Essential advice – as soon as your cruise is booked, please ensure you have adequate travel insurance and that your agent is aware of your travel destinations – e.g. mention you are going to the Caribbean if applicable, and also ensure that you mention any dangerous sports you may enjoy whilst away, perhaps diving or bungee jumping
North America and Caribbean – each traveller will need a visa; this can be obtained on-line from www.esta-registration.net/ The current cost of the ESTA is approx £50 per person and is valid for two years. You can travel multiple times using your approved ESTA for a stay of no longer than 90 days per visit until expiry. Always check latest info before travelling.
Travel documents and visas – please ask your travel agent (or refer to cruise brochure) for full info of what is needed before you travel. For example, visas are needed in some ports, and whilst these may be provided by cruise line, best to check first. Always travel with a passport – this applies to people travelling within Europe who may feel it’s not needed, and Americans travelling within USA – i.d. may be needed so best to be prepared !
On-board account - you will usually be requested to provide details of a credit card prior to your cruise. On embarkation you will receive a 'cruise card' and all purchases on-board will be debited against this card (exception - you will need cash for the casino!). On disembarkation a statement of your total on board spending will be supplied and debited to your nominated credit card.
Gratuities - tipping is considered obligatory on board cruise ships. It is common practice to either prepay tips or have them added to your on-board account (payable on disembarkation) but you may of course decide to tip to individuals who provide excellent service to you. The amount charged for tips varies but will be approximately £7.50p per person per day.
Dress Code - this may vary depending on your chosen cruise line and it is sensible to check with your travel agent prior to departure - also read the brochure, look at their website, and further info is usually provided prior to departure. Casual dress is normally acceptable (however shorts are not usually acceptable in the dining rooms for evening meals, and buffets require no swimming costumes, or bare chests gentlemen!); there may be several formal nights in the main dining room when evening wear will be required i.e. tuxedo or suit/tie for men and evening dress for women – a good excuse to dress up! Remember comfortable shoes for walking trips ashore
Excursions - cruise lines offer a variety of excursions in every port of call. These can vary from leisurely sightseeing tours to a range of more energetic activities. Although excursions can be booked on-board there are generally long queues and you may find that your preferred trip is fully booked. To ensure you obtain your chosen excursion and prevent on-board queuing why not study the itinerary before embarkation and book your preferred excursions on-line. If fully booked, go on a waiting list once on board, some people subsequently cancel, so don’t give up!
You may wish to do your own thing, if so public transport and private taxi's are generally easily accessible at most cruise terminals. If not on a ship organised tour, please make sure you are back in good time re the advertised 'all on board' time - the ship is not obligated to wait if you are late and doing your own thing! Also be safe and use common sense - don't go far afield and into areas where there are no other tourists, don’t display jewellery / wallets etc - check with the excursion desk on ship and there is usually an information point on shore for you to check re local transport, shops etc.
On beach trips arranged via the ship, beach towels are usually provided so no need to pack your own, same for poolside - just remember your sunscreen !
On most ships, if you purchase alcohol this will be taken from you once back on board and returned to you before disembarking at your final destination - please make yourself aware of the rules on your particular ship. Thus you will avoid disappointment if it had been your intention to enjoy a tipple in your room !
If for any reason your trip is cancelled, you will be offered a refund. If the trip is unsatisfactory, please report this immediately – don’t wait until you get home – other passengers may feel the same and best to advise the ship together!
Your cabin – if you don’t like your cabin for any reason, please immediately visit the guest services desk. Imagine the number of people on board, so sooner rather than later is best! However a change or upgrade cannot be guaranteed, so best to refer to your cabin on the plan within the brochure at the time of booking If you have not selected a particular cabin when booking, then you will be placed within the selected category (e.g. inside / outside / balcony). If you have a disability, please don’t wait until you are on board to advise, and we suggest you retain paperwork which shows your specific requests at time of booking. On this subject, if you are taking a wheelchair (or need one to be provided) obviously make this clear well before disembarkation.
You will usually find a safe in your room, so please use it for storing your money, cards and passport
Luggage – this is usually delivered to your stateroom prior to sailing, but may be later in the day. Make sure it’s clearly labelled and it will be there some time soon! Please don’t carry ‘contraband’ as luggage is ‘scanned’! A suggestion is to carry at least a swimming costume in hand luggage as nothing worse than being so hot but still in your travelling clothes! Also as with all holidays, we suggest ‘cross packing’ i.e. each passenger carry some of each other’s clothing – just in case of loss! Also ensure you have sufficient medication as required and carry at least a day supply in your hand luggage.
If you forget anything, don't worry as you will be travelling to exotic ports where everything can be bought, and all ships have on board shops too!
Balcony behaviour – smoking is usually allowed on balconies, but best to check with your cabin steward. Always be considerate as smoke travels to other balconies. Needless to say, NEVER throw a finished cigarette overboard. Also be considerate of noise on balconies, sound proofing is not great! We would always recommend a balcony when cruising – worth the extra spending.
Dining – whilst many cruise lines now offer ‘any time dining’ (exactly what it says, you are not obligated to a special time / table) you may still be assigned a specific table at a specific time. This can be a benefit, but of course not always ideal. If your table is not suitable (i.e. your dining companions, time etc), it is quite normal to speak to the restaurant manager and ask to be reallocated. If you are on a long cruise, sometimes the same companions can be a bit tedious!
Our experience is that a change to a larger table is better than to a smaller table, more variety of fellow guests and topics of conversation!
Please remember – you can eat at the buffet or one of the speciality restaurants. If you choose the latter, please be sure to book in advance.
Illness on board – there will be a doctor on board so please contact his surgery if necessary. It is vital in particular to report sickness and diarrhoea. Sometimes the only advice / recommendation is to stay in your cabin – no refunds due sorry to say! Room service will still be available.
As already mentioned, please ensure you take adequate supplies of your own medication with you, and we also recommend common sense items such as cough sweets / painkillers / antiseptic cream / flu and cold remedies / upset stomach remedies / bite cream / antihistamines / seasickness remedies.
To try and avoid sickness and diarrhoea, please use the hand sanitisers around the ship, wash hands scrupulously after using the toilet, and just emphasise your usual hygiene routine.
If feeling seasick and your own remedies don’t work, do visit the medical centre – it’s not uncommon.
If you have to visit the medical centre, please keep any receipts issued for medication; it’s not always a claim met by your insurance company unfortunately.
Please also remember that whilst the ship’s medical centre can usually assist, sometimes it’s necessary to advise a patient leaves the ship, e.g. to go to hospital. The ship will usually assist with disembarkation.
Internet connection etc - The main comment we can make here is - Internet and mobile connections are possible and the Internet suites on board are usually very impressive – BUT connection is very slow in our experience. Packages are available so maybe worth considering, BUT if you can wait until you are ashore, there will be Internet cafes where connection is speedier, just usually follow some of the crew for the best 'hotspots'!
On board account – check this before disembarkation as so much easier to resolve any queries on the spot. You will receive a receipt every time you use your onboard card, so please keep these until your account is settled (a good idea for on land purchases too - keep these and check against your credit card once home)
Summary - If you have a problem either on the cruise, or before (or even when you’re home) our advice to you is – try and solve any problems immediately. Keep copies of complaints if put in writing, and if a problem where a photo could help, well the more info to hand the better
Please ensure you read the brochure / tickets before you depart – obvious advice but sometimes the answer to a problem / query is ‘it’s in the brochure’ / small print!
Retirement Matters note: We love cruising and look forward to hearing of your positive reports and also any further tips you can provide