1. Pre-cruise Planning. Never, ever take a cruise without buying insurance from your travel agent, especially if you're flying to meet the ship. Should a flight be cancelled or delayed to the point of missing the boat, it will be your nickel to book a flight to meet the ship in the first port. *** Whenever possible, plan to arrive in port the day before departure in order to avoid flight and luggage delays *** To arrive with wrinkle-free clothing for dressy nights, put each outfit in a plastic dry cleaner's bag and lay flat in suitcase. I put items on hangars so they go directly from the bag to closet.
2. Enroute to the Ship. When flying to meet a ship sailing from a port that is more than a ten-minute ride from the airport, buy an airport transfer from the cruise line through your travel agent. Saves time, money and aggravation *** I never board a plane without earplugs or an Ipod since it seems to be my fate that I end up sitting within five rows of screaming babies.
3. What to Take. Since luggage may not arrive in your stateroom for hours after boarding the ship, I recommend purchasing a carry-on bag with wheels to transport all the stuff you'll need immediately. These items include a change of clothes, shoes and toiletries plus irreplaceable items such as ID, tickets, jewelry, camera, medication, eyeglasses and other items. Keep it simple when packing to take a ship that schedules formal nights. A black skirt or evening pants combined with tunics or blouses, sparkly rhinestone jewelry or scarves is all women needs to look terrific.
4. The Moment You Board. Like most people, after I change clothes and get freshened up, I'd like nothing more than to head to the buffet to begin stuffing myself with food. However taking care of a few details at the earliest possible moment pays off in many ways: run to the ship's spa to book treatments especially when you want a massage during a day at sea. If there is a VCR library on the ship, I race to grab a few since the best ones go first.
5. Cutting Costs. In today's economy, many of us want to economize whenever possible and this includes onboard purchases. I've found that the only way I can accomplish this is by pre-cruise planning. Once I board the ship I automatically drift into cruise bliss and become incapable of making adult decisions. However if I arrive knowing I plan to cut back on spa treatments in order to treat myself to a wonderful bottle of wine with dinner, it's not difficult to do.*** If you want to buy cruise line t-shirts, wait until the last day when they go on sale *** And, wait until the last day of the cruise to purchase photos because you'll have many more to choose from.
5. Dining. If your heart is set on a cozy table for two at dinner aboard a ship with assigned seating, ask your travel agent to pull whatever strings necessary to reserve one the moment you book. If that's not possible, run to the dining room the moment you board to reserve your table. And, if I plan to dine at an alternative restaurant during formal night, it pays to be at the head of the line to get the reservation of my choice.
6. Your Stateroom. A night-light comes in handy because blackout drapes mean the cabin will be pitch dark. It helps to avoid crashing into furniture when trying to reach the bathroom during the night.
7. Going Ashore. Nearly every cruise line offers pre-cruise shore excursions on the Internet and I strongly recommend taking care of this detail before departure. ***If you decide to plan your own shore excursion, take the name and phone number of the cruise line's local port agent, which is listed in the daily program delivered to your stateroom the night before arrival in port. If a problem or delay occurs, it's an important contact number to have.
8. On Deck. If you like to lie in the sun, use a very high sun block and reapply frequently, even if the label claims its waterproof. There really are no waterproof sun blocks. Since I love a tan as much as anyone, I apply it the morning right after my shower with a self-tanner. But remember: 80% of wrinkles are caused by the sun, a big reason to stick to the shade and using a self-tanner.
9. Cruising With Kids. Children's facilities aboard ship make cruising an outstanding family vacation. Most families opt for early dinner seating so the children may retire at their regular bedtime. Head for the kids facilities the day you board to learn what's available by age group and meet the children's counselors. And, don't be surprised if your children have such a terrific time they prefer to spend time with kids their own age rather than hanging out with parents.
10. Disembarking and Returning Home. For me disembarkation is a depressing experience so it's important that I plan post-cruise travel plans carefully. If you're flying to return home, be sure your flight is scheduled with plenty of time to leave the ship, travel to the airport and go through security check.