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I remember when I went on my first cruise I had no idea what to do. I'd traveled before, flown before, stayed in hotels before, but never cruised before. It seemed like a whole different animal. I had questions. Lucky for me, I had my own personal cruise veteran to ask my 50 million questions.
Below are the top 5 questions I get asked the most by my friends and family who are cruising for the first time.
Q: Do I really need a passport?
A: It depends. If your cruise departs outside of the United States you definitely need a passport. For those departing out of US ports, cruising on a closed-loop cruise (starts and ends in the same US port) only requires a valid ID and birth certificate. Would I cruise without a passport? No. If anything happens and I need to leave the cruise early, or God-forbid, I miss the ship 😯, a passport makes getting back into the United States a lot easier. Without your passport, you'd have to visit a US Embassy and prove your citizenship. For that reason alone, I recommend making the investment in getting a passport. But, if you don't have the time or funds to get one, don't worry; lots of people travel without incident with just their ID and birth certificate. Always check with the cruise line as requirements can be different based on the itinerary.
Q: What Should I Pack?
A: You should pack for the destination. If you are going to the Caribbean, pack for summer weather. If you're going to Alaska, pack for cooler weather. I always recommend you check the weather for the time you're going. I use The Weather Channel app on my iPad to see the weather during my itinerary. It's a really cool feature and it helps me choose what type of clothing to pack.
You'll also need formal wear. Cruises generally have at least one formal night where everyone puts on their best for dinner. You can take some really nice photos. Formal night is optional so you can opt out if dressing up is not your thing. Be sure to check with your cruise line for dining attire as some have specific guidelines. Below are a few of the photos my family and I have taken on formal night.
You'll also need a good pair of walking shoes. For me, that's a brand new pair of sneakers. Whatever allows you to explore in comfort is what you should bring. I also live in flip flops when on the ship. If I'm not in my sneakers, I'm in flip flops. I usually wait for Old Navy to put their flip flops on sale for $1 and then buy up every color I don't have. LOL
I have them in every color imaginable
Q: My boarding documents advise me to arrive at 2 pm. Do I have to wait until 2 pm to show up at the port?
A: Maybe. On my first cruise, I followed the instructions on my documents and had no problems getting on. There were not a lot of people there and I didn't have to wait in any long lines. But, your first day on the ship is also part of your vacation and most people would like to get on early to enjoy more time exploring the ship. I recommend checking with the cruise line to see if they are strict about their boarding time. Take Carnival Cruise Line for example. They now have you choose a check-in time like 1 pm – 1:30 pm. If you arrive before that time, you may not be allowed entry into the terminal. Other cruise lines offer it merely as a suggestion in order to manage the congestion at the port. But, you can go as early as 10 am and board in order of arrival after their VIP guests.
Q: How do you pay for things onboard?
A: Cruise ships operate on a cashless system. You will get a room card that will also serve as your payment card for anything you purchase onboard. This includes gift shop items, drinks at the bar, room service, and shore excursions. Also, at the end of the cruise, gratuities will be added to your account. You can either add a credit card to your account that will be charged at the end of your cruise for your account total or you can pay cash before you get off the ship. You'll want to use your cash for extra tips to bar staff and things you buy while in port. You can also use cash in the casino, or, if your account has a credit card attached, you can pull money from your account to play.
Q: What kind of cabin should I get?
A: It depends on how you cruise. I generally recommend everyone start out with an inside cabin. Inside cabins are located on the interior of the ship and don't have a window. They are generally the cheapest cabins available on the ship. If you plan to spend a lot of time participating in the activities on the ship and off the ship when in port, then this cabin is for you. If you need a little natural light but don't want to pay for a balcony, you might be an ocean view cruiser. If you like being outdoors and love seeing and hearing the ocean, you might be a balcony cruiser. If you don't plan to spend a lot of time in your room, I wouldn't recommend the extra expense of a balcony.
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