Alaska Cruise – Skagway AK

We were up early this morning too…to catch yet another sunrise.  Those are addictive!!

However….The fog rolled in earlier today…then turned into rain.

Today we were in Skagway….the jumping off point for the Klondike Highway.  The town itself is part of the Klondike Nat’l Historical Park – complete with a Visitor Center, museum, and Ranger-led tours/activities, etc….

Our plan for today would include driving (I’ll explain why we chose rental car over train in a bit…) the Klondike Hwy stopping frequently – and going as far as Emerald Lake, then returning to Skagway to explore the Nat’l Park.  As is our custom, we would cram as much as we possibly could into our 13 hrs in port… (we arrived in port 5:30am, but that was a mite TOO early to get off the ship…especially with the rain. …and we were enjoying sunrises anyway. )  We got off the ship about 7:45.     

Donned in our down coats, hats, AND a raincoat over everything we walked the 6 blocks (actually, we ran…) to Avis where our rental car was.

Here we go…odometer is set to ‘zero’ to match up with my Murray’s Guide and we’re heading out of town.

Murray’s Guide is a mile-marker guide of the Klondike Highway.   It can be purchased online (download) for $5 and with that purchase, you get a discount at Yukon Suspension Bridge and Tutshi Sled Dog Tours.  If those are part of your plan, it’s DEFINTELY worth $5 for the Guide.  HOWEVER, the author has also put on the website a FREE version.  It’s more compact, but we didn’t think we’d have time to tour those discounted locations so this ‘free’ version was enough for us.  As with the Treadwell Mine guide yesterday, I copy/pasted this to a document and edited it down to manageable size – from 8 pages down to 4.  Avis also sent me an abbreviated mile-by-mile guide several weeks before our trip and I added parts of that to my ‘edited’ version as well… I ended up with a pretty comprehensive guide….   That, along with a simple 1 page map from a brochure I received in the mail was all we needed for our day. (There’s not much chance of getting ‘lost’ on the Klondike Hwy as there’s really only 1 highway with a few spur roads…but  don’t expect to rely on GPS…   There’s very little if any data connection a few miles out of Skagway)

Driving the Klondike Highway:

The first stop I had ‘planned’ was Gold Rush Cemetary and the trail head to Lower Reid Falls.  It was still raining pretty heavily as we drove by that pull off so we decided to catch that on our way BACK…

From there, we just kept an eye on the odometer and constantly referred to my printed guide.  There were many pullouts –  everything from waterfalls to rivers to lakes to the William Moore asymmetrical bridge…and multiple historic sites about the Klondike gold rush and trails or Venus Mine.  The views were spectacular and the Murray’s Guide gave us information about what we were seeing.

We crossed into Canada around M15….which means the “Welcome to Alaska” sign was on the opposite side of the road.  I knew we needed to get our photo THEN….and I was right.  When we came back that way, there were buses, shuttles and cars lined up with many people waiting for their chance at a photo with the sign. 

We didn’t actually go through Canadian Customs until M22.  This was a pretty painless stop…they asked us why we were there, and when we told them we were cruise ship passengers, they waved us through…  I guess there’s not much chance of cruise passengers over-staying their welcome.  NOTE:  YOU MUST HAVE PASSPORTS FOR THIS DAY’S DRIVE….TO GET INTO CANADA!!!!  (This is one worth writing down – IN RED…to make sure you remember!! haha) 

This is the Thompson River  (approx M20) and the WP&YR Railroad.  I had hoped to be here when the train crossed, but didn’t know exactly HOW to ‘plan’ for that.  How lucky were we??    🙂  

Many recommend the WP&YR  as a “Must Do” activity in Skagway. It sounds wonderful in all the descriptions…and everyone who does it raves about it.  However, that was not what we chose to do.  In our ‘shopping’ for a way to see the Klondike, we realized that our desire was to be able to stop, see, gaze,  all on our own ‘schedule’.  The only way to do that is with a rental car.  

All the ‘train excursions’ (there are several ways to do it…train round trip…train/bus combination, shuttles or vans, etc…) don’t stop at all…no time for ‘gazing’ or ‘enjoying’.    That…plus the fact that our rental car for the day driving all the way to Emerald Lake was the cost of ONE train ticket to ONLY go to Carcross, was enough for us to know that car rental was the best choice for us.

The road follows the Tutshi River then Tutshi Lake for 10 miles.  The fireweed (that we learned about a couple of days ago from the Naturalist on board) is showing the ending of summer…

Tutshi Lake

Tutshi Lake

 

The “Welcome to the Yukon” sign is at M50.  We took THAT picture on the route TO Carcross as well.  – All the pullouts were much busier in the afternoon so I advise to take any photos you want in the morning!!  

 

Bove Island and Tagish Lake….one of the highlights of the drive… Bove Island & Tagish LakeM59

 

When we arrived at Carcross, we decided to go on past it…to our furthest point, Emerald Lake…and work our way back.  That turned out to be a good decision because not more than 20 min. after we got back to Carcross and parked, the train arrived.  Seeing it steam into town was quite exciting!  🙂 🙂

Carcross Desert - Klondike Hwy

 

Carcross Desert 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emerald Lake  Emerald Lake M 73

 

Carcross:

Carcross is 66 miles from Skagway.  Going on to Emerald Lake made our drive 75 miles (one way) that day.  We really didn’t want to go any further than that as there is a potential for fog….dense enough to limit visibility to 5 ft.  That could make the drive back to Skagway long and dangerous.  We didn’t want to risk that happening….  Also, the ‘word on the street’ is that there’s really nothing past Emerald Lake spectacular enough to warrant the extra time, drive and ‘risk’.

Carcross is a small town on the Klondike Highway.  It has built up to accommodate the tourists coming to town by the droves.  There is a school, Post Office,  General Store, etc…and even a Hotel  and city pool.    The place we HAD to find was the Sourdough Bakery. She was selling her cinnamon rolls for half price by the time we arrived…Thankfully, she accepted USD as that was all we had (This IS Canada…)  

We watched the train come into the station…stepped into a few shops and had a bite of lunch…followed of course, by that delectable  cinnamon roll.  🙂

After that, it was time to head back to Skagway….the Nat’l Park museum, Vis. Center et al would close at 5:30.  🙂

We got some pretty good photos on our drive back…with better light, less fog.  In fact….several of the photos I’ve posted above were actually taken on this drive back to Skagway.

We got back to town about 4 pm and headed straight to the Visitor Center.

Klondike Gold Rush Nat’l Historic Park:

The entire town of Skagway is part of the Nat’l Park system.  In addition to the Visitor Center/museum, etc…there are several houses and historical buildings open for tours.  Unfortunately, they closed at 5:30 and we ran out of time so didn’t get to go in them.   We started at the Visitor Center…then went into the museum next door.   It was very small…but gave a pretty good overview of the gold rush, miners and the Chilkoot Trail.  After watching the film, the Nat’l Park service buildings were closing so we just walked around town a little bit…darted into the Red Onion Saloon for a quick look, then decided to drive over to Dyea and walk a bit of the Chilkoot Trail before re-boarding the ship.

The Chilkoot Trail is the trail the minors took to get to the gold fields – it’s 33 miles long, but we like to walk trails like this…for just a little way to say we’ve ‘done it’.   🙂  Dyea was about 6-7 miles east of Skagway but not long after we turned onto Dyea Road, it turned to gravel.  Gravel roads were forbidden by Avis Car Rental.  We debated what to do, (hmm….)  but finally decided we’d better just turn around.  On the way back we stopped at a scenic pullout – for views of Skagway and the harbor….and of course, our ship.    IMG_6853The Star Princess was at Railroad Dock Forward.  That’s the furthest dock in this photo.

After returning to town and returning the rental car, we got back on the ship.  It had been a wonderful day…but very full and we were exhausted!!!!

We had not planned to eat in the Dining Room that night  as we didn’t ‘plan’ to be back on the ship that early.  But since we’d missed a night there when we stayed out to see whales on Ketchikan day, we decided to make up for it tonight.  🙂

What a GOOD decision this was!!!  Crab legs and Crème Brule were on the menu!!

After dinner, we just relaxed, unpacked our day packs, etc…and turned our sites on tomorrow.  Tomorrow we’d be in Glacier Bay.  We were due to pick up the Nat’l Park Rangers at 6:15…but the Naturalist had told us to be out by 5:30am…It would be ANOTHER very early day as we saw “All Things Alaska”.

Nope….no time for entertainment…or art sales…or MUTS (Movies Under the Stars).  The Finale for the Voice of the Ocean was tonight….we missed that one too….  We were busy every minute with “Alaska”…and if we weren’t ‘busy’, we were exhausted from all the ‘busy-ness’.  It was time for bed!   🙂

 

Budget:

The cruise lines and tour companies offer as many options for going up the Klondike Hwy as there are people to buy them. There are tours that take the train round trip, bus one way and train the other.  Shuttles…vans…either with or without a train trip one way.  They have tours that include gold panning…or lunch….stops at dog sledding, Fraser or Bennett….and on and on.  The options are somewhat overwhelming.

Prices for these range from $45pp for the basics of a trip to M14…. to $229pp for round trip train to Carcross.  However…NONE of them go all the way to Emerald Lake that I could tell.

We rented a car for $125 + fuel for the day…   We were able to go not only PAST Carcross to Emerald Lake and Carcross Desert, but stop as we wished throughout the day…and before returning the car, drive up to that scenic overlook for views of Skagway.

Yeah…I’m a huge cheerleader for the “renting a car” option.  🙂

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Alaska Cruise: Juneau AK

This is on Caribbean Princess, but the Terrace pool is basically the same on all Grand Class ships

 

We were up early and out at the Terrace Pool (aft) to see the sunrise again this morning.  At 6 am it was beautiful…by 7:30 the fog had rolled in and you couldn’t see 5 ft off the side of the ship.  Have I said it before??  At this time of year, the fog MAY roll in around 7-7:30am…to see the ‘beautiful stuff’, you have to be up before the fog.

 

 

 

 

Juneau:  Juneau is the capital of Alaska…and one of the things that makes it so unique is that it is ONLY accessible via air…or water.  There is a highway going through Juneau…it goes 37 miles, then ends. There’s an airport…with LOTS of floatplanes…and of course, the Alaska Ferry provides transportation for many…but you can’t drive TO Juneau.

We docked at Franklin St. Dock. (where Princess docks most frequently)  It’s not the ‘closest’ one to town but is still  within walking distance (if not mobility challenged).  We disembarked at 8 and walked to Mt Roberts Tramway…about 6-7 blocks??  We had purchased our Tramway tickets through Princess with our On Board Credit (part of the 3-For-Free from Princess when we booked).

Mt Robert’s Tramway:  The “official word” from many tourists about the tramway is to not go up if it’s cloudy or foggy…however, because the ticket would allow us unlimited trips all day long, we decided to go ahead and purchase it.  Once at the top we were ABOVE the fog…and had a rather nice view.  By arriving there early, we avoided many of the crowds that LINED UP later in the day – and we didn’t have to vie for window space for photos (the windows ‘swing’ open btw…)  There is an extensive trail system at the top and we walked a small bit of it…far enough to got some great views of Juneau and the harbor (with our ship in it) below but then came down off the mountain…we had many things to see and do – No time to waste!

photo taken from the trail – Mt Roberts Tramway

 

This is Juneau (on the left),  the Douglas Island Bridge crossing the Gastineau Channel…and Douglas on the right…  (where Treadwell Mine is)

 

 

 

When we got off the mountain, we transported to AJ Dock and Juneau Rental Cars.  Juneau Rental Cars rents older model, higher mileage cars…for FAR less than the name brand companies in town.  An additional benefit to renting from them was ‘location’.  This summer, the hotel that housed the downtown offices for  ‘another namebrand company’  was closed for remodel.  All reservations defaulted to the airport.  Getting there would involve either a city bus ride (time consuming BOTH ways) or taxi (quite expensive…) That’s when I found Juneau Rental Cars. Once I solved the problem of how to get to them (if there’s a ship at AJ Dock, there will be a shuttle from the Vis. Ctr ) our decision was made. From AJ Dock, it’s a 1 block walk to the office. We had no trouble with our ‘older model, higher mileage’ car.  It got us where we needed to go…and did so at a very good rate.

First Stop:  Mendenhall Glacier – about 12 miles out of town. The Visitor Center had large viewing windows…exhibits and a film.  There are several hikes, but the two we took were Photo Point Trail and Nugget Falls Trail.

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Photo Point Trail (.3 mi one way) gave us a straight on view of both Falls and Glacier.

 

 

 

Nugget Falls Trail  (1 mi  one way) is a spur off of the Photo Point Trail- and provided an  ‘up close and personal ‘ view of the falls with the glacier behind.  It’s possible to get all the way UP to the water (if you choose???)  We didn’t get quite that close….  🙂

 

On the drive back to town on Egan Hwy, we stopped for lunch.  We passed several local diners, but were a little apprehensive about stopping someplace without knowing anything about it…so we just opted for  McDonalds.   That was fine though…fast food and wi-fi. 🙂

Then, it was on to DIPAC McCauley Salmon Hatchery.  (DIPAC)  A tour had just begun as we arrived and we were instructed to join them in process.  I wish we had waited for the next tour as we missed some good information joining that way…

The guide took us through the life cycle of the salmon from hatching to release, showing us all the tanks and describing how the salmon are cared for at each stage.  There are self-explanatory exhibits along the way as well…and viewing from above the tanks and ladder – or viewing windows to see below the water.  Quite a bit of what we learned today ‘explained’ what we saw yesterday in Ketchikan.   It was a good stop…

Inside the building, there were a few exhibits – and a touch tank.  Though the touch tank was more geared to kids, the guide invited us all over to ‘touch’.  🙂  I found out that the ‘spikes’ on these creatures are actually all for ‘show’….they’re soft even though quite ominous ‘looking’.

 

Next Stop:  Crossing Douglas Island Bridge (10th Street)  to Douglas Island..and the Treadwell Mine.

Treadwell Mine is (was) the largest gold mine of all time – producing $70 million in gold 1883-1917.  Then in 1917 after a particularly high tide, within 3 1/2 hrs, the sides caved in and approx. 3 million tons of seawater filled the mines…all but destroying the operation there.  (a few mines further away stayed open until 1922 but it was never the operation it had been)   There is now a Historical trail – with numbered markers denoting point of interest,  foundations, stamp mills, vaults, and even a few shells of buildings through the area.  Full descriptions of the markers can be found at:  http://www.juneau.org/parkrec/facilities/documents/TreadBroch1.pdf    Not knowing if I’d be able to access info on my phone, I copied/pasted this info into a document then edited it down to a manageable size (it was 11 pages when I started…3 pgs when I finished)…and brought it.  I was SO glad I had done that as there were no brochures/pamphlets to explain anything we were seeing.  NOTE: The one thing I failed to keep in my edited version was the map of the area.  I assumed the path and markers would be self-explanatory. The paths intertwined and the map would have been helpful.

We were basically alone on this peaceful trail….other than locals walking their dogs.  This isn’t a top tourist attraction like Mendenhall….which is part of the reason we enjoyed it so.  🙂

Our original plan for the evening was to go BACK up Mt Robert’s Tramway (the ticket offers unlimited rides that day) to photograph the area in the evening light.  However, we decided we’d rather get back on the ship to see/hear Libby Riddles (first female Iditarod Champion…).  We returned the rental, transported back to the main square…walked the 6 blocks to the ship and got on board.

Libby Riddles Presentation was at 7 pm that evening.   I was a little surprised to see how many were there considering that “All Aboard” wasn’t until 8:45.

She is quite an interesting lady…left home at 16 to come to Alaska…got her GED (she hadn’t yet graduated high school), lived among the natives for 6 yrs, and learned how to breed  and train her own dogs.  She went on to win the Iditarod (first female to do so)  in 1985.  She is a primary presenter for Princess cruises – boards all of their ships in Juneau to meet and talk with passengers about mushing, the dogs, the Iditarod…and to autograph her books.  It’s truly a ‘must see’ on any Princess cruise (imho)

The remainder of our evening was getting a bite to eat…and winding down the day -and preparing for tomorrow.  We went back to our stateroom, unpacked and repacked our day bag for tomorrow, watched sail away and read about sites and wonders tomorrow in Skagway in our Alaska Cruise Companion

Budget:  Princess Excursions to do what we did today:

  • Mendenhall Glacier  – $45 pp.
  • Mendenhall WITH the Hatchery and Glacier Gardens (a botanical garden) was $85pp.
  • There were a few private excursion companies offering shuttles to Mendenhall for $30pp.  The best I can tell, those can change year to year as companies ‘come and go’….  Prices seem to stay pretty consistent.
  • Mt Roberts Tramway tickets were the same price either from the cruise line or at the Tramway gate….   We purchased ours from PCL and used our OBC (On Board Credit) so for us, they were ‘basically free’ …

There are no excursions to Treadwell Mine.

Transportation Costs: (for Do It Yourself tours):

  • Taxi to Mendenhall:  $35 each way
  • Public Transit $2pp each trip:  This past season, Capital Transit (Blue/White Bus)  dropped visitors off 1.5 mi from the Mendenhall Vis. Ctr and you had to walk that distance there and back.  (I have not been able to find that information recently- perhaps because tourist season is over and there’s no info for next year yet ??)  Public Transit goes to Douglas Island and ‘close’ to Treadwell Mine – drops off .5 mi from the Mine/Trail area.

Our rental car FOR THE DAY was $60 + fuel.  We could go anywhere or to as many places as we chose.  (and it was nice to have a place to stash day bag, coats/jackets, etc…and not have to carry them everywhere we went).  Transportation to pick up and drop off the car was free.

 

 

Alaskan Cruise: Ketchikan, AK

Today started very early….out on our balcony watching the ship come into port.

The sail into Ketchikan is something to see…We were scheduled to arrive at 6:30 but the Naturalist told us yesterday it would actually be 5:30.  We were out by 5:29  🙂   The lights of the sleepy little town against the backdrop of the mountains created quite a picturesque scene!!

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After breakfast (at the back of Horizon Court of course)  we gathered our things and got off the ship – as soon as they opened up the gangway!

Ketchikan gets on average 340 day of rain/year. Our forecast today according to the Princess Patters was sunny with light clouds, high of 66.  Yes…we were there on one of the 25 ‘dry days’.  🙂

Ketchikan has TWO Claims to Fame:  Salmon Capital of the World…and  World’s Largest Collection of Totem Poles.  There’s also the Tongass Trading Company with it’s FABULOUS jackets, raincoats, & hoodies at incredible prices…if there’s time…

Our plans today would encompass BOTH of Ketchikan’s highlights.  We would take the city bus to Totem Bight State Park to see the totem poles, then come back to town to walk Creek Street and see the salmon.  (hopefully leaving just enough time for a quick run into Tongass Trading Co…)

Finding the ‘right’ place to catch the ‘right’ bus to go north of town proved to be somewhat challenging…but with a few questions (and a few wrong answers… haha) we finally found it.   When the bus driver let us off, he told us when to be back to catch the returning bus (buses only run every hour so catching that returning bus would be QUITE IMPORTANT!!!)

There were 3 options for seeing totem poles that day;  we chose Totem Bight because of their authentic restored poles…and their scenic location on the waterfront. At the entrance, we received a brochure with a map and descriptions/story behind each pole.  Then…there’s the Clan House – Now…everything I’d read previously said that only those on official tours were allowed into the Clan House.IMG_6555 However, the woman at the gate told us that if there was a tour inside there, to just go in.  If anyone said anything to us, to reply “The lady at the gate said it was ok if we enter…”  When we got to the Clan House, there was a IMG_6560tour group there.  We went in quietly and no one said anything to us.

I liked being on our own, though.  We went at our own pace, read the brochure for information, and only joined a group when we wanted to. (Within half an hour there were 5-6 tour groups there)  It DID seem that  a lot of the guides were telling little stories or antidotes…which was usually when we’d leave the group.  🙂

 

We kept an eye on the time and were  back at the bus stop 10 min. before the bus was due to arrive  (we couldn’t take any chances on missing the bus).

 

 

Back in Ketchikan, the driver dropped us off near Creek Street and we headed to  “Married Man’s Trail”…

Creek Street is on the National Register of Historic Places….and it is teeming with salmon from late summer through Sept. (different varieties).  We not only saw the salmon…but had a ‘chance’ of seeing other wildlife that might come to see the salmon as well – bears, eagles, etc…  We walked up the stairstep trail –  “Married Man’s Trail” all the way to the top – where the salmon ladder was.  This trail was a back-path through the trees…used by married men in the days of the Gold Rush to  visit “ladies of the evening”…Yeah, the history of the gold rush towns could be a little ‘sorted’.  Walking the trail now is just a picturesque way to see the town and salmon… (In case you don’t really want to share all the ‘other’ details about the trail with the children…hehe!)

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This DID involve a lot of stairs (fyi for those with mobility issues) …

But we saw the salmon…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and the ladder…

Salmon Ladder – Ketchikan AK

 

 

 

 

 

unfortunately, no bears or eagles….

 

 

At the final portion…quite steep and swift,  we actually found ourselves watching their struggle and ‘rooting’ for them…cheering them on.  🙂 🙂  They’re such determined and resilient little guys!!!

Before getting back on the ship, we made a quick stop at one of the Tongass Trading Company  stores. There are actually FIVE of these – each a little different catering to different shoppers/preferences.  Even though I THOUGHT we’d get jackets or raincoats, we ended up both opting for ‘Alaska’ hoodies….thick, good quality…for $20 each!!

Boarding the ship today was a longer line than I’ve ever experienced in port before.

Now…this WAS a very short port day (6:30-2)…so everyone (3000+) were trying to get back on the ship at basically the same time.   The process took 45min-1hr.

Once we were finally back on board, we grabbed a bite to eat and headed to the 3rd naturalist presentation:  “Experiencing Alaska’s Awe Inspiring Flora”.  This was one title we were a little unsure of…so we sat on the end of a row in case we wanted to make a quiet exit.

CC license – as they were not this fully in bloom in late Aug…  🙂

Well…wouldn’t you know it.  It was just as interesting as the last 2.  🙂  We stayed the entire time!

 

Of particular interest to us was the information about the Fireweed.  This flower begins to bloom in the Spring ..and blooms from the bottom up.  At the height of summer, the blooms have reached the top.  Then…as summer wanes, the blooms begin to die from the top down. When all the blooms are gone, Summer is over…  You can ‘read’ the season in the Fireweed.


 

 

After this information, we were much more attuned to the Fireweed – especially as we drove the Klondike Highway from Skagway in a few days.

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The OTHER news we got from the Naturalist this afternoon was:  We were sailing through prime humpback whale territory – starting at 5:30 today.  She would be on the bridge offering commentary….and we were invited to be out on Deck 15 forward (directly below the Bridge) to (hopefully) see whales.

We had originally planned to eat in the MDR that evening…but those plans were immediately changed. We were going to see WHALES!!!

Here’s the Most Amazing Part!  While we were out there…we heard a lady squeal…and  turned around just in time to see a whale breech!!  YES!!!  REALLY!!!  Sandra Schempp (our Naturalist) said that was really unusual for this time of year.  The whales were still feeding and they usually practice their ‘breeching’ AFTER that (when they’re full and ready to start the ‘flirting’ process…. 🙂    Of course, it all happened too quick to get a photo…I don’t know that anyone got one…but I promise!!  It happened!!!!  🙂

TidBit of Info:  A whale’s tail is how he is identified.  Each one is different and unique…much like our fingerprints…

We stayed out on the deck until probably 7:30…then got a bit of dinner in the buffet and went back to the cabin to prepare for tomorrow.  It would be a LONG port day and we wanted to get off the ship as soon as we could.

There WERE many activities happening on the ship this evening.  I’m sure there were many passengers who were enjoying those things…Princess wouldn’t continue to plan them if someone wasn’t attending…but we were kept SO busy learning about Alaska…and seeing Alaska…and spotting whales (and seeing them breech) in Alaska.  We just didn’t have time for anything else.

 

Budget (and Savings) Today:  Ketchikan CAN be a rather inexpensive place to visit as it lends itself very easily to exploration on your own…

Cruise ship Excursions vs. Doing It On Your Own:

  • Totem Bight:  Princess charges $47 pp for their excursion;  We got there and back on the city bus for a total of $4 pp…plus the $5pp admission to the park.
  • Princess offered Whale Watching excursions out of Juneau for $160-$190 per person…  We saw whales…even one BREECHING out on Deck 15 forward of the ship this evening…for FREE
  • Princess included Creek Street in several of their excursions, but there’s no way to put a price on that portion as it was ‘included’ with other things… But this is just a stair step path….there’s no charge for walking it.   Just find it and start climbing.  🙂

Next:  Alaska Cruise:  Juneau

Alaska Cruise: Our 1st Sea Day -and Sea Days in Alaska with PrincessCruises

We chose Princess BECAUSE of the Alaska related programs they  offer….  and the main time frame for most of those programs/activities is………

SEA DAYS!!!

There is a naturalist on board all Alaskan sailings…and coupled with the book Alaska Cruise Companion, written by a former Princess Naturalist, Rachel Cartwright, makes for a VERY informative cruise experience.

Alaska Cruise Companion is available from Amazon, but we chose to purchase ours on board.  While it WOULD have been nice to have had it while planning, one of the great gems of the book is the removable map in the back.  I didn’t want to risk getting a used copy that was missing that map…  We also had On Board Credit to pay for it…which was nice…

I brought magnets for posting my map, etc… on the stateroom wall…and here’s what my ‘display’ looked like.  (Did you know walls in cruise cabins are metal?)   On the left is our schedule for the entire trip – flights, port times, rental car & shuttle reservation times,  evening meal plans  (helpful when planning what clothes to bring) ~All things Schedule Related

The clip below that was for tickets, on board event invitations, etc…  On the right side, I clipped a card with medical information in case of emergencies. (easy access)   The clear plastic bag came from the dentist (haha) and contained pens, pencil & sharpener, highlighters, my giant paper clip, etc….  Below that is a little find I made at the Dollar Tree.  It’s a magnetic box.  I brought my magnets, magnetic clips, paperclips etc… in that.  It was easily accessible there on the wall.  I LOVED this display…    I mean seriously…I took a picture of it!!!  haha!  

One More Thing:

They DO have entertainment on Alaskan cruises (actually ALL cruises)detailed in Princess Patters.  20171003_120436.jpgThey DO have trivia and game shows.  They have seminars on acupuncture…or reducing wrinkles…or flattening your stomach or shopping in port.  They even have golf challenges, table tennis tournaments, been bag toss challenges.  As far as the ‘regular cruise ship sea day activites’, this Alaskan cruise had them all.

BUT….

BUT…..

There’s SO much to see and do and learn about Alaska, that we just didn’t have time for those sorts of things.  So as you read about what we did, you won’t find any of those things listed.  I just don’t want anyone to think it’s because we didn’t have those choices.  It’s because we didn’t MAKE those choices.

We stayed busy….EVERY MINUTE…..but our busy-ness centered around “All Things Alaska”: Naturalist presentations, wildlife sessions out on deck with the naturalist, photo seminars to learn the complexities of glacier photography, Iditarod champions and Nat’l Park Ranger talks.

Our First Sea Day:

Sunrise on the Inside Passage

Our first morning started VERY early as we entered the Inside Passage…I was awake by 4:30 or 5 am.  We were out on the back deck by 5:30am…and caught  this beautiful sunrise.

I DID notice an interesting phenomenon about the sunrises though.  We were up at the back of the ship every morning by 5:30-6 am and saw not only THIS sunrise but others just as spectacular. However…by 7:30 each morning, the fog had rolled in…and totally engulfed the ship.  At that point, we couldn’t see more than 5 ft. off the side.  Usually, that was about the time many others were just stirring.  I couldn’t help but wonder…did my fellow cruisers think that Alaska was just ‘foggy’?  If they didn’t see anything until post-7:30…all they saw was fog in the mornings!

Before I leave the subject of “sunrises”, it must be noted that the reason we were able to see sunrises at 6 am was because we were cruising in late Aug.  In July, that sunrise may happen as early as 4 am…  Further north, the sun may never actually ‘set’…so therefore, can’t officially ‘rise’.  Some of what we experienced in sunrises/sunsets was totally because of the time of year.

After breakfast, it was time for the first of five Naturalist Lectures by the Naturalist on board.  (Princess cruises have a naturalist on board all of their Alaskan sailings)  This lecture was titled “Discovering the Inhabitants of Alaska’s Coastal Waters”.    In this first lecture, she talked about the wildlife we could expect to see in the waters of the Inside Passage – whales, sea lions, porpoises, and of course, the sea otter.  When this lecture ended, my husband and I looked at each other and said (almost simultaneously….) “We shouldn’t miss another lecture this woman gives!!”  There was SO MUCH information packed into those 45 min…in such an interesting way – with slides and illustrations…We were hooked!!!

After the presentation, she was outside the Theater to answer questions and explain the many displays she had out there…one of which was the same map we had…only with HER extra markings based on recent siting’s.  This woman truly went ‘above and beyond’ in our opinion!!

We DID spend a little time out there with her…but not long – because at 10:15 was ‘Coffee with the Captain’.  Now…this is not something I would normally EVER consider doing.  On most cruises we’ve been on, we never even learned the Captain’s name…much less considered devoting any of our time to meeting him.  But this cruise was different. The captain on our ship is well known throughout the Princess family…among frequent Princess cruisers.  He is dearly loved by all…and we were actually LOOKING FORWARD to meeting him.  Strange…I KNOW!!  🙂  We got down to the Piazza in time to get a fairly decent seat for this wildly popular event.  (I TOLD you this was a dearly loved Captain in the Princess fleet!!!)

The format for this session was an interview by the Cruise Director…  They discussed his career, his years with Princess, the ‘steps’ to becoming a Cruise ship Captain, how things run on the bridge – who does what, etc…   At the end was a time for Q&A…..it was a VERY enjoyable 45 min.   (Our photos of this didn’t turn out or I’d share them here….Ugh!)

Afterwards, we lined up for photos (taken by the ship…so I CANT share here…)  with him…and to get an autograph.  Of course, because I carried my copy of  Alaska Cruise Companion everywhere I went on ship, he autographed THAT for me!!   🙂 🙂

We probably would never do ‘Coffee with the Captain’ again on any other ship…but on THIS cruise…with THIS Captain, we did..and I’m so glad!!

After all of that excitement, it was time for lunch…

Pub Lunch:  Princess offers a rather unique experience on some Sea Days.  They open up the Crown Grill (a specialty restaurant) for a complementary Pub Lunch.  (We don’t choose to eat in the specialty restaurants on a cruise…With so many ‘included’ dining venues, we just don’t feel the need to spend extra to eat somewhere else)  We’ve known about this Pub Lunch for some time, but have never been able to fit it into our schedule.  Today we did.

The menu is very limited…only 5 entrees.  Today, we ordered 3 of them (on the encouragement of our waiter)  two that we knew we’d like…then a 3rd – Bangers and Mash just to ‘try’.  It wasn’t bad…My husband actually ended up ‘trading in’ his meal for that and eating it all.  🙂  But…the ‘winner’ on this lunch was the bread pudding!!  DIVINE!!!!

Our first activity of the afternoon was a Walk Around Photo Seminar dealing with ‘light’ and the challenges involved in photographing the WHITE glaciers…and the blue ice we would find in College Fjord.  My husband has recently taken an interest in photography so while I found a comfy spot to spend some quality time with my Alaska book, he went to this Walk Around.  He came back very excited about what he had learned…but we only had a few minutes to talk – as it was almost time for the next Naturalist Presentation

“Enjoying the Wonders of the Alaskan Wildlife” was the topic of this lecture – at 3:15 in the Theater.  This, too, did not disappoint.  In this session, she concentrated on wildlife on land – bears, moose, eagles…and of course, the ever elusive puffin.  By this time, I knew to take pen and paper to these presentations.  She gave times to be out on deck or in your balcony to see certain wildlife…hints and tips for viewing/finding in addition to the map I had on my stateroom wall.  Her slides of these animals were QUITE amazing as well.  We could hardly wait to get out of there to begin looking….

Tonight was the first of two formal nights on this cruise….and we found a way to not only be out on the balcony scouting out some of the wildlife the Naturalist told us to look for, but also get dressed for formal night…and formal night photos…

The photos began at 5:30 on Decks 5, 6 & 7…   Princess does a VERY GOOD job with their photo backgrounds – classy and not cheezy.  🙂 🙂    The Amethyst Trio (violins and piano) accompanied us as we walked around posing for our photos – created a very pleasant atmosphere.

After sitting for quite a few photos, we headed to the dining room.  Tonight, our orders were the Shrimp Danielle and Cornish Hen.  Being formal night, they had the bananas foster and one of MY FAVORITES, the gourmandises!!!

There were a lot of activities going on around the ship that night…and had it not been for our very early morning this morning…and our very early morningIMG_6517 tomorrow (and a short port time necessitating a quick exit off the ship)    we might have checked out some of those things.  But there really wasn’t time for that. (and I REALLY needed to get those heels OFF ha!! ) We just went back to our stateroom and watched an INCREDIBLE sunset from our balcony…then set the alarm for 5am (to catch another sunrise) and went to bed.

Next: Alaska Cruise: Ketchikan

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Alaska Cruise on Star Princess

I’ve never written a ‘trip diary’ on my blog before…but with our recent Alaskan Adventure, I’ve decided to try that.

I won’t forget my ‘roots’ in Budget in Travel Planning though.  I’m still ALL about budgeting…that didn’t change with this cruise/trip.  I’ll throw in bits and pieces of my discoveries about budget here in the diary…then write a FULL set of posts concentrating on the aspects of planning and budgeting later….because there ARE ways to save money (and I have a few planning tips to throw in along the way as well) for cruising or vacationing in Alaska.

Stay tuned…

 

Alaska Or Bust!

We booked the Voyage of the Glaciers-NB on the Star Princess. (Princess Cruise Line)  We booked it about 11 months in advance so had a good selection of cabins.  Our choice was an interior cabin because Alaskan cruises can be a little pricey.  HOWEVER…..about 2 months before our cruise, we got that exciting little email…the UPSELL offer.  That’s where the cruise line offers their more expensive cabin categories to those who have already booked the cruise… (the ‘up’sell) to open up their lower priced inventory in hopes of attracting NEW bookings from NEW customers.  It worked.. both for them…and for us.  We got a Balcony cabin for just a few hundred dollars more…and our price was still $600 LESS than balconies booked from the website that day.

So….we had a balcony cabin for Alaska!!!   AT a discount!!

Now to my Diary  🙂

First Day:

Our flight left at 7 am – went through DFW and arrived in Vancouver BC around noon – this was, of course, after a 4 1/2 hr flight from DFW,  so our ‘body clocks’ felt like it was later than that.

We found Vancouver to be a very tourist friendly city.  They HAVE to be as they get an influx of THOUSANDS of cruise passengers on a daily basis…not to mention the ‘non’ cruise passengers…..  🙂  Their customs process at the airport runs very smoothly…as long as there are only 1 or 2 ships in port (Three-ship days are a LOT more chaotic….)  Ours was a 2-ship day.  Customs at the airport is in a HUGE area – rows of self-serve kiosks – and room to accomodate HUNDREDS at a time!!  We were run through there a little like cattle, but there were many people to direct us where to go, what to do next, etc…  The process ran a little like ‘organized’ chaos….   I don’t mean that to be a negative comment at all.  It ran smoothly (‘organized’)  to be so crowded, busy, noisy….with so many intersecting lines of tourists (the ‘chaos’ part).  Yep…”organized chaos”!  haha!!

Our hotel for the evening, Accent Inn, had an airport shuttle…and across the street from the ‘loading and unloading’ zone and taxis was an area set up for calling and waiting for those shuttle pick ups…..under the green awning.  There was a courtesy phone  programmed with hotel numbers and codes so we didn’t have to bring/look up hotel numbers (Nice!!).  We made our call and our shuttle arrived within 10 min.

We were on our way!!

Accent Inn – Richmond BC

Accent Inn was an older property but very well maintained…fresh paint, remodeled kitchen and bathroom (did I mention that each room had a full kitchen?)  I had booked it about 8-9 months before.  In checking the prices a month before we arrived, I found prices had risen 30%. Booking early saved us about $50USD that night.

 

First Bit of Budget Advice:  Book hotels and rental cars early.  I found that very few prices went down…most went UP the closer we got to our travel date…

In addition to that airport shuttle, our hotel also provided shuttle service to Bridgeport Station (SkyTrain).  That opened up many possibilities for sightseeing without having to get a taxi (which would run about $35 CAD from our hotel to downtown)  as well as answered the question of  How do we get to the Pier for our cruise?  Richmond is quite a distance from downtown and the sightseeing that many people want to do. With free transport to a SkyTrain station, we could go anywhere we wanted to go…just for the price of SkyTrain fare.  SkyTrain offers a single fare ticket (best choice for us on this trip) OR a DayPass (would be great for spending several days in town)

What Can You Do with 24 Hrs. in Vancouver?

We didn’t have time (or the energy)  to do nearly all we would have liked to do… But here’s just a few things to get someone started with their own research.  So much depends on what a person LIKES to do so just take this list as a springboard to find what YOU want to do with your time in Vancouver.

  • Stanley Park :  1000 acres – In Stanley park there’s an Aquarium, totem poles, horse drawn carriages hiking trails, scenic views of the inlet, beaches, gardens, a train…and more
  • Seawall Walk:  This is a paved trail between Stanley Park and Canada Place (the pier) with wonderful views of the inlet, marina, et al .
  • Granville Island:  Farmers Market/Public market; shopping
  • False Creek Ferry:  transport between Granville Island, Yaletown, Science World and the Maritime Museum to name just a few….
  • Capilano Suspension Bridge capbridge.com

    Gastown Steam Clock
    Vancouver BC

  • Vancouver Lookout Tower at Harbour Center
  • Gastown Steam Clock:  goes off every 15 min.
  • Neighborhoods/shopping districts to explore – Gastown, Robson Street, Chinatown
  • Olympic Cauldron from the  2010 Olympics  (kind of interesting for those of us old enough to have watched the 2010 Olympics  )
  • There are several tours, trolleys, buses etc…that will whisk visitors off to many sites around the city.  The one I considered (though we didn’t do) was the HoHoTrolley (Hop On Hop Off Trolley)  If we return for another cruise someday, this will probably be on ‘our list’.

 

Embarkation Day is Finally Here!!!

The next morning, after a 5 am breakfast at the IHop next door, (our bodies hadn’t totally adjusted to Vancouver time yet…) we caught the hotel shuttle to Bridgeport station, took SkyTrain to Waterfront Station, then walked the few blocks to the pier.  We dropped off our luggage at the terminal and went back out into Vancouver.  We weren’t sailing until 4:30…I wanted to be heading to the terminal by 1:00 or so…which gave us several hours to sightsee in Vancouver.

Our sightseeing choices for this morning were the Vancouver Lookout Tower, Gastown and the Gastown Steam clock, the Waterfront station area, and possibly the Olympic Cauldron before boarding the Star Princess.

When we came out of the terminal after dropping off luggage, we headed in the direction of the Vancouver Lookout Tower.  En route, we met up with one of the many Tourist guides in town…standing on the street corners, identified by their shirts and hats and ready to assist tourists as needed.  This gentleman told us that if we went back to the Visitor Center, we could buy our Lookout Tower ticket for $4 less.  It was only about 2 blocks so we decided to do that.  In actuality, the discount was $5 pp CAD which translates into about $6 USD…  x 2 – Totally worth the 2 block walk.  While down in that area, we were very close to the Olympic Cauldron.

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Olympic Cauldron 2010 Olympics

This was just on our “might if we have time” list, but since we were right there, we walked over.

Lookout Tower
Vancouver BC

 

 

 

 

 

After that, we headed to the Lookout Tower.

The view atop this Tower was quite impressive.  Not only did we get some great views of the city, the inlet, Stanley Park and Lion’s Gate Bridge but some GREAT photos of our ship, Star Princess waiting for us at Canada Place!!!  🙂

Now the date was Aug. 26….and as luck would have it, Vancouver was unseasonably HOT that day…temps near 90.  The Lookout Tower either didn’t have a/c…or it wasn’t able to handle the load of the temps because it got VERY uncomfotable up there very quickly.  I would have liked to have spent a little longer, but we reached the point where the heat was a little much…so we went back down.  If I’m ever back in Vancouver I would like to go up the Tower again and spend more leisurely time there.

Our next stop took us to Gastown – and the Gastown Steam clock.  It was 11:50 am when we arrived, so a crowd was already beginning to gather.  The crowd grew VERY FAST over the next 10 minutes and at noon, the clock went off for a rather LARGE group.  This video is from 2016 – and not mine…  but the clock (and the tune) are the same….  🙂

Credit:  Ken Lane: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVKyiOGmHZHXI6EvQLzbY1A/featured

After this ‘performance’, it was time to head back toward Canada Place.  We wanted to get something to drink, possibly spend a little bit of time at Waterfront Center and walking around/through Canada place before we boarded the ship.

Boarding the Star Princess went very smoothly.  Our luggage was already taken care of…quite possibly already aboard by now.  We just had to go through Princess check in, Customs, all the necessary photo stops and ID photo stops and we’d be on board.

That whole process only took a little over an hour!!!  We were ON THE SHIP!!!

Princess always has cabins ready when you board (not the case with all cruise lines) so we were able to drop off our carry on bags which we had been carrying around Vancouver all morning.  We walked around the ship a bit, grabbed a bite to eat, got Muster Drill over with….then finally staked out our vantage point for Sail Away.  Within a few minutes of Sail Away we’d be going under Lions Gate Bridge, and we wanted to be as high up on the ship as possible. That was Deck 15 Forward…and that’s where we headed.

 

 

Our Last Look at Vancouver

Sail Away was indeed marvelous.  The Star Princess BACKED out of the pier at Canada Place.  We waved good-bye to all those who had come to see us off (more than I expected, actually) and set our sites forward… Lion’s Gate Bridge!!

HAL’s Niuew Amsterdam left the pier first. We followed them under the bridge and for the rest of the evening

 

going under Lion’s Gate Bridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And….there’s a guy who films ships leaving Vancouver ….and posts them on YouTube…This is our ship…our sailing….leaving Vancouver.  I’m on Deck 15…above the Bridge…but you can’t really see me  🙂 🙂


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After Sail away, it was time to see what the Princess Patters had to say (Patters is the Daily Schedule that Princess gives each passenger outlining all that is going on on the ship.)

 

The first thing we KNEW we wanted to do was purchase our copy of Alaska Cruise Companionwp-1506452154430.jpgThis was written by a former Princess Cruises Naturalist, Rachel Cartwright,  who sailed Alaska 1998-2005 on PCL ships.  Her book has become the guidebook for all PCL cruises to Alaska.  The Patters refers to it every day.  The Captain refers to it in his PA announcements. The naturalist refers to it in her presentations…and any passenger who wants to learn…and see as much as possible on their Alaskan Cruise refers to it often during the cruise.  Yes…we fell among that number.  🙂 An Added Bonus in the Book was the pullout fold out map of our route – with labels of where to see certain wildlife – whales, sea lions, bears, moose, etc…  I put it on the wall with magnets – and we referred to it OFTEN throughout our cruise.

After spending about an hour out on Deck 15 watching Vancouver Island go by…it was time to dress for dinner.  We had chosen Anytime Dining for this cruise (Meaning, we could go anytime during the regular dining room hours)  This worked best for this Alaskan cruise as we had several late port days or evening scenic cruising…and a lot of shipboard activities (Naturalist lectures or Alaskan programs).  We didn’t want to be tied down to a specific dining room schedule.

Dining in the Main Dining rooms is always a wonderful experience.  Menus on Princess have more of a European influence to them… We enjoy this ‘change’ from our regular cuisine 🙂  I’ve only had one item in my cruises with Princess that I actually sent back…and that was due to personal preference…not because the food was ‘bad’.   Tonight, we ordered the Hazelnut Crusted Salmon with Maple Syrup Glaze and the Prime Rib… with of course, the shrimp cocktail  and a salad as appetizers. (I don’t know that I’ve EVER had a Dining Room meal on any cruise when I DIDN’T order the shrimp….)

Our Favorite Viewing Area…and the ‘Secret Door’:

Our Favorite place to view sunrises…and have solitude in the early mornings was Deck 12 Aft.  There’s actually a door (affectionately referred to by many as the ‘secret door’) at the back of Deck 12 Port Side….  it goes out to the Terrace Pool on Deck 12.  This is just one deck below the Horizon Court buffet…so used this door for our sunrise viewing every morning…and could grab a cup of coffee while never being far away from the next changing light over the water…  🙂

 

 

The Budget:  These 2 days were fairly budget minded  (as long as you don’t count the over-all cost of the cruise…haha)  but with that, I HAVE to mention our balcony upsell at a $600 savings….    Then…We booked early and got a good price on the hotel, utilized discounts in Vancouver…or saw things that were totally free.  We transported downtown via the hotel shuttle to Bridgeport and the SkyTrain rather than a $35 taxi…and we had On Board Credit (a credit put on our account by Princess when we booked our cruise)  to purchase our Alaska Cruise Companion book…    The budget was looking good!  🙂

Next: Our First SeaDay

13 Questions First Time Cruisers Ask

Beach

What Type(s) of Documentation Do I Need?

The basics are Passport and ID (Driv. lic).  Some itineraries require a VISA and your cruise line will let you know if you need one.  Check with them EARLY in your booking process so you have time to gather/apply for what you’ll need….then re-check several weeks before you sail as these things sometimes change.  Children traveling without BOTH parents (i.e. traveling with one parent…or with grandparents, friends, cousins, et al) will need permission from the ‘non-traveling’ parent(s) to board the ship.  This is a rule that is NON-negotiable…the child will NOT be allowed to board without proper documentation, so make sure all your ducks are in a row on this one.

 Do I need a passport?passports

The official answer from the cruise lines used to be ‘Maybe, depending on itinerary’, but now, is almost unilaterally, “Yes”.  My answer is YES! YES! YES!!!  Especially with the way things are in our world today, I wouldn’t venture out of the country without a passport!  Next point:  Take steps to secure it…keep it safe.  Passports now have a HIGH VALUE on the black market.  Carry it in a safe place (preferably close to your body…),  place it in an RFID blocking sleeve or pocket/bag –  and ALWAYS be alert to your surroundings.

Can I miss the boat?

Yes…Though I don’t recommend it.  🙂 🙂   Seriously though, set your WATCH by ship time….because ships leave by ship time, NOT port time.  These two MAY or MAY NOT be the same.  Do NOT rely on cell phones as they will re-set themselves in port. Use  your cell phone for calls, texts, etc…  and a watch as your timepiece.  Don’t follow the clocks in port either (refer to explanation above) Most cruise lines want passengers back on board 30 min. before sail away time. If you aren’t there, they will begin announcing your name over the ship’s intercom system….over and over and over.  You really DON’T want to be that person.  🙂  Last note, write down and bring with you into port the contact info for the ships liaison on shore.  This should be listed on the brochure placed in your stateroom the night before. This person is your point of contact if you have any problems while in port…or if you miss the ship.

Will I get sea sick?

There’s no way of knowing the answer to that.  Some do; others don’t.  Some get sick on one cruise and don’t on another cruise.  Come prepared with multiple remedies as you never know what will work for you. There’s Bonine/Dramamine (tablets), Transderm Scop Patches (my favorite), Ginger, Sea Bands (pressure point bracelets) and most ships carry a large supply of green apples which are known to ‘help’. Ships provide Bonine (typically free of charge), but you have to go to the medical center to get it.  I prefer to bring my own to AVOID the Medical Center which may be a ‘bay of germs’.  Generics cost about $3-4 a box. Your pharmacist is your best source of information on this.

Do I HAVE to Dress Up for the Dining Room?

In part, this depends on your cruiseline.  More relaxed lines such as Norwegian with it’s FreeStyle Cruising and Carnival will allow passengers into the dining rooms dressed fairly casually (though some things are just NOT acceptable – swimwear, t-shirts, ballcaps, etc…)  Other lines such as Princess, Royal Caribbean, Holland America MAY turn passengers away if they aren’t dressed according to dress code.  Having said that, sometimes it depends on the maître d’ and how much a stipler for rules he/she is.  Bottom line…Your best bet is to just follow the guidelines set up by your cruise line. (on their website)  If they say there’s a dress code, rather than being the ‘problem-passenger’, just follow it…or eat somewhere on the ship where there is no dress code.  Honestly, dressing up for dinner is kind of ‘part of the cruise experience’.  Put on your ‘best duds’ and have a nice evening!  🙂  At the very least, give it a try for ONE NIGHT!

Do I Need to Pack the ‘Kitchen Sink’ for My Cruise?

No….you also don’t need to bring decorations, blenders, irons  or coffee pots.  (believe it or not, some try to…)…and PLEASE don’t bring candles or matches! Open flames don’t mix well with ships in the middle of the ocean.  Here’s another thing.  You don’t need to bring a beach towel.  Most cruise lines provide them for both ship AND port use.  Just don’t forget to return it…the charges for that are pretty hefty.  But no…don’t use valuable suitcase space for your beach towel…OR the kitchen sink.

Why Do They Automatically Charge Gratuities to my Account?

Because it would be very difficult for you to locate and tip every single crew member who worked to make your cruise enjoyable.  You don’t even see many of them.  The auto-gratuities are collected according to a pre-determined  ‘formula’ from the cruiseline and distributed FOR you to EVERYONE who played a role in your cruise experience. This saves you the trouble of trying to locate the person who washed your towels….or cooked your steak…or cleaned up your dirty dishes. There are a LOT of ‘behind the scenes’ people whoUS dollar work very hard to make your cruise all that it is. Enjoy your cruise and relax knowing that every one of those individuals are being compensated. Of course, if you WISH to ‘extra-tip” a particular person, you can do that individually.

Can I Remove the Auto Gratuities?

Yes….but please don’t.  If you’re unhappy with something on board, stop by Customer Service and address the problem early in the cruise so it can be corrected rather than being unhappy for your entire cruise.  (THAT’S no way to cruise!!!)  When you remove those tips, you not only ‘hurt’ the person you’re unhappy with, but you also hurt kitchen staff, laundry staff, pool staff…etc…  most of whom you never saw, but who served you well.

Do I Have to Purchase Shore Excursions Through the Cruise Line?

Short answer is ‘no’.

Now…here’s the long answer….    First, know that you don’t HAVE to have an official excursion at all. Some ports lend themselves more easily to ‘self-exploration’ than others and you’ll find that out through research.  (there are some ports I would NEVER explore beyond the cruise line owned port area without an “official” excursion – for safety reasons – just fyi)  Second, if you DO decide to purchase an excursion, be aware that purchasing it from your cruise line will be more expensive than purchasing directly from vendors.  It also brings with it some extra safe-guards.

Advantages to purchasing from the Cruise Line:

  1. Earlier debarkation – These are the passengers who are at the FRONT of the line at debarkation. The cruise line will give them preferential treatment.  Sorry…true….
  2. Assurance that the ship will EITHER wait on you if there’s any delay in getting back to the ship OR get you back to the ship at their expense.
  3. You’re giving your credit card number to the cruise line….rather than a random person you found online or met on the pier…   NOTE: Use cash if purchasing from a vendor at the pier.

Disadvantages to purchasing from the Cruise Line:

  1. Cost – it typically costs more to purchase from the cruise line because they take their ‘cut’ before paying the vendor
  2. Crowds…you’re with a few hundred other cruisers from your ship…

 

In Alaska, we did everything on our own.  I felt very confident there.  However, in some foreign ports, I will ONLY purchase excursions from the cruise line or just stay in the port area shopping/going to beaches etc….   Security is an important factor in these decisions for us….

What’s Free and What Costs?

Meals are free as long as you eat in the venues included in your cruise fare. This includes the Dining Room, buffet, grill or pizzeria (Cruise line websites list these)  Meals at the Specialty restaurants will incur either a Cover Charge or a per item charge. Room service is free though some cruise lines are experimenting with putting a few select items on the room service menu for an upcharge. (they’ll be listed WITH their costs…no surprises)   It is customary to tip the person who delivers room service as that is not included in the auto-gratuities.  Tea, plain ole coffee, lemonade as well as juice and milk in the morning are free.  Alcohol, carbonated drinks, specialty coffees and possibly ice cream shakes/malts, etc… have a charge.  We have been on many cruises and never paid a cent for food or drink…you just have to eat/drink the free stuff and avoid the things with extra charges.  It’s not hard to do… but may require some self-restraint 🙂

Entertainment on most ships is free, though Royal Caribbean requires reservations.  Pools and hottubs are free.  Carnival’s “No Kids Allowed” deck is free.  Princess charges for their adult only Serenity Deck.  Water slides are free.  Some extras  on Royal Caribbean cruises have a charge associated with them and those will be clearly marked/advertised. It’s just not necessary on most cruises to spend a lot of money to have a good time.  There’s SO MUCH available that is free. You can choose to FIND your fun there!!  🙂

Does it Matter Which Stateroom I Choose?

That depends on YOU….When will you want to be sleeping?  If you’re a night owl, you probably won’t notice noise late into the night from decks above or below you.  If you plan to turn in early to get an early start on tomorrow’s port day, you WILL notice.  Typically, areas like bars, lounges, etc…are noisy until 3 am.  Areas like the buffet, pool decks may be noisy early in the morning as staff moves chairs/tables, etc…  A cabin on a deck sandwiched between other cabin decks will typically be a quieter location.

When it comes to motion of the ship, the front of the ship experiences the most movement.  The aft (back) comes in 2nd with the middle having the least amount. (This is why mid-ship cabins are the most expensive)

Some people like to be near the elevators so they don’t have to walk as far.  I consider walking to be a necessity on a cruise with the added ‘food intake’.

Bottom Line:  It really DOES depend on YOU and what you want. Think about your needs, then check the deck plans, paying special attention to what is around, above and below your cabin.  If you suspect an area will be noisy, it probably will.

Do I really NEED Travel Insurance?

YES!!  A cruise puts you at the mercy of things you can’t control or change (airline schedules, weather….luggage handlers….weather….and of course, the WEATHER….) You can modify your schedule when on a road trip. On a cruise you can’t do anything about most decisions…They are not made by you….  Good travel insurance will take care of you (financially) if your travel plans to awry.  NOTE: It is rare for medical insurance policies to cover policy holders outside the country.  Medicare does NOT…. Travel insurance makes sure you don’t take a financial ‘hit’ if the unexpected happens.

Will I be bored on the ship?

That’s a tough one to answer…I’ve known people who were in the most interesting places in the world and were ‘bored’…and I’ve known people who could have the time of their lives just walking around the block with someone they enjoy being with.  It often has less to do with what’s on the outside of a person and more to do with what’s on the inside of a person. That being said, the ships have many things to keep your interest…entertainment/shows, movies, seminars, special speakers, informational programs, karaoke, contests, classes, libraries, games and gameshows, cruise directors who plan constant activities and of course pools, pool decks, hot tubs, saunas, spas, salons,  – and who can ignore the constant changing supply of food. 🙂  You can bring your favorite book or your favorite person.  DECIDE to be ‘interested’ and you’ll probably not be bored.  🙂

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Happy Cruising!!

Dollar Store ‘Finds’ Specifically For Cruises

 

https://www.flickr.com/photos/fanofretail/14302968328/sizes/m/

Photo Credit:  Nicholas Eckhart on Flickr  CC Lic.

A trip to the Dollar store is always on our “To Do” list before traveling.  It’s an excellent place to get many items we need  (or want).

The original article  (Dollar Store Finds for the Frugal Traveler) detailed items for travel/vacation in general.  This article is specifically for cruisers.

Though many of these items can be found at Walmart, Target etc…  what I’m referring to here are the stores that sell everything for $1 — Dollar Tree, The Dollar Store, Deals, etc…

TRAVEL SIZE CONTAINERS

Space can be a valuable commodity in a cruise ship cabin. The Dollar Store has a variety or ‘qualities’ for everything from liquids (shampoo, conditioner, lotion/crèmes) to small items like medication, earrings, etc… 🙂

travel size bottles

These TSA approved containers have ‘secure’ lids.

For ‘extra’ security, pack bottles in a Ziploc bag (get these at the Dollar Tree too…) or put a  piece of plastic (grocery bag, etc…) inside the lid before closing it.

 

 

 

 

 

Containers with snap on lids (in 6- or 10-pack) would work for small non-liquid items –   earrings, Advil/Tylenol, wax earplugs,  etc…travel size containerstravel size containers

 

 

 

 

 

 

The variance seemed to be in the quality of the container AND lid.  Just cater the ‘quality’ to what you plan to use them for.

 


Medications:

travel size medicationsTravel sized medication bottles.  I bought ours years ago….and am still using the same BOTTLES (Obviously, NOT the same meds…..)  I just refill the travel size bottles each year with ‘new’ meds from my Costco size bottle.  (Remember…medication has an expiration date)

…and before anyone thinks these are ‘lesser quality’, if you’re skeptical about generics, Dollar Tree sells name brands too – Advil, Aleve, etc….  🙂

 

 

medication containers


 

Pill organizers are of course for daily meds or vitamins….

BUT…THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX.  They can be used for anything small –  pill organizer - 3x/dayjewelry, rings or earrings.  The compartments keep everything separated and organized.

 

 

 

 


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Eye masks are great for that nap – or on an Alaskan cruise when the sun never seems to set.  Do you have a red-eye flight?  – great for that too!

 

 

 

 

 

 


ear plugs

 

 

Ear plugs come in handy quite often – for flights or if you happen to have a stateroom in a noisy area.  I liked this set with the small container for storage – I bought 2 of them as I’m always losing earplugs.  🙂

 


post its and highlighters

 

PAPER!!!

Yes…paper is my weak spot.  I LOVE all the options at the Dollar Tree – post it notes of all sizes and colors, pads of paper for note taking in the planning sessions…or for leaving notes for the cabin steward or other family members.

There are also highlighters for marking the cruise schedule each day.  The multi-colored packs are great when traveling with teens or on multi-family/group cruises

 

 

nightlight

 

 

Nightlights – especially for interior cabins–though we use them in balcony cabins too

 

Some like tea lights for this as they don’t require a plug.  Dollar Tree has those too…

 

 

3 plug extenders

 

 

 

Plugs that turn 1 outlet into 3 – an absolute necessity with outlets being in such short supply.

 

 

 

 


zip ties

 

 

Zip ties for luggage placed in the hallway the night before disembarkation.  NOTE:  You only want to use these if you’re headed home at the end of your cruise OR if you have means to get them off.  They are quite effective in  ‘securing’ your bag…but MAY keep YOU out if you don’t have scissors or knife.  🙂

 

 


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It’s a good idea to wipe down surfaces (doorknobs, remote, light switches, etc..) to disinfect (i.e. Norovirus et al.)  These travel sizes are just the right size. Walmart has packs of these…but they’re 9-packs  for .97.  This is a pack of 15….for .03 more.  Better value at Dollar Tree!  🙂

 

Hand sanitizer or hand sanitizing wipes for whenever you need 20170613_142858them (I bring these for port use as most ships have hand sanitizer dispensers EVERYwhere!!! )

 

 

 

 

antibacterial wipes - travel size

 

Two different packs – a pack of 40 for $1….or 3 packs of 10 for $1….I actually liked the 3-pack.  They stay sealed (and ‘wet’) until you open them.  It may be a lesser quantity, but I think overall, it’s a better ‘deal’…..unless you have a big family.  🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clips of all kinds come in handy for hanging swimsuits, securing towels on a windy clothespinsbalcony or keeping curtains closed for privacy or ‘dark’ on Alaskan cruises.  The Dollar Tree has clothespins (lightweight and the best value) big plastic clips (3/$1) or  binder clips in the office supply section (3/$1)  I always throw several different clips (variety) into our suitcase.  🙂

 


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Small clothes hamper – lightweight and  collapsible     –or– mesh laundry bags.  These are a great size for the small cruise cabin.

 

 

 

 

 


 

flavored water packets

These are nice for any vacation – but we particularly like them for cruises. We don’t purchase drinks on a cruise – we drink the tea, lemonade and coffee offered free, then bring these along to flavor the water when we want something different.   Dollar Tree has Snapple and Wylers and sometimes Minute Maid- all very good brands (imho)

FOOD ITEMS:

WHO takes food on a cruise?  Well…those who may want snacks while in port —  The ONLY food items allowed off the ship in port are items that are pre-packaged (sealed) by the manufacturer.  So yes…I take some snack items on cruises.

packages of peanutshigh protein snacks

 

 

 

 

Dollar Tree has LOTS of options for this…some regular inventory…some seasonal or ‘changing’ inventory.  I like the high protein snacks when traveling –  There’s cheese and pretzels, snack crackers or peanuts/trail mixes (I personally don’t buy packaged nuts/trail mixes at all as I find them to be rancid – That has NOTHING to do with Dollar Tree…I don’t buy them at Walmart either)  but for those who like them, these are certainly less expensive.

snack-individual sizesvariety of snack crackers from Dollar store

 

 

 

 

NOTE:  They even have Sugar Free!!!!

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SUGAR FREE options!!

 


 20140718_1911551.jpgThere are many options at the Dollar Tree for organizing your travel paperwork, boarding passes, luggage receipts, tickets, confirmations, etc…  I’ve used both these 5 x 8 accordion files and most recently, PLASTIC pocket folders.  They’re durable and don’t get torn up with all the handling/packing etc….  🙂

IMG_6855 - publicOn our recent cruise to Alaska, I put our map (and other things) on the wall with magnets, clips and hooks – all purchased at the Dollar Tree.  The round magnetic box on the right of the map holds extra clips, paper clips, etc…making things very accessible…  I LOVED this display – all courtesy of Dollar Tree!!

 

Other items that I didn’t take pics of….I mean there’s just so much!!!

  • Lint rollers for those formal night clothes
  • Dry erase boards for leaving notes for steward or other family members.  These would be GREAT if going on a Group Family cruise…buy one for every family and put it in their own personal ‘goodie bag’….along with highlighter, post its, a magnet and night light…???  just some ideas…  🙂
  • Shower Caps – great to cover shoes on our Alaskan cruise when we expected rain (and therefore, mud). It can be really difficult to get them clean enough that you feel comfortable packing them…
  • Windex wipes in small packages (15) if going on bus or train tours.  If windows don’t ‘open’ it’s nice to clean them before taking picture through them.

 

Happy Shopping!

Cruises Part 6 – Besides Clothes, What do I Take?

Now That the Clothes are Packed…What Else? 

Before our first cruise, I spent HOURS reading lists online of what to pack.  We bought, packed and took many of those suggested items….and came home having used about HALF of them. This list is my opinions of the “Must Takes”,  the “Might Need Depending on Personal Needs/Ports of Call” and the “It’s Absolutely Ridiculous to Take”  I hope it helps others to NOT travel as we did on our first cruise…with WAY TOO MUCH stuff!!! But before I get to that….

First, ELECTRONICS:

  • Cell phone: A cell phone will constantly ‘ping’ for a connection if it is turned on – If it’s ‘pinging’ someplace that charges you, you could be in for quite a surprise with your next bill. Unless you have an international plan (some carriers allow you to add this for just 1 month) data needs to be turned off (or turn on airplane mode) while on the ship OR in most ports. Note:  Incoming texts will incur charges too.
  • Computers:  Ships offer internet minutes packages, however, the connections are extremely slow and unreliable…and quite expensive (charged by the minute).  Remember, you’re in the middle of the ocean…internet connection at all is an incredible thing.  To expect it to be fast and consistent is expecting a mite too much.  If  you MUST connect, find a place in port with free Wi-Fi…or   “wi-fi with food purchase”.  🙂  Crew members will be your best source of information for finding free or cheap internet in port.
    • To get the best deal from internet minute packages should you choose to purchase one, compose emails in your word processing program, then copy/paste once online.  Expect for it to take 5-10 min. to send a single email.
    • Carnival has recently begun offering a “Social” package for $5/day.  We didn’t  purchase it. but I believe it provides Facebook, Twitter, etc…. through apps.
    • Princess now offers Princess@Sea that allows access to ship-related info (schedules, menus, etc…) AND texting among other passengers on board – ALL WHILE IN AIRPLANE MODE.   I would expect other cruise lines to follow suit with something similar very soon.   
  • Some take their laptops/tablets JUST to download photos and clear memory cards.  I opt to just purchase another memory card.  Added Bonus:  That memory card  will go on many vacations…and I don’t have to deal with a computer through airport security.  🙂

Must Take List

  • DOCUMENTS:
    • Passport
    • photo ID (drivers lic)
    • cruise documents
    • Tickets/confirmation for pre-purchased excursions or items purchased from the cruise line ahead of time.
    • Possibly a Vaccination certificate or VISA (Depends on cruise itinerary.)    Your cruise line will let you know if your itinerary requires these.

JUST NOTE:  If you forget your passport/ID, (or other required documents)  you’re NOT going on that cruise!!!!   MAKE CERTAIN (double check, triple check…then check again) THAT THEY ARE IN YOUR CARRY ON.  Do NOT pack them in your checked luggage then give that luggage to the porter….  If you do, instead of waving ‘bye’ ON the ship, you’ll be waving ‘bye’ TO the ship.  😦

I have a small coupon organizer I use for all vacations. File Folder organizer (Purchased at Dollar Tree for $1) I label the compartments as needed for that trip and it keeps everything compact, organized and easy to locate.

 

→   A Word about Passports.  Some cruise line websites say that passports are optional….that your birth certificate will work just fine.  That’s true AS LONG AS you don’t run into any problems.  However, if you have to travel on your own (miss the ship in a port, are transported for medical reasons, etc..) you will NOT be able to board an aircraft in a foreign country without the passport.  I highly recommend getting one.

One Exception: Military personnel can travel with their Military ID card and a birth certificate, however, their family members/traveling companions can not.

As a security safeguard, scan the information page of your passport and email it to yourself  (to a web based email)  This makes it available to you from any computer if the hard copy is lost or inaccessible. Some suggest taking a picture on your phone for the same purpose…  This is NOT a good idea as a lost or stolen phone could create some SERIOUS issues.

Lastly, carry your passport close to your body…in an RFID blocking sleeve or purse/backpack/wallet.  Passports are now a ‘hot’ item on the black market.

  • COPIES:  Make a copy of all important documents -ID, front/back of credit cards with the 1-800 number, and your passport (if not emailing it to yourself).  Keep these in a secure place and separate from the originals.
  • ….and speaking of credit cards….Limit the number of card(s) you take- one or two…perhaps 3 at most.  Leave the rest of your cards at home.  If you are a victim of a pickpocket or other crime, you don’t want to have to cancel 10 cards!  My husband and I each carry 1 credit card – from different accounts.  If one wallet is lost or stolen and we have to cancel that card, we still have one we can use.  If we are both carrying the same card account/number, cancelling would leave us with nothing to use.
  • Duct tapeDuct Tape  Why?  If you’ve read my blog,  you know that I take duct tape on every trip, and it’s gotten us out of more than one bind. It has multiple ‘rescue’ uses and we rarely come home from a trip without using it for something.  🙂  Don’t take the whole roll.  Roll a few feet around a pencil stub, hairspray bottle, or anything else that works.  🙂
  • travel size medicationsMedications/First Aid – Take anything you think you might need….in small travel size bottles.  I suggest:  pain relievers (Tylenol, Advil etc…), antihistamine, antacid, stool softener (eating habits change on cruises), Pepto Bismol, antibiotic ointment and band aids, possibly cortisone creme.  These items are very expensive on the ship, and supplies may be limited…  Don’t forget your prescription meds in the ORIGINAL bottles.

 

  • Sea-sickness medication.  Take 2-3 options, especially if supplying a family.  Different remedies work for different people.  Even if you don’t think you’ll need this, bring it anyway.  This is one of those ‘just in case’ items that I DO recommend.  🙂  Most cruise lines will distribute these pills free, however, it requires a trip down to the medical facility….when you’re not feeling well….and it just might bring you in contact with germs you’d rather avoid.  The generic forms are very inexpensive at Walmart and having them with you is MUCH more convenient.    🙂
  • $1 bills – for tipping. Tips are customary for porters, drivers/luggage handlers at the terminal, excursion tour guides, room service waitstaff.  You are in control of how many of these services you use…Bring the amount of ‘tip money’ you need for the services you plan to utilize.  We usually take $15-$20 because we are willing to take care of ourselves most of the time and rarely order room service….we use it for tour guides mostly.
  • Air Freshener – In addition to the obvious reasons, 🙂 ships sometimes have issues with plumbing/toilets that causes unpleasant odors.  A little scent can go a long way to making everyone more comfortable.  You may not need it…but if you do, you’ll THANK ME for telling you to bring it. Get a travel size at the Dollar Store…for $1.
  • Brita water bottle (the one with the filter in the lid)  I’m an avid water drinker and honestly, there is NO time when it’s MORE necessary than when you’re eating the ‘extra’ food on a cruise. However, the tap water on the ship tastes just like you would expect water that’s stored in a tank to taste.  (Just fyi, it’s filtered/treated water and  perfectly safe.)   The Brita bottles ear plugswork VERY well.
  • Ear plugs:  If you’ve chosen your cabin carefully, you may not need these.  However, sometimes, you may not know you have a bad location until you’re on board and it’s too late….  For those situations, a pair of ear plugs really comes in handy. These from the Dollar Tree come with a storage container….for $1!

 

  • Medical information/List of prescription medications:  This is important for anyone with medical issues, but ESPECIALLY for those traveling alone.  A basic medical history and list of medications may be useful to medical personnel on board should you have a medical emergency.  A Word About Insurance:  Chances are, your medical insurance won’t cover you while out of the country,  (That’s another ‘plug’ for travel insurance)  but it doesn’t hurt to bring your card in case you are transported home for medical care.  Also be aware that Medicare does NOT work outside the country.IMG_6855 - public
  • Magnets:  Did you know that the stateroom walls are metal?  Well…you can use magnets (clips, hooks or ordinary magnets) to attach any number of things to the wall.  Even that little round box to the right of the map is a magnet…holding smaller items I wanted easily accessible…  🙂
  • Emergency numbers at home.  Even if you have these numbers memorized, it’s a good idea to list them and put them with your passport/important documents in case someone ELSE needs to access them. (if you are incapacitated) Make sure you have ICE #(s) in your phone. (In Case of Emergency)
  • Journal/notebook & pen/pencil –  I bring a small spiral notebook (3×5) for notes, etc…and for the contact info of the cruise line liason in each port.  (This name will be listed in the cruise line newsletter each day) and is the person to contact if you have any problems in port.  Take this contact info into port each day.
  • Binoculars:  I can’t imagine very many cruise destinations where I wouldn’t want these….

Might Need…..YOU Decide

  • Power strip or one of those plugs that turns one outlet into 3 –   Outlets are VERY limited in cruise ship cabins. (1-2)  If you have multiple items requiring electricity, this will come in handy.  🙂  NOTE:  Celebrity and Princess prohibit surge protectors and will confiscate them at check in.  As far as I know, cruise lines still allow the multi-plug ‘thing’.

nightlight

Night light – Interior cabins, especially, are completely dark when the lights are out.  Outside cabins may have a little light filtering in from the ship exterior lights…and possibly the moon… but it’s not much.  🙂  Note:  There are no street lights on the ocean.  🙂  🙂

 

 

  • Alarm clock (Battery operated – one that doesn’t require an outlet)  Cruise ship cabins do not have clocks.  While cell phones may work as an alarm, they don’t make very good room clocks. Passengers in interior cabins especially may need an alarm on port days with no ‘morning light’
    post its and highlighters

    Highlighters or post it notes at Dollar Tree for $1

    to wake up with. Personal preference is the reason this is on the “might need’ list.

  • Highlighter: I use these to highlight activities in the newsletter that interest us. This is particularly helpful when cruising with multiple family members who want to do different things. Each night, we sit down and highlight everyone’s choices with different colors. That makes it easier to locate each other during the day – or plan our ‘together’ times.
  • A few Post-It Notes:  (Remember when we used to communicate with one another with pen and paper???)  🙂  Post It notes are useful for leaving notes for your cabin steward or for others in your party (such as teens).  Awww…  Life without the cell phone….  🙂 🙂
  • Reading material
  • Items Needed in Ports of Call – Consider  Guidebooks? Maps? Foreign Language Dictionary?  Snorkel gear?  (equipment can be rented, BUT I bring my own mouth piece)   Underwater camera(s)?  Children’s water floaties or sand toys (Purchase these at the Dollar Store, then leave them with local children in port rather than toting them back home)    Coats/jackets/gloves/scarves for “northern” destinations?
  • Lanyard for the ship ‘ID card’.  This may kind of SCREAM “Tourist” but for those who like the idea….       It could be a good idea for children during debarkation…so they keep track of their card.
  • Insect repellant (with DEET):  depending on your ports.  (Definitely  Alaska)
  • Over the Door Shoe Holder: Cruise lines are starting to prohibit these…(Disney will actually confiscate them and charge you for damages…) but if your cruiseline allows it, it’s VERY helpful in cabins with 3 – 4 people. It’s probably not necessary in cabins of only 2   
  • Insulated travel mug with lid.  I like hot tea…but don’t like the geno-estrogens in the Styrofoam cups.  The insulated mug is my solution –  In fact, I’m taking a Yeti knock-off on our Alaskan cruise. (My husband doesn’t think taking our real Yeti’s is wise….so we’re buying cheaper look-alikes)  On warmer itineraries, however, these are almost more trouble than they’re worth as I have to carry it around when empty…or make a return stop at the stateroom.  That’s the reason it’s on the ‘Might” list.  🙂
  • Toilet seat covers – This really depends on your itinerary/ports.
  • Wristwatch  Cell phones will sync with local time – which may or may not be the same as ‘ship time’.  Ships leave port on SHIP TIME.  Bring and set your wristwatch to ‘ship time’ so you don’t miss the ship on port days.   🙂
  • Swimmer’s Ear product – (if traveling with children who are prone to this)  All meds are expensive on the ship.
  • Laundry pods – if you plan to do laundry.   These are very expensive on board.   Note:  Not all cruise lines or ships have self serve laundry. (Royal Caribbean does not) Call your cruise line to find out about your ship.clothespins
  • Clothespins or Clips of some kind (I usually bring 4-6)   Clothespins, binder clips, etc….  These have multiple uses.  I’ve used them to clip swimsuits to the clothesline in the bathtub or to the chairs on the balcony –or to  hold curtains closed if the window opens to the deck or if cruising to Alaska in June when there is 18-20 hrs of daylight….or to keep the shower curtain closed…or hanging properly.  There’s just so many uses.  🙂20161016_173519
  • Extra bag folded up in your suitcase – a small lightweight bag is nice to take into port for all those things you need or buy OR to carry towel, sunglasses, book, etc… around the ship.  It can also help you to get off the ship at the end of your cruise if you ‘over-buy’.  🙂  These are cheap bags I found at Dollar Tree….for $1.  I don’t worry if they get dirty or covered in sand…and I like the idea of getting a new one for each cruise….  I don’t feel guilty if I’ve paid $1 for it.  🙂
  • Pre-packaged foods for the ports:  (peanut butter-n-crackers, fruit rollups, etc…)  It may seem strange to bring food when embarking onto a FOOD BARGE, but pre-packaged items are the ONLY food that can be taken off the ship into port.  If you have a medical issue that requires food at regular intervals or with medications, bring a few pre-packaged items.  NOTE: Many countries have VERY strict laws about bringing ‘open’ food or produce into their country. (and the cruise lines take this extremely seriously.)  The person defying this law may find themselves in a LOT of trouble.
  • Extra zip ties:  I use these on our suitcase when zip tieswe disembark.  At disembarkation, you have a choice of either carrying your own bags off the ship (Rather cumbersome, crowded and difficult) or putting your luggage outside your cabin the night before to be stored then unloaded at the port.  Zip ties offer security if you don’t have luggage locks.  You can use these at embarkation too, but realize you will need a way to cut them to unpack.  A cabin steward may be able to do that, but you may have to wait until he/she is able to.

Ridiculous Items

(I include this for laughs more than anything.)   There are online lists who suggest these things….REALLY.   Read and Laugh,  but don’t think I’m suggesting anything here….  🙂

  • Blender  (yes, someone suggested this…. )
  • Bubble wrap for souvenirs!  This is just NOT necessary,  Your suitcase is full of clothes…Wrap any breakable souvenirs in them…or inside shoes if the item needs more protection. You can also carry items off the ship in your carry on.  🙂 🙂
  • Walkie talkies;  It sounds like a good idea for communicating with members of your party on the ship, right?  However, the reality is that these typically have a very short range…500 feet…4-5 decks maximum… so they aren’t very reliable with today’s HUGE ships.  If you have the really expensive ones, they don’t have that static noise…but the cheaper brands can be really irritating to other passengers. :/
  • Windsock for your balcony.  Honestly, there is no need to bring ‘decorations’.  You’re there to sail, swim, explore, sight see, shop, tour, sleep 🙂 enjoy, relax, meet new friends….not decorate!
  • Matches or a lighter to eliminate odors in the bathroom.  OK, Think About This….open flame….on a ship….middle of the ocean.  Folks DON’T DO THIS!!!!  If odors are a concern, bring a small air freshener.
Other Posts on Cruising:

Information (and Tips) for Cruising with Children

cruise towel animal

Cruising is a nice experience with children. One of the great advantages is that there are activities geared toward them, their interests and energy levels, etc.. which gives parents a little time to themselves. But before you load those little tikes in the car and head to the terminal, there are a few things you should know.

FIRST THINGS FIRST:  BOOKING & PRICING FOR CHILDREN:

  • Cruise fare is based on ‘passengers’. There is no child rate.  The 1st and 2nd passengers in a cabin will pay the higher fare. The 3rd and 4th will pay a lower fare, but the age of the passengers is not a factor. (some cruise lines divide the total by 3 or 4 just to make the number look better’… ha!)
  • Gratuities work the same way. They are assessed per passenger. You might even want to consider adding a little to the tips when the children come along.  As most moms know, cleaning up after children is MORE work, not less.  🙂
  • In booking cabins, be advised that cruise lines generally require at least one adult who is a legal parent or guardian per stateroom….  Some cruise lines say that ‘guardian’ must be 21….others require minimum age 16.  Read the fine print or ask.  🙂

Age Restrictions:

Cruise lines set their own policy about how young a passenger can be to cruise on their line.  If you wish to cruise with a child under 1 yr of age consult the cruise line website or make a phone call before booking.  If you can’t find this information anywhere else on the website, it WILL be in the passage contract…if you’re willing to read LOTS of fine print to find it.  Of course, a phone call is the quickest/easiest way.  🙂

Typically every stateroom must have at least 1 passenger over the age of 21. In the case of family groups, this age MIGHT be 16….or the requirement could be met with adjoining staterooms….parents in 1 room, teens in an adjoining room.  Again, this is a cruise line specific policy, so read websites or make phone calls to find out YOUR cruiseline’s policy.

Children & Passports:

Photo Credit: Robmadeo on FLickr CC Lic.

This topic can get really complicated.  The best way to make it ‘easy’ is to just say:  Children need a passport for travel outside of the country.   Now, within the official guidelines, there are lots of ‘if’s’….’except’s’….’this scenario’ and ‘that scenario’.  Honestly though, Make It Easy On Yourself…get the children a passport.  🙂   Children’s passports cost a little less, but they are only valid for 5 years (adult passports last 10 yrs).   You pay less, you get less.

Now, I’ll try to address this subject with all the ‘if’s’ etc… but be advised, your BEST information will come directly from the government website US State Dept:  Travel.state.gov.   or Passports for Minors Under 16

For round trip cruises departing from a US port and going to Mexico, Canada or the Caribbean, children 15 and under are only required to have proof of citizenship (birth certificate).  A passport is not required…though it IS highly recommended –  Travel these days can be such a delicate situation….and if there was a need for medical transport or boarding an aircraft in a foreign country for any reason, a passport would be necessary.

For cruises departing from ports outside the US (and the same would apply to non-US Citizens when leaving THEIR country) that passport would be required to board the flight to get to the port and enter the country to begin with…  Obviously, a passport would be required to board the ship there as well.

 

NOTE: ALWAYS check passport expiration dates.  For cruises within US and Caribbean, passports much be valid for 90 days from the END of the cruise.  For travel to other countries, policies vary.  Find out more information at travel.state.gov

Applying for a Passport for Children

Consult the State Dept website Travel.state.gov –   Passports for Minors Under 16   for forms, required documentation, and procedures to apply for a passport for a minor child.  There are a lot of restrictions and hoops to jump through  (all in an effort to stop child abductions, sex trafficking etc…). For minors 15 and under, application will require permission from BOTH parents. The simplest way is for both parents to accompany the child when making application, however, if that is not possible, the website gives several other options. If your situation is unique (deceased, unavailable or uninvolved parent, et al.)  it can be a little intimidating at first, but don’t give up too quickly.  There ARE provisions made for families in these situations.  Just don’t wait until the last minute.  Give yourself plenty of time.

 

THE BOARDING PROCESS WITH CHILDREN:

  • Make sure your children (toddlers included) know their middle name.  They may be asked, as part of the customs process, and will need to be able to answer for themselves. (based on itinerary)  Practice this a few times before you arrive at the terminal.
  • THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT!!  If a minor (17 and under) is traveling with only ONE parent….or without parents (i.e. with grandparents, or  family/friends) they will need special documentation (notarized letter of authorization)  from the non-traveling parent(s) in order to be allowed boarding.  In the case of a deceased parent, a death certificate will meet this requirement. This same documentation is required if a child has a different last name than the responsible legal adult.  This rule is taken VERY seriously.  There are NO exceptions!!  I’ve read more than one ‘tragic’ story of grandparents showing up at the terminal with the grandkids…or a divorced parent planning a big cruise for the kids in the summer, only to be denied boarding at the terminal.  Do Your Research And Come Prepared With Necessary Documentation!!!
  • Prepare the kids for the long lines and waits – or better yet, show up later –  Most our-cruise-2014-004passengers arrive at the terminal early to get on board as soon as possible.  If you arrive 2 1/2-3 hrs before sailing time, chances are you won’t deal with the huge crowds…much easier with children.  However, Don’t cut it too close!  ha!!

 

Medical needs:   When a child is separated from his or her parents, receiving  medical care can be complicated.  If children are traveling with a grandparent or other family members, they need a medical proxy/notarized letter from the non-traveling parent(s) authorizing emergency care. (Don’t forget dental care on this as well)  The letter should grant permission for care, and include the full name of the accompanying adult who will be making medical decisions, along with any allergies or health issues, health insurance information and social security number.

CHILDREN’S PROGRAMS ON BOARD:

  • Requirements/Restrictions:
    • Children Should be Healthy: Standards across the industry require that children be free of fever, discharge from nose/eyes, etc… to participate.  Reasons for this are ‘common sense’.   🙂
    • Counselors MAY not be allowed to administer medication/medical treatment or in some cases, change diapers/deal with potty training ‘accidents’.  This MAY also include inhalers. (policies vary by cruise line)   If your child requires medical care/medication, he/she either needs to know how to do this for him/herself or a knowledgeable adult needs to be with them in the children’s areas. Some cruise lines will feed the children; others require parents to pick their child up at mealtime. You will be briefed on all the cruise-specific policies when you bring your child the first time…. or you MAY be able to find that information on the website prior to your cruise.
    • There are Rules here too.  There are rules in the children’s/teen programs. They are NOT a ‘free-for-all”. Children are NOT allowed to be disruptive, disrespectful, unruly or destructive. If a child cannot handle these boundaries, you may be asked to remove the child from the activities/location.
  • Tipping the Staff in the Children’s Area:  These staff members are paid more than the wait staff, et al. throughout the ship. ‘To tip or not to tip’ is a personal preference. Keep in mind the ages of your children, how often they are utilizing the children’s activities and whether or not you have made special requests of childcare staff.
  • Sign In/Sign Out Privileges:  Some cruise lines allow parents to give children as young as age 9 the privilege of signing THEMSELVES in and out of the programs.  This is necessary for some of the activities, but you DO have the option to allow it for those situations but NOT at any other time. Before making a decision on this, PLEASE CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING:
    • Cruise ships are like ‘mini-cities’.  Just as there are ‘nice’ people and ‘naughty’ people in our hometowns, there are ‘nice’ people and ‘naughty’ people on cruise ships. The cruise lines do not perform background checks on passengers and the ship is full of long corridors and cabins with doors that lock…   Also, because cruise lines cater to families with children it could be a perfect haven for those who wish to bring harm to children. There’s no need to travel in fear…just use wisdom and discretion as you set the requirements or restrictions for your children.   NOTE:  You can give your child in/out privileges ONLY during certain activities (i.e. the scavenger hunt)   so they can participate in those activities while not having sign in/sign out privileges throughout the entire cruise.  🙂
    • BEFORE I leave this topic:  This is NOT about whether your child is ‘old enough’, ‘mature enough’ or ‘trustworthy’ (so many parents use that as their reasoning.,..)  It’s about whether or not you trust the 3000+ other passengers (and staff) on that ship.   🙂
  • If you have a child who is shy or ‘slow to warm up to other kids’, encourage them to attend the opening session in the children’s program (or go early in the cruise)  so they can form friendships when everyone else is ‘new’ to the situation. If you wait too long, the other kids will have formed their friendships and it will be harder for your child to find his/her place….kind of like being the new kid in school mid-year.
  • If you want to be assured of family time, you can always require the kids spend a pre-determined amount of time (or certain times) with the family.  On the other hand, if you have a child who tends to cling to Mom and Dad, you could require them to spend certain times (or a certain amount of time) in the children’s programs.  Discuss all of this BEFORE Boarding Day  🙂
Picture of P and O Royal Princess cruise ship - Free Pictures - FreeFoto.com

Photo Credit: Freefoto.com CC Lic.

And Then There’s This:

  • Dining rooms have children’s menus.   🙂  A diligent waiter will offer it before you ask…but in case they don’t…..
  • Be diligent with the hand washing… If your children are old enough to try to limit what they touch (hand rails, elevator buttons, etc…) that’s the best way to keep Norovirus at bay.  If they’re too young to effectively do that, your ONLY recourse will be to be diligent hand washing….because as we all know, the little tikes are constantly touching their faces and putting their hands in their mouths.  Norovirus spreads from surfaces (handrails, door knobs, etc….) to the body via nose or mouth…
  • Seasickness:  Luckily, young children seem to have fewer problems with seasickness than adults do – but for the older kids, I highly recommend the Transderm patches.  (I don’t think preschoolers, et al can use them….check with your pediatrician)  These are available by prescription only.  Each box (prescription) contains 4 patches and each patch lasts 4-5 days. For longer cruises, the body often adjusts to the movement and doesn’t require a 2nd patch  though it’s a good idea to have one with you just in case.
  • BRING any over-the-counter meds that your child might need.  (allergy meds, decongestants, Tylenol, etc…) Children get sick easily and these are very expensive on the ship. SOME pediatricians may give you a wide spectrum antibiotic to take with you.  NOTE:  Amoxicillin can be purchased over the counter in Mexico.  Don’t forget something for Swimmer’s Ear – Though this isn’t a problem limited to children, they do seem to struggle with it more than adults.
  • Bring your own inexpensive water/beach toys if cruising to a beach area – sandbuckets/shovels, goggles, snorkles, inflatable beach ball, etc.  Get these at the Dollar Tree (for $1)  then give them to local children before leaving the beach.  This is not only ‘nice’…but frees up space in your suitcase for souvenirs.
  • Bring SEVERAL swimsuits for each child.  As difficult as it is to get an adult body into a wet swimsuit, it’s even harder to get a preschooler into one.  🙂
  • We allowed our kids to do some things on the ship that we wouldn’t normally allow…like unrestricted access to ice cream. Of course, we gave the parental ‘warning’ about gorging to the point of a tummy ache…. 🙂 (to no avail)  We had a child who HAD to learn that lesson the hard way  😦 but it was a lesson well-learned and a mistake never made again.
  • Establish the ‘spending policy’ with your kids BEFORE you go to eliminate the ‘begging’ that can easily taint the vacation experience for parents.  How about a spending allowance for older kids?? –money that they can spend however they wish, but when it’s gone…it’s gone.  Money works that way for adults…it should work that way for kids too.  🙂
  • This bears repeating – If family time on the cruise is important to you, REQUIRE that the kids spend certain times with you….  You decide:  meal times?  port days?  breakfast each morning?  Just make that decision and go over it with the children before you board the ship so there are no surprises.

Bottom Line:  Discuss your expectations with the children ahead of time to alleviate problems once you’re on the ship.

Our Family Policies For the Children (in case you’re interested….)

I would never presume to tell anyone else how to deal with their children….I just share this for your consideration.  Take what pertains to you and disregard anything that doesn’t.

We always went over these with our children en route to the ship….just to make sure parent and child were on the ‘same page’ when it came to expectations.   🙂

  • Proper Cruise Ship Behavior: 
    • The dining rooms require behavior expected in any nice restaurant.  (stay seated, inside voices, proper table manners, courteous to servers/waiters, etc…)
    • Safety: Walk, not run though the hallways/public areas of the ship.  No roughhousing or horseplay.  No running in the pool areas.  No climbing on anything outside of the children’s area.  Note to Parents:  It’s a big ocean and a long way to the nearest hospital….
    • Elevator Etiquette:  (THIS is a Big One!!!)  Elevators are a method to move from floor to floor…They are NOT a play area.  Allow elevators to empty before getting in.  Allow those in wheelchairs, using walkers or other assistive walking devices to board or exit first.
    • Respect and Courtesy:  Be ‘aware’, use common sense, and be courteous at all times. Hold doors open for people behind you. Watch where you walk and don’t cut people off.  Use inside voices.  Generally, be pleasant and kind.  🙂
    • Remember there are older people on cruise ships.  They may be unstable on their feet, using a walker or wheelchair.  A child running past them is not only scary, but might actually be dangerous.  Always be considerate and respectful of older people.
  • Use the Buddy System:  Always be with another person from our group, unless you are at the children’s program on board. Do not roam around alone.  Do not leave the area without an adult.
  • Cabins are for Families: Do not go into anyone else’s cabin, and do not let anyone else into our cabin. EVER!!!   Even with the door open.  NO EXCEPTIONS!!!!  This is one that would incite an “on board grounding” in our family if broken….
  • Emergency Muster: In a ship-wide emergency, if you are not with us, go immediately to our muster station, STAY THERE and wait for us. Do not go back to the cabin for a life jacket (even if the instructions on the PA system tell you to), and do not wander around trying to find us (your parents).  We will get your jacket and WE will find YOU….That’s! our! job!  🙂
  • As our children entered the teen years, we STILL had ‘rules’ for them to follow.  On our last ‘family cruise’, we asked our 17 yr old daughter to either be accompanied by us or her 16 yr old brother when walking around the ship.  It wasn’t about age, maturity or trustworthiness; it was about her PHYSICAL stature – and the fact that we didn’t feel confident she could defend herself in a physical confrontation……We felt like her brother could.  As it turned out, they never WANTED to go anywhere without each other, so it was never an issue – but the request (which she honored)  gave us some peace as parents.

Have fun with your kiddos!!  Just go over the rules, expectations and safety precautions beforehand….and you’ll have a WONDERFUL family cruise experience!

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Cruises: Part 5 Clothes/Personal Items to Pack

Kona sunsetNormally, I wouldn’t post a list of clothes to take on a vacation.  That seems ‘insulting’ to the intelligent reader.  However, for those new to cruising packing can be a little intimidating…. formal wear, smart casual wear, ports and excursions, etc…  So, just this once, I’m posting a packing list of clothes.  🙂  Note:  This pertains mainly to warm weather cruises.  I plan to write an entire group of posts on Alaskan cruises as they break many of the rules for almost everything ‘cruising’.

 

CLOTHING:

  • Formal Night – The ‘level of formality’ on formal nights seems to be decreasing on many cruise lines (luxury lines excluded).  Cocktail dresses or elegant pant suits for women work well. For the men, a jacket/blazer with dress shirt and tie are adequate. You’ll also see some suits on the men. The general rule is to dress as you would for a nice wedding.   Elegant gowns and tuxedos may be expected on luxury cruise lines, and you will see a few of these on the more casual cruises, but it is not a ‘requirement’.  Most ships have formal wear rentals if you don’t want to pack these items.
  • Non-formal nights in the dining room are typically business or ‘smart’ casual, though you may see some cocktail dresses then too.  The little black dress is so versatile that it’s always an EXCELLENT choice.  Accessorize it ‘up’ or ‘down’ for formal or informal nights and certainly wear it more than once.  Also working well are maxi dresses, sun dresses, pantsuits, slacks and blouses.  Carnival has recently begun allowing jeans in the Dining room on casual nights.  For the men, dress slacks and a collared shirt with or without a tie works fine.   Jackets optional.  🙂   In the interest of packing light, we wear pants/skirts several nights with a different shirt/blouse/top each night. We’re usually changing clothes after dinner, so they’re only worn about 2 hours each night.

  • Days in Port:  Dress is determined by what you’re doing so follow the instructions given by the excursion vendor.  Note:  Do some research on the norms for the port areas.  In some areas of Europe, Asia and a few Caribbean ports, modest apparel is socially ‘required’ to avoid offending the locals.  (i.e. cover ups or shorts/t-shirt over swimsuits)  Modest apparel is necessary for admittance to religious sites.  Remember your Feet:  If you’ll be doing significant walking, ‘comfort’ trumps ‘fashion’….except in European ports where sneakers are considered taboo.   🙂
  • Sea Days:  Obviously, this is determined by climate and temps, but ‘casual’ is the mode here.  Shoes and a cover up over swimwear are required in the dining areas (buffet and dining rooms) on most cruise lines. (Norwegian allows swimsuits in the buffet area.)
  • Swimwear – many recommend bringing 2 – 3 swimsuits for back-to-back pool or beach days.  Swimwear is only appropriate at the pool areas.  (typically a requirement)  A swimsuit coverup is also culturally required in many ports as noted above.  Most cruise lines provide beach/pool towels (ship AND port use) so don’t be concerned with packing your own.
  • Shoes:
    • Low-heel rubber sole shoes for sea days
    • Comfortable walking shoes for excursions/port days
    • Gym/workout shoes ??
    • Shoes for dinner attire
    • Excursion-specific shoes??  consult information about your chosen excursions

NOTE:  Though many people wear flip flops on a cruise, I will never take them again.  We purposely take the stairs around the ship as much as possible and they were difficult to climb stairs/walk in.   Just a personal opinion….   🙂

  • Workout clothing  if you plan to work out on board….or walk the open air decks in the mornings.

    walking deck

    wrap-around deck where everyone walks in the mornings

  • Sweater/light jacket for cool evenings on deck or in the dining room where the a/c can be chilly.

PERSONAL ITEMS:

  • Sunscreen, sunblock and/or after-sun lotion.  This is very expensive on the ship.
  • Personal Products in TRAVEL SIZES:travel size bottlesI buy travel size containers and put my favorite products in them.  Your cruise line may put a few personal items  (toothpaste, shampoo, lotion, etc…) in the stateroom but there’s no guarantee of what will be there.
  • Jewelry:  Keep security in mind as you make your choices of jewelry to bring. Expensive pieces are probably best left at home, however, if you DO choose to travel with them, bring it on board in your carry on and put it in the safe when not wearing it. The cabins have room safes, but only valuables locked in the purser’s safe are covered under the ship’s insurance (check your cruise contract).  I also bring a watch as I turn data off on our phones when we leave port – to avoid roaming charges.
  • Lip balm (with sunscreen)  The sea air can be very drying!
  • Insect repellant with DEET
  • Hat and/or sunglasses
  • Umbrella or poncho  — depends on itinerary
  • Medicine:  These are VERY expensive on board.  The pill organizers from Dollar Tree are great for either daily medication regiments…or to keep a supply of Over the Counter meds in (different med in each compartment) medication containers
    • prescription medications (obviously….)
    • pain killer of choice – Tylenol, Advil, etc…  Travel sizes!!
    • antacid  (your diet may be quite different from when you’re home)
    • anti-diarrheal
    • cortisone cream
    • antihistamine
    • motion sickness remedy –  Bring more than  one option as you don’t know what will work for you)  For detailed information on medicines and homeopathic/natural remedies.  Dealing with Motion Sickness
    • antibiotic cream
    • stool softener (diet changes affect digestion…..)  🙂20170613_142858
    • Band-Aids/bandages
    • germicidal hand cleaner  (You can get this at Dollar Tree – for $1)

Though the ships have irons and ironing boards, they will be in a laundry room, NOT in your cabin. I try to just bring items that don’t require ironing. If you DO need to iron on formal night, do it early in the day to avoid long lines.

A Word About the Luggage Tags:

Cruise lines provide these.  Most cruise lines put them online for you to print – in an effort to go “green” (I’m not sure that saves much paper ha!  but it DOES save the cruise line money.)   That leaves you to figure out how to attach them to your luggage so that they STAY THERE during travel.

If you are flying and handling YOUR OWN bags at the airport, I recommend NOT attaching the cruise tags until after your flight to ensure they are not lost en route. When you pick up luggage at baggage claim, remove the airline tags and attach the cruise tags.

If you are flying and have purchased transfers from the cruiseline (they’re picking up your bags at the airport) you’ll need to attach those tags BEFORE LEAVING HOME.  I suggest putting TWO tags on each piece of luggage, securely attached,  as they need to STAY attached through all the handling your bags will go through.  (It’s a LOT – airport, transfer and cruise terminal…)

OPTIONS FOR MAKING SURE THOSE TAGS STAY ON:  🙂

  • Print and “laminate” the tags using clear plastic packing tape or contact paper.  Punch a hole  and attach to the bag with a zip tie  OR duct tape
  • Make a luggage tag protector (pocket) from plexi glass. Cut 2 – to size – and tape together with clear packing tape.  Punch a hole in the top and attach with zip tie.
  • Make a protector from a plastic page protector cut down to size, folded, stapled, and taped with clear packing tape over the ends and staples.  Attach with zip tie or staples.

zip tiesZip ties are available at the Dollar Tree – for $1.

Remember… 2 tags/bag is a good idea to keep things attached through much handling.

  • ONE MORE OPTION:  Several years ago,  I ordered vinyl luggage tag covers from Favors by Serendipity   These run around $2.50-$3 each.  – with an extra charge of .25 for the 9″ loops –which I recommend as the 6″ loops are challenging to attach to the suitcase. I’ve used them for all our travels – cruises AND flights.  I really like them!  Similar ones are available from Amazon for a little cheaper, but only in quantities of 4 or 8 and they don’t carry the 9″ loops.  I personally think the 9″ loops are worth the extra $1-2 it costs to order from this company.

Here’s hoping this list takes a bit of the mystery out of packing for that first (or possibly subsequent) cruise.

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