In part one we talked about going on a cruise, how to choose a cruise, and saving up to pay for that much needed vacation. Now we will talk about other planning that is needed to make things go smoothly when the time comes to get away.
How can I get to the port?
If you don’t live near the port you intend to sail from you will need to decide whether to book a flight or drive to the port city. Very few ports have room to park a tractor—let alone one with a trailer attached.
If this will be your first time flying in a while (or ever), be sure everyone you are traveling with checks the TSA regulations closely before packing. Plan to arrive at the airport at least two hours before your flight is scheduled to leave. I have learned that a portable luggage scale is the best $20 you will ever spend to be sure your suitcases meet the 50-pound weight limit.
With a little creativity you may come up with a travel plan that’s convenient for everyone. I know a few drivers who typically book a flight from a city where a terminal is located to the port city while their families drive from their home. They meet up in the port city and finish preparing for the cruise.
I strongly advise planning to arrive at the port city at least a day before the ship is scheduled to sail. This gives you a time cushion in case of flight delays or other unexpected events. Stay at a hotel that offers shuttle service to and from the port (usually referred to as a ‘Stay and Cruise Package’). Parking a vehicle at some ports can be very expensive and it’s a lot of work to drag your suitcases for a distance. The shuttle van will get you directly to the port building where a bell captain will take your luggage and transport it to your cabin. Be sure to tip your bell captain and shuttle driver for a job well done!
If you book a flight home give yourself a sufficient time cushion there as well. If the ship is scheduled to disembark at 8:00 AM but is delayed getting into port due to fog (the Port of Tampa is notorious for that), you may miss a flight scheduled for a few hours later. It’s best to book a return flight leaving late that same evening or the following day.
Once your plan is in place, start working with your asset manager. Politely inform him or her about your vacation plans—including where you need to be and when—two-to-three weeks ahead of time. If you leave for the port from home, give yourself at least a day for you and your family to pack and prepare before traveling to the port. A stressful “rush” situation is no way to enjoy the start of what is likely a long awaited vacation.
I recommend purchasing travel insurance to get at least some of your money back if anything goes wrong. It’s important to shop for a policy that will allow you to cancel your trip for any reason. Read the fine print in full detail before purchasing it as some plans are better than others.
Dining options: “I’ll pass on the buffet!”
Cruise ships have a variety of dining options on board that are included in the price of the cruise. You can go to a buffet, order room service, or have food prepared to order in a sit-down setting. Some newer cruise ships have steak houses on board that may charge extra and require reservations. Feeling more casual? Grab a killer burger to munch on while hanging out at the bar and enjoying a few adult beverages by the pool. Pizza is also a major staple aboard a cruise ship and on several occasions Deb and I would go grab a few slices late at night!
I advise avoiding the buffets as too many passengers may not realize or understand the importance of having clean hands when using the utensils to handle food. That can cause others touching those same utensils afterwards to become sick. With that in mind it is also highly recommended that you always use a paper towel to isolate your hand from what is likely to be a contaminated door handle when leaving any public restroom.
What else is there to do on the ship?
Most ships have stage shows, seminars, and other planned activities during most hours of the day and into the evening. They also have gyms with free weights and cardio training gear like treadmills and exercise bikes as well as a small jogging track. Some offer yoga and aerobics classes. Most ships have a casino on board that opens once the ship is legally in international waters.
Whether it’s relaxing in a hot tub or a pool, kicking back on a lounge chair and reading a book while soaking up the sun, or anything else imaginable you are likely to find many forms of enjoyment!
Pack plenty of sunscreen!
Bring your favorite sunscreen as well as a full bottle of aloe vera gel and a can of sunburn relief spray. Don’t plan to buy it at on-board shops or in ports of call—they may not have it. If you fly into a port city and can’t legally carry these items in your luggage then get them at a nearby drug store before boarding the ship.
Need medical attention on board?
Ships have an on-board infirmary staffed with a doctor who can provide basic medical services. If it’s a particularly serious emergency they are likely to have a life-flight helicopter take a patient to the nearest hospital. If you purchase travel insurance getting coverage for this since most U.S.-based medical insurance policies may not provide coverage while traveling abroad.
Last but certainly NOT least—have fun!
If you are with a spouse and/or a group of people who know how to have a great time and avoid bringing up those generally forbidden topics of discussion (politics, religion, race, etc.)—then you will have a vacation to remember for many years to come. And be prepared for many more in the years ahead!