Essential and Good Information for First Time Cruisers
- Updated: May 26, 2012
By Ryan Round
Cruising: What you’ll need to know but not find in any other single place! A Must Read for the beginning “cruise person”!
While cruising can be done year round, this time of year and the fact so many cruises are done to get into warm weather, or take advantage of holiday shopping, makes this a very timely article.
Possibly you have booked your first cruise, or you are planning to. You have read the brochures, possibly talked to a travel agent. Based on your research or your booking, you’ve prepared your budget… or at least think you have.
You leave home knowing your cruise includes all your “lodging”, certainly your meals, your entertainment, and a host of activities.. all paid for. As you possibly compared a “shore” vacation with hotel or condo and meals, you feel you have found the bargain of a lifetime. You think all is paid for.
You are in for some surprises, and the purpose of this article is to prevent them.
But first, have you really booked the one that will fit you? If you went through a good travel agent who took the time to match you, you possibly have a great match up. If you went on line and did it yourself, there’s a good chance you really need the information in this article.
People who cruise regularly know that there are essentially two factors involved in choosing a cruise, other than budget. One of these three reasons is for ports of call, considering what each has to offer. For many, it may be shopping, in which case, depending on what you want to buy, it may be Grand Cayman for example due to the duty free bargains on diamonds and watches. Or other port attractions may apply as you are looking for some of the best scuba diving. Others may not care as much about the destination ports, or even be aware of the offerings, but choose instead based just on the on board activities and look at the cruise itself as the event. In which case you need to look into the entertainment; the venues based on age. For example, are there provisions for activities for small children or teen agers? If you are a “senior”, are there activities that will keep you interested?
Is there a theme for the cruise? If you are a single, or even straight or gay, are the majority of cruisers on this trip in your interest group? If your main thrust is just the on board life, and you could not care less about the ports of call, will you have scenery to enjoy beyond endless views of just the ocean? If this is what you want, possibly a cruise on the inside passage to Alaska would be your fit, although maybe not in winter! For winter, the Panama Canal cruises offer interesting scenery.
So as a first time cruiser, you must look well beyond the cost of a stateroom or cabin and do some serious research.
Assuming you have made these selections, it’s time to really consider your budget, because nothing can be as big of a “downer” as either having opportunities you’d like to take advantage of and not being prepared, and then having to pass on these when you may never be at this special place again.
Preparation begins with getting there. Most people will drive to an airport and fly; others may drive to the cruise terminal. In either case, you probably have a car to park and secure. All terminals and ports have on site extended parking, generally run by the port, airport, etc. A few cities such as Pittsburgh have truly competitive long term on site parking, but others such as Orlando don’t and on site at some of these sites such as Port Everglades (Fort Lauderdale), on site parking can run up to $17 a day plus taxes.
Is there a way to beat this? Generally, the answer is “yes”. Go on line and choose your favorite search engine and look at “terminal name” (example: Port Everglades) parking choices and look at offsite firms. Look at rates, discounts, and distance to the terminal. In most cases, you can save half or more over what on site, terminal or port run parking will cost.
Now it’s time to process on board. But going back to your planning: Have you obtained your passport? Better put this in an early planning checklist, and don’t wait until the last minute and have to pay “express handling”. If you go to anywhere other than Hawaii, you’ll need a passport to get back to the USA.
Now as you check aboard, most cruise lines these days have a cruise identification and credit card that serves multi purposes. It is your cabin or stateroom key; it’s your on and off board tracking system… AND… it’s how you pay for everything you do or book on board. Be prepared to present a major credit card on boarding and check in, and your cruise card will be using this for a backup. So, your preparation includes having a card with generally a substantial balance available.
While we are talking about available funds, generally you will not need much cash, but do have enough for those few non shipboard activities where cash is primarily used. These include port activities such as sight seeing, and of course, have a good supply of small bills for your tips such as with baggage handlers including where you took your car.
If all the meals and such are included, what’s there to have or want extra money for? Most ships these days have extensive on board shopping. Most others, except Disney, have casinos on board, and this is one place where you may be required to have cash vs gambling on your credit card. Be prepared in this case with cash. As to safety, again most ships, including in their smallest cabins, have individual safes where you can stow your passport, cash, jewelry, etc.
Speaking of jewelry, check if your cruise has a “dress up” or “formal” night. In this case, be sure and include appropriate wear.
The first place you’ll be surprised how much you need your on board card is that many ships have great refreshment and drink service. Every time and place you sit down, someone will be offering you a pleasant drink. At around $5 or more. Even soft drinks are no longer free on many lines, but you can buy a “week long, unlimited refills” card for that. Typical cost may be $6 a day.
Now here’s the big one: Shore excursions. It’s hard to pass up the many activities such as guided sight seeing, maybe scuba diving, etc. The range of choices is vast, but for planning purposes, best to plan about $150 per day per person each day you are in port. If you are gone from the ship the full day, you’ll probably need to add to that the cost of a lunch somewhere.
Again, most cruise lines offer you booking on board for the shore events, and this will use your onboard credit arrangement.
If you’ve done some port research, you’ll note that you can find many of these activities available independently by reservation and you may compare costs to on board. If you have not made on board arrangements, you need to know that as you go ashore you’ll find abundant opportunities to have guided tours, etc. and at much lower costs than booking on board.
Here’s the most important thing to know: There’s major risks in choosing the independent self booked activity. When the cruise line sells the activity, yes, you pay a higher cost, but you have a fairly secure knowledge that this line has checked this out for your safety before endorsing or selling it. If you go ashore and do it yourself, chances are you still may be safe if you pick an activity widely advertised, the jitney driver has a major license, and if you are joining a new group for that activity. But you never know for sure. For one thing, NEVER go on an activity alone!For first timers, it’s far better to pay the extra to the cruise line for the safety.
Lastly, as you end your cruise, there are for all practical purposes, mandatory tips for your cabin attendant, head waiter, main table waiter, assistant waiter, possibly your wine steward. These range from $4 per server per day per person down to $2 for people like passant waiter. You can generally use cash here, or again, apply to your onboard credit card. It can easily be another $10/day per person. Be prepared.
While long, this article should help you avoid surprises and thereby make your trip pleasant and stress free. Enjoy and Bon Voyage!
By Ryan Round – Ryan is also a leading training in the internet marketing field, check out his Internet Marketing Blog now.
Source: Cool Travel Zone — Your Source For Great Vacation, Travel and Cruise Articles!