Tips, hacks & tricks for the perfect cruise vacation gateway
Perhaps you have already had your dream cruise in mind for many years, or you may be excited by the idea of going on a floating resort to an exotic location, but not know exactly what type of cruise or where you want to go!
There are many different types of cruises, those suited to older travelers, families, couples, and those specifically for luxury travelers. Different cruise lines and indeed cruise ships cater to different types of people, so be sure to do your research and find one suited to you.
The size of the ship you will be travelling on is also an important factor to consider – this determines the number of passengers you are sharing the ship with, the extent of on board facilities and activities you’ll have access to, as well as the generally mood and level of luxury on your cruise. As a general rule, the big ships have more features and facilities and cheaper prices, while smaller ships are cozy, more intimate and more expensive. This means even within the same cruise line, cruises on different ships can be a completely different experience, depending on the size of the ship.
Of course, perhaps most importantly you need to decide where you want to go on your cruise. There are cruises which go to some of the world’s most historic, interesting and exotic places – from pristine Caribbean islands to famous Mediterranean cities, to the untamed wilderness of Alaska or Antarctica. Deciding where you want to go can feel quite overwhelming – cruise ships visit over 1,800 ports all over the world, with itineraries making up many combinations of these!
Narrow down you choice by thinking about what kind of experience you are looking for: fun in the sun, history, wildlife, activities or adventure? If you want to soak in the sun, consider a Caribbean, Mexican Riviera or Hawaii cruise, or if history is your passion you might want to look to the Mediterranean. Wildlife enthusiasts and adventurers could look to Alaska and Canada, whereas those who are mostly focused on on board activities should seek out the larger ships with a greater number of ‘sea days’ on their itinerary..
You will pay an all-inclusive rate which includes your cabin, all meals, entertainment, parties and the transport between all ports on the cruise’s itinerary. “All meals” doesn’t just mean breakfast, lunch and dinner either – all cruise lines offer between and after meal snacks such as afternoon tea and even a midnight buffet which are also included in the package rate. Although it depends on the ship, generally alcoholic beverages, spa treatments, meals in specialty restaurants and optional shore excursions are charged at additional costs.
Airfares may or may not be included in the package price – most cruise lines offer an air/sea price which includes the airfare to and from the cruise port, and cruise-only prices which does not include airfares- be sure to ask for both rates to make a comparison!
For families, many cruise ships also have a range of facilities especially for kids with activities, daytime supervision and night time baby-sitting, often included in the cost of the cruise. Modern cruise ships are very high-tech these days are you can expect to have good WiFi on board.
There are many different types of cabins, or rooms, on a cruise ship, sometimes also referred to as staterooms. Very similar to a hotel room, though usually much smaller (space is premium on a ship after all), cabins are split into different categories and you will need to choose which category you want when you book your cruise.
Although there may be as many as 20 categories of cabin on one cruise ship alone, they are essentially divided into four main characteristics: inside, outside, balcony, and suite. As it sounds, inside cabins are on the inside of the ship, and so have no window. They are also usually the smallest sized room, and are the cheapest option. Outside cabins have some kind of window or porthole, and can be a similar size or a little larger than the inside cabins. Balcony cabins have their own private balcony to enjoy the views and fresh air, and a suite is the largest and luxurious type of cabin, often with separate living and sleeping areas.
Other factors to consider when booking your cabin are stability – those cabins in the lower and central parts of the ship will feel less of the ship’s motions, which will be important for those who suffer from motion sickness – and proximity to facilities on the ship such as elevators, the sun deck and entertainment hubs.
There is always plenty to do on a cruise ship – it is essentially a floating resort! Cruise ships have a lot of fun features like water slides, zip lines, ropes courses and other amusements. Cruises also offer a range of classes with everything from dance classes to wine/cocktail classes and historical and cultural lectures.
All cruise ships provide a range of restaurants and bars to enjoy, and many have night clubs and game clubs. Most ships also have one or more on board spas where you can enjoy a massage, facial, or other beauty treatment.
Of course, you will also be able to enjoy on-shore trips to fantastic and fascinating locations – from paradise islands to historic cities, depending on the itinerary you choose. On-shore visits vary from a few hours to a full day, and their frequency throughout the cruise varies also depending on the ship’s itinerary – some ships have a higher proportion of ‘sea days’ while others move from port to port almost daily.
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- Travel documents, such as copies of your travel insurance policy
- Cruise luggage tags
- Magnets (great for hanging up items in your cruise cabin)
- Towel clips (to make sure your towel doesn’t blow away from the sun-lounger when at the pool)
- Backpack/day pack for shore excursions
- Phone charger (and chargers for any other electronics you plan to bring)
- Reusable water bottle
- Laundry bag
- Bathing suit and cover ups
- Sanitary products
- Sunscreen (even if cruising a colder climate, you will be spending a lot of time on deck admiring the view!)
- Travel game
- A good book (or three!)
- Mix of day time outfits
- Casual nighttime outfits
- 1-2 formal outfits
- Packable raincoat
- Shower gel
- toothpaste, etc…
- Hand sanitizer
- Pain Killers (Tylenol, Advil, etc..)
- Antacids, etc…
- A broad-brimmed hat
- Insect repellent
You will need to have a valid passport for all cruises travelling internationally. For cruises in the US, you will not necessarily need a passport, but some kind of proof of citizenship is required. A passport is the best form of this, though as a US citizen you can also present a certified copy of a birth certificate and a driver’s license or government-issued photo ID. For non-US citizens departing from or visiting US ports on their cruise, you will need to make sure you have a valid tourist entry (ETSA) visa prior to arrival – this can be arranged online at the US Department of Immigration site.
Be sure to check out your ship’s dress code – all ships have one and these can usually be found on their website – to make sure you pack appropriate clothing. Also consider how much luggage you will be allowed to bring, which will be limited by whether you have connecting flights to your cruise port, and the baggage restrictions of the airline you are travelling with. You may also want to check with your cruise line if they have a limit to the amount of luggage you can bring on board, although this is not generally the case.
Some cruise lines offer group transfers or shuttles to and from the port, however it is advisable to arrange your own private transport, to avoid long waits. This is particularly important if you have a connecting flight – you do not want to miss it because you were waiting for the group shuttle to depart! Booking a limo or private car is ideal in this situation – your professional driver will meet you at the port or airport and make sure you get to where you need to go! See recommendations for private car services here.
One of the myths about going on a cruise is that it is very expensive. In fact, once you factor in everything which is included in your cruise package, it can be cheaper than many hotel or resort based vacations, especially if you follow these handy tips.
The first thing you can do to say money on your cruise vacation is to make sure you book as far in advance as possible. Booking your cruise 8 months to a year or even more in advance can mean significant discounts compared to booking at the last minute. This usually has the additional advantage that you can choose whichever cabin you like! The time of year you choose to book your cruise is also important – like many other types of vacation, prices vary significantly across high and low season, so you can make great savings by booking for off-peak times. For example, a Caribbean cruise in January can be much cheaper than one in July, with the added bonus of escaping the cold winter weather back home!
Big savings can also be made by booking at non-refundable rates, which are generally much cheaper than flexible options. Depending on your travel plans and lifestyle, this may not be an option for everyone, but if you can be firm in your plans you will feel the benefit! Also keep in mind that different cabin types are cheaper than others – inside cabins (those on the inside of the ship and so without a window) are much cheaper than outside and balcony cabins. There are so many other great areas with spectacular views to spend time in on a cruise ship, does it really matter whether your room has a view? You can also earn discounts through loyalty schemes – if you become a regular cruiser, many cruise lines offer special deals and on board discounts for repeat customers.
Because of the all-inclusive nature of a cruise ticket, with accommodation, meals, activities and entertainment all included at one price, cruises can be one of the best value ways to go on vacation. However there are some hidden costs on board that you should be aware of, and being vigilant on these will help you save money. For example, on many cruise lines meals and snacks at the main restaurants is included whereas eating at the alternative restaurants or through room service is not – so be sure to be careful where you eat! Shore excursions are another example, with cruise lines often charging an inflated rate for (optional) tours to their various ports of call along the cruise. You can save money by going on shore and booking a tour with a local tour operator at the port of call.
Sea sickness is something which will affect some passengers which strongly, while others are barely effected at all. Some people are more sensitive to the movement on board a ship due to an imbalance in the inner ear, and will suffer from sea sickness even when the sea is calm. Luckily, there are many things you can do to manage and even completely avoid sea sickness while on a cruise, even as someone who is prone to this condition.
Firstly, make sure you choose the right ship – newer, larger ships are equipment with stabilizers which reduce the instance of sea sickness for those who generally suffer it. You may also want to opt for cruises which spent a greater number of days in port and less sea days, such as Southern Caribbean or Mediterranean cruises. Additionally, choosing an outside cabin with either a window or a balcony will help manage sea sickness by being able to focus on the stationary horizon.
Once on board, you can reduce the effects of sea sickness by acclimatizing to the movement of the ship – this is best done within the first few hours of being on board. Spend some time outdoors in the fresh air, and use the horizon as a reference point, while avoiding staring at stable objects like your smartphone or iPad. Drink plenty of water and avoid deep fried or highly spicy foods which may upset your stomach, at least at first! For severe cases, you can also pack accessories and medication such as the Sea Band, a wrist band which works by putting slight pressure on acupressure points which reduces nausea from motion sickness.
One of the great advantages of going on a cruise is that you will visit a range of exotic destinations. This also means you should make sure you have all the required vaccinations for each of these places – be sure to ask your doctor what vaccinations you need for your specific itinerary at least 6 weeks before you travel. Any form of travel means you are coming in contact with a large number of people from all over the world (and their diseases), and this is particularly true on a cruise ship. So you should also make sure you are up to date with all routine vaccines such as influenza, varicella (Chickenpox) and measles/mumps/rubella.
Thinking about going on a cruise while pregnant? This should not be an issue in the first two trimesters of pregnancy as long as you do not have any health complications, so check with your doctor before embarking of course. Most cruise lines will not allow passengers to travel in their third trimester of pregnancy, as they do not have the medical facilities on board to deal with an early delivery or emergency medical treatment associated with late-term pregnancy complications. No matter your stage of pregnancy, cruise lines will generally ask for a letter from your doctor to confirm you are ok to travel, so make sure you prepare this in advance.