After five years of working on-board a cruise ship, and another five months of working logistics for multiple cruise lines, I think I can finally pin point some of the most common mistakes or oversights people make when travelling by cruise ship.
Planning A Cruise
Why Cruise? – There are three reasons I can justify travel by cruise: 1) It’s a place that is only or more easily accessible by sea, 2) the ship is your destination (a city in its own right), or 3) it’s a place that you would be extremely nervous to travel alone, and you want to sample it before travelling there for real. The latter reason could be interchanged with guided land tours as well though.
Where to cruise? – Using the above reasons, I recommend places that are groups of islands (such as the South Pacific, Japan or the Caribbean – though try to avoid the tourist trap islands and head a bit more south), remote areas like the Arctic and Antarctic, crossings of oceans or canals (like Panama and Suez), Mediterranean (which you could also drive, but cruising is pretty nice as well), Norway or Bermuda (a cruise is cheaper than a hotel there), or somewhere you’ve always wanted to go but are a bit scared to – I felt this way before I cruised to South East Asia. If you only want to go once particular place, I recommend just flying there – there is always the chance that a ship will miss a port due to weather or other uncontrollable factors – don’t let it be yours!
Which cruise? – This is especially important if the ship is your destination. Do you like big cities, medium suburbs, or tiny villages. Do you want adventure sports, parties every night, or a relaxing spa-like atmosphere? So many people book a cruise full of “old people” and are disappointed. Do your research on various lines and ships for the amenities you desire. CruiseCritic.com is a great resource for this. For a bit more adventure, consider an expedition style cruise or cruising on a line where the main language is not your own!
Common Mistakes to Avoid When Going on A Cruise
Packing – The beauty of a cruise is you only have to unpack once! Go crazy, pack that overweight suitcase. But, please please please, pack a few items in your carry on. With a cruise, you risk the chance of both the airline and the cruise line misplacing your luggage. At the very least, pack a change of underwear, you’ll thank me. A few extra items that can be dressed up/down aren’t a bad idea either though. Also remember, if you are going to a cold region, the ship will likely be warm and heated and if you are going to a warm region, the ship will likely be airconditioned to the max – bring layers either way! Don’t assume the ship has everything – if you need a specific medication, or piece of equipment, bring it with you or at least write to the cruise line in advance and inquire about it.
Communication – It’s best to assume you will have none most of the time. WiFi on ships is slow and expensive, and spotty at best depending where you sail and how satellites align (there are no cell towers in the middle of the Pacific Ocean or in Antarctica!) Before you leave, notify friends and family that you will be out of touch. It’s also never a bad idea to print hard copies of your itinerary just in case you can’t get internet or lose your device entirely (trust me, I’m an expert in that). Keep your cell phone in airplane mode while sailing. Cell phone’s run on the ship’s satellite once you are 12 nautical miles from shore – when docked, you are using whatever local cellular network might be available.
Health – Book travel insurance!!!! Even if you are going to somewhere mostly in America (i.e. Alaska) it can be VERY expensive to medivac you from the ship. An ambulance costs around $600-900, an AIR ambulance costs thousands. Book travel insurance. If you have recurring health issues, consider booking an insurance plan that allows you to cancel if you become ill before the trip. If you fall ill with the flu or a virus, please follow the instructions of the ship’s medical staff and isolate yourself. You might not want to miss your vacation, but if you infect the rest of the ship, they can actually be denied docking in a port – meaning you’d ruin it for everyone. My best preventative tips? I use Emergen-C packets, one every morning, and hot beverages. Drink lots of water as the ship air while dry you out, and WASH YOUR HANDS. This Public Service Announcement is brought to you by the people who can’t believe how gross some people are.
So if I haven’t scared you entirely, and you’ve done your research on your destination and your cruise line, happy sailing!