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 1-2 weeks before you sail just in case things have changed.  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 (requires a perscription – but it’s 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 can answer any questions you have about  meds (Bonine, Dramamine, Transderm)  or their generics.

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’ peopleUS dollar. 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 quite easily to ‘on your own’ exploration. 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.  However, that also brings with it some extra safe-guards.

Advantages to purchasing from the Cruise Line:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 confident and safe 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 always 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, theatres are noisy until 3 am. (Performers rehearse in the theatre late at night)  Areas like the buffet, pool decks may be noisy at times when they are being used, but also very early in the morning as staff cleans and 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.  (though TOO close could be noisy)  I consider walking to be a necessity on a cruise with the added ‘food intake’.

Bottom Line:  It all depends 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….    NOTE: It is rare for medical insurance policies to cover policy holders outside the country.  Medicare does NOT…. Good 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.  🙂

13 Prom. Deck 7 115

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 is 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.

You can always put these 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.

 

 

 

 

 

These containers wiyth snap on lids come in pack of either 6 or 10 and would be great for small 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.

Cater the quality of your purchase to what you plan to use them for.

 


Medications:travel size medications


Travel sized medication bottles.  I bought these years ago….the meds were gone a LONG time ago.  I reuse the BOTTLES each year though (remember, medication has expiration dates…. ) I refill these travel size BOTTLES each year with ‘new’ meds from my Costco size stash.

 

 

medication containers


Pill organizers are of course for daily meds or vitamins….or use them to pack pill organizer - 3x/dayjewelry – rings or earrings.  Everything stays contained and separated. Cruises are the only time I would take enough jewelry to warrant something like this.

 

 

 

 

 


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Eye masks are great for that nap – on the plane…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 cabin 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.  They have multi-colored packs great for  traveling with teens or on multi-family cruises

 

 

 

nightlight

 

 

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

 

Some people like tea lights for this because 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 packs of 9 for .97.  This is a pack of 15….for .03 more.  Better value at Dollar Tree!  🙂

 

Hand sanitizer or hand sanitizing wipes for mealtime et al   20170613_142858

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Mesh laundry bags…lightweight…..

 

 

 


 

flavored water packets

These are nice for any vacation – but we particularly like them for cruises. We don’t spend money on ‘drinks for purchase’ – 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 –(Some ports – Mexico in particular – may not have ‘safe’ water sources…..)  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

 

 

 

 

High protein snacks –   Dollar Tree has quite a few options.  Now, I personally don’t purchase pre-packaged nuts – I find them to be rancid (nothing to do with Dollar Tree…I feel that way about Walmart bags too) but for those who like them, these are certainly less expensive.

cheese and pretzelssnack-individual sizes

 

 

 

peanuts or snack crackersvariety of snack crackers from Dollar store

 

 

 

 

EVEN 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…  There  accordion files in a 5 x 8 size  are what I’ve used for several years.  They also have PLASTIC pocket folders that work well for this.  They’re durable and hopefully will last through an entire vacation.  🙂

 

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

  • magnetic clips/hooks…or just ordinary magnets –  to hang or attach things to stateroom walls (the walls are magnetic btw)
  • 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…  🙂
  • On our upcoming Alaskan cruise, I”m going to take some of the Dollar Tree shower caps for covering shoes.  I am expecting rain (and therefore mud….) on our land portion and it will be nice to have a way to cover dirty shoes when we pack to leave.

 

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: It’s important to know that your cell phone will constantly ‘ping’ for a connection if it is turned on – and that could surprise you with some rather hefty charges on 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.
    • 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.  🙂
  • For the ‘quickest’ email (since time is money) write and save emails in your word processing program then copy/paste when you get the online connection.  Expect connections to be VERY slow….and for it to take 5-10 min. to send an email.

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 work VERY well.
  • ear plugs

    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.
  • 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!

.Other Posts on Cruising:

 

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.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.

Other Posts on Cruising:

Dollar Store ‘Finds’ for the Frugal Traveler

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

Photo Credit: Nicholas Eckhart on Flickr CC Lic.

Every frugal traveler should include a trip to the Dollar store as they prepare for their vacation.  I was there today…actually looking for a fingernail file and started snapping photos of some of the ‘finds’ I’ve purchased for our travels in the past – and recommended on this blog.  I drew some interesting looks from the manager until I explained what I was doing….  I can only imagine what other customers thought.  haha!  Oh well!!  🙂

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

If you’re going on a cruise, check out  Dollar Store ‘Finds’ Specifically For Cruises 

 TRAVEL SIZE CONTAINERS

This is the BEST place to get travel size containers for cosmetics, shampoo & conditioner,  crèmes, etc…  🙂

travel size bottles

 

These TSA approved containers have lids that are ‘secure’ so you don’t worry about leakage.  However, for worry-proof, pack them in Ziploc bags from……You guessed it!!!  The Dollar store…for $1  🙂

 

 

 

travel size containers

 

These containers come in 10 packs –  .10 each!!  Use these for anything small (earrings, Advil/Tylenol, wax earplugs,  etc…) that won’t leak as they have snap-on lids.  

 

 

travel size containers

Another option:  A 6-pack for $1   These lids seem a little more secure….

 

Adapt your ‘quality’ to what you plan to use it for….

 

 

travel size medications

Travel sized medication bottles.  I think I’m more ‘in love’ with the size of the bottles than anything.  We have long ago used all the meds in our travel size bottles, but keep refilling them with ‘new’ meds each vacation.    I even combine several meds of varying shapes/colors into one bottle to save space.  NOTE:  If you do this, realize that medication has expiration dates.  We make a point to use all the meds in a bottle when we return home…but refill with new meds for the next trip.  I don’t rebuy the bottles…but the medication is ALWAYS ‘new’ on every trip.

 

medication containers

For those on a regular medication or vitamin regiment, these pill organizers are great.  There are options to fit everyone’s schedule.  Just keep looking until you find one that meets YOUR needs.

pill organizer - 3x/day

 

I really like THIS one for 3x/day vitamin or medication schedule.   OR use this large container for the whole family…dedicate a row…or rows…to each person and keep everyone’s meds in the same container.

Here’s a Hack:  Use these (any size) for ANY small items you need to keep track of…earrings…rings…ear plugs…

MISCELLANEOUS

ice packsWe use these for lunches.  When we fly, we take a small collapsible insulated bag in the suitcase along with one (or 2) of these.  Most hotel rooms have a mini-fridge with a small ‘freezer’  section for freezing.

 

plastic bags

 

If you’ve read many of my posts, you know we take plastic bags on all vacations.  You just never know when you’ll need one.  On our last trip, my bracelet broke….I gathered all the beads together in a bag and brought it home to re-string.  The uses are endless!!  🙂

 

All you will need is 2-3 bags of various sizes, NOT entire boxes.  🙂

ear plugs

Ear plugs come in handy quite often – flights, hotels, cruises.  This set comes with a small container for storage once the package is opened.  I have two of these!

 

 

 

Duct tapeDuct Tape – Again, if you’ve read many of my posts you know we ALWAYS take a bit of duct tape on trips – and usually use it for something.  I  recommend wrapping 2-3 feet around a pencil stub instead of taking the whole roll. These rolls at Dollar Tree were very small if you wanted to take the whole thing….  Regardless of how you do it, this roll is $1!

FOR THE KIDS: 

Dollar Stores are a GREAT place to find items to keep the kids occupied on any trip…flight or road trip.  There’s everything from puzzle books to paperback classics (books) to stickers/sticker books to inexpensive plastic toys that won’t cause stress if they’re lost en route.

Puzzle books and Workbooks:flashcards, workbooks

 Workbooks for preschoolers – when they still think this sort of thing is fun!  🙂

…..Coloring or Activity Books

puzzle booksactivity, coloring and puzzle books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stickers and Sticker books:sticker books and stickers

 stickers for the kids

 

 

 

paperback classics

 

 

Paperback Classics:

 

 

Toys at the Dollar Store

 

 

Small toys – plastic and cheap!!  You won’t worry if they’re lost  🙂

 

 

cheap washcloths for freshening up on flights

 

Washcloths for that flight.  Take these (DRY) in a plastic bag – If you need to clean up a mess – or freshen up, ask the flight attendant for a cup of warm water (or cool water??).  This is better than taking the nice washcloths from home and risk them getting lost.

flavored water packets

 

These are nice – everyone can have their favorite drink flavor – for MUCH less $$ than sodas.

FOOD ITEMS:

Some might have an aversion to purchasing food from the Dollar Store but I have found many things to be the same brands as the grocery stores/discounters sell.  I always check the expiration dates and occasionally find items “close’ to expiration, but have never found anything actually expired. Because I’m usually shopping the week before we travel, the close expiration date isn’t a problem.

high protein snacks Snacks – Trail Mix varieties:  I don’t actually buy these as we make our own, but for those who prefer to purchase them, here they are for $1.

 


snack-individual sizes

Other snack options….all individually wrapped.  These are great for grabbing before a day on the beach or in an amusement park…or going on a hike or tour.

packages of peanuts

variety of snack crackers from Dollar store

 


 

cookies from Dollar Store

Cookies in smaller quantities.  Though we don’t purchase the Trail mixes, we DO really like these cookies – (The fig newtons are as good as the name brand imho)   OK…I’ll admit it…..I buy these on a regular basis – not just on vacations. The small size makes it easier to ‘justify’ the purchase….  🙂

 


smaller sizes for weekend getaways

If you’re staying in a place with a kitchen/cooking facility, these smaller size mixes are great for making a dessert for one evening – without  having to deal with remainder.

 


 

travel size peanut butterPeanut Butter!  Our snack of choice – It’s protein and my family LOVES it.  Dollar Tree has both the “To Go’ packs which are great for flights.  (Food is so expensive at the airport or on the plane and  TSA restricts what you can bring with you.)   We either use it as a dip for celery, etc…or bring some crackers and a plastic SPOON ( can’t bring a knife through  security….).

The small jars were great for taking to Hawaii.  Groceries are so expensive on the Islands and we wanted to bring as much with us as we could.  This size was perfect for a week.


travel size mayo/jelly/syrup
These are more ‘finds’ we took to Hawaii.  Again the small size meant we could use it all before flying back home.  It was really nice to pay $1 for each one rather than the $4-$6 they charged at the grocery stores on the islands.  As you can see…these are name brands.

 


 IS THERE MORE??

These  accordion files will keep paperwork, tickets, confirmations, etc… organized (yes, I DO print some things…its just easier to handle paper when going through security lines than phone/ipad, etc… )

Not pictured, but they also have awesome PLASTIC folders for these same items..if that’s what you prefer.  They won’t get torn up as quickly as cardboard/paper folders.

 

heavy duty aluminum foil

 

If you’re vacationing in the wide outdoors, this HEAVY DUTY foil will be great for making Hobo Meals.  Get it for $1!!!  🙂 🙂

 

OTHER ITEMS (not pictured)

  • PAPER!!!  Dollar Tree is a cavernous hole for a paper addict such as myself.  I LOVE the sticky notes in all sizes and colors…and pads…notebooks…Everything my little paper-addicted heart could want is there…for $1
  • Then…there’s paper’s best friend…the colored pens!!!  🙂  Packs of 4 – or 6 for $1.
  • carabiners – large ones for $1…or smaller ones in packs of 2/$1.
  • Shower caps to cover shoes when you pack…to keep clothes clean’er’….
  • Mesh laundry bags – great for that return trip home.

There you have it!  With a trip to the Dollar Tree…  (and a few dollars)  you can have a lot of things to make your travel easier, less stressful and certainly less expensive.

Happy Shopping!

 

 

Cruise Part 4: Saving Money Once Onboard

13 Prom. Deck 7 115

First, MAKE NOTE:

‘Cheap fares’ is how the cruise lines lure you on board.  Their goal is to fill their cabins…even at a loss if necessary.  The profits come AFTER you’re on board – with all the money they HOPE you’ll spend.  They employ every sales pitch and tactic they can to separate you from your money. …from drinks to specialty restaurants to spa treatments to shopping bargains to shore excursions. ‘How much’ your cruise finally costs will depend on how many of these sales pitches you opt for and how many you walk away from. The decision is yours, but realize that these decisions WILL affect the REAL cost of your cruise.  🙂

HOW TO STRETCH YOUR DOLLAR ON BOARD:

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Photo Credit: Cruise News Weekly on Flickr CC lic.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/cruisenewsweekly/4768665255/in/photostream/

Photo Credit: Cruise News Weekly on Flickr CC Lic.

  • Enjoy The Free Stuff:  free shows or movies, activities, games, lectures/seminars, classes, demonstrations, lounging by the pool, Main Dining room, buffet or other free eateries, ‘included’ drinks  Make THESE the things you enjoy on board.

 

  •  It’s all about choices. Make them wisely. BEFORE YOU BOARD, make a “Top 3 List” (or Top 2…or Top 4) of favorite vacation activities…the things you MUST have/do in order to enjoy your vacation. Budget for those and let everything else go. If specialty coffee is a ‘must’ in order for you to enjoy your vacation, then by all means, have it. Compensate by forgoing the spa treatment. If that spa treatment is on your ‘must do’ list, do it.  Compensate by forgoing the shopping spree.  etc…  Do the things on your ‘Top’  list and say ‘no’ to everything else.
  • Waiting is a virtue!  Spa treatments, shopping, et. al. are discounted up to 50% on port days or the last day of the cruise. (on some cruise lines) It’s how they increase business during slow times. All of these discounts will be in the daily newsletter delivered to your stateroom. Discounts are always better than full price, right??
  • Resist the sales pitch for over-priced products offered after your spa treatment.
  • Don’t DOUBLE-tip.  Most cruise lines add an auto-gratuity to drinks, spa and fitness centers, etc…   There is a space on the ‘receipt” to add an additional tip  and you’re always welcome to add that for outstanding service, but don’t feel pressured to do so. Some unsuspecting tourists see the line and add 15-20% not realizing it’s already been added.  They’re tipping double.

PLEASE NOTE:  I did NOT say to eliminate the tip….I said to not OVER-tip or DOUBLE-tip.  Tips are important for the employees who work so hard to make your cruise enjoyable.  Don’t stiff them on the tip they deserve.  Just don’t inadvertently tip twice.

  • Don’t feel like you must have a shore excursion on every port day….especially on a longer cruise. Choose those you really want to do, then spend some days just exploring – the beach, sightseeing, shopping, on your own without the extra cost of an official excursion. Some beaches, urban or historic areas are within a short taxi or bus ride from the port. Just do your research.
  • PHONE CALLS:
    • While still in the debarkation port, you MAY have cell phone service however, once you sail away, turn the phone OFF or on airplane mode (data off) to avoid  international roaming charges. Even though you may not be using that phone, it will still ‘ping’ in search of an internet connection if it’s turned on….leaving you with a shocking bill when you return home.
    • Contact your cell phone carrier to ask about their international rates. Some plans may allow you to add international service for 1 month.
    • Without an international plan, the least expensive way to call will probably be through wi-fi while in port. Even if you can’t find free wi-fi, many restaurants/coffee shops will give you connection if you purchase something…worth the purchase if you need to make that contact..  🙂
    • Talk to cruise staff and ask them how they make calls while in port.  They do this all the time so will know where to find the free or cheap wi-fi or purchase calling cards.  🙂
    • If making a cell phone call in port, make sure you are far enough away from the ship that your call doesn’t connect through the ship’s tower anyway.  Again, phones ‘ping’ to the nearest (most accessible) tower. If you can see the ship, you just might be making that call FROM the ship – without intending to.
    • You MAY be able to use Magic Jack (or similar) app to place calls through wi-fi on land, but check this out carefully so you aren’t surprised on your next bill.
    • NOTE:  Some cell phone companies include service on some Caribbean islands in their regular plans. Check with your company before cruising.  You just might be surprised…  🙂
  • If you MUST have internet connection on the ship for business purposes or to contact family, save time (which is the same as money when you’re purchasing internet by the minute) by typing the e-mails in your word processing program.  Then when online, just copy, paste and send.  The connection will be slow but you don’t want to spend that expensive time composing emails.
  • Bring your own carbonated drinks and/or water on board if allowed (Carnival has recently disallowed anything “bottled” to be brought on board…most notably, water. 😦  ).  Policies seem to be constantly changing on this so check your cruise line website for details and bring whatever is ‘allowable’ to save money.  At least until the day when all beverages are restricted,  passengers can bring a limited amount with them.    Note… I DO bring my green tea bags.  🙂
  • flavored water packetsThese are nice to give you a little variety.  Get them at the Dollar Store ($1/pkg of 8)….  They take up virtually no space in your luggage and add some variety to your beverage options.
  • If, while on your cruise, you find that you LOVE cruising, you can usually book your next cruise while on board.  Most cruise lines offer some type of incentive for booking on a cruise (On board credit, reduced deposits and possibly even discounted fares) Stop by the Cruise booking office on board to find out what they’re offering. Be sure to check cancellation policies before signing OR PAYING anything. Before going on a cruise, we usually will begin a little preliminary research on where we MIGHT like to go on the next cruise. That way, we are prepared for our visit to the “Future Cruise” desk.  🙂
  • Most cruise lines either give you a print out of your bill the last night of your cruise or you can access this on the kiosks or TV in your stateroom.  Check  this over carefully and if you find any discrepancies, get those resolved BEFORE you get off the ship. In most cases, once you leave the ship, all bills are considered final. We like to check this ‘early’ on our last day so we can resolve any issues before everyone else gets in the line at Customer Service.  🙂

DINING:

  • As mentioned above, one of the big money-makers for the cruise line is the specialty restaurants.  They’re nice…I admit, however, so are the regular dining rooms which are included in the cruise fare.  There are so many eatery options available on these ships, not only the main dining rooms (where the food is INCREDIBLE) but burgers, pizza, the buffet
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/tomsaint/

    Photo Credit: Rennett Stowe on Flickr CC Lic.

    with a constantly changing menu.  You can get plenty to eat and never spend a dime. The more you eat in specialty venues, the more your cruise will cost in the end.

  • Special drinks from alcohol to specialty coffees to carbonated drinks will all cost a LOT more than they do on land.  If you can forgo those…or get them on land instead, it will make a difference in the cost of your cruise.

GRATUITIES/TIPS

Most of the cruise lines automatically charge tips to your account – currently $12-$13/passenger per day. You can opt to remove or decrease these if you wish, but honestly, that a pretty rotten thing to do to these hard working employees who have served you and made your cruise so relaxing and enjoyable. If they have failed in some way, stop by Customer Service to try to resolve the issue. Otherwise, please leave the tips as they are.  🙂 You can always increase these if you feel the service warrants it (or if you have made special requests that warrant a little extra). Some passengers think that children should be charged a lesser rate on tips just as they are charged less for children’s meals or admission fees. The problem with that thinking is easy for any Mom to understand… Children are FAR MORE CHALLENGING to pick up and clean up after than adults. We are fortunate the cruise lines don’t charge MORE for the children. haha!  Please don’t decrease tips if you have children in the room.  You’re paying someone to pick up after you and your child/children. As parents, we KNOW the messes these little tikes can make.  🙂

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Photo Credit: Kelly Teague on Flickr CC Lic.

Bring several $1 bills for additional tips (room service, porters, shore excursion operators)  if you plan to use these services. These are not included in the auto-tips.  Obviously, these are choices you make. If you want to cruise as inexpensively as possible, don’t use these services and save the tip cost.  🙂  NOTE:  Tips for drinks are typically automatically included in the charge for the drink but cruise line policies may vary so check the website for specifics. Base how much money ($1 bills) you bring on how many of these services you plan to utilize.

You CAN make your cruise economical.  Start by making your “Top 3 List” of things you MUST do in order to have a happy and fulfilling vacation. By all means, do those…and compensate for that cost by forgoing other things. It’s all about choices, you know.  🙂

Other Posts on Cruising:

Cruises Part 3: Embarkation and ‘First’ Tips

 

our cruise 2014 008

Part 2 of this series Your Cruise is Booked, Now What?

EMBARKATION:

  • Check in ONLINE before going to the terminal. Some cruise lines ‘suggest’ this and others ‘require’ it. It certainly speeds things up for you. Your cruise website will give specifics on how and when to do this.
  • embarkation

    Lines at Check In

    Embarkation involves lines and waits.  Just be patient;  once you’re on the ship, it will be a distant memory.  🙂

  • Luggage Tags:  Most cruise lines ask passengers to print and attach these themselves, though they MAY also provide them at  the terminal. Printing these will be part of your online check in process.
    • Before relinquishing your bags (at the airport or at the terminal) double-check that every piece of luggage has a luggage tag.  Bring along 1-2 extra tags in case one is damaged in transit.
    • If you have purchased cruise line transfers, they will pick up your bags at the airport, so attach all ID / cruise  tags, etc… SECURELY before leaving home.  (I have been known to put TWO tags on each piece of luggage just as a precaution…)
    • Tip: If the weather report predicts rain, make sure your luggage tag is protected from possible water damage (smearing)  –either by using a plastic tag cover or by covering it with  clear shipping tape.
  • When you arrive at the terminal, porters at the entrance will accept your bags and take them to the ship for you if you wish.  Customary tip for this service is $1-2/bag  🙂  You are not obligated to accept this service;  you CAN carry and check your own luggage.  NOTE:  I just learned recently that luggage handlers at Canada Place in Vancouver are unionized and paid quite well so tipping is discouraged. Of course, tips are always your choice.
  • You will need to show a passport and cruise documents when you check in for the cruise.  DON’T PACK THEM IN YOUR LUGGAGE!!!
  • If you drove to the port/parked your car, write down or put in your phone the location of your parking place.  If you can forget where you park after an afternoon at the mall, think what it will be like after a 5-7-12 day cruise.  🙂
  • When it’s time to board, have your documents READY!! (boarding pass, passport, ID, possibly VISAs…)  If you’re the one holding up the line, you may get a few dirty looks…  🙂
  • If traveling with young children, make sure they know their middle name.  In some ports, they will be asked (as part of the Customs process) and will need to answer for themselves.
  • Your picture will be taken during this process and connected to your card for security purposes.  Be ready to smile!!  🙂

ONCE ON BOARD:

  • You probably won’t be able to get into your room right away.  Remember, the previous cruisers just got off the ship a few hours ago.  Cabin stewards are working very hard to “turn the ship”.  Head to the buffet.  Explore the ship.  Take a few pictures.  Your room should be ready within a couple of hours.
  • Pack any items you MUST have during those few hours (and possibly the first night) in your carry on bag – medications, bathing suits and sunscreen 🙂 and perhaps a change of clothes.   This way, if your bag doesn’t arrive for a few hours, (or in rare cases, the next morning) you can still get started on your vacation….   ALWAYS pack needed medications in your carry on.  However, as you’re packing this bag, keep in mind that until you have access to your stateroom, you’ll be carrying it around with you.  Find the balance between packing what you need while still being able to carry/manage the bag you’ve packed for several hours.  🙂
  • Photo Credit: Adam Knight on Flickr CC LIc.

    We usually try to keep an eye on our hallway/room to bring our luggage inside the door as soon as it arrives.  Depending on the particular ship (no consistency among cruise lines that I have been able to determine)  it MAY be sitting in the hallway…available to anyone who walks by…….  hmmm…

 

 

Photo Credit: Jenni Konrad on Flickr CC LIc.

 

  • You will need to report for your Muster Drill (Lifeboat/Safety Drill) according to instructions given to you after boarding….typically before Sail Away.  Participation in this emergency drill is MANDATORY on ALL cruise lines.  They go over safety procedures and tell you where your muster station (raft) is.  Just go!! …and be advised, on some cruise lines, they check everyone in with their cruise ID….and kindly hold another drill for those who chose to skip the first one! 🙂  Frequent cruisers often complain about these, but remember, a good attitude goes a long way to improving your experience.  It MAY turn out to be information you NEED to know.
  • Once you get in your room, your cabin steward will probably come to introduce him/herself.  You should have the same steward for the entire cruise.  Get to know him or her on a first name basis…because they will know YOU on a first name basis.  🙂  If you have any special requests of them, this is the time to let them know…and if you’re making ‘extra’ requests, keep that in mind when you’re given the opportunity to increase their tips at the end of the cruise.  🙂
  • Sail Away:  This is a celebratory time.  Some people like to join the party up on deck.  Others like to make a private toast on their balcony or a secluded place on deck.  Others like to find a place to wave good-bye to friends or family on shore – or just to wave at complete strangers on shore. 🙂   Give some thought to where YOU want to be during this time…    🙂

DRINK CARDS:

First, it should be noted that coffee, tea (possibly flavored/herbal teas), hot chocolate,(on some cruise lines) lemonade, and milk/juices in the mornings are typically free on most cruise lines.

Beyond that, they offer drink packages for unlimited drinks. (There are soda packages and on some cruise lines, packages for unlimited alcohol drinks)  Many have a policy of requiring passengers to purchase these at the beginning of their cruise and for the full duration of the cruise….and that’s where they get you.  (policies vary so check your cruise line website for specifics)  By requiring you to purchase for the entire trip, you are paying for drinks on the first day when you may only be on the ship 5-6 hrs….and port days when you’re OFF the ship most of the day.  Unless you plan to make up for lost time (i.e. lost drinks) it may be difficult to get your money’s worth on these days.  Just keep this in mind as you calculate the costs of the drink packages vs. buying drinks individually.

Princess has a coffee card (punch card)  for specialty drinks at the coffee bar and dining rooms – lattes, cappuccinos, espressos, etc…  We have found these to be a really good deal because you can use ALL that you pay for. If there are punches remaining on your card at the end of your cruise, just bring it on your next Princess cruise. You don’t lose any value….drink packages don’t work this way.  ha!    NOTE:  You CAN find these coffee punch cards on eBay (either brand new or partially used)  for sometimes less than full price.  Though those cards have some limitations, you DO get the specialty drinks for a ‘punch’ on the card.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

NOROVIRUS

There’s been a lot on the news about Norovirus on cruise ships. However, information that is NOT getting out is that Norovirus is NOT a ‘cruise ship’ illness.  It can show up anywhere large numbers of people live in a small space.

What is it?:    It’s an extremely common and highly contagious virus affecting the stomach and intestines causing gastroenteritis, nausea, vomiting, stomach or intestinal cramps, etc…with symptoms similar to food poisoning or the flu, though it is NOT the flu.  Headache and low-grade fever may accompany it as well.

Some Things to Know about Norovirus:

  • Norovirus is not limited to cruise ships.  It spreads where people congregate in enclosed spaces – nursing homes, hotels, dormitories..and yes, cruise ships.  It is every bit as common as the common cold.
  • You hear about it on cruiseships because they are required to keep and report data on illnesses. Locations such as hotels or college dorms don’t report data so it doesn’t make the news.
  • Norovirus passes from person to person from surfaces or physical contact.
  • How can you guard against it?  WASH HANDS FREQUENTLY WITH HOT WATER AND SOAP!!!  Always wash before and after meals, after touching your face and after using the restroom and of course after returning to your cabin after touching handrails, doorknobs, etc… around the ship.  On our last cruise, the previous cruise had more than 2% of the passengers ill (the level they are required to report to the CDC AND required to inform passengers on the next cruise.)  I instructed my family to limit as much as possible what they touched….and I bugged them constantly about washing their hands. Either because of that or in spite of it, we somehow managed stayed healthy.
  • I like to take Lysol or Clorox wipes20170613_144234 (from Dollar Tree)  to wipe down surfaces in the room such as remote, doorknobs, switches or telephone when we first arrive.  I may do this again mid-cruise if I feel a need.
  • Don’t share food/glasses/utensils….even with healthy family members. Reason is obvious!  🙂  Note:  Symptoms take 1-3 days after exposure to show up.
  • Most cruise lines put dispensers of antibacterial (Purell, et al)  at the entrance to food stations as a deterrent to Noro.  The fact is that Norovirus is a ‘virus’…and therefore not killed by an antibacterial (NOTE…anti-“bacterials” protect against BACTERIA….)  You will be required to use these.  Rather than argue with the crew member standing there, just use it.  Though it won’t protect you against Noro, it will keep crew members happy…. 🙂   and protect you against anything ‘bacterial’ that you might encounter.  🙂
  • Be HAPPY when the cruise line opts to ‘serve’ food at the buffet rather than allowing guests to serve themselves.  I’ve heard people complain about this and I’m always thinking  THANK GOODNESS!  I’ve seen a few behaviors from people at buffets that have turned my stomach.  I like the idea that guests aren’t allowed to contaminate the food before I get to it. Interesting fact:  Holland America requires crew members to serve ALL food and drink – even water – for the first 48 hrs of a cruise – to decrease the spread of illness.
  • So…what if you DO get sick…then what?  You can make a trip to the ship’s medical center but realize that medical science can’t make a virus ‘go away’. They can only help you deal with the symptoms while the virus runs its course.  That’s where travel insurance may come in handy – to pay for that visit. However, the bottom line is that the only cure for viruses is ‘time’ and rest.
    • Keep hydrated (water)  🙂
    • Stay in your cabin.  Please!!!  🙂  I’ve heard stories of cruisers who decide they’re not going to waste their vacation and they continue to come and go around the ship while sick. Folks….THAT’S DOWNRIGHT CRUEL AND SELFISH!! Don’t do that to other passengers.  Be humane!!!
    • Initially, ALLOW your body to rid itself of the virus by allowing the diarrhea and vomiting while staying hydrated of course.  (It’s the body’s natural way to get rid of those toxins) After a reasonable amount of time, you can stop the diarrhea with Pepto Bismol (or similar med).  This is expensive on the ship (and perhaps in short supply)  It’s a good idea to bring it with you.
  • It will take 1-3 days after exposure for symptoms to appear. They will last 24-48 hrs with diligent hygiene. You may still be contagious for 1-2 weeks!  BE AWARE that you can bring this home to family and friends…  Know this and be diligent with personal hygiene for a while!!!
  • On a Positive Note:  When there is a significant outbreak, the ship crew cleans more thoroughly than usual…with stronger solvents.  They serve guests at the buffet.  They go to great effort to keep passengers healthy as a report to the CDC hurts their ‘reputation’.  See these efforts as ‘positive’ not ‘negative’. 🙂
  • Final Note:  A Norovirus outbreak does NOT mean you’re on an unclean ship any more than an outbreak of the flu in your family means your house is filthy.  Cleanliness is closely monitored and some of the greatest outbreaks have happened on ships that have passed inspections with scores of 99 & 100%.
  • Cruise lines are not required to compensate guests if they become ill on a cruise.  There have been occasions when port stops have been cancelled due to extremely high instances of illness on the ship (controlled by the port/country, NOT the cruiseline so don’t blame them…)  and if that happens, there will be a refund of any port charges for those missed ports but don’t expect any more compensation than that.  All of these policies will be outlined in your cruise contract.  It’s not a bad idea to read this contract before you head on your cruise….since you DID agree to its terms.  🙂
  • Travel insurance may cover you if you cancel your cruise due to illness BEFORE you go or cover medical expenses incurred while on board (visit to ship’s doctor or departure from the ship due to serious illness), but will not compensate you for ‘loss of enjoyment’ if you are ill and unable to enjoy your cruise as you wanted. That’s just a risk we take when we travel. Of course it’s ALL determined by the level of policy/coverage you purchase.  Shop carefully, but By All Means….Buy Travel Insurance!!!

Last But Not Least – PLEASE BE CONSIDERATE:

If you read very many forums or blog posts, you’ll come across the inevitable post about someone who encountered the ‘fellow passenger with no manners’.  I hate to admit it, but Yes, those people exist.

How do you avoid being one of ‘those people’?  Basically…   If the rules ask you not to save pool chairs, then don’t.  🙂  (And if you do, don’t be surprised if someone ‘helps themselves’ to your book….or sunglasses….or hat ….  It might be ME!!  haha)   Be considerate (i.e. quiet) when walking down the hallways at night or early in the morning.  Be considerate when opening and closing your balcony or room doors.   If cruising with children, instruct them on good manners.  (Btw, elevator buttons are not toys.)cruise towel animal

OK…I’m going to say it:  If children aren’t able to use good manners, consider leaving them with Grandma while you cruise.  (I don’t mean to be harsh here, but teaching and expecting good manners of children seems to be less and less common these days.)  Good manners and common courtesy are important in the close quarters of a cruise ship.  🙂 🙂

Just Remember – When on a cruise and living in close proximity to lots of people…  Consideration is imperative.   Have good manners.  Teach and require good manners of your children.   We’ll all have a better cruise!!  🙂

Other Posts on Cruising:

Your Cruise is Booked, Now What? Part 2

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

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

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

HOW IMPORTANT IS TRAVEL INSURANCE?  

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Photo Credit: Ken Teegardin

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

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

Buy Travel Insurance!!!

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

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

Policy costs are based on:

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

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

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

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

DO I NEED A PASSPORT?  

https://www.flickr.com/photos/thewidewideworld/2203253497/in/photolist-ypuRf-ptDUe-4mGfvg-9szuU-9XVA8-5TgAQz-g124wx-39Tmo4-czt4D-7hTQ7p-5J9Wnw-5EHaQi-is8fz-3C8MGd-9cBTjj-4NR3AK-bnNzzx-FXJTL-5frQG-6gTcVm-hHVM8-592W4k-6NfreC-b9SUT-7f3EV4-67WXwq-4Qgvkh-3BG2ey-4n4it1-dtQfPJ-4isEMY-4ioMSZ-4pkUst-6kXuWh-3PsiWz-wjvGF-mkYMv-9cBUiG-bt56EG-9VxeqP-4ppX6b-Nxxo5-9szyW-3AigFp-maar6-9KKF5F-g12QsW-6xDnQX-5UB8to-hJEnS6

Photo Credit; Craig James on Flickr CC Lic.

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

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

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

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

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

GETTING TO THE PORT

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Ryan Dingman on Flickr under CC Lic.

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

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

    Houston Bayport Terminal

    Houston Bayport Terminal

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

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

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

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

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

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

 A Word About Sea Sickness:

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

There are several remedies…

  • Pills:  Dramamine, Bonine  (generic -Meclizine & Dimenhydrinate)  We always purchase generics at  HALF the price – they are the EXACT same medication.  Confirm this by comparing ingredients on the box/bottle or speaking to your pharmacist.  The drawbacks to the pills are that they must be swallowed (when you’re nauseous), must be taken every 8-12 hours AND they tend to make you drowsy.  If you opt for the pills, CERTAINLY take the first dose BEFORE boarding!!!
  • Transderm Patches:  Transderm Scop Patch This is MY choice.  These are ‘behind the ear’ patches applied the night before (or morning of) your cruise.  They require a prescription.  🙂  The package contains 4 patches and each patch lasts 4-5 days, so 1 package should be enough for 2-4 people depending on the length of your cruise.  Read and follow the instructions for application carefully. On longer cruises, we often don’t apply the 2nd patch unless we actually need to. Typically, by mid-way through the cruise, we’ve gotten our ‘sea legs’ and motion sickness isn’t a problem. The problem starts when we get OFF the ship!!  🙂
  • SeaBands:  These bands apply pressure to pressure points on the wrist.  I have never personally used them but have friends who swear by their effectiveness. It’s a more natural approach if that is your preference.
  • Natural Remedies:candied ginger
    • Candied Ginger:  Some ships offer this with after-dinner mints.
    • Green apples can help alleviate nausea.  Some cruise lines carry these on board JUST FOR THAT PURPOSE.
    • Orange rind.  Peel an orange and hold the rind to your nose and inhale.   Nice smell too!!  🙂

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

SHORE EXCURSIONS

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

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

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

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

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

 ONE MORE NOTE:

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

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

Other Posts on Cruising:

Cruises Part 1: Finding Bargains and Booking

Cruises CAN be a very economical vacation…it depends on several factors.  The claim from the cruise line is that because they are all-inclusive (accommodations, food, and transportation obviously!!  🙂 ), they cost less than other vacations.  This is (partially) true!  🙂

However, there are some factors that affect the cost of your cruise.  These decisions are what determines the final cost you will pay.

  • Transportation TO the port: Driving, even if it takes 2 days and requires a hotel stay en route, will almost always be more economical.  Airfare is typically more expensive.  Of course, IF your drive is 3+ days and 2+ hotel stays….or if you find that ‘once in a lifetime’ bargain airfare, by all means, FLY!!! 🙂  NOTE:  If cruising out of FL, check Allegiant Airlines.  They service the tourist areas and offer some great fares. Be sure to add into your budget all the extra charges (carryon bag fees, pillow, blanket, etc…) they add in when you board to get an accurate idea of the cost.
  • Cabin Type and Location:  Cabins are priced from interior (least expensive) up to Luxury Suites (most expensive). They are also priced according to location – from forward (cheapest) to Aft (mid-price) to mid-ship (most expensive).  The lower decks are sometimes cheaper than higher decks.  Each of these factors affects the price of your cruise.   
  • Activities in Port:  Cruise sponsored excursions are more expensive than excursions purchased on your own.
  • What you Spend On Board:  This of course, is just like anything else.  YOU determine what you spend

If you’ve decided that a cruise is for you, then consider these questions/decisions:

SHOULD I GO THROUGH A TRAVEL AGENT?

Though I don’t advocate going through a travel agent for any other type of vacation, with a cruise it really doesn’t make any difference in the price you pay (Find a travel agent who doesn’t charge for his/her services).  Their commission is paid by the cruise line – NOT by you.  They can sometimes offer perks that make purchasing through them a bargain.  In doing this though, it’s important to find a GOOD agent – but get  recommendations from friends. I DON’T recommend finding one through an advertisement.

Advantages To A Travel Agent:

  • If you’re a first time cruiser unfamiliar with the differences in the cruise lines (what they offer, who they cater to, what ‘experience’ they offer)  a professional can direct you to the cruise line that can best meet your wants/needs.  Finding this information on your own can be challenging as the company websites don’t typically advertise this information. ha!
  • They will take care of all communication between you and the cruise line – if you need a price adjustment or want to change your dining arrangements, cabin location, or anything associated with your reservation.  In fact, if you book through a travel agent, all communications MUST go through them.  You won’t be able to call the cruise line yourself and make any changes to your reservation.  That can be an advantage or disadvantage depending on how you look at it.
  • “Full service agents” MAY print cruise documents and luggage tags for you.  You pick them up a few days before you leave.
  • Cruise lines sometimes offer incentives (shipboard credits)  to agents.  The agent decides if he/she wants to keep that for him/herself….or share it with you….   As you’re ‘shopping’ for an agent, ask if there are any special ‘incentives’ or ‘perks’ available for booking through them?
  • AAA members can secure some bargains when booking through AAA.

NOTE:  Before choosing an agent, make sure he/she does NOT charge a booking fee or ‘change’ fee to make any adjustments to your reservation (cabin changes, upgrades, etc…)  There are plenty of agents who don’t charge for these services.  Go with one of those.  🙂   

Advantages to Booking Yourself:

  • You are able to contact the cruise line directly to get any price adjustments or make changes/upgrades to your reservation. You don’t have to ‘wait’ on anyone else to do it.
  • The last time we booked though a travel agent, we qualified for 2 price adjustments.  Our travel agent got those for us, but it was SOOO apparent that she didn’t really want to do it. I’m sure she lost commission every time our fare went down…  😦  and even though I found the reductions in fare, I couldn’t call the cruise line to get those credits to our account…I HAD to go through her.  End result was that I was made to feel guilty every time I contacted her for a price adjustment.  (I asked anyway because it was a family cruise – price adjustment X 4).

NOTE:  Travelocity, Kayak, Expedia etc… ARE travel agents.  If you book through them, you will have to go through them for any changes to your reservation.  This can be an advantage or a disadvantage depending on your perspective.  They are HUGE companies so carry clout and offer good bargains and perks…but when you call them, you will never talk to the same person twice. On the ‘up side’, their call centers now takes messages and call you back eliminating the ‘forever on hold’ phenomenon…   Again…it’s all a matter of preference.

MY THOUGHTS:  I have determined that for our needs, I prefer to book directly through the cruiseline myself – waiting for bargains or perks that they offer.  Unless the incentives from the travel agent or broker are just SOOO wonderful that I simply can’t pass them up, I find it more of a hassle to communicate only through a 3rd party.  I prefer to just do it myself.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesgood/122007935/in/photolist-8ZvcDg-9B7iSC-iXx6p-5BLiYj-hLnY1Y-4gKS7g-dL7Cv3-7MmpUC-7sTMJk-9Bic2z-bMjH6-dcnSXe-bNpk3z-gmpJ63-bymgHn-ebCuwp-bG3cQM-8R7b2y-4HPfXX-4FRAbJ-4DwFhG-3e7jb5-iuZJCa-dtRGcZ-ch6aA7-ch6HQ3-d4tSj5-qycks-eG8ejF-ch6awS-e92145-e8Vm1Z-jg3LoW-9NGKrb-dbdGGh-ch6arq-ch6b7u-ch6aUw-ch6b3j-ch6aRs-ch6aWE-ch6b5m-75d52f-gu4dD-4HPg48-3yentU-77bpMD-7RgoVy-5Qfmdi-4B4Zpk

Photo Credit; James Good on Flickr CC Lic.

CHOOSING THE CRUISE LINE

Because the cruise lines are each different in their own way, it’s a good idea to find the one that ‘fits’ you.  Each company caters to a different type of traveler.  For example, Carnival ‘seems’ to cater to the younger crowd while Holland America ‘seems’ more for the older crowd.  Regent is for the ‘discriminating traveler” (as they put it, ha!) looking for 5 star accommodations and  dining.  They also give FREE airfare and unlimited FREE shore excursions (though in reality, their prices cover those costs….and then some….  haha)    Having said that, I must say that all the lines are making attempts to cross these generational (and income) boundaries so Stay Tuned!!

If I had to put them in order and categories based on level of luxury (and price), I would do it like this:

  • Carnival
  • Royal Caribbean;  Norwegian;
  • Princess
  • Holland America;    Celebrity;
  • Cunard;   Crystal;   Regent

Disney is a category all its own because it is so different from any of the others.  Do not think that ‘The Mouse’ is only for the kids, though.  Disney Cruises are just as nice for adults, honeymooners, grandparents.  They, too, are trying to NOT be put into a box.  You will pay for all the perks of a Disney cruise though.  They are typically twice the price of the same identical cruise on Carnival.

Obviously, the more you pay, the higher level of luxury and pampering you will receive.  You get what you pay for on this as with anything else.

Best Cruise line for Kids and Families: Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Princess, Disney
Best Cruise line for the ‘Over-50’ Crowd: Holland America, Celebrity or Royal Caribbean
Best Cruise line for singles: Carnival, Norwegian, Cunard, and Royal Caribbean

NOTE:  Most cruise lines have a policy about pregnant women sailing….typically, they will not allow a woman who is more than 24 wks. pregnant to board.  BE AWARE that this policy MAY not be ‘advertised’ on the website.  IF this pertains to you, search for this information or call the cruise line and inquire.  They WILL refuse boarding at the terminal to any pregnant woman determined to have passed the 24 wk. mark….possibly with no refund.  This probably should be in a more prominent place on websites, but so far I haven’t seen it there…

FINDING THE BEST PRICE ON A CRUISE

  • First of all….DISCOUNTS:
    • Resident Rate: Ask about discounts for your state – Many cruise lines offer a discount to those who live in states with ports.  It never hurts to ask.
    • A military discount is pretty standard.  If you’ve served in the military  🙂 🙂 be sure to ask about that.
    • Discounts for various jobs:  Teachers, Fire/Public safety personnel
    • Senior discounts – this is not as common, but still worth asking about
  • Timing plays a big role in pricing.  The BEST PRICES are usually found the day the cruise is put on the market.  If you can’t book that far in advance (18 mo??) then the next ‘best price’  and cabin choices will typically be found 90-120 days before the sailing date.
  • Cabin Type and Location determines pricing too:  Prioritize!
    • Is ‘less motion’ important to you?  Book mid-ship.
    • Is ‘quiet’ important to you?  Check what is directly above and below your cabin – and book a cabin away from elevators, atriums or doors….and possibly “white areas” on the deck maps.
    • What are you willing to compromise on?  interior cabin?  lower deck?  perhaps forward or aft (rear) of the ship if you aren’t bothered by motion. (Mid-ship is most expensive)

Every decision you make in this area either increases or decreases your price.

  • You can save money if your vacation timing is flexible. It all goes back to the Law of Supply and Demand and prices vary by week.  Cruising ‘off-season’ or when everyone else is NOT cruising is always less expensive. A little comparison shopping will quickly show the most economical times to cruise. Holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and Valentines  as well as summer when kids are out of school are usually pricier.
  • Weather Patterns – hurricanes, et al.:  Hurricane season in the Caribbean is June-Sept….especially Sept.  Traveling during those times is a risk…but it is also usually a bargain.  You have to decide if you’re willing to take the risk to get the bargain.  I recommend travel insurance for all cruises….but ABSOLUTELY for cruises during hurricane season.  I will say, my family has traveled during this time and it worked out fine for us….but we bought the insurance….and we understood the risks we were taking.  🙂  We also USED that insurance!!!  🙂
  • Photo Credit: K Sawyer Photography on Flickr CC Lic.

    Families or groups who can stay 3 or 4 (or even 5) in a room will pay less per person than those in cabins for 2.  Rooms are crowded with 4 in them,  but there ARE ways to make it work.  If you only plan to sleep in the room, it isn’t that important to have ‘lots of space’.  🙂   This pic is of a room set up for 4 – The upper beds are folded into the wall during the day and the steward pulls them down at night.  Beds are configured any way you request them – i.e. queen or 2 (or 4) twins.   NOTE:  Carnival has the largest cabins in the industry when comparing equal rooms (interior to interior;  oceanview to oceanview, etc…)

  • Cruises are not priced with “adult” or “child” rates.  They are based on a “passenger” rate.  Every person, regardless of age, is a “passenger” so is charged as such.
  • Some cruise lines offer special perks for getting their credit card (discounts, points, onboard credit, etc…).  After you’ve chosen your cruise line (but BEFORE booking) apply for the credit card.  (Using the card to pay for the cruise often secures extra benefits!  🙂   NOTE:  Keep in mind that applying for a credit card ‘dings’ your credit.

 

CHOOSING YOUR CABIN:

  • CHECK AT THE DECK PLAN of your ship paying special attention to what is above and below the cabin.  Cabins directly below the galley, pool deck, casinos or bars can be noisy until 3 am each night.  “White” areas on the deck plan are ‘unknown’s’    Sometimes these are perfectly fine…no noise.  Other times they may be crew closets, crew laundry rooms, etc…. that CAN be noisy.  You can always call the cruise line and ask those questions, but don’t expect good answers.  If they know, they usually DON’T tell….sorry… :/
  • A “Guarantee” cabin means you pay for a category and the cruise line assigns your cabin location with their remaining inventory – typically a few days before the cruise.  Guarantee cabins are less expensive, but might put you in an undesirable location  (next to elevators, noise from galley, pool, lounges etc… or directly above the anchors that are lowered EARLY when you arrive in port, or at the very front of the ship where there’s more movement).  If any of these things are important to you, you might prefer paying the extra to choose your cabin location. It’s a matter of personal preference, but just know what you’re getting when you book ‘guarantee’.
  • Deck Plan Genius  http://deckplangenius.com/Home.aspx is a good resource for advantages/disadvantages to your cabin. This is ‘generic’ information based on the deck plans rather than anyone’s personal experience, nevertheless, it IS a good site to check before choosing your cabin.  For more ‘personalized’ information, google your ship name and room number.  You MAY find personal reviews by other cruises who have stayed in that exact cabin …..  🙂
  • Cabins are small, but plenty spacious for 2 people.  They are laid out in a ‘space efficient’ way.  If you are putting 3-4-5 in a cabin, however, you will need a few things to maximize your space….I’ve listed some things we found valuable here: Part 5:  Cruises: Clothes and Personal Items to Pack.
  • The center of the ship has less movement….  The front and back will be less expensive.  If you think  you might be susceptible to sea sickness,splurge on the mid-ship cabins.   Sea sickness can really ruin a cruise!!!

13 Prom. Deck 7 115

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO KNOW ABOUT CRUISE PRICING:

To really understand how cruise pricing works, you need to understand something.  The basic fares are often very inexpensive…It may even appear as if the company is losing money.  This is all part of their financial ‘plan’.

Here’s how it works.  These mega ships are HUGE….with a LOT of cabins to fill.  They don’t mind filling them at a loss because their profits don’t come from the cruise fare. Their profits come from the money passengers spend AFTER they’re on board –all those little ‘extras’ like drinks, shopping,  photos, gambling, specialty restaurants, spa treatments, excursions, and on and on and on.  Knowing this going IN to the cruise will help you make wise decisions with your ‘cruise dollar’.  Beyond the initial purchase of the fare, YOU are in control of what your cruise REALLY costs based on how many of these ‘extras’ you buy and how many you ‘pass up’.   🙂

 Best Advice:  Know the advantages and disadvantages of your choices so you can make the most informed decisions.  🙂

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