Is this your first cruise or your 40th cruise? Regardless of the answer, here are several items that need attention before you walk onboard and set sail. Let us assume you have booked and paid for your trip and your cruise takes place about a month from now.
- Have you bought health insurance? As we get older, the possibility of needing medical care becomes an issue. You might have Medicare or a great health plan at work. Generally speaking, coverage stops at the US border. To avoid surprisingly high medical charges, consider buying a travel health insurance package for the period of time you will be away.
- How am I getting to (and from) the ship? If you live in town, this is not a big issue. You can take a taxi or an Uber. If you plan on driving to the pier, bear in mind parking can be expensive, especially if you will be away for a couple of weeks. If you fly into the port city, the cruise line may have transfers arranged. Plan ahead to avoid big ticket expenses.
- Are visas required for ports you will be visiting? This might not be an issue if you are traveling within the European Union, but a concern if your ship is visiting countries like Turkey, which requires visas for tourists who are not cruise ship day trippers. Your travel agent can help with the research and determine if the visas can be secured online.
- Does your passport have at least six months before expiration? You might think a passport is like a driver’s license: It is valid until the expiration date. Many countries want to see you have at least six months to go before the passport expiration date before they will let you into the country. This rule applies to a surprisingly large number of countries. If your expiration date is coming up, it makes sense simply to get your passport renewed early.
- Are there any health considerations to address? Covid restrictions were relaxed over the past couple of years, but new variants are appearing. If your ship is visiting ports in several countries, each might have its own set of rules. The cruise line knows about these requirements. Check the cruise line’s website to determine if rules have changed in the weeks leading up to your departure.
- Have you completed the cruise line’s online check in? This has speeded up check-in significantly. Years ago, you stood in line, handed over a credit card to be put on file, got your picture taken and checked in. Today, many cruise lines have automated the process. If thousands of people will be boarding your ship, you want this to go as smoothly as possible.
- Should I book shore excursions now? Shore excursions might seem like an afterthought. You might feel “I can sort this out once we are onboard.” The list can be very long, especially if you are visiting multiple ports. Some of the best ones (like wine chateau visits in Bordeaux) might only accommodate small groups. Check out what is on offer. If something really appeals to you, book it before you sail. Ed. Note: see Shore Excursions – Ports, Day & Weekend Trips
- Will I need local currency? The US dollar is accepted in most places. This holds true for the Euro too. Many countries have their own currency. You do not know if a taxi driver will take dollars. Plan ahead to bring some local currency or have a plan for getting it upon arrival.
- Any chance of seasickness? I have a short memory. I forget about those times my stomach has flipped and flopped. Sometimes the sea gets rough. If you think this might be an issue, but those wristbands or an over-the-counter seasickness medication before you board the ship.
- Think about onboard specialty restaurant reservations. One of the reasons you chose this ship was the selection of onboard dining options. If your ship holds thousands of passengers, even if only 10% have the same idea, it means hundreds will need reservations. Some nights are more popular than others. If possible, make at least a couple of those reservations in advance.
- What is the onboard dress code? Cruise lines have different personalities. Your travel agent can fill you in on the details. Ideally you want to fit in and feel comfortable. Talk with friends who sailed with that cruise line or ship previously. Get their feedback on what to wear. Pack accordingly.
You will have a great time on your cruise. Some advance planning will help you avoid unexpected issues during your vacation.
Ed. Notes: CruiseCompete and its member travel advisors provide many curated cruise and land deals, offers and amenities on over 50 cruise lines with over 500 cruise ships sailing all around the world.
Cover Photo: Cartagena © Dennis Cox / Photo Explorer Productions, All Rights Reserved