What Type(s) of Documentation Do I Need?
The basics are Passport and ID (Driv. lic). Some itineraries require a VISA and your cruise line will let you know if you need one. Check with them EARLY in your booking process so you have time to gather/apply for what you’ll need….then re-check several weeks before you sail as these things sometimes change. Children traveling without BOTH parents (i.e. traveling with one parent…or with grandparents, friends, cousins, et al) will need permission from the ‘non-traveling’ parent(s) to board the ship. This is a rule that is NON-negotiable…the child will NOT be allowed to board without proper documentation, so make sure all your ducks are in a row on this one.
Do I need a passport?
The official answer from the cruise lines used to be ‘Maybe, depending on itinerary’, but now, is almost unilaterally, “Yes”. My answer is YES! YES! YES!!! Especially with the way things are in our world today, I wouldn’t venture out of the country without a passport! Next point: Take steps to secure it…keep it safe. Passports now have a HIGH VALUE on the black market. Carry it in a safe place (preferably close to your body…), place it in an RFID blocking sleeve or pocket/bag – and ALWAYS be alert to your surroundings.
Can I miss the boat?
Yes…Though I don’t recommend it. 🙂 🙂 Seriously though, set your WATCH by ship time….because ships leave by ship time, NOT port time. These two MAY or MAY NOT be the same. Do NOT rely on cell phones as they will re-set themselves in port. Use your cell phone for calls, texts, etc… and a watch as your timepiece. Don’t follow the clocks in port either (refer to explanation above) Most cruise lines want passengers back on board 30 min. before sail away time. If you aren’t there, they will begin announcing your name over the ship’s intercom system….over and over and over. You really DON’T want to be that person. 🙂 Last note, write down and bring with you into port the contact info for the ships liaison on shore. This should be listed on the brochure placed in your stateroom the night before. This person is your point of contact if you have any problems while in port…or if you miss the ship.
Will I get sea sick?
There’s no way of knowing the answer to that. Some do; others don’t. Some get sick on one cruise and don’t on another cruise. Come prepared with multiple remedies as you never know what will work for you. There’s Bonine/Dramamine (tablets), Transderm Scop Patches (my favorite), Ginger, Sea Bands (pressure point bracelets) and most ships carry a large supply of green apples which are known to ‘help’. Ships provide Bonine (typically free of charge), but you have to go to the medical center to get it. I prefer to bring my own to AVOID the Medical Center which may be a ‘bay of germs’. Generics cost about $3-4 a box. Your pharmacist is your best source of information on this.
Do I HAVE to Dress Up for the Dining Room?
In part, this depends on your cruiseline. More relaxed lines such as Norwegian with it’s FreeStyle Cruising and Carnival will allow passengers into the dining rooms dressed fairly casually (though some things are just NOT acceptable – swimwear, t-shirts, ballcaps, etc…) Other lines such as Princess, Royal Caribbean, Holland America MAY turn passengers away if they aren’t dressed according to dress code. Having said that, sometimes it depends on the maître d’ and how much a stipler for rules he/she is. Bottom line…Your best bet is to just follow the guidelines set up by your cruise line. (on their website) If they say there’s a dress code, rather than being the ‘problem-passenger’, just follow it…or eat somewhere on the ship where there is no dress code. Honestly, dressing up for dinner is kind of ‘part of the cruise experience’. Put on your ‘best duds’ and have a nice evening! 🙂 At the very least, give it a try for ONE NIGHT!
Do I Need to Pack the ‘Kitchen Sink’ for My Cruise?
No….you also don’t need to bring decorations, blenders, irons or coffee pots. (believe it or not, some try to…)…and PLEASE don’t bring candles or matches! Open flames don’t mix well with ships in the middle of the ocean. Here’s another thing. You don’t need to bring a beach towel. Most cruise lines provide them for both ship AND port use. Just don’t forget to return it…the charges for that are pretty hefty. But no…don’t use valuable suitcase space for your beach towel…OR the kitchen sink.
Why Do They Automatically Charge Gratuities to my Account?
Because it would be very difficult for you to locate and tip every single crew member who worked to make your cruise enjoyable. You don’t even see many of them. The auto-gratuities are collected according to a pre-determined ‘formula’ from the cruiseline and distributed FOR you to EVERYONE who played a role in your cruise experience. This saves you the trouble of trying to locate the person who washed your towels….or cooked your steak…or cleaned up your dirty dishes. There are a LOT of ‘behind the scenes’ people who work very hard to make your cruise all that it is. Enjoy your cruise and relax knowing that every one of those individuals are being compensated. Of course, if you WISH to ‘extra-tip’ a particular person, you can do that individually.
Can I Remove the Auto Gratuities?
Yes….but please don’t. If you’re unhappy with something on board, stop by Customer Service and address the problem early in the cruise so it can be corrected rather than being unhappy for your entire cruise. (THAT’S no way to cruise!!!) When you remove those tips, you not only ‘hurt’ the person you’re unhappy with, but you also hurt kitchen staff, laundry staff, pool staff…etc… most of whom you never saw, but who served you well.
Do I Have to Purchase Shore Excursions Through the Cruise Line?
Short answer is ‘no’.
Now…here’s the long answer…. First, know that you don’t HAVE to have an official excursion at all. Some ports lend themselves more easily to ‘DIY exploring’ than others and you’ll find that out through research. (there are some ports I would NEVER explore beyond the cruise line owned port area without an “official” excursion – for safety reasons – just fyi) Second, if you DO decide to purchase an excursion, be aware that purchasing it from your cruise line will be more expensive than purchasing directly from vendors. It also brings with it some extra safe-guards.
Advantages to purchasing from the Cruise Line:
- Earlier debarkation – These are the passengers who are at the FRONT of the line at debarkation. The cruise line will give them preferential treatment. Sorry…true….
- 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.
- 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:
- Cost – it typically costs more to purchase from the cruise line because they take their ‘cut’ before paying the vendor
- Crowds…you’re with a few hundred other cruisers from your ship…
In Alaska, we did everything on our own. I felt very confident there. However, in some foreign ports, I will ONLY purchase excursions from the cruise line or just stay in the port area shopping/going to beaches etc…. Security is an important factor in these decisions for us….
What’s Free and What Costs?
Meals are free as long as you eat in the venues included in your cruise fare. This includes the Dining Room, buffet, grill or pizzeria (Cruise line websites list these) Meals at the Specialty restaurants will incur either a Cover Charge or a per item charge. Room service is free though some cruise lines are experimenting with putting a few select items on the room service menu for an upcharge. (they’ll be listed WITH their costs…no surprises) It is customary to tip the person who delivers room service as that is not included in the auto-gratuities. Tea, plain ole coffee, lemonade as well as juice and milk in the morning are free. Alcohol, carbonated drinks, specialty coffees and possibly ice cream shakes/malts, etc… have a charge. We have been on many cruises and never paid a cent for food or drink…you just have to eat/drink the free stuff and avoid the things with extra charges. It’s not hard to do… but may require some self-restraint 🙂
Entertainment on most ships is free, though Royal Caribbean requires reservations. Pools and hottubs are free. Carnival’s “No Kids Allowed” deck is free. Princess charges for their adult only Serenity Deck. Water slides are free. Some extras on Royal Caribbean cruises have a charge associated with them and those will be clearly marked/advertised. It’s just not necessary on most cruises to spend a lot of money to have a good time. There’s SO MUCH available that is free. You can choose to FIND your fun there!! 🙂
Does it Matter Which Stateroom I Choose?
That depends on YOU….When will you want to be sleeping? If you’re a night owl, you probably won’t notice noise late into the night from decks above or below you. If you plan to turn in early to get an early start on tomorrow’s port day, you WILL notice. Typically, areas like bars, lounges, etc…are noisy until 3 am. Areas like the buffet, pool decks may be noisy early in the morning as staff moves chairs/tables, etc… A cabin on a deck sandwiched between other cabin decks will typically be a quieter location.
When it comes to motion of the ship, the front of the ship experiences the most movement. The aft (back) comes in 2nd with the middle having the least amount. (This is why mid-ship cabins are the most expensive)
Some people like to be near the elevators so they don’t have to walk as far. I consider walking to be a necessity on a cruise with the added ‘food intake’.
Bottom Line: It really DOES depend on YOU and what you want. Think about your needs, then check the deck plans, paying special attention to what is around, above and below your cabin. If you suspect an area will be noisy, it probably will.
Do I really NEED Travel Insurance?
YES!! A cruise puts you at the mercy of things you can’t control or change (airline schedules, weather….luggage handlers….weather….and of course, the WEATHER….) You can modify your schedule when on a road trip. On a cruise you can’t do anything about most decisions…They are not made by you…. Good travel insurance will take care of you (financially) if your travel plans go awry. NOTE: It is rare for medical insurance policies to cover policy holders outside the country. Medicare does NOT…. Travel insurance makes sure you don’t take a financial ‘hit’ if the unexpected happens.
Will I be bored on the ship?
That’s a tough one to answer…I’ve known people who were in the most interesting places in the world and were ‘bored’…and I’ve known people who could have the time of their lives just walking around the block with someone they enjoy being with. It often has less to do with what’s on the outside of a person and more to do with what’s on the inside of a person. That being said, the ships have many things to keep your interest…entertainment/shows, movies, seminars, special speakers, informational programs, karaoke, contests, classes, libraries, games and gameshows, cruise directors who plan constant activities and of course pools, pool decks, hot tubs, saunas, spas, salons, – and who can ignore the constant changing supply of food. 🙂 You can bring your favorite book or your favorite person. DECIDE to be ‘interested’ and you’ll probably not be bored. 🙂