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Cruise: Insider secrets from cruise staff

Insider Cruise tips from experienced Cruise Staff.

Table of Contents 

  1. Before you book what to consider
  2. Cruising with a disability, how to prepare and questions to ask.
  3. Planning the trip
  4. Checking in
  5. Your cabin
  6. Balconies what to consider
  7. Medical
  8. Shore Excursions 
  9. Knowing your way around the ship
  10. Other tips & ideas
  11. FAQ

What type of holiday will you want?

1) Prepare before booking.

Cuise shipThere are so many great destinations to chose from that its easy to neglect how important it is to choose the right ship to suite your holiday style. They can vary considerably in size,  facilities, entertainment,themes and atmosphere. 

First of all consider the company you go with, such as P&O, Cunard (Queen Elizabeth and Mary), Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Princess Cruises, Carnival, Disney and Fred Olsen to name a few of the larger liners

You need to decide what kind of holiday you’ll be looking at, as well as your age group and the kinds of people you may expect on your chosen line.

What type of holiday will you want? As a general rule the Caribbean tends to have a younger average age of passenger, and Alaska, New England a lot Older. Europe gets a mixed set of ages, as do World Cruises and Exotic destinations.

Take a good look at the pictures in the brochures, are they showing lots of families (E.G Disney) or are they showing Older couples (Holland America, Cunard) party people (carnival, easy-cruise) and so on?

Consider this as an option

It’s quite a nice idea to fly to America, do your cruise and sail with it back to Southampton, it means you can just jump off the ship and drive home and the same applies those living in the USA you just do it the other way around!

2) I have a physical disability can the ships offer me help? 

Yes, there will be cabins on all ships available to book. It is important that you let your Travel advisor know of any disability you may have. So they can advise you more effectively.

There are some questions that are important to ask?

  • Where your cabin is positioned in relation to lifts.
  • What help there is going on and off the ship.
  • Type of bath or shower rooms
  • Should you need mobility aide such as a scooter what the restrictions are on them.
  • What information and help will the cruise company provide you.

You may also be interested in the article Cruising with a disability. This article was written by David Budgen  about our cruise support.

3) Planning the trip

Why not consider going a day early- it’s exhausting flying across the Atlantic, getting herded onto a bus and going straight to the ship, you’ll be tired and grumpy when you get on board. Fly the day before, relax and make your own way to the ship the next day. Or alternatively stay a couple of days when you get off the ship, it’s less of an upheaval that way, and lets you unwind for a few days.

Secondly, if you have a choice, I would not go to the ship too early to board. They normally start around Midday, but at that time the lines will be long and if it’s a hot day it will be uncomfortable. A much nicer idea is to take lunch somewhere and go to the ship after when it will have quieted down. If you are on a Caribbean cruise chances are you’ll be in Miami or Fort Lauderdale, both have wonderful beaches and restaurants for lunch.

Pack light, pack right.

4) Checking in

Cruise shipsWhen you check onto the ship your suitcase will be screened and brought to your cabin later on in the day, sometimes not until later in the afternoon, as they will normally have around 5,000 pieces of luggage to move depending on the ship size!!

Pack light, pack right. Be prepared for the off chance your luggage will get misplaced. Even if your bag isn’t lost, it often takes hours before it gets to your cabin. So pack for survival: Put a little of everything you’ll want and need in a carry-on bag. This includes undies, shirts, socks, a bathing suit and something to wear to dinner. As added protection, buy travel insurance that covers you for lost, stolen, damaged or delayed luggage.

5) Your Cabin

If you are worried about Seasickness at all (but really, these ships are so big, you can barely feel it), then consider a cabin in the middle of the ship, not too near the Bow (front) or Aft (back) or too high up the decks. There is less movement in these cabins.

If you are a light sleeper, look at the facilities that are above, below or next to your cabin. If you like an early night, check out where the disco is positioned in relation to your room.

If you like a tipple in your room, take some with you or buy it when you are in the ports. Get some duty free and keep it in your room, you won’t be allowed to take it onto decks, but if you DO decide to have that balcony why pay over the odds for room service?

6) Balcony, or not to Balcony?

They ARE great for a pre-dinner cocktail or breakfast out there, BUT some advise, MOST are overlooked by other balconies above you, so PRIVACY is not a reason to get one, and although the notion of one is romantic and all the pretty pictures in the brochures suggest there is nothing nicer, you really won’t spend that much time on it, so you could save all that extra money by not having one.

I DO, however suggest you have some kind of window, even if it’s just a small Porthole. Just so you can look out and see what the weather is doing when you wake –up!!

Another idea is to see if there are any “restricted view” cabins, it normally means there is a honking great lifeboat in front if the window, but they are less expensive than the others.

If you are a light sleeper, look at the facilities that are above, below or next to your cabin. If you like an early night, check out where the disco is positioned in relation to your room.

Okay, now you’ve chosen your cabin, a couple of other tips before you go.

There are no dentists on board!

7) Medical insurance

Most companies won’t let you go without it, but don’t even risk it! And whilst we’re on such subjects, take medical supplies with you, the ships Doctors and Nurses are Fantastic and do a great job, but on some lines it costs $40-$50 to visit them!

There are no dentists on board, if you have a dodgy tooth that might flare up with toothache, get it seen to at home before you go do you fancy a trip to a Mexican dentist!

One More Piece of Medical advise is that if you are planning on doing any SCUBA diving or Snorkeling, you will be required to fill in a medical waiver. Some conditions e.g., Asthma, require that you have a letter from Your Doctor allowing you to participate. For more info go to www.padi.com

Book your reservations on the first day of the cruise.

8) Shore Excursions

Beat the rush. On most cruises, you’ll want to schedule all kinds of things. So will everyone else usually at the same time. Shore excursions (Trips Ashore on Port Days) are described in a brochure that comes with your cruise tickets; book any excursions you can’t bear to miss early on ESPECIALLY if it’s for a “Once in a Lifetime” experience, such as swimming with the dolphins, as ALL of the Passengers are there to have “Once in a Lifetime” experiences, and they get booked up really quickly. (Increasingly, lines allow you to book them before you leave home.)

For other trips ashore you can always ask the crew when you get there, a friendly bartender will tell you if it’s worth paying $35 for a trip to a beach on a bus with 40 others, when you can get a taxi for $10 for, example…

Talking of activities, some of them, you’ll need to put your name down. For example, our Have-A-Go at SCUBA in the pool only had spaces for 10; so if something catches your eye, go for it!!

It’s also a good idea to make your spa appointments and specialty restaurant reservations on the first day of the cruise so you don’t lose out.

9) Knowing your way around the ship

Exploring the shipNow time to start exploring. Most companies will have some sort of Tour of the Ship. A great idea, but you’ll be rushed about a bit. I like to take a map (normally found in your room) and wander around; most of these ships are HUGE, like small cities with a vast amount of facilities and amenities.

That first Lunch time try to avoid the buffet if you canbecause the food is usually included on ships everyone gets very excited and the lines for the first time are normally long! If you can hold off, have a late lunch!                                                                         

Book any Spa or Salon treatments! The spaces are limited and for Formal nights (If you have any) the Spa will book up very quickly. Another money saving tip – they normally will advertise Port Day Specials later on in the cruise.

Check your dining arrangements. Some ships offer fixed seating, where you’ll sit at the same table at the same time every night. Some will offer anytime dining which is a little more flexible. It’s your personal preference to which you will like best. Some passengers love the fixed as you’ll meet some new friends at dinner. Some love the freedom to eat when they want. The Maitre D’ will be the man to see if you’d like to change your arrangements. He’s also the chap to see if you have a special occasion that you’d like to celebrate!

After all this you’ll need a cocktail, another Money saving tip is to try the Cocktail of the Day, normally less expensive. Unless you are lucky enough to be on a cruise line where the drinks are all in, then a great tip is to buy a Refill Cup for Soft drinks, most lines will offer something along these lines for around $5-$10. This will save you a good deal of money on Cokes, Lemonades Etc., as they can be around $2 a go otherwise.

Whilst you sip your first drink, have a look at the Ships Newsletter. I believe all of them have some kind of daily publication that will advise you of opening times, offers, activities, show times and general information. Some will have Port Guides. This will be your “Bible” for the day, as there is SO much going on you won’t want to miss your favorite activities.

10) Other tips and ideas

Now that you’ve settled in, you’re probably going to start relaxing and you may have a sea day or two to help you wind down. Here are some bits and bobs about the various activities and departments that I hope you will find useful.

Bars…. As I mentioned before you’ll get some good deals at the bars. Be careful though, the measures will be larger than those in the UK and the drinks can work out quite a bit cheaper! Also, a note for the under 21s. Most ships will operate under US Law, which means you can’t drink if you are under 21, take some ID if you look young too! The bartenders are a great source of information too for all those cool places to go when you get to Port. Find your favorite and get chatting!

On Board BoutiquesMost ships will have a selection of shops for you to browse. You can pick up some good bargains here, but they are only allowed to open when the ship is actually sailing. There will normally be somewhere to pick up any forgotten toiletries etc. too! Look out in your daily newspapers for special promotions and sales too!

CasinosNot sure if I have any Money Saving Tips for here! BUT I was told on the grapevine that they put all the highest paying out machines near the entrances, so people can look in and see all the money being won! Again, you’ll need to be over 21 for the casinos, and they are not open when the ship is in Port.

Bingo! Most ships will have a progressive jackpot game that rolls-over each day till the big (quite substantial) pot is won at the end…normally over $1000! My advice? Play at the start of the week (Less Opponents!) or play at the end for the big money. It is very Rare that the jackpot will go before the last session, as you have to get a full house in a certain amount of numbers called, until the last session where they keep going until someone wins!

Photographers! They pop up everywhere to take pics of you and your loved ones. Just Smile, there’s no obligation to buy them. They also do all kinds of processing on board, and they will have portrait sittings to catch you in your best finery on Formal Nights.

Formal Nights! There are normally one or two of these a cruise, and it’s a really nice occasion. Most will dress up in long dresses and jewelry. No, the men look handsome in their suits or tuxedos. This will normally happen on the first Sea Day of a cruise, and the Captain will normally come and give a speech. These events are accompanied by the Cocktail Party, whereby most cruise lines will offer a selection of free drinks! I say Dig-In. A nice tip, is to order something NOT on the tray, you’ll get more for your “Money”. Tip the waitress, tell her to keep ‘me coming and she’ll bring you a few freebies!

Showtime! Most of the larger ships will offer Las Vegas Style shows which, in my opinion are Wonderful. There’ll be numerous dancers, singers and even acrobats to entertain you. As the ships get more modern, so does the technology and most will have amazing lights and lasers and music too!

Special Occasions I mentioned letting the Maitre D’ know if you have a special occasion, but tell everyone… They all want to impress you, tell your cabin steward and the bartender and your waiter. You’ll get some special treatment. If it’s a super occasion (A marriage proposal perhaps) ask the pursers desk to help. People will bend over backwards to help you have a special time. You might consider for the special occasion eating at one of the Special Restaurants. Most cruise lines will have one or two that you pay a supplement for, for that extra special meal.

Salon, Spa and Gym I have put these all together as there are no real money saving tips, except if you compare the price of treatments to the UK…. FABULOUS!! Plus the GYM will be FREE!! Use it to burn off all that extra food.

Phoning Home/Email… Most ships nowadays will let you phone from your cabin, unless it’s an emergency, DON’T it’s expensive. Some will have email facilities, again a little pricey. A MONEY SAVING TIP! Follow the crew on Port Days (especially the Philippines, they always phone home!!) Or ask around, there is normally a CREW CALLING STATION (which anyone can use!) at every port, which work out much cheaper…

ART Gallery Some cruises have ART for sale, normally limited edition prints and some originals. I feel a TIP coming on… To entice people into the Auctions they give away a piece of Art by raffle ticket for just showing up.

SHOPPING LECTURE…. My best friend at sea was a shopping lecturer… (They talk about all the places to get bargains ashore) so I am a little biased, but they have lots and lots of discount vouchers and some great advise on what to buy when you are in Port…. My favorites, for the Caribbean, are Diamonds and Watches and Alcohol/Cigarettes. All Great savings ESPECIALLY compared to the UK. I bought a GUCCI in Aruba; it was less than Half Price compared to England.

SUNSETSMake sure you watch one, ESPECIALLY if you are in the Caribbean, a good place to spot dolphins is at the bow, they chase and jump through the bow wave. It’s Cool.

COMPLAINTS Not that I think you will have any, but the Brits are notorious for not causing a fuss. If there is something wrong, let the purser’s desk, or the relevant party know. If they don’t know, they can’t fix it. If you are polite (Aren’t we always??) and nice they will assist you in anyway possible. You may even get a nice token of apology such as a bottle of wine!

TENDERING ASHOREThis is when you arrive at a Port that is too small to dock at. The Ships will often use the lifeboats, or private tender boats to take you across. As you can imagine getting all those passengers ashore takes a bit of time. Normally those with Shore Excursions will be taken first as they have buses etc. to catch. Then they will start the independent passengers. Each ship will have different ways to handle this, so make sure you check how it will work on your ship.

DRUGS… Unfortunately in this day and age a number of the ports will have people trying to sell you one drug or another. If you are tempted in anyway, HUGE piece of advice -DON’T! The local police will be aware of the problem, and often watch these dealers very carefully. Plus, if you get caught, you will face the criminal system of the Country you are in. NOT GOOD!!!

11) Frequently Asked Questions (F.A.Q)

How do I pay for things on board? Most ships offer a “Credit Card” system, where everything goes onto your account, which you pay before you leave.

How formal is formal night? It depends on the ship. In your brochure it should give you more advice, but most ships will advise a suit or tuxedo for men and a cocktail dress for ladies. Some companies are more relaxed

I have children, what can they do on board? Again this varies from company to company. Nearly all offer facilities and activities for kids, some offer babysitting, some you won’t see your kids they’ll be so busy. Read the brochure for accurate description of the facilities on board.

I am nervous of becoming sea sick, what can I do? Don’t be. Most Large ships barely move at all, and it’s unlikely you will be sea sick, but there are wristbands you can buy in pharmacies which supposedly help. Ginger Ale is good too!

I have special dietary requirements, can they cater for this? Again, check with your particular cruise line brochure. In this day and Age, most can cater for special requirements.

All of the information will be the small print at the back of the brochure, and THIS is the biggest tip of all… READ IT! It will contain all of the little bits of information, and you won’t have any surprises when you get there.

Tipping (stuffing the envelope). The last night of the cruise is a bittersweet time. You’ve had fun. You’re going home. And then there’s that little business of tipping to take care of. Remember that tipping is always entirely up to you. Most cruise lines will recommend just how much to tip. (About $3.50 per passenger for the waiter and cabin steward and $2 a day for the busboy.) These are only guidelines; tip what you want. You should never feel pressured. The maitre d’, for example, need not be tipped just for asking, "How was your dinner?" On the other hand, if he made your cruise extra special by finding that table for two, let him know with a monetary gesture that says, "Thank you."

Romance. After dinner, remember that the hot tubs never close, and you’ll probably find yourselves alone under the stars. For more alone time, stay on the ship when everyone else goes ashore it’s like having your own private yacht

Timeshare Weekly Comments

There are some great tips and suggestions that can benefit the expeirenced Cruiser. If you have any tips or advice you would like to add to this please  contact Graham via email

Very Best Wishes and Happy cruising!

Graham

Any typos, grammar and spelling mistakes are obviously deliberate and free as my gift to you.