Pleasure cruising has become one of the most popular vacation activities in the travel world. Going to the Caribbean or Mediterranean Seas or to the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans on a cruise ship is a great way to see multiple ports without having to unpack. You carry your bedroom with you on these exciting and fun trips. Even three and four day cruises are great ways to spend a long weekend getting pampered while eating great food. Most cruise ships have top end spas that offer many different massage styles (Swedish, Deep Tissue, Hot Stone, and other exotics) as well as facials and full body wraps. These treatments are great for relaxing and make you feel like a new person. Also, most cruise ships have casinos on board for those that want the thrill of placing a wager on the hopes of hitting a big score. Many of today’s giant (over 150,000 ton) ships have extensive shopping areas that offer almost anything you need or want to purchase. Cruising can be tons of fun!
Here are some tips for making the most of your cruising vacation:
When you check in for your cruise, you will be checking your bag at a central check-in facility. The bags will then be processed and brought to your stateroom. We have had our bags brought up quickly, one or two hours after check in, and we have had them delayed for five or six hours. We always bring our swim suits and clothes for dinner plus a small make up case in a small carry-on bag so we can go to the pool knowing that we will have clothes for dinner. This is just simpler than trying to carry large bags onto the ship.
When you are finished with checking in and have boarded the ship, you will have your stateroom key card. This card not only unlocks your stateroom door, it is also your ship board credit card. You will not need cash on the ship. Except in the casino, cash is not accepted anywhere. Everything you purchase in the shops on board, drinks in the bars or at dinner, soft drinks, and any excursions you book through the ship board excursion desk are purchased using this card. Keep it with you at all times and don’t be shy about checking with the desk to check on the status of your account if you feel like doing so. By the way, you can use your card in the casino as well and some electronic games may require the card rather than cash. We usually like to control our casino budget by using cash.
Arriving at your port of departure a day early is always a good idea if you have the vacation time to do so. This will ease your peace of mind if your plane is delayed. A same day arrival can be nerve racking if the airlines are having delays or traffic at the port is excessive. Also, it is always a good idea to do a pre check-in with your cruise on the cruise line’s website. This will save you time at the terminal. Be sure to have all of your travel documents with you including your cruise packet from your travel agent, passport, and travel insurance documents. Many Caribbean and Alaska cruises won’t require a passport, however it is always a good idea to have it with you. It is simple identification and having one makes deciding on a cruise simpler. You won’t have to worry about the specific ports you are visiting and whether they require passports.
Once on board, just have fun. Most activities on board are included in your cruise fare. Many of today’s mega-cruise liners have dozens of activities every day. Many also have rock walls, wave riding machines, water slides, mini-golf, basketball courts and table tennis. Most have a walking course around the ship for a morning or evening walk or run. All ships have workout rooms with treadmills and usually stationary bikes and some elliptical trainers. Use of these facilities is included in your fare. We usually try to exercise every day, at least a walk in the morning. They also offer classes like Yoga, Pilates and Zumba for an added cost.
Food in the main dining room and at the buffet is included in your fare. You can have anything on the menu for dinner or lunch. I had three appetizers with no entree and three different desserts for dinner once (all of the appetizers looked good and none of the entrees appealed to me – and I shared the desserts, promise!) On almost all cruise lines, alcohol is not included in your fare and must be purchased using your key card. All cruise lines offer a purchase plan where you purchase drinks ahead of time for a discount. My husband drinks diet coke and he nearly always buys a plan for his sodas. Some cruise lines include alcohol in your fare; your travel agent will let you know if this is so for you.
After our first cruise, finding our suitcases was a chore. The cruise lines disembark all the passengers and get the passengers for the next cruise boarded and the ship resupplied, and they must do this in about ten hours. Disembarkation procedures vary between lines but they all try to disembark passengers in stages to cut down on the numbers trying to find luggage. However, there are always hundreds of fellow cruisers in the luggage area, so it can be confusing. We now have a luggage set that is a blue color that really stands out, and this has made finding our cases much simpler. Another tip for getting home more easily is to try to schedule your flight (if you are flying) later in the morning, so you’re not stressed by trying to make your flight. The cruise lines usually start disembarking passengers around 7:00AM and it can be tough to make an 8:00 or even 9:00 flight. Give yourself a little breathing room, and you’ll be glad you did. Cruise lines also usually offer a shuttle to the airport and using this allows you to avoid the lines getting taxis. Most major cities have Uber or Lyft service now, and you could try this as well. We haven’t tried Uber or Lyft after a cruise yet, so I don’t know if they are better than taxis, but I would think that given the numbers of people at the cruise terminal, that the driver may have trouble finding you and your party. Remember some cruise ships accommodate over 7,000 passengers, so there are lots of people milling around. It is important to not only know the Port but also the Terminal where your ship is located so that your driver can find you.