A cruise is an excellent family-friendly vacation offering experiences for everyone in your traveling party. On a cruise, you can visit so many fantastic destinations and enjoy all the onboard activities, entertainment and dining while sailing to each port of call.
If you are a new cruiser, you may be unaware of the important planning details that are required for a successful cruise. Even if you have cruised before and had a marvelous time, there are some insider tricks you may not know about that could’ve improved your vacation.
Check out these 7 secret cruise tips that only the experts know about:
1. Arrive the day prior to sailing
Expert cruisers know that anything can happen during their voyage to the cruise port.
From airline delays to car trouble – anything can go wrong and the ship will not wait for passengers who don’t board the cruise in time.
Traveling to the port city at least one day prior to sailing is always recommended.
It’s fairly easy to find hotels near the port or the port’s local airport so you will have a short drive to the ship on boarding day.
2. Consider booking flights through the cruise line
Many cruise lines have contracted rates with the major airlines and it’s worth checking out their pricing. Several will allow you to “lock in” a flexible rate prior to your cruise’s final payment due date.
If you book through the cruise line, you can periodically check the airline’s website to determine if the airfare has decreased. If the fare has gone down, you can contact the cruise line to determine if their pricing has also decreased and request to switch your fare. If not, many cruise lines will allow you to cancel your flight without penalty (as long as you are not within your final payment window) so you can book the airfare on your own.
It’s also worth noting that when you book flights with the cruise lines, some will also assist you if you experience flight cancellations or delays. Plus, the cruise line will help you find an alternative way to get you to the next port of call, often without incurring any extra charges.
3. Don’t wait to select your port arrival time
Nowadays, many cruise lines require you to reserve a port arrival time a month prior to your sailing. This reservation date is typically the same date that you complete your pre-arrival online check-in forms. It’s important to pay attention to this date especially if you want to select an early arrival time. The first available time is always the most popular arrival time and here’s why…
Many guests want to start their vacation as soon as possible. If they can board the ship early in the day, then they can take advantage of the cruise line’s amenities as soon as they walk on.
Since many cruise lines require guests to physically board the ship before they can make reservations for onboard activities and shows, guests who arrive early get their first pick. Plus, if there are any onboard experiences, dining times or port excursions that were sold out during the pre-cruise reservation period, the cruise line usually sets some aside for guests to book on embarkation day. If you are one of the first guests on the ship, you will have an opportunity to select those available activities before everyone else comes aboard.
4. Ask for a room upgrade
Just like a hotel, room upgrades are available on most cruises. Before your sailing date, some cruise lines allow you to place a “bid” on an upgraded room. The highest bidder wins and is typically notified right before their sailing. However, guests can always ask for an upgraded room when they check-in at the port terminal or once onboard.
5. Eat breakfast and lunch in the main dining room
Many guests like to indulge in the various options offered at the buffet, but if you are looking for a more relaxed dining experience, you can visit one of the main dining rooms for breakfast and lunch. Many new cruisers are unaware that the main dining room is often open for lunch on boarding day.
Here, you will have a team of servers who will gladly wait on you while you enjoy the elegant ambiance of the dining room.
The menu items at the main dining room are listed as “a la carte,” but you can actually order as many appetizers, entrees and desserts as you want and it’s still all-included in your cruise fare.
Plus, If anyone in your party has a food allergy, the main dining room will be much more accommodating than the buffet.
6. Bring alcohol onboard
Some cruise lines do not include alcohol as part of their regular cruise fare or they will offer it as an add-on package.
Many guests are unaware that you can actually bring select alcohol (usually beer and wine) onboard at each port of call. It’s important to pay close attention to the cruise line’s alcohol policy.
Many cruise lines limit the size and number of beverages per guest and require you to pack them in your carry-on luggage.
7. Purchase travel protection
Every cruising expert knows that it is extremely important to consider purchasing travel protection when you sail.
While you can cover the expense of your cruise in case you have to cancel and request a refund, it’s more important to have travel protection in case of an emergency during your trip.
Many U.S. medical plans do not cover expenses that occur on international waters and the price of an emergency medical evacuation is a huge expense that no guest wants to pay.
Lissa Ryan is a Senior Travel Advisor with Kingdom Destinations specializing in luxurious family vacations. Lissa helps busy parents who want to create travel memories with their families through luxury travel experiences, but are too busy or overwhelmed with all the effort and research that is required to plan that perfect vacation.