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5 Questions to Ask When Planning a Cruise



There are a lot of things that go into making your cruise the best it can be. But ask any travel professional, and they’ll tell you that the No. 1 factor is making sure you are on the right ship. That sounds obvious, and yet it’s not quite as simple as it sounds. In fact, experienced cruisers reading negative reviews from first-timers are often able to pinpoint exactly why the newbie had a bad time. Not everybody is looking for the same thing out of a cruise, and not every cruise line is right for every vacationer. Making things even more complicated? The fact that it’s not just about figuring out the right cruise line for you, but also the right individual ship! Just like with dating, the key is finding out which ship you’re most compatible with!

One of the first things people do when trying to find their perfect ship is turn to the internet with a series of questions. The good news: There are an awful lot of people out here in cyberspace ready to offer up their opinions. The bad news: They aren’t you, and they may not be looking for the same thing when it comes to their vacation.

Doing your own research might be time consuming, but it’s also the best way to get the full picture. That said, at some point you’re likely to want feedback from people who’ve been there, sailed that. In order to help you solicit the most helpful info, here are a few tips on what to ask… and how to ask it!

1. DON’T ASK: Will I like this ship?

ASK INSTEAD: If I am someone who enjoys (insert a few personal preferences here), will I like this ship?

WHY: People who love a particular ship are always going to sing its praises. People who don’t like the ship for whatever reason are going to complain about it. But in either case, their reaction is based on personal preferences. By speaking in specifics and saying something like,  “I’m someone who sort of needs to be doing something constantly, whether it’s a sports activity or playing trivia. Will I like this ship in that regard?” you’re soliciting opinions that will speak directly toward your individual tastes.

2. DON’T ASK: Is this cruise line better than that cruise line?

Looking back at five ships docked in Nassau.

ASK INSTEAD: What is it that you like about this cruise line?

WHY: Inviting comparisons will inevitably lead to verbal fisticuffs in the comment section. Instead, let people who truly love a ship or line that you’re considering sell you on its virtues. Then, when reading their responses, probe deeper by asking questions that might arise based on their answers.

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3. DON’T ASK: I notice that the ship stops at [insert port name here]. Is there anything to do there?


ASK INSTEAD: I’m really looking to do some [insert interest here]. Is there someplace to do that in this port?

WHY: There is something to do in every port. Unless, of course, it’s Port Canaveral and you’re not into Disney, Universal, or Kennedy Space Center. In that case, the question is valid, and the answer is “no.” (Kidding, kidding… sort of)

4. DON’T ASK: Do I need a balcony cabin?

ASK INSTEAD: Virtually anything else.

WHY: Only you know whether you “need” a balcony. I’ve been told by many cruisers that they would never pay extra for a balcony cabin because all they use their room for is sleeping. I, on the other hand, spend a lot of my cruise sitting on the balcony reading, enjoying a cocktail or pondering great notions (by which I mean napping).

5. DON’T ASK: How is the food on this ship?

Surf & Turf

ASK INSTEAD: Something that will indicate to people whether you’re a foodie asking about the specialty restaurants, or simply wanting to know what people think about the main dining room and buffets.

WHY: Like so much that we’re talking about here, food is subjective. I consider myself sort of a “circumstantial foodie.” As such, my expectations fluctuate depending on the venue. I am an unabashed buffet lover who totally understands that in that scenario, you’re getting quantity over quality. If, however, I pay for a specialty restaurant or to do the Chef’s Table, my expectations are going to be much higher. So asking people a generic question about food on the ship is going to prove pretty unhelpful. But if you tell people a little bit about your food likes and dislikes, and then ask for recommendations (or cautionary tales) from the ship in question, you’ll get far more helpful answers.

What questions do you ask before booking a cruise?


Travel Tips

5 Cruise Disembarkation Tips




cruise disembarkation tips The very last morning of your cruise is typically the dreaded one – it’s back to reality. While I don’t have any tips for extending your vacation (unless you are doing a back-to-back cruise), I can tell you how to get off the ship a little bit faster.

If you haven’t been on a cruise before, when it comes to disembarkation the cruise line will give you a luggage tag with a color or zone number on it, this tells you when you can get off the cruise ship and when your bags will be ready to pick up pier-side. 

Here are 5 cruise disembarkation tips:

1. Self-Assist

If you’re wanting to get off the ship early, do self-assist, this allows you to do walk off the ship with your own luggage. It usually starts around 7 am and 20-30 minutes later you’re on the pier. Keep in mind that you are responsible for all your belongings and the cruise line will not assist you.

2. Early Flights

If you have an early flight out, just register when the paperwork comes to your room and you’ll be allowed to get off the ship earlier. Once on a cruise that ended in Venice they were starting airport transfers at 4 am.

3. Talk to guest relations.

If you don’t have a flight and don’t want to do self-assist and lug your bags around, contact guest relations (usually in person) and tell them that you’d love to disembark the ship a little earlier. Guest relations will usually give you the luggage tag you need to get off the cruise ship earlier.

4. Luggage Valet Program

A couple days before you disembark you’ll have the option to do luggage valet from the cruise ship to the airport, where for a nominal fee (plus checked baggage cost) you’ll be able to forward the bags to the airport and check them to your destination. This generally works in US ports of call and Vancouver, Canada. The cost of this varies per cruise line but I’ve seen it for around $20 per person.

5. Have customs documentation.

You know when you’re in the airport and waiting for someone to get their stuff together to go through security? Well, it’s the same thing when you’re approaching the customs line. Have your documentation in hand and ready to go. It will make the line go a lot quicker for you and everyone behind you.

With these tips you should be able to slide off the ship a little bit earlier the next time you take a cruise vacation. Keep in mind that the early bird gets the worm, so as much as it may stink, plan your disembarkation before you get to the pier.

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7 Quiet Places on a Cruise Ship



Cruises are full of fun and adventure, including epic excursions like ziplining through a Jamaican jungle or parasailing over the open ocean. But sometimes vacation calls for some simple rest and relaxation, too. There are plenty of places on a ship to find peace and quiet.

1. Spa

On any ship, the spa is the pinnacle of calm and quiet. While almost every ship comes equipped with a sauna and steam room free of charge, you can also unwind even further by booking a spa appointment like a massage, acupuncture session, or facial.

norwegian escape spa cruise

Norwegian Escape spa

2. Library

Often overlooked, the ship’s library is a great room for escaping the hustle and bustle. Full of books and board games, it’s the perfect place for a quiet retreat. And if you’re lucky enough that your ship’s library has windows, you can enjoy the ocean views during your downtime.

Photo credit: Carnival

3. Inside on a port day

If you’ve ever stayed on the ship on a port day, you know that it can look like a ghost town. With everyone off and exploring the port of call, there’s no better time to take advantage of a quiet and nearly empty ship. Plus, you’ll get incredibly fast service at the bar!

4. Your room

While many say to get out and enjoy the ship, that argument could depend on what type of room you’ve booked. Balcony rooms, especially unique ones like aft balconies or cove balconies, offer the perfect excuse to stay in, bask in the sun on your own private piece of deck, and enjoy the serenity.

5. Adults-only deck

Carefree and quiet, the adults-only deck on a ship usually comes with extra comfy lounge chairs, a private bar, and a hot tub or two. If you’re looking to skip the sounds of the live steel drum band or the crowds from the hairy chest contest, this is easily one of the best places to enjoy the sun on the ship.

6. Secret decks

Believe it or not, you can always find a “secret” deck on any cruise ship. These are decks that are tucked away or rather difficult to get to, meaning almost no one uses them. For example, on many of Carnival’s ships, cruisers rarely take advantage of the solitude and open air on deck 3, which is directly under the lifeboats. Though you may not get the sun, you can enjoy plenty of peace and quiet – accompanied of course by the calming sounds of the ocean passing beneath. Many ships also have “secret” decks toward the front of the ship which many people don’t think you can access, so study your deck plans before you go to find out how to get to these.

7. Private lounges

Some ships have private lounges for certain stateroom categories, such as the Havana Lounge on Carnival Vista or The Haven on some Norwegian ships, to elevate your private, customized cruise experience. Also, some cruise lines reserve private lounges and even private restaurants on their ships for their most loyal cruisers, but you’ll have to have rewards with them already to get those benefits.

Where is your quiet place on a cruise ship?

quiet places cruise ship travel


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Travel Tips

My Cruise is Paid Off – Now What?



Congrats, you’ve completed the most difficult (and least fun) part of a cruise: paying for it. But, there’s still time until your sail date. Here’s what you should be doing in the meantime.

1. Print Out Cruise Documents

Cruise Terminal 1 Embarkation Area – photo: Port Canaveral

As soon as your payment has been made in full, you can go online and print out your boarding passes and luggage tags. It’s never a bad idea to print extra copies, either. (Somehow there’s always an extra bag at the last minute that needs a tag too.) Keep these documents in a folder for safekeeping until departure day.

2. Find Your Sailing Online


Online cruise groups are really popular, with several different sites hosting platforms for specific sailings. The site Cruise Critic has had forums called “roll calls” for years where people can search by their cruise line to find their specific ship and sail date. The same concept has transferred over to the ShipMate app as well as to Facebook. In these forums or online groups, members can chat about their upcoming cruise and plan a group meetup, which often happens at a popular bar on the ship right after the muster drill. On some Carnival sailings, John Heald, brand ambassador and senior cruise director, has even been known to send small gifts and prizes to the groups.

3. Start Your Packing List

photo credit: flickr/Nicole Hanusek

From swimsuits and sun hats to slacks and button-downs, packing for a cruise can get overwhelming. Making a list will make it a lot simpler. It will also ensure you don’t forget miscellaneous items like a reusable water bottle for those hot days on the lido deck.

4. Set A Cruise Price Drop


Setting a cruise price drop means that if the price of your cruise decreases from what you originally paid, you can get the difference back – usually in onboard credit. One of the best alerts is through the app ShipMate or, which will send you an alert when the price of your cruise, set to your specific stateroom category, increases or decreases. However, there are several other price drop alerts besides ShipMate, and you can always check yourself or have your travel agent do so.

5. Book Your Excursions 


If you haven’t looked at excursions yet, now is the time to do so. It’s better to book them before you board the ship because often the best and most popular excursions will sell out beforehand. If you’re booking an excursion through a third-party company, booking ahead of time is typically a must.

Browse 1,000’s of shore excursions here.

6. Explore Dining

Manhattan Dining Room aboard Breakaway.

As part of your pre-cruise planning, research all the dining venues on your ship. Make a list of the ones you want to go to and whether or not they have a surcharge. If they do, plan that into your onboard budget for guilt-free grubbing once onboard.

7. Prepay Everything You Can

These days, you can prepay almost everything for your cruise: gratuities, excursions, drink packages, specialty dining packages, and even wifi packages. The more you prepay, the lower your bill will be at the end of the cruise. Plus, by prepaying you can pay in installments rather than paying in one large lump sum at the end of your cruise.

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Make Reservations

With ships carrying more and more people now, making advanced reservations is becoming more popular. That includes reservations for spa treatments, theater shows, dining venues, and more. If there’s something you have your heart set on, make a reservation. There’s no harm in canceling it once you’re onboard if you change your mind. (The Chef’s Table is an exception to this and usually comes with a fee if you don’t cancel within a certain time frame.)

8. Double Check Travel Insurance

Carnival Horizon

Seriously, don’t leave home without travel insurance. There are countless horror stories from cruisers of innocent accidents or a simple illness that resulted in bills worth thousands of dollars from the ship’s medical center. You never know what may happen. That small price for insurance could save you tens of thousands down the line.

Read More: Why You Should Book Travel Insurance

How do you prepare for your vacation?


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