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Cruising Tips for the Veteran Cruiser and First Timers




  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 numerous times.


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

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 vacation.

What is Included?

Included in your cruise fares are:

  • Your accommodations.
  • Cruise ship travel.
  • All meals aboard the ship – Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Buffets, Snacks, etc.
  • Entertainment aboard ship – Stage shows, Disco and Movies.
  • Children’s Program.
  • 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
    • Arcades.
    • Shore Excursions.
    • Ship Photography.
    • Tips and Gratuities.
    • Baby Sitting Services and after hours children’s program.
    • 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.
    • Transfers.
    • 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 recommended.

    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 walls.

    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 inside cabins.

    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.

    Meal Times

    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.

    Dining Onboard and Dinner Dress Code.

    Ship today offer many dining options - from formal dining room(s) with sit down dinners, to buffets and cafes where attire requirements are less formal. Some cruise lines let you sit where you like and with who you like in the dining room, while others still maintain assigned seating.

    Although cruise ships may have a formal dress night, you do not need a tuxedo or ball gown. I would still recommend to pack a suit or dress just in case you get the urge to go formal. 

    Casual dress is the norm on many ships during the day and some evenings at dinner. In the main dining rooms jeans, shorts, flip flops, T-shirts and sleeveless T-Shirts are frowned upon and at least one cruise line commented on my 10 year old wearing shorts in the dining room to dinner.

    Once you find a cruise of interest I strongly recommend a visit to their website or  reading  their brochure for more tips on the dress policy for that specific cruise line.

    What to Pack

    Here are some of the things to remember to pack for your cruise.

    General Items/Unisex Items
    • Comfortable Walking Shoes
    • Sneakers
    • Sunglasses
    • Camera w/ Memory chip
    • Video Camera
    • Bathing Suit
    • Passport
    • Identification
    • Cruise & Airline Tickets
    • Contact phone numbers.
    • Underwear
    • Sun tan lotion
    • Credit Card / Cash
    • IPod
    • Book for reading.
    • Pajamas
    • Hat or Cap
    • Contact Lenses/Glasses
    • Comb/Brush
    • Toothbrush/Paste
    • Flashlight
    • Totebag/Backpack
    • Medications
    For Her
    • Dress Shoes
    • Evening Dresses
    • Sun Dress Cover-up
    • Shorts
    • T-Shirts
    • Flip flops
    • Socks
    • Cosmetics & Creams
    • Blouses
    • Sweater for evening
    • Panty Hose
    • Slacks & jeans
    • Belts
    • Curling Iron
    • Jewelry
    • Lightweight Jacket



    For Him
    • Suit / Tuxedo
    • Dress Shirts
    • Ties
    • Belt
    • Shoes
    • Black Sox
    • Cologne
    • Shaver
    • Shorts
    • T-Shirts
    • White Sox
    • Casual Shirts for Dinner
    • Dress Slacks
    • Lightweight Jacket


    Packing List for Young Cruisers.

    For Kids
    • Sunscreen
    • Book
    • Hand Help Game Device
    • Goggles
    • Stuffed Animals
    • Extra Bathing Suit
    • Additional changes of clothes.
    • Clothes - see other columns
    • Travel Package of wipes.
    • Nightlight
    • Refillable Water Bottle.
    • Cards / Small travel games.



    For Babies
    • Sunscreen
    • Hat
    • Diapers
    • Diaper Rash Cream
    • Baby Wipes.
    • Travel Bag
    • Changing Pad
    • Cereal / Baby Food
    • Baby Bottle / Formula
    • Pacifier
    • Toys
    • Additional changes of clothes.
    • Clothes - see other columns
    • Vitamins




    Shore Excursions

    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 Programs

    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 program.


    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.

    Ships Registry

    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.