Cruise Basics - Cruise Fundamentals
First time and veteran cruise passengers will find these helpful
hints worth their weight in gold. I have assembled this list of
frequently asked questions to help make your trip more enjoyable
and eliminate stressful situations.
For most cruises departing around 4 or 5 PM, the published start
of embarkation is usually 1:00 PM. Although this is the
recommended time, passengers can usually board as early as noon.
It is recommended that you do not arrive much earlier, because
you can get stuck in the traffic of the disembarking passengers.
You should be onboard the ship, no later than one hour before
Most cruises arrive between 7:00 and 8:00 AM. After arriving in
port, you will need to go through US Customs. It can take up to
2 hours for the entire ship to clear. No passenger can disembark
before the entire ship is cleared. Once the ship has cleared
customs, passengers will be disembarked in an orderly manner.
People are assigned groups, usually based on the time of their
departing flights and will be disembarked based on their
Be sure to have your cruise and airline tickets in your
possession along with your passport or other acceptable proof of
citizenship. Always keep the paperwork handy. In these days of
added security, you will be asked to present your documentation
At the point of booking your reservation, a deposit is required.
This deposit can range between $250-$400 per person for a 7 day
cruise. The amount of the deposit is based on the duration of
the cruise and cruise line. Full payment is usually due within
60 days of sailing. If for some reason you need to cancel your
cruise after you have made full payment, the amount you will be
refunded will be adjusted by a predetermined refund schedule.
Usually no refund is granted within two weeks prior to the
cruise. Please see the cruise line terms and conditions to see
the exact terms and conditions.
Travel insurance is available from the individual cruise lines
or independent providers. The terms and conditions can vary
between policies so be sure to understand what is covered and
what is not. Understand the situations which will provide you a
full refund and what proof needs to be provided should you need
to cancel or cut short your vacation.
What is Included?
Included in your cruise fares are:
Cruise ship travel.
All meals aboard the ship – Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Buffets,
Entertainment aboard ship – Stage shows, Disco and Movies.
Use of the fitness center and library.
What is NOT Included?
The following items are traditionally not included in your
Alcoholic and Non-Alcoholic beverages.
Dining in specialty restaurants onboard ship.
Tips and Gratuities.
Baby Sitting Services and after hours children’s program.
Purchases in the ship’s shops.
Activities with added fees identified.
Casino / Gambling & Art auctions.
In room bar.
Spa treatments and personal trainer sessions.
Tips and Gratuities
For most cruise lines, tips are not included. Usually tips are
provided for your room steward, waiters and waitresses, busboys
and dining room maitre. The normal suggested tip is $3.50 per
person, pre day, for your room steward and dining room staff.
The cruise line will let you know the suggested amount in
documentation provided onboard. In addition, many cruise lines
have provided passengers the option to add the gratuities to
their bill at the time of booking of their cruise.
Airlines have stricter luggage restrictions than the cruise
lines. Most airlines limit passengers to 2 pieces of checked
luggage per person with a weigh limit of 50 pounds. For any
overage, you will be charged. Most airlines charge an additional
$25 per bag up to 75 pounds. Bags over 75 pound will be
rejected. There are also dimension restrictions which limit the
size of the bags that can checked-in or carried onboard. The
airlines limit the number of carry-ons to 2 small bags. A brief
call to your airline to determine their baggage rules is
As far as contents of the carry-on, liquids and solids carried
on board cannot exceed 3 oz. You are also prohibited from
bringing and sharp objects including nail clippers and pocket
knives. Please check with Federal Aviation Administration’s
website for restricted items that cannot be carried onboard.
The cruise lines do not limit the number of pieces of luggage,
but remember that while many cabins onboard the ships have
adequate storage, you can easily exceed the available space if
you take your entire wardrobe with you.
Prospective passengers always ask me what type of cabin should I
book? I always say it depends on what you are looking for. If
you are traveling with a family and have small children, I
recommend a balcony. If the children go to bed early, the adults
can sit on the balcony and have a drink or one adult can go to
the buffet and bring back food and both can dine together. The
balcony provides an outlet for the adults rather than looking at
the four walls.
If you intend to spend very little time in the cabin, an inside
cabin would do fine. The inside cabins are usually less
expensive and provide approximately the same square footage as
the corresponding outside cabin.
In you do not plan on spending a lot of time in the cabin and
need to see where you are and want to know if it is raining
outside or daytime or night, I recommend the outside cabin.
Outside cabins are not as expensive as balcony cabins, but are
more than inside cabins.
What it boils down to, is you have to choose the cabin that is
best for you.
The next question is “Where is the best place to choose a cabin
– high-up on the ship or on a lower deck?” I do not believe it
matters. I recommend looking at the ship’s deck plan and seeing
what is located on the deck above and below your cabin and
choose the cabin that seems to be quieter. Ships are very sound
proof, but I would not choose a cabin above or below the disco
or under the gym.
For those who might be seasick, there is no area of the ship
that will make you less prone to seasickness. My recommendation
is that at the first hint of becoming seasick – go on deck and
get some fresh air and look at the horizon. One of the worst
things you can do is return to your cabin.
Alcohol Purchases Ashore
All alcohol purchased ashore will be confiscated upon
re-boarding the ship. The alcohol will be returned to you on the
last night of the cruise. The cruise line takes the liquor
because they want you to consume their alcohol and drive up your
Luggage the Last Night of the Cruise
The last night of the cruise passengers will be provided a new
set of luggage tags. You will have to complete the tags and
attach them to you luggage. You will then place your tagged
luggage in the hallway before bedtime. Overnight the crew will
take you bags and after docking offload your bags. In the
terminal you will need to claim your bags and report to US
Customs. The cruise line will provide the details and timing for
Currency and On-Board Spending.
On most cruises departing from the US, the currency is the US
dollar. The majority of cruise lines have migrated to a cashless
system. Upon boarding the ship, you will need to provide a valid
credit card to the ship’s purser. All onboard charges will be
charged to the credit card and you will be issued a ship’s
credit card. This card will be used for any purchases onboard
the ship, including beverages, spa treatments, shore excursions
and photographs. The last night of the cruise you will be
provided with a final statement.
The dining options onboard ships are ever growing. Many ships
feature flexible dining which allows passengers to dine when
they want and with who they want. In addition, there are
specialty restaurants, where you can dine at an added cost. For
these restaurants, you will be provided a reservation and
assigned a dining time on the night of your choice (if
For ships offering tradition dining with fixed seatings dining,
there are normally 2 seatings. Early seating – at around 6 PM
and late seating – around 8:15 PM. Both seatings feature the
same menu; it is just your dining preference time. Also note
that seatings are capacity controlled and passengers are not
always granted their desired time.
Dining Onboard and Dinner Dress Code.
Ship today offer many dining options - from formal dining
room(s) with sit down dinners, to buffets and cafes where attire
requirements are less formal. Some cruise lines let you sit
where you like and with who you like in the dining room, while
others still maintain assigned seating.
Although cruise ships may have a formal dress night, you do not
need a tuxedo or ball gown. I would still recommend to pack a
suit or dress just in case you get the urge to go formal.
Casual dress is the norm on many ships during the day and some
evenings at dinner. In the main dining rooms jeans, shorts, flip
flops, T-shirts and sleeveless T-Shirts are frowned upon and at
least one cruise line commented on my 10 year old wearing shorts
in the dining room to dinner.
Once you find a cruise of interest I strongly recommend a visit
to their website or reading their brochure for more tips on the
dress policy for that specific cruise line.
What to Pack
Here are some of the things to remember to pack for your cruise.
General Items/Unisex Items
Comfortable Walking Shoes
Camera w/ Memory chip
Cruise & Airline Tickets
Contact phone numbers.
Sun tan lotion
Credit Card / Cash
Book for reading.
Hat or Cap
Sun Dress Cover-up
Cosmetics & Creams
Sweater for evening
Slacks & jeans
Suit / Tuxedo
Casual Shirts for Dinner
Packing List for Young Cruisers.
Hand Help Game Device
Extra Bathing Suit
Additional changes of clothes.
Clothes - see other columns
Travel Package of wipes.
Refillable Water Bottle.
Cards / Small travel games.
Diaper Rash Cream
Cereal / Baby Food
Baby Bottle / Formula
Additional changes of clothes.
Clothes - see other columns
Shore excursions are available at an added cost. The shore
excursions can be purchased on-line prior to your cruise,
onboard the ship at the excursion desk or from your room’s
interactive TV (only on certain ships). The excursion will be
added to your running tab established shortly after you
Kids Program are available on most cruise lines. The youth
coordinators provide structured programs to keep the young ones
occupied. The youth program is usually divided into 3 – 4 age
groups from about 2 years of age to 17 years old. The programs
normally start at around 1 PM and last until 10 PM with a number
of breaks in between. After 10 PM, the program continues, but
there is an hourly charge until about 1:00 AM for sitting
services. Age groups of children and hours of operation of the
children’s program vary between cruise lines so please check
with each one to determine the details.
Please note, that most cruise lines require small children to
be potty-trained to partake in the kids program.
Airfare purchased through the cruise line is usually more
expensive than airfare you purchase on your own but it provides
an added level of security. If for some reason your flight is
delayed the cruise line and airline have the obligation to get
you to the first port of call.
If you purchase your airfare on your own, you will be
responsible for getting to the first port of call should you
miss the ship for any reason. The cruise line and airline have
no obligation to get you to the first port of call. All expenses
associated with getting there will be yours.
My recommendation would be to travel to the cruise departure
port the day before, so if there are any delays, you have
increased your probability of not missing your cruise. The cost
for your hotel room an added night is well worth the piece of
For your return flight, if you cruise arrives around 8:00 AM,
I would not book a return flight before 1:00 PM. This will
provide you a little cushion, should the ship be delayed or it
takes added time to get through customs.
All passengers should understand that most cruise ships are
not registered in the US, therefore laws, rules and regulations
onboard the ship are governed by the country of registry.