How to Plan a Cruise Vacation

One of the best ways to travel is by cruise ship! Unlike air and car travel, cruise ships provide entertainment the entire way to your destination. You get to disembark and enjoy the destination for what it has to offer, and then return home with another round of constant entertainment!

Planning a cruise vacation is actually very easy because it’s almost all-inclusive. That means free food and drinks (does not apply to alcohol except for a few special occasions, such as initial embarking), free live shows and free on deck games. Yes, aside from some tipping, that means free room service!

If you want to make this the easiest vacation ever, visit a travel agent and they’ll set you up. But if you want to cut out the middle man, follow the tips below to get the most out of your trip.

How to Find Cruise Tickets

Sign up for cruise alerts as early as possible. You can have great deals sent directly to your inbox. Many travel websites offer this service, and it allows you to sometimes take advantage of last minute under booked (and highly discounted) trips.

If you want a surefire way to save on your ticket, plan your cruise during the off-season. Each destination has its own off-season, for example:

  • European cruises- December through March
  • Alaskan cruises- October through April
  • Canadian cruises- July and August

Within each off-season there will be even further discounted dates, so check all of the date combinations that might work for you.

Booking the Cruise

Once you’ve decided where you want to cruise to, choose a cruise line which offers travel to that destination as well as accommodates you in terms of travelling with or without children. Within that particular cruise line, determine which of their ships you want to cruise on according to amenities offered and departure dates. Upon booking the cruise, be prepared to detail how many people will be sharing the stateroom. The cruise line will require each person’s personal information for security measures.

You will also need to choose which type of cabin/stateroom you wish to stay in. Standard cabin types include

  • Below deck without a view
  • Above deck with a view
  • Above deck with a balcony

Some individuals tend to feel claustrophobic without some sort of view, so they may wish to opt for the more expensive room with a balcony for guaranteed fresh air. Also, high-end cruise lines often offer suites.

This is also when you will choose your dining schedule. It is typical to have the option of early or late dining. You are expected to stick to this schedule, particularly because you have assigned seating. This ensures that you are served by the same personalized wait staff every single day.

Booking and Choosing Cruise Excursions

Booking on-shore excursions can be done at the time of booking or on deck after you arrive. It’s best to book early though, as the more popular excursions will sell out quickly. The most popular excursion that cruises offer is a sight-seeing shopping trip with a guided tour. Aside from that, the excursions will be destination related. Stay with your group and keep track of time (see: How to Stay Safe While Traveling).

Always, always, always have the proper documents on hand when leaving your cruise ship. Not only will you need them if officials stop you in a foreign land, but you will also need them to board the ship again.

*Use hand sanitizer often while off the ship. Your body is not acclimated to foreign germs, which can cause a reaction if your immune system is down. Do your fellow cruisers a favor by dousing your hands once more before reboarding the ship.

Money

Pay for as much of the trip ahead of time as possible. Some cruise lines will allow you to pre-pay the mandatory tips for the staff. One of the first things that you should do after boarding the ship is put money on your room key. It can act as a sort of debit card on the ship and would be better to lose than your actual credit card.

Tipping

Aside from high-end cruise lines that include gratuity instead of accepting tips, travelers are expected to tip the staff. Some lines leave specified envelopes in your room for you to fill with various tips. In this case, the crew has been paid a low wage and makes up the difference with the tips they receive at the end of the trip. While the amount that you tip is up to you, here is a suggested list:

  • Head Waiter- $2 per night
  • Dining Waiter- $5 per night
  • Wine Stewards- $5 per bottle
  • Bartenders- $1 per drink
  • Cabin Stewards- $5 per night
  • Room Service Stewards- $2 per cabin visit

All in All

If you consider the all-inclusive nature of a cruise, it really is one of the best travel deals out there. You get so much food, drink, entertainment and relaxation for your buck- all with very little planning on your part!

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