We’ve got insider tips for every niche of travel, including cruises. To make sure you’re packed and seaworthy, we’ve assembled 14 pieces of expert advice to help you get the best out of cruising.
Use a Cruise Specialist
If you’ve never taken a cruise before, consult a professional. With more leverage in the industry, cruise specialists can offer upgrades and added values not available to individual travelers booking their own voyages. Specialists can match your budget, tastes, travel style and preferences to the appropriate cruise line, ship, room and itinerary.
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Unexpected events and unforeseen weather conditions may cause your cruise to be delayed or cancelled. It’s a good idea to purchase travel insurance from an independent third party to protect your investment and reimburse you in the case of forfeited, nonrefundable or unused deposits and payments. Policies range in coverage and may also include medical, lost baggage and accommodation benefits in case of trip interruption.
Reposition Your Value
When cruise lines move their fleets to different parts of the world during spring and fall, you can get some great deals on longer and quieter voyages. Called “repositioning cruises,” these one-way routes offer the most value in the industry. Sail from Athens to Dubai in the fall, or from Singapore to Anchorage in spring at less cost and with fewer crowds, and you may even get to visit some unique ports of call.
Don’t Miss the Boat
Start your cruise on the right foot by arriving at your departure port a day in advance, in case of unexpected flight delays or cancellations. A distant port of departure such as Istanbul may entail a few airport transfers and an overnight. Give yourself a little breathing room to adjust to time changes and foreign soil.
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Road Instead of Sky
To avoid the hassles of baggage weight restrictions and getting to and from the airport, choose a cruise that departs from a port within driving distance of your home. (Some cruise lines offer parking for a daily fee, while many hotels in port vicinity offer free parking and shuttle service for cruise passengers who stay overnight. Research parking options before departure.) Cruises to Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico, the Caribbean, Bermuda, South America, Europe and around the world originate from points all over the continental U.S.
What Shall I Wear?
Formal evenings with tuxedos and gowns have become more rare aboard many cruise lines. Most cruises are casual by day and dress-casual in the evening. Pack for both your destinations and activities. Don’t forget your workout attire and swimwear if you plan to use the on-board fitness centers and pools. Some ships even have a jogging track. For more information, consult our Packing Check List.
Plan Shore Excursions in Advance
Shore excursions are a big part of cruising. While some cruise lines include them in the cost, most do not and the best options can sell out. Consult your cruise line’s website or brochure for options and pricing on your trip. Some cruise lines let you book in advance on their websites; you can also rely on your travel agent for help.
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Dine on Deck
Assigned seating times in the ship’s main dining room still exist, but these days, you don’t need to be confined to an early or late seating. A plethora of dining options include specialty restaurants, bistros, and in-room or balcony dining, depending on your vessel. For a memorable evening, find a ship that offers on-deck dining and spend a romantic evening under a canopy of stars.
Photo Credit: Tom Mascardo
Whatever your budget, itinerary or stomach condition, a cabin awaits your trip to sea. Rooms located mid-ship or on a lower deck offer smoother sailing in rough seas. If you’re cruising one-way, you may want to choose a cabin on the shore side to see all you can of passing scenery. For a special trip, book a balcony stateroom to enjoy the grand panorama on your own private viewing platform.
Windowless, inside standard cabins are often less than 200 sq. ft. While too cramped for some, those who spend more time outside than inside might be fine with them. Study the cruise ship layout and cabin plan before booking a room, and determine what an extra porthole or window, or increased floor space is worth to you.
Find the Right Fit
There’s nothing worse than a family cruise if you’re seeking romance, or a herd of partying singles if you’re after quiet relaxation. Cruise lines cater to different age groups and offer special interest and lifestyle cruises of all types: art, dancing, alternative lifestyle, health and wellness, motorcycle, gourmet, sports, investment and nature—to name just a few. Research and inquire on sites such as Theme Cruise Finder before booking your trip.
Photo Credit: Robert Pittman
Although grand dining and all-you-can-eat buffets still grace the scene on many cruise ships, they aren’t available 24/7. For a late-night bite or mid-afternoon munchies, most larger cruise ships offer snack bars, cafés, bistros, pizzerias or room service—some even have a midnight buffet. Check to see if these are included in your cruise price.
Budget for Extras
Read your cruise line website or brochure carefully. Anticipate paying extra for the following items, unless they’re listed as included: