Search site


1401 Riverplace Blvd, Jacksonville, FL 32207



Cruising Advice-Part One

27/12/2010 21:58



What should you expect, on Embarkation day? …… Well first off, expect a line; a long line. If you have booked one of the new, larger ships there will likely be anywhere from three to five thousand people attempting to board that ship in a few short hours. Example: if you’re leaving out of a Florida port, official boarding time will likely be about one pm, with sailing usually set for about five, targeting to have all passengers embarked by 4:00 pm. That means they expect all those people to arrive and be processed between 1:00 and 3:30pm. That’s 1200 to 2000 people per hour. A line is inevitable.And be aware of the potential for delay. Sometimes delays with the previous passengers cause that line to be exceptionally long. Many things can hold up the previous passengers from leaving the ship. Usually, it’s a problem with customs, or delays getting the ship back into port. Even passengers that don’t take care of their accounts can derail the process. No one gets off until all customs and accounts are cleared. And no one gets on until the previous passengers are gone.Knowing what to expect, and what not to, can make the difference between having a wonderful vacation, versus a disappointing one. So just plan to wait. A few times we’ve found little more than a walk through, but you have to consider that just a lucky fluke. Boarding delays happen frequently enough that experienced cruisers just don’t let it bother them. We’re usually so excited to be there, that nothing can depress our mood. We’ve started conversations with fellow passengers while in the embarkation line, that turned into friendships once onboard…. It is what you make it.Line or not, my best advice is to get to the port early. The official, boarding time may be one o’clock, but don’t feel you have to wait till then to arrive. We aim to arrive before noon, usually board with the first wave of passengers, and have time to make the most of our first day onboard.You will have received cruise line luggage tags with your cruise documents. Fill these out at hometo save time, and carry them in your carry-on bag. Attach them to your bags just before heading to the ship, (either after you claim your bags at the airport, or at your pre-cruise hotel) If you need extra tags you can get them from the luggage handlers at the pier.When you arrive at the pier you will hand your bags over to the luggage handlers. These suitcases will be delivered to your cabin later, and either placed outside your door, or your cabin steward will move them into the cabin for you. It is customary to tip the pier luggage handlers. Skip the tip and you may find yourself waiting a very long time for your bag to arrive in your cabin.Expect it to take a long while for your bags to show up anyway. Figure maybe 3500 people, multiplied by two bags each, that’ s over 7000 suitcases to deliver. It takes awhile. Therefore, it is a very good idea to be prepared for this delay by packing a few things in your carry-on. If you are flying in on boarding day, then you will want to carry on shorts and sandals, at least. If you are staying at a hotel the night before boarding, you may arrive early enough to use the ship's pool that afternoon, so carry-on your swimsuit and sunscreen too.There have been several times our luggage has not shown up prior to dinner, so you might want to carry a quick change for dinner, if you really don’t want to wear your travel clothes. But remember first night dinner is always very casual. Many people will still be in their travel clothes. On most ships, this is the only night of the week that shorts are not against the rules. If you wear shorts, it will merely be assumed that your luggage has not yet arrived in your cabin, and you therefore were unable change for dinner.
What else should we do on embarkation day?
There are a few things you will want to do immediately after boarding:

·         After finding your cabin, lock up your passports and wallets and jewelry in the safe, and check out your cabin.

·         Find your life jackets in your closet, and find the location of your lifeboat station posted on your door. Make note of it. Sometime, usually about an hour before sailing, they will have the muster drill. The call to muster is impossible to miss: seven, short LOUD blasts of the ship's horn followed by one long one. Take your life jackets with you. Everyone must participate. No exceptions.

·         Find your daily program (RCI Compass, Princess Patter, Celebrity Daily, Carnival Capers whatever) It’ll be on the bed or desk. And check out the activities of the day. (Hint: Bring a highlighter pen to mark the things you want to do. It helps you remember.) Note the times for those events that interest you.

·         If you have kids and the teen/kids daily planner is not in your cabin, stop by the purser's desk and ask for one, or ask your room steward to provide one, daily.

·         Make note of when the teen / kids welcome aboard meeting takes place. Be sure they go to at least that first meeting. This is when all the young people onboard meet each other for the first time. Missing the first meeting is akin to the first day of school. Parents need to go too.

·         Verify that any pre-reserved excursions are correct. If you have used the on-line excursion reservation/purchase system on the cruise line's web site to purchase excursions from home, the tickets will likely be waiting for you in your cabin, or will be delivered by you room steward. If you have not yet done so, now is the time to book your excursions, before the popular ones are all booked up. (Do this at the excursions desk, or via the interactive TV.)

·         Check out your dinner assignment. Table numbers will either be on your sign and sail card, or on a note in your cabin. Provided it's not too close to dinner time, you may be able to go into the dining room and see where your table is. Be sure your entire group has been placed at the same table and at the same dinner time. Find the Maitre' D to correct any mistakes.

·         Now is the time to tour the ship, and stop by the Lido deck to enjoy the welcome aboard buffet.

·         On your tour, stop in at the spa, and make any spa appointments you wish, for the week. The daily program will probably note which days of the week are formal nights. Plan ahead. If you wish to get your hair or nails done on the afternoon of formal night, make your appointment ASAP. They fill up fast.

·         If you boarded early enough, be sure to take the embarkation day tour of the Spa and Gym areas, to learn where these are located, and all their features. There are steam rooms, saunas and hot tubs there and they are free to use by all guests, and you could easily cruise all week and never see them there.  (Also notice that they have showers in the gym area. These are much bigger and taller than the one in your cabin and are available for anyone to use. It’s a good thing to remember them as an alternate place to shower if you have several people in your cabin, all trying to get ready for dinner at once.)

·         Make any specialty dinner reservations you want for the week too. These book up fast also. People say the meals are wonderful and worth the extra money.

·         If you manage to board the ship fairly early this is a good time to take pictures before there are two or three thousand other people in them. If you miss this opportunity, any day while the ship is in port will be a good time also.

·         If you don't have your own veranda, immediately after muster, find a place at the rail to watch sail-away. If you wait, the good spots are likely to have other passengers lining the rails.

Sometime on that first day, your room steward will introduce himself. (Take note of his name. We always find ourselves wondering later, just what his name was, when it comes time to put his tip in an envelope.) This is also a good time to tell your steward about any potential special requests you might have. Such as:

·         To arrange the beds how you wish, together or apart.

·         Request that a teen/kids daily planner is delivered to your cabin everyday. Or request two of the adult version. One for each of you, or one to save.

·         Extra hangers.

·         Robes, if they are not already in the room

·         If you want your ice bucket filled more than twice a day.

·         If you want extra towels everyday, or each evening.

·         Unlock the connecting door, if the your kids or friends are in the cabin next door

·         Open the balcony divider if you have side by side balcony cabins. Occasionally you can just ask this of your cabin steward directly. But sometimes they require one person from each cabin to go to the purser’s desk together, to make the request. On some ships there is a limit to the number of dividers they will allow open. So make this one of the first things on your boarding day “to do” list.

·         If you need a mini-refrigerator to keep medications (or whatever) cold, you can get one even if the room does not come with one

·         If the cabin’s refrigerator comes stocked with drinks and snacks, now’s the time for you can ask the room steward unlock it for you. (Or to empty it, should you prefer.)

·         I've even heard people ask for a small bowl of fruit to be automatically delivered every day.

Then, once your bags finally arrive, you can proceed to move into your cabin. By this I mean, unpack everything and settle in. You don’t want to waste time searching through suitcases the rest of the week. Put your clothes away, place the photo of your kids on the night stand and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you start calling that cabin “home”. Lastly, the one truly not-to-be-missed embarkation day activity is the life boat drill. I mean that literally. Do not try to duck out on muster, by hiding in your cabin. Yes it’s a chore; and yes, you will look ridiculous in those huge orange vests. But the drill is mandatory, and it may even save your life. Besides, they search those cabins and they will find you. People who miss the main drill are usually instructed that they must attend a makeup session on the following day. Trust me, that puffy orange jacket will look even more ridiculous when you are the only passengers wearing them.


Throughout the week expect to find the ship’s photographer snapping photos at every turn. It’s starts from the moment you step onboard, and doesn’t stop. I recommend you don’t hesitate to let that photographer take your picture whenever you see him. It costs you nothing, and there’s no obligation to buy. The more photos you have taken, the more likely that one will become the perfect souvenir of your cruise.On the formal nights they always have the photographers stationed at several locations on the ship. This is a great time to get a family photo done. When else can you get your whole family in front of a photographer, with all dressed in their formal best? Be sure to be ready for dinner early that night, so you can get the photo done while everyone is fresh. The photographers will be there after dinner too. The lines are longest after between the end of first seating and the start of second. Preferably stop at a few of the photographers, if the family will be patient for that. Some photographers are just more talented than others.Here's a hint: Don't buy any photo immediately, unless you are absolutely in love with it. If your budget is limited, wait until the last day. Those photos will be put back up daily, all week long. And there will be more photos of you each day. If you wait until sometime on the last full day of the cruise, you can gather up all photos of your family, look at them all together, and make your selections from the best of the pictures taken all week. (Don't wait until the last morning. That is too late.)Either on the first day, or very early in the cruise, you should you receive your excursion tickets in your cabin. As you very carefully check that they indicate the correct excursions and times, also take special note of the meeting times, and the meeting locations. The meeting time for most excursions is about 15 minutes earlier than the actual excursion time. And the meeting location may be either on the ship or on the pier. If you are tendering that day, it may take an extra half-hour, or longer to reach that on-the-pier meeting location. Allow yourself enough time.
If your excursion is an early one, and you forgot an alarm clock, you can use the automated wake up call program on your cabin phone to wake you the morning.Be sure to read the ship’s newsletter, daily. Every evening your cabin steward will deliver to your cabin, a new copy of the ship’s daily paper. (The Capers, the Patter, the Compass, the Daily. Every ship has its’ own version.) It will have important announcements and will tell about the activities, events, mealtimes and gift shop sales that will take place the following day. Use your yellow marker pen to highlight those items of interest to you, so you don’t miss the things you want to do.
But while you’re at it, don’t try to do it all. You are on vacation, the goal it to relax. Yes, that daily paper offers a list of activities as long as your arm, but if you try to do them all you will arrive back home in greater need of a vacation than when you left. So take some time to just recharge your batteries. The most enjoyable activity of the day may well be a nap in a lounger by the pool.
By the way, about all those daily papers: Save them. They make a great (free) souvenir of your trip. It’s nice to read through them again when you’re home, and remember all you did onboard. Note: you can pick up extra copies of the papers each day at the pursers desk.Some people like to take a little time every evening of the cruise to record the activities of their days onboard in a journal or memory book. One suggestion for those who can keep it brief is to send your self a postcard each day. The stamped cards will arrive home after you do, bringing with them memories to keep. 

Don’t wait until the last day of the cruise to re-pack your belongings. Pack up used clothing each day as you go through the week. This frees up some time to enjoy your last evening on the ship.
For those that have an inside cabin, turn the TV on before you go to bed (with the sound off). Tune the TV to the channel that shows the view from the bridge. That way when you wake up, you will have some idea of whether it is day or night.Bring along an expired gift card, ID card or credit card, the kind with a magnetic strip on the back. Many of the ship's cabin safes open by using a card with a magnetic strip. Your cabin door/sign & sail card would even work. But it is strongly recommended that you do not choose that card, as the room steward also has a card that will open your door, and in that case, may also open your safe. 
Any card you have would work, a credit card, a library card, a driver's license, as long as it has the magnetic strip on the back. But then you have to carry that card with you, all around the ship, and off. If you bring an expired card (one with no monetary value on it anymore) that will work and you will not risk losing an important card.
Life onboard can be a bit confusing until you learn your way around:

·         One trick to doing that (on some ships) is to take notice of little things like the pattern of the carpet. Many ships have one pattern of carpet in all their port-side cabin corridors, and another pattern in all their starboard-side cabin corridors. Learn which pattern is outside your cabin door, and avoid heading down the wrong hall.

·         And to avoid finding yourself turning down the right hall, but wrong direction, remember ships always have their cabin numbers arranged with the smaller cabin numbers forward, increasing to higher numbers as you move aft.

·         One trick to learning your way around: Some ships have one pattern of carpet in all their port-side cabin corridors, and another pattern in all their starboard-side cabin corridors. Learn which pattern is outside your cabin door, and avoid heading down the wrong hall?There may be number differences between port and starboard cabins too. (Example: all port-side cabins, on the ninth floor may begin with 90XX, while all starboard cabins begin with 95XX) Look for the pattern and you’ll know where you’re going.

·         After that, you can stop by the purser’s desk where small maps of the deck plans are usually available

One place to practice that relaxed, open mind is at dinner. This is the perfect opportunity to try all those unusual or foreign sounding foods that you would never try at home. At home you might avoid ordering that expensive escargot, because: “What if I don’t like it?” But on the ship, you can try it, and if you don’t like it, you just ask the waiter to take it away and bring you something else. 

Maybe try two “something elses”. On a cruise you can order as many dishes as you want. Two entrees, three desserts, or whatever you like. There’s no extra cost. So go for it; and you can rest assured the waiter will not even blink if you do. You will be far from the first cruiser to ask for two lobster tails. BTW: If you like to drink wine with your dinner, order it by the bottle even if you aren't likely to finish the whole bottle at that meal. The wine steward will store your bottle for you to drink on subsequent evenings. It's usually less expensive by the bottle, and there is no cost for this service.A few other ways to save $ while onboard:

If you drink a lot of soda pop, you can purchase what is called a soda card. In reality this is just a sticker attached to your sign and sail card that allows unlimited fountain drinks throughout the cruise. (A fountain drink is one served in a glass. A can of the same pop is still extra cost, so when you order, ask for a cola, not a “can” of cola.) Cost is figured per night, typically about $30.00 total, for a seven night cruise.Most ships now have a computer room, and some have Wi-Fi wireless available, so you can use your laptop. Whether using your computer, or one of the ship’s, the per-minute charges are expensive. So save time, and therefore money, by composing and pre-typing your e-mails into a word file, before you connect. Then simply cut and paste to e-mail as soon as you have a connection. Many cabins will have small refrigerators in them. If you are not likely to purchase the mini bar items in thee, beware that, depending on the ship, you may be automatically charged for any item removed. To make room in the fridge for your own use, ask the cabin steward to empty it. Or let the steward know that you intend to do so yourself, so that you will not be charged.
Most ships have a few free items available onboard:

·         If you need postcards, you can sometimes get cards with a photo of the ship for free at the purser’s desk.

·         Some ships still offer free decks of playing cards also.

·         The casinos will often give free lanyards to carry your sign and sail card. They’ll punch a hole in the card for you to attach it.

·         Some ships still provide Tylenol and sea sickness pills from the purser’s desk. On Carnival ships, those medications can be found in free dispensers outside the ship’s medical center.

And while this last is not free, it’s handy to know that the purser’s deck is also your source for postage stamps of the different countries/islands that the ship will visit. They will sell you the stamps and mail your postcards for you. So don’t waste your time searching for a post office on the islands.

One last onboard, money-saving tip:

Some great booking deals are available only while you are still on the ship. Example: While onboard a Princess Cruise you have the opportunity to purchase a “Ghost booking” with only a $100 deposit (Instead of the usual $250 or $300 per person.) You get to decide the specifics of when to sail and on which ship at a later date. These ghost bookings include onboard credit of as much as $150. Free Money! How can you pass that up?The other cruise lines have onboard booking consultants also and offer their own incentive plans. If you intend to cruise that line again, now’s the time to catch a deal.I have to admit that the next few Life Onboard hints aren't really what the cruise line would prefer you do, but.....
When cruising in a veranda cabin, you will find that many veranda doors will not stay open on their own. So if you want to listen to the ocean waves while you sleep, pack a bungee cord to hold the door open. While you're at it, also bring along a small refrigerator magnet. It has been noted that on some ships, there is a magnetic sensor in the veranda's door frame that detects if it's open or closed. This sensor will turn the cabin's air conditioning off when in the open position. But, it can be fooled, if you just stick the fridge magnet in front of the sensor. Here's another use for that bungee cord. Use it to secure a wet swimsuit to the verandah chair, when you set it out to dry. Just make sure you loop the bungee cord through an arm or leg opening so your suit will not blow away. Please note that even with the cord, I would not recommend leaving anything on the verandah while the ship is in motion. The wind at sea can be very strong. And while we're talking about those strong sea breezes, pack some strong clips to secure your beach towel or swim cover-up to the lounge chair at the pool. Avoid arriving back at your chair, after a dip in the pool, and finding your towel or cover wrap is long gone.

No discussion of life on a ship would be complete without a word or two about mal de mar, i.e.: seasickness. Probably the best way to minimize seasickness is to start by choosing one of the newer ships. The newer ships have great stabilizers which limit the ship roll drastically. On the Mariner of the Seas (>142,000 tons) we could hardly feel the ship move at all. Also you should choose your cabin wisely. As mentioned above, if you're avoiding seasickness you'll be looking for one that is more centrally located, not too far forward and not too far back, preferably on a lower deck. The more central you are the less you'll feel the pitch (forward to back rocking) of the ship. And the lower you are, the less you'll feel the roll (side to side rocking). 
After that, if you do tend to get motion sickness, you can come prepared. There are several remedies that are frequently mentioned. I can only list them for you, not vouch for them, since hubby and I don't get seasick. The choices are:

·         Pills like Dramamine and Bonine. I took Dramamine on the first night of our first cruise as a precautionary measure. It put me to sleep for most of my first evening on board. Never took it again, and never needed it. The generic form of Dramamine used to be free from the purser's desk when we first started cruising, ('96). If not, you can always obtain it from the ship's medical center, or buy it in the ship's shops.) The important fact to remember about seasickness medication it that it works much better if it is taken before the symptoms start. Some people even start taking it on a regular basis a few days in advance to allow their body a chance to become accustomed to the drowsy side effects, which supposedly lessen over time.

·         The prescription patch of the drug, Scopolamine, is one option, but that requires a doctor's prescription, filled before you leave home.

·         Sea bands, which look like sweat bands but have a little bead sewn into them that presses on an acupressure point. This supposedly stops the seasickness. Some people swear by them. You can buy them at travel stores, like at AAA and travel stores.

·         They also sell an electronic version of the sea bands. These electrically stimulate a nerve in that same spot on the wrist to suppress the nausea. They are pricey but get better reviews from users.

·         Candied ginger, nibble on it from time to time and is suppresses nausea. Does it work? I don't know, but did you ever wonder why your mom always fed you ginger-ale when you were sick? There's usually some truth to those old home remedies.

·         Another food related remedy that works for some, is to eat two red apples. Sounds odd, I know, but a room steward suggested the idea, and swore by it. Just pick up a few apples from lido deck buffet. If it works for you, you can request that room service bring you a bowl of red apples every day. Must be red, don't ask me why.

·         One other recommendation for avoiding sea sickness is to stay up on deck as much as possible. Supposedly feeling the breeze and looking at the horizon helps. The theory being that it is the disconnect between what your eyes see when you are inside the ship (lack of motion) and what your body feels (motion) that results in the nausea.
And another bit of advice related to your health onboard a ship: Don’t underestimate the sun at sea. The ocean breezes can make the most intense sun, seem gentle. Protect yourself and don’t make those sunscreen mistakes that could ruin your cruise, not to mention your skin and your health:

·         Don’t wait until after going outdoors to apply your sunscreen. It needs to be applied 15-30 minutes prior to going outdoors to allow it to absorb into the skin.

·         No sunscreen can work properly if you don’t apply enough, and it really won’t work if you don’t apply it at all. The estimate is to use about 1 oz. for an adult, applied to all parts of the body that will be exposed to the sun. Don’t forget your ears.

·         And don’t assume that you are still protected after swimming. Sunscreens not labeled "waterproof" or "water resistant" do come off while in water. And even waterproof and water resistant sunscreens provide only a limited time of protection.

·         And even if you don’t go in the water sunscreen needs to be reapplied generally every two hours. Many people have the mistaken idea that one application of sunscreen will provide all day protection, and discover the hard way that this is not true.


As you gather your beach towels and tote bag, and other items to go ashore, don’t leave your Sign & Sail card in your cabin; you will not be allowed to exit the ship, or re-board without it. Also be certain to take your photo ID too. It is frequently necessary for re-entering the security area around the ship, and sometimes also for re-boarding, in addition to your S & S card/ boarding pass.Be sure to also take with you, the contact information for the ship's Port Agent. This information is included in either the ship's daily newsletter or on a separate page/pamphlet handout, describing what to do and where to shop onshore. In the unlikely event you run into an issue onshore, such as an injury or delay that causes you to miss the ship, the Port Agent is invaluable as your contact with the ship and can help make the arrangements to get you to the next port of call.By the way, when doing your island tours, you can save some cash by bringing along a picnic lunch. You’ll need to plan ahead and have packed a few zip lock baggies. Then just call in an early room service order for sandwiches and take them along. (Note: in some ports, taking food ashore is not permitted. Ask at the purser’s desk if in doubt about individual ports.)
And if your day in port will include some snorkeling, be sure to bring along some dog treats to feed the fish. You will be amazed at the number of fish that gather when you bring out the treats. And if you forgot to pack the dog treats, run up to the lido deck buffet at breakfast and pick up a few packages of Mini-Wheats cereal or a few bagels. (The Mini-Wheats and bagels don’t disintegrate in the water as quickly as other cereals or fresh bread.)

A few thoughts on using your credit card, while in port:

Keep this in mind when overseas: Most credit card companies charge a Foreign Currency Exchange fee, so figure that in, when considering a price. 
If you choose to use your credit card, remember that on many smaller islands the merchants still use the old carbon copy imprint method, so be certain to ask for your carbons. They can be careless with them, and those carbons show your account number, potentially giving access to your account. Also, when charging something, keep your eye on your card. Watch that they don't take it out of your sight, or imprint it twice, as that is another way to access your account. Then, once home, check your account ASAP. Finding fraudulent charges on your account, after a vacation, is an often told tale.Unless you anticipate buying something truly pricey, it’s best to just bring US dollars which are accepted almost everywhere. Save the credit card for the more expensive purchases. And as much as possible, use smaller denomination bills for your purchases. If you pay with US dollars, you may still receive your change in the local currency.As you head out for your port adventures, always set a price with your taxi driver, BEFORE getting into the vehicle, to avoid sticker shock when you get out. And if it’s an excursion operator you’re dealing with, be certain all parties are clear on what’s included, and on your necessary return arrangements also.

This is a good place for a word or two about TIME:

Before you leave the ship, be 100% certain you know what time you are expected to return. Remember, if the ship is leaving at 5:00 pm, you must arrive back at the ship, minimally 30 minutes before that, possibly a full hour. That five o’clock time will be the moment when the ship actually starts to move away from the pier, which is well past the point at which you should be back onboard.Bring a watch and set it to the ship’s time before going ashore. The ship’s time will often match the home port’s time zone, and not the local time in port. Most cell phones will automatically display the current local time wherever you go, so avoid relying on them for accurate time when off the ship. You must be back onboard punctually, according to the ship’s time schedule.Of course your main goal will be that you don't get left behind, so the following is a good bit of advice for all cruisers, experienced or not: If you are taking an excursion to a location some distance away from the port, book it through the cruise line even though that may be more expensive than booking it elsewhere.Think of the difference in cost as a mini insurance policy. The cruise line has the responsibility to get you back to the ship when you book through them. But if you book with an independent operator, and are delayed getting back to the ship, they will sail without you. And you will be responsible to catch up with the ship at the next port, at your own expense and costing you a lot more money in the long run. 

Be sure to keep that same thought in mind when planning more than one activity for your port day. Suppose you want to do both a ship’s excursion, and something on your own also. To avoid being left behind always do your independent port activities early in the day, and do the ship’s tour in the afternoon.The concern is about the potential to be late returning from your independent activity. If your independent activity takes place in the morning and is late returning, all you are likely to miss are your afternoon plans. But if you chose to do the independent activity in the afternoon, and are late…well that ship will be just a little dot on the horizon, and you will have to get to the next port on your own. And one last FYI about time: unlike trains and planes, cruise ships are usually very prompt about their port departure times. In most instances there will be no grace period.And a last word on booking excursions through independent tour operators: We’ve discussed getting back to the ship on time, but don’t forget to consider the difficulties in getting to those independent tours. Delays in getting the ship into port, weather, tendering -- all these can interfere with your ability to meet up with your tour at the appropriate time. The ship tour will begin when the ship is ready. The independent tour may not wait for you. When researching your excursion plans, consider all the potentialities. The savings may not be worth the trouble.