This blog series is for travelers who are beginners in cruising.
Welcome to Cruising!
1. Cruising used to be luxury of the upper class. By the 1970s, cruising became almost economical especially since you can plan well in advance (sometimes over a year in advance) and pay in installments. You need to know when you want to go, for how long, from where and to where. Also, check out the class of ship you might want and the activities and dining it offers. (What to Know When You Book).
2. You need a passport for most cruises. It should not expire within 6 months of the end of the cruise. You can use that or (or sometimes other photo ID) to get back on board after visiting the ports.
3. What's included? Your basic meals, most entertainment, the passage itself and your stateroom. Drinks (see below about soft drinks), excursions (the activities when you dock at ports), spa packages, casinos, bingo, some events, gratuities, taxes and fees are not automatically included. You can opt to pay for the gratuities when you pay for your passage or to leave an envelope with cash at the service desk with the amount of your choice (they put this information at the very end in teeny, tiny print).
4. Beverage Packages: Most cruise lines charge for soft drinks and all charge for alcohol, unless you bought a special all-inclusive package. Even then, top shelf alcohol may not be included. Many lines offer coffee, tea, lemonade, iced tea and water (from the fountain) for free. Some beverage packages are priced per person, per day. Some say that if one adult in the stateroom buys the alcohol package, all have to do so.
5. Meals: You choose your dinner time: early, late or flexible. Flexible dining (just show up anytime between 5 and 10PM, or so) can result in long lines or wait times. Some ships have 24 hour eating: the dining rooms will close, but sandwiches or pizza might be available.
6. What's in a Day at Sea: this is the time to explore and enjoy the ship for itself: the activities in the daily newsletters, swimming, eating, the parties and events, the sales and the shops, sunning on the deck. Deck chairs go FAST! You won't feel like getting up before 10AM (after all, you are on vacation) but if you mosey on the deck around noon or so, you may not get a lounge chair or one in a prime spot.
7. When in port: remember that sometimes an entire port's economy depends on tourism. They are eager and it is very overwhelming when you dock. Stay street smart. Watch your bag, don't be flashy with expensive items and walk as if you know the place, even if you don't. If you are touring on your own and want a cab, go past the first group you see as soon as you get off and walk a little toward town. You might get a better rate and a nice driver.
8. Excursions are activities sponsored by third parties at the ports. The ones you purchase with the cruise line are more reliable and secure. If you are savvy and bold, you can explore the ports on your own. Just download a travel book or pick up pamphlets when you get there. There will be plenty of locals waiting to help. Bargain graciously but firmly. The first price will be too much, don't go for it. But if you explore on your own know that...
9. You can get left behind. Leave at least 90 minutes to get back to the ship. If you get left, you will have to pay to get to the next port or to get home. Just in case, carry your ID, a credit card and a phone, just in case. If a ship-sponsored excursion is late, they'll wait for you.
10. You have to pay customs (taxes) for purchases that total over a certain amount when you return back home. Fill in your customs slip at the end of the cruise. Be honest, there are agents when you get back to the home port and they search bags randomly. By the way, on board shops are only open at sea. No cash is accepted for purchases on board, you have to set up an account with a credit/debit card or deposit cash at the service desk.
Other Articles in This Series:
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All text and photos copyright Marcia Crayton All Rights Reserved 2023
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