As the Boy Scouts say: “Be Prepared!”
You’ve booked your dream holiday and cannot wait to get going. These 10 tips can help you avoid common first day issues and ensure you are as relaxed as possible:
Rule No. 1 – Plan your flights with plenty of extra time.
Always make sure you put in plenty of time for travelling to the cruise terminal. I.e. if your embarkation time is scheduled for 4pm, don’t aim to arrive 15 minutes before. Your flight may be delayed, the trains may not work or there could be traffic on the roads. The more you are in a hurry, the more Murphy’s Law will apply and the world will seem to be conspiring to slow you down.
Most cruises have their check-in opening from about 12pm to 1pm. If you aim to get there at this time, then any delays won’t be catastrophic and you can enjoy a good lunch on board!
Even better than allowing extra time…
Rule No. 2 – Travel the night before.
For the ultimate in stress free embarkation, book a hotel room near the port for the night before you sail. This is especially helpful if you’re flying in. Rather than having to wake up at 4am to catch the early flight, you can enjoy the first day of your holiday with a lie-in and a less rushed experience.
With more time in the morning near your destination, you may be able to do some early sightseeing or to arrange your own transfers to the cruise port to save some money.
Rule No. 3 – Plan how to get to the port before you leave.
Cruise lines will usually provide coaches (at a price) from the local major airports to the cruise terminal. These will range around $80 to $100 USD per person, each way. Your will be met in the airport, your bags will be taken and placed straight onto the ship and your will incur very little stress. The money, however, will very quickly add up.
There will always be alternative methods of getting to the cruise terminal, either by car, taxi, train etc. Always do your research to work out what is the best for your plans. If you’d rather not worry about it, then just take the coaches. If you’re a bit braver and have allowed plenty of time (don’t forget potential delays!), then for a fraction of the cost try the train! If there is a group of you (say, 4 people) then it may work out cheaper to take a taxi.
Just make sure you know what you’re doing before you leave home!
Review our port transfer guides for some detailed route plans.
Rule No. 4 – Insurance.
It can be heart-breaking when something goes wrong. Insurance is a definite must for a cruise holiday, even if you don’t normally use it. The right insurance should be able to protect you from missed flights to missing luggage. Remember, if your outbound flight is delayed or cancelled and your miss the embarkation of your ship then you will have to fly (usually at your own expense) to the next port to catch up.
Shop around for insurance that specifically caters for cruise holidays (we have a review of the different packages we’ve found).
Rule No. 5 – Pack a small carry-on bag.
If you are travelling a long way from home to the ship, then you will almost certainly want to change your clothes once you are aboard. This can be because you’re tired and sweaty and just want something fresh, or you could have come from a cold climate and now want to go for a swim.
Either way, your main luggage will be in the hands of the stewards for the first few hours whilst they are x-rayed and sent from check-in to your stateroom. A small carry-on bag can be equipped with such essentials as a coat and hat for colder locations or sun tan cream and swimming wear for warm locations.
As a bonus, it makes a handy place to carry your passport and cruise documentation!
Rule No. 6 – Don’t arrive when check-in opens (or is about to close).
Whilst Rules 1 and 2 say that you should get to the cruise port in plenty of time, don’t forget that almost everyone else will be following the same advice. Everyone will be aiming for the same check-in time.
As such, it may be better to just delay your arrival by an hour or two so that the check-in hall has had chance to clear first. Alternatively, arrive early enough that you can be a quick boarder and get to the lunch buffet first!
Rule No. 7 – See if there are any cheap upgrades.
One of the great things about cruises is the number of bargains available if you know when and where to look. Sometimes, the cruise line may send out an e-mail a few days before the cruise to offer heavily discounted upgrades. Now that suite may be only $300 more than the previously advertised $3000 more. Bargain!
If you miss out on these, then don’t fret. The first thing you should do when you’re on the ship is to proceed to the hotel reception desk and ask if there are any still available. The cruise line would far rather sell you the upgrade at a reduced rate then have it run empty for the entire length of your stay. If available, they will go quickly however. So don’t delay!
Rule No. 8 – Don’t bring banned substances. They will find it!
Different cruise lines have different policies when it comes to bringing on board alcohol and food. Alcohol on the ships is usually not that expensive and is how cruise lines make up a significant chunk of their revenue. As such, most cruise lines will either outright ban your booze or place a heavy restriction on the volume you can bring aboard. Even then, you’ll probably only be allowed to drink your carry-on alcohol in your room and not anywhere else on the ship.
Your luggage will be x-rayed, so don’t think anything can be smuggled. Don’t even consider bringing illegal substances aboard as you’ll risk being kicked off the ship and reported to the police.
Check out each cruise line’s policies on how much can be brought on board.
Rule No. 9 – Get cash before you travel.
Cruise ships operate on a cashless basis – any drinks you consume or gifts you buy will be simply added to your final bill. But you’ll still need cash for the ports you come into or for your transfer to/from the ship.
Don’t rely on an ATM at the airport or cruise terminal as they may not be working! If there is no urgency, you can wait until you find one in a port. However it is almost always cheapest to buy foreign currency at home.
As a last resort, you can get major local currencies on-board your ship, however the exchange rates will not be in your favour.
Some countries may also restrict the use of credit cards so, even if that’s your plan, it’s always a good idea to carry a cash backup!
10. Make your reservations as soon as possible.
Most ships will have extras that you can either pre-book or book once you are on-board. Food on board is included in the price, but there will usually be speciality restaurants where (for a modest fee) you can get an even better meal. These are good for special occasions or even if you just fancy a change.
For obvious reasons, the pool areas will be most crowded on sea days when the ship hasn’t docked at a port. Some cruise ships have private areas where you can be given a guaranteed deck chair and space away from other passengers. These tend to go quickly, so make sure you’ve done your research on what’s available on the ship and book as early as possible.
11. Check passports and visas
Don’t be the person that arrives at the airport and has forgotten their passport. Don’t be the person that arrives at the cruise terminal and has forgotten to get any applicable visas for the destinations you’ll be visiting.
Similarly, make sure you carry around copies of your cruise tickets and identification documents just in case the originals get lost. They can go a long way to helping you in a crisis!