Are you new to cruising, or has it been a few years since your last cruise vacation? Maybe you’ve been loyal to one cruise line, but you’ve booked a trip with a new line? Here are nine questions you must ask yourself before your cruise.
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1. Have you thoroughly read your cruise line’s rules and regulations/FAQ?
Even if you’ve cruised recently on the same line, policies can (and do!) change. Be sure to read the list of prohibited items before you pack. Cruise lines don’t allow items that could be a fire hazard in the cabin (irons, steamers, candles), or a danger to others (weapons, drones, pepper spray).
I also like to familiarize myself with the beverage package policy to see what is currently included. Look to see if you can currently bring on bottled water, soda, or a bottle of wine if it’s not included in your package (or if you didn’t purchase a package).
How casual or strict is the dress code? Are there formal or theme nights? A few minutes of reading the FAQ before you pack will ensure you take the right items with you to not be over- or underdressed.
2. Have you purchased travel insurance?
This sounds like an expensive add-on, but travel insurance is just a smart idea. Why is travel insurance important? Most policies will cover you if you have to cancel your trip due to an illness or death in your traveling party or immediate family. It will also cover you in the case of a medical evacuation, lost luggage, or travel delays. Be sure to read carefully to see what your policy does and doesn’t cover.
You can purchase insurance through the cruise line, your travel agent, or independently. Shop around to get the best deal, but be sure that your package covers all of your trip (pre- and post cruise, and your travel to and from those destinations).
I use World Nomads, and I’ve found their rates to be very affordable. Click to get a free quote before your cruise.
3. Did you complete registration on the cruise line’s website prior to sailing?
For ships leaving U.S. ports, the cruise line is required to submit the manifest to Homeland Security prior to sailaway. It’s important that you complete registration in the cruise personalizer well before embarkation day. Make sure that your name exactly matches the name on your ID to avoid any hiccups.
If your name doesn’t match, such as a typo or a recent name change, call your cruise line. Also call your cruise line if you’ve left registration until the last minute, and you aren’t able to access the cruise personalizer. You’ll need to be registered to access your boarding documents and your luggage tags.
4. Have you printed and attached a luggage tag to each suitcase you’ll be checking at the port?
Most cruise lines ask passengers to print one luggage tag per bag. You can then fold and staple your tags around the luggage handles. Be sure to do this before leaving home if you’re driving to the port, or at your hotel if you flew in previously. You don’t want to be searching for a stapler at the pier!
Better yet, use clear plastic reusable luggage tag protectors that attach with a metal loop.
5. Do you have the proper documentation to board?
You’ll need your passport if you’re traveling outside of the country. Now I know that for closed-loop cruises (cruises that begin and end in a U.S. port), a passport is not technically required for U.S. citizens. However, what if the worst-case scenario were to happen, and you were left behind in port, in a foreign country, with no passport? Or what if your flight to your embarkation port is delayed and you need to fly to the next port to meet the ship? You may be able to cruise to a foreign port without a passport, but you can’t fly in or out.
Make sure you also print out your boarding documents to bring to the port in your carry-on bag. The boarding documents will include your reservation number, stateroom number, boarding time, and the address of the port. You probably won’t have to present these documents at check-in, but it’s a smart idea to print them just in case. Your ship card won’t have your stateroom number on it for safety reasons, so you’ll probably refer to your boarding documents a few times on embarkation day until you memorize that number!
6. Do you have a credit or debit card with enough of a limit remaining for incidentals?
When checking in at the embarkation port, you’ll be required to present a credit or debit card that will be linked to your ship card for all purchases made onboard. With the exception of any extra tips you may hand out for good service, and in some cruise lines’ casinos, the ship is a cash-free environment.
Unless you plan on purchasing a wifi package, you won’t be able to transfer money from one account to another while onboard, so be sure that you use a card that has enough available funds before you sail away.
Bonus: Did you check if any of your credit cards have no foreign transaction fee for shopping in port?
7. Do you know what time boarding begins, and did you choose boarding time if offered?
Cruise lines usually have staggered boarding times, with VIP passengers (those staying in suites, or holding an elevated tier in the loyalty program) allowed to board earliest. Check your cruise portal to see what time your boarding is, or choose from the available boarding times if the cruise line offers that option. Two hours prior to sail-away is usually the latest time for boarding.
If you choose to arrive significantly earlier than your scheduled boarding time, you might be able to get right on. Just know that you may be waiting around for a while if they don’t let you on early. There is a wide range of strictness in the boarding time among different cruise lines and ports.
8. Do you have a carry on bag ready with embarkation day essentials?
When you board the ship, it likely will be several hours before your stateroom is ready. Your checked bags can also take quite a while to show up. You’re free to use the rest of the ship, so be sure that you carry on a small bag with anything you might need right away.
If you want to swim, sunbathe, or use the hot tubs right away, throw your swimsuit and sunblock in your carry on before your cruise. Of course, any medications you might need should always go in this bag as well.
Read more about it: PACK THE PERFECT CRUISE CARRY ON BAG
9. Have you downloaded the cruise line’s on board app?
Most mainstream cruise lines now have a smartphone app that you can use on board without needing to purchase a wifi package. You’ll be able to check the day’s activities, as well as the location and hours of restaurants, bars and shops. Some lines will let you make reservations or purchase shore excursions through the app, and text (or even call!) other passengers who have the app installed.
Once you sail away, you can still download the app if you use the ship’s wifi, but why waste those expensive minutes? Download the app before you go, or in a pinch, use your data plan on the ship before you sail away.
You might also like:
- 10 Rookie Cruise Mistakes to Avoid When Booking
- Eight Things That Will Surprise First Time Cruisers
- The 19 Best Cruise Accessories You Need to Pack
- A Cruise Glossary: Cruise Terms You Should Know
What other questions do you ask yourself before a cruise? Let me know in the comments below!
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