I wrote about cruising a couple of years ago.Because this type of vacation is at such an all-time high these days, a number of readers have asked me to revisit the topic. Here it is with some new info intermingled:
1 Know the ship layout. Once you've decided upon the length, the destination(s), and the cost, be sure to check the ship's layout before booking your cruise. (This is where a travel agent really comes in handy.) If you're noise conscious, for example, stay away from close-by elevators or rooming below an onboard dance club. Moreover, if you're prone to seasickness, avoid cabins on those decks closer to the water level as you may be rock-and-rollin' to a different beat in the close confines of the bathroom come 3 in the morning.
2 Be prepared. Even if sailing on an "American" ship (90 percent of all cruise ships fly foreign flags for a variety of consumer protection issues - for them), they more than likely will dock in international ports. Unless you want to be stuck onboard, your passport is a necessity. Don't forget the reminders about a change of clothing in your carry-on, plus prescription drugs. It also wouldn't hurt to stick in a swimsuit as it's usually several hours before luggage is delivered to cabins. In addition, as you'll know in advance the ports of embarkation, before leaving home try to pack a separate plastic bag for each port so you don't frantically scramble each night before the tours. Include items in each, such as sunscreen, insect repellent, maps, and a copy of your passport.
3 Do as I say and not as I do. Yes, while a familiar refrain, this is really one time I beg readers to listen. The last time we went on a cruise, we decided to fly down the day of, rather than the one before. Whether it was the extra expense, my husband's work, or just plain idiocy, after a delay and a cancellation on the way down, a mix-up with the cab scheduled at the Ft. Lauderdale airport, and a couple of other fiascos, we made the ship with only minutes to spare. As we raced from the cab, two waving cruise employees met us at the entrance to grab our luggage and shoo us towards the correct corridor. The moral of this story is to avoid tight schedules and potential disasters by arriving in your port city a day or two early. Even better, the earlier you are, the more available time you can explore the surroundings and, also, you're less likely to bust a gasket on the day of departure.
4 Purchase travel insurance. Had we missed our cruise departure, the issuing insurance would have paid for us to fly to the first port-of-call to meet up with the other passengers. Too bad we also would have missed two relaxing days at sea and my hours of enjoyment with the one-alarmed bandit.
Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears every Sunday. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org