Let me start by saying that I have never been on a cruise and probably will not be going on one anytime in the future. You see, I am afraid of water and the thought of having nothing but water around me makes my heart race. I am more of a road trip kinda gal. I do have a friend, however, who is a frequent cruiser. We got together over a delicious Mexican meal to discuss what the first time cruiser needs to know to make the experience more enjoyable. Here is his advice.
The number one thing you need to do is decide what you want to do. Do you want to experience other cultures? Then you want to book a cruise that has more port stops. The more port stops, the more you have the opportunity to leave the ship and explore. Do you want to stay on the ship, bask in the sun, read and just relax? Then you will want to book a cruise that has less port stops and more time at sea. If your idea of a perfect cruise is to be pampered, there is a cruise for that too. Is the entire family going on the cruise? Be sure to book a kid-friendly cruise with lots of supervised activities. I did not realize that there were so many options, so be sure to look into all of the ones that fit with what you want to do.
Another thing to consider when planning your cruise is time. This is not a process you want to rush. My friend has some cruises planned a year to a year and a half in advance. Taking a cruise is not like jumping on a flight to Chicago from Cleveland for the weekend. No, you need to think this through very carefully, especially if this is your first cruise.
There are several great sources of information about cruising. The Internet is a great reference. Go directly to a few of the large cruising companies and see what they have to offer. You will get to view sample itineraries, cabin tours, options, pricing and much more. A local travel agent who specializes in cruises is another great source of information. Even if you cannot just sit and talk with an agent, they will have brochures and written information you can use to plan your adventure. The best source I can think of is to talk with someone who has been on a cruise, or several would be better. Just like my friend, he has made mistakes he can advise you about so that you don’t make them, little tips that make things easier and which cruise lines offer what services. Don’t be afraid to ask. Most people who cruise frequently love to talk about it.
Do not forget that you will need to have a passport in order to board your ship. Don’t have a passport? It can take up to 6 weeks to get one issued, so start that process early. You can get a passport expedited but that will cost you a lot more money then just doing it early. Also do not forget your state-issued driver’s license or state-issued photo ID. You will need one of those along with your passport. Your cruise line will also let you know if you are in need of a Visa. There may be personal situations present that I am not aware of, so be sure to ask if you need one. For complete passport and Visa information, you can visit http://www.travel.state.gov.
If you will be traveling with children, you will want to find out what paperwork is required for each of them. There are different needs for children with different last names and other situations that may be present. Be sure to find out what paperwork is required ahead of time so that you are prepared.
Once you decide the type of cruise and the timing of the cruise, you will want to book it as soon as possible. My friend did suggest using an experienced agent for your first cruise. But if you did the research, have the time and are confident in your decision, you can book it directly with the cruise line. Either way, you will want to be prepared to make a deposit at the time of booking. The balance due will be discussed per the cruise line mandates. Life does happen, so you will want to find out cancellation polices and penalties. Hopefully, you will not need to cancel your cruise, but it is best to know your options if something were to come up.
To summarize, know what you want to do, plan ahead and do the research. Give yourself time and the process should go smoothly. A big thank you to my friend, Steve, for all his advice! Happy Travels!