**Some photos courtesy of Unsplash.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, and sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” -H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
After 24 months away from cruising, I was really excited to get back to our favorite vacation but as I got out my suitcase, I realized that I was a little rusty on the packing and planning portion of a cruise. I had to take a beat to remember some of the tricks that my husband and I have learned over the course of our 18 cruises.
If you are new to cruising or are considering your return to cruising, I hope these 8 tips can refresh your memory or help you to plan your trip.
Drive to the terminal
For those of you who live near a cruise terminal, you are so very lucky! For the rest of us, how to get to our ship is a consideration. My advice would be to drive to the cruise terminal if you have the option.
This might seem like a strange tip and you may be wondering why in the world we choose to drive. Simply, we prefer the freedom it gives us. We are not opposed to flying to catch our ship and we will fly when we want to sail on a specific ship that has a specific itinerary. Living on the East Coast, we prefer to drive to our port whenever we can. When we drive, we have much more flexibility and we are not at the mercy of the airlines and their schedules.
For our most recent cruise, it occurred to us that we could travel halfway to the terminal the night before embarkation. We had not planned this in advance and it didn’t occur to us to try this until dinner time that night. After we finished our dinner we closed our suitcases and hit the road. The benefit meant that we had shorter, less stressful travel, a traffic-free trip in the evening, a good rest the night before our cruise, and we had gotten beyond large metro areas that could’ve delayed our travel had we traveled the day of embarkation. This did add the expense of a hotel stay but it was totally worth it!
As our cruises end, we hate being rushed out of our lovely cruise cocoon and thrown into the hurry-up and wait of the airport and the not-so-fun experience flying can often be these days. Instead of sitting in the airport waiting for hours for our flight home, we don’t mind easing into our own vehicle and making our way home at our own pace.
The biggest benefit of driving ourselves? I don’t have to worry about how heavy my suitcase is as I pack for my cruise!
We also park at the terminal. This might add the cost of parking for the duration of our cruise to the expense of our trip but we consider it worth it to walk off the ship and head for home. Our vehicle is in a secured parking area and depending on the port, is often covered.
This tip is one that works for us. It has its pros and its cons but if you have the option of driving, the costs you might incur with this option might ultimately be cheaper than flying.
Make sure to carry some cash for tips
Before you leave for your cruise, I recommend that you grab some cash, specifically some smaller bills for tipping. Many of the professionals that help you at various points of your trip make a living off tips. Be prepared to tip them for their services.
I don’t typically recommend traveling with large amounts of cash but these are some points of your trip for which you will want to have some cash at hand:
1. Above and beyond the tips that the cruise line will charge, we try to have some cash to tip those crew members who provide outstanding services. You can add an additional amount for a specific crew member to your room account or you can put a tip in an envelope that the cruise line may provide and give it to your favorite crew member.
2. Porters at the airport or cruise terminal who handle your bags.
3. Excursion tour guides and drivers.
4. Bartenders and waiters.
With regard to tipping, be sure to review your receipt when ordering from a bar or when eating in a specialty restaurant on your ship. Most cruise lines are automatically applying tips in these areas but a space for tipping still remains on the receipt. An additional tip is not required but if your service was exceptional, of course, you can add more or you can offer your server a small cash tip, which cruise staff will appreciate.
The one thing you cannot forget before you head off to catch your ship is your passport. If you want to actually get on your ship, a passport is a must. On our last cruise, as we disembarked, we did not need to present our passports to return to the terminal. Instead, Customs agents took our photos and ushered us out with no questions and no review of our documents.
Before you leave home for your cruise, it is a good practice to check again and again to make sure you have your passport with you. My husband and I take ours out and show them to each other, sometimes multiple times, before we leave home.
The Useful Tote or Backpack
On our very first cruise, I learned that packing a tote in my suitcase was a great idea. In fact, a tote, backpack, or carry-on is a great idea for your cruise from start to finish.
Keep in mind that once onboard your ship, pools, and spas will be open. After a long travel day, it might be nice to have a change of clothes so you can shift into vacation mode. Whatever your plan, remember that your suitcase may take a while to follow you to your stateroom so packing a bag with anything you will want as soon as you get on board is a great idea. Consider a bag with your swimsuit, flip-flops, medication, sunglasses, sunscreen, and any other gear to help you slip into your vacation.
As we cruise, I use a tote or backpack to throw supplies into before we head up to the pool deck or as we leave the ship for an excursion. A bag of some type is a great place to drop a book or tablet, sunscreen, sunglasses, your sea pass, camera, or any other gear you’d like to have with you as you plan to relax. I try to select a bag that my husband will be willing to help me carry on excursions.
At the end of your cruise, you will have options regarding how to get off of the ship. Do you want to walk off with your luggage or would you prefer the ship staff to collect your suitcases on the last night of the cruise so you can collect them in the terminal as you come off of the ship? We choose to have our suitcases collected on the last night of our cruise. For that last night, I keep the minimum supplies that we need to get dressed the next morning including any valuables, toiletries, and any vital supplies like medications (be sure to keep your passport). For the minimal supplies we don’t pack, my trusty tote helps me get those supplies off the ship. If we drove to the terminal, that tote is tossed into the backseat. If we’re flying, I will not hesitate to open my suitcase and put any of these supplies back into my suitcase.
The motion of the ocean
Be prepared for motion sickness. During one of our early cruises, our ship experienced 50-knot winds and 20-foot seas between New York City and our destination of Bermuda. Walking around the ship was difficult and on upper decks where we could see the horizon, the conditions were even more upsetting for those who were susceptible to motion sickness. All doors to outside spaces on the ship were locked for our safety as we sailed.
The ship’s motion never bothers me so on this day, I didn’t think twice about having a Belgian Waffle for breakfast. Still, on the advice of the Captain, we did not move about the ship for most of the day. Instead, we enjoyed a day of naps and reading our books.
When the weather is threatening, most ship Captains will slow the ship and sail closer to shore and into more shallow water for a smoother ride, if at all possible. Ship Captains will do what they can to avoid bad weather, like hurricanes. However, avoiding rough seas is not always possible. If motion sickness is an issue for you, be sure to check with your personal physician before your trip. Your doctor can prescribe motion sickness patches if needed. You can also use seasickness wristbands that help with nausea and other over-the-counter products such as Dramamine to help you manage. Other advice to survive a rough sea day would include limiting your motion around the ship and finding a mid-ship interior spot low in the ship to limit the sensation of the ship’s motion. If you are susceptible to motion sickness, don’t go high in the ship where you can feel the motion most prominently, don’t walk around the ship when the ship’s motion makes you unsteady, and avoid top decks where you can clearly see the horizon. When choosing a stateroom, keep in mind that the smoothest spot on the ship is typically midship.
Your Cell Phone
Don’t forget that cruising takes you away from traditional sources of cell service. In fact, your cell phone may indicate “Cellular at Sea.” Don’t be fooled, using your cell phone at sea will ensure that you will be paying very high data rates and you might come home to an astronomical cell bill.
To avoid these steep charges, as your ship leaves port, be sure to put your phone into airplane mode or disable your cellular data.
If you need to stay in touch with home, be sure to check with your cell provider to make sure your service offers international or roaming services at rates you find acceptable. We have Apple devices so before leaving home, we agreed with loved ones to stay in touch through options we could use over Wi-Fi like Facebook Messenger.
Plan ahead for special needs or a special occasion
As you get ready for your cruise, know that your cruise line can help you with any special needs. Do you need a wheelchair? If you use a CPAP machine, the cruise line can provide distilled water and an approved extension cord, if needed. Do you have a dietary allergy? Are you traveling during a special occasion like a birthday, anniversary, honeymoon, or sailing with a group celebrating something such as a family reunion?
Your cruise line can help you with these kinds of needs, but advance notice of your need is typically required well before your cruise. Check your cruise line’s website for assistance and look for any set deadlines that the cruise line has for helping you as you make these special arrangements. Often, you can alert the cruise line directly or your travel professional can help you with your planning.
Download your cruise line’s app
Before leaving for your trip, your cruise line’s app can help you to make reservations for excursions, specialty meals, and shows. Of course, in the days of COVID, the app is very helpful with uploading important documents like your vaccination documents, COVID test results, and Passport information that you will need at embarkation. The app will also make your Sea Pass easily available.
Once onboard, your cruise line app works for free through the ship’s Wi-Fi. The app provides a calendar so you can keep track of all reservations and excursions that you have planned. The app is helpful on board and provides easy ways to cancel and adjust reservations if you need to.
All travel takes some planning, even a cruise, but if you plan before your trip, you will have a smooth, worry-free trip.
I hope these tips help you to plan and to be prepared. I hope your cruise is fantastic!