Passports are required by law to travel anywhere outside of the US, but some cruises have a loophole!
As long as you are cruising on a closed-loop cruise, meaning departing and returning to the same port, a STATE ISSUED CERTIFIED copy of your birth certificate and a valid government-issued ID is sufficient proof of citizenship. Children should go ahead and have a state photo ID made - check with your local tag agency to find out costs and requirements. The birth certificate must be a certified copy from the state, the cruise line will not accept non-certified copies, nor will they accept the copy of the certificate the hospital gave you…the one with your footprint on it. This could cause you to be denied boarding by homeland security.
It is always better to travel with a passport, just in case an emergency comes up and you have to fly home. It's less paperwork to keep up with and they last for 9 & 1/2 years! If you get a passport, go ahead and get a PASSPORT BOOK or the book AND the card, not just the card!
Important - If you are a blended family or traveling with children that aren’t yours, most cruise lines require permission from at least one parent if not both. Please ask us if you fall into this situation.
Getting On the Ship
Be aware! The cruise lines have health questionnaires that are given to each passenger before they allow you to get on the ship. If you’re ill, you may be denied boarding! If you have been under the weather, you should get a doctor's letter stating that you are OK to travel and that you don’t have something contagious. This should be notarized or certified. This is a great reason to get travel insurance when you book your cruise. If you aren’t fit to travel, you’d get a refund from the insurance company as long as it’s a covered reason for needing to cancel.
Most cruises start boarding at around noon, some may run a little longer due to inspections of the homeland security teams and cruise line maintenance crew. Don’t fret or get angry, this is for your safety! We recommend getting to the port between 11am and 12pm, most of the time you will have to wait in a long line, so wear comfortable shoes that first day!
The porters will take your larger bags so you don’t have to worry about those through customs. The porters usually work for tips and the cruise line doesn’t pay them, so make sure you tip these guys…after all, they are handling your bags! $1 to $2.00 per bag is sufficient! Through customs and immigration, you will need to run your smaller bags through the x-ray and show your passport. They will give you your keycard and maps of the ship when you check-in. After boarding the ship, they will ask for you to insert your key and look down, this snaps a photo of you and will appear every time you enter or exit the ship. Once onboard, feel free to roam around and enjoy, we usually set our bags in our rooms and head to the buffet for some lunch!
After your luggage was taken by the porter back at the dock, you won’t see it for a bit. This is why we tell you to pack things in your carry-on! Sometimes, you may not even see it before dinner that evening! They have to go through a ton of luggage, if you don’t see yours by bedtime, simply let someone at the purser desk (aka front desk) know and they will get your luggage to you. Should the worst happen, just stay calm and report it. Hopefully, your carry-on was packed accordingly! The first dinner onboard is casual dress, so no need to change clothes before dinner that first night, unless of course you laid by the pool. Then you’ll need to change back into what you were wearing to board. Swimsuits are only permitted in the buffet, pizza, and deli areas, and a cover-up must be worn.
Emergency Practice - AKA Muster Drill
This will take place as soon as the ship starts to sail or before you set sail depending on what the captain wants to do. At this time you will need to proceed to your meeting point. Always ask a cruise member if you get lost, they are there to help! This is a MANDATORY drill and all passengers must attend. I always find out where the drill will be and get to that deck early and hang out on that deck or one deck away since you can't use the elevators during the drill. They also go over safety information during this time.
As stated before the porter will be on the dock to assist you with your larger bags. In your smaller bags, I always recommend a change of clothes, a swimsuit, and one nicer outfit…just in case the unexpected happens. Make sure you also pack your medications and essentials in this bag as well. Now, if you are flying to your port of departure, you are more limited than those who opt to drive as the airlines have a strict policy on baggage and what is allowed. At this time, the cruise lines allow at least two large bags, one carry-on, and one personal item aboard. Most airlines do charge for checked bags - these fees change ALL THE TIME, so please check with your airline. Your carry-on and one personal item (such as a purse, backpack, laptop case, etc.) are still free of charge on most airlines. These rules are subject to change at any time at the airlines discretion.
What to Pack
Most people opt for a seven night cruise. Generally, there are two formal nights on board. On a five night cruise or less there is usually only one formal night. If you don’t like to dress up, you can always go to the buffet or order room service!
Each cruise line has its own style of “formal” but here are the general rules:
Gentlemen: no open-toed shoes, ball caps, or t-shirts will be allowed in the formal dining hall on the “formal” evenings. Depending on the cruise line, you don’t need a full suit, but nice slacks and a polo or collared shirt are going to be good to wear.
For the ladies: you may wear pretty sandals, no flip flops though (unless they look really nice and dressy). A summer dress, pantsuit, or even a blouse or nice top with capris work well! Try not to go nuts on packing shoes, take a pair of tennis shoes, a nice pair that will match everything, and some flip-flops. You really don’t need more than that!
Of course, pack a couple of swimsuits and I always recommend packing a light jacket or wrap for the evenings. The breeze at sea can get a bit chilly!
If you forget to pack anything, you can always visit the ships' onboard shops. They have everything from underwear to toothpaste!
Food and Drink
This is the fun part! All meals are included aside from one or two restaurants that you can upgrade to. This varies by cruise line and ship and costs vary as well, so just ask us about your ship! There is some food available to you 24/7. Some cruises even have special midnight buffets!
Drinks - this is where cruising may or may not get expensive! The drinks included with your cruise are generally tea, coffee, water, milk, and juice. If you want a soda or an alcoholic beverage be prepared to pay! Not only do you pay a cost, but each drink you order from the bar (even soda) has a 15% gratuity added to the bill. Sometimes they have “classes” you can attend and receive a “drink special “or 2 for 1 specialty drink of the day! If you are a beer person, look at buying it by the bucket...it’s usually a lot cheaper to do that!
There are packages for some ships now that will allow you to have unlimited soda and some have added drink packages for alcohol as well, so be sure to ask us about your ship and cruise line.
*Special Tip* If you are driving to the port, some cruise lines will allow you to take one 12-pack of soda per cabin to carry on with you, as well as 1 bottle of wine or champagne. Pack your own corkscrew though. If you have them do it, they will charge you an uncorking fee, which varies but is usually around $25.00! Unfortunately for those flying, due to the liquid and gel ban, unless you pack your soda in your checked bag, you will not be permitted to carry soda on the plane, and since cabin pressure could cause the can to burst and your clothes to be ruined, checking soda in your bags is not a great idea!
The only soda served onboard is Coke products or Pepsi products…so Dr. Pepper fans beware, they usually don't have Dr. Pepper! Depending on your ports of call, you can find soda to purchase and bring on board with you. You are not permitted to bring any liquor purchased in port back to your cabin; they check it in for you and hold it till you disembark at your original port.
Paying For Things While On the Ship
At check-in, you will be asked for a credit card or cash to attach to your key card. While onboard a cruise ship everything is cashless, so you will be using your keycard for all purchases made. There are multiple ways to monitor your account profile. My favorite is straight from your room via the TV. You can also visit the purser’s desk as well. Drinks, shopping, and even shore excursions can be put on your key card. They will send you a summary of all your purchases the night before your cruise ends. If you have nothing to dispute, then take that as your receipt. No signing or anything is required, it all goes on your credit card! Some cruise lines will permit you to put cash down, but please note that different sailings have a minimum amount that can be put own, with most starting at $250.00 per person. DO NOT LOSE YOUR KEY CARD! If you do, report it immediately. No one else should be able to use it onboard however due to the photo taken assigned to the card when you stepped on the ship! Clever, huh?!
If you are traveling with children you do have the option of giving them full access to charge things to the card, but this is your own decision.
Some things that do require cash - the onboard casino…although you can even charge your account on some ships for a couple of games! Self-serve laundry is also available on most ships. Due to fire hazards, no irons are available in the self-serve.
Bingo - tons of people play bingo onboard; some even give away a free cruise to the winners!
I can guarantee everyone onboard who works for the kids club program is a certified professional. Your kids are in great hands. In fact, a lot of kids find it hard to go back to mom and dad! The clubs vary by age and yes, babysitting is available on some ships. Check with us to make sure. Teens have their own club, including their own dance club, arcade, activities, and even a bar….that serves nothing but virgin drinks of course!
If you are bored on a cruise…something is not right. They have everything from dancing, Pilates, yoga lessons to pottery and salsa making! A list of daily activities will be delivered to your stateroom every day by your cabin steward. Sing some karaoke, play movie trivia, try your hand at blackjack, or relax and read by the pool. You can do it all! They have some activities for adults only, and kids only too! If you have any questions about the activities…no worries, your cruise director usually announces things happening around the ship over too!
Two words: GO SEE. These onboard shows can rival some of the top performers in Las Vegas! These shows are fantastic and totally worth a trip to the grand theater!
If you are seated at the early dining, we'd suggest you see the show after. If you're eating late, see your show before. They have shows running all the time so if you chose “My Time Dining,” take your pick!
Most all cruise lines now have three options: Early seating (6pm), Late Seating (8pm), or Your time (545pm-9pm). On your key card, it will show your dining room and your table number if you chose to have the early or late dining. If you chose My Time, you will not have an assigned table number. With this option it is more like a restaurant you visit daily and you may have to wait to be seated until a table opens up. The set dining times are great; you sit at the same table with the same people every night. I love this experience and have made some great long-time friends by choosing traditional cruise dining!
On most cruise lines, gratuities are now mandatory on every sailing, but let me tell you, these people deserve every cent! Your cabin steward is amazing. Not only will they know everyone’s name in the cabin, but by the end of the cruise you find out they know quite a bit more! (Your favorite drink, when you need ice, your birthday?!) Your waiter and busboy will also become your friends and know what you like. I didn’t even have to tell mine what I wanted after the first night…he knew exactly what I was going to ask for! These are the main people you will be tipping, but the tips are equally dispersed to the people you don’t see as well…the maids, the cooks, etc. Gratuities are now pre-payable on most cruise lines; I highly recommend this option, this way you don’t need to worry about having to charge that last amount on your card. It’s already been taken care of…just one less stress, and I’m all about making vacation stress-free! On average gratuities are $10.00-$15.00 per person per day, and yes, your kiddos are charged too. (Kid program employee's tips!) If you have a baby that you never let out of your sight, this would be the only time I would tell you not to pre-pay, that way you do not have to pay for the baby. Just make sure the tips are fair because these people work very hard to ensure your vacation is a success! Just ask your waiter what his work schedule is like if you don’t believe me!
Optional land excursions may be booked in advance (with the cruise line or, we suggest Shoretrips for a great small group experience) or purchased onboard the ship via your TV portfolio. Some excursions do sell out fast. We recommend looking on the website and seeing what is available for that sailing and port of call.
If you need help booking your excursions or want some recommendations, ask us for help. Otherwise, as soon as you have made your final payment and have a confirmation number, you may go online and start planning/booking your excursions!
If you choose no excursion…don’t worry as you can still get off the ship and shop. Almost all ports of call have great shopping areas right around the dock! It feels great to stretch your land legs for a bit! Just make sure you have your key card AND photo ID (as in a driver's license, since you'll want to lock up your passport) as they will check it every time you depart or enter the ship.
Departing the Ship
The night before, you will have to put your large luggage in the hall since you will want the porters to take these off the ship for you (can you imagine hundreds or thousands of people trying to carry large luggage off the ship at the same time? It would be nuts!)
You will collect these larger bags in the customs/immigration terminal after you disembark the ship. This helps keep things as uncluttered as possible! You will also receive tags to put on these bags before you put them out.
*Don’t forget to grab an outfit for the next day and have some room in your carry-on for anything you keep with you before you put your luggage out.*
The Actual Departure
The departure is done in groups by the tags (which are either done by color or number) and group numbers they give you before your departure. Each luggage tag coincides with the passenger’s flight times, the later your flight, the later your actual departure of the ship will be. If you drove, they do have a “carry your own luggage off” tag as well, otherwise, you are some of the last passengers off. The purser can explain this in more detail, but they call the color/number that was on your tag in order and when your color/number is called, you may leave the ship! It’s easy once you start hearing the announcements!
Most ships do have laundry facilities, hairdryers in the room, and several other things. If you have any questions on amenities onboard, please ask us and we can find out for you!
Are you afraid of sea-sickness??? DON’T BE! Before you depart ask your doctor what he or she recommends. Generally, the drug store has a patch you can get which requires a prescription. You stick it on behind your ear and it supplies a daily dose of motion sickness medication.
Or, you can grab a box of Dramamine (metoclopramide) non-drowsy formula and take two in the morning. Some guests do this even if they haven't had any seasickness as a preventative in case of rough seas!
If you have further questions, please feel free to contact us and we will be happy to discuss cruising further!
Have a great time!