Before You Book Your Cruise
Use a Local Cruise Professional for all of Your Cruise Vacation Needs: This is such a huge point, that if you get nothing else from this article, remember why you should use a local cruise professional. Here are some critical reasons. A cruise professional can book your cruise, airline reservations, hotel, transfers and sightseeing before, during and after your cruise. Why is it important to have one person do the entire reservation? Because travel is not guaranteed and you are quite likely to have delays caused by weather, mechanical difficulties, traffic, health and so on. When you have missed a flight, you need someone that you can call immediately and they can start to pick up the pieces. If for no other reason, booking your cruise vacation with a cruise professional makes tons of sense.
If you purchase your cruise from an on-line discounter, your air from Orbitz and your hotel from Priceline.com, who are you going to call that will pick up the pieces when something happens? No matter how you book the elements of your cruise vacation, be sure to find out what telephone numbers to call to get help if something goes wrong. If you booked the components separately, be sure to have contact information for each one and a way to contact them when something does happen.
Flying to your cruise: Here is the rule of thumb. Always fly into your port of departure the day before the cruise. Flying in the day of the cruise is simply nuts. Anything is likely to happen on the way and any delay can mean your either miss your ship at worse, to cruising without your luggage for a few days at best. If you are cruising in Europe and connecting through one of the major hubs in the U.S. and then again in Europe, fly in at least two days prior to the cruise. On one ship that carried 1,800 passengers, we found out that they had averaged at least 250 bags lost per cruise. This was in the port of Barcelona and the majority of luggage was lost by Iberia Airlines. Most of the bags were lost on flights where people arrived the day of the cruise from the U.S..
Especially when more than 5 time zones are traveled, you are always better off arriving a few days in advance of the cruise simply to recover from the change in time zones, if nothing else. If your luggage is lost, you will have ample time for the airline to find it and deliver it to your hotel. It is much more difficult trying to have your luggage catch up with you along your cruise itinerary than if you are in a local hotel. One of the things that airlines look at during the hot summer months is the overall weight of the load of passengers and luggage. You are much better off checking two pieces that weight 35 pounds each than one large piece that weighs 70 pounds. If the airline needs to cut weight, it will automatically select the heaviest bags to offload.
Always pack a carry-on: Think
of your carry-on as your entire cruise wardrobe and pack like you would
never see your checked luggage again. I can't emphasize this enough. If
you cruise enough, I guarantee you that you will be faced with the
crisis of starting your cruise without your checked luggage. This can be
devastating for those that have not prepared for it. Here is a packing
list that my wife and I use. We both use a small hanger bag that folds
into carry-on size and try to keep the weight to a minimum.
Razor (no shaving cream)
Comb or Brush
All Medicine and Eye Glasses
Comb or Hair Brush
3 Underwear and Bras (washable)
2 pairs of Nylons
1 Black, non-wrinkle Long Formal Dress
1 Black non-wrinkle Cocktail Dress
2 pairs of Slacks
2 Tee Shirts
1 pair of Black Pumps
2 pairs of Shorts
1 pair of Sandals
1 pair of Tennis Shoes
You can easily adjust this list for your own purposes, but suffice it to say that if all you had were these items on a cruise, that you could have a great time and not have to miss any aspect of the cruise. Virtually every ship that has formal nights also rents tuxedos for men making it not necessary to pack a tux in your carry-on.
Use taxis or limos for your transfers: After a long flight and arriving at an airport that you might not be familiar with, the last thing you need is the stress of trying to locate your transfer to your hotel. Your best bet is to budget for a taxi to take you directly to your destination unless it is quite far and bound to be very expensive. In this case, find out what limo companies charge for the transfer. Many times in ports such as Galveston, where the port is considerable distance from the airport, getting a limo for their minimum rental period is either less expensive or comparable to regular motor coach transfers. Needless to say, riding in a chauffeur driven limo is a much nicer experience than waiting around the airport while people and luggage are collected and piled into a motor coach for the long ride. Once you arrive at your destination in a limo, you simply walk to the front desk and check in. If you arrive in a motor coach full of folks, you are likely to be standing in line for some time. Ditto for your return from the cruise. Hassling the crowds of passengers transferring to the airport in motor coaches is simply not worth it. Grab a taxi and beat the crowd.
Be smart while in port: Planning for problems while in ports makes tons of sense. Here is how to avoid a catastrophe will in ports of call.
Purchase and organize a "port wallet". Of course you will have your regular wallet (or purse) that you always carry, but purchase a special wallet that you will take into ports while you leave your regular wallet in the safe in your cabin. Put a copy of your passport ID page, a copy of your driver's license, a copy of your emergency contact information and insurance contact information in it. Only carry one credit card in your port wallet and whatever cash you might need for the day. If you are carrying a large amount of cash, carry it somewhere other than in your wallet. It is best to carry any significant amount of cash and your cruise line "sign and sail" card in your front packet (or some other hard to reach place). Think of your port wallet as very dispensable, so that if it is stolen or lost, it is no big deal. Never carry your passport off the ship!
Leave your expensive jewelry in the safe on the ship: Depending on the ports you will be visiting, you might consider buying costume jewelry to wear into ports while you leave your valuable jewelry on the ship. Walking around laden with diamonds and your gold Rolex may make you feel good, but there are many people looking for a cruise passenger that is vulnerable to robbery that also has a high pay load. They know that you will not be back to testify should they be caught and that you will be gone when the ship leaves later in the day. This makes cruise passengers a highly desirable target for robbers and thieves who know that they can usually escape prosecution even if they are caught. Buy and wear some functional jewelry that will not tempt anyone and you will be fine.
Have your emergency plan pre-thought out: Make sure you know who and where to call in any emergency. Make sure you know how to contact your travel agent for support. Make sure you know how to contact your credit card company should you lose your credit card. Don't forget how to get assistance from your travel insurance company. Make a list of contact telephone numbers and e-mail addresses so that you can immediately take action should you need to do so. Read my article on travel insurance for more information on why travel insurance is so important to you.
Once you have taken these steps, you can relax knowing that you have made all the right moves to have a very enjoyable cruise vacation. Happy Sailing!