Common mistakes can sink your vacation
For instance, wash your hands often, and, oh, you didn’t want to hang around other people’s children for 10 days, did you?
Taking a cruise can be an easy vacation. You pick a ship, an itinerary, pay and go. But as cruise lines offer an increasingly long list of amenities and accouterments, some at an extra charge, you need to do some homework.
Here are some mistakes a savvy cruiser can avoid:
â€¢ Underestimating the expenses. On the last evening of your cruise, you will get a bill for onboard expenses charged to your credit card. Basic sustenance is included in the cruise rate, but daily charges can be hefty on the large mass-marketed vessels.
These ships don’t nickel-and-dime you anymore; they hit you for 10s, 20s and 100s. You may pay as much for expenses as you do for the cruise, which is something to consider when you compare cruise rates. Amenities are more often included in the rate on the pricier ships.
The big-ticket item for many vacationers is their beverage bill: cocktails and wine with dinner, as well as soft drinks and bottled water. Shore excursions can cost $100 or more each. Ice cream parlors, digital arcades, Internet use, spa treatments and some exercise classes can carry extra fees. Many ships will automatically add a charge for staff tips, typically at $10-$12 per day per person.
â€¢ Getting lax with sanitary precautions. Aboard ship, wash your hands frequently and always before eating, especially after touching the elevator buttons, door knobs or stairway handrails. Use the antibacterial liquids in machines scattered around the ship, though handwashing is more thorough. Refrain from shaking hands with other passengers in the dining room, unless you want wash again before eating.
â€¢ Leaving the country without a passport or insurance. Even if the cruise line says you don’t need a passport, get one just in case you need to return quickly to the United States or obtain help from the State Department outside the country. Don’t forget to check your out-of-country medical coverage; you may want to buy short-term insurance. (I also carry an annual medical evacuation insurance policy.)
â€¢ Failing to ask specific questions about children’s programs. If you’re taking the children, ask about activities for their age groups on your vacation dates; some cruise lines offer children’s programs only at certain times of year.
Some ships are well prepared for children of all ages, with activities and pools in segregated areas; others have no designated zones and fewer trained employees. On some cruises, notably during school holidays, children are likely to be aboard in large numbers, especially on such family-friendly ships as Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Princess and Norwegian.
If you don’t want to be around the little darlings, book your cruise at another time.
â€¢ Arranging your own shore excursion without sufficient research. Booking directly with tour operators at port stops can be cheaper and better than what cruise lines offer. But be careful if you roam off the beaten track into a potentially dangerous adventure. Cruise passengers have been injured and have died on excursions on which safety measures were not followed.
Make sure the outfitter has a good reputation (check out TripAdvisor.com and other sites with user reviews) and insurance (ask for proof). Leave plenty of time to get back to the ship. It may be worth the extra cost to let the cruise line handle the details, just for peace of mind.
â€¢ Using elevators aboard ship instead of climbing the stairs. Keeping fit on a cruise is difficult, even with the athletic equipment. Take advantage of opportunities to exercise, such as using the stairs instead of the elevators. Within a few days, that stairway to the dining room on Deck 12 from your cabin on Deck 5 will seem shorter and easier, and the evening’s dessert will be less of an indulgence.
â€¢ Arriving in port the same day as your cruise departs. If you’re flying, get to the departure port a day early and avoid the anxiety that may result from delayed flights or other unanticipated roadblocks. You could miss the ship, and if you made your own air arrangements, the ship may have no obligation to help you get aboard at the next port or reimburse you for the missed connection.
â€¢ Expecting fresh fish at dinner. Unless you see sailors trolling off the stern for today’s catch, you can assume that most ships were provisioned at the home port. After a couple of days, you can expect that most perishable food came aboard frozen or ripening. This is where the more luxurious lines stand out, flying in fresh fish at port stops. On Cunard’s Queen Victoria, I watched a truck load of wriggling fish dumped into the hold in Costa Rica, and I ate one the next night at dinner.
David Molyneaux writes monthly about cruising. He is editor of TheTravelMavens.com