So, you want to go on a cruise? Where to begin? There are so many choices, so many cruise lines, so many destinations. The cruise industry has exploded over the past 20 years. Cruising is growing in popularity because it is a safe and affordable way to enjoy a vacation. Of course, the main reason cruising is so popular is because it is fun! However, before you rush out and put down a deposit on that great Internet special for a 7-night cruise, here are a few things you need to know.
Tip One: Book your cruise through a cruise professional/travel agent
This one piece of advice can help a new cruiser avoid a lot of mistakes. First, it does not cost anything to use a travel agent to book your cruise. Travel agents are paid a commission by the cruise line. And, if you think that booking your cruise directly with the cruise line will save you money (because they won't have to pay the commission) you would be wrong. The commission saved by the cruise line will drop to their bottom line, not yours.
A travel agent will have first-hand knowledge of the various cruise lines, ships and destinations available. They can help you to select the right cruise to fit your lifestyle and vacation interests. Travel agents also are aware of special deals and discounts that are often not available to the general public.
For more information on selecting a travel agent, read this article.
Tip Two: Get a passport
Most cruises will visit ports that are outside of the USA. You will be required to show a valid passport before you are allowed to board the ship. Read the article on passports for more information. Also, don't be alarmed when the cruise line asks to hold your passport during the cruise. This is normal. Ships often arrive in port early in the morning, before the guests wake up. Customs and Immigration officials board the ship and go over all of the passports. Once the ship has been "cleared" by Customs, guests can go ashore. Your passport will be returned to you on the day you disembark the cruise.
More information on passport requirements
Tip Three: Make a photocopy of your passport
Since the ship is holding our original passport, we always try to carry a photocopy of our passport photo page when we leave the ship in a foreign port. Just in case of an emergency, which is extremely rare, a photocopy will help in identification purposes with a US Embassy in a foreign country.
Also, we have scanned our passports and emailed them to our Hotmail accounts so that, from anywhere in the world, we can access and print our passport photo pages. Important! You should have a very secure password on your Hotmail account before you store personal information like passports or credit card numbers.
Tip Four: Don't overpack
Most people pack far too many clothes when they go on a cruise. Remember that a cruise ship cabin is relatively small and there is not a lot of closet and/or storage space. Also, there is limited space, usually underneath the bed, where your empty luggage will have to be stowed during the cruise. Most ships have laundry facilities on board, either self-serve or for a fee by the ship's laundry personnel.
Read the article on Packing Tips.
Tip Five: Buy 3rd Party Trip Insurance
We never go on a cruise without a travel insurance policy. We always buy 3rd party travel insurance. We have been doing so for years. You should be aware that if you require medical treatment on board a cruise ship, you will be charged a fee by the ship's doctor. Medical treatment is not covered in the cost of your cruise. Also, most healthcare insurance plans do not provide coverage when you are traveling outside the USA. Check with your health insurance company to make sure. In any case, the cost of medical evacuation when in a foreign country can be outrageously expensive. I have been on cruises where passengers had to be air lifted off of the ship (via helicopter) to shore for treatment. Helicopter evacuation can cost $25,000 or more!
Example: I got very sick on one cruise in the Middle East. I had to go to the ship's doctor and get an IV and a shot. The cost was $750! Our insurance paid the entire claim, no questions asked! It was well worth the $200 I paid for the policy.
Avoid the cruise line insurance plans - Often they only protect you if your cruise is cancelled. They may not provide coverage for medical emergencies, lost luggage, missed airline connections, medical evacuation, etc.
For more information or a FREE quote, go to the TravelSafe website
Tip Six: Do your research
Use CruiseReport.com to read reviews of cruise ships before booking your cruise. We have 1,000s of reviews from consumers and professionals to help you select the perfect cruise.
Tip Seven: Beware of misleading cruise prices
Often the 'advertised' price for a cruise is not what you will end up paying. Many cruise lines will advertise the lowest cost cabin on the ship, located on the lowest deck and perhaps at the very back (aft) or front (bow) of the ship. An advertised price may also be for a specific sailing date that may not coordinate with your vacation plans. Advertised prices do not include the cost of shore excursions, drink, spa treatments, gratuities, etc. Some cruise lines may offer all-inclusive packages as a bonus for booking early or prepaying for services.
Tip Eight: Cruise Itineraries can change
Cruise lines reserve the right to alter their planned itinerary. Weather conditions can cause a cruise line to skip a port if the Captain is concerned about safety. In some cases, this may result in an addition day 'at sea', or a visit to an alternate port. If you have pre-booked your shore excursions the cruise line will refund the fee if a port is missed. However, if you book an excursion independently, you will need to contact the provider yourself to arrange a refund.
More Helpful Resources
Here are some other articles on CruiseReport.com that you might find helpful.