First Time Cruisers
As a first-time cruiser, you probably have a lot of questions about purchasing your ticket, tipping policies, travel documentation, and dress codes. The facts below should help make your cruise experience smooth sailing.
BEFORE YOU LEAVE
Cruise Ticket Pricing
Included in the Price: Cruise pricing includes your accommodation, dining on board, entertainment, and activities.
Additional Charges: You are responsible for looking after your transfers between the pier and airport, and your onboard purchases of a personal nature (i.e. casino bets, gift shop purchases, spa and boutiques, dry-cleaning, laundry, etc). Shore excursions, beverages, and gratuities are also additional unless otherwise noted.
Gratuities per Guest, per Day (U.S. dollars)
Carnival Cruise Line: Dining room service $5.50 , Alternative dining service $0.75, Housekeeping staff $3.50. In addition, a 15% gratuity is automatically added to your bar bill. Tipping your maitre d’ and headwaiter is at your discretion.
Holland America Line: A Service Charge of $10 per passenger is automatically added to each guest’s shipboard account on a daily basis. If their service exceeds or fails to meet your expectations, you are free to adjust this amount at the end of the cruise.
Norwegian Cruise Line: Norwegian automatically applies a $12 gratuity to your shipboard account or $5 for children aged 3 to 12. You are welcome to adjust the dollar value up or down as you see fit. A 15% service charge is added directly to bar bills.
Princess Cruises: Princess automatically applies a $10.50 gratuity to your shipboard account. You are welcome to adjust the dollar value up or down at your discretion. A 15% service charge is added directly to bar bills.
Royal Caribbean International/ Celebrity Cruises: Dining room service $5.50, Housekeeping staff $3.50, and Headwaiters and other service personnel at your discretion.
Purchasing Your Ticket
When you purchase your cruise ticket, you are actually purchasing your cabin on the ship. Your food, entertainment, transportation, port charges, and other activities are all included in the cost of that stateroom. The per person price is calculated based on the assumption that two people will be traveling in that stateroom. Therefore, if you chose to travel solo, you can end up paying 200% of the per person cruise fare. See Singles Cruising to find alternatives to paying a higher cruise fare.
Purchasing that cabin isn’t as straightforward as it may sound. This is because cruise lines divide their ships into categories or classes of cabins that don’t always relate to the size of the room. The higher the cabin category, the higher the cost of the room. Some factors that affect the cost of your room are the placement on the ship (i.e. aft, bow), inside/oceanview/balcony/suite, porthole or window or balcony, size of room, deck number, number of passengers in the room, etc.
There are other alternatives to purchasing a specific stateroom. You can purchase a “category guarantee” or a “run of ship” ticket. These terms are explained below:
When you purchase a “category guarantee” you are not purchasing an exact stateroom. You are, rather, guaranteeing a cabin in a certain category. The cruise line will place you in that cabin category or higher depending on availability. If you chose this option, you will not receive an exact stateroom number at the time of booking. Your assignment is made either a couple of weeks prior to sailing or at the pier.
Run of Ship:
When purchasing a “run of ship” ticket, you are buying yourself on to the ship without a pre-arranged cabin or category. You will not receive your stateroom number until you arrive at the pier. Your cabin may be anywhere on the ship, from the lowest deck to the highest, or may be an inside or an outside stateroom.
Citizens of the U.S.A. or Canada need proof of citizenship (passport or birth certificate with photo ID). All non-U.S. passengers require a valid passport and an unexpired U.S. Multiple Re-Entry visa. Passengers who can apply for admission under the Visa Waiver pilot program are required to carry a valid, unexpired passport.
Passengers are required to carry their proper travel documentation before, during, and immediately following the cruise. You will not be allowed to board the vessel without proper identification. All non-U.S. guests will be asked to surrender their passports and/or resident alien cards at embarkation. These documents will be returned the morning of arrival back in the U.S.
ONCE ON BOARD
Onboard Currency/Credit Cards
Onboard pricing is in U.S. dollars when sailing on Carnival, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess, and Royal Caribbean. On all of these ships, passengers make purchases on board with a “cruise card” that is issued to passengers at embarkation. This card is both identification and a credit card.
Many lines suggest the use of U.S. travelers’ cheques when paying your shipboard account. Only cash is accepted in casinos and for medical charges. Visa, Mastercard, and American Express are accepted by all cruise lines. Royal Caribbean International also accepts Diners, Carte Blanche and Discover cards. Discover is also accepted by Holland America and Norwegian Cruise Lines. Celebrity Cruises has ATMs aboard all of their ships.
Cruise passengers attire is casual during the day. In the evening, Carnival, Holland America, Princess, and Royal Caribbean have three types of dress code: elegant casual (comfortable, relaxed clothing), informal (dresses/dress suits for women, jackets for men) and formal (evening gowns and suits/tuxedos). This attire varies by the night. Norwegian Cruise Lines’ ships always have a resort casual attire for dinner with some optional formal nights offered.
Smoking policies vary by cruise line in terms of designated smoking areas. In all cases, smoking is, however, not permitted in food services areas, restaurants, or show lounges. Carnival Cruise Lines’ Paradise is the first ever totally smoke-free ship.
Passengers are not allowed to bring alcoholic beverages on to their ship. Alcoholic beverages can be purchased in the ship’s gift shops or in foreign ports, but may be retained by the cruise line until the end of the voyage. If you are celebrating a special occasion, fine wines and champagne can be brought on board during embarkation only. If you choose to consume the wine in the dining room, a $10 per bottle corkage fee is charged.
Wine, beer, champagne, and mixed drinks are available during the cruise except when U.S. Immigration personnel are inspecting the vessel.
All cruise lines follow U.S. regulations in regards to drinking. That means that no one under the age of 21 years is permitted to buy or consume alcohol while on the ship.
Ships nowadays are so big and well-stabilized that passengers can barely tell that they are moving. Caribbean cruises and Alaska’s Inside Passage cruise are known for extremely calm waters. It is unlikely that you will feel sick during your cruise to these locations.
If you run into rough waters and begin to feel queasy, your symptoms can be relieved by an over-the-counter medication like Dramamine. If you are very prone to seasickness, ask your doctor, prior to sailing, for the Transderm patch (available by prescription). Or buy some ginger capsules and acupressure wristbands at a pharmacy before boarding the ship.
Staying In Touch
All of today’s cruise ships have TVs in every stateroom, many with CNN. A daily newssheet with stories from the major newspapers is available for passengers. Norwegian Cruise Lines has major newspapers available for sale aboard many of its newer vessels. In addition, you can make phone calls and send emails both at sea and in port.
There are many rules and regulations adhered to by cruise ships so that passengers and crew members are kept safe from harm. In addition, the Coast Guard conducts rigorous quarterly inspections of all ships operating from U.S. ports to make sure that the ships comply with its emergency-response requirements. Ships also operate under international rules known as Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) to protect against fire. The rules require ships to have smoke detectors, sprinklers, and low-level emergency lighting for escape routes. To ensure that passengers know how to evacuate in the event of a real emergency, drills are held for passengers and crew at the beginning of every cruise to simulate an evacuation.
International rules have recently been established requiring all ships and ports to have security officers and security plans. Cruise lines are required to report the names of passengers on each sailing to the Coast Guard and identification policies are very tight.
Always refer to your vessel as a ship not a boat.
The ship is always referred to as a female.
“Port” refers to the left side of the ship.
“Starboard” refers to the right side of the ship.
“Aft” refers to the rear or back of the ship.
“Bow” refers to the front of the ship.
A ship has decks not floors.
A ship has staterooms not rooms.
“Tender” is the vessel that you take to and from the shore when the ship is at anchor in a port.
The “bridge” is the place where the Captain and his crew steer the ship.
The “brig” is the ship’s jail.
It is a “Purser’s Desk” not an Information Desk or a Front Desk.
FOLLOWING THE CRUISE
Past Passenger Programs
Many cruise lines enroll all past passengers into a program that is designed to keep you informed about upcoming offers and provide you with special amenities and pricing for your next cruise.
Carnival Cruises: Carnival’s past passengers receive a free, two-year subscription to “Carnival Currents” (the line’s onboard magazine). This magazine contains discounts for future cruises.
Celebrity Cruises: “Captain’s Club” is Celebrity’s program. Members are offered discounts or cabin upgrades on futures cruises. They also receive club baggage tags, pins, videos of the ships and destinations, advance notice of offers, and an invite to a private cocktail party on their next cruise.
Holland America Line: Holland America’s past passengers are enrolled in the “Mariner Club” to receive discounts and upgrade offers five times a year. They also receive baggage tags, separate check-in, medallions, and an invite to a captain-hosted cocktail party on their next cruise.
Norwegian Cruise Line: “Latitudes” is Norwegian’s past passengers’ club. It provides fast check-in, a captain’s reception, bridge and galley tours, special cruises, and additional onboard credits. Members also receive a newsletter and discounts on selected cruises.
Princess Cruises: Offers a club called “Captain’s Circle.” Members are invited to a captain-hosted cocktail party on their next cruise and are welcome to participate in a club photo contest with prizes. Recognition pins are presented with amazing gifts (i.e. Tiffany Crystal) to those who travel frequently. All members are put on a list to receive a special Princess newsletter.
Royal Caribbean International: Royal Caribbean’s past passengers join “The Crown and Anchor Society.” This club has three levels of membership based on the number of cruises taken. Members receive a quarterly magazine with special offers. Couples can enter members-only sweepstakes and participate in shore-side events.
Hope this has been of some help. If you have more questions head to the web site by clicking on the title.
Photo of the Miami Cruiseship terminal showing the contrast of a weary traveler and an alert one taken by Ian Hughes who has other photos on Flickr.
P.S. There is only a few more days remaining to enter in the win a free cruise contest so if you haven’t already you should.