Final part of my 3-part Cruise Vacation series.
You did it! You finally decided on your first cruise and even convinced your partner, friend or family to join you. It better be good, because this could be your one and only shot to get them on board for more cruise adventures.
To make this an enjoyable vacation for all of you, read on for some helpful things that you may or may not know about.
- Make sure your credit card works: While being on the ship you won’t have to carry your credit card, but during shore excursion you will need it if you’re not paying cash. To make sure your card won’t let you down when you use it in a country other than the USA, you should call your bank and let them know when you’re traveling and what countries your card might be used in. That’ll ensure that the bank doesn’t mistakenly block your card after your first use.
Age of Ship vs. Fun Factor: It’s easy to get excited about a cruise when you read about all these great features and amenities that the cruise line offers. Please be aware that not every ship of the same cruise line has identical features. Newer ships have all the cool stuff. Older ships are mostly used for shorter cruises and have just standard features. If this is your first cruise and you’re not sure if you will like it, book one of the newer cruise ships. You can find out about the age and features of all the cruise ships, if you look up the name of the cruise line on Wikipedia.
- Reserve parking online: A lot of people are traveling to the ship by car and parking right at the port is expensive. There are many park & cruise services that provide an affordable parking space for you just minutes from the ship and they drive you with shuttles to the ship and pick you up afterwards. One service that I used for Port Canaveral was Park N Cruise. They are sold out pretty fast and only keep like 10 spots open for backup. So make sure to put that on your do to list.
- Book shore excursions online: Same as parking, shore excursions can be sold out fast, especially the popular ones. And you really don’t want to wait in line of the service counter on the ship to book your excursions. It’s way easier online and you can read through some reviews first to make a smart decision.
- Online Check in: You can either check in online from home or fill out paperwork at the check-in counter. To make this cruise as stress free as possible, I definitely recommend to do this online. You get to print your own luggage tags too, which will make the boarding process even easier.
Bring some cash: You won’t need to have cash on the ship, because everything is being paid with your sail card, even tips. However, it’s always good to keep a few bucks in your pocket for the luggage porters and especially during shore excursions. You won’t be able to pay with credit card at a native’s souvenir booth and frankly, you wouldn’t want to hand over your card to begin with depending on where you’re at.
- Kids safety: On your first day on the ship your kids will get a special wrist band that they have to wear at all times during the cruise. It ensures that if a child gets lost during an excursion, they will be brought back to the right ship. Also in case of an emergency on the ship, parents should get all life vests from their stateroom and go directly to the Muster Station. Your kids wrist band will show the staff where to bring them, so you’ll be reunited in the same area. The wrist bands are usually given out during the mandatory safety briefing aka lifeboat drill. There will be several announcements and your sail card will have the Muster Station on it. The staff will also direct you to the correct location to make sure all passengers attend. If you didn’t get one, please ask for it at the service desk.
- Ship Tour: Cruise ships can be like a labyrinth with all these hallways on multiple floors. There are usually tours being offered on the first day as well as spa tours to learn about the services that they offer.
Motion sickness: Nothing is a bigger downer than getting sick on your cruise. Sea sickness is not very pleasant and I saw a lot of people with these round patches behind their ears. Personally I don’t get sea sick although I felt the motion a little on my very first cruise for a few hours. I can’t tell you what remedy works best, but there are different options out there. Patches (prescription needed), chewable tablets, motion sickness wrist bands and other remedies. If you’re a candidate for sea sickness you might want to take something with you just in case.
- Laundry Service: Pack enough clothes for your cruise because laundry service will cost you. There will either be a self-serve laundromat or a cleaning service. Including laundry detergent, washing and drying you easily leave $10 in the machines. Laundry service and dry cleaning can be $25 and higher.
- Drinks: You will notice several waiters swarming out offering you great looking alcoholic drinks after you just entered the ship on your first day. These drinks are not a welcome gift. They cost money and the waiters are doing a great job hiding the price tag. There are many people falling for this, emptying one glass after the other so happy for this nice gesture, until the waiter presents the bill. So before you take your first sip, ask the waiter if this drink is complementary.
Free drinks during your whole cruise are Water, Lemonade, Juice/Milk for breakfast and coffee. If you can’t live without sodas, they usually offer a one-time soda package, so that you can get as many refills as you can take in.
- Mini Bar in Room: Your stateroom comes with a fridge and it is usually stocked with all kinds of alcoholic beverages. Same like in hotels, these drinks are not free of charge! If you’d rather use the fridge for your own stuff, your stateroom attendant will be happy to clear out their booze to make room for yours. There might also be large water bottle that almost looks like a welcome gift. But again, don’t fall for it. It most likely costs 5 bucks and you will see it on the label.
Tipping: On the ship everything is being paid with your sail card including tips. Usually an automatic gratuity of 15-18% is on the bill already, but you can give more if you want. At the end of the cruise it is recommended to give the waiters, stateroom attendants and other service staff that you interacted with a tip and this is usually charged to your sail card. Please note that you can take off this charge from you card, if you prefer to tip in cash and in person or not tip at all. Some people take it off because they never go to the formal dining room and therefore don’t feel like tipping the waiters that they never saw.
- Sail Card: Your room card will be your wallet and you can pay everything onboard with it. If you’re on a budget you can check your current balance on your stateroom’s TV. There may also be kiosks to check your balance on the ship like on Carnival. At the end of the cruise you’ll be charged with the total amount. Tips onboard are given at the end of the cruise and you have the choice between giving them cash or having a predefined amount be charged from your credit card.
- Elevators: There can be long lines in front of the elevators especially on shore days and at dinner time. Just take the stairs and don’t spend your precious vacation waiting in line. With all the food 24/7 you might need some exercise anyways.
- Captain’s Dinner: There are 1 or 2 formal dinners during your cruise, and people like to dress up for that. If you don’t feel like dressing up, business casual is just fine.
- Double up: There will be times when you just can’t decide what you should pick from the menu in the formal dining room. You can order whatever and how often you would like. It’s very common to just order something twice or two different courses as long as you can eat it.
- Call home: You can use your stateroom’s phone to make phone calls back home. The charge is usually around $2 a minute. There’s also cell phone service available on the ship, but international roaming rates will apply and charges will appear on your regular cell phone bill.
- Recharge your Gadgets: Bring a power strip to recharge all of your devices at the same time. There are usually less power outlets in your room than you have gadgets. Most ships have both 110VAC and 220VAC power outlets.
After Your First Cruise
- Off the ship and still feel like cruising? Your brain still thinks you’re on the ship, trying to compensate the motions. Don’t be worried, that’s normal and happens to some people and goes away after a couple days. Happened to me too and it feels a little like being drunk without drinking.
- Loyalty Programs: Cruise lines will appreciate you booking with them again and they usually throw in some bonuses like onboard credit or free drinks, if you choose them again for your next cruise.
What is your favorite cruise tip that is not mentioned above? Please comment below.
Also, if you haven’t read part 1 and 2 of my Cruise Series, here are the links: