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Cruise Do's and Don'ts
updated: Jan 26, 2013, 1:00 PM

By Marc Liberts

My wife and I are cruise vacationers. We cruise on average about once per year. We have taken 7, 10, and 14 day cruises in the past. We have cruised to Mexico, Alaska, the Caribbean, Central America, Panama Canal, and Europe. We have cruised on Princess, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, and Celebrity cruise lines. We have cruised in Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall. We just finished a 7 day cruise from Galveston Texas to the Caribbean, and here are some do's and don'ts we've learned over the years.

DO arrive at your departure city at least one night early. The airlines are growing more and more unpredictable when it comes to schedule changes and last minute cancellations. I travel quite a bit for business, and I have come to expect the unexpected when it comes to flying these days. For example, our flight to Houston was supposed to leave at 600AM from Santa Barbara. We decided to arrive at the Santa Barbara Airport a little early to check in and get situated. After arriving at the airport at 445AM, we were notified by our airline staff at check-in that our flight had been cancelled. That didn't bode well for us making it to our scheduled limousine service from Houston to Galveston at 400PM. And, to make matters worse, we had booked this flight with frequent flyer miles. From experience, I knew that it would be much more difficult to get re-scheduled with frequent flyer codes than regular paying passengers. We got lucky and were re-scheduled and re-routed, ultimately arriving at our destination at virtually the same time as we had originally planned. Unfortunately, most of the people behind us in line who arrived a few minutes later were delayed by hours or worse. The only bad thing was that we lost our economy plus seats, and had to sit in regular coach. We now have to apply to get our money back for that. LESSON LEARNED: Arrive at least 2 hours early at the airport for domestic flights just in case something goes wrong.

DON'T schedule a limousine or any type of ride where you have to ‘share' the ride with others if you have time constraints. My wife found a well-rated low cost limousine service from Houston International Airport to Galveston (about a 90 minute ride). However, this ‘limousine' was more like a Super Shuttle, making stops here and there along the way, making the ride longer and longer. In addition, there were 3 rows of bench seats that seated 2 comfortably, and perhaps 3 squishily if need be. After we got in, the driver informed us that even though he had 6 of us, he had to drive around the airport for a while to see if he could squish 3 more in. I decided to pitch one of my classic Philadelphia fits because we didn't have the time to waste and I did not want anyone sharing my row. My fit was successful and we were on our way. I later found out that we could have had our own taxi or our own limousine for a few dollars more than the shared ride we had. Upon our return, we were told that the ‘limousine' service we picked would leave the cruise terminal on a ‘regular' basis from Galveston back to Houston. When we got off, I found the van but the driver was missing. The boat was late getting in, and we were pressed for time to get from the port to the airport. This time, the driver wanted to wait 15-30 more minutes and we also had to stop at another airport to drop people off, wasting more time. We barely made our flight in Houston. LESSON LEARNED: Check to see if you have to share your ride - you don't want to share if you can avoid it.

DO think about what type of accommodations you want on your cruise ship. We have traveled in most of the various types of rooms that the cruise lines offer. The smallest and cheapest rooms you can get are inside cabins which are typically about 160 square feet. The base price for 2 people in an inside cabin for the trip we just took is about $800 for the week. The next category of rooms are the Ocean View Staterooms. These rooms are typically about the same size as an inside stateroom, but have a large window. The cost doubles to approximately $1,600 for 2 people for a week. The next level up are the Balcony Staterooms. These rooms are typically about 20% larger than the previous rooms at about 200 square feet, and these rooms have a sliding glass door leading to a private balcony that usually averages about 50 square feet. The costs of a Balcony Stateroom for our trip was about $2,000 for 2 people for a week. The remaining rooms are Suites, starting with the Junior Suite (about 300 square feet with a 75 square foot balcony - costing about $2,600 for 2 people for a week), up to the Grand Suite (about 400 square feet with 100 square foot balcony - costing about $3,000 for 2 people for a week), up to an Owner's Suite (about 600 square feet with a 160 square foot balcony for about $3,600 for 2 people for a week), up to the Presidential Suite (about 1,300 square feet with a 250 square foot balcony for about $6,000 for 2 people for a week). We treated ourselves to an Owner's Suite and loved it! It was huge compared to inside and balcony rooms, and featured a large sectional sofa, big screen TV, Jacuzzi bath tub, separate shower, and huge balcony. We loved it. I found it the perfect place to relax and just chill out. One of the benefits of booking this room was a gold ID card which entitled us to specialty seating at the shows, restaurants, pools, and most importantly the concierge lounge. The concierge lounge is where the concierge has his office, and he holds an appetizers and complimentary cocktail party from 4:00pm - 9:00pm every night. That was a great benefit, and we also got to meet some really interesting people in the lounge as well. LESSON LEARNED: the more you spend, the bigger and better it gets.

DON'T think that the aforementioned prices are the bottom line you will spend. Right off, figure an additional 10% in taxes and 10% in semi-mandatory gratuities for your waiter, assistant waiter, head waiter, and your cabin steward. Up that to 15% if you have a Grand Suite or larger due to the increased suggested tips for cleaning these rooms. I will say that our cabin steward Melvin was excellent, and catered to my every whim and request, and I had many of both. He was worth it. Our waiter was good, our assistant waiter was excellent, and hour head waiter was fine too (although I don't see the need for the head waiter). Because I have to tip him, I always give the head waiter as hard of a time as I can in a fun way. Also, the ships have cadres of professional photographers taking candids and formal shots. The cost of their photographs is reasonable, and on the formal nights, it is a good an easy opportunity to get some professional photographs of you and your family at a reasonable price. LESSON LEARNED: know what the hidden costs are before you book your trip.

DON'T think that all the food is free! Main dining and the buffets are complimentary. If you want to avoid having to tip the waiter, assistant waiter, and head waiter, skip main dining and just eat in the free buffet. All water, iced tea and some fake juices are free. All sodas, bottled water, and all alcohol and wine are available for an extra fee. Also, most ships now have one or more specialty dining restaurants available for a fee. Typically, the cover charge for these specialty restaurants is $10 - $30 per person. Also, on our trip, special menu selections from the specialty restaurants were available on the main dining room menus for an up charge. I got the filet mignon for an additional $15 in the main dining room one night. It was excellent! The food in the main dining room is average, and the food in the buffet is average. The best food in the buffet for breakfast is the made-to-order egg and omelette bar. You tell them what you want and they cook it up for you. For dinner, the buffets also have stir fry stations where they will stir fry up a good assortment of meats and vegetables that you can pick out for yourself. In the morning, they have free coffee at their 24 hour café and free coffee at the restaurants and buffets. The coffee is generally bad but at least free. Specialty coffees and Starbucks specialty drinks are available for an additional fee. Bottled water is available for an additional fee. LESSON LEARNED: specialty dining is great and menu selections from the specialty restaurants are great - but for a price. Also, specialty coffee drinks cost extra.

DON'T think that the islands of the Caribbean are very different than each other. You only see them for a few hours, and they all look the same. Don't worry about where your cruise goes if you want warm Caribbean weather. All the Caribbean islands are warm, have nice beaches, and have cool tours and excursions available. When you cruise, you typically arrive at a port at around 8:00AM and depart around 4:00PM - not nearly enough time to do much on your own. The ship will offer dozens of excursions and tours at every port at various price points. We took three typical tours. The first was a bus tour of Roatan, Honduras. The bus picked us up, drove us to junk store with a nice view of the ship, then to a resort on the beach with shopping and a bar, and finally to another resort with less shopping and a great beach. Total tour time was about 5 hours for about $50 per person. The second tour in Belieze was a sail, snorkel and beach tour. A small boat picked us up at the dock and sailed us about 20 minutes to a reef off Belieze where they gave us a guided snorkeling tour of a really pretty reef for about an hour. We then sailed about 15 minutes to a small private island with a great beach, bar, and small restaurant where we spent about 90 minutes. The tour time was about 5 hours and the cost was about $75 per person. The third tour we took on Cozumel was what I thought was a dune buggy driving tour on the beach. It turned out to be a high performance X-rail buggy tour over rough terrain in the jungle to see a cool cave and sink hole. Very adventurous and a bit out of our comfort zone. It was exciting and the cost was about $100 per person and lasted about 4 hours. If I would have been more careful reading the description, I would not have booked the last excursion. It was cool but too rough for us and not our style. LESSON LEARNED: understand that most of the islands are very similar and make sure you read the excursion descriptions carefully.

DO take advantage of the complimentary entertainment available on the ships. Our ship had an ice skating rink that had 4 shows throughout the trip. The tickets for the ice skating shows were hard to get, but everyone we know that saw it loved it. Also, every night the ship has a theater where they have musicals, comedians, and fun live shows that they put on. Again, most of the people we talked to really enjoyed the shows. Also, there are live musicians in many of the ships lounges performing live music, and there are a number of discos and dance venues to enjoy as well. LESSON LEARNED: the cruise lines provide good free entertainment every day!

DO sign up for the cruise's loyalty program. Just like airlines have frequent flyer programs and just like hotels have rewards programs, so too do cruise lines. Most cruise loyalty programs have 4 or more tiers, with each higher tier earning you added benefits like discounts on food and drinks, discounts on laundry, discounts on internet services, room upgrades, and complimentary alcohol parties every night. When my wife and I stepped off our recent trip, we were promoted to the ‘Diamond' level, which will entitle us access to the ship's ‘Diamond Lounge' where we can enjoy complimentary alcohol every night from 4:00PM - 8:00PM. Our cruise line also gives us a coupon book at the start of the cruise which contains many good coupons for discounts and free stuff that is worth looking into. LESSON LEARNED: join the loyalty program and try to move up in rank.

DON'T be afraid of sea sickness. My wife and I have cruised for approximately 100 days, and only about 4 of those days were bad sea days. Most cruise ships now have stabilizers which make the ride very smooth, and the sea sickness patch will squelch any sea sickness you might get if you use it properly. There are also a number of sea sickness pills that can be purchased over the counter that are quite effective. Finally, if you are sick on ship, the ship's doctor can administer a shot to you which will squelch any sea sickness almost immediately - for a fee. LESSON LEARNED: 95% of the time, the seas are calm and sea sickness is not an issue.

DO make yourself available to meet new people and make new friends. If you are traveling as a couple, chances are you will be seated for dinner at a table with one or more other couples. Most people traveling on cruises are friendly and looking for good company. We have made many nice acquaintances over our years of cruising. LESSON LEARNED: be friendly and be on the look-out for nice people looking to make new friendships.

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Comments in order of when they were received | (reverse order)

 COMMENT 367790 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-26 03:23 PM

Great info. Thank you for putting it together. It actually is making me consider a cruise (with your nice upgraded suite.)


 COMMENT 367877 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-26 07:02 PM

ALWAYS, ALWAYS spend the extra money to get a window or at least a porthole stateroom. The inner staterooms are pitch black unless a light is on. You can lose conception of day and night.

Also, be prepared to be treated to the 'caste system'. The more you spend on a room, the better the treatment you'll recieve.
For instance, disembarking in port, the more expensive cabin occupants are always allowed off first, then the next, finally the lowest. (this can shorten your time in port)

One other little item. When in a foregn port, IF the food or drink is suspect, go back to the ship and hit the buffet. Always take bottled water.

Many of the amenities are available to everyone, but money talks!


 COMMENT 367943 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-27 06:48 AM

Have no desire to go on the huge cruise ships, but wanted to take everyone (wife and kids) on the smaller ships that go inland further in Alaska. Any thoughts on those cruises or ideas? Approximately 100 plus passengers. I've never given going on a cruise ship a second thought, so I'm really a rookie. Do you have any ideas who to contact etc.
Thanks for all the information.


 COMMENT 367948P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-27 07:02 AM

943, give Ray a call at Lighthouse Travel. He is a local travel agent who has specializes in cruise vacations. He has traveled on cruises to Alaska for 20+ years. You can contact him at 805-566-3905 or ray@lighthousetravel.com


 COMMENT 367949 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-27 07:06 AM

Thank you so much for the great info. To answer 943 like every question in life you need answered these days " just Qoogle it" Tons of information under small ship cruises any where you want to go!


 FLICKA agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-27 07:13 AM

Very interesting, helpful info from a seasoned cruiser, thanks. Years ago we went for a 10 day cruise on the Mississippi Queen. Our inside cabin was perfectly fine, all we did was sleep in it and change clothes. There was so much to do, we figured why waste time in a cabin, we can hang around the bedroom at home.


 COMMENT 367964 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-27 08:03 AM

WOW! What great info. on cruise experience and how to get the most out of "life". It might be interesting to note that a company called Cruise Bargains, Inc. is locally owned for 28 years. Edhaters interested in cruises of a lifetime might want to check them out. Happy Travel One and All


 COMMENT 368047 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-27 12:33 PM

Good tips. But I always had in mind that a cruise vacation was much more relaxing and "kicked back". The tight scheduling and critical time constraints you relate sound more like being back home, that is, the scheduling and daily pace you are trying to escape by taking a cruise!


 COMMENT 368051 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-27 12:37 PM

We recently went on a 10-day Caribbean Cruise on Norwegian and LOVED it!! Much more casual than other ships. Also, most ships are adding in the "tips" as an automatic charge to your room, so you don't even need to worry about it. We actually prefer the inside cabin- not much time is spent in there and it is less expensive. I booked all our shore excursions separately- not through the ship and they were much smaller groups (several times only 3-4 of us), less expensive and definitely more personal.


 COMMENT 368071 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-27 01:36 PM

I agree with everything 051 had to say.


 COMMENT 368137P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-27 08:36 PM

Thanks for the thorough explanations--it's resolved my issue of To Cruise, or Not?

NOT. Crowds? Lines? Schedules? no thanks, but thanks for the lesson learned. Nice photo illustrations.


 MICKID agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-27 09:28 PM

Thanks for taking the time to share these tips. Much appreciated.


 COMMENT 368160P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-27 10:38 PM

If all the islands seemed the same, you might consider a cruise to more "interesting" places. We've taken 2 cruises to see total solar eclipses. One cruise included Tahiti, Pitcairn Island, and Easter Island. Another included Genoa, Sicily, Pompeii, Egypt, Libya (pre-upheaval for both), and Malta. In addition to the great land-based tours, we enjoyed the special astronomy lectures on both trips. We recommend Voyages of Discovery, the small-ship line we took on the South Pacific cruise. They go all around the world--maybe Alaska, they used to go to Antarctica.


 COMMENT 368173P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-28 07:07 AM

137, all cruises are not the same. They do not all have crowds, lines, or schedules. Find a good travel agent like Ray at Lighthouse Travel and tell him what you do enjoy.


 COMMENT 368302 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-28 01:20 PM

Good advice, but you must not be a drinker, or else you would have warned us more about the cost of booze on board. Typically, our booze bill is between 1/3 and 1/2 of the total bill. It's a fact that booze sales account for the highest percentage of profit for the cruise lines.

You are not supposed to bring your own booze on board, but we always smuggle a couple of bottles in our luggage, and we have never been caught. We still frequent the bars, but it's nice to have a few drinks in the room while you are relaxing and/or getting ready to go out for the night.


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