First time and veteran cruise passengers
will find these helpful hints worth their weight in gold. I have assembled
this list of frequently asked questions to help make your trip more enjoyable
and eliminate stressful situations.
For most cruises departing around 4 or 5 PM, the published start of
embarkation is usually 1:00 PM. Although this is the recommended time,
passengers can usually board as early as noon. It is recommended that you do not
arrive much earlier, because you can get stuck in the traffic of the
disembarking passengers. You should be onboard the ship, no later than one hour
Most cruises arrive between 7:00 and 8:00 AM. After arriving in port, you
will need to go through US Customs. It can take up to 2 hours for the entire
ship to clear. No passenger can disembark before the entire ship is cleared.
Once the ship has cleared customs, passengers will be disembarked in an orderly
manner. People are assigned groups, usually based on the time of their departing
flights and will be disembarked based on their grouping.
Be sure to have your cruise and airline tickets in your possession along with
your passport or other acceptable proof of citizenship. Always keep the
paperwork handy. In these days of added security, you will be asked to present
your documentation numerous times.
At the point of booking your reservation, a deposit is required. This deposit
can range between $250-$400 per person for a 7 day cruise. The amount of the
deposit is based on the duration of the cruise and cruise line. Full payment is
usually due within 60 days of sailing. If for some reason you need to cancel
your cruise after you have made full payment, the amount you will be refunded
will be adjusted by a predetermined refund schedule. Usually no refund is
granted within two weeks prior to the cruise. Please see the cruise line terms
and conditions to see the exact terms and conditions.
Travel insurance is available from the individual cruise lines or independent
providers. The terms and conditions can vary between policies so be sure to
understand what is covered and what is not. Understand the situations which will
provide you a full refund and what proof needs to be provided should you need to
cancel or cut short your vacation.
What is Included?
Included in your cruise fares are:
Cruise ship travel.
All meals aboard the ship – Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Buffets, Snacks,
Entertainment aboard ship – Stage shows, Disco and Movies.
Use of the fitness center and library.
What is NOT Included?
The following items are traditionally not included in your cruise fares:
- Alcoholic and Non-Alcoholic beverages.
- Dining in specialty restaurants onboard ship.
- Art Purchases
- Shore Excursions.
- Ship Photography.
- Tips and Gratuities.
- Baby Sitting Services and after hours children’s program.
- Laundry Services.
- Purchases in the ship’s shops.
- Activities with added fees identified.
- Casino / Gambling & Art auctions.
- In room bar.
- Spa treatments and personal trainer sessions.
- Beauty Salon.
- Air transportation.
Tips and Gratuities
For most cruise lines, tips are not included. Usually tips are provided for
your room steward, waiters and waitresses, busboys and dining room maitre. The
normal suggested tip is $3.50 per person, pre day, for your room steward and
dining room staff. The cruise line will let you know the suggested amount in
documentation provided onboard. In addition, many cruise lines have provided
passengers the option to add the gratuities to their bill at the time of booking
of their cruise.
Airlines have stricter luggage restrictions than the cruise lines. Most
airlines limit passengers to 2 pieces of checked luggage per person with a weigh
limit of 50 pounds. For any overage, you will be charged. Most airlines charge
an additional $25 per bag up to 75 pounds. Bags over 75 pound will be rejected.
There are also dimension restrictions which limit the size of the bags that can
checked-in or carried onboard. The airlines limit the number of carry-ons to 2
small bags. A brief call to your airline to determine their baggage rules is
As far as contents of the carry-on, liquids and solids carried on board cannot
exceed 3 oz. You are also prohibited from bringing and sharp objects including
nail clippers and pocket knives. Please check with Federal Aviation
Administration’s website for restricted items that cannot be carried onboard.
The cruise lines do not limit the number of pieces of luggage, but remember
that while many cabins onboard the ships have adequate storage, you can easily
exceed the available space if you take your entire wardrobe with you.
Prospective passengers always ask me what type of cabin should I book? I
always say it depends on what you are looking for. If you are traveling with a
family and have small children, I recommend a balcony. If the children go to bed
early, the adults can sit on the balcony and have a drink or one adult can go to
the buffet and bring back food and both can dine together. The balcony provides
an outlet for the adults rather than looking at the four walls.
If you intend to spend very little time in the cabin, an inside cabin would
do fine. The inside cabins are usually less expensive and provide approximately
the same square footage as the corresponding outside cabin.
In you do not plan on spending a lot of time in the cabin and need to see
where you are and want to know if it is raining outside or daytime or night, I
recommend the outside cabin. Outside cabins are not as expensive as balcony
cabins, but are more than inside cabins.
What it boils down to, is you have to choose the cabin that is best for you.
The next question is “Where is the best place to choose a cabin – high-up on
the ship or on a lower deck?” I do not believe it matters. I recommend looking
at the ship’s deck plan and seeing what is located on the deck above and below
your cabin and choose the cabin that seems to be quieter. Ships are very sound
proof, but I would not choose a cabin above or below the disco or under the gym.
For those who might be seasick, there is no area of the ship that will make
you less prone to seasickness. My recommendation is that at the first hint of
becoming seasick – go on deck and get some fresh air and look at the horizon.
One of the worst things you can do is return to your cabin.
Alcohol Purchases Ashore
All alcohol purchased ashore will be confiscated upon re-boarding the ship.
The alcohol will be returned to you on the last night of the cruise. The cruise
line takes the liquor because they want you to consume their alcohol and drive
up your bar bill.
Luggage the Last Night of the Cruise
The last night of the cruise passengers will be provided a new set of luggage
tags. You will have to complete the tags and attach them to you luggage. You
will then place your tagged luggage in the hallway before bedtime. Overnight the
crew will take you bags and after docking offload your bags. In the terminal you
will need to claim your bags and report to US Customs. The cruise line will
provide the details and timing for luggage collection.
Currency and On-Board Spending.
On most cruises departing from the US, the currency is the US dollar. The
majority of cruise lines have migrated to a cashless system. Upon boarding the
ship, you will need to provide a valid credit card to the ship’s purser. All
onboard charges will be charged to the credit card and you will be issued a
ship’s credit card. This card will be used for any purchases onboard the ship,
including beverages, spa treatments, shore excursions and photographs. The last
night of the cruise you will be provided with a final statement.
The dining options onboard ships are ever growing. Many ships feature
flexible dining which allows passengers to dine when they want and with who they
want. In addition, there are specialty restaurants, where you can dine at an
added cost. For these restaurants, you will be provided a reservation and
assigned a dining time on the night of your choice (if available).
For ships offering tradition dining with fixed seatings dining, there are
normally 2 seatings. Early seating – at around 6 PM and late seating – around
8:15 PM. Both seatings feature the same menu; it is just your dining preference
time. Also note that seatings are capacity controlled and passengers are not
always granted their desired time.
Shore excursions are available at an added cost. The shore excursions can be
purchased on-line prior to your cruise, onboard the ship at the excursion desk
or from your room’s interactive TV (only on certain ships). The excursion will be
added to your running tab established shortly after you embarked.
Kids Program are available on most cruise lines. The youth coordinators
provide structured programs to keep the young ones occupied. The youth program
is usually divided into 3 – 4 age groups from about 2 years of age to 17 years
old. The programs normally start at around 1 PM and last until 10 PM with a
number of breaks in between. After 10 PM, the program continues, but there is an
hourly charge until about 1:00 AM for sitting services. Age groups of children
and hours of operation of the children’s program vary between cruise lines so
please check with each one to determine the details.
Please note, that most cruise lines require small children to be
potty-trained to partake in the kids program.
Airfare purchased through the cruise line is usually more expensive than
airfare you purchase on your own but it provides an added level of security. If
for some reason your flight is delayed the cruise line and airline have the
obligation to get you to the first port of call.
If you purchase your airfare on your own, you will be responsible for getting
to the first port of call should you miss the ship for any reason. The cruise
line and airline have no obligation to get you to the first port of call. All
expenses associated with getting there will be yours.
My recommendation would be to travel to the cruise departure port the day
before, so if there are any delays, you have increased your probability of not
missing your cruise. The cost for your hotel room an added night is well worth
the piece of mind.
For your return flight, if you cruise arrives around 8:00 AM, I would not
book a return flight before 1:00 PM. This will provide you a little cushion,
should the ship be delayed or it takes added time to get through customs.
All passengers should understand that most cruise ships are not registered in
the US, therefore laws, rules and regulations onboard the ship are governed by
the country of registry.