Ten Practical Lessons I Learned From Decades of Cruising

We are getting close. I’m confident we will all be going back to sea shortly. There might be new procedures, but the best parts should be as good as ever. Based on decades of experience, here are some practical lessons I’ve learned.

  1. When departing foreign ports, get into the country a day early. There’s an old saying: “Time to spare, go by air.” When something goes wrong in air travel, it’s often a big problem like bad weather or cascading delays because flight crews can’t get there. When sailing transatlantic, leaving from Southampton, we fly in a day or two early. Who doesn’t love London?
  2. Let the cruise line handle the transfers. We would grab a taxi at the Southampton pier, get to the National Express bus station or take British Rail to London and then to Heathrow. It’s far easier to buy the cruise line’s transfer package. It might even get you off the ship earlier.
  3. Walk off carrying your own luggage, if you can. Cunard offers this option. Once the formalities are done, passengers who don’t need to claim their luggage can simply walk down the gangway, clear Customs and head home, before the majority of other passengers departs.
  4. If you want to get off earlier, just ask politely. If you need to claim your luggage on the pier, you are assigned a departure group. If you booked an inside cabin on the lowest deck, you are likely in the last group. If you want to debark earlier, go to the office issuing the coded luggage labels (often the tour office) and ask for an earlier timeslot. They should be accommodating. If you haven’t and are in the last group, it’s not a big deal. The crew needs to turn the ship around, ASAP. They need all passengers off to make that happen.
  5. Bring plenty of singles, fives and tens. You’ll want these for tipping. Yes, it may be included, but your cabin and dining room team work very long hours. They will appreciate some cash in an envelope.
  6. Don’t be the person holding up departure. You’ve heard it before. Moments before the scheduled departure from port, an announcement is made: “Will Mr. and Mrs. Tardy please contact the Pursers Office.” These are the folks who haven’t returned to the ship yet. You don’t want to be those people.
  7. Buy flowers for your stateroom upon arrival. After we see out luggage sitting on the bed, I head to the Purser’s Office and buy flowers to surprise my wife. This cabin will be our home away from home for the next week or two. We add our own personal touches.
  8. Walk every public deck, bow to stern. I find this a good activity for the hours between boarding and departure. You want to learn where the different bars and lounges are located. How far from your stateroom t6o the dining room? Which is the most convenient elevator bank? What’s the shortest distance from your cabin to a deck chair?
  9. Read the ship’s program front to back. OK, you aren’t that interested in needlepoint or bridge. You might want to renew your wedding vows. I try to attend the single malt scotch tasting. For some reason, it’s overlooked by most passengers. There are probably 50+ activities every day. Knowing them helps you choose.
  10. Get to know the dining room staff. Your server will address you by name. Make the same effort. The section captain or headwaiter can sometimes make good things happen. The wine steward may have a separate “bin end” list of discounted bottles left over from when the wine list changed over.

Cruising is a wonderful experience. We got hooked. So do many other people. When we stayed at an all-inclusive resort, we sensed everyone was treated equally. When we’ve cruised, we feel everyone is treated like a king or queen. There is a difference.

Cover photo by Bryce Sanders: Flowers in Queen Victoria stateroom


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