonine  (generic -Meclizine & Dimenhydrinate)  We always purchase generics at  HALF the price – they are the EXACT same medication.  Confirm this by comparing ingredients on the box/bottle or speaking to your pharmacist.  The drawbacks to the pills are that they must be swallowed (when you’re nauseous), must be taken every 8-12 hours AND they tend to make you drowsy.  If you opt for the pills, CERTAINLY take the first dose BEFORE boarding!!!
  • Transderm Patches:  The Transderm Scop Patch  is MY choice.  These are ‘behind the ear’ patches applied the night before (or morning of) your cruise.  They require a prescription.  🙂  The package USED to contain 4 patches, but recently we were able to purchase them singly. (check with your pharmacy)  Each patch lasts 4-5 days.  Read and follow the instructions for application carefully. On longer cruises, we often don’t apply the 2nd patch mid-cruise unless we actually need to. Typically, after those first 4-5 days, we’ve gotten our ‘sea legs’ and motion sickness isn’t a problem. The problem starts when we get OFF the ship!!  🙂
  • SeaBands:  These bands apply pressure to pressure points on the wrist.  I have never personally used them but have spoken with others we’ve met on cruises who swear by their effectiveness. It’s a more natural approach if that is your preference.
  • Natural Remedies:candied ginger
    • Candied Ginger:  Some ships offer this with after-dinner mints.
    • Green apples can help alleviate nausea.  Some cruise lines carry these on board JUST FOR THAT PURPOSE.
    • Orange rind.  Peel an orange and hold the rind to your nose and inhale.   Nice smell too!!  🙂

I can’t personally vouch for these ideas, but am willing to try them on our next cruise.  I’m always looking for a more natural approach….as long as it works 🙂 

SHORE EXCURSIONS

Shore excursions can either be purchased from the cruise line or from vendors directly either before your cruise or on the pier after you dock.

PURCHASING FROM THE CRUISE LINE: These excursions are typically over-priced however, some cruise lines (Carnival and Princess for certain) will price match if you find an excursion you purchased from them for less. For a long time, cruise line were the only one who would guarantee to get you back to the ship if a delay on a shore excursion caused you to miss sailing time. However, local vendors have realized the business they were losing because of this and have started offering that same guarantee.   Another advantage to purchasing from them is that if for any reason the port stop is cancelled, you won’t be charged for that excursion. Local vendors MAY offer that protection – just ask them. There also may be a little more ‘security’ in ports deemed risky by the US State Dept.  (Check their website for more info on this) The remaining advantage to purchasing from the cruise line is that you may get an earlier disembark time or preferential treatment in that process from the cruise line.  As with everything else, you have to weigh the advantages and disadvantages to make your decisions.  We usually purchase from the cruise line in Mexico/Central America, but find great deals on our own when in Alaska or Canada (and possibly Europe).

NOTE:  If you choose to book with the cruise line, it will be less stressful to do so BEFORE you board.  Lines are long at the “Shore Excursion” desk and the more popular choices tend to fill up quickly.  Lines and disappointment are NOT how you want to spend your first day on board.

PURCHASING EXCURSIONS ON YOUR OWN:  As mentioned above, purchasing on your own is typically less expensive and with the venders now offering the guarantee of  getting you back to the ship at their expense if there are delays causing you to miss the ship, they are becoming more and more ‘attractive’ to cruisers. Always ask the vendor what their cancellation policy is if the ship skips the port (weather or other things outside your control).  You don’t want to be charged if you have no control over what happens.  Just read the fine print, check their policies and get pertinent answers in writing before purchasing anything.

WARNING: Be very cautious about giving your credit card number out when traveling to certain areas of the world.  If purchasing at the pier, cash is your best option.

 ONE MORE NOTE:

If you plan to use your credit card outside of the country, call your credit card company to let them know.  (NOTE:  Use your credit card with caution!!!  Cash is always safe.) Credit card charges from out of the country will set off red flags on your account.  When that happens, the company will attempt to contact you, but chances are, you won’t be able to receive that call (cell phone is turned off; landline has no one there to answer).  While on the phone with them, talk to them about other safe guards to protect you when traveling outside the country.

Make a copy of the front AND BACK of the credit card(s) that you will take with you.  Keep that copy in the room safe. (remember….it has your #)   If your card is stolen, you will not only need the CC number but also the 1-800 number to report it.  Though that number is available online, if you find yourself in that situation, believe me…anything that makes your next steps easier and less stressful will be good.

Other Posts on Cruising:

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