A Beginners Guide to Cruising
Taking a cruise holiday can be a complete joy, or a bit of a shock. Being prepared for what lies ahead is key. Read this article to decide if a cruise holiday is for you. Cruising can be a fantastic way of seeing the world, as well as being a nightmare. The trick is to know what sort of things will be going on, as well as not having too many expectations. It can be a juggling act, but the preparation will make your journey more rewarding.
- The Advantages of Cruising
- The Disadvantages of Cruising
- Before you Leave
- What to pack
- The "Cruise Card" as your Cash and Key
- Shore Tours
- Making the most of your time Onboard
- Most Importantly, Have Fun!
The Advantages of Cruising
There are many advantages to taking a cruise holiday. Firstly, you have your stateroom. Here is your home for the voyage. Rather than having to pack, unpack, repack and unpack again, having your room move with you has many advantages. Your home for the voyage may not be large, but it is yours. Your room steward will keep it cleared, the bed made and the bathroom clean. You will miss the steward more than anyone else after returning home. Having your own room also means you can travel with more of the comforts of home safely, such as a laptop computer for unloading digital photographs, or a larger selection of clothing to wear.
A huge advantage of cruising has to be the food. At home, someone has to cook, clean and clear away the meals. On board, this is done for you by a team of miracle workers. Breakfast, lunch and dinner will all be included in the one price of your cruise. There will be numerous options for dining as well, from restaurants where you book your table, through to barbecue meals on the deck. If you desire something slightly different, there will also be other options for dining or snacking on available, which will be reasonably priced, from fresh pizza, gourmet ice-creams or eating at a celebrity chef’s restaurant.
Cruising with kids has advantages as well. With entertaining and somewhat educational children’s programs, you can let the kids have their own fun while you sun yourself on the deck. Most children’s or teen programs run from the morning through to the evening meal, and provide a win-win scenario for parents and their offspring alike. These programs are also included in the price of your cruise.
Each evening will bring about another round of entertainment. From the free broadway style shows, comedy clubs, dances, themed parties or live music, there are so many wonderful options for your entertainment. Most shows play twice nightly, so you can choose when to see the show, or whether to view the same show twice.
Also, the destinations are an advantage. While you only have a short time in each port of call, you also have the advantage of being able to travel ashore with just one small bag. Shore tours are available from the boat, or feel free to explore the destinations on your own. The locations will all be picked for their diversity, entertainment, beauty, cultural or adventure experience, so you are bound to have a great time, wherever you stop.
The Disadvantages of Cruising
While there are many advantages, it pays to be aware of the disadvantages of cruising as well. It can be annoying to find somewhere quiet to sit, when all of a sudden an ice carving exhibition sets up around you, or when you feel like swimming, but the pool is filled with a crew verses cruiser volleyball tournament. I guess the best advice is to read your newspaper daily and plan your relaxation around the events, but it can often take you by surprise.
Another disadvantage is one not often publicized, the possibility of not docking at your planned port of call. Sometimes due to weather conditions or to avoid weather patterns, the ship will redirect, or stop at alternative ports of call. If you have made plans to do in a particular place, you may need to rearrange these. The change of plans can be aggravating for other passengers, and it can bring the morale of the ship down.
Finally, the confines of the ship itself can be a disadvantage. When you have been at sea for a while, the ship becomes a trap, as there is nowhere else to go to. This breaks when you reach port, but you can feel a little suffocated when at sea for a number of straight days at a time. The ship will organize numerous entertainments during this time, but be prepared to see repeating patterns. Dance classes will be full, so don’t join in if you are not happy with being in a large group. Do take the opportunity to join in dances, quizzes or other classes because it is a great way of meeting new people.
Before you Leave
As soon as you have booked your cruise, get started reading up on your destinations. Check out the information in Lonely Planet guides, read up on the internet, ask others who have visited those ports. Find out about the location. Are you going to need a few phrases in a foreign language? What currency will you need? What should you be wary of? What should you see while you are there? You won’t have long in your destination ports, so it pays to be prepared.
Make sure you have read about your cruise before you pack. What events will be held on the ship? What do you need to wear? What can you take, or not take on the boat itself? You will be packing a lot of clothing, for on shore and on the boat, so make sure your suitcase can handle the task.
What to pack
Other than what you would expect for a vacation, such as your swimwear, sunscreen and a hat, you will need some items that may not be as obvious.
Lanyard - most cruises run with a card rather than cash. This card is your ticket on and off the boat, as well as how you purchase items onboard. Cruise stores will sell lanyards, but at a price. Pick up a lanyard before you go, then you are set when you are given your card.
Jandals/flip-flops/thongs - Whatever you call them, jandals are a cruise essential. In the heat, feet will swell. Spending the day in jandals will be preferable to shoes when in tropical climates.
Water bottle and thermal travel mug - water and hot drinks will be freely available on board, however, often not where you want them. Being able to cart your beverages around a busy ship without spilling will be invaluable.
2 piece swimwear - Most shore activities involving water will have “rustic” changing facilities. Rather than a one piece, a 2 piece under your clothing will be preferable and far more modest.
Highlighter - Each day you will receive a ship newsletter outlining important information and activities on board. Using a highlighter you can make sure to outline the things you are keen on doing, so that you don’t miss them.
The "Cruise Card" as your Cash and Key
When arriving on board, you will be issued a room key and a cruise card for each of your passengers. This is your passport, your spending money, and your identity onboard. Do be careful with it, keep it away from other credit cards as the magnetic strip can be erased or damaged. Wearing the card on a lanyard is popular, as this way it is always with you, even when you are without pockets. Do be wary however, as the card and lanyard will signal you as a cruise tourist. Some retailers will target cruisers or hike their prices up, assuming that cruise travelers are rich.
You will either need to load the card up with a credit card, or pre-pay cash at the pursers desk. This also counts for children, so it may pay to talk with your kids about what they are spending on board rather than discovering a shock at the end of the cruise. One tip for dealing with teens and their card is to talk about the amount they have, or pre-load on their card, and get them to check the balance with the pursers desk themselves every few days. Teach them how to manage their money, and to keep track of their spending on board. The whole experience can be a valuable learning tool for children.
Shore tours are activities in port offered by outside providers alongside your cruise line. While these are more expensive than finding a tour for yourself, they do have some other advantages. Firstly, you are guaranteed to get what you paid for. If the ship changes course or misses a port, you will not be charged, and the changes will be made by the ship. The crew will also get you safely to and from your destination, making sure you do not miss embarkation before moving on. They also have strict regulations around each activity, making sure it reaches high standards of safety, so that you are protected. Most cruise companies will also give a list of requirements for each activity, including things as wheelchair access, or fitness level required to participate. There should be no surprises in taking a shore tour with the cruise liner.
Check how your ship will dock for each location. Some ports will allow the ship to moor alongside the wharf, creating a much simpler visiting experience. However, some locations will have to use tender boats to reach the shore. These smaller vessels take time to load and unload, as well as mooring at the wharf. Be patient while waiting for your tender, as this can at times be frustrating. People with booked shore tours usually have tender tickets issued to them, whereas those exploring alone will need to line up and collect a ticket on the morning of the stop over.
Making the most of your time Onboard
To make the most of your time onboard your cruise, make sure you read the newsletter. Make time to participate in activities you find interesting. Catch the shows, enter a quiz, join in a sponsored walk around the deck, take a trip to the day spa. Do things you would not normally do in your daily life. There are some amazing people onboard, whom you may only get to meet by joining a team with them, or walking with them each morning.
Be relaxed. Cruises are subject to a lot of unpredictability with the weather. Have a book, or a travel game to pass time while waiting for an event to start. Take the opportunity to sit down on the deck chairs and simply take in the ocean views. Relaxation is what cruising is all about, so make sure you find time for a spot of it.
When you first get onboard, take time out to explore the ship. Find your way around, and see what is on offer. You may be surprised at the different locations around the ship, or even find a relaxing spot with your name on it.
Most Importantly, Have Fun!
While on your vacation, remember that cruises are designed for fun. If there is something you want to do, talk to the cruise director’s staff. Often activities can be arranged for groups to meet up, as long as the staff know about your interests. Whether you are wanting to get the most out of your holiday or just to unwind, cruising is a great alternative to traditional travel. Enjoy choosing a cruise to meet your needs, and have a ball onboard.