PRECRUISE.-TRAVEL INSURANCE-BOOKING YOUR FLIGHTS-TIPS FOR FLYING-BEFORE YOU GO
Once you’ve chosen and booked your cruise the very next thing you need to do is to buy the travel insurance. While most cruise deposits are fully refundable prior to the penalty phase, you never know when an unforeseen life event will require you to cancel your trip in those last few weeks, (illness, job loss, death in the family, etc.) While the loss of that two or three thousand dollars, (or more) may not be enough to break your budget, the costs of a canceled or interrupted cruise can amount to a lot more than your up-front costs. Emergency medical care or medical evacuation can cost a fortune. (Remember most health care policies do not apply if you are outside of your own country.)And there are many other potential events that can ruin your cruise, and cost you plenty if you don’t have insurance. Items like: lost or delayed luggage, or a missed plane or ship, requiring last minute airfare or an additional hotel for the interim time. Not to mention weather related interruptions or cancellations.Note: The official, Atlantic hurricane season lasts from June 1 through November 30. To maximize vacation protection from storms and hurricanes, travelers should buy insurance when they make their travel plans, and before a storm or hurricane is announced. Once the National Weather Service issues a warning for a storm or hurricane, it is considered “a foreseeable event”. Policies purchased on or after the warning date, will not cover loses related to that event.One last note, if you have any pre-existing medical conditions, you need to purchase most travel insurance immediately after booking your trip. Most policies require purchase within one or two weeks of deposit, if you want it to cover those pre-existing conditions.While we're talking trip insurance, don't forget that if you book your air fare separate from the cruise, you should buy trip insurance separately also. Insurance purchased from the cruise line will only cover the portions of your vacation that you've purchased from the cruise line. Also, when requesting an insurance quote, be sure to include all your trip costs when stating how much you are spending, so that your whole vacation is covered.For even more reasons to buy the insurance and a chance to compare the various policies.The first rule of thumb about flying is to travel to your port city the day before the cruise, or sooner.
BOOKING YOUR FLIGHTS:
The first rule of thumb about flying is to travel to your port city the day before the cruise, or sooner. Not only does it help guarantee that you don’t miss your ship, but just a single extra day adds so much more to the vacation than you might think. (BTW, this is good advice whether you drive or fly.) Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind if you are still considering traveling to your embarkation city on the day you sail:
Traveling on the day of the cruise likely means:
• Waking before dawn for early flights.
• Stressing about flight connections and arrival times.
• Arriving close to sail away time and having very little of the first day to enjoy on the ship.
• Later arrival means less selection when trying to schedule spa and specialty restaurantreservations, booking certain excursions, or trying to change meal time errors.
• Possibly not receiving your luggage in your cabin till late, maybe even after dinner.
• Generally arriving exhausted and too tired to enjoy your first evening onboard.
• Worst case scenario, it may mean missing the ship entirely.
Arriving a day early, means:
• You can book later flights
• Fly relaxed and not stress about the time and connections.
• Having a chance to visit your embarkation city.
• Arriving at the ship rested and early, with most of your first day onboard still ahead of you.
• Having a cushion of time that allows you to weather delays calmly, and prevents you missing the ship.
As stated, the best advice is certainly to fly to your embarkation city the day prior to your cruise. But sometimes that’s just not possible. Here are some “rules of thumb” to use, should you face the decision to fly on embarkation day:
• Schedule the very first flight out, no matter how early.
• Only fly on embarkation day, if there is at least one later flight on the same airline that will safely get you there in the event something happens to your flight.
• Never do it for international flights.
• Only do it on direct flights
• Never cut it closer than 5 hours. That means if the ship sails at five pm, your flight had better be arriving by noon.
• Think seriously about it if you are in the North and the cruise is in winter.
• Now re-think it. If you cannot pass these rules of thumb, don’t consider flying in that day. If you can, go for it, but be realistic about the risk you are taking.
Anytime that you must book connecting flights, be sure to leave sufficient time between connections to make the transfer. The airlines may consider 45 minutes or even less, to be a legal connection time; but with such a narrow window you risk missing your connecting flight. And if you are flying to meet your ship that day, you risk missing your entire cruise. It has been suggested that a comfortable connection time would require 2 hours between segments ofdomestic flights, and 3 hours if an international flight is involved.Something to consider re: insurance and traveling the day of the cruise. Don’t let the fact that you have travel insurance lull you into a false sense of security about flying on the day you sail. Most travel policies have a specified length of time that a flight must be late, before the insurance will cover trip delay. Some policies require a delay of as much as 12 hours before they pay. So if a delay of less than that causes you to miss the ship, you could be refused coverage because you weren't delayed the necessary 12 hours required by the policy. Check the fine print on the policy and ask questions before you buy.
And remember, when planning your arrival at the pier, that you must be checked in and onboard ship, no later than 90 minutes before sailing. You may need to arrive even earlier if you have not finished the on line pre-registration. This is the result of Homeland Security rules that require the final passenger manifest be turned in sixty minutes before sailing. Arrive late, and it is possible for you to have missed your ship, while it is still sitting at the pier.Keep in mind whenever you fly, that you should plan to arrive at the airport two hours before your flight to allow plenty of time to check in. New rules require that your baggage must be checked in and present at the check-in counters at least 30 minutes before your scheduled departure time. (At the busier airports, the requirement is 45 to 60 minutes). Plan to arrive at the airport at least two hours before your flight. Remember the flight time is intended to mean the moment the plane leaves the gate, not the time you board the plane.Remember the flight time is intended to mean the moment the plane leaves the gate, not the time you board the plane. Boarding usually starts at about 30 minutes before flight time.
Just as important as booking the out-bound flight, is scheduling your flight home. Remember, the time the cruise itinerary says the ship is due back into port is NOT the time you get to leave the ship. Remember no one leaves that ship until everyone has taken care of their accounts, and until the ship has cleared customs. The cruise lines have official suggested times for booking home going flights. (These are different for each embarkation city, and are usually listed in the cruise lines’ FAQs).So if you do choose a home going flight with a tight schedule, you will want to do a little research first:
• Know your city. Keep in mind, as you consider your ability to catch a particular flight, the type of traffic you’re likely to encounter. Traffic in NYC is dreadful. Last time we cruised from there, it took well over an hour to get from the Manhattan pier, to LGA. While the last time we cruised out Ft. Lauderdale, it took less than 10 minutes to get to FLL.
• Know what penalties you'll pay if you have to reschedule your flight. Depending on your fare catagory, you are likely to forfeit about $100 per ticket, but then can use the remainder toward your new flight, provided you call soon enough (meaning before the plane takes off). Most air tickets are worthless once the plane leaves the gate. They do on occasion, make exceptions, or so I've heard.
• Know what other flights the air line offers that fly to your destination on the same day, so that you are ready to reschedule.
• Have your airline's phone number handy, so that if you are stuck in traffic, or still on the ship, and realize that you will not make the fight, you can call the airlines ASAP to cancel and reschedule, before your ticket becomes worthless.
Lastly, one little hint about choosing your airline seats, if you’re traveling with your honey, but you both get claustrophobic just thinking about that middle seat on the plane, try reserving seats across the isle from each other. That way you're still together, but you both have a bit more elbow room.
TIPS FOR FLYING:
Lock all suitcases with cable ties or TSA locks. Regular luggage locks are no longer allowed on planes. Also pack small scissors in an outside pocket of one checked bag, or nail clippers in your carry on, so you will be able to remove those cable ties.
Make sure you have an identification tag on every suitcase. But while you are at the airport you don’t want anyone to see the address of a house that will clearly be empty for the next several days, so your address should be visible only on the inside of tags. Warning: There are some airports that require both name and address to be visible on the outside, not just the inside flap. You need to check with your airport. ID tags are easily lost from suitcases. Be sure you also put your identification and itinerary information inside your bags, or in an outside pocket of every suitcase. That way, your suitcases can find their way home again after they’ve gone on their own side excursion to Seattle.And be certain to remove all old airline tags from your luggage. You don’t want your suitcases to visit Auntie Emm in Kansas, just like last year. Then before the trip home, remove them again.Fill out cruise line luggage tags at home, and pack them in your carry on, if flying. Do not put the cruise line luggage tags on your bags until you claim them at your destination airport, or at your pre-cruise hotel. This avoids tag loss during flight.Flight cancelations are a dreaded fact of life for the flying public. You can’t avoid them but you can be somewhat prepared: Here are a few ideas:
• Start with the already mentioned tip: Avoid booking the last flight of the day going to your destination. You won't be able to reschedule your canceled flight to another on the same day, if none exist.
• Be prepared by having the phone numbers of your airline readily available, and dial their reservations department the instant your cancellation is announced. By doing so, you will be calling a number where there are a hundred agents taking calls, rather than waiting in line to be served by the few agents assigned to deal with it at your airport.
• Consider adding those numbers to the speed dial on your cell phone. It'll be first come - first served, as you compete for the few open seats on those other flights. The faster you get through to an agent, the more likely you are to snag one of those seats.
• Be sure to mention to the agent that your final destination is a cruise, so they understand they you are dealing with inflexible time restrictions. Even better to check prior to leaving home, and know what other flights are available. Ask for what you need.
• Also, when reading your cruise documents, note the number for contacting your cruise line directly, should you run into a problem during transit. Or call your travel agent. A full service TA will likely help you with this.
BTW, don't forget to fully charge that cell phone before you leave home. It won't do you any good to have the numbers ready if you can't use your phone.
RE: AIRPORT SECURITY
Experienced travelers know to have themselves ready for the security line. They will have their baggie full of liquids, their cell phones, and all electronic items in an easy to access section of their carry on. And they’ll wear easy on/off shoes.As you approach the scanners, listen to security instructions: You will be expected to remove your jackets, sweaters and sweatshirts, belts with buckles, shoes, keys, wallets and any larger metal items (heavy bracelets, etc.). Remove from your carryon your cell phone and any larger electronic items and cameras. Remove your laptop from it’s’ case. The same goes for all your electronics, and your one quart size baggie of allowable liquids (read about Homeland Security’s “3 ounce Rule” for liquid items, in the packing tips section). All these items must go into the bins for scanning. Keep your flight tickets and ID in your hands and you’ll be able to proceed through the scanner without delay.Hint; be certain your bin does not go through the scanner until just before you do. The less time you are separated from your belongings, the less chance they will be picked up by someone else on the other side, before you get back to them. Better yet, if you are traveling with a companion, have one person walk through the scanner first, so that they can claim all your items as they come through.Lastly, if one of you knows in advance that you will likely be pulled aside for further search (i.e. they have a joint replacement or other metal in their body) have that person be the second one to go through the scanner. I have waited as long as 15 minutes for hubby to have his titanium hip verified by the security guys. That’s a long time to have all your valuables sitting, unattended on the conveyer at the other side of the scanner; more than plenty of time for someone to accidentally, or purposely, walk off with your stuff.
BEFORE YOU GO
First off, carefully read all of the small print in your cruise contract and at the back of the cruise brochure, so that you will have a thorough knowledge of what your cruise vacation includes, and are aware of what it does not. Knowing what to expect (and what not to) can make the difference between having a wonderful vacation, versus a disappointing one.One of the most important things to do early-on in your cruise countdown is to fill out all your embarkation documentation. This is done on-line at the cruise line’s web site. Upon booking, your TA will give you a booking number, which will be necessary to access this part of the web page. The purpose of on-line registration is to satisfy important governmental requirements. Having this done in advance speeds the entire embarkation process. I recommend doing this early.If you do postpone and have not filled this out at least three days prior to the cruise, it is very important to remember the new “ 90 minute rule,” which states that guests who do not complete the registration process at least three days prior to embarkation, are required to check-in at least 90 minutes before the published sailing time. Failure to do so will result in denied boarding. The reason for this is that new Homeland Security government regulations for U.S. departure ports require that a final departure manifest is submitted 60 minutes prior to departure.Before you leave home, it is recommended, that you notify your credit card company that you may be using your credit card outside of the country. In an effort to protect your account from unauthorized use, credit card companies have been known to refuse charge approval for purchases made in another state or country. If you let them know what islands / countries you will be visiting, they will note it on the account, and let the charges go through. You should also contact your bank so that there will be no issues if you use your bank card in an ATM outside of the U.S. also.Before you go take the time to research the excursions and activities available at your ports.Before you go take the time to research the excursions and activities available at your ports. Read up on the individual port of call pages, and read through the suggestions offered on the message boards. Check out the list of excursions offered by your cruise line, and the ones offered by the independent companies. Pay special attention to the limitations and suggestions those descriptions include. Then decide, before you leave home, what you want to do.With proper research you can book ahead, and be sure of having made a good choice. And if you book onboard the ship, prior research will prevent you wasting precious shipboard time, making those decisions and waiting in line at the excursions desk.Most cruise lines now allow reservations for excursions to be made on-line, prior to a cruise. On-line reservations usually open near the time of final payment and may close down as much as a few weeks before sailing day. Some cruise lines allow excursions to be booked as soon as deposit is made. So avoid getting closed out of popular activities by doing this early.
And a few more before-you-go recommendations that apply to any kind of trip:
Re: Staying connected:
Before you go, set up an e-mail account that you can access while away from home. (Sites like g-mail and hotmail, among others, provide this service for free.) That way you have a site for others to contact you (in non-emergency situations) and makes sending e-mail from other computers faster, and in consequence cheaper.Also, before you leave, send yourself an e-mail at that account, containing all your travel information, your flight and hotel itinerary, travel insurance info, plus your list of contact numbers (postal, phone and e-mail addresses). This way you will have easy access to this information, should the copies you carry be lost or stolen.Be warned, internet service onboard is notoriously slow. You will save a lot of money by composing your e-mails in a word file ahead of time, before you access the internet. Then once you are connected, simply cut and paste the message into the e-mail and hit send. When you're paying by the minute, faster is definitely cheaper.Here's a few warnings to heed, if you intend to rely on your cell phone as your means of staying in contact with family at home. Be certain to contact your service provider before you leave home. Ask if your phone has coverage where you're headed, and if you need to add "extended call delivery" or other service options, to access it. Ask about the costs too. That includes the ship board cellular service also. There will likely be a per minute fee charged by the ship, as well as one charged by the intevening satellite services that convey the call from the ship, to a satellite, to you. Added together the costs can be hugely expensive. (Be aware that the voice prompts for accessing your voice mail may given in the local language, with English option not even offered.)I like the recommendation of one experience cruiser, who suggests you just lock your cell phone in the cabin safe, and leave it there for the duration. It's a vacation, after all. The goal was to get "away from it all", not take it with you.
Re: Keeping your home safe while you're gone.
Before you go, allow only those people whom you trust, know that you will be vacationing. The pre-cruise excitement is strong and so is the urge to tell everyone you meet that you’re going on a cruise. But that also tells them that your home will be vacant for days, a sitting target for thieves…. Better yet, arrange a house sitter.Make reservations for boarding rover, early. Or have the house sitter do double duty and pet sit too. If the house and/or pet sitter is not in the plan, be sure to follow the usual house safety precautions:Arrange for mail and newspaper deliveries to be held while you are gone. Avoid having a pile of papers at your door, or an over flowing mailbox alerting burglars of your absence. Schedule the "hold" to start one day before you leave so you will know if they actually remember to stop them. (Our newspaper and post office get this wrong so often, I’m stunned when they get it right.)Remember that a driveway full of pristine snow or an overgrown lawn can also signal to a burglar that your house is empty. Arrange to have t he lawn mowed and the snow plowed, and thus eliminate these clues. Beside, who wants to face that chore, once you return home. Set the house lights on timers, to simulate people still at home. Turn off the water at the point in your house closest to the meter, to prevent damage from potential leaksLower the thermostat, or turn down the air conditioning preventing wasted energy costs.Thoroughly water the plants.
Verify that all windows and doors are securely locked.
Do let someone that you trust, and who is not traveling with you, know where you will be. Give them your flight and hotel information, and the ship’s contact number. Also tell them if your car will be left in long term parking, and be sure they know that location also. You do this for the same reason that you always leave your life insurance and financial information, and the location of your wills with a close family member: Just in case.