Above is the Carnival Magic docked in Port Canaveral, Florida. This was our first cruise port where we embarked on the Carnival Dream for 7 nights to the Eastern Caribbean. Our first cruise opened my eyes to the delight of cruising and sparked an even deeper desire to take as many cruises as I possibly could. While the cruise was one of our most favorite vacation highlights, we could have fared a bit better if we had a bit of a heads up to some of little known facts to first time cruisers. Everything from booking the cruise to disembarking the ship on the last day; there are a lot of little tips that every cruiser should know to help facilitate the good times.
Use a Travel Consultant!
I know what you're thinking... this is a pretty biased tip. While it is obviously self serving, it is a very good tip to use. There are numerous cruise lines who focus on a particular demographic who service an array of itineraries. The sheer number of lines, boats, sailings and ports can be dizzying. A travel consultant can definitely help you find the right Cruise Line, Ship and Itinerary for you and your companions.
You don't have to pay all at once.
Most people see the final payment price and think they cannot afford to go on vacation. What most people don't know is that travel agents have the ability to accept payments towards the final cost of your cruise. Its like vacation layaway! Some lines have started accepting the same payment method right on their site. So don't let the final price scare you, you can always work towards it. Which leads into the next tip:
Plan your cruise in advance.
Whenever we plan a cruise, we always book at least a year in advance. I know this isn't possible for a lot of people with jobs, children, and vacation hour accrual, but you should definitely try to book with as much lead time as possible. This way, you can have most of the ship cabin inventory available for you to choose from. Also, you give yourself more time to pay off your cruise before you go.
Bring the correct Identification Documents.
We always seem to have an issue with this with our travel companions. Travel documents are important on any trip, even more so when it involves international travel. Get your passports handled as soon as you can. You can also you a Certificate of Live birth so long as it has a raised seal; a photocopy will not work. No, your state issued driver's license will not get you on board no matter how much you argue.
Order a bottle to your room.
If you have ever looked at the prices on the online shop for your cruise line, you would probably think I was crazy. When we went on our recent Carnival Cruise, we ordered an $80 bottle of rum to the room. This bottle normally costs $20 on the outside. But, when you do the math, you see why it is more beneficial for you to order a bottle. Most drinks on the ship can cost at least $11. You only need 8 drinks to surpass the $80 price of the bottle. I could have 8 drinks from the bottle and have plenty left for the cruise. This makes sense if you are trying to save a few dollars on drinks.
Take your time getting to the ship.
So long as you arrive during your scheduled boarding time you will be fine. You do not have to rush to the port if you have a scheduled boarding time. The most hectic time to try and get on the ship is at the beginning of the boarding process. You will only have to wait if you get there too early. So take your time! If boarding early is important to you then...
Do your online check in early!
The earlier you do your online check-in, the more options you will have to select from when selecting a boarding time. Most often the earliest is 11:00 AM. Cruise lines will only allow so many people to board at any one time so once a boarding time is filled up, the option is no longer available.
The Buffet isn't the only option on embarkation day.
Most people will make a mad dash to the buffet the second they get on the ship. It is understandable though, most people have traveled for a while and waited in a cruise terminal to get on the ship. The first thing on most people's minds would be to get something to eat, and fast. There are other options on embarkation day though. Some of the smaller eateries and, on some ships, the main dining room will be open to serve lunch to guests boarding the ship. Check ahead of time to see what is available to you when you board.
Always use your cabin safe!
Every cabin is provided a safe for use by passengers residing within. It is strongly encouraged that you use your safe to store away your identification documents, credit cards, loose money, and valuables. Do not leave these things laying around in your room.
Look up your ports of call.
While cruises will take you to many beautiful destinations, those destinations are not all beautiful. A lot of people tend to forget that there are bad areas of your destination that you do not want to venture into. Stick to the tourist areas, book an excursion, or join a tour group. This will help you avoid any unnecessary trouble while visiting the many destinations cruising has to offer.
Return to the ship 1 hour before sail away.
Cruise ships will leave you behind. Make no mistake about that. When a cruise ship docks at a port of call, they have a specified amount of time they are allowed to remain docked. When that time expires, and the ship has not pulled away, the cruise line faces heavy port fines. If a ship says it is leaving at a specified time, it is best to be there an hour before it sails away. This gives you plenty of time in case something should happen.
Don't double tip!
Most first time cruisers do not know this but many of the big cruise lines will automatically charge you gratuities. This largely unknown fact can have you doubling up on your tips if you aren't careful. Ships give you the option of having pre-paid gratuities or paying by cash for your own tips. Just be careful you don't do both, unless you really like the wait staff, bartender, or room steward who was servicing you.
There you have it. If I thought longer, I could probably provide 10 more tips. But in the interest of preserving your sanity, I will leave it at that. Keep these in mind if you are cruising for the first time! ...Or any time for that matter. They will save you a bit of time and money in the long run!
Until next time!
-The No Excuses Travel Team.