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Cruise Hacks: Set Sail on Your Best Cruise Ever

We just completed our 20th cruise and even being veterans at this point, there are things we still forget and ignore.  Hopefully, this list of Cruise Hacks will help you set sail on your best cruise ever!

Whether you are leaving on your first cruise, or you are a veteran of Cruising Culture, taking a little time to plan before you jump on the ship will make your journey that exciting, relaxing, and rejuvenating time it is meant to be. 

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Book a cruise that goes to places you want to go

Your best friends just got home from a cruise through the Fjords of Norway.  Their pictures are beautiful.  But you are not a cold-weather person.   You want to lay on the beach and drink tropical drinks with little umbrellas.  There are many fascinating island cruise adventures.  Don’t go to Norway!

Best Of Our Cruise Hacks – Don’t overpack!

It can be very tempting and easy to bring far more than you need on a cruise.  You are excited; there may be pool and beach time, sightseeing, dancing, off-road adventures, and formal nights.  That adds up to a lot of different outfits, not to mention shoes.  Make a list before you start and try to mix and match as much as possible.

Yes, you only have to unpack once, but those cruise cabins are very tiny, and there is not much storage.  Take advantage of packing cubes. These cubes help you organize your suitcase and keep your clothes or outfits ready for quick changes.  The cubes are also great for unpacking… You can take the cube right out of your bag and pop it in a drawer or on a shelf and stay organized. 

A suitcase and set of travel organizers (packing cubes) with belongings on the floor
A suitcase and set of travel organizers with belongings on the floor

If available use the cruise lines luggage shipping

Some cruise lines will pick up your luggage from your home and take it to the ship.  Yes, there is a cost for this, but you won’t have to check your bags on your flight.  Using these services saves you time and possibly cost at the airport (many airlines charge for checked luggage now).  Plus, you won’t start your vacation with a sore shoulder or back from pulling around 75 pounds.  Often the luggage shipping is offered in reverse, so you don’t have to lug all your dirty clothes home.

Check the weather right before you leave

If you are going to the Caribbean, it can still rain.  I’ve even heard some hurricanes happen.  In Alaska, the weather is usually cooler, but we’ve been there when the average daily temperature was 80*.  Make sure you are prepared for these events and ready to change up your outfits as the weather changes. 

This handy rain jacket is lightweight (only 7 ounces), and folds up and stores in this small pouch. In the rainy season in the tropics, or really just about anywhere, this is a great item to carry with you for protection from those sudden downpours.

Cruise Hacks – Copy your documents (cruise ticket, passport, driver’s license, or other ID)

Cruise tickets, passports, driver’s licenses, and any visas or other papers like flight arrangements, private tour bookings, rental car reservations, etc., all need to be copied.  I know this sounds old-fashioned today, but make paper copies of these items to carry with you and store digital copies online in a document bank like Dropbox. 

A few years ago, my husband and I were unable to print out boarding passes for a flight home from Frankfurt.  When we got to Frankfurt, late of course, the only way we got through security to the gate for our flight was having a paper copy of those tickets.  There was another gentleman at security with the same problem, no boarding pass, but he did not have a paper ticket.  He did not make the flight.

You can buy everything you need on the ship if you forget something, but it’s expensive

Make a list and check it twice.  While you don’t want to overpack, leaving behind seemingly unimportant things will frustrate you.  Make sure you have a basic first aid kit (some painkillers, Pepto, bandaids, etc.); you can put these things in a pretty small package.  If you are anything like me, you will need them on the trip. 

Double-check any medications you are required to take to ensure you have enough to last through the journey.  Keep prescription medications in their original packaging.  Customs or Security may make you dispose of medicine they cannot identify or that are not correctly packaged.

Don’t miss the boat!

Make sure you know when your ship sails and that you have all your documents with you for your sailing.  If you show up without a valid passport (usually meaning your passport does not expire for up to six months after your trip ends) you may be denied boarding. 

If your cruise port is in Florida and you don’t live in Florida, you should plan to arrive at least one day before your cruise.  You never know when travel delays are going to occur. 

Cruise Hacks! - Check In

You can also take advantage of booking your flights through your cruise line, which often guarantees that you will get to your ship on time.  If for some unforeseeable reason, the delays are so great that you do miss the sailing, some lines offer protection guarantees that will get you to the ship at the next port.

Cruise Hack – Check your phone/tablet cell/data package

First things first… Put your “cellular” devices in airplane mode as soon as you get on the ship … before the ship even leaves the dock.  If you forget to make this change, that little device you love so much will continue downloading data (most carriers use “cellular at sea”), and in less than 24 hours, even if you haven’t looked at that phone, you can accrue $100 or more in charges. 

There are usually “free” wi-fi spots in port. But rather than trust your information to some “free and open” wi-fi … Get a “hot spot” you can carry with you to use when you are in port. 

A “hot spot” is a device that connects to local cell service and then sends a wi-fi signal out to devices you choose to allow access.  Using a “hot spot” is safer than using free public wi-fi at the local bar or pub. Note, do not try to use your “hot- spot” at sea as the only cell service to connect to is that dreaded “cellular at sea,” and this does not work.

We use SkyRoam. You purchase the “hot spot” (currently there are two models to choose from) and pick a data plan. You can connect up to five devices at a time. The data plans range from $9.00 US per gig/month or Unlimited Data for $9.00 per day. SkyRoam also offers a rental program if you are not ready to commit… SkyRoam works in over 130 countries, so it will likely work where you are going.

Solis Hot Spot from SkyRoam
Click on the Solis HotSpot above and enter the discount code SKYROAMTEC for a 10% discount on purchase.

Most cell carriers have horrible data packages for cruising.  These packages are expensive and don’t cover much.  The good news is that the cruise lines have realized that selling data (making internet available to their guests) is an excellent source of ancillary income.

With the growing technology, Cruise lines now make wifi available to passengers at better and better rates and efficiency.  Take advantage of your cruise ship’s internet package. 

Don’t forget your chargers and cables

We all travel with an increasing variety of cables and charging equipment for our various electronics that are now must-haves.  It is very frustrating to get on the ship, unpack and realize you forgot to bring the cable for your phone or the charger for your camera battery.  How will all your Instagram followers be able to follow you if you can’t post because you have no power? 

Keeping all these little bits and pieces together in one place is made easy by the numerous cases available to buy these days.  I like using a case like the one below. This case keeps cords accessible and untangled, and is very compact and lightweight.

Electronics Organizer
Electronics Organizer

Cruise Ships operate like most fine hotels and it’s possible that if you head over to guest services, they may have a cord or charger they can lend you for the duration of the cruise. 

Many guests forget to pack their charges and cords when disembarking, and these are often brought to guest services in case the guest comes back looking for the item.  But don’t count on the ship having a cord for your device, especially if your charger or cord is unique.

Check out the ports-of-call and make a note of what you want to see

Don’t wait until you sail and hope for the best.  You spent good money on this vacation, make sure you get to do those things that are most important to you.  Use review sites to understand what each port has to offer.  If there is a must-see or do attraction in the port,  be assured your ship will have an excursion going there. 

But if the thing you want most to see is unusual or not on the top ten attractions for the location, you will likely need to get there on your own.  Make sure you understand the local culture and are comfortable with transportation before jumping in a local taxi at the pier, or this could be a recipe for disaster.   

As an alternative, you can book a guide on your own to get you where you want to go.  We like taking advantage of local guides and have done this in countries from Vietnam to Columbia.  There are many sources to find local guides. We’ve used “Tours by Locals” several times and have always been delighted with the service.

Guides who specialize in cruise ships are very aware of the time the ship arrives and leaves.  These guides make their living doing these tours.  The comments you leave on the guide’s website or Trip Advisor about the service you receive is their best advertising.  You will be well cared for on your day in port and will make it back to the ship with time to spare.

Cruise Hacks – Beverages on ships can be costly

Check your cruise lines policy for bringing soft drinks, bottled water, or alcohol on board.  You can often bring soft drinks and water (usually limited to 12 “cans”) in their original unopened container.  These beverages must be part of your carry-on, not in your packed luggage.

Bring a refillable water bottle.  Put some flavoring packets in your bag, and you will stay hydrated without getting bored and buying soft drinks at a ridiculous price.

This bottle is also good to pop in your day bag for excursions. You never know if you can drink the water on-shore.

Alcohol is not something cruise lines like you to bring on board, but usually, you can bring up to two 750 ml bottles of wine.   If you drink your wine in your stateroom, often there is no charge.  However, if you bring a special wine to have for a special dinner in one of the dining rooms on the ship, there will be a corkage fee similar to any fine restaurant on land.

Bring things to do to pass the time at sea

Sea days are great, nothing to do and no place to go… Until you realize that there is nothing to do and no place to go.  If you like to read, make sure you have enough reading material to last your trip.

If you’re into knitting or crocheting, bring it with you. Do you like to play cards? Bring a deck of cards.  Crosswords or Sudoku your thing?  Make sure you have a couple of good puzzle books. 

By the way, get a good “tablet” (it doesn’t have to be an expensive iPad), and you can download books, puzzles, card games, etc., and save a lot of space and paper (i.e., weight) in your suitcase.

Black glossy tablet PC mobile computer with colorful icon interface isolated on white background
Black glossy tablet PC mobile computer with colorful icon interface isolated on white background

Cruise Hack – Make sure you know when the “last call” for your ship is in port

Keep track of “Ship Time” (it may not always be the same as local time). When you leave for your day in port, have a reliable watch set to ship time and double-check your ship’s daily newsletter for the last call for passengers to be back on board. 

If your cruise line has an onboard “app,” download it to your smartphone or tablet.  These apps will often have daily events and most importantly, will keep track of “Ship Time”!

If you are on a ship-sponsored shore excursion and it is late, the ship will try to wait for the group.  If you have chosen to go on your own that day, however, don’t be late… Time and cruise ships wait for no man.  You don’t want to watch your ship sail away without you.

Speaking of booking shore excursions from the ship

If you want to participate in a ship-sponsored shore excursion, make sure to book early.   Other passengers will want to be on these trips as well, and they can fill up fast.  Sometimes the ship will add more segments of a popular tour, but often they can’t. Don’t wait too long; you may miss out. 

If it turns out that you are unable to book a tour you want, early on the day of the tour, call or go to the shore excursion desk to see if there have been any cancellations.  It’s always possible some passenger got sick or just changed their mind at the last minute, and you can take their place.

Relax and enjoy your cruise

Now is your time!  Take a deep breath; let it out!  You are finally here!

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