Cruising is a great way to see several countries in one trip without moving hotel rooms. You unpack once and you’re ready to enjoy. However, seasoned cruisers always know a few tips and tricks to make their vacation go from good to great. We asked our experts to share things they do for every cruise.
Meet The Experts
- Nancy Schretter is an award-winning journalist and editor, sailed on more than 60 cruises on a wide range of ships.
- John Roberts has enjoyed more than 100 cruises of all kinds, from big ships to intimate expedition vessels cruising all over the world.
- Jill Whelan is an original cast member of The Love Boat. She has fallen in love with cruising and it’s her favorite way to travel.
1. The First Hours Onboard Are Key
As soon as you unpack, take time to get to know the ship. You will definitely rack up steps for the day. However, it’s important to locate the attractions, activities, lounges, and restaurants that your ship offers.
“I can’t count how many times I’ve seen cruisers dead-ended in a corridor, heads swiveling around looking for their venue and throwing up their arms with a conversation that goes something like this: ‘I told you we were on the wrong end of the ship!’” Roberts explains.
Deck Walk Through
You can avoid this scenario by spending some time taking a good look at the deck plan, orienting yourself to starboard and portside, and on which side your cabin is located. Roberts also suggests enjoying a nice deck-by-deck walkthrough of the ship to become familiar with the public spaces.
Join Facebook Group And Download Cruise Line App
Schretter suggests joining private Facebook groups for the cruise line to see what other travelers have experienced, recommended, and even things to avoid. She also recommends downloading the cruise line app before your trip to become familiar with it. The apps can be your lifeline once onboard and you don’t want to spend half your cruise trying to figure out how it works.
Pro Tip: Schretter also recommends making restaurant reservations, and in some cases, show reservations as early as possible to avoid missing a sought-after experience.
2. Research Ports Of Call
A cruise is usually chosen by your interest in the ports. Schretter often researches the port cities to see what interests her before she sets sail. This helps her decide what she wants to do at each port if she wants to pay for an excursion or explore on her own.
3. Book Spa Treatments Early
If you like that extra touch of relaxation, make sure to book your spa treatments early. Whelan says to make your appointments on embarkation day. This will allow you the first choice of your favorite experiences.
Pro Tip: Princess Cruise’s Lotus spas recommend booking on embarkation day for specials as well as twilight deals.
4. Book Excursions Online ASAP
Ship excursions are an excellent way to explore each port, but like with other popular things on the ship, they will book up fast. You don’t want to miss the best stops because you waited too long.
Roberts says, if you also book activities through the cruise line’s shore excursion program, make sure to go online to reserve your spot as soon as you have your cruise booking and the excursions are open for sale.
Roberts says to research and check reviews if you plan to do excursions independently with companies not associated with your cruise line. Then, book your activities, keep them handy, and bring along all the emails and other documentation of your payment and reservation.
Pro Tip: Cruise lines do not have to wait for you if you are late from a non-ship excursion. Make sure your watch is set to the time on the ship and give yourself plenty of time to get back to the ship. Also, some of the most popular activities — like visiting the baths at Virgin Gorda when you cruise to Tortola — can sell out quickly.
5. Arrive At Least A Day In Advance
With all of the issues with airlines lately, this probably seems like a no-brainer, but it’s important to note. All three of these TravelAwaits experts agree it’s always a best practice to get to your cruise port city at least a day ahead of your cruise departure date.
Roberts says you can use the extra day in Miami, for example, and explore the city, relax in a comfy hotel for the night, and wake up knowing you’re going to make it to your ship. He says if you make this your standard game plan, then you still have the cushion of a full extra day to get onto another flight if your original one is canceled or significantly delayed.
Schretter says it’s not just the airlines, but road constructions, traffic, accidents, and severe weather that can cause delays in getting to the ship. The ship will not wait for you if you don’t arrive at your embarkation port on time due to heavy traffic or flight delays.
Pro Tip: Schretter typically arrives two to three days in advance at international ports. She uses this time to adjust to the new time zone and recover from jet lag. International cruise itineraries often involve lots of port calls and lengthy tours.
6. Travel With Carry-On Luggage Only
While this might sound daunting, Schretter has flown without checked bags for cruises in Alaska, Antarctica, and the Galapagos Islands. Again, she researches her ports and makes a list of what to pack, coordinating outfit colors and limiting the number of shoes. She also suggests wearing bulky items on the plane and using packing cubes.
Pro Tip: Most ships have laundry options. Schretter adds that the flexibility of traveling with just carry-on luggage is worth the added cost.
7. Bring A Fanny Pack
Yes, the fanny pack is back! Of course, some now call it a belt bag and wear it more like a crossbody bag, but it still serves the same purpose — a hands-free, safe purse option. This is one of Whelans’ favorite travel items. She likes it because it’s much easier to sightsee while having two hands free and without the bother of hanging onto a purse. Plus, if it’s strapped on, you won’t leave it somewhere either.
8. Use A GPS Tracking Device
These tags have increased in popularity due to airline lost baggage issues. Whelan invested in portable GPS tracking devices that she can slip into her luggage and her purse or fanny pack. She loves the fact she knows exactly where her luggage is (or isn’t!) if she is flying to meet a ship.
Pro Tip: Whelan always carries a fresh change of clothes in her carry-on bag in case her luggage gets lost.