Everything You Need To Know About Cruises – Gene Sloan has written about cruises for more than 25 years and oversees USA Today’s award-winning cruise website. He piloted more than 150 boats.
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Everything You Need To Know About Cruises
For starters, even if you are traveling from one place to another, you only need to unpack it once. You don’t have to search for restaurants every night. There is usually a set of tables waiting for you just a few steps away from your cabana. You can easily find entertainment too.
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But even with this simplicity, cruising can still be intimidating for beginners. What to bring What to plan at port? What is the best way to book?
As the head of The Points Guy’s cruise content team, I hear questions like these all the time.
This brings me to the next tip. If you’ve read this far, chances are you’re a first-time cruiser looking for some advice for your upcoming trip, and that’s what this story tries to provide. This includes my list of 21 ways to make your first trip easier.
This list comes not only from my own 20+ years of cruising experience, but also from the observations of over 100 cruise enthusiasts who shared their tips with TPG in a live conversation on the topic at the TPG Lounge on Facebook. (If you are not already a member, we encourage you to join.)
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If you take only one piece of advice from this story, it should be this. It’s the only way to make sure you don’t miss your ship – and it happens more often on cruisers than you might think.
Many cruises depart in the afternoon, so flying or porting in on a morning departure doesn’t seem to be a problem. But it only takes a modest flight delay or highway accident to derail those plans. If you arrive late at the port, the boat will not wait for you.
If you are going on an overseas trip, we recommend arriving at the port two to three days in advance. It’s not for nothing, you shouldn’t miss the boat. This is also to give you time to recover from jet lag. European cruises, in particular, can be port-intensive and require lots of excursions, so you’ll be refreshed and ready to launch as soon as your cruise begins.
When you first board the ship, even before boarding, you will likely be met by porters who will help you with your luggage. It will then be delivered to your room. This is very convenient as you don’t have to carry your luggage throughout the check-in process. But this means you may not be able to collect your luggage for several hours on your first day on the plane.
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Be sure to pack any items you think you might need in your carry-on bag for the first few hours of your cruise. Of course, this means medicine, phone chargers, but also swimsuits, hats, sunscreen, and other items that will allow you to get straight to the pool deck and have fun.
Use this trick when packing for a cruise: Throw in all the clothes you think you’ll need on the cruise and take half with you. You don’t need them. Trust us
Most cruises these days are casual and you only need a few clothes to rock on a cruise. If something is ugly, it’s okay. Many ships have laundries on the cabin deck where you can wash once or twice every few days. If not, you can send your laundry on board to be cleaned. It usually recovers within a day or two.
The extra cost of washing a few clothes on board is a small price to pay for not having to carry a large suitcase on board and back. Plus, you’ll want to save room in your suitcase for all the little treasures you find along the way.
Everything You Need To Know About Cruise Ships
Many first-time boaters think they can’t bring their own drinks on board. But many lines allow this, often with some restrictions. This is one way to save money on a cruise, as drinks on board can be expensive.
Disney Cruise Line is one of the lines that allows you to be your own bartender. Adults can bring up to two bottles of wine or champagne or six bottles of beer on Disney Cruise Line at the start of the cruise and at each port of call. These drinks must be packed in a carry-on bag. A Royal Caribbean onboard perk is two bottles of wine or champagne per cabin, plus a dozen standard cans, bottles or cartons of non-alcoholic beverages.
One caveat: Many lines charge a “corkage fee” if you want to bring wine into the onboard restaurant. Always read your line’s rules before bringing any drinks on board.
Yes, you can find sunscreen, aspirin, and AIDS on board. But it will cost you. Cruise lines know you’re a captive audience and value their onboard stores accordingly.
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I have a little over-the-counter “bag” that I throw in my suitcase every time I travel, and it contains everything from cold medicine to seasickness medicine. I rarely use it. But I’ve never used crazy fees for toiletries.
While we’re on the subject of clutter, don’t forget to pack extra batteries if you bring a camera.
In addition to extra toiletries, frequent cruisers often arrive with Clorox wipes or the like to wipe down surfaces in their cabins (along with shore excursions). I’ll admit, I’ve never done it, even if I know — even if it means removing the TV remote in the living room.
(Many cruisers don’t go on a key card). Of course, I’m too cool to wear it around my neck, which means I lose my card once or twice per trip. They always give me a new one at the front desk. My cruise team colleague Ashley Kosciolek also avoids carrying lanyards on board, but that didn’t stop her from writing this fantastic guide to the best cruising lanyards.
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Some cruisers swear by bringing magnets to cabin walls, pinning dinner invitations, cruise tickets, and other important documents. The walls of the boat are usually made of metal (although they look like wood, thanks to the artificial wood coating) and hold a magnet. Some cruisers come with magnets with hooks to hang clothes and the like on the wall.
Nothing beats a cruise ship buffet on the day of departure. All who boarded the plane went straight to him. To avoid the buffet rush on the first day, go to any second-hand restaurant available. Sometimes one of its restaurants opens for dinner on the day of the ship’s departure. Probably less crowded than the buffet.
There are some types of vacations — like going to the beach — where you don’t need to do any research in advance. You just appeared. Most cruises aren’t like that – at least if you want to make the most of them. At the heart of most cruises are port calls and often very short stops—often just a few hours. You must have a plan for what to do in these ports or you will miss out on most of the cruise experience.
Once you know which ports you want to visit, research them as much as you can on travel sites like The Points Guy. At TPG, we’ve created home and destination port guides for anywhere from Port Miami to Bora Bora.
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Another great place to find out what to do in port—and on board—is the many private Facebook groups dedicated to specific lines. I belong to several of them, including the Royal Caribbean Cruises group, the COPs (Cruisers Opinion Pages) group, and the Holland America Line Fans group. On these pages, you’ll find thousands of cruise enthusiasts ready to answer questions about their favorite lines, cruises, itineraries, and itineraries. I have met some great people in these groups, some
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