Giant cruise ships moored in the harbours of resort towns cause our excitement and admiration. They promise life full of entertainment and fun and ability to see many amazing destinations on a single trip. We answered some first-time cruise questions and listed essential things you would want to know before immersing into this never-ending celebration.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO BOOK A CRUISE?
There is no right or wrong answer to this question, but here are a few cruise facts:
Those who book cruises far in advance (a year or even two ahead) normally get different early bird discounts.
It is possible to find a very cheap last minute cruise some 2 – 10 weeks before departure. There are more chances to get discounted cruises for a shoulder season but sometimes even high season brings pleasant surprises. For example in the beginning of this summer we saw a 5 days East Mediterranean cruise with 3* Costa liner in August for £150 per person or a week Western Mediterranean with 4* MSC for only £350 as well as some awesome Caribbean $299 deals. So, if you are not strictly time bound, there are chances to find a great itinerary at a very good price.
I happened to buy a bank holiday Belgium and Normandy cruise from Southampton 2 days before departure (!) from the website of an intermediary (www.iglucruise.com). It was the last cabin someone gave up and I accidentally found it by pure luck. However, the cruise was overcrowded which was not great at all. With cruises it is best not to wait till the very last minute and book at least several weeks in advance
WHOM TO BOOK CRUISES WITH?
Here you have multiple answers as well – you can buy directly from the Cruise line website, or from the cruise finders like www.cruisedirect.com, www.cruise-pros.com or www.cruise118.com etc. Some last minute deals as well as discounts can be available through the cruise booking websites but not from the Cruise line website directly, and vice versa. So if you are looking for the best offer for your money – there will be some ‘search and compare’ work to do
AT WHAT TIME SHOULD I BE THERE TO BOARD?
Your cruise company will send you the detailed instructions with the times of your first embarkation. Usually the embarkation corridor is some 4-6 hours. Some people prefer to get on the ship as soon as possible and start enjoying all the amenities, others show up one or two hours before the ship horn blasts for departure
HOW TO GET ON A SHIP?
Cruise ships are normally moored at dedicated terminals which are not always easy to find. Therefore plan carefully and allow some spare time for any kind of emergency.
Once you located the terminal, it will be quite easy to find the embarkation area and from there you will be directed and helped by the cruise personnel. Embarkation is usually smooth and fast process that won’t take more than 20-30 minutes.
Luggage – you may decide to leave the luggage with porters or carry it on-board with you. The demerit of leaving your luggage in the terminal to be delivered by the ship team, is that on the crowded journey you can see your bags again only late in the evening. And most likely you will want to change clothes or to use some of your personal items packed in those bags much earlier than that. Even though, unlike the airports, there is no weight limit – we pack medium size luggage and bring it into the cabin at once.
WHAT TO WEAR ON A CRUISE?
Dress code for each night of the cruise is explained in the daily programme that will be delivered to your cabin in advance. Plan for at least a couple of formal dinners and don’t be surprised to see others wearing black ties and evening gowns on the ‘Captain Welcome’ night and the Gala night as minimum. The rest of the nights might be casual. But since we already know that cruise is a never-ending celebration – some people will be dressed up and polished pretty much every night.
Apart from your dinner clothing, on your cruise you will definitely need an everyday casual wear and a couple of swimsuits (there will be numerous Jacuzzi and several pools for sure). Bring your sport outfit (if you plan to use jogging tracks, tennis courts, basketball or other playgrounds, gym and plenty of other sport facilities that every cruise ship has to offer nowadays). There is going to be paid laundry and ironing service as well – should you need it
WHAT TO DO ON BOARD?
Oh well… The programme on any cruise is twice or even three times more intense than animation in any all inclusive hotel that you have been to. From early morning and till the late night there are always several activities going on at the same time. From candle making lessons to meditation sessions, from laser fights and virtual reality to open air cinemas, silent discos, musicals, circus and comedian stand ups – cruise companies do their best to make sure you are entertained to you heart’s content. Once again – all options will be presented to you in your daily programme, so make sure to study it carefully. Note if the facility is free or paid extra, what are the opening hours for different attractions and where they are located
HOW MUCH MONEY DO I NEED TO BRING WITH ME?
While on the ship, you do not need to bring any money with you. You will get your plastic Passenger ID card (also known as a Sea Pass) and that will be your ID, the key to your room and your wallet as well. Convenient – isn’t it?
The Sea Pass is nowadays simply linked to your credit card, but if you want you can also deposit some specific amount on it not to go over the defined limit. How much to deposit for your cruise will depend on answers to several questions:
– How often do you plan to consume alcohol or soft drinks ? (those are paid extras on most of the cruise lines)
– Do you plan to use only free restaurants or do you plan to explore all the culinary variety your cruise has to offer?
– Do you plan to call your chances in a casino, stop at the game arcade or enjoy any other paid entertainments? Is there a SPA treatment or shopping therapy on your mind?
These would be answers to only few questions that will help to plan your cruise budget
WHAT ABOUT FOOD?
You will usually have buffet breakfast and lunch and a la cart dinner included. There will also be several free snack points open from early morning to the very late night, so you will never be left out hungry and even risk to gain a few extra kilograms! Quality of food is quite good for a mass industry like this. And the variety is not too bad either. There are always fruit, vegetable, meat, cheese and fish options around, lots of different breads and pastry, all kind of soups and sauces, selection of desserts, gluten free, purely vegan counters – etc. And in case you get hungry between the meals there will always be pizza, sandwiches, ice cream or other small bites served on different decks, as well as 24/7 tea, coffee and drinking water.
For seduced foodies there is a selection of signature paid restaurants on board
SHOULD I BOOK SHORE EXCURSIONS WITH A CRUISE LINE OR SELF-ORGANISE?
The answer to this question will mostly depend on your cruise ports of call. It is not a secret that shore excursions from the cruise line cost a lot of money. And if you are an savvy traveller you will easily organise an individual experience to your taste at a much cheaper price. However it will depend on the port of call or other circumstances of your journey. It may happen that getting a cruise shore excursion around some tropical island that is famous for its in-existing public transport will appear to be more convenient for you than renting a driver with a car for 6-7 hours.
In my life, I regretted not getting a cruise excursion only once. We moored in Sint Maarten after 16 hours of a harsh tropical storm. Most of the roads on the island were either washed away by or still covered with water. For our own safety they did not allow anyone out of the port so we had to waste this otherwise beautiful day hanging out on the ship. The only people to leave the port that day were cruisers who preliminary booked a beach hopping boat trip. Roads were ruined but it was safe and easy to get around by boat. And the only boats allowed to the cruise port were those ordered by the cruise company 🙁
Related post – read about our mini voyage through Belgium and Normandy
ENGLISH CHANNEL CRUISE
Three nights cruise from Southampton calling at Zeebrugge and Le Havre. Busy bank holiday on board of Independence of the Seas through Giovanni’s eyes. Or just a story of how we almost missed our ship in France due to the problems with a rented car…
OTHER CRUISE QUESTIONS ANSWERED
Visas – it is your responsibility to make sure that you are allowed to all the countries where your ship will stop. If you do not have visa or other required documents for any port of call they will either not allow you to join the cruise at all or will keep you on the ship while you are in a specific country
Times zones – when taking a cruise you may find yourself in a new time zone every day. And it is very important to check and check again that your clock shows the correct time, especially if you are travelling on your own during the day. Missing your cruise ship with all your stuff left in your cabin is not an experience you want to remember till the rest of your life
Pay separate attention that once in the sea your phone can easily go to the GMT 00 timezone regardless of what time it is on the ship actually. We got caught into this on our mini cruise in English Channel – it was 9 pm in France, it was 8 pm in the UK and on the ship, but watches on both our phones were showing 7 pm!! And this is how we missed our first dinner
WiFi. It is still a disaster on a cruise now in the third millennium. There is no mobile connection in the international waters, and if you catch some while on the national territory – be aware of your carrier’s roaming charges. WiFi provided by the cruise lines is usually unreasonably expensive. So our advice here – when in the sea, enjoy the sea. Enjoy fresh salty air, sunshine (hopefully) and all the amenities your ship has to offer. After all, this vacation will fly and you will be back online very soon…