Honest Answers to Silly Questions

Over my years of traveling on cruise ships I have come to realize that the more you know about cruising the more you love it. No other vacation offers you more convenience, better service, or a higher level of satisfaction. But you don't become a veteran cruiser overnight. No need to be embarrassed. Here are the honest answers to actual questions that cruise line staffers have been getting for years.

DOES THE CREW SLEEP ON BOARD? Yes, they do. Most cruise ships have a passenger to crew ratio of approximately three to one. Crew members such as casino staff, waiters, stewards and barkeepers sign contracts to live on board anywhere from three months to a year. Depending on their rank they may share a cabin, usually at the water level or below, with one to three other crew members. Cruise staff members such as the Cruise Director or entertainers usually have private, passenger style cabins on higher decks. Navigational officers such as the captain have an exclusive area of their own near the top of the ship right behind the bridge, the room where navigation of the vessel takes place. Ships also have an engineer, but he is in charge of the engines, not steering the ship.

WILL I GET SEA-SICK? It is highly unlikely. Many passengers anticipate motion sickness and take medication before they even get on board. This isn't recommended. Most cruises are so calm you nearly forget you are at sea. If you do experience motion sickness medication is available in the gift shops or the infirmary on board. Bonine is a popular remedy, or you can try an elastic strap that applies pressure to the pulse point on your wrist. The behind-the-ear patches popular a few years ago were taken off the market for awhile, but they are available once again.

If you do get sea-sick I recommend bland, dry foods; a friend of mine swears by apples and crackers. Doctors sometimes recommend eating ginger for a natural aid. Avoid all liquids as they tend to slosh around in your stomach. If you do get sick you may be tempted to go lie down in your cabin, but you might just get sicker. The best place to go is outside in the fresh air, mid-ship, as close to the water as possible. The motion is greater on the upper decks and at the front or rear of the ship. Keep your eyes on the horizon, and don't be embarassed if your nausea gets the best of you, tell your friends you're feeding the fish.

WHAT TIME IS THE MIDNIGHT BUFFET? It sounds funny but the cruise staff gets this question all the time. Well, guess what? The usual time for the midnight buffet on most ships is 11:30. That is if they even have a midnight buffet anymore. Sadly, it is a tradition that has gone buy the wayside. On some ships the buffet stays open until the wee hours. If not go back to your cabin & call room service. It's free, you can't beat that! Today's cruise lines have perfected the art of feeding passengers and food is available 24 hours a day. It is always free and plentiful. Your room steward can supply your room with fresh fruit and will leave a chocolate on your pillow each night after he turns down the bed.

WHAT IF I MISS THE SHIP? Take a picture to help you describe to friends how it feels to see the ship sailing away without you. Seriously, people get left in port all the time and it is your responsibility to be back on time or get yourself to the next port. If time management isn't your strong suit consider taking shore excursions offered by the cruise line. If one of these organized tours is late, they will definitely hold the ship until your tour gets back.

DOES THE SHIP GENERATE ITS OWN POWER? A very common question. No! It actually has a really long extension cord - right! Yes, ships generate their own power and some of them produce enough electricity to light up a small city. The ship's propellers are even driven by electric engines powered by the same massive diesel generators that supply the ship's electrical current to run your hair dryer. Ships also carry several thousand gallons of fresh water in huge holding tanks which they refill when in port. All the showers and sinks contain fresh, potable water but it is highly chlorinated so bottled water is recommended for drinking. In emergencies they can de-salinate sea water by distilling it. The swimming pools and jacuzzis are all filled with sea-water.

DO I NEED TO KNOW NAUTICAL TERMS? You don't need to know them, but you will hear them from time to time so a little familiarity helps. First of all, cruises are taken on ships, not on boats. Boats are smaller and may be used to get you on and off the ship. The captain isn't said to drive the boat or park it, he steers the ship and docks it. If you get a chance to meet the captain don't ask him, "Who's driving the boat?" He's heard it a million times and you will just sound like an amateur. The "bow" (rhymes with wow) is the front of the ship, or as my colleague says, "the pointy end." The rear of the ship is the "stern." Walking towards the bow means you are going "forward," walking towards the stern means you are going "aft." When facing forward, the left side of the ship is known as the "port" side, the right side is "starboard." Simply remember that the words port and left both contain four letters.

DO I NEED A PASSPORT? You may not officially need a passport as of now, but you will soon, so do not delay, just get the passport now and stop worrying about it. They are highly, highly recommended, otherwise you must have proof of United States citizenship in the form of a certified birth certificate (meaning a notorized original certificate, not a copy). Certified birth certificates can be obtained from the records bureau in the capital for the state in which you were born and may be sent overnight if you give them a credit card number to handle shipping.

Here are the deadlines for when passports will be required to travel anywhere: December 31, 2006 - Requirement applied to all air and sea travel to or from Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. December 31, 2007 - Requirement extended to all land border crossings as well as air and sea travel.

Passports applications are available at most post offices and can be processed through the Superior Court of the state in which you live and expedited to arrive within five working days. If you can apply in person in one of the key cities in the United States which contain federal passport offices you can expedite a passport to be processed within 24 hours.

It is possible to obtain a passport without a birth certificate if you know a documented U.S. citizen who can appear in person to vouch for your citizenship. The National Passport Information Center hotline number is 1-900-225-5674. Plan ahead! These official offices are closed on weekends and legal holidays.

While on board as a passenger the cruise line will retain control of your passport even when you are ashore in a foreign port. They do this so local customs officers can clear the entire ship at once. The ship will have your passport, so try to carry another form of picture identification with you in foreign ports.

If your passport is from a nation besides the United States it is very important that you check with the consulate for each country you will be visiting. Rules vary depending on which nation issued your passport. We recently watched a lovely friend of ours get turned back at the Athens airport because she had a Jamaican passport and had not secured a visa to enter Greece. She is married to an U.S. Citizen and has a green card, but her Jamaican passport still required a visa. She was not even allowed to enter the airport in Athens, was put on the next plane to London, and eventually flew home to New York. Yes, she missed the cruise and her husband, a magazine writer on assignment, had to go alone.

WHERE IS THE BEST PLACE TO MEET THE OFFICERS AND CRUISE STAFF? Some of them share tables in the dining room with passengers, some do not. If you are invited to the captain's table for dinner you should feel especially honored as your fellow diners might be movie stars or a magnate about to buy the cruise line. Officers and cruise staff are usually given full access to the ship's public rooms and may be found in the nightclub when off-duty. Entertainers often supervise passenger activities like ping-pong tournaments or trivial pursuit or act as the ship librarian. In their spare time they are known to frequent the fitness center.

DOES ROMANCE HAPPEN AT SEA? It certainly does. Of course nothing is guaranteed but there are many people who find the congenial, care-free atmosphere on board cruise ships to be the perfect catalyst for romantic encounters, whether it is with someone they have just met or a life-long companion. There are single passengers on most cruises, but especially on the cruise lines that cater to younger crowds. Most crew members are single and there are several stories of crew members meeting passengers and falling in love.

IN CONCLUSION Cruising may seem a little complicated at first, but the vast majority of cruisers who take one cruise find it so rewarding that they return time and again. The more you know about cruising, the richer the experience; but you don't have to be an expert to love it. The best way to learn about cruising is to get on board. Embrace the opportunity to learn from the experience and enjoy the process every step of the way. I promise you will be richly rewarded.

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