You’ve decided to take to the open waters and opt for a cruise vacation. That’s great! But, now what? Cruise travel can seem overwhelming for first-timer, and your mind may be swirling with questions from simply how to book a cruise, to what you should pack to how you spend your free time.
How to book a cruise: Before you go
How to book a cruise?
You can book directly with the cruise company, or you can go through a travel professional or travel agency that can help organize everything for you, including pre- and post-cruise accommodations, airport transportation or city tours should you decide to extend your stay in your port city.
Who can come on a cruise?
Cruise travel is for everyone, from Grandma and Grandpa to little John and little Jane. Cruises have a plethora of activities that cater to any interest and all ages. Also, special accommodations can be made for those with special needs or are handicapped. Please contact your cruise line as far in advance as you can so that they can be prepared to welcome you to make your trip most enjoyable.
What information do I need to book a cruise?
When you’re ready to book a cruise, the last thing you want to do is end up scrambling for information! Booking your cruise will go much more smoothly if you have the following information readily available:
• The itinerary you want to reserve
• The number of adults and children (under 18) who will occupy each room
• The birthdates, addresses and phone numbers for each person in your travel party
• Payment information.
Do I need to bring my passport?
Because each country has its own entry requirements, depending on your country of citizenship, and each company has its own policies, you should check with your travel agent or cruise company for any specific requirements prior to showing up at port. It is recommended that you carry a valid passport, as well as a photocopy of the identification for your cruise, packed separately. If you show up without the proper and necessary documentation, you may not be permitted to board without it and, worse, you most likely won’t be eligible for a refund.
Do I need a visa?
Depending on your country of citizenship and your cruise itinerary, visas may be necessary. Contact a travel professional or your cruise line to check applicable visa requirements.
I’ve booked my cruise. What happens if I have to cancel?
Before you book your cruise, be sure to read the terms and conditions because each company’s cancellation policy is different. If you think there is a chance that you may have to cancel, check to see if your company has a cruise protection plan, which may offer more of a refund in the event of cancellation. For example, Holland America will refund up to 90% of eligible amounts paid if you purchase their Cruise Protection Plan Platinum Plan.
How do I get from the airport to the port?
Cruise travel is meant to be seamless, and cruise companies make it easy to both air and hotel accommodations and transfers all together. Even if you’d prefer to book your own air travel, you can still contact your cruise company to get you from the airport to port and back again. Norwegian, Celebrity and Royal Caribbean all have services to ensure you get to the port on time. Contact your cruise company to arrange pick-up and drop off.
How early should I get to port to board my cruise?
Luckily, most cruise lines have online check in that you can complete a few days before you’re set to sail to make embarkation go more smoothly. In any case, it’s recommended that you arrive no later than one hour prior to your scheduled embarkation time. If you haven’t completed check-in online, arrive earlier, no later than two hours before you’re set to board.
To avoid missing your boat due to unexpected travel delays, it’s best to arrive in town the day before embarkation. However, if you plan to travel into town the day your cruise leaves, try to plan to arrive in town no later than noon.
Do I need travel insurance?
Because many health insurance plans do not cover the cost of medical care at sea, in foreign countries or for air evacuation, it’s recommended that you secure travel medical insurance prior to travel in order to be reimbursed for services rendered in the event that you become ill.
I’m pregnant. Can I still cruise?
Most cruise lines do not permit passengers to sail past 24 weeks. Check with your cruise lines for specific date requirements, and note that you may need a letter from your doctor.
Time to pack: What to bring on a cruise
What do I pack?
Packing for any vacation can be stressful, but be sure to consider the climate of where you’re headed on your itinerary, and the type of activities and excursions that you have or for which you may sign up. The rule of thumb is that cruise wear is casual, whether on ship or at port, so bathing suits, sundresses, shorts, tank tops and pool wear are perfectly acceptable. However, keep in mind that some of the restaurants on board won’t permit pool or lounge wear, so smart casual is suggested for dinners. Your ship may host a gala or formal night, so packing one black tie or cocktail outfit for fancy dress may be recommended.
How much can I pack?
A good rule of thumb is that you may pack two pieces of luggage, not more than 50 pounds each. It’s a good idea to pack a carry-on to get you through the first day on the ship since your luggage may not arrive in your room until later that day. Also, remember to not pack your passport, medications, cruise documents or airline tickets in your checked luggage since you may not have access to it all the time. And finally, because staff will need to collect your luggage the night before disembarkation, you’ll use your carry-on for sleepwear and toiletries for your last night at sea.
What if I need to do laundry?
Cruise ships often have coin operated self-service launderettes.
What can I not bring aboard?
Weapons, explosives, drugs, alcohol and large sporting equipment are generally not permitted. Most beverages, with the exception of baby food/formula and special medications are also not permitted. Check with your cruise line for specifics.
Can I bring alcohol?
Cruise companies have strictly adhered to alcohol policies, but they vary across cruise lines, so be sure to check the rules of yours before you leave. Holland America allows each guest over 21 years of age is permitted to bring one bottle of wine or champagne in carry-on luggage. Disney Cruise allows two bottles per guest. Note that corkage fees may apply to bottles consumed outside your stateroom, and that can range from $18 to $25 per bottle. Beer, boxed wine, or other liquors and spirits are generally not permitted on board.
Can I bring my pet?
Unfortunately, with the exception of service animals, pets are not allowed on board.
Are gratuities included? Do I bring cash for that?
Typically, a daily service charge is automatically added to your shipboard account, which may be adjusted as you see appropriate at the end of your trip. This ranges from $13.50 to $18 per person, per day, depending on the company and your stateroom. However, it is appropriate to tip other service member such as bell staff, so you may want to bring some local currency for such an occasion or any other incidentals that you buy at port.
Cruise travel: Life on deck
What is there to eat?
Cruise dining is for everyone, even the pickiest eaters! From extensive buffets to themed specialty restaurants, poolside lounges to room service, you will not starve! If your ship has assigned dining times, you will receive your dining times and seating assignment upon arrival. Also, remember that you don’t have to dine in the main dining room every night and can take advantage of other options on board. Cruise lines have upped their dining games, and some have partnered with celebrity chefs. With Guy Fieri on Carnival, Jaime Oliver on Royal Caribbean, Jacques Pépin on Oceania and Curtis Stone on Princess you’ll be treated to truly unique dining experiences! Note that certain restaurants may require reservations or additional fees. Also, children may not be permitted in some dining rooms.
Can dietary restrictions and preferences be accommodated?
It is recommended that you submit any special meal requests prior to sailing when you book and confirm upon arrival. Meal requests made too close to your sail date may not be able to be accommodated.
What is there to do on board?
You’re only limited by your imagination! Cruises feature an extensive list of activities for all hours of the day, from fitness classes, movies under the stars, comedy shows, spas, luxury shopping and even nightclubs! Each evening, you will receive a schedule that contains the next day’s activities, weather and general ship information. And, to ensure that you get the best selection of times and services, book spa services before you board.
Do I need cash on board? How do I pay for purchases?
All shipboard expenses will be charged to your account with the method of payment you’ve designated upon arrival.
Is there internet on board?
Going on a cruise is the perfect opportunity to truly disconnect since there isn’t usually free internet on board, but cruise companies offer internet packages for purchase. If your ship uses a satellite connection, be aware that it may be impacted by inclement weather or other physical obstacles, such as glaciers if you’re sailing through Alaska. Be prepared for it to not work as well as internet does at home. Internet cafes located in common areas may be your best and cheapest bet.
Will I have cell phone service at sea?
Your phone may not have service at sea. Some cruise providers, such as Norwegian’s CellAtSea™, have special services to provide uninterrupted coverage. Check with your phone carrier to see if your phone will work, and to be aware of any international roaming charges that you may incur.
How do I book shore excursions?
You can book shore excursions when you book your cruise, or with the concierge once you’ve boarded.
How far in advance do I have to book shore excursions?
Because some excursions and tours have limited capacity and fill up quickly, you should book them early before you set sail.
Do I have to book excursions?
Certainly not! Staying on board while docked at port is the perfect opportunity to enjoy some quiet time on the ship. If you do want to get off ship, many ports of call have plenty for you to explore on your own.
What kind of shopping deals are available on board?
Now that you know how to book a cruise, while you’re on board, you should go ahead and book your next one! It’s often on board when cruise companies will offer the best deals. For example, while on board Holland America, you can receive up to $400 per person shipboard credit, good for your next
Holland America Line cruise. Celebrity gives you the option to “cruise now” with special deals that include reduced deposits, onboard credit and flexible cancellations or “cruise later” and decide the when later.
What are some of your best practices for cruise travel and tips for how to book a cruise? Tell us in the comments.
To book your next cruise vacation with AAA, visit AAA.com/Cruises.