If you plan to book a cruise as soon as it’s safe to do so and the cruise industry restarts, bear in mind that you also need to book your flights, and your pre-and post-cruise hotels, and finally any tours that are not included in the cruise. Once you have done that, start counting the days until your cruise adventure begins!
Well, not quite.
There are many (mostly) little things you still need to do before you begin your journey to the pier to board your ship.
From downloading your cruise line’s app (if it has one) and using it to check-in for your trip to signing up for ship-based activities in advance, here is my handy checklist of things everyone who takes a cruise for the first time should do before leaving home.
You are probably going to do this anyway, but just in case you were not: Know that it pays off big time to check-in online before your cruise, even if you have booked a suite.
There is a lot of “paperwork” required to check-in for a cruise, including filling out documents asking for personal information such as your name, address, gender, date of birth, nationality, and even pregnancy status; emergency contacts; and your pre-and post-cruise travel plans. You will also be asked to set up an onboard account and submit a photo of yourself.
If you do this all in advance online and many lines require that you do, you will be able to board your ship much more quickly than if you wait to do it at the pier.
Note that you can check-in online for a cruise many weeks in advance in most cases. Cruise companies on-line check-in window opens 45 – 90 days in advance of your cruise.
Check your identification documents
Long before you check-in for your cruise, you should take a quick glance at whatever identification document you are going to use during the check-in process to make sure it has not expired or is close to expiring.
On many cruise itineraries, you will need a passport, and many of the countries that cruise lines visit require passports to be valid for at least six months beyond the date you plan to leave the country. Also, note that many countries require you to have at least two blank pages in your passport to be allowed to enter. If your passport is getting full of visa stamps, it is time to get a new one, even if it hasn’t expired.
Download the cruise app
A growing number of lines now have apps you can download to your smartphone. The apps vary in capabilities, but many will show you a daily list of activities on your ship and all the things you have reserved. Many also will let you make restaurant reservations and book shore excursions and other activities.
A few will let you order drinks and other items to wherever you happen to be standing. That is handy, trust me! The best part is that the app will work onboard even if you don’t pay for a Wi-Fi package. Some of the apps also will be useful with the check-in process.
Print out your documents
So, you might not need to print your cruise boarding pass if you have it on your mobile device, but I still would as it does not cost you much and could be handy.
I always keep a hard copy of every travel document including pages that show my itinerary and reservation numbers for related hotel stays and flights in my carry-on bag.
There are several reasons to do this. One is that you never know when your mobile device is going to die or have a connectivity issue that results in the document you need not being available. But you may also encounter authorities an immigration official at a border, for instance, who will want to see hard copies of your itinerary plan before allowing you to proceed.
Notify your credit card company
It is a good idea to let your credit card company know about the trip. It will make it less likely your credit card will be frozen for what the company suspects are a fraudulent charge.
Tell friends and family about your trip
It is always a good idea to let at least a few people close to you know you are leaving on a trip. Give them a rough outline of where you are going and tell them how to contact you in case of an emergency. This may seem like obvious advice, but a reminder never hurts.
Research ports in advance
There are some types of vacations a beach trip, for instance where you don’t have to do much advance research. You just sort of show up.
Most cruises are not that way at least if you want to get the most out of them. At the heart of most cruises are port calls that, in many cases, are short often just a few hours. You want to have a plan for what to do in these ports, or you will miss out on a big part of the cruising experience.
Once you know what ports you will be visiting, do as much research as you can.
Join a Facebook group for your line
Another great place to get ideas for what to do in ports and on ships and what to bring on a cruise, for that matter are the many private Facebook groups dedicated to particular lines.
You will find thousands of cruise fans on these pages who often are only too willing to answer questions you might have about your upcoming trip.
Sign up for private tours in advance
Booking a shore excursion directly through your cruise line is easy. You just check a box on an online form before sailing or while onboard, and it gets all arranged. But booking tours through your line is not the only option, and it is not always the best choice.
In many cases, you can save a lot of money — and get a better touring experience by booking shore excursions in advance through your travel agent.
Sign up for activities in advance
Some lines will let you sign up for shows, tours and other activities (including meals at specialty restaurants) in advance of sailing using online portals. If you want to be sure you get a seat for a specific show on a specific night, or a specific tour or restaurant reservation time, it is a good idea to do this. It is not uncommon with some ships to find that some shows, tours, and restaurant reservation times book up in advance.
If you do not sign up for activities in advance, a back-up strategy is to do so just after you board a vessel.
Consider travel insurance
It is not always smooth seas when it comes to cruising or any sort of travel. I hate bringing this up, but you might need to cancel your cruise in advance due to the sudden onset of an illness. Or, perhaps, you need emergency medical attention during your sailing. Maybe the flight to your ship gets cancelled and you miss the vessel’s departure. I strongly recommend you take up travel insurance.
To start with start packing early and be strategic. Throw all the clothes you think you will need on the cruise in a pile, and then take out half of it, which you know you will not wear it.
Most cruising these days is casual, and you only need a few outfits to rotate through a voyage. If things get dirty, no problem. Many ships have launderettes on cabin decks where you can run a load or two of laundry every few days. If not, you can send laundry out to be cleaned on board.
The extra cost of doing a few loads of laundry on a ship is a small price to pay for the freedom of not having to lug a giant suitcase around as you travel to and from your ship. Plus, you will want to save room in your suitcase for all the little treasures you’re going to find along the way.
Put your mobile phone in airplane mode
Many phone plans even international plans do not include talking, texting and data on cruise ships, and you will pay exorbitant roaming rates for such services that will show up weeks later on your phone bill. There are ways to make calls and access the internet from ships without spending a lot of money. You can buy a Wi-Fi package, for instance, that will let you make WhatsApp or FaceTime calls and stream videos (on some ships) by Wi-Fi without using phone data. Some phone companies also have cruise-specific plans you can buy in advance of a voyage.
Unplug from work
This trip is going to be all about taking a break from work, not spending hours every day dealing with the latest crisis back at the office, or at least, it should be.
In the days leading up to your trip, make sure you wrap up any pressing work projects, let your co-workers know you will be offline, reply to any outstanding emails, and most importantly turn on your out-of-office message.