After the deposit
Your cruise is chosen, the room(s) reserved, so all that is left is the packing, right? Not exactly, if you want to enjoy the trip.
Airfare or driving: Unless you leave in the cruise port city, you need to consider how you will get to/from the cruise.
In many destinations like Europe or Alaska, doing a pre-cruise tour of the city that drops you at the cruise terminal is a great way to start the cruise. Enjoy the city from which you are starting by seeing its highlights. Your travel agent can assist in coordinating such a tour in almost any cruise port. Even if your cruise departure port doesn’t have much sightseeing available, relaxing in your room is preferable to stressing about flight delays.
If you are flying to the cruise, you need to get from the airport to the cruise terminal. There are several options here, and again, your travel agent can assist in determining what fits your travel group:
- Cruise line transfer: all cruise lines include a transfer service that can be added to the cruise fare. For luxury lines, this service is included in the fare. This service means you are met by a cruise representative at baggage claim at your arrival airport, and put on a vehicle to the ship. For mass market and mid-range lines, this will be a large bus, so you may have to wait until the bus is filled before it departs the airport.
- Private transfer: a van or car service can be reserved that will also meet you at the airport and deliver you directly to the ship. For two to four guests this may be a little more expensive than the bus transfer, but it is more convenient. There is no waiting for the bus to fill, and no lines getting on/off the bus. For four or more guests traveling together, it may be the same or less cost for doing the private transfer and it is certainly more comfortable.
- Uber or taxi: you can use a transportation app like Uber or Lyfte, or grab a taxi at the airport. For two guests that will work, but for more than two in your travel party, this may be more complicated to coordinate.
- Plan for this need before you leave on the trip. I coordinate this for clients at least 30 days before their departure, to assure that they know how they are getting to the ship.
Tours and Excursions:
A cruise is more than the ship alone. As you stop at your ports, you will want to do an excursion to see and experience the destination. This is one of the most important, but often over-looked, features of a cruise.
I always provide information on port options to my clients and encourage them to reserve excursions well in advance. Unfortunately, some clients opt for “we’re going to wing it”, which leads to disappointment. In almost every case in which a client has made that decision, upon their return, they have reported that they missed many of the experiences they hoped to enjoy.
The most popular excursions will sell out in advance. They do not have unlimited availability and at peak season in the destination they will operate at full capacity. Once the tours are full, you’re not going to do what you hoped.
Avoid that problem by reserving in advance. A good travel agent will provide port information and make suggestions to help you select the tours of importance to you. Keep in mind that it’s better to reserve and cancel if you change your mind, than to live with missing that excursion you wanted because you didn’t plan ahead.
Yes, you can reserve once you board the ship, but too often, clients have found that in high season, the tours will be booked up before reaching the ship. Start looking at least 90 days in advance.
Beyond the cruise ship:
In addition to the cruise line excursions, there are multiple providers who specialize in doing excursions for cruise line clients. My agency works with several companies who provide tours worldwide and should be considered in selecting excursions.
In some cases, the tours they offer are the same as the cruise line; they also offer some that the cruise line may not have. Even if it is the same tour as the cruise, you will usually walk past the long lines of cruise passengers waiting to board the cruise line buses, and be on the road ahead of them when using an independent supplier.
The key to selecting an outside source is to assure that they are insured, bonded and licensed. Again, the suppliers we use are all trustworthy and insure that clients will be returned to the ship before departure. The nightmare stories you sometimes hear of someone missing a ship, or having an unfortunate incident, are those who got off the ship and found someone with a sign offering a tour. In those cases, you don’t know that this person is trustworthy, and you are taking a gamble on a negative experience.
All to yourself:
In many instances, it is possible to arrange a private or small group tour through these suppliers. Especially when traveling with other couples, or with extended family, having the guide and tour at your disposal can add to the pleasure.
Most cruise lines, other than a few luxury lines, do not include beverages outside of tea or lemonade. Soft drinks, alcoholic beverages, specialty coffees and teas. . . these are all additional expense at approximately the same rate as you will pay on land.
For almost everyone, having a beverage package will be a savings. All cruise lines offer them now, and most offer a discount if purchased prior to boarding. Ask your travel agent or the cruise line about the options on your ship.
These range from soft drinks to ultra-wine packages, with multiple variables in between. On a Holland America Alaska 7-day cruise, for example, the current rate for a signature beverage package that provides unlimited soft drinks, specialty coffees/teas, alcoholic beverages up to $9 value is $361 per person. If you know that you are going to purchase more than 6 beverages per day, that may save you money.
However, if you are fine with tap water, lemonade and tea/coffee from the buffet restaurants, a beverage package is a waste of money.
All ships have the primary dining rooms for dinner service and all guests’ dining in those restaurants is included in their cruise fare. Most ships, however, also have a variety of specialty restaurants beyond the main dining room and buffet. Depending on the ship, this can be 2 to 20 choices ranging from sushi to French fine dining. These restaurants will have surcharge that covers the full dining experience, ranging from $10 – 50 per person.
All the specialty dining restaurants have limited seating and reservations are advisable. Especially in high season, when ships are at full capacity, the demand may exceed capacity. Many cruise lines will allow dining reservations in advance of boarding. If there are specific restaurants that you know are of priority to you, try to get advance reservations.
Spa and other services:
On some ships, you can reserve spa and other services before boarding. Sea days have higher demand for spa reservations, as people are not off ship exploring a port. If you want to enjoy those, consider the opportunity to reserve early.
Some ships, like Princess Cruise, have adult only spaces that are limited space. You can reserve a Sanctuary time prior to the cruise to assure it is available to you when desired.
Plan and have a more relaxing trip
These are a few of the features and factors to consider before starting to pack for your cruise vacation. By planning ahead, you will enjoy more with less effort. Or, better, yet, work with an experienced travel agency that can steer you through the various details and increase your enjoyment.