May 10th, 2012 | By Victoria Boster | Category: Travel, Travel Tips
By Vicki Boster –
Cruising is quickly becoming one of the most popular modes of vacation travel. With itineraries that take you to wonderful and fascinating places all over the world, multiple activities (you can be as busy as you want – or NOT!), dining options to please all types of tastes, and amenities that suit any passenger from spa-lovers to adventure seekers – there simply is no better value for your money than a cruise vacation.
As with all things in life — every time you travel to a different place – you learn something new. How many times have you said to yourself — “the next time we come here I’m going to”. My husband and I have been blessed to have had many varied opportunities to travel all over the world with our cruise vacations. We LOVE cruises — there is something so very special about traveling in a beautiful floating hotel, unpacking only one time, and waking up every day to an exotic, historic, or fascinating place – in many cases – places that we thought we would otherwise not ever find ourselves visiting. In this feature I’m sharing with you some of the things that we have learned along the way – (sometimes we learned them the hard way – but you wont have to!) I’ve divided these tips into 4 sections~
1. Invest in some quality gortex rain gear- pants, jacket, hat. Go ahead and spend some bucks – this may cost you between $100-$150 – but it is a one time investment that is well worth the expense. Take it with you on every cruise- no matter the destination. Trust me – It can totally save your vacation. You will most likely not need to ever make this purchase again. It’s an investment that you can keep forever.
On one of our trips to Bermuda it rained the whole 4 days we were there- I would never consider going anywhere in the Caribbean without my gortex jacket and hat. If you find yourself traveling to cooler destinations – the jacket and pants will serve as windbreakers and you will thank yourself over and over for making this investment.
2. Take pants, shorts, skirts,- whatever you plan to wear – with Velcro pockets. You need to keep track of your cruise card for your ship re- entry. If you lose it– it’s a lot of hassle to have it replaced. It is not wise to carry it in your purse or billfold. The safest place is on your person and Velcro pockets are perfect for this.
3. You will most likely not be taking your passport off of the ship- but if you should encounter any difficulties while in port- even medical emergencies– or if you miss the ship–(and I want to say that no one ever plans to miss the ship!)- you will need your passport. So to be safe- make several color copies of your passport- have them laminated- and keep them with you. I would suggest 2 copies- in separate locations- like your purse- and maybe your pockets.
4. Pack lots of $1 bills. No matter where we travel- I almost always take about $150 in $1 bills.
You will need them from the beginning- baggage handlers- cab rides– and also many venders won’t give change- so you need the bills. In some countries- Europe and the Caribbean- you need to pay to use a public restroom. Trust me- you need the $1 bills!
5. Keep a running list–There has rarely been a cruise trip where I have not said- I wish I had brought?? You think you will remember from one trip to the next- but you won’t. I keep a running list on my notepad on my phone. When I think of something- I add it to the list. When I begin packing for my trips- I print that list out and use it as a guide. I constantly update and make changes to my list — it has become totally invaluable to me when it comes to packing for travels.
An example of some things that are on my list that I might have forgotten otherwise are:
- My own insulated coffee cup
- Clothespins for drying clothes on the ship balcony
- Notepad and ink pens
- Night light for cruise ship room
- Multi outlet – to plug in multiple chargers.
- Bleach pen – for clothing
- The list can go on and on
6. When you pack – be sure to include your valuables – your favorite dress that you would just die if it was lost (!!) - your camera- jewelry- what ever you positively value and do not want to lose — because honestly – everything that goes into your checked luggage is at risk for being LOST. My knitting and yarn — always go in my carry on luggage!!
1. Get a charge card specifically for your travels— don’t use it for anything else– Travel fraud is real and it happens. Get a card that does not charge foreign transaction fees. There are several possibilities such as Capitol One and Discover. We use our Capitol one card exclusively for out of the country travels. Call the charge card company prior to your travels and provide detailed info regarding the countries you will be visiting- this helps them to monitor your card for fraudulent charges. Foreign transaction fees can be as high as 30% of the cost of the item – so having a card that does not charge these fees is a definite advantage. When you make a purchase is a foreign country – have the cashier to make the charge in the currency for that country. DO NOT let them do the conversion and charge you in US dollars — the best conversion rate will be the one the charge card company uses so let them do the conversion.
2. Do your homework and find out if the countries you are visiting will accept US currency. If they won’t– make plans to change a small amount of money on board the ship for the needed local currency. Honestly- the best exchange rate is going to be on the ship so don’t waste time trying to find a local bank to get your cash – just get it from the ship the morning you are in port– it’s also the safest place to make the exchange.
3. When making your plans for what to do in the various ports you visit-make 2 sets of plans- Sunny day plans and Rainy day plans. Write your plans down along with all of your notes for that port.
4. Keep a running list of activities, places to go, favorite shops, restaurants, places where there is free wifi! Cruises are a great way to travel- you unpack once and wake up in a different wonderful place every day. The downside to that is that you only get to visit for a day- and in some cases- maybe 2 days. If you cruise often- chances are that you will have the opportunity to revisit some of the ports again. this is especially true if you frequently take Caribbean itineraries.
I keep a notepad on my phone in which I include info from every port I’ve ever visited. For example –where the free wifi is located, the location of a favorite shop that I stumbled upon, a favorite restaurant, a scenic view that I want to photograph, etc. And— things that I want to do the NEXT time I visit that port. (let’s face it – there is never enough time to do all the things you want to do when you are only in port for a few hours!) Every time you travel – even if it is to the same places over and over again- you learn something new. Write it down so that you will remember that you “want to climb the stairs to the top of the hill for a special viewpoint” or that you saw a great shop as you were headed back to the ship but didn’t have time to stop! When you talk to fellow cruise passengers- ask them what they did in port. Write their recommendations down on your list as well. This is how you learn new things and continue to make the most of your travel experiences.
5. As you are leaving your home to begin your travels– take a photo of your luggage – your luggage tags- AND your passport. Take the photos with your cell phone if possible. Keep those photos on your phone until after the trip. If you lose your luggage in transit- this could be very helpful for the airline in its recovery of your lost luggage. If you lose your passport— this could be the most important photo you’ve ever taken! On one of our trips abroad – we made it to the London airport – but my husband’s suitcase DID NOT!! His luggage went on a different trip for the next 24 hours. If we had not had a photo of his luggage, it is highly unlikely that it would have been found in time for our cruise.
1. If you are someone who likes to take photos– like me!— over the course of a week long cruise you can find yourself taking hundreds of pictures. On a recent European cruise- I tool almost 1000 pictures- just in Venice. You think that you will remember where your photos were taken– but you won’t. Every day we are in port- I take a photo of the ships newsletter that has the name of the port and the date. I use that photo to separate my photos into the various ports of call. It’s the perfect way to keep your photos from all running together!!
2. If you are traveling with a Smartphone- put it in airplane mode before your ship leaves the pier and leave it there for the duration of your trip. If you are a person who wants to stay connected by email- and most of us do– you will need to either purchase the ships wifi (which can be costly) or make use of free wifi in the various ports you visit.
If you are using the ship wifi– compose all of your emails off line- and log on just long enough to send them. Doing this will stretch your minutes and save you a lot of money. Try to make use of free wifi spots when you are in port. If you find a good free spot- write it down for future reference in your running list! I’ve found free wifi when sitting on beaches before– you never know- always check. Of course US territories are the exception- St Thomas, St John, and Puerto Rico are just like being in the States. You can use your phone in these ports of call just as you would your own hometown. This is one of the reasons that we love Puerto Rico SO much!
Save Some Money:
If you are traveling in the Caribbean- this is so easy. Just get off the ship and tell the taxi drivers where you want to go and what you want to do. The taxi drivers are very knowledgeable tour guides on their islands and eager to please you.
They can give you an island tour- take you to the best beaches- take you to the tourist destinations- anything you want— and in most cases for half the cost. Would you rather take an island tour on a bus with 40 people or in a taxi with just your family? See something scenic and want to stop for a photo- no problem. That can’t happen on a bus with 40 people. Want to be taken to a local grocery store to buy some bottled water for the rest of your trip? Try asking the bus driver to do that for you! Want to go shopping someplace where only the local people go? The bus excursions wont be taking you there! Want a quick island tour, then be dropped off at a great beach to snorkel for 3 hours and then be picked up and taken to someplace to shop for an hour before going back to the ship? That is positively NOT going to happen with the ships excursion.
Traveling in Europe, however, takes a little more planning. I would still suggest booking your own excursions privately– but you need to book with a certified tour guide or agency. Do your homework and choose an agency that caters to cruise ship passengers. Those that do will have that info stated on their websites.
When we took our Baltic cruise, the ship was overnight in St. Petersburg giving us 2 full days for touring. Those that booked ships tours had 3-5 hour tours that took them to one, maybe two of the main destinations for sight seeing (and they toured on a bus with 50 of their closest friends!) The cost for those tours was an average of $200 per person. We were traveling with 6 other friends and had booked in advance – our own excursion with a private agency. On our first day of touring – we were off the ship and on our way by 8 am – we saw between 5-6 main tourist destinations that first day, had both lunch and dinner in local restaurants that cruise ship passengers did NOT crowd into, took a sunset canal ride that was so fabulous that we are all STILL talking about it, changed clothes in the back of the van (yes we did!) and were taken to an unbelievably beautiful historic theater to see a Russian ballet performance of Swan Lake. We crawled wearily back on the ship that night about 1 am! And that was just the first day — the second day we were off and running again for more sightseeing. Our total price per person was only a little more that what one cruise tour cost– and we saw 10 times as much!
2. Book on board for your next cruise.
There are some significant incentives for booking future cruises while you are on the cruise ship. You get the expertise of the cruise consultant who can answer all of your questions about the ships and the itineraries. For example – you might want to make sure that the room you book IS NOT underneath the casino – or the kitchen — or the nightclub. The cruise ship consultants KNOW their ships very well and can make sure that you get a room that works for you.
Ships offer generous on board credits for booking that next cruise- (in the case of a two week cruise- that could be as much as $400.) The credit will appear in your ship account when you take the cruise that you booked.
Your deposits are almost always reduced- sometimes to less than half the usual amount.
There are also varying incentives such as upgrades and free amenities to entice you to book early while on board.
3. Join the cruise ship loyalty program. If you do nothing else– do this. Cruise lines reward their repeat customers- and it does not take very many cruises to begin to see those rewards. Priority boarding and disembarking - free Internet- free laundry- private receptions- behind the scenes tours-(would you like to tour the galley kitchen?)- private lounges that serve free soft drinks and wines,– These are just some of the rewards that are offered by the ships in their loyalty programs. We have cruised so much on Celebrity that we are at the top of their reward tier. One of the perks that my husband loves best is the free dry cleaning. He gets on the ship with his tuxedo wadded up in his luggage — its much easier to pack that way! As soon as we get to our room on the ship – he give it to the cabin attendant for dry-cleaning and the next day it comes to him cleaned and pressed and ready to wear. The perk that I love best is my free internet!
Try to remain loyal to one cruise line if you can– that way your reward potential will increase faster.
There are two groups of people when it comes to cruises — those that LOVE them and those that don’t. Admittedly cruises are not for everyone — but most people that cruise do return for other cruises. If you have never cruised before but think that you would like to give it a try — please do this: take a short cruise for 3 or 4 days before you make plans for a week or even longer cruise. If you get sea sick and HATE cruising- trust me- you would rather be on that ship for only 3 days than 7 days! There are lots of very inexpensive cruises that leave for 3 and 4 day itineraries from almost all of the major cruise ports. Give one of these shorter excursions a try first. On my very first 3 day cruise to the Bahamas — I was so obsessed with worry about getting sea sick, that of course – I got sea sick. I was so sick that I said I would NEVER take another cruise — that was about 30 cruises ago! Obviously, my sea legs are very stable now as we love our cruise vacations so much that we are constantly in a state of getting ready to go.
With her bags always in a state of readiness, Vicki yearns to travel to places she has never been. She and her husband have traveled around the world; her photo essays beautifully detailing the amazing places that she has visited. When she is not on the go, you can find Vicki at her blog www.Vicki-2BagsFull.blogspot.com.