If you are planning a cruise in 2018, you’re not alone. Some 28 million people will board cruise ships this year, including many first-time cruisers.
Modern cruise ships come in all sizes and provide excellent value and varied vacation experiences on hundreds of itineraries.
Here are a few tips designed to help people new to cruising prepare for the experience ahead and get the most out of their cruise vacation:
• Before booking a cruise consider the type of cruise experience you desire. Cruise ships vary in size and onboard experience ranging from large contemporary floating resorts offering something for virtually everyone to small intimate vessels providing a more personal luxury experience.
• After selecting the ship and cruise itinerary, study the ports of call to determine what you want to do while in port. Cruise lines offer a variety on land excursions in each port and your travel agent can recommend what to do ashore whether you are joining others for a tour or venturing out on your own.
• Whether flying or driving to the city where your cruise begins, I recommend arriving at least a day in advance. You will avoid the worry that flight or other delays might cause you to miss the cruise, while providing an opportunity to enjoy the embarkation city. Travel delays do happen even when driving to the port.
• At least a week prior to departure, be sure to check-in online via the cruise line’s website, where you can complete the guest information questionnaire and print out your boarding pass. Doing so will expedite your entrance to the cruise terminal and speed you on your way to the ship.
• To avoid the mid-day crowd, arrive at the cruise terminal early or late but at least two hours before the ship’s departure. The check-in process is quick and easy but, if you encounter long lines at the terminal, it may take up to an hour before you are aboard, especially with larger ships.
• Check your luggage with porters stationed outside the terminal but make sure breakable items, medications and cruise documents are in your carry-on bags. Checked luggage will be delivered directly to your stateroom. Since most cruise lines restrict bringing alcohol onboard, check with the cruise line or your travel agent to learn the policy before leaving home.
• When you reach the check-in desk inside the terminal, present your boarding pass, passport or other appropriate identification, and the credit card for an onboard account. Your photograph will be taken, and you will receive a room key that resembles a credit card for use in making onboard purchases. By-pass vendors offering souvenir photos or other items on your way to boarding the ship.
• Enjoy lunch, drop off your carry-ons when your room is open and explore the ship prior to the mandatory safety drill. If your ship departs during daylight hours, I always try to be on the top deck for the sail away, which offers a terrific way to start your cruise.
Today’s modern cruise ships represent an excellent vacation value and wonderful experience if you select the right ship and itinerary. The difficult part is choosing among the many cruise options available. My most important tip: once on board, relax and enjoy the cruise . . . you’re on vacation!