The Before-You-Cruise Checklist, Part 2

Here's what to take care of during the days just before your schedule departure. Part 2 in a guide to planning your cruise vacation.

In our first installment on pre-cruise planning, we discussed all the preparations you ought to take care of from the time you book until about two weeks before departure -- getting your passport and air tickets in order, pre-booking shore excursions and spa appointments, arranging for child and pet care, and so on. Now that you've done all that, here's a continuation of our to-do list -- this time covering all those details that need to be looked after in the days just before you leave.

One Week Out

Communication Plans: At least a week before departure, tell your friends and relatives how to get in touch with you. Your cruise document package likely includes information about how to reach you on the ship by phone or fax.

Just remember to tell your loved ones that if they call you, it can be expensive. You might end up with phone charges of up to $11.95 per minute on both ends, a rude awakening for people who like to chat.

So designate one person as the prime point of contact. That person should know your ship, room number, booking number, ship phone, ship fax number and the best times to reach you (take time zone changes into account). Tell the rest of your friends and family to use this person as the point of contact in any emergency.

For non-emergencies, use e-mail. Internet cafes are readily available on today's ships. You can use your own email address, or the lines will assign you a free email if you don't have one. You'll still pay for usage charges. Often the Internet is a better and less expensive communications tool than a telephone.

That said, many ships have recently added cell phone service at sea. Ask your travel agent or cruise line. Roaming charges apply, but it can be less pricey than calling from your room. In port, many cell phones will work just fine; call your carrier a week before departure to see if your phone is international in nature and whether you can send and receive calls from specific ports.

Keys and Other Tasks: Don't forget to give a key to your home or business to a trusted neighbor or friend. Ask them to put it in a locked or secure place - not just in open sight where anyone who enters their home might have access to it.

Arrange for that person to stop by your home to check on things, water your plants, or see that all is well with your pets (if they're being cared for by a pet-sitting service). If this is an �off-site� friend, not a neighbor, tell your neighbors whom to call in case they need to talk to someone about an issue with your property or home.

Also, make arrangements with your security alarm company to designate a temporary �call person� in case your alarm goes off. Someone should also know the code to shut off the alarm in your absence. (Just remember to change the code when you return).

Finalize Your Suitcase: Now it's time to finalize your packing. You've been looking at your suitcase for several weeks, so again re-consider all clothing and shoes. Pare the piles down. Match colors and accessories. Eliminate one-time use items. Take things away one at a time. Visualize yourself hauling the bag through terminals (in case no skycap or porter is available) and in and out of any parking garage. That may give you an incentive to pack less.

Do not pack cruise documents, airline tickets, film, cameras, jewelry, medication or valuables in checked luggage. (Ever try to get a bag back from an airline after it's checked? The same problems occur with cruise lines.) If you accidentally check the bag and then remember your camera or medication is in it, you likely won't see it for several hours after embarkation. Worse yet, the luggage could be lost.

Stock Up on Video, Film or Digital Media: Buy tape, film or digital cards for your camera or other electronic equipment before you leave. Photographic supplies are widely available at cruise destinations, but they can be exorbitantly expensive. Last fall on a port call to Charleston, S.C., I bought a new digital card in the downtown tourist area because I couldn't offload my digital images to a computer. It cost $89.99. The same card sold for $39 at stores in my area, but I neglected to buy it before I went.

Also in warm weather destinations, some vendors might not take proper care with film they sell. Often it's displayed in a sunny spot, causing damage to the film. Buy what you think you need and then add 50 percent more.

Pack all film, videotape, batteries and digital cards in your carry on. Never put these in checked bags as security screening machinery may damage them. If you have high-speed film (800 ASA or more) or if you are going to pass the film through multiple X-ray machines, ask for a hand inspection at the security checkpoint. To assist in this regard, take film out of boxes and canisters. Put in a see-through plastic bag to make any hand inspection easy.

Take plenty of batteries for your camera or video equipment as well. And don't forget to pack the battery charger!

The Day before Departure

Finalize Your Luggage: Attach cruise line luggage tags to your bags. Have proper identification inside and out,and include a copy of your itinerary inside all bags.

The night before departure, close up your suitcases and finalize your carry-on bag. Place passports, cruise documents, air tickets or e-ticket confirmations, medication, camera and film supplies, and any other important information like medical records in your carry-on.

Take Enough Cash: Always take cash (especially small bills for tips to porters, skycaps, motorcoach drivers and tour guides). Never rely solely on travelers' checks or credit cards.

Many places won't take travelers' checks, and if you arrive on a weekend or a bank holiday in your port of call, you may have no options for cashing them. Banks often won't cash travelers' checks without a passport, and some cruise lines hold your passport until the end of the cruise, complicating things. Besides, you might not have time while on a tour to go to a bank and cash travelers' checks.

Cruise lines won't cash personal checks in most cases. ATMs are not yet on all ships, and at times, they're out of cash. Yes, ATMs at ports of call are usually easy to find. But if you've booked a tour that picks you up at the pier, you might not have access to one.

So take enough cash. I recently took a Peter Deilmann cruise through an off-the-beaten path region of Germany. Stores in many ports did not accept credit cards. One wealthy guest on my cruise had lots of money but no cash; his wife was upset they couldn't charge local art or jewelry purchases. I had several hundred dollars in cash but by the last day I was down to my last 30 euros, barely enough for the tip to the private limo driver en route to the airport.

Get Your House in Order: Run your dishwasher. Set your automatic thermostat to the most advantageous, energy-saving temperature. Set indoor light timers. Water your plants. Make sure pets - even if a pet sitter is coming in daily - have plenty of water or food. Do any last minute laundry. Pay any last-minute bills or mail payments. Dispose of refrigerator food that might spoil while you're gone.

Reconfirm Arrangements: Reconfirm any limo arrangements, pet care or child care services or assistance you've secured from friends and neighbors. It never hurts to remind people what you previously discussed. Reconfirm airline flight times (schedules do change).

Day of Departure

House Tasks: Pull shades or drapes so no one can look in your home and see that no one is home. Turn off the water if it's winter and there is any danger of frozen pipes. Put keys in your carry-on luggage. Be sure doors and windows are locked. Set your security alarm.

Check and Check Again: Be a stickler for perfection. It can save a lot of heartbreak later. Just before you enter your car or limo, put down the carry-on bag and check yet again whether you have tickets, cruise docs, photo ID, passports and credit cards. It's too easy to checking these items the night before, only to leave them on a counter or coffee table.

Time it Right: Leave enough time to arrive at the airport at least three hours prior to departure for international flights, at least two hours for domestic flights. Add in time for any potential traffic jams. Add in more time to compensate for lines at the airline's check-in facilities or at security checkpoints.

Then sit back, relax and enjoy your cruise!

Go back and review Part 1:

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