Travel Tips

Cruising Helpful Hints:

I love to cruise and have over 40 cruises on numerous cruise lines.  For the past 12 years, I’ve gone on an annual trip with a group of friends and as a Travel Agent, it’s up to me to make the arrangements, answer questions, and make sure everyone understands the basics of cruise travel to make their trip stress and hassle free.

Our first year (since several of our travelers had never cruised before), I put together a Helpful Hints List to provide some basic information.  Every year now as our trip approaches, people ask me to send out the list.  It has evolved over time and continues to evolve as we learn new things.  Here’s our current Helpful Hints List to help you make the most out of your cruising experience.

Hey Cruise Buddies,

Here it is – the annual (new & improved) Helpful Hints List!!!  Help me come up with more hints for next year.

Preparation and Packing:

  • Be sure to complete the Homeland Security on-line check-in procedures.  Different cruise lines have different names for this information (Fun Pass, Sail & Sign, etc.).
  • Pack comfortable clothes and footwear – you’ll be doing a lot of walking (even getting around the ship can be quite a hike).
  • Make sure your bags are tagged.  Use the tags from the cruise line with your cabin number.
  • Keep your carry-on luggage to a minimum.  It may be several hours before you can access your cabin and you don’t want to drag a bunch of luggage around with you.  Pack a swimsuit in your carry-on if you’d like to relax at the pool while waiting for your room.
  • Keep your valuables and any medications in your carry-on bag.
  • Don’t over-pack! 
  • Packing Cubes are a great way to organize your clothes and other items for your trip. 
  • A wrinkle releaser (Downey) is a great way to remove wrinkles without the hassle of having to iron.

Arrival & Check-In:

  • Be sure to keep your cruise ticket, Identification / Passport with you – not in your luggage.
  • If driving yourself to the port, bring your luggage to the curb in from of the terminal (or as directed by port personnel).  If arriving by bus or taxi, they will know where to go.  Porters will be on-site to assist you with your luggage (I usually give the porters $1.00 per bag).
  • Most cruise ports are very organized, so just follow the signs and directions of the terminal staff.  If in doubt, ask questions.
  • You will be directed to a line where you’ll check-in and establish an on-board account with either a credit card or cash deposit.  You will be issued your cabin key (which will also serve as you on-board charge card).   
  • After check-in, you will pass through an airport-type security section with your carry-on luggage.  You will also have your picture taken which will be associated with your room keycard.  The card is required to exit and reenter the ship at ports.  Do Not Loose IT!

When you get the ship:

  • Most likely, you will not be able to access your cabin immediately.  Use this time to familiarize yourself with the ship, have something to eat, or just relax on deck.
  • When cabin access is available, check out your room and drop-off your carry-on items.  Your room will likely have a safe to store valuables – if not, items can be secured at the Pursers Desk if needed.  If anything needs to be addressed with your room, contact your room Steward.  Your Steward will be a key resource to help you with any needs during your trip.
  • Luggage may take some time to arrive at your cabin – don’t worry!
  • Look on the back of your cabin door to find the location of your Muster Station (where you will gather in the event of an emergency).  Before leaving port, an announcement will be made for passengers to assemble at their Muster Stations for an emergency drill – this is important and mandatory for all passengers to attend.
  • If you haven’t already made arrangements for shore excursions, do this the first day since they do tend to sell out.

Days at Sea:

  • Lots to do – or nothing to do, the choice is yours.  You can do as much or as little as you desire.
  • All cruise lines provide a daily flyer with events and times.  Check your flyer to see what’s going on that day and what activities you may want to participate in.  The ship will typically have a variety of activities including; a casino, art auctions, games, dance lessons, ship tours, entertainment shows, etc.
  • Information sessions are usually offered about each port of call on your trip.  These sessions are a great way to learn about the ports you’ll be visiting and offer helpful hints for how to get around, shopping, etc.

Days in Port:

  • Don’t forget to take your on-board card with you.  It is required to leave the ship and needed again when you return.
  • If you’ve signed-up for a shore excursion, be sure to give yourself sufficient time to get off the ship.  The ship may be docked at a port, or anchored offshore requiring tenders to bring you to shore.  The time needed to get to your location can vary greatly.
  • Be sure to know the time zone the ship is using and set your watch accordingly.  Pay attention to the time and give yourself sufficient time to re-board the ship.  The ship will not wait for you if you’ve gone off on your own and are running late.
  • A small umbrella and an emergency poncho (the $1.00 variety) available at Walmart are great items to have with you if the weather turns nasty.

Final Day:

  • You’ll be provided new luggage tags with a zone number (or letter) on the final night of the cruise.  Checked luggage should be placed outside your cabin door by the time instructed, and you then recollect your luggage after leaving the ship. 
  • You may have the option to take your luggage with you (reasonable if it was a very short cruise and you travel light – otherwise, more of a hassle than it’s worth).
  • You will be given a final bill on the last night for any on-board purchases and extras you have obtained.  Check your bill carefully.  Gratuities are automatically added for your Room Steward and Dining Room Staff.  If you feel any adjustments are required, visit the Purser’s Desk to have the bill adjusted accordingly.

Leaving the Ship:

  • Remember to have your on-board card with you.  It will need to be scanned as you leave the ship.
  • Passengers disembark in groups / zones depending on a variety of factors (e.g., connecting airline flights, bus pick-up schedules, passengers without checked luggage, etc.).  Depending on your zone, you will be instructed where to wait.
  • You need to vacate your room by a certain time to allow the staff to begin preparing the cabin for the next passengers.  Head to your zone waiting area, find a seat and relax.  There is no need to crowd around the debarkation area since you can’t leave until your zone is called.
  • When you exit the ship, follow the signs (or provided instructions) to the luggage pick-up area.  The luggage will be staged in areas according to zones.  Porters will be available if you require assistance with your luggage.
  • Remember that lots of luggage looks the same – check your tags to be sure you’re claiming the right bag.