So you’re going on a cruise (or maybe just thinking about it). People say they choose to cruise because it is so effortless. You only have to unpack once, there’s a clean bathroom every twenty feet and those frozen tropical drinks with towering fruit garnishes are practically handed to you. But that doesn’t mean a cruise doesn’t take some serious planning and the ease and relaxation you experience while on a cruise is only equal to the work and research you do before it.
Here are 7 things you should do before you leave on a cruise.
1. Tendered vs. Docked
Check on your itinerary to see which ports are tendered or docked. Tendered means you need to be ferried to the port and being docked allows you to walk off the cruise ship like it’s your front door. You can imagine which one is more desirable. Getting up early in the morning to fight it out with crowds that make a mall during the holidays look empty is one of my pet peeves of cruising. I try to avoid it. If there’s a tendered day, that’s the one I’ll book my spa treatment (they’re cheaper on port days) or just enjoy a nice calm day on the ship. Or choose to have a long leisurely breakfast and then be tendered after the morning rush hour.
2. Get Cash
Even if crew tips are automatically charged to your bill, you should bring a few hundred bucks for tipping. Crew members are some of the hardest workers I have ever seen. They still manage to make you feel like you’re not one of 3,000 cruisers. They deserve your appreciation, especially if they’ve gone out of their way to help. You also need to tip the luggage handlers at the dock who are not a part of the cruise line. Remember, it’s not their fault you’ve over packed to avoid having to do laundry.
3. Join the Cruise Line VIP Club
Yep, just like the airlines, cruise lines offer similar perks for their frequent travelers. Even if this is your first cruise, sign up for your cruise line’s program and start building your points. It’s never too late to become a VIP. Becoming a member often has its privileges, such as priority check-in and boarding/debarkation, spa deals, access to a dedicated guest services number, and special luggage handling. You can feel more like a VIP and less like cattle; this is a big plus when everyone wants to get on or off the ship.
4. Pack Like a Pro
Nothing delays a vacation more than waiting for your luggage to be delivered. On a cruise, that might be around 5:30 pm and you’ve been on board since 2pm. Even if you can fit everything into one large bag, bring a carry-on or personal bag with a change of clothes, swimsuit, medications, essential toiletries and your travel documents. Now go work on your tan!
5. Stay Connected At Sea
We’re so demanding as vacationers. We want to completely disconnect from our everyday lives, but not social media. How will you sleep at night if you don’t post the photo of you at the midnight chocolate buffet? The cruise ship will no doubt have an internet plan. It will be expensive and it will be sloooooooooooow. Like 1992 slow. Keeping up on Facebook is a dumb way to spend your time and money. Instead, plan on waiting till you get to a port and find an internet café so you can keep up with your social life over an iced coffee or small lunch. Important! When you are not using your phone leave it either powered-off or in airplane mode and disconnect from the roaming charges.
6. Pssst, a Cruise Isn’t Really All-Inclusive
The price of a cruise includes room and board but it doesn’t include shore excursions, spa treatments, specialty dining, kids clubs or alcohol. Make sure you create a budget for these richly deserved extra’s BEFORE you go on the cruise. If you don’t the extras could easily add up to twice what you paid for the trip.
7. Think Ahead: Do Some Emergency Planning
You’ve likely seen the news, cruises are susceptible to so many predicaments, but the biggest threat is weather. Make sure you leave at least one day before if not two. Do some research and jot down a few numbers just in case you find yourself in a port of call longer than expected. You need to have a file/notebook that has your travel agent’s number, numbers of local hotels, etc. Pack a few extra days of medicine and food/snacks, just in case. Don’t wait…start calling and using social media to get answers and make plans the minute it becomes obvious you are in a crisis situation.
What’s the best thing you ever did before you left for a cruise? Share something you were thankful for later that you would add to this list.