Cruising Tips & Tricks

 

Here are a few tips & tricks we have Gathered over our last few cruises

Before Sailing


If you're thinking about an Alaskan, European or other exotic cruise destination, reserve the cruise and put a deposit down as soon as you can while thinking about it. Our Brilliance of the Seas cruise in the Mediterranean was booked for $2600 each for a top balcony (D1). Within weeks, the price had crawled up to $3000 and by the month before we were to leave, it was $5,600 each. Since we made our booking early, we enjoyed price protection and would have received all of our deposit back if we canceled before the final payment date (on Royal Caribbean, this is 70 days before sailing).  If you're sailing in the Caribbean, the price climb will still be there but will not be as dramatic.


When prices drop, you're protected as well. If you notice the price of your cruise going below the price you paid, call your travel agent or the cruise line (if you booked directly). They will adjust your fare to reflect the new price. Make sure you confirm that your travel agent will do this before you agree to be their client and get it in writing on your quote. Some travel agents will not honour price drops as it cuts their commission. You should also confirm with them that they will not charge penalty fees in excess of the cruise line's policies. Some will charge you $50 even if you're months away from the cruise. If you have booked and their price goes up, you do not pay the higher price unless you cancel and re-book (and why would you do that, anyway?).


If you have your mind set on a specific cruise you would like to sail on, don't bother doing the footwork of looking for the best deal yourself. A web site called cruisecompete.com will send your request to a number of travel agents, and these agents will bid for your business. The price of your cruise might not change much (for example, agents are not allowed to discount cruises on Royal Caribbean or Celebrity), but you can get some great freebies like onboard credit, free wine, free insurance and other stuff.


Be careful of recommendations you gather from guidebooks. Some of them, like the Berlitz guide, give the impression of a thorough and quantifiable evaluation of all the ships out there by assigning scores to each ship based on different criteria. The fact is, if you look at the ratings for various ships of the same class on a line, you will see the same comments repeated, because the author seems to sail on only one ship per class. As well, some comments seem to be lifted directly from the cruise line web sites and brochures. It appears that the scores assigned are nothing more than a reflection of the author's preferences, which seem more oriented toward a golden-age experience. Frankly, when a reviewer says by page 7 that he dislikes all ships over a certain size, I'm not sure why anyone would keep reading.


Around the time of final payment, you will likely see that some previously booked rooms are becoming available. If a room that you had your eye on does become available, usually the cruise line will move you to that room as long as you are booked in the same category. If not, they will charge you the difference between what you paid and the current rate for the new category. Some cruise lines offer a waiting list if there is a room that you want but is currently reserved. Be careful of this, twice we were on waiting lists and we noticed the room become available with no call from the cruise line. Monitor the availability yourself and if it shows up, call Customer Service immediately before someone else swoops in.


Scan your passport, credit cards, driver's license and any other pertinent information that you might need in an emergency. Email the scans to yourself using an internet based email account like Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail. You can then access your docs from any computer with an Internet connection. Be careful though, carrying a copy of these documents on your person in port or in your bags exposes you to identity theft. Leave a copy locked in your room safe onboard.


You should find out the PIN number for your credit cards in case you need emergency cash.  Interest starts accruing on credit card advances instantly but in the event that you are in an emergency, this will not be your first concern.


Before you leave, research what phone number you should call internationally to report a credit card that is missing or stolen.  Make sure to advise your credit card company that are going to be traveling and that you might be making purchases that are outside of your normal routine. Credit card companies use complex algorithms to look for out of the ordinary activity on a credit card that could be flagged as fraud, causing your card to be frozen.


Unlike North America, many foreign bank machines only allow a 4-digit PIN for your bank card and some will not allow it to begin with a zero.  ATM machines in Europe might not have letters like the ones in North America so if you're using a word, figure out what the numbers are before you go or change the PIN.


Pack a few outfits in each other's suitcase. That way, if a bag goes missing, everyone will have something to wear until [hopefully] the bag is found.


If you're going to the Caribbean, pack twice as many t-shirts and half as many shoes as you had previously planned. Seriously.


You're going to be away from home; thieves don't need to know it. Cancel the paper, have a friend pick up the mail and buy some timers to make lights go on and off at your home at typical times. The United States Postal Service and Canada Post will allow you to arrange to have your mail held.


If you're going to the Caribbean for the first time, trust us: you WILL want to take underwater pictures because you won't be able to believe how beautiful it is.  Save yourself a lot of money and buy a waterproof disposable camera with a flash at Target before you leave.


Make sure the name on your cruise documents MATCHES your name on your identification.  If you have been married recently and changed your name, bring along your wedding certificate as proof.


If a parent is traveling alone with a child without the other parent, a signed permission slip from the non-traveling parent may be required. This rule is in place to prevent parents from taking kids out of the country without the other parent’s consent. This is particularly problematic in cases where the two parents don’t live together anymore, or there has been a non-amicable separation. We have read stories of people being denied boarding because they were not able to prove consent for children to travel.


Fly in a day early. You have no control over the weather; flights may be canceled or other situations could develop where you could end up trying to fly onward to catch up with your ship. Hotels are not so expensive that saving that money is worth losing part of your vacation.


If your bag goes missing and hasn't arrived by the time the ship sails, let Guest Services know. They can coordinate with the airlines and get your bag to the ship in the next port.


If you are worried about forgetting to pack something, there are several sample packing lists on the Internet or generate your own list with this interactive web site. These might be overkill but they can prompt you to remember something you might have otherwise forgotten.


Join Cruise Critic (www.cruisecritic.com). This web site has all kinds of cruising-related information. The discussion boards are an invaluable resource for answers to questions you may have about your sailing. Usually each sailing of a ship will have a separate discussion thread you can participate in by joining the site. As well, each port of call has an area where you can research tours and excursions. We have met many nice people though these groups.


Pack a roll of duct tape. We’re not just saying this because we are guys and guys love duct tape. Imagine you are due to leave for the airport and while zipping up your luggage, the zipper comes off in your hand. What are you going to do? Run out and buy a new bag? You can’t, you’re running late as it is! If you had a roll of duct tape handy, you could tape up your bag and worry about getting the luggage fixed when you are less panicked. That’s just one example. Duct tape is your friend!


We found some XXL-sized zip log bags at Home Depot. (They are the size of garbage bags) These are perfect for packing dirty laundry for the way home, and can prevent the smell of sunscreen, salt water and so forth from being absorbed into your luggage. We have also used compression bags to pack dirty laundry to compact it down for the way home. (You roll them up to squeeze out the air). Who cares if your dirty laundry get wrinkled. You can pack more in your suitcase when it is compressed; just keep in mind the weight restrictions for your luggage with your airline.


Don’t pack any valuables in your checked luggage. You will be surrendering your luggage to the porters at the dock when you check in. We have read many reports of people losing electronics, jewelry and other things from their bags from the time they were given to the porters and the time they unpacked in their stateroom. Put items like this in your carry-on bag and keep them with you until you can lock them away in the room safe.


If you're flying to meet a ship in Europe, try to connect through a North American city that offers a direct flight to your destination.  For instance, it is possible to reach Barcelona (a popular embarkation city) from Miami, Atlanta, Philadelphia and New York.  Connecting in these cities will allow you to feel more in control since you are more likely to know how things work here, than in a foreign country where you may not speak the language.  We're not big fans of people who insist English be spoken everywhere but if things go badly during a connection in a European City where you don't  know how to explain yourself, you may find yourself wishing you had braved New York's air traffic in exchange for a direct connection.


Understand the demographics of the cruise line you are choosing to sail with.  For example, Royal Caribbean will have more families, Celebrity will be more sedate and HAL will be like God's waiting room (at least in our experience). We’ve noticed that you can not always trust the recommendations of travel agents either. Many cruise lines will give commission to agents based on the number of cabins they fill on their ships; the cruise line the agent tells you is perfect for you might just be the one they are getting a spiff on. (A spiff is a small, immediate bonus for a sale. Typically, spiffs are paid, either by a manufacturer or employer, directly to a salesperson for selling a specific product.)


There is a great article on CruiseMates that talks about some of the things that can often cause a good vacation to go bad. Check it out, it is a very good read!


One topic that always causes a lot of discussion is whether you should take your original passport with you when you go into port in a foreign country. Some people will recommend you leave your passport in the safe in your stateroom and that you carry a photocopy of your passport with you while in port. Let's think of this logically. A passport is used as identification to prove to officials in a foreign country that you are a citizen of a particular country, and that you should be extended the courtesies you deserve as a citizen of that country.  The reason the passport is acceptable as a valid form of identification is that there are several mechanisms (watermarks, holograms etc) used to validate the integrity of the data contained in the passport. These mechanisms will not display on a photocopy. A custom agent looking at a photocopy of a passport will have no way of proving that the information on the photocopy has not been tampered with or modified, and is within their rights to reject the photocopy as valid identification.

For example’s sake, let’s say you get off the ship in a foreign country, and for some reason you miss the ship and are forced to fly to another country to meet up with the ship. Without valid identification in the form of your original passport, you could be denied boarding onto a plane or you could be denied entry into the country where you hope to meet up with the ship. The only identification that will be accepted in this scenario is your original passport. Without it, you could be marooned in a foreign country while you scramble to get in touch with the consulate or embassy of your home country. Would you want YOUR government to let people into your country without proving their identity? If you are willing to accept the risk of placing yourself in this situation, by all means, carry only a photocopy of your passport with you in a foreign country. Neither of us are willing to put ourselves into that kind of situation; we always carry our original passport securely (in a money belt tucked into our pants) while spending the day in a foreign country.

For those who leave their passports onboard because they fear losing it and having trouble passing through Customs back home, ask yourself this question: would you rather arrive at Customs in your home country and be delayed by a number of questions in order to validate your identity, or would you rather be stranded in the cruise port in Cozumel (for example) and have to make your way to Mexico City to find the embassy in order to secure adequate documentation to travel home?  The port agents used by the cruise lines in many ports can help you in situations like this, but this service could cost you and would not change the document requirements to fly on to the next country of your itinerary or to fly home.


Make sure you always carry some form of travel insurance to cover the expense of any medical emergencies that could arise; charges from the medical facility can add up quickly if you are injured or become sick.


If the cruise line allows you to book entertainment online before boarding, take the opportunity. Passengers with reserved seats for shows will be allowed to enter the theatre first, people without reservation will be allowed into the theatre just before the show starts. Booking a reservation for a show is easy to do online and saves you many hassles and prevents you from waiting in a line.


Boarding


Nearly all ships allow you to fill out your boarding forms online.  This helps them to perform check-ins faster and turn around massive ships in such a short time-frame.  If you fill out the forms on-line beforehand, you theoretically spend less time at the check-in desk (unless you sail on Holland America, where it seems the opposite!)


Boarding usually begins a few hours before the time you will see in your cruise documents and typically begins as soon as they can get the previous cruisers off the ship.


As you arrive at the port, the following process is typical:

  1. You will surrender your luggage to the porters as you arrive at the curb.  If you didn't receive luggage tags with your cruise documents, they can give some blank tags there. Make sure you remember (or write down) what room number you are in, you will have to write the number on the blank tags. If you received pre-printed luggage tags, don't put them on your bags until you leave for the port. If you tag your bag with the cruise line tags before you go to the airport, the airline might remove them to make room for their own tags.

  2. Most people tip the porters a couple of bucks per bag.  While you are not required to, stories abound of those who did not tip finding their shampoo has squirted improbably and thoroughly all over the inside of their bags.  We're not sure we believe this but we also don't want to find out the hard way.

  3. Proceed to the pier building and have your hand baggage scanned by the same type of x-ray machines they use in airports.

  4. Next, you will join the line to check in. Different cruise lines sort people for check-in in different ways. Usually suite occupants and passengers in the upper level of that cruise line's loyalty program board using a priority VIP line. Others are usually sorted by deck for boarding or are all lumped into one line. Sometimes, there is a faster line for those who have filled in their boarding cards online.

  5. You will likely be given a questionnaire about your gastro-intestinal health over the past few days.  If you have been sick at all, you'll likely get a free visit with the ship's doctor to confirm you are not carrying Norovirus. Ships are very clean places and the Norovirus noted so often in the news is almost always introduced to the ship by passengers.

  6. Present a valid credit card to which your room charges will be applied. Cash is only accepted in the casino; all purchases and services will be applied to this credit card. A summary of all these charges will be presented on disembarkation day. In certain cases, a cash account can be arranged instead of a credit card. You will need to apply cash to this account upon boarding and the account must be replenished during the cruise as you spend.

  7. You will be handed your room key, which will also be your ship's identification card for the trip. This card will get you into your room, will allow you to make purchases on the ship and will be a cute souvenir afterward.  Before you step on board the ship, you will plunge your card in a reader and have a picture taken. This will serve to verify your identity as you re-board in ports. We have noticed these also machines being used to verify the age of passengers attempting to enter certain bars, such as the ship's disco.

  8. Lastly, you will line up to have a souvenir embarkation photo taken, which you may choose to purchase later.  You are not obliged to purchase one but if you try to by-pass this portion of the line, try to do so as politely as possible and without the appearance of barging around. Some cruise  lines will use the embarkation photo as the basis for facial recognition, allowing them to identify you in photos taken later in the cruise. They will swipe your card when the photo is taken, and any photos in which you appear will be viewable from a kiosk in the photo gallery.

  9. A quick skip across the gangway and you're onboard!  Welcome!!!


If your luggage is lost while you are flying to the cruise and does not arrive before you are scheduled to board, make sure to file a claim with the airline at the airport. If you purchased air fare or transfers through the cruise line, make sure to let the cruise line agent meeting you at the airport know about your lost luggage, they might be able to help get your bag to the ship in time or at least track it and have it shipped to the next port of call. The cruise line agent should be able to coordinate with the airline to make sure your bag gets to you. In the event that your bag does not get to you in time, let the Guest Services staff know when you board. When one of our bags was lost, they were able to provide some basic toiletries to tide me over and even went as far as to offer a complimentary tuxedo rental for formal night. (Luckily, the bag showed up before this was needed.)


When you drop your bags off at their pier when boarding the ship, understand that it might take up to a few hours after the ship sets sail for you to get the bags. There are several thousand pieces of luggage to deliver by hand and it can take a while. Put a bathing suit and maybe a few toiletries in your carry-on bag, just in case your luggage does not arrive until a few hours after sailing. Dinner is usually casual on the first night to accommodate those who have not received their luggage yet.


First Things First


When you board the ship, there will be a lot of things competing for your attention.  Some excellent things to consider first include:


Do you like the table you were assigned for dining?  You can usually go to the dining room and check out where your table is located.  On our first cruise, that location was a dark corner by a service station. We lined up to speak to the maître d' and he switched us to a better table. Almost every cruise line will allow you to make these types of requests.


Do you plan to go to the spa?  If you do, boarding is the best time to make an appointment, especially if you hope to visit the spa or hair salon during a sea day or for formal night. Time slots for these times will fill up quickly and you are free to change your mind later and cancel the appointment (most lines require 24 hours for you to avoid a cancellation penalty at the spa). Deciding at a later day that you do in fact want a massage or another service might prove futile as all the appointments might be booked and you'll be put on a waiting list. If you decide to go to the spa, you should know it will be more expensive than at home.  These are the top prices we have seen for these services, even compared to upper level hotels like the Bellagio in Las Vegas. While it is a nice treat, you may need to be firm at the end of the appointment if you do not want to buy their products. The sales pitch can be pretty strong and can make some people uncomfortable.


Would you like to eat at one of the specialty restaurants during your cruise?  Again, reserving the first day will give you access to the best tables and the best variety of dining times.  Some worry that they might miss a show or event that they love so they wait until the night before to book the specialty room. The maitre d’ will often have the entertainment schedule at their reservation stands and they can help you ensure that you will not miss anything.


Did you rent a tuxedo from the cruise line?  It should be in the closet when you arrive.  If it's not, call your room attendant to ensure that it is coming and you haven't been missed.  If it is there, try it on as soon as you can. It will be much easier to get a replacement from the ship's overstock now than an hour before dinner on formal night.


Want great pictures of the public rooms without too much of the public lounging about? Boarding as early as possible on the first day will allow you to take souvenir pictures without too many of the great unwashed in the background.


Staterooms


If you're traveling someplace truly spectacular as a group and you're getting balconies, resist the temptation to rooms right next door to each other.  Books room on opposite sides of the ship. This will ensure that you see that spectacular sail-in in Venice or you see the glacier in Alaska from a balcony on the appropriate side of the ship.


Consider bringing post-it notes and use them to leave messages for your room attendant.


There is no need to bring extra hangers from home (or argue about the ones in the room).  Your room attendant will get you more very cheerfully.


If you want more than one towel, just ask your room attendant; they are there to help.  There is no need to bring beach towels from home. The ship will provide them and you often have no means of washing them yourself.


Laundry prices on cruise ships have surprised us, particularly on RCL where they seem cheaper than a dry-cleaner in our hometown. Additionally, you can get anything that's already clean ironed at half the regular laundry price. Holland America had a flat-rate unlimited laundry option that we wished that RCL would offer.  You may not bring an iron onboard as they may constitute a fire hazard. Fire is the biggest hazard on a cruise ship, not sinking. Enough said.


Storage in your cabin will seem at first to be at a premium; keep looking around. We are constantly finding storage in slots around the room, for example, drawers under the foot of the bed (on HAL), over the sofa, inside the vanity chair, or on the sides of the vanity mirror.


You can store your luggage under the bed and if it is especially large, you may want to store it open. Some people use their luggage as a place to store their dirty clothes but you might not like this as it may leave your suitcase smelling musty. This smell may transfer to your clean clothes next time you use your luggage.  A good idea to keep your bags smelling fresh is to bring a sheet of fabric softener and throw it in the bags while they're being stored.


Many department stores sell pop-up hampers. They fold down to a size you can fit in your luggage and they are a good place to keep dirty clothes.  Bring along a couple of fabric softener sheets to throw in the hamper to keep the smells down.


Some folks find that cruise cabins don't offer enough electrical outlets. I suspect this is to keep consumption down since ships generate all of their own electricity. If you're bringing a lot of electrical devices, you might want to bring along a power strip.


Most cruise ship cabins do not have alarm clocks. That said, many of them offer wake-up calls or have programmable phones with alarm.  You might also want to bring a travel clock if you always want to know what time it is.


Cruise ship cabins are DARK at night and it seems like all of the furniture bunches up to block your path to the washroom. You might like to bring a pen-light, nightlight or something similar so you can get to the bathroom without waking up your cabin-mate. If you are sensitive to light when trying to sleep, bring a clothespin from home. You can hold the curtains together this way. If you forget, use one of the hangers from your closet that is intended for hanging pants.


Storage will be most challenging in the bathroom. The vanity is tiny and there will likely be only one storage shelf, sometimes behind the angled portion of the mirror (as on RCL). We find that a clear plastic shoe rack slung over the door helps enormously. You not only see everything you might need, you can be super-organized, too.


Your bathroom will likely have a clothesline in the shower. It will be short but good for hanging your bathing suit.  Don't hang your bathing suit on your balcony furniture unless you're out there. It is a fire hazard as someone could throw a cigarette butt from a nearby balcony and it could spark a fire. (Of course, you should never throw cigarette butts off you balcony but we're planning for the real world here.)


Dining


If you want to be assured of having your friends or family sitting at your table during the cruise, ask your travel agent or the cruise line to link your reservations.  This will ensure that you are all seated together at the same table. You can also express a preference for the size of table and time for your meal seating. Typically, you would be eating around 6 or 8:30pm. Some lines offer Anytime Dining. We don't know exactly how it works and don't care to learn. We like set dining times.


We often move around the table throughout the cruise, in order to give each person a different view each night. However, this could hamper the waiter's ability to recall who is whom.  It might be kinder to start this after the second night.


If you don't feel like going for dinner, the same food, with very few exceptions, is usually available as room service, but only during dining hours. At other times, the room service menu will be more standard fare.  Room service is usually included as part of your cruise fare but it generally accepted to offer a tip of a few dollars to the server. Some lines have begun to charge a service fee for room service in the early hours of the morning. My guess is they are trying to reduce waste from people who return to their room after an evening out, then fall asleep before the food is delivered.


You can have your breakfast delivered by ordering it the night before using your in-room interactive television (if available), by placing a door hanger order form on your doorknob at night or by calling room service and ordering directly. You can usually request a time range when you want the food to arrive. If you wait until the morning, you can still order; it just may take a little while to come. Sometimes, the delivery waiter will call you just before they deliver the tray, so you have time to make yourself decent.


Bringing a travel mug will allow you to walk away from the buffet with a better supply of coffee than the tiny mugs they use.


Keeping Yourself Busy


Each night, you will receive the cruise activity schedule in your room. This will tell you everything you should expect for the coming day. You can learn the weather, the time the ship will dock, the drinks specials of the day, pool activities, spa specials, times for bingo, special sales in the shops, classes or demonstrations being held, dress codes for dinner, late evening/midnight buffets, entertainment for the evening and countless other details.


Bring a highlighter from home so that you can note which activities interest you most or bring two different colours so each of you can indicate what they want to do, and you will know where the other person is.  If you like, your room attendant will leave you two copies of the schedule or you can pick up another copy from Guest Services. These schedules are often available in many different languages. Languages without much demand on your particular sailing will usually be phased out after a few days.


Since you're not going to need to carry a wallet onboard, consider writing out and laminating a business card-sized pocket card that has all of your medications, ailments and allergies on it. You can also carry this in port. In the event that you had a medical issue, you may be unconscious or not have your wits about you and this information could save your life.


Most ships feature a library of books you can check out, so you may not need to being a book from home. Go early for the best selection and understand that if you do not return the book, you may be charged for it. Some libraries have a shelf for you to leave your used books and trade with other passengers who have left theirs behind.


Most cruise ships these days have surprisingly good gyms. The extent of machine selection usually depends on the age of the ship and the passenger profile of the cruise line.


Some of the cruise lines offer good sauna and steam facilities for free. This varies by line (and even within a line) so be sure to check ahead if this interests you.


Onboard Purchases


By and large, ships run as a cashless society.  When you check in, you will present the credit card you would like your on board charges assigned to. If you do not have a credit card you can usually deposit some money against your room account; whenever you make a purchase, your room account will be debited.


Unless you are on a super-posh line, a cruise ship is not an all-inclusive environment. It is mostly inclusive, but you will still need to pay for sodas, wine, cocktails, pictures, advanced fitness classes (yoga, Pilates and spinning), spa appointments, souvenirs, specialty restaurants, the medical facility and tips. Coffee and tea are free but not specialty coffees like lattés, cappuccinos or café au laits.


If you drink a lot of soda, consider buying the unlimited soda package, for about $6 a day. It's a lot of money to us, but buying individual cans of soda for $1.75 each can also be expensive. Alternately, you could try to bring your own aboard and store it in your room's fridge if it has one, but keep in mind that some cruise lines have policies against this practice.


On more modern ships, you can check your room account on your in-room interactive television. On older ships or newer ships that are not as technologically advanced, you will have to keep track of your charges yourself or ask for a print-out at the front desk. It is wise to do this before the last day of the cruise, when the line at Guest Relations will grow longer and longer as the day progresses.


If you buy drinks, an automatic tip will be added to the price, on a separate line, before you get the bill.  Usually, this is 15% and you will have the option of adding an extra tip on the the bill if you like. You are under no obligation to do so unless the service has exceeded your expectation.


Speaking of drinks, at some events like the sailaway party, you might be offered a drink and will accept, only to be asked for your room key so they can charge you. At other receptions, some drinks are free (it is traditional for the Captain to have a cocktail party and pick up the bar tab at least once during the cruise). If you are uncomfortable about asking if the drink you are being offered is free, why not ask how much it costs? This will allow you to make an informed choice about whether you want the drink. Our friends got back from a cruise and found out on their room statement at the end of the week that they were drinking $12 glasses of wine by the pool. The waiter did not write the price on the bill, just the item. Don’t sign anything if there is not a price listed!


Still on the topic of drinks, there is almost always a drink of the day. This is usually a fruity and fun frozen concoction and trying the drink of the day can be a way of branching out from ordering that same strawberry daiquiri over and over. Drinks are usually cheaper if you don't take the silly collectible glass they sometimes comes in. Drinks at sailaway always seem to come in the collectible glasses, since many people won't have realized yet that they have the option to get the drink in a regular glass. On the other hand, these glasses can make fun souvenirs.


There is no need to buy your photos the second they show up on the wall of the photo gallery. They will not dispose of them until the last day. Wait until then to choose which ones you would like to buy.  There are sometimes photo specials later in the week so you might get lucky in terms of getting a deal.


If you buy liquor in the ship's duty-free store, in all likelihood it will be held for you until the last night of the cruise. Back-to-back cruisers (those traveling on two consecutive cruises on the same ship) will receive their liquor from the first sailing on the last night of that sailing and will have it in their cabin for the second sailing.


Just about the only place onboard that runs on cash is the casino. It runs on plenty of American dollars and if you haven't foreseen this opportunity and want to play or need extra cash, most lines allow you to draw cash  against your room account at the casino window, however, you might dinged with a service fee fee as high as 3%. You might also find an ATM on the ship but be careful since they often charge a service fee, which can be as high as $6 per transaction.


If you are running our of space on the memory card of your digital camera, the photo studio often has the ability to burn the photos you have already taken to a CD or DVD. This will allow you to clear out your card and take more pictures.


If you think you are going to want to buy postcards onboard to use as souvenirs, do it early during the sailing.  The gift shop on the ship may sell out of certain destinations as people re-board the ship and realize they didn't take any pictures of the place they just visited.


In Port


When leaving the ship, always take the name and contact information of the port agent (it is usually on the shopping map and also in the ship's daily). Nobody expects to have an emergency but in the event that you do, you will be able to make contact with the ship.


If you don't mind looking like a tourist, the Guest Services people will punch a hole in your Sea Pass and the gift shop will sell you a lanyard. You'll look a little dorky (ok, a lot dorky) but at least you won't lose your Sea Pass quite so easily (one would hope...).


You don't have to make your excursions arrangements through the ship but it is sometimes better to do so.  In a totally unknown port with a lot of things to see, going on a ship-organized excursion might be the way to go. In a more straightforward port where you already know what you want to do, book your own directly with the tour operator and enjoy a saving of about 30%.


On more modern and technologically advanced ships, you may be able to watch a preview of your shore excursion choices on the in-room television and purchase them from there. Of course, you're also welcome to stand in line at the Shore Excursions desk. Using your in-room TV is an instant way of completing the transaction and ensuring that you are choosing excursions that still have space.


Zip lock bags are your friend. You can use them to tote iPods or other electronic gadgets such as your digital camera to the beach or to bring wet or sandy clothes back to the ship.


Do not bring anything back to the United States or Canada that would not be legal in that country, believing you will be able to evade detection.  As one Cruise Director told us, if a Customs dog sniffing luggage stops beside yours, you had better hope it is to pee.  Penalties are harsh and the benefit of the doubt is scarce when dealing with Customs.


We have noticed a lot of hop-on-hop-off tour bus services in cities we have visited, particularly in Europe.  These can be a great way of seeing all the major sites without knocking yourself out walking between them.  One tip is to stay on the bus for the entire loop before you get off.  That way, you will essentially experience a tour of all the major sites without getting tired out.  If you are at a very popular stop (a major church or monument) and the stop before it is within walking distance, consider walking to that stop and getting on there.  There will be a shorter line and you will be able to stake out a seat before the bus fills up at more popular stops.


If you are on a ship's tour, you will most likely be given a sticker with a number on it.  This will help you to recall which bus you are on and will allow the tour people to know who has paid to come along.  The problem is that these little stickers are not always very sticky.  We've seen two inventive solutions to this.  Some people wear those convention-style name-tag holders around their necks and stick the sticker in the part where the name badge goes.  Another solution is to bring along a safety pin and to pin the sticker to your shirt.


Want to bring home souvenirs but don't want to break the bank?  Consider going to a grocery store in your destination to buy that chocolate, olive oil, vinegar or whatever.  The prices will be more akin to what the locals pay and you'll also have a more locally authentic experience of shopping than buying from tourist stalls in the pseudo-markets set up to cater to cruise ship passengers.


If you encounter problems with anything on the ship, please let the cruise line know immediately. Do not wait until the last day of the cruise to complain about a long list of issues. They cannot help you if they do not know about the issues. This might seem silly to say this, but being nice will go a lot further in dealing with problems. Going off on a screaming rampage at Guest Services will not endear you to people whose job it is to help you.  On that same note, complaining for the sole reason of getting something for free is tacky.


Etiquette


You are not the only ones on vacation. A few things to keep in mind when it comes to basic manners:


  1. Don’t hog the pool chairs. Putting your towel and book on a chair at 8am does not make it yours  for the day.

  2. Don’t save seats in the theatre. No one will fault you for saving a seat for your spouse or loved one, but saving an entire row for your family that is still at dinner is a major no-no.

  3. Keep your kids under control. You are not on holiday from your responsibilities as a parent.

  4. Smoke only in designated areas. Putting the ashtray over the no-smoking sign on the table does not magically turn that table into a smoking table. Better yet, quit. It’s disgusting, and you probably don’t realize how much your stink.

  5. Don’t use a music player in a public area unless you have earphones.

  6. If you are going to use those ridiculous walkie-talkie type things, please move to a private area to speak on them. No one wants to hear your conversations.

  7. Wait your turn.

  8. Quit your whining. No one wants to listen to your grumbling. Lighten up, you’re on holiday!



Leaving


Bring along cards with your home address or email address on them. You might not expect to make significant contact with people but we almost always do, and end up scribbling these things on napkins.


Remembering your cruise


Take lots of pictures, especially if you are using a digital camera. If you plan on posting them to an online photo service like Flicker, Webshots or SmugMug (our personal favourite!), please be selective of which one you post. Nobody wants to see the out-of-focus pictures, or pictures of people with their heads cut off. Do you really need to post all 16 pictures of the same sunset? You are not paying for film, you can be a bit more picky of what pictures you pass around.



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