Sensible Advice for Cruisers

Get answers to your cruising questions, help with packing, safety information and more.

Get A Passport!

Passports, Passport Card, or a government issued photo ID and a birth certificate is now required for all international travel (not required for travel to the USVI).

Know Before You Go!

Like other travel adventures, having advance knowledge of the culture and traditions onboard a ship will help eliminate any confusion and worry. There are many factors to consider before you book your cruise.

Do your research and gather as many opinions, facts, photos, maps etc.. to learn about the ship and the countries you plan to visit.

Take things in stride and remember that stuff happens. No cruise will ever be perfect and sometimes things can go wrong - mechanical problems, weather issues, missed ports, and so on.

Back to the top

home > Advice

sensible advice for cruisers

With all the ship choices and worldwide itineraries, choosing the right cruise can be daunting, especially your first time. A little self-reflection and time spent outlining your perfect vacation can help you narrow in on the ideal cruise vacation.

The single determining factor in finding your perfect cruise vacation is you. If you’re looking for a quiet getaway, booking on a large, active ship like the Oasis of the Seas will leave you needing a vacation from your vacation. Before beginning your search, ask, “what is it that you want from your vacation?”

When my husband and I selected our last cruise, the dining experience was something we weighed heavily. The onboard cuisine had to have a solid reputation for being delicious from the buffet to the dining room. We spent our port of call in Jamaica scouring Ocho Rios for the most authentic Jamaican jerk chicken, ackee and salt fish, and Jamaican patties.

But the question my grandma asked? “How was the shopping? Did you get any good deals?” She loves hunting for jewelry savings, but bargaining with the merchants in port was at the bottom of what we wanted to do on our vacation.

The motto: Know thyself. Make your list of priorities and use that to guide the next step in finding the perfect cruise: research.

To make the most of your time onboard, you need to research the cruise lines to find the best match for your cruising personality. If you’re looking for a vibrant onboard social scene, then look for the cruise lines that offer nonstop activities. But if you find large crowds tiring after a while, you might prefer smaller or mid-size vessels such as Oceania or Holland America. A cruise needing to please the whole family is better served by lines like Disney, Carnival, and Norwegian. Should you be on the hunt for the ultimate in relaxation, you know to investigate spa packages and cruise lines with special spa accommodations. Use your list of vacation wants to help pinpoint the cruise lines that cater to your needs.

Finally, keep your budget in mind. It is possible to cruise without breaking the bank, but keep in mind different cruise lines provide different amenities for their price point. Some cruise lines are all-inclusive down to the gratuities, while on others you’ll need to purchase a special day pass to visit the adults-only retreat. Decide what you are willing to spend and look into services provided for the room price. Reserve some of your budget for shore excursions, specialty dining, and beverage packages.

For budget-minded cruisers, save money by following your selected cruise lines on social media. Cruise lines offer deals throughout the year for reduced bookings, onboard credits, free beverage packages, and more.

In today’s cruise world, there is cruise line and a ship for everybody. All it takes is a little digging to find the right match.


Budget Itinerary changes
Personal Needs Complaints
Pick your stateroom Grievances
Cruising Q&A  Large Groups
Packing Passports
Embarkation Muster Drill
Travel Essentials Nautical Terms

Pick Your Cruise Based on Your Personal Needs

Don't allow a sales pitch to decide your cruise vacation - major cruise lines offer competitive fares year round. Factors such as ship amenities, age of the ship, and special itineraries, have the greatest  impact on the fare price. For example, a new mega ship sailing in the spring will be more costly than an older ship that sails during the height of hurricane season (September).

The Winter/Spring season fares for Caribbean sailings are typically higher than any other time of the year. Europe, Alaska (summer season only), and New England/Canada sailings during the Summer/Fall season comes at a premium price.

Christmas and New Year's Eve sailings also come at a premium. The weeks preceding Thanksgiving and Christmas, and the month of September offer the best bargains. 

Back to the top


Pick Your Cabin Based on Availability

Don't book a cabin guarantee unless you're adventurous and want no control of your cabin location. Sometimes the accommodations are great and sometimes not so much. Your stateroom location could be one of the best or one of the worst. Every cruise line has a different policy about assigning cabins and you could wait up to the day before the cruise to learn where you're going to be. Pay the 10% premium if your budget allows.

Back to the top


Embarkation – Boarding the Ship

On arrival to the port your luggage (except carry-on) is immediately turned over to the porters. They will take your bags and place them in big steel crates that carry the luggage to the ship. $1.00 per bag is a customary tip for the porters. Packing Tip: Leave a little room in your luggage for extras you're bringing home and pack a tote bag you can use in port, on the pool deck and at disembarkation.

Please make sure you carry your passport, cruise documents, medications, and valuables with you in your carry-on luggage.

Your luggage may not arrive at your cabin until later on in the afternoon or early evening. If you want to have a change of clothes or your bathing suit, carry an outfit with you on the ship and wear your suit underneath your clothes. And remember to wear comfortable shoes. You could be standing in line for up to twenty minutes or more at check in and you’ll be walking a whole bunch that day as you explore the ship.

When traveling about the ship before you sail, we highly suggest you use the stairs to get around. The elevators are busy being used by passengers still boarding the ship and staff assisting special needs passengers. Later on the elevators will be used to haul luggage to the cabins. The elevators take forever so you are just better off taking the stairs until dinner time.

Lunch is served all afternoon for boarding passengers. Take the time to explore the ship first and then hit the buffet for lunch. This way you avoid the crowds and make sure you get the tour in before things start getting busy on the ship.

Back to the top


Muster Drill

All passengers are required to attend the Muster Drill before the ship leaves port. Make sure you attend and participate. It's for your own safety! Don't try to avoid the drill by thinking you can hide until it's all over. Most cruise lines take some sort of census at the drill and will know if you don't attend. We noticed on one cruise how passengers who dodged the first drill were required to attend a "make-up" drill the next day.

Back to the top


Pack Light

We can't stress this enough! Even avid cruisers have a tendency to over pack. Much of the clothing and accessories you pack will never be worn. Less is more. In order to lighten the load, start collecting cruise wear - lightweight clothing items that can be gathered into a ball and spring back to life with little, if any, wrinkling.

Collect items that can be easily mixed and matched for different looks throughout the cruise. Plan your evening and port day outfits in advance. Take only ONE extra outfit for day and evening (try to carry these items with you on your carry-on just in case). No more, no less. If you expect to spend time in the water at the pool, spa or while on port excursions, we recommend you take two sets of swim wear to avoid the yucky feeling of having to put on a wet bathing suit to go back to the pool.


Back to the top


Travel Essentials

A list of items we find useful on every cruise

(items listed in no particular order)

• Travel Insurance.  Do you need supplemental insurance coverage for med-a-vac flights, or health care costs?  We strongly recommend U.S. passengers review their health insurance policies to determine if coverage is offered outside the country. Doctor and hospital bills along with medical air-transport can be a huge expense and most physicians, as well as health care facilities, demand cash for services at the time they are rendered. Consider travel insurance to cover these type of expenses.

• Sturdy luggage.  Luggage bags are thrown around without much regard for contents. Soft-sided luggage not over-stuffed and hard-sided luggage seems to perform best.

• Luggage handle wraps. These make it easy to spot your luggage and they're soft on hands, too.

• Small over the shoulder travel pouch, clutch or fanny pack for passport, credit cards, tickets, etc.

• Lanyard and badge holder

• Waterproof pouch/carrier for water excursions

• Air Freshener

• Sewing Kit. It should be travel size with a few colors of thread, a few buttons and a needle or two.

• Aloe. It is useful as moisturizer, soothing bug bites, and alleviating the pain of sunburn.

• Shoe Shine

• Deck of Cards for rainy sea days

• Insulated cup or mug

• Digital Camera

• Underwater Camera if you plan on diving or snorkeling

• Good Binoculars

• Journal

• 3-way adapter for the electrical outlet

• Full size first aid kit - Avoid shipboard medical costs for non-emergency items such as pain relievers, bandages, anti-biotic cream, etc. 

• Expandable Port Bag - Good for port shopping, and for carrying items out to the pool decks.

• Good walking shoes, a hat, and plenty of good sunscreen.

• Sticky notes to leave messages for fellow cruisers, your cabin steward, or to write notes to yourself.

• Bug repellant - for tropical itineraries.

• Small LED flashlight. Especially useful for emergencies, but handy if you drop an earring on the floor or a quarter rolls underneath the desk.

• Zip lock bags. Protects your valuables from water at the pool or during an excursion and can be used to pack small items.

• Pack your favorite candy and/or nuts if that's what you like to snack on. Your hard pressed to find either on a ship.  

Packing Overview

Back to the top


Budget Your Cruise

Be realistic about what you can afford. You can spend as little or as much as you want. The expense of cruising can really hit hard if you don't know what to expect.

Cruise companies draw you in with lures of discounts and duty free prices. Set a spending limit for extras like boutique items, souvenirs, spa treatments, photos, casino and shore excursions. The expenses can really pile up and before you know it, your shipboard account has twice the expenditures you can really afford.

Back to the top

Large Groups

A review published on a blog highlights a problem we've encountered before. Large groups taking over areas of the ship - amenities sometimes blocked off from passengers not belonging to the group.

" ..the cruise line thinks it is just fine to cater to specific groups over the majority of the other passengers. On this cruise, the cruise line blocked off large sections of the ship on 2 separate occasions (that I am aware of) to cater to a jewelry company which had sent over 900 employees on this cruise."

This situation happens pretty often. The reviewer recommends asking about group participation before you book but we've learned that cruise companies are not unwilling to share that information.


If weather or mechanical problems change your itinerary at the last minute, there's a good chance you will be offered a full or partial refund of your cruise fare (including port and sales taxes.) If you really need the vacation, take the cruise anyway without complaint and think of the the new itinerary as a last minute adventure.


If the food, entertainment, or ship activities don't meet your expectations, fill out a comment card and try a different cruise company for your next vacation.


If you have an issue that you believe warrants immediate attention, contact a senior officer in Guest Relations or at the Pursers desk to register your complaint. Don't wait until after your cruise to complain about something you never brought to the attention of the crew. If your issue is not addressed by the ship staff, then consider following up with the corporate office when you get home.

Back to the top