Sail through Your Cruise!

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Cruising is a great way to vacation. We loved our recent trip to Alaska, enjoying sunny skies, delicious food, great entertainment and plenty of relaxation. But how do you make the most of this break? Here’s some scuttlebutt to help you unfurl those sails for your upcoming cruise.

First, plan, plan and plan some more. Make sure you understand the details of what’s in your cruise package. Load up the cannons and bombard your travel agent or cruise rep with questions. We upgraded to a better cabin, but we didn’t realize enhanced dining accommodations were a part of our plan. The first day we missed some great meals better suited to our schedule. Know what you’ve bought.

Consider upgrading to a better cabin. We sailed to Alaska with the potential of whales and other sea life popping out of the water. It made sense to pony up the additional money to get a cabin with a balcony for our own private sightseeing and more spacious accommodations.

Cruise lines have made it super easy for you to charge your account for purchases. Faster than singing “and a bottle of rum,” you swipe your room key, and souvenirs, drinks or shore excursions pack your treasure chest. But it’s enticing to go overboard. Set a daily limit for expenditures or focus only on key purchases you want to make.

Consider buying a package for drinks and extra snacks. My hubby wanted to nosh on chips, candy and sodas while whale watching. By purchasing the package, it was cheaper than ordering at the bar. Remember, many purchases have a 15 percent or more markup for service. Even when you order and pay for a drink at the bar, a service charge can be added.

You may be charged every day for gratuities. Ours was a flat rate per person, working out to $27 a day. Tipping is the right thing to do because the crew works hard. But don’t shiver your timbers when you see the total on your final statement.
Check your statement every day. I discovered an expensive bottle of wine charged to my account that we hadn’t ordered. After speaking face-to-face with customer service, the amount was deleted. However, if we had discovered the error at home after the trip, it might have taken a battleship’s 16-inch guns to have it removed.

Do your research on your shore excursions. We used the cruise line website to buy our excursion, and it paid off. The ship was late getting into port, but the excursion waited for us. Save some dough by taking walking tours. Download maps from the websites of the welcome centers you’ll visit.

Take in the free entertainment on the ship. The shows are great. I enjoyed a Pilipino afternoon tea. A well-informed presenter educated us on native culture. Everyday computer classes were offered.

When you’re dining, ask to sit with people you don’t know, and you’ll find a new group of shipmates. Even if you’re with friends, think about splitting up for some meals and enjoying the company of others. We met people from Australia and Canada, and of course, scores from the States. If you’re a bit shy, have two questions at the ready to ask your new shipmates.

Consider putting a colored holder on your suitcase handle to distinguish it from the hundreds of others when you disembark. My husband might still be looking for our brown suitcases, running the risk of being shanghaied by the crew.
If you’re disembarking at a port for sightseeing, consider waiting about 30 minutes or more after the captain gives the all clear. At one port, we got caught in a mad rush and waited forever in close quarters as we cleared security. Also, there’s a good chance you’ll port later than what your itinerary states. Rough seas may force your captain to take another route, adding time to the travels. Give yourself a cushion.

And don’t show you’re a landlubber by misusing nautical terms. Bow is front and stern is back. When you’re facing the bow, port is left and starboard is right. Also, you’re on a ship. A boat is something you play with in the bathtub.

Check out a great website called You can study it before and after you make your cruise purchase. Lots of reviews and basic information on the ship can help you navigate through the oceans of decisions you’ll be making.
Finally, pay attention during your mandatory safety drill. You might think it’s silly, but they’re critical. Memorize the route you’ll be required to take if there’s an emergency.

When it comes to a successful cruise, it’s up to you to chart your course. Mine was great fun, and I’d highly recommend taking your first one or adding another to your vacation log. Given the proper planning, your cruise should bring you fair winds and following seas. ■

Sources: and the experience of the author.