I'm often asked by friends and family about cruising so I thought I'd share my ideas and experience.
First,you will absolutely, positively need a passport for each traveler. You're safest applying several months in advance. You can pay extra to expedite it. See http://travel.state.gov/passport/passport_1738.html for more information.
There is such a thing as a "passport card". This only allows entry to the U.S. via water or land. If you have an emergency during a cruise and have to fly back, it's practically useless! It's mostly intended for people that live near the border and frequently travel back and forth.
You usually have to add port fees, taxes, fuel surcharges to the cost of a cruise. Figure about 10-15% above the advertised price.
All meals on the ship, except specialty restaurants, are included in the price. Room service is also available. The main dining options, from totally casual to having a wait staff, to formal specialty diningComplete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships 2010 (Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships)Your First Cruise: A Complete Guide to Planning and Attaining the Perfect Cruise Vacation are:
1. The grill(s) next to the pool(s) - burgers, dogs, grill type stuff. – pool wear (bathing suit with a wrap/cover to casual attire.
2. Some ships have a relative "health food" bar near one of the pools or the spa/fitness center. If this is a priority, check with an agent before booking the cruise.
3. The buffet - open for extended hours for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. - casual attire
4. Main dining room(s) - sit down, menus change daily, typically you sign up for main (starts around 6:00 p.m.) or late (starts around 8:30 p.m.) seating on most ships. You will have an assigned table and time that is for the entire cruise but can just not show up and go to the buffet instead if you don't want to bother with it. Also, some ships (Norwegian for example) have "freestyle" cruising which offers main dining on a reservation or show up and wait in line basis.
On 3-5 day cruises, there is usually 1 formal/dressy night and 2 formal nights on 7 day cruises.
Men are encouraged to wear a coat and tie as a minimum with tuxes, dinner jackets, or dark suits at the other end of the spectrum for "Formal" nights.
The other nights, men's wear ranges from slacks and open collar through sport coat or suit and tie. Swim suits are always discouraged in main dining and shorts or jeans are discouraged at dinner.
5. A lot of ships have an "alternative" dining that requires reservations, dress up, and a surcharge (often approx. $30 per person). I personally don't see the sense in it myself.
Clothing - usually not optional (just kidding). The cruise lines encourage "resort casual" most of the time. They're not going to throw you off the ship but you won't see a lot of jeans and cutoffs. Carry a light jacket or sweater. It can be cool in the evenings.
The cruise lines also suggest women dress "modestly" when going ashore. Different countries have different ideas as to what is appropriate wear, especially for women.
Drinks - from water to the "Water of Life"
1. Free - coffee, water, punch, ice tea. Milk and juices during breakfast.
2. Soda's - carry some on board with you if you "just gotta". If you're a real power soda drinker, consider getting a "soda card". Otherwise, it's cheaper to pay "bar prices" for one or two sodas a day.
3. Wine - most cruise lines will let you pack one or two bottles per cabin in your luggage.
Specifically, Royal Caribbean prohibits bringing any alcohol for consumption on board. They want you to buy it all from them.
In any case, pack it in you checked luggage.
Carnival has started looking for alcohol in your x-rayed carry on's.
4. Liquor and beer - must be purchased on the ship (at the bar) if consumed on the ship. Liquor purchased on shore or in the shipboard duty free shops will be delivered to your cabin the last day or evening of the cruise.
Most of the cruise lines will suggest that you add a lump sum to your charges near the end of the cruise. Many of them automatically add it onto your final bill unless you tell them not to. They then parcel it out to your Cabin Steward, Housekeeper, Head Waiter, Waiter, Assistant Waiter, Buss Boy, etc.
Typical tips are $10-12 per day per traveler so for a 4 night cruise you'd tip a total of $80-100 for the two of you I know that might seem a bit high untill you consider you're tipping practically everyone but the bar staff. You can adjust this up or down and change the distribution if you want to. Personally, I think it's a lot less trouble than bothering with how much to tip who on the final night of the cruise and hanging onto a stack of bills until the end of the cruise.
Also, a 15% tip is automatically included in all bar tabs (including the wine and coffee bars) but they conveniently don't mention that when they hand the check to you to sign and it has a space for adding a tip (extra tip).
There is a new show every night. They're free. If you have the 6:00 p.m. dining, you can go the 8:30 show. If you have the 8:30 p.m. dining, you'll go to the 6:00 show. If you eat at the buffet that night, go to whichever show fits your schedule.
You will sign up your credit card to guarantee the bill at the end of the cruise. While on the ship, leave money, credit cards, I.D., passports, etc. locked up in the safe in your cabin. Your electronic room key is also your charge card and ID on the ship. Don't forget to carry photo I.D. (drivers license) and your shipboard key card with you when you leave the ship. The ship has your electronic photo linked to your cabin card but port security doesn't.
. Shipboard - there is an atrium that has shops where you can buy cameras, jewelry, clothing, perfume, watches, liquor, etc. Prices are usually comparable to what you will pay in port.
2. In Port - the ship will provide shopping info and maps for each port of call. They have recommended stores that provide at least some quality/ price guarantee.
3. Know what you're buying - a lot of things are just as cheap as at home. It's amazing how many "today only" sales that are occurring while you are in port.
4. When buying liquor on the ship or in port, it's usually about ˝ of what you pay here in the states. When you return to the ship with it, you will have to check it in with the Purser and it will be returned to you the last afternoon/evening of the cruise.
Worse odds than you’ll see in Vegas or Atlantic City.
1. Carry on - to the plane or ship - Carry on a small bag with all of your I.D., medications, minimal toiletries and cosmetics, camera(s)and other expensive electronics, and jewelry, and the first afternoon/evenings clothing, probably including a bathing suit. The bags you check onto the ship will typically be delivered to your cabin before midnight of your departure day.
2. Carry on - to an airplane - TSA restricts you to a one quart ziplock type bag (clear, resealable) to carry any lotions, potions, creams, pastes, makeup, shampoos, conditioner, etc. for you to carry onto a plane. No containers can be larger than 3 oz. (bottle size - you don't get by with a 6 oz. bottle that's half full). Pack the ziplock where you can get it out easily. It has to go through the x-ray machine at the airport separately from the rest of your stuff.
3. Checked luggage - at the airport - Most airlines charge for checked bags. Southwest is currently an exception to this. Many airlines now charge for all checked baggage. Weight limitations per bag vary from airline to airline. Check the website http://luggagelimits.com for current policies.
For a real rip off, Spirit Airlines even charges for a second carry on item or even the first if you use an overhead bin.
Getting there and back
1. Check prices if you book your own flights to the port vs. flight and cruise packages from the cruise lines. There may be a significant savings one way or the other. If not, the cruise line may accept a little more responsibility if your flight is booked through them and it is delayed.
2. Quite often, it is less expensive and more convenient to take a taxi from the airport to the ship and from the ship to the airport vs. using the cruise lines shuttle/ transfer service. As an example, Fort Lauderdale Airport to the cruise ship may cost $15-20 each way for a taxi (in 1997) ($40, tops, for the round trip for both of you). The cruise lines typically charge $30-45 per person for the round trip (total of $60-90 for both of you). Earlier this year (January 2008) a taxi from the San Juan Airport to the cruise terminal was $25 for 2 of us. The cruise line wanted $20 each, one way.
3. Wear comfortable, easily removed shoes to the airport. You'll have to remove them to go through security.
4. Check with the airline(s), before booking, about baggage policies. Different airlines have different rates for checked baggage. As an example, Delta currently charges extra for all bags and/or bags over 50 lbs., unless you are a Medallion frequent flyer. As a Medallion level frequent flyer in coach, you can check up to 2 bags, each weighing up to 50 lbs. at no charge or if you are in first class, it’s 3 bags up to 75 lbs each for free. Also, effective June 1, 2010, if you book using a Delta branded American express card, your first checked bag is free. This really varies widely from airline to airline. As another example, Spirit airlines recently announced fees for carry on baggage placed in the overhead bins. Check in online. Most airlines charge an additional fee per bag for getting your boarding pass and checking luggage at the airport.
5. Consider "sharing bags". Pack sets of yours and your partners clothing in each suitcase. That way, if one bag is lost, you both still have something to wear.
1. Http://luggagelimits.com - gives current info for airline baggage costs. Sometimes the cheapest fare isn't the cheapest fare after you add in baggage.
2. www.vacationstogo.com - requires registration to use. Online cruise travel agency allows very thorough searches for the cruise you're looking for. It requires registration to use it and after registering, your email address is your logon. I suggest using the "Advanced Search" since it allows the most flexibility in your choices.
3. www.cruisecritic.com - good resource to see what other people think of the cruise line, ship, ports, etc.
4. www.travelocity.com - one stop shopping for cruises, flights, hotels.
5. www.expedia.com - one stop shopping for cruises, flights, hotels.
6. www.orbitz.com - one stop shopping for cruises, flights, hotels.
You might also want to purchase a cruse ship and port of call guide book such as Frommer's Cruises and Ports of Call (Frommer's Complete) [Paperback]
Frommer's Cruises and Ports of Call (Frommer's Complete Guides)