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7 Cruising Tips From MSC Cruises

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From 2005 to 2015, the demand for cruising has increased 62 percent – and nearly half of non-cruisers showed interest in taking an ocean cruise.  This means that the industry is growing quite quickly!  Looking ahead to the busy summer season, MSC Cruises has put together some helpful tips to help each type of traveler get the most out of their summer vacation.

1. The Family Traveler

Different individuals have different ideas of what makes an awesome vacation.  Cruising makes it easier to choose because chances are, there will be activities and amenities that appeal to everyone in your group – from kids to grandparents.  Do your research on family-friendly activities the cruise line offers ahead of time so you know what to expect.  Once on the ship, be sure to check the daily program for the day’s activities.

Onboard MSC Cruises, kids sail free and have a wide range of dedicated activities to choose from, including cooking classes, language courses, themed costume parades, sports tournaments, crafts, scavenger hunts, and teen disco and karaoke.  The line also offers a LEGO Experience Day where kids and their parents can compete in LEGO themed competitions and games.  While the kids are enjoying the youth clubs, adults can take in a Broadway-style production show, relax in the spa, or dine in one of the many onboard restaurants.

2. The Adventurer

If mingling with the locals is how you love to travel, research and plan excursions ahead of time that maximize new cultural opportunities so that you can make the most of your time in port.  Some of the excursions that MSC offers include culinary tours of Italy, experiencing the Tulum Mayan Ruins in Cozumel, jeep adventures in Iceland, and exploring the inside of the mosques in Abu Dhabi.  The line offers nearly 2,000 shore excursions that were specially created to maximize every moment ashore.

3. The First-Timer

Cruise newbies: one great tip that you’ll soon understand is to make the most of your time at sea.  While it’s still wise to take some time to purely relax during your vacation, also be sure to explore your ship and take advantage of any activities, amenities, or dining venues that appeal to you.

On MSC Divina, guests can try out the Virtual Winery at Sea, a unique BlendCraft experience with professional winemakers where guests learn how wines are mixed and then are able to create, bottle, and label their own blend to enjoy onboard, or take home.  The line also offers 4D motion theaters, AquaCycling, race car simulators, bowling alleys, and the new Cirque du Soleil at Sea shows debuting this summer on MSC Meraviglia. 

4. The Foodie

Most cruise ships offer a multitude of both casual and fine dining options, so foodies will want to take advantage of many of them.  Pre-purchase a dining package to venture out of your comfort zone and try new cuisines at the best prices.  Specialty restaurants are popular on MSC’s ships, and on the upcoming Meraviglia for example, travelers can try sushi, sashimi, and tempura at Kaito Sushi Bar, enjoy decadent chocolate treats from French chocolatier and pastry chef Jean-Philippe Maury, and delicious Italian dishes at Eataly’s Ristorante Italiano.  A similar dining experience will also be found on MSC Seaside, which is debuting this December in Miami.

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5. The Smart Spender

Make sure to book your cruise far in advance; you could end up saving hundreds of dollars.  Also, do your research and take advantage of various package offerings that provide a better value.  With MSC’s “Inclusive Experiences” pricing, guests can choose from five vacation packages that range from best price to nearly all-inclusive.  By bundling various services and activities, travelers get a great value and are able to pay for their amenities up-front.

In addition, the cruise line is currently offering a Two for One deal where guests can save 50 percent off brochure rates.

6. The Wellness Guru

Don’t let your vacation trip up your healthy lifestyle – keep it going and utilize the onboard health and wellness amenities.  Choose options like the salad bar in the buffet, active shore excursions such as hiking or horseback riding, and take the stairs instead of the elevator.

Fleetwide, MSC offers a Wellness Experience by Technogym that includes fitness classes and activities, dedicated healthy food and beverages, exclusive shore excursions, and stateroom amenities.  The experience starts before the cruise even begins with a pre-cruise questionnaire designed to understand each traveler’s specific goals.  Once onboard, the guest meets with a trainer trained by Technogym, who reviews the results and helps them create a personalized wellness plan for the duration of the cruise.  As part of the program, the self-service buffet includes a dedicated wellness corner and menus in the main restaurants with icons to help in healthy food selection.

7. The Luxury Lover

Our tip is simple with lovers of luxury: you earned it, so go ahead and indulge.  Guests looking for a more upscale experience can choose to stay in the MSC Yacht Club, which includes 24-hour butler service, concierge reception, dedicated dining venues, a private pool, and a private elevator that takes guests to the spa.  With a ‘ship within a ship’ design, the club is a self-contained area that provides the best of both words: the privacy of a smaller ship with the bountiful choices and amenities only found on a larger ship, like Cirque du Soleil, the casino, and specialty dining experiences.

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Travel Tips

5 Cruise Disembarkation Tips

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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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BEFORE YOU GO

7 Quiet Places on a Cruise Ship

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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?

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Travel Tips

My Cruise is Paid Off – Now What?

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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

cruise

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

cruise

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 Cruiseline.com, 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 

cruise

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

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