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Cruise Control: What You Need To Know Before You Set Sail

by Our Editors

Here are 5 tips, tricks, and recommendations to help you have a wonderful cruise experience.

by H. Luiz Martinez

Many people who are going on their first cruise don’t know what to expect or how to prepare for the trip. Will it be very expensive? Will the motion of the ship make me feel sick? What if they delay the flight, and you miss the ship altogether? These are huge dilemmas to think about, but it’s best to think about them and other possible situations before you sail away. The good news is that if you are prepared, you’ll be fine in case something goes awry. Here are some tips, tricks, and recommendations to help you have a wonderful cruise experience.

CANCEL TO SAVE

Now, I know this may sounds counterproductive, but unlike airfares, most cruise cancellations are free. Cruise lines have differing cancellation periods (usually three to four weeks before the sail date) so inquire about deposit policies and read the fine print. Some cruise lines, or a very good agent, may even notify you that your booking has been automatically reduced due to a new lower fare on the same cruise. However, if you see a different cruise at a better price point that offers even more perks for your bucks, then cancel your existing reservation, get your deposit back at no penalty, then book your new cruise. Extra tip: Booking a cruise in the Caribbean is best during September and October, off-season. These two months are best for lastminute deals as low as $180 for five days! Monitor the offers diligently, starting the last week of August, and you’ll see these great savings pop-up. Just don’t forget that these special cruise fares are usually non-refundable. We booked one of these last-minute trips and had a blast on our trip from Florida to the Dominican Republic. We paid $350 for two people for a four day cruise!

GUARANTEE IT

Booking what’s known as a “guaranteed stateroom” will always get you great savings on the type of room you’d like, whether it’s a suite, interior room, or a stateroom with a balcony. The risk is that you will not know where you will end up until just prior to your departure date. Polling my friends, and based upon my own cruise travels, I’ve learned that none of us have ever received an undesirable room. In fact, we have received better rooms then expected for the same price as an undesirable room. How it works: think of a “guaranteed stateroom” as a waiting for savings list. After rooms are completely booked, the best “guaranteed stateroom” in the category you’ve chosen (inside, outside, suite, etc.,) are picked for you, and they do their best to provide you with a wonderful, desirable room that’s available. If the best rooms in your category are not available, they’ll place you in a higher, better category room. About upgrades: On cruise ships upgrades are rarely available. When it does happen, it seems to happen for “guaranteed stateroom” patrons.

Circular Quay Sydney Harbor

Circular Quay Sydney Harbor

TECH IT OUT

Most cruise lines have mobile apps that you can use when you patch into their Wi-Fi at no additional cost. These complimentary apps allow you to see schedules, dining menus, and make reservations. They come with a ship’s map so you can locate all the great areas aboard, the daily/weekly activities during your stay, and information about any upcoming stops and ports. You can also check your onboard account with these great apps. I suggest that you download at home before your trip as to not incur any fees while downloading the app on the ship. For a low fee (usually under $10 per trip), you may voice call and/or text anyone on the ship or that sexy hunk you’ve met at last night’s foam party. The additional cost of most of these cruise apps are well worth it. Some may even offer social media and/or e-mail connection services for other low-cost fees. Using your electronic gadgets for Wi-Fi and cell service on cruise ships used to be quite an expensive ordeal for extremely slow connections, but times are a-changin’. Thank goodness for that, because we are living in a digital world where “If it’s not posted on social media, it didn’t really happen.” A large part of my business is social media and when I was on my last cruise earlier this year, the Wi-Fi was so expensive that I had to wait to get home to put up stories, pictures, and videos. However, my editor brought to my attention that two of the industry’s biggest players, MTN Communications and O3b Networks, are investing millions of dollars in communication infrastructures for ships via satellites. That’s very good news for all of us who are connected to our electronic gadgets for work and play. Quite a few popular cruise lines are already providing reliable, inexpensive Wi-Fi services. The key is to ask about it before you book your cruise. Now, there are still plenty of ships with spotty, slow, and expensive services, but that should all change in 2018. So, when you inquire about the ship’s rooms, activities, and food services, don’t forget to also ask about their Wi-Fi connectivity, reliability, and costs associated with it. Battery Tricks: in case you didn’t know, most cabins, even some balcony suites, come equipped with just one or two electrical outlets. We bring aboard a travel power strip that turns one outlet into three to connect our gadgets. You can also get travel power strips with USB ports for mobile phones. I happily discovered that most flat screen TVs in cabins have one or two USB ports, so that you may connect and charge your mobile devices.

CONQUER THE MOTION OF THE OCEAN

Being seasick is not a good thing, but being seasick without a treatment plan is much worse. You have to prepare for it in case it happens, and you want to have a plan, preferably a preventive plan. Things to know: the seasick-causing motion is most subdued in the central, lower areas of any ship or vehicle on the water. If you know you are prone to sickness then it is suggested you book a lower stateroom and keep that room on ice, meaning crank that air conditioning to frigid. I really don’t know why, but they say that the cold counteracts seasickness. Maybe it’s the dulling of the equilibrium, the “freezing” of the inner-ear or the settling of stomach nerves, I don’t know. What I do know is that it works. If you don’t have a lower central cabin, get to a place near there: a lounge, an activity room, a friend’s cabin, something central and low, just get there. Most motion-sickness meds and over-the counter treatments are effective, but some like Dramamine will induce you into a coma. How are you supposed to enjoy yourself crashed-out in your room all day and night? Natural remedies are healthier, and they also work to combat seasickness just as effectively. Eating granny smith apples (the green ones) or munching on some salted crackers are great ways to combat sea-sickness. Ginger ale, and even better, ginger pills work well too. In fact, a few popular cruise lines have some, if not all, of these natural remedies in your cabin waiting for you if you need them. Others will give them to you upon request.

ENSURE YOU HAVE INSURANCE

It is imperative to have travel insurance, especially when booking a trip on a cruise. The cruise lines will offer you insurance, but it’s best to get it from a third-party travel insurance company. With a third party, coverage usually includes flight delays and cancellations, medical coverage, and treatment, and other insurance coverage. Travel insurance will usually reimburse you for new clothes and other essentials if they are lost or stolen. If you experience a death in the family and have to cancel your travel plans, travel insurance will cover all or a portion of your otherwise non-refundable fare. The reason why most people don’t get insurance directly from cruise lines is because it is usually way more expensive than the third-party companies, and it typically just covers the cruise part of your trip. So, if your flight is delayed, and you miss the ship, you’re out of a cruise. If you get sick or have a family emergency and can’t make the trip, you’re out of a cruise. Do your homework, plan ahead, and have a great trip!

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