If this is your first time cruising or even if you cruised before, I have compiled some tips to help you get the most from your cruise.
Use the Cruise Critic Website to Help Plan Your Cruise
The Cruise Critic website is a wealth of information for all cruisers. Become a member and then go to your cruise ship Roll Call board and sign up for the Meet and Greet. This is hosted by the cruise ship and is usually on the day after you board. It’s a great way to meet other and win some door prizes. We won a bottle of wine on this trip.
They send an invitation to your cabin to tell you where it will be held and the time. You will need to take the invitation with you when checking in. They provide some food and drinks to enjoy.
If you have an active group on the Roll Call board, you can set up tours for others to join you to help share the costs. I set up a tour on this board when we cruised to Europe for Ephesus. I wanted a small group, about twenty people and had no problems filling the slots. I told them where to meet and what time. We had a great day at half the cost of what the cruise line charges. These private tours fill quickly, so if you are interested in a small group tour check it out. I did not have to provide a credit card to hold the tour. The people pay the tour guide at the end of the trip.
If you don’t want to set up a tour, look for one to join on these boards. If you are interested, notify them, as they fill up quickly. These tour groups are very aware of the cruise ship departures and arrivals and will have you back to the ship in plenty of time. Remember they make their living off of these tours and can’t afford to mess up.
Ports of Call
If you want to see what others have done when visiting the ports of call on your cruise, go to the Ports of Call and find your destination. This will give you an idea whether to rent a car and tour on your own, or find out what type of tours others have done.
On our recent cruise we were going to Belize. We have been to Belize before and did Cave Tubing, which was a blast. This time we wanted to do the Shark/Ray Alley Snorkeling and Caye Caulker Exploration. After reading the boards, I contacted Coral Breeze Tours and booked with them directly. They charged me $26 deposit on my credit card with the balance of $124 cash due at the time of the tour. They were super easy to deal with and they put me on the 10:00 a.m. tour. That day we found out the time was Belize time and not ship time, we could not make it back on time. They ended up moving me to the 9:00 a.m. tour and we were back in plenty of time to do some shopping before taking the tender back to the ship. Our cost for this tour was a substantial savings compared to the ship tour.
If you are driving to your port and are looking for a hotel where you can leave your car for the week or if you are trying to find out the best way to get to the port, this information can be found under North American Home Ports. You will find the following departure ports: Gulf Coast, East Coast, Florida, and West Coast.
After booking your stay and cruise rate, call the hotel directly to make sure the shuttle service is included. If not use Uber, it will be much cheaper than the shuttle through the hotel or a taxi. For example we stayed at the Springhill Suites Tampa Westshore Airport, during our December 2016 cruise. Uber costs us $8.98 to Tampa Port including tip, a shuttle costs $14 and a taxi would cost $25. Set up the Uber app before you leave home, it’s super easy to use.
Packing for your Cruise
Always bring a bag with a change of clothes in case your luggage does not arrive until late. This happened to us on this cruise. Usually when we fly I use carry on luggage only, so we always take our luggage on the ship. This time I packed a large bag, along with one carry one which I kept with me. The large bag never arrived. When we returned to our cabin after dinner around 7:30 or so it still had not come. J ended up going to guest services, which sent him down to Deck 1 where they keep luggage that has things that are not allowed on the ship. You have to go claim your luggage from there. Our bag was not there. He did not give up and finally found it on our floor, but at the opposite end of the cruise ship sitting in the hall by itself. Who knows when it would have arrived if he would not have hunted it down.
Use a Lanyard for the Sea Pass
Bring a lanyard with you to hold your Sea Pass. Once on board go immediately to guest services and ask them to punch a hole in the Sea Pass. You will never have to worry about misplacing your Sea Pass. By using a different color for everyone in the cabin, this will make it easy to identify which one is theirs.
Bring a Highlighter
When reading the Cruise Compass, highlight any activity that might interest you. This will make it easier to identify at a glance where you should be.
Any Time Dining
We found out on this cruise, you have to make reservations if you are using Any Time Dining. This was the first time we ran into this as before you just went when you wanted and you were seated. Now if you don’t book on line before you leave, you will need to call or stand in line for a reservation. People were not very happy as the lines were very long and if you tried to phone for a reservation, no one would answer.
If you have been cruising, you know that all the ships are now pushing Specialty Restaurants, where for a fee you can get fine dining. One of the things we wanted to do was to dine at the Chefs Table. We booked this ahead of time as there is a limited amount of people allowed for this experience. We paid $85 per person in advance. After reading Cruise Critic board about the Rhapsody of the Seas, I found they were offering a package where you could get the Chefs Table at a reduced rate if I bought the package on board. I talked to J and we decided to cancel and take our chance of getting it for the same night once we got on board. By waiting it would only cost $51 per person saving us $34 per person. I have never seen them reduce the Chefs Table, but I have seen them offer the Specialty Restaurants at reduced rates on board during our Celebrity Cruise.
Once on board, we went to the table they set up to book the Specialty Restaurants. Here we were presented with the offer to go to any of the three Specialty Restaurants for $75, or I could go to one of them twice, which we did as we are not into Sushi. By buying this package, we were offered the Chefs Table for $51 per person. We asked for the same date that we cancelled and they had no problem squeezing us in since there were only two of us.
Getting the Lay of the Land
After getting your fill at the Windjammer Café and dropping your luggage off in the cabin, take this time to discover what’s on board the ship. If you are interested in the gym, check it out. Find out where the lounges are. Explore the theater to see where you want to sit during the shows. Find your muster station before the drill. This is the best day to walk around and get pictures, as it is not as crowded.