Of all the vacation possibilities to consider, there’s something uniquely wonderful about the lure of the high seas. Maybe it’s the image of strolling along a boat deck under the moonlight skies with a salty breeze floating through the air. Perhaps it’s all of the exciting ports of call, offering new discoveries around every turn. No matter what the motivation, taking a cruise gives you a healthy dose of stress management. But before it is time to set sail, there are a few things to cross off the cruise checklist to help ensure smooth sailing from plane to port and back again.
What to pack?
A cruise naturally brings to mind swaying palm trees, pearl white sand and balmy temperatures. However, there are plenty of cruises, such as those with itineraries to Alaska or Antarctica that require a dress code sans bikini and shorts. On these chillier adventures, there’s always the looming possibility of colder weather, rain and sudden dips in the temperature. The key is to dress in layers: a thin shirt, sweater, and jacket ensemble that you can add to or shed with the weather shifts. Investigate the latest in waterproof and breathable fabrics such as Gore-Tex® and Polartec®, as these fabrics pull moisture away from your body, are breathable and feel comfortable against your skin.
On a warm-weather cruise, people tend to live in swimsuits. That’s the first thing to remember when packing for a cruise. Know the dress code on a ship to determine what other main staples to include. As a general rule, business casual (a suit for men and a cocktail dress for women) is typical for dinners in the main dining room. The more upscale the cruise line, the more formal the dress for dinner. Many ships usually have plenty of dining options, and more casual fare is reserved for those who prefer to dine in shorts and t-shirts. Passengers are typically given a choice of set dinner times that remain the same for the duration of the cruise. Specialty restaurants however require a special reservation. It’s a good idea to make those reservations in advance, as those spots can fill up quickly.
Don’t over pack — there’s always the temptation to plan a different outfit for every day and that usually means luggage that is stuffed to the gills. The downside of being over prepared clothing wise is that there will be no room left to bring home souvenirs or one-of-a-kind gifts. Pack a rolled up empty duffle bag, fill it with things you buy on your trip and carry it back on the plane. Also, think about packing outfits that can easily transition from day to night. For men, a nice pair of shorts can go easily from a day of sightseeing to dinner on deck with a simple change of shirt. For women, dress up a skirt with a tank for dinner with a pair of strappy heals and a nice scarf. Avoid packing bulky sweaters or jackets that take up a lot of space.
While on Dry Land
When the ship is in motion there’s usually plenty to do onboard to occupy time and say goodbye to anxiety — everything from wine tasting, dance classes and clubs and lounges to rock-climbing and zip-lining. Once the ship docks there’s a finite amount of time to see the sights and participate in any excursions. Make the most of the time on land by putting “pre-book any activities” on a cruise checklist. The most popular activities fill up quickly so booking ahead will eliminate the disappointing “sorry, we’re sold out,” upon arrival.
Shore excursion can usually be booked through the cruise line and depending on the location can include activities such as volcano hiking, guided city tours, private beach visits, water sports and more. Pay special attention to departure times and returns to make sure there will be enough time to complete the activity and get back before the ship departs.
Budget For Extras
Not many cruises have all-inclusive offerings so extras like alcohol, shore excursions, specialty restaurants, spa treatments and Internet expenses need to be accounted for in a cruise checklist. Another expense people often don’t think about until they’re on vacation is tips, which can really add up. Some ships will automatically add a daily gratuity of a certain amount per day and tack it on at the end of a cruise. Examples of people to tip are room service waiters and waiters in specialty restaurants or bars or lounges.
This might seem like a no brainer but it’s amazing how many travelers scramble at the last minute to renew an existing passport. If a passport is expired the renewal times can be lengthy unless you expedite it, which can end up being costly. Most cruise lines strongly recommend that all guests travel with a valid passport during their cruise. This is particularly important if a guest needs to fly out of the United States to meet the ship at a port if they miss their scheduled embarkation on U.S. grounds. If a passenger needs to leave the cruise early for a family or business emergency, it’s critical to have a valid U.S. Passport.
First-time cruisers learn the hard way that they don’t have to explore every inch of the ship on the very first day. Cruise ships are big, in fact some are like their own little cities, and trying to uncover everything on the first day is a good way to burn out. Explore slowly, take time to unwind and don’t forget to practice the fine art of relaxation.
Get a list of activities
Cruise ships are notorious for having non-stop activities throughout the day and night. These activities are usually listed on the website or in printed materials and many are included within the price of the cruise. Here are a few examples:
Stage shows — singers, dancers and musicians in costume with sets and scenery
3D movie theater — visuals jumping off the screen
Casinos and gaming — with bingo, craps, roulette and slot machines
Comedy clubs — many with big name comedians
Get the most out of a cruise by finding out ahead of time what a cruise ship offers during days at sea, and take advantage of as many as possible.
The last thing to put on the cruise checklist is what to leave behind. Tune out from social networks, the cell phone and anything related to real work to make sure the focus shifts to what’s really important during time at sea — the art of doing less.