Top 10 Topics: Food and Dining

This continues a series of articles I created to provide some useful and money-saving tips and tricks for you!  If you wish to get my complete white paper with the entire “Top 10” content, just email me at blabbon@cruiseshipcenters.com.  I will sign you up for my Expedia CruiseShipCenters mailing list and send you the white paper.

fine dining Food & Dining (topic 3 of 10)

Beware? Enjoy? Oh yeah, definitely enjoy!
False: the only thing to do on a cruise is eat.
True: there is a LOT to eat on a cruise!
Cruiselines pamper and spoil when it comes to food. You paid your money, so ENJOY!  Just be careful to stick to any medical guidelines you may have to follow (e.g. diabetic diets), but do enjoy the smorgasbord of choices!


Tips & Tricks: 

The only complaint is this department is the possibility of long lines.  The lines usually move fast, but you can improve your experience by:
(a) Using the “anytime dining” option that most cruiselines offer – you have your evening meal at your time/convenience (within a few hours range).
(b) Hit the buffets during off-peak times, e.g. early or late breakfast, late lunch.
(c) Try to go out of your comfort zone and eat other stuff with shorter lines, in other words, avoid the masses!

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Top 10 Topics: Alcohol on board?

This continues the series of articles I created to provide some useful and money-saving tips and tricks for you!  If you wish to get my complete white paper with the entire “Top 10” content, just email me at blabbon@cruiseshipcenters.com.  I will sign you up for my Expedia CruiseShipCenters mailing list and send you the white paper.

cocktail  ALCHOHOL ON BOARD? (topic 2 of 10)

Expect high prices, on average about $7 to $8 for a good mixed drink.  In my opinion, this is not too outrageous, since (a) this is how cruiselines make their profit and (b) this is what you’d expect to pay for drinks at a nice bar anywhere in your hometown.

 

 

money saving idea

Tips & Tricks: 

Some cruiselines will allow you to bring a limited amount of alcohol on board, e.g. Carnival will allow 1 bottle of wine per adult passenger.  Find out from your travel agent or cruise line in advance!  This could be a considerable money-saver, especially if you don’t plan to drink too much on the cruise.


Top 10 Topics: Port Hassles

This is the first in a series of articles I created to provide some useful and money-saving tips and tricks for you!  If you wish to get my complete white paper with the entire “Top 10” content, just email me at blabbon@cruiseshipcenters.com.  I will sign you up for my Expedia CruiseShipCenters mailing list and send you the white paper.
 
embark a ship Port Hassles (topic 1 of 10)

Beware of the port hassles:  expect long lines, a fairly cumbersome process of getting on and off the ship.  This is not the Cruiseline’s fault but rather the port authority.  Example: on a recent Bahamas cruise, when we disembarked in Charleston, we had to wait for a shuttle bus, which then drove us all of 100 yards, dumped us off inside a terminal, then we had to walk for about 7-8 minutes, with all our luggage, to our parking lot and car.  Oh yes, and to add insult to injury, the parking at the port is very expensive!

money saving idea Tips & Tricks: 

Have someone drop you off, or find parking away from the port and take a shuttle in. Just make sure you know the arrangements for getting back to your car once you return.

Call me, just not from a cruise ship

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Cruises are all-inclusive to an extent, since the cost includes your lodging, entertainment, meals and other fun activities. However, one area where you have to beware is when it comes to communicating with the outside world.

(Also see my earlier post: Wi-fi on a cruise)

guy making a call using a tin cupIt is very expensive  to make phone calls from a cruise ship. Rates and policies change all the time so it’s pointless to list them here, but here are some general guidelines.

1. Personal cell phone: To use your cell phone while on board, contact your cell phone carrier (Verizon, Sprint, etc.) BEFORE you leave on your cruise.  Most likely then will have to enable your phone for international calling. You can expect to pay about $2.50 per minute for voice calls, $0.50 for texts.

2. Calling cards: You may want to use calling cards from a port of call. This may be a good option, but again do your homework in advance.  Your calling card may not work from outside the US. E.g. I use Pingo, and Pingo does not work from Caribbean islands to the US, unless you use it with the “soft phone” option – a computer with internet connection is required.

3. Soft Phones:  Which brings me to “soft phones”.  This refers to a phone program on a computer device from which you can place calls.  This may be a great alternative, but remember you will have to pay the wi-fi/internet costs for being on the internet.

4. Ship Phone: Using the cruise line’s phone: Very last resort, it gets very expensive very quickly!

5. Smoke signals: frowned upon, seriously, do NOT light a fire on a cruise ship!

Additional Tips:

  • Make sure to disable your phone’s data and cellular roaming capabilities before you board!  Especially if you have a smart phone!  Many apps will utilize data or cellular capabilities in the background and you do not want a nasty surprise when you get back home and see your next phone bill!  Check your phone manual or call your carrier if you’re unsure how to do this.  If all else fails, totally power OFF your phone during your cruise.
  • If you’re worried about family members back on shore, have them send you texts occasionally to give you peace of mind that all is well.  Texts are much cheaper and that way you can call only if you need to.
  • Purchase an internet package from the Cruiseline and utilize emails instead of phone calls for communicating.  Again, see my earlier post: Wi-fi on a cruise.
Happy Travels!
- Bill

Checklist of To-do Items after you’ve booked

So you’ve booked a cruise!  Congrats, and I bet you are excited!  As with all vacations, your trip will go much smoother, and you will enjoy it much more if you do some pre-planning and preparation in advance.  Here is a handy checklist of things to think about prior to leaving on your cruise.  As always, if in any doubt, talk to your travel agent!

Note: for several of these items, see some of my previous blog entries for additional advice and information!

Checklist of To-do Items after you’ve booked

Description

Discuss with Travel Agent

Buy trip insurance (consider any coverage your credit card carrier may provide). Yes
Make Payment – Initial Deposit
Make Payment – Final payment
Book hotel/lodging pre-trip. Yes
Book hotel/lodging post-trip. Yes
Research Internet costs onboard ship
Research cell phone costs onboard. Contact cruise line and/or your cell phone carrier.
Register and “check in” online with cruise line
Arrange for parking at port of call (if needed)
Watch video tours of itinerary/destinations (online)
Decide on (and pre-purchase?) Cruise activities: dining; shows; spa etc. Yes
Decide on (and pre-purchase?) shore trips/excursions. E.g. horseback riding, golf, snorkeling, etc. Yes
Create Packing List
Read insurance agreement throughly
Pack for trip: clothes etc (use Packing List)
Print and take: boarding documents; Insurance agreement; passport
Research with your specific cruise line:

  • Embarking & disembarking
  • Info about your ship
  • What to wear
  • Tipping guidelines & charges
  • Dining options & expectations
  • Passport & travel documentation requirements
  • Destinations & ports of call – what to do, see
  • Upgrades – e.g. upgrade cabin type; spa, etc.
Yes

Traveling with kids (and the TSA)

Summer (in our hemisphere) is rapidly approaching. This is the time that many people take vacations, simply because it is the time that the kids are out of school!  So, it’s a good time to make sure that you are up to date on the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) guidelines and tips for traveling with children.

TSA logo

For example, did you know:

  • Children 12 and under can leave their shoes on during screening?
  • TSA should not and will not ask travelers to do anything that will separate them from their child?
  • All child-related equipment that can fit through the X-ray machine should go through the X-ray machine. Examples include: strollers, umbrella-strollers, baby carriers, car and booster seats, backpacks, and baby slings.

There is a whole lot more information on the web of course, but the best place to do your reading is straight from the horse’s mouth.  So check out this link:

http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/children/index.shtm

Be sure to view the useful videos on this site as well!

Safe travels!
 -- Bill.

Before the fun and games begin (Quick FAQ for Carnival Cruises)

Carnival is arguably the most popular cruise line out there, at least by sheer number of passengers each year.  There are way too many questions (and answers) related to cruises to regurgitate here, but I always advise my clients to make sure they set aside at least one hour and read their Cruise Line’s web site well in advance of their cruise date.

carnival ship Having said that, I thought it would be useful to post some of the most frequent questions I get, especially from first-time cruisers.  Again, this is specific to Carnival, but a lot of this will apply regardless of the cruise line.

  1. Online check-in is required before your cruise date. Use this link to check in: http://www.carnival.com/BookedGuest
    Once you complete all information required for check-in, you will be able to print your cruise documents, including luggage tags, boarding passes and more.
  2. Passports etc.
    US Citizens: Carnival highly recommends all guests travel with a passport (valid for at least six months beyond completion of travel).  Although a passport is not required for U.S. citizens taking cruises that begin and end in the same U.S. port, travelling with a passport enhances your disembarkation experience, as delays may be expected upon your return to the U.S. if you do not have one.  Additionally, passports make it easier for you to fly from the U.S. to a foreign port should you miss your scheduled port of embarkation, or need to fly back to the U.S. for emergency reasons.

    Non-citizens: 
    U.S. Alien Residents require a valid Alien Resident Card and/or passport (depending on itinerary) to travel on all Carnival cruises.  Non-U.S. citizens require a valid machine readable passport and a valid, unexpired U.S. Multiple Re-entry Visa, if applicable, to travel on all Carnival cruises.
    Traveling with Children:
    When traveling with a minor and both parents/legal guardians are not cruising, we strongly recommend bringing an original, signed letter from the absent parent/legal guardian authorizing the minor to travel with you. This will expedite processing by the Department of Homeland Security.  A notarized letter is even better and required if traveling to Mexico.
  3. What to wear: See this Carnival web page: http://www.carnival.com/Core/FAQ.aspx?faq=wear
    Or, refer to my blog entry: T-Shirts to Tuxedos…
  4. Cell phone and internet usage: See my blog entry: Can I get Wi-fi/Internet on a cruise?
    Also see  the Carnival Internet Cafe page.
Happy Travels everyone!