We love to cruise. We’ve cruised most of the popular cruise lines catering to North America and have cruised around the world multiple times. We especially love cruising with kids, our kids and grandkids that is!
I know that cruising can be daunting to first time cruisers, especially when cruising with kids. Check-in can be confusing and the ships overwhelming. Here are a few tips I wish someone had shared with me before I ever boarded my first cruise ship.
· Print out your luggage tags and attach them to your luggage before you get to the port. If you are flying in to the embarkation port don’t attach luggage tags until after you’ve claimed your bags from luggage claim. Tags tend to get torn off if they are attached to checked luggage when you check in at the airport; airline luggage handlers don’t exactly treat your luggage with care.
· Pack swimwear, sunscreen, comfy clothes, and the first night’s dinner clothing in carry on bags. Carry them on board the ship, this may come in handy should the airlines loose your luggage or if your luggage doesn’t arrive in your cabin before dinner.
· Drop off luggage to porters outside of the cruise terminal.
· Your luggage will be delivered to your staterooms, they may not arrive until later that night.
· Carry on important and expensive items.
· Expect long lines in the cruise terminal. Find the right line for check-in. There are special lines for suite and concierge class guests, and frequent cruisers. Avoid the long lines by arriving later in the afternoon when the rush should be over.
· Have your cruise tickets, passport, and credit card ready.
· Your photo will be taken at check-in, it is kept on file to identify you each time you leave and return to the ship.
· Everyone in your party will be issued a cruise card – it serves as your stateroom key and “credit card”. The cruise card must be presented every time you make an on board purchase. If your cruise card gets lost or damaged you must replace it at the purser’s desk.
· Children will be fitted with a wristband that has your assigned muster station printed on it. Wristbands must be worn throughout the cruise. If your child damages or loses the wristband you must replace it at the purser’s desk.
· Your embarkation photo will be taken as you board. It will be available for purchase at the ship’s photo gallery.
· You must “punch in” with your cruise card every time you leave or re-enter the ship. This is how cruise lines keep track of their guests.
· Staterooms may not be ready when you board. While waiting for your stateroom you can have a meal at the buffet, explore the ship, relax at the pool or at any public area.
· Be ready to get lost. It’s easy to get turned around on board. Directions are given in nautical terms. Familiarize yourself with them.
o Forward – front of the ship
o Aft – back of the ship
o Port – right side when facing forward
o Starboard – left side when facing forward
· Once you are allowed in your stateroom your cabin attendant will introduce him/herself and let you know what time you must attend the muster drill, and whether or not you must bring your life vest.
· If you miss your cabin attendant the drill time will be posted in the daily newsletter you find in your stateroom.
· Your muster station is printed behind the stateroom door and on your life vest.
· Life vests can be found in the closet but listen for instructions before heading to muster with your vest. Some ships no longer require you to bring your vest to the muster station.
· International Maritime Laws require all passengers boarding the ship that day to attend the muster drill before the ship sets sail. Don’t even think of skipping it by hiding in your stateroom, they will find you.
· Check your stateroom TV for channels available, some lines have pay per view adult channels, you may want to use the parental controls to block them.
· Register children at the youth centers so they can participate in activities.
· Cruise photographers are everywhere, expect to have your photos taken at every opportunity, in the dining rooms and restaurants, at the pools, as you leave the ship at different ports, on open decks during sail aways, and at every noteworthy event. You can also have portraits taken at the photo stations set up on board. You can take as many photos as you want. You are not obligated to purchase any.
· There are 2 types of dinner arrangements included in your cruise fare, Traditional Fixed Seating and Anytime Dining
o Traditional Fixed Seating – you will dine in the main dining room at the same time every evening. You sit at the same table and are served by the same wait staff the whole cruise. You may opt to dine elsewhere on some night.o Anytime Dining – you can dine anywhere, anytime. Most ships have a dining room for anytime diners, you can make reservations or walk-in. There may be long lines during popular dinner times, you will have to wait if you don’t have reservations.
· Specialty Dining venues have cover charges per guest. It’s best to make reservations as these restaurants are busy.
If you or your child has food allergies let the dining room staff know, they can and will prepare special food for you. On our Med cruise a couple of years ago then 10 month old Jett had a long list of food allergies and my daughter was very vigilante on what he could eat. When the staff found out about his food allergies the chef made fresh baby food for him daily. They would call my daughter every evening to ask what she wanted for the next day. In the mornings Jett’s special baby food was delivered to their cabin in time for breakfast and dinner would be waiting at our table. In fact they made enough baby food so that she could pack it to take with us on shore excursions.
· A 15-18% service charge is added to every beverage, spa, and salon purchase you make.
· Daily gratuity is added to your shipboard account. The charge is about $11+ per person/day. Everyone, including infants are charged gratuity. Tips and gratuities are not mandatory, you can choose to remove these charges by going to the purser’s desk before the last day of your cruise, check the daily newsletter for the deadline.
· Some ships have self-service Laundromats – it is also equipped with an iron and ironing board. Single use detergent and fabric softeners are available from the vending machine. You can change coins at the purser’s desk. But don’t wait for a day at sea to do laundry, it will be very busy. Nor should you wait till formal night to iron what you will be wearing that evening. You are not limited to the Laundromat on your deck, if machines are all busy you can do your laundry on any deck.
· Shore Excursions can be reserved on line before sailing, at the shore excursion desk on board, or from the interactive TV in your stateroom.
· Ship sponsored shore excursions use local tour operators that have been vetted by the cruise line for safety, quality, and service. The ship waits for all passengers that are on ship sponsored excursions, they will not for guests who tour ports independently.
· If you purchased a ship sponsored excursion check your tour ticket or daily newsletter for the meeting point and time.
· When you arrive at the meeting point shore excursion staff will give you a sticker indicating your bus number. Don’t enter the meeting point until your party is complete, otherwise your group may get separated.
· The bridge will announce which deck gangways are on, signs will also be posted on public decks directing you to the gangway. Gangways are busiest as soon as the ship is cleared by port officials, there will be long lines of guests waiting to exit. If you can, consider leaving at a later time to avoid the crowds.
· Bring your cruise cards and photo ids to shore. You will need the cruise cards to exit and re-enter the ship. Local officials require each passenger present cruise cards and sometimes photo ids to re-enter the cruise terminal.
· Bring local currency when going on shore. You can exchange currency on board at the purser’s desk or currency exchange machines located on one of the decks. It is usually less expensive to exchange money at home or on the ship; foreign exchange kiosks on shore charge high fees. Or use your credit card for on shore purchases, check exchange fees with your card company.
· Be sure you know what time guests are requested to return to the ship. It’s a good idea to synchronize your watch to the ship’s time to avoid being late. Ships usually sail on schedule and will not wait for late passengers unless those passengers are on a ship sponsored excursion.
· Port guides are delivered to your cabin before the ship reaches each port. It has information about the ports, maps of the port and surrounding areas, and the contact info for the ship’s port agent. Keep a port guide with you when ashore, if you have any emergencies or miss the ship contact the port agent for assistance. If you don’t find port guides in your stateroom they are available at the tour desk.
· Some ports can’t accommodate large cruise ships, at these ports the ship will anchor off shore and shuttle passengers to and from shore using ship’s tenders or local boats.
· At ports requiring tender you must obtain a tender ticket unless you are on a ship sponsored excursion, are a suite guest, or have frequent cruiser benefits. The daily newsletter will tell you when and where tickets are being distributed. You must wait for your ticket number to be called before going to the tender dock.
· Take note of when the last tender leaves port to return to the ship. If you miss it you will get left behind.
· Several days before the cruise ends you are required to fill out a form telling the lines about your departure plans. Color coded Luggage tags will be issued and left in your stateroom based on your travel arrangements after the cruise.
· Tagged luggage must be placed outside your stateroom door the night before the cruise ends. They will be collected and be available for pick up in the cruise terminal the next morning.
· The final newsletter will tell you what services are available on the last day. It will tell you the earliest time you may disembark based on the luggage tag you were issued. You can hang out on any public deck while waiting for your turn to disembark.
· You can choose to “walk off” the ship. You will not be issued luggage tags and must carry your luggage off the ship. If you chose this option don’t place your luggage out for collection. You can disembark at your convenience once local officials have cleared the ship.