First time and veteran cruise
passengers will find these helpful hints worth their
weight in gold. I have assembled this list of
frequently asked questions to help make your trip
more enjoyable and eliminate stressful situations.
For most cruises departing around 4 or 5 PM, the
published start of embarkation is usually 1:00 PM.
Although this is the recommended time, passengers
can usually board as early as noon. It is
recommended that you do not arrive much earlier,
because you can get stuck in the traffic of the
disembarking passengers. You should be onboard the
ship, no later than one hour before sailing.
Most cruises arrive between 7:00 and 8:00 AM.
After arriving in port, you will need to go through
US Customs. It can take up to 2 hours for the entire
ship to clear. No passenger can disembark before the
entire ship is cleared. Once the ship has cleared
customs, passengers will be disembarked in an
orderly manner. People are assigned groups, usually
based on the time of their departing flights and
will be disembarked based on their grouping.
Be sure to have your cruise and airline tickets
in your possession along with your passport or other
acceptable proof of citizenship. Always keep the
paperwork handy. In these days of added security,
you will be asked to present your documentation
At the point of booking your reservation, a
deposit is required. This deposit can range between
$250-$400 per person for a 7 day cruise. The amount
of the deposit is based on the duration of the
cruise and cruise line. Full payment is usually due
within 60 days of sailing. If for some reason you
need to cancel your cruise after you have made full
payment, the amount you will be refunded will be
adjusted by a predetermined refund schedule. Usually
no refund is granted within two weeks prior to the
cruise. Please see the cruise line terms and
conditions to see the exact terms and conditions.
Travel insurance is available from the individual
cruise lines or independent providers. The terms and
conditions can vary between policies so be sure to
understand what is covered and what is not.
Understand the situations which will provide you a
full refund and what proof needs to be provided
should you need to cancel or cut short your
What is Included?
Included in your cruise fares are:
Cruise ship travel.
All meals aboard the ship – Breakfast, Lunch,
Dinner, Buffets, Snacks, etc.
Entertainment aboard ship – Stage shows, Disco
Use of the fitness center and library.
What is NOT Included?
The following items are traditionally not
included in your cruise fares:
- Alcoholic and Non-Alcoholic beverages.
- Dining in specialty restaurants onboard ship.
- Art Purchases
- Shore Excursions.
- Ship Photography.
- Tips and Gratuities.
- Baby Sitting Services and after hours
- Laundry Services.
- Purchases in the ship’s shops.
- Activities with added fees identified.
- Casino / Gambling & Art auctions.
- In room bar.
- Spa treatments and personal trainer sessions.
- Beauty Salon.
- Air transportation.
Tips and Gratuities
For most cruise lines, tips are not included.
Usually tips are provided for your room steward,
waiters and waitresses, busboys and dining room
maitre. The normal suggested tip is $3.50 per
person, pre day, for your room steward and dining
room staff. The cruise line will let you know the
suggested amount in documentation provided onboard.
In addition, many cruise lines have provided
passengers the option to add the gratuities to their
bill at the time of booking of their cruise.
Airlines have stricter luggage restrictions than
the cruise lines. Most airlines limit passengers to
2 pieces of checked luggage per person with a weigh
limit of 50 pounds. For any overage, you will be
charged. Most airlines charge an additional $25 per
bag up to 75 pounds. Bags over 75 pound will be
rejected. There are also dimension restrictions
which limit the size of the bags that can checked-in
or carried onboard. The airlines limit the number of
carry-ons to 2 small bags. A brief call to your
airline to determine their baggage rules is
As far as contents of the carry-on, liquids and
solids carried on board cannot exceed 3 oz. You are
also prohibited from bringing and sharp objects
including nail clippers and pocket knives. Please
check with Federal Aviation Administration’s website
for restricted items that cannot be carried onboard.
The cruise lines do not limit the number of
pieces of luggage, but remember that while many
cabins onboard the ships have adequate storage, you
can easily exceed the available space if you take
your entire wardrobe with you.
Prospective passengers always ask me what type of
cabin should I book? I always say it depends on what
you are looking for. If you are traveling with a
family and have small children, I recommend a
balcony. If the children go to bed early, the adults
can sit on the balcony and have a drink or one adult
can go to the buffet and bring back food and both
can dine together. The balcony provides an outlet
for the adults rather than looking at the four
If you intend to spend very little time in the
cabin, an inside cabin would do fine. The inside
cabins are usually less expensive and provide
approximately the same square footage as the
corresponding outside cabin.
In you do not plan on spending a lot of time in
the cabin and need to see where you are and want to
know if it is raining outside or daytime or night, I
recommend the outside cabin. Outside cabins are not
as expensive as balcony cabins, but are more than
What it boils down to, is you have to choose the
cabin that is best for you.
The next question is “Where is the best place to
choose a cabin – high-up on the ship or on a lower
deck?” I do not believe it matters. I recommend
looking at the ship’s deck plan and seeing what is
located on the deck above and below your cabin and
choose the cabin that seems to be quieter. Ships are
very sound proof, but I would not choose a cabin
above or below the disco or under the gym.
For those who might be seasick, there is no area
of the ship that will make you less prone to
seasickness. My recommendation is that at the first
hint of becoming seasick – go on deck and get some
fresh air and look at the horizon. One of the worst
things you can do is return to your cabin.
Alcohol Purchases Ashore
All alcohol purchased ashore will be confiscated
upon re-boarding the ship. The alcohol will be
returned to you on the last night of the cruise. The
cruise line takes the liquor because they want you
to consume their alcohol and drive up your bar bill.
Luggage the Last Night of the Cruise
The last night of the cruise passengers will be
provided a new set of luggage tags. You will have to
complete the tags and attach them to you luggage.
You will then place your tagged luggage in the
hallway before bedtime. Overnight the crew will take
you bags and after docking offload your bags. In the
terminal you will need to claim your bags and report
to US Customs. The cruise line will provide the
details and timing for luggage collection.
Currency and On-Board Spending.
On most cruises departing from the US, the
currency is the US dollar. The majority of cruise
lines have migrated to a cashless system. Upon
boarding the ship, you will need to provide a valid
credit card to the ship’s purser. All onboard
charges will be charged to the credit card and you
will be issued a ship’s credit card. This card will
be used for any purchases onboard the ship,
including beverages, spa treatments, shore
excursions and photographs. The last night of the
cruise you will be provided with a final statement.
The dining options onboard ships are ever
growing. Many ships feature flexible dining which
allows passengers to dine when they want and with
who they want. In addition, there are specialty
restaurants, where you can dine at an added cost.
For these restaurants, you will be provided a
reservation and assigned a dining time on the night
of your choice (if available).
For ships offering tradition dining with fixed
seatings dining, there are normally 2 seatings.
Early seating – at around 6 PM and late seating –
around 8:15 PM. Both seatings feature the same menu;
it is just your dining preference time. Also note
that seatings are capacity controlled and passengers
are not always granted their desired time.
Shore excursions are available at an added cost.
The shore excursions can be purchased on-line prior
to your cruise, onboard the ship at the excursion
desk or from your room’s interactive TV (only on
certain ships). The excursion will be added to your
running tab established shortly after you embarked.
Kids Program are available on most cruise lines.
The youth coordinators provide structured programs
to keep the young ones occupied. The youth program
is usually divided into 3 – 4 age groups from about
2 years of age to 17 years old. The programs
normally start at around 1 PM and last until 10 PM
with a number of breaks in between. After 10 PM, the
program continues, but there is an hourly charge
until about 1:00 AM for sitting services. Age groups
of children and hours of operation of the children’s
program vary between cruise lines so please check
with each one to determine the details.
Please note, that most cruise lines require small
children to be potty-trained to partake in the kids
Airfare purchased through the cruise line is
usually more expensive than airfare you purchase on
your own but it provides an added level of security.
If for some reason your flight is delayed the cruise
line and airline have the obligation to get you to
the first port of call.
If you purchase your airfare on your own, you
will be responsible for getting to the first port of
call should you miss the ship for any reason. The
cruise line and airline have no obligation to get
you to the first port of call. All expenses
associated with getting there will be yours.
My recommendation would be to travel to the
cruise departure port the day before, so if there
are any delays, you have increased your probability
of not missing your cruise. The cost for your hotel
room an added night is well worth the piece of mind.
For your return flight, if you cruise arrives
around 8:00 AM, I would not book a return flight
before 1:00 PM. This will provide you a little
cushion, should the ship be delayed or it takes
added time to get through customs.
All passengers should understand that most cruise
ships are not registered in the US, therefore laws,
rules and regulations onboard the ship are governed
by the country of registry.