Published March 22, 2012
Attention first-time cruise ship travelers: here are some ways to enjoy your first expedition and dodge common rookie mistakes. With a little planning, you can ensure a smooth ride.
Don't cut it too close with your flights
Flying into the departure city the morning the cruise ship leaves may not be the best idea. There is no guarantee that your trip to the port will be smooth sailing. Unexpected delays due to weather, mechanical problems or anything else can leave you stranded on a runway for hours at a time. Even a short delay could make you miss your connecting flight, and you might not be able to get on the next plane. Now it is common to fly in the night before your cruise sets sail and stay overnight in a hotel. While it may up the total cost of your trip, it leaves you plenty of time to make it to your ship, allowing you to start your vacation from stress a little earlier. If you do have to arrive the same day your cruise departs, CruiseSavvy.com suggests allowing a five-hour buffer period in case of delays.
Research where you're docking
You spent money on your vacation, so make the most of it. Plan your activities for each port of call. You don't want to waste a day wandering around when you would rather be snorkeling, but missed the boat, so-to-speak, and all of the side trips were booked.
"Most Caribbean ports offer tours off the ship for less money than what the ship is charging," says Chris Chrystal of Cardoza-Bungey Travel, based in Palo Alto, Calif.
Some cruise ships dock in areas where crime runs rampant; accidents can happen anywhere. You need to take responsibility for your own safety both on and off the ship. Before you leave, check out CruiseCritic.com for reviews and safety information regarding your ports of call. Click on the “watch out for” section for important safety and general well-being tips. You can also check out the U.S. Department of State’s travel alerts, warnings and information for each country.
There are some islands where you should travel alone. Paul Motter, the editor of CruiseMates.com, says to be extra careful at Jamaica, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Others places, he says, are easy and safe to navigate and can be successful enjoyed without taking a tour. These include Nassau in the Bahamas, St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Maarten/St. Martin in the West Indies, and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
You don't need to go out and purchase a whole new nautical-themed wardrobe for your cruise. The Cruise Lines International Association advises packing as if you were going to any kind of resort. Think casual by day and varying degrees of fancy for nights. Pack lightly, and bring clothing that you can wear a few times and can style different ways. Chances are, your room on the ship will be small enough without extras clothes taking up space. See if your ship has dry cleaning or self-serve laundry. Leave your expensive jewelry at home. Check if tuxedos are required for formal nights on the ship. For answers to more first-time cruising questions, check out the CLIA website.