In Part 1, we gave readers a checklist of things they should research, look over and plan for in the days and weeks before their scheduled cruise departure. Now we'll examine some of the most common concerns and mistakes once passengers leave home.
ON YOUR WAY
6. Getting to the ship.
The easiest transfers from airport to pier are available from the cruise line. They almost always provide a representative who waits in the baggage claim area and directs arriving passengers to the appropriate motor coach. If you do not see a representative for your cruise line, ask someone who works there. They usually know where you should look. Don't expect to see someone waiting for you at your arrival gate.
If you opt for your own taxicab to the ship, be aware of the possibility that some taxi drivers will scam you, especially in foreign countries. My favorite taxi scam involves the old Turkish Lira, which was worth 160,000 to the Dollar. It is quite difficult to distinguish a 5,000,000 note from a 500,000 note when you are dealing with unfamiliar currency. So when the taxi fare was 800,000 lira, I gave them a 5,000,000 lira ($35) note. Then the driver fiddled with his money where I couldn't see it, held up a 500,000 lira note, and said "You did not give me enough." Taking him at his word, I handed over another 500,000 lira note, and received 200,000 lira in change. I should have received 4,200,000 in change (about $30). Back at the hotel, I noticed I was about $100 short when I converted my lira back to dollars. Only then did I realize three different cabbies scammed me the same way in one day.
In a foreign country, always ask the taxi driver the approximate fare to your destination before you enter the cab. Also ask if there is an extra charge for baggage. If he says he does not know exactly, ask him to estimate it. If he merely points to the meter, implying the cost is what the meter says, this is a fair deal; just make sure he turns on the meter as soon as he starts driving.
If you ever have a dispute with a cab driver, do not mention it until you and your luggage are safely outside the taxicab. Then leave someone else in your party to watch your luggage and look for a policeman. Chances are the cab driver will cave, or he might get back in his cab and drive away. Taxicabs are highly regulated throughout the world. And although they are infamous for scamming tourists, they never want to get in trouble with local officials.
7. Always watch your luggage
Any time you transfer luggage from one vehicle to another, keep your eyes on your bags at all times. Never let a taxi drive away until you are sure you have all your luggage; and when you give bags to a porter, double-check that every bag that should go into your stateroom or hotel room is on his cart. When you arrive in your room, count your bags immediately.
Be prepared to tip anyone who transports your bags, at about one dollar per bag. This is not required at some cruise terminals, notably Ft. Lauderdale and Tampa. However, the porters in Miami expect a tip and will wait for one. Just remember that the terminal porters are not the people who put your bags onto the ship. All they do is take them to the security-screening machine. There is no need to over-tip them; a dollar per bag is fine.
ON THE SHIP
8. Memorize your room number
When you check in, you will receive a key card that you use to open your cabin door and make purchases on the ship. This key card will not have your room number on it for security reasons, so write your room number on a separate piece of paper until you memorize it. Today's ships are vast, and the number of staterooms is staggering. All doors along passenger hallways look alike, and it can be embarrassing to call security because you think your key card is not working, only to find out you've been putting it into the wrong door. (Umm, I've never done this personally, but a good friend of mine has.)
9. Don't let small problems spoil your cruise.
If you have a problem or special need, make sure you talk to the right person. If you want extra pillows and blankets, tell your room steward. The guest relations office, which you can contact by phone, is the place to address any problems your room steward cannot manage. If your problem is not resolved to your satisfaction, speak to the hotel manager.
Always bring up problems as early as possible. Too many people simply stew about a problem and let it ruin their vacation. If your problem cannot be fixed, you might be asking for something beyond their capability. The worst thing you can do is turn your cruise vacation into a battle with the cruise line. If you can live with the problem, drop it for now and deal with it when the cruise is over.
I receive many copies of readers' complaint letters to cruise lines. One of my favorites was from a gentleman who, upset with a night of loud music in the ship's atrium, called the hotel manager and left a message. When he didn't get a call back, he used his cell phone (at $4 a minute) to call the cruise line's customer relations office in the States. He was on hold for 25 minutes. Now he expects the cruise line to reimburse him for his phone call.
Cruise lines deal with several complaints every day, and if they cannot solve yours quickly, they probably cannot solve it at all. Just accept that they have done the best they can. They also run into a lot of cranks and chronic complainers who, quite frankly, are just looking for compensation for something that is not really a problem. These people usually ask for a bottle of champagne or a cruise credit as compensation. Don't be one of these people. A person who has a legitimate complaint, and asks for a solution and nothing more, will often get more compensation than he or she asks for.
10. Don't burn out
It is tempting to try every activity offered on your cruise, but don't put yourself at risk of getting sick. If you feel tired, take a nap or go to bed early, especially if you have a shore excursion the next day. Getting sick is one of the worst ways to ruin your vacation.
Viruses on ships are well documented. The best way to avoid them is to wash your hands with soap and dry them thoroughly with a towel, as often as possible. Avoid touching banisters and railings in public areas, and allow food servers to serve you in restaurants. Never pick up a piece of buffet food with your hands.
11. Leaving the ship -- the final bill
You should get a preliminary and a final bill on the two days before your cruise ends. Always read over both of them for incorrect charges. I know a couple currently disputing a $12,000 dollar art auction charge! The cruise line says they bid on and received a Picasso drawing. The people say they know nothing about it. It is a mess. One strike against them is that they did not mention the item when it appeared on their shipboard final bill, because they didn't look. They just walked off the ship!
Bottom line and final word: One of the main reasons even the most experienced cruisers make mistakes is overconfidence. I have flown so many times, it never occurs to me that I might confuse the arrival time with the departure time. When I see that a ship is in port overnight, I assume I will have plenty of time to see the port. Not necessarily true! Make double-checking documents a habit, and do it several days before you leave. Just because you have been on several cruises, it doesn't mean you can go on automatic pilot.
Return to Common Cruise Mistakes - Part One
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