Booking a cruise? Here's 5 things to know before you go

Don't wait till the last minute to book

Travel agent Marni Becker, Director of Cruise Sales for Protravel International in New York City, says that depending upon where you wish to travel—Alaska? Mediterranean? Caribbean? Baltic?—there is still some availability, but that the most popular itineraries, ships, and cabin categories fill up early. You'll want to act fast if you want to book for travel this June through August. You still have time to book a summer cruise, she says, but, depending on the line, "you may not get that mid-ship verandah or suite." Think outside the box with these little-known cruises even better than the Bahamas.

Don't fly in the same day you set sail

"Get your vacation started at least one day before your cruise by booking a hotel room near the ship," suggests Christy Scannell, a Dream Vacations franchise owner from California. "That way you don't have to sweat out possible flight delays or traffic jams that could hamper getting to the pier on time. Instead, you can enjoy a restful morning and then make your way to the ship refreshed, relaxed and ready to enjoy your cruise." Avoid these other 16 airport mistakes to know before your next flight.

More from Reader's Digest

Plan your excursions in advance

You have only one day to see most ports, even if, like Florence and Rome, they're incredibly rich and interesting. That means you won't want to waste time coming up with a game plan on the ground. Instead, pick up guide books or do some online research to determine the options and what you'd be most excited about seeing. "Figure out what you want to see in each port before you leave home," Becker advises. "That will save you time and hassle during your cruise." It will also ensure that you get to hit the highlights at each destination. Here are tips for picking the best cruise based on your travel goals.

Plan your sea days as well as your port days

Cruise ship decks can really fill up on sunny sea days, but many ships have serene alternative spaces that you can book. "You are likely to see a lot of children on summer cruises, says Scannell. "For a more peaceful day on deck, look for the ship's adults-only areas. For example, Princess Cruises has The Sanctuary, where for a nominal fee you get a luxury lounge chair, beverage service, and soothing music."

Bring everything you need for the first day in your carry-on

On the first day of a cruise, you never know exactly what time your luggage will be delivered to your room. "Be sure to pack your flip-flops and bathing suit in your carry-on bag," suggets Madson. "This way, as soon as you board the ship, you can start enjoying the pool even before your cabin is ready or your luggage gets delivered." Don't miss these other 17 travel hacks that make cruises easier.

For more tips to kinow before your cruuise, head to Reader's Digest.