Along the way, I've learned - often the hard way - a few tips that help ensure smooth sailing for my ocean voyages.
Whenever possible, I arrive in the port of embarkation a day early. During the winter, this alleviates fear of delay due to weather. But most important, it de-stresses me from the torture of air travel and generally adds a day of fun to my cruise. Internet discount hotel booking services I use include www.priceline.com, www.travelocity.com and www.hotelnetdiscount.com. You may get a better hotel rate than the cruise line's pre- and post-cruise hotel packages.
Always carry your documents and valuables with you. I once had a small, stylish purse and had to carry documents and other important things in a separate tote bag; in addition, I was carrying my normal carry-on bag. I arrived at my Miami hotel sans tote bag - no documents, medication, reading glasses and other critical items. Racing back to Miami airport, a miracle happened - it was in lost and found! Now, I have a huge purse just for travel. I personally know two people who have arrived to find valuables stolen from their suitcases by baggage handlers. A good rule of thumb: if you can't bear to part with something forever, don't pack it in your suitcase.
Purchase travel insurance. All travel agents sell cruise insurance and it's worth the extra money. Ship's physicians have told me they've seen lives saved because ill passengers have had insurance - they were immediately air lifted back to the US instead of winding up in a Caribbean hospital with inadequate medical treatment. But aside from illness, travel insurance protects you from so many mishaps that can happen, including lost luggage, flight delays. Two travel insurance companies we like are Travel Guard and Travelex; you may purchase them through your travel agent or directly.
If your heart is set on a massage, hair styling or other spa treatment during a day at sea, be among the first to board and then run to the ship's fitness center - these are booked first. The same is true for obtaining reservations at a ship's alternative restaurant, when an advance booking is required.
Cruise line shore excursions are very, very expensive. An example: on a recent Hawaii cruise I could reserve a Budget rental car through the shore excursion desk for $70 per day. At the ship's cybercafe, I reserved a Budget car for $30 per day. But you must plan in advance, research local companies on the internet before you leave. You're options are few once you board the ship -- buy a pricey shore excursion or wing it on your own.
Aboard luxury ships, videos and DVDs are complimentary. Since the best go first, dash to the library and grab the ones you want. And be kind, return videos to the library after you've seen them -- many passengers don't.
While most people today purchase airline tickets online, one of the biggest advantages of buying an air/sea package is that if your bags don't make the ship, the cruise line must track them and deliver them to the first port possible. Otherwise, you're completely on your own in locating your luggage.
The airlines frequently put air/sea passengers on the worst possible routing, making you change planes when a non-stop is available. If you want the best route, ask your travel agent to contact the cruise line's air deviation desk. For a fee of around $35, your tickets can be changed to a humane routing.
You have no idea how much your satisfaction means to the ship's staff. If you encounter any problems in your cabin or wind up with noisy neighbors, go immediately to the purser's desk. If they can't resolve the situation right away, they'll make every attempt to move you to another stateroom. Ditto the restaurant: if you can't stand your dining companions, go immediately to the maitre' d and ask to be assigned to another table. I've seen too many people gripe about problems during and after their cruise, when in many cases, the problem could have been rectified on the spot.
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