Countdown to Cruise

OK, so you’ve booked your cruise, so what now? Just counting down the days until departure?

Well, it all depends on when and what your plans are for travelling to your port of departure and post-cruise travel when you disembark, in addition to all the ‘normal’ activity of packing those bags (more recommendations on that later!).

As well as the actual logistics of getting to/from your port of departure to get onboard that beautiful cruise ship, there are many things to consider. Not all of the following may be applicable, but it isn’t always about the transport options or what clothes to wear!

Here’s a list of a few things to be considered. I’ve tried to break them down into several sections.

  • PASSPORTS
  • VISAS
  • TRAVEL HEALTH
  • TRAVEL INSURANCE
  • MONEY MATTERS

Do you need a passport

If so, is it still valid and more importantly will it still be valid at the end of your cruise and does this adhere to the cruise line policies and/or country entry requirements? Remember it is your responsibility to ensure that all your legal paperwork is in order before you travel, not the airline, not the cruise line, not your Travel Agent.

No doubt a good Travel Agent will advise on the visa and passport requirements, but you are responsible for obtaining all the necessary paperwork.

If your passport needs renewing, make sure you have plenty of time for it to be processed before leaving for your flight/cruise.

Do you need a visa?

Again, you need to check the entry requirements of the countries you are visiting to determine what you need. Do this as soon as possible as for some countries obtaining a visa, if required, can be a time consuming and costly process.

For all information, it is useful to check your official government travel advice centre such as https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice

Are you a Non-US visitor?

Then maybe you’ll need an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) to travel to the USA. The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is an automated system used to determine the eligibility of visitors to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and whether such travel poses any law enforcement or security risk.

Please remember, this is NOT a visa and only allows you to travel to the USA. It does NOT guarantee entry as this is still determined by border officials upon arrival.

An ESTA lasts for 2 years for a nominal fee (currently $14) if you apply via the official USA Border Protection website https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/

If you are not eligible for an ESTA, you may need a Visa and the application process can take time so don’t leave it too late!

Other countries requirements

4. Other countries in addition to the USA have various entry requirements and are not limited to the following below: –
a. Canada – eTA required for some nationalities https://official-canada-eta.com/
b. Australia – ETA https://www.eta.immi.gov.au/ETAS3/etas
c. United Arab Emirates – https://www.government.ae/en/information-and-services/visa-and-emirates-id
d. India – https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/evisa/tvoa.html
e. China – http://english.gov.cn/services/visitchina/

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Travel Health

It may worth contacting or visiting your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or take other preventive measures for the countries to be visited.

Are any medical costs covered by a reciprocal arrangement with your country of residence? If so, what is covered and what documentation do you need to carry with you?

Travel Insurance

Should you get travel insurance? Only you can decide. However, there are several scenarios to consider. Will you be able to take your cruise, or will you have to cancel?

Medical cover – is that covered by other insurance when you travel and are the amounts sufficient for the countries you are visiting? Do you have cover for lost or stolen items such as passport, money, electronics, clothes?

Travel disruption – is that covered? Late or cancelled trips which are essential to get you to that ship in time to sail, are these covered?

Remember, if you are going to cover cancellation etc. In most cases, your insurance must be in place before you make that cruise booking.

Money matters

Do you have adequate resources available for travelling, such as credit cards which are free from fees when making purchases that are not in the currency of your card? Is your credit limit sufficient for your travels? Have you advised your bank that you are travelling and will be using your cards away from home so that transactions are not blocked?

What currencies do you need for the countries you are visiting if you intend to take cash? Is it available to purchase before leaving home or is it only available when you arrive e.g. Cuba.

Can your credit cards be used in the countries you are visiting? Remember, any cards issued or managed by American banks cannot be used in Cuba.

TRAVELLING TO/FROM THE CRUISE PORT AND YOUR SHIP

How are you getting to the ship? Do you need to book flights, car rental, transfers? If you are going to organise these yourself then make sure you check out all the options available to get the best deals.

Flights

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Can you use frequent flyer miles for your flights, or any other discount codes available to you?

There are many online resources for checking the prices of flights, the routes available and the schedules that are most practical.

A word of advice though, many online fare-comparison tools can’t provide the latest fares, only the ‘lowest’ possible for the dates you’re looking at. So, it’s essential that you check with the airline or a travel provider. When booking, make sure you fully understand the fare conditions in case you need to make amendments due to a change in circumstances.

Consider flight times carefully. Are there several flights per day from your preferred airport to your destination? Remember, if there is only 1 flight per day with your chosen airline and something happens and it is delayed due to adverse weather, late arrival or heaven forbid cancelled, not all airlines, (especially low-cost carriers both short and long haul) are obliged to provide an alternative flight that day with another airline, unless it is one with whom they have an agreement.

If you are travelling on a tight deadline you may have to make alternative arrangements yourself and sort out any applicable refunds/compensation with the airline at a later date.

Car Rental

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Again check around for the best deal that suits your needs. Are you a member of the car rental loyalty program that gives you added benefits such as online check-in, speedy pick up/return or delivery and/or discounts? Is there a rental office convenient for you to pick up the vehicle from or drop off to before checking in for that cruise?

Port Transfers

If flying to your cruise embarkation port, how are you going to get from and back to the airport? Is the best, most convenient and cost-effective option a rental car? If so, see above.

Train – this is often a viable alternative, practical and an inexpensive option to get to/from the port. Check out the airport website, they will list the options getting to/from there and often include links to rail timetables.

Bus/Coach – again there are many options available such as the Aerobus in Barcelona which is a reliable, frequent and convenient way of getting from/to the airport into the city. http://www.aerobusbcn.com/en/

Complimentary Coach Transfers – some cruise lines offer coach transport to/from the departure port. Check with the cruise line if this offered as part of your cruise fare.

Taxi – for short journeys these can be the best option, especially for a group of people. Again, if arriving by plane, check the airport website.

Private Transfer – good alternatives to taxis, especially if the port is a long way from the airport such as Civitavecchia from Rome airport and there is no direct train service. Many offer a fixed fare, our favourite sailing from Civitavecchia is http://www.romecabs.com

Shuttles – often shared services offered by coach companies/taxi companies. Search for recommendations/companies on the internet or look for suggestions from fellow cruisers.

Driving

Do you have the luxury/opportunity to drive to the port? If so, what about parking? Are you intending to park at the port or if you’re staying in a hotel pre-cruise (see next topic) do they offer a ‘cruise and stay’ package where they allow you to leave your vehicle for the duration of the cruise, and you pick it up upon return?

Look at pre-bookable options, these will save you money.

Even if not driving to a port, are you driving to an airport? How do you intend to get to the airport? If you intend to park your vehicle at the airport, check out all the options available, choosing the best option for your needs and then keep an eye out for discount offers.

PRE/POST CRUISE STAYS

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Are you intending to stay in the area before or after your cruise? What type of accommodation do you need? Is it just a hotel, or something more special like a rental villa or apartment? Only you can decide your preference depending on your needs, like the size of your party and the makeup of that group.

Where should your accommodation be located? Do you want somewhere just to crash after a long-haul inbound flight close to the airport or to be convenient for an early morning flight departure?

Or are you staying a few days pre/post cruise to enjoy the local area/theme parks/beaches/attractions? Then you might want to consider a more conveniently located property.

For example, when we sail from Barcelona we like to be in a hotel close to the centre to enjoy the sights of the city. When sailing from Civitavecchia we’ll stay in the town having transferred from Rome airport as it’s a long way from the city/airport and being there reduces the chance of problems getting to the port on the day of sailing due to delays on the train or motorway.

For any stay longer than 1 day in Florida we’ll try and get a rental villa, house or apartment as it provides a more cost-effective alternative to a hotel and there is more space and facilities like private pools, laundry rooms, and kitchens for self-catering which is a great option for families. For our last stay in Florida, we stayed here http://www.clcworldflorida.com/encantada/  

For all reservations consider booking as far ahead as possible to get the best rates/deals, especially if you are a member of a hotel loyalty program as many now offer rates only available to members.

However, only book a flexible rate when reserving many months in advance in case plans have to change, but as plans firm up, check for any discounted non-refundable rates as you can often take advantage of this nearer check-in date.

If booking a hotel, do they offer a free or discounted shuttle from/to the airport or cruise port? If they do, make sure that if pre-booking is necessary that you get that reservation made in good time for the date/time you want.

PORT EXCURSIONS

What plans have you got when visiting the wonderful ports of call?

Each cruise line will offer a wide range of excursions, covering all sorts of activities. These range from the energetic, thrill-seeking, educational or just a simply relaxing type of day trips.

Do you have to book those offered by the cruise line? Of course not, you can plan with any of the numerous companies providing tours and excursions at the places you will be visiting. Although it may be worth checking with the cruise line as they often offer discounts at different times of the year.

However, those on cruise line excursions are safeguarded in that they are provided by a reputable company that has been vetted by the cruise line. In addition, if there are delays in returning from an excursion arranged by the ship, then the captain will more often than not wait for those guests. There is no obligation to wait for those passengers who have been exploring on their own or on a ‘private tour’.

Whatever you decide, advance planning is often beneficial to make sure you get the excursions you want, many are very popular and can sell out well in advance.

There are numerous guides providing help and advice available online to assist in your plans. A web search will provide lots of information to help you plan. A great example is https://www.barcelona-tourist-guide.com

RESERVATIONS – DINING AND ON-BOARD ENTERTAINMENT

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Have you selected the ability to dine when you please instead of the traditionally fixed dining times?

Do you want total freedom to dine when you want, or do you like to make advance reservations to ensure you have a table when you want, that fits in with other activities on board (show times etc) and don’t want to have to wait in line to get a table? If you want a specific dining time, consider making advance reservations for as many or as few days you want. This should be possible online by accessing your ‘cruise planner’.


Speciality dining

Many cruise lines offer alternative dining venues for a fee. If you want to plan in advance, you may get a deal with a ‘package’ or discount depending on your level in the cruise line loyalty program. Again, you will be able to make reservations to ensure you get the date/time you want, particularly important if you have a special occasion to celebrate.

Entertainment – many large ships have limited space in their entertainment venues for the number of guests on-board so offer reservations for many of their most popular shows or entertainers. Again, if there is something you don’t want to miss, then I’d encourage you to check out that cruise ‘planner’ and book in advance. When you can do this depends on the cruise line and sail date, so check with them.

On-Board amenities – these range from gifts to be delivered to your stateroom, birthday decorations, cakes, beverage packages, flowers, spa services and keepsakes to photo packages and internet access. Once again, most will be available via your cruise ‘planner’. Often discounts are offered for purchase in advance and for loyalty program members over and above those available once you are on board.

One advantage is that you don’t spend the first day running around organising things and as in most cases as you will have to pay in advance, you can budget more effectively keeping that onboard account from giving you a shock on the last evening!

With some cruise lines, you can purchase ‘onboard credit’ to be spent onboard, this may be something you would consider if you want to keep that end of cruise account down!

WHAT & HOW TO PACK

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Most cruise lines have a ‘suggested’ dress code, others have a minimum expectation which must be followed at certain times of the day. The details of which you can normally find in the FAQs section of the website. Some are more formal than others, some are totally casual, but most will provide an idea of ‘what to pack’ if you check out the FAQs on the cruise line website.

Some like Cunard and P&O will specify the dress code in your cruise ‘personaliser’ which shows the expected dress code for each day for the duration of your cruise. These lines also have guidelines of what is acceptable after a specific time of day and where this is enforced. Obviously, these lines (and others like them) will offer alternative venues where those who do not wish to dress more formally can relax in the evening.

As well as the cruise lines ‘suggested’ or required dress code, you should also consider the countries you are to visit, to ensure to don’t fall foul of local laws. For example, wearing camouflage clothing on many Caribbean islands is forbidden and there are strict rules on dress in places like the United Arab Emirates, especially when visiting holy sites such as mosques. These don’t only apply to the ladies in your party, but to the gentlemen too.

In many Arab countries, it is a common misconception that it is just the ladies must be covered from head to toe, which although true, it is not just that simple. Some countries forbid clothing that is too tight as it accentuates your body shape, which itself is forbidden.

Men don’t get away with it totally either, in some cases, shorts are permitted, in others, it must be long pants and shirts must be long sleeved with collars. Check with the countries you are intending to visit, especially if you will there during religious festivals or periods such as Ramadan.

After all this, you then have to consider the weather! What time of year are you visiting the ports of call on the sailing? What regions of the world are you heading to? Is it the Caribbean, Alaska, the Far East, Middle East, India, China, Norwegian Fiords, the Baltic states, Mediterranean, Australasia or the Pacific coastal region, the list is endless? All I can suggest is check the local climate for the time of year you are cruising. Once you’ve sorted out your clothes taking into consideration all of the above, it comes down to packing!

People have their favourite methods of packing their clothes, rolling, folding, using packing cubes, filling soft-sided bags, holdalls, rigid suitcases or just carry on. The choice is yours.

The only advice I can give from experience is, if you are not travelling alone, then cross pack! Share your clothes across bags so that you each have some clothes if one of your bags gets delayed or worse still, lost by an airline.

If one of your bags does not appear on that baggage carousel at the end of your flight, then at least you have some clothing in the bags being carried by others in your party.

Another tip is to put the details of your itinerary (with contact details including phone numbers of hotels, cruise line, airline as well as your own and the dates you are staying in each place) in a document, printing it and placing it on the top of your packing. In the unlikely event that it gets mislaid, and the authorities have to open it to work out who it belongs to (baggage tags do get lost, ripped, removed), you will be giving them a great start on getting that bag to you.

Remember, a cruise is just that, a moving object, so getting a bag to you is not just ensuring it is delivered to a hotel in one town or city.

If your bag does not arrive on time for sail away, and you have already reported it to the airline upon arrival at your destination airport (making sure you get a lost baggage report and tracking reference to track the progress of it being found), advise the cruise line.

Many have staff who will work directly with the airlines and port agents to ensure your bag is found and reunited with you during the cruise. It happens more often than you may realise and they are well experienced in helping you.

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Remember, travel insurance can also be a great help in times like this as they can authorise you to make essential purchases that you will be reimbursed for. Cruise lines may also help with clothes rental, especially if they have a formal dress code, without which you will be denied access to venues or events.

Now, unfortunately, ‘cross packing’ doesn’t help if you are travelling alone or none of your bags arrive, as we found out a few years ago due to a baggage systems failure at London Heathrow which resulted in none of our bags being loaded onto our flight to Rome. In this situation, if you have time, you will have no choice to purchase essentials in port before you board and hope the cruise line can help. When we found ourselves in this situation, the cruise line made sure we could still attend formal events by providing tuxedos free of charge, and that included formal shoes! So, don’t despair, it can all work out OK.

So, after all this planning, you can now enjoy the ‘Countdown to Cruise’.

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Peter Horton

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