Here are the important steps and considerations to weigh in the decision-making process for your proposed cruise:
You should read ship reviews at Cruise Critic or Cruiseline; the reviews are verified with the reviewer’s booking number by those sites. Cruise reviews are subjective and everyone has different tastes. Don’t assume that one person’s experience is representative of the average person; read several to compare. Last minute sailings are becoming rare. Royal Caribbean recently announced they are doing away with last minute deals in an effort to get guests confirmed and booked early.
Consider going during the off-season for reduced prices. The standard rule of thumb is when the kids are in school, the cruise prices are lower. If you’re looking at cruising Alaska or Europe, bargain rates are found during the shoulder seasons. Involve everyone that is cruising in the planning process. This will assure everyone is on the same page. If you’re sailing as a family, involve the kids in the planning process. Please read our blog Seasonal Cruising By Global Location for tips on when is the best time to travel to various parts of the world or Which Month Should You Visit Alaska? if you are interested in traveling there. Start with the idea of prepaying everything possible before sailing. This includes gratuities, beverage packages, shore excursions, specialty venues, etc.; this will allow you financial freedom on your cruise.
Always use a travel agent. See our blog posts Should You Use a Travel Consultant To Book Your Lifetime Memories, Including Cruises? and Qualities to Look for in Your Travel Consultant. Travel planners are advocates for you when it comes to price drops, last minute changes, and unforeseen issues that can arise during your trip; in addition, they will usually get you a better deal than you will find online and most importantly, they will make sure your cruise is a good fit for you. You will also have the benefit of their knowledge and experience, both regarding the ships themselves and the itinerary destinations. Plan to arrive a day early to avoid any travel delays. This is especially important when cruising in the winter because of air delays. ALWAYS buy a travel insurance policy. Speaking from experience, even our travel consultants had to make claims on their travel insurance policies twice in three years — it comes in handy and is relatively cost-effective. See our blog posts Is Travel Insurance Worth The Cost? and Is Travel Insurance Necessary?
Consider boarding the ship at the boarding start time or closer to sailing time. Several cruise lines are now asking you to set your check-in time frame during online check-in. To bypass longer lines, avoid embarking between noon and 1:30. Have your documents in order when you get to the cruise pier to avoid delays. This includes your passport/birth certificate, boarding documents, and payment information to set up your sail account. Don’t smuggle booze. The cruise lines are onto guests trying to get alcohol on board and they’ve seen every trick in the book. Some lines still allow you two bottles of wine/champagne per cabin, but check your individual cruise line as some don’t allow any and don’t think you can outsmart the system.
Plan your specialty restaurants before your sailing, keeping in mind that some specialty venues give incentives like a free bottle of wine for booking the first night or the second person 1/2 price. To escape the buffet crowd, have your breakfast and lunch in the ship’s main dining room. Find your zen. Most cruise ships have decks that the general population never finds. That could be in the front, a deck that runs mid-ship, or a lower level in the back.
The cruise ship is not a bank. If you’re traveling to a foreign port that does not accept US dollars, consider using your credit/debit card or going to a local bank and getting local currency from the ATM. Ask a crew member where to find internet in port. If you pay close enough attention you’ll see the crew making a beeline to the closest internet location. There are only a handful of cruise ports where you can get off the ship and find something to do. Most ports require some type of planning. Consider booking private excursions at reduced prices that offer the same guarantees as the cruise lines. See our blog posts Should You Book Shore Excursions with the Cruise Line? and Things to Consider About Shore Excursions.
Post Cruise Disembarkation
For quicker disembarkation use the self-assist method. Guests who use this option will find themselves off the ship before the guests with checked luggage. Have your customs documentation in hand, fully completed and ready to go when you approach the customs desk. It will make the line go a lot quicker for you and everyone behind you. Consider using the Luggage Valet program if the cruise line offers it. This service is in the $20 range per person and includes printing your boarding pass and checking the luggage to your destination at the airport. The next time you see your luggage will be when you land.
We at Getaway Dreams Come True Travel Agency will be available to answer all questions and assist you in any special requests even after you have begun travel. You will be very happy with our attention to detail in crafting your lifetime memories cruise.
Please see our additional blog posts below: