A Refresher Course for First Time Cruisers

| August 25, 2008

Kuki revisits his advice on what to expect and how to prepare if you've never sailed before.

Several years ago, I wrote a series of articles entitled "Your First Cruise; What to Expect" First-Time Cruisers.

In the time since then, many things have changed. Considering the volume of emails I'm still getting about those articles, and the changes in systems and options available to passengers these days, I thought it would be prudent to walk through a new cruiser's first day again.

The most important thing is to realize there is no ONE type of person that qualifies as a cruiser. There's no particular mold that we all have to fit into. Cruisers come in all shapes, sizes, ages, etc. Do not give up on the idea of a cruise because you don't fit into a bikini or Speedo. (I do, but don't let that discourage you. Well, to be honest, I do only if the Speedo is built big enough to fit a tugboat.)

One thing you'll find at every cruise terminal is a group of porters waiting to take your luggage (to be delivered to your cabin). Unless your bags are small enough to fit through airport-style (and sized) X-ray machines (i.e., carry-on size), you are required to check your bags. These bags will be delivered to your cabin later in the day as long as you have attached the luggage tags provided by the cruise line, and have written your name and cabin number on them.

Tip the porters approximately $2 per bag and you'll make certain your bags aren't placed on the ship at the next port.

All cruise lines now offer online guest registration. Be sure to have all this documentation completed, and a copy printed out, before you leave home, and be ready to present it at check in.

These days, some cruise lines use "e-docs" rather than the full printed-out document booklet, which used to be the norm. In the case of e-docs, you print out your luggage/bag tags at home. Passengers attach these paper luggage tags to their bags, but if you feel they are not secure enough, the porters at the terminal have bag tags available; if you ask, they'll attach regular tags when you turn your luggage over to them. Just be sure to watch the tags go on the bags, and be certain they have your name and cabin number on them.

Checking In Once you get through security, you'll find a plethora of check-in agents. The various cruise lines use somewhat different check in procedures -- some by deck locations, others alphabetically. All will have separate check-in desks for passengers booked in suites, and for guests who have reached high levels in their repeat cruisers clubs. In most cases, getting through the check-in process takes no more than a half hour or 45 minutes.

If you have completed your guest registration in advance, you'll just have to present that paperwork, along with your passport and the credit card you choose to use for onboard expenses, to the check-in agent.

If you prefer to pay onboard charges with cash rather than a credit card, you'll have to pay a cash deposit at check-in (minimums vary, but at least $250 will be required). During the cruise, if your account is getting close to the amount you deposited, you'll be called to the Guest Relations Desk and required to deposit more cash.

Once you've completed check-in, you'll be given a cabin door key about the size of a credit card. This card will not only open your cabin door, but will serve as a charge card. You'll present this card when making any purchases onboard (except for buying chips or tokens in the casino). The cruise line will allow you to use your onboard account for casino purchases, but be aware some charge service fees for these transactions.

This card might also have your dining room table assignment noted on it (on ships with assigned dining times), or it may be noted on a card waiting in your cabin.

When the check-in process is complete and you've got your stateroom key, you're ready to march across the gangway and board the ship. But there are two more details before you're free to begin your cruise vacation. First, there's a stop to have your boarding picture taken by the ship's photographers. This will be the first of the 12,000 times you'll have your picture taken by those photographers, who hope you'll later stop by the photo galleries and pay astronomical amounts for all the pictures of yourself. The one photo you'll have to take is at a security check where you board the ship; they take a picture of each passenger and embed it onto your stateroom key. You'll have to present this card each time you leave or come back on the ship. This way, they know everyone who has left the ship, and can make sure they've returned onboard at a port of call. That doesn't mean the ship will wait for you if you're late returning from a port visit, but they'll be happy knowing exactly who they're leaving behind.

Onboard at Last On some lines as you board, wait staffers will hand you a complimentary glass of champagne, and on others they'll have trays of drinks to sell you. It's important to know before you drink it what the case is. Don't be afraid to ask if the drinks are free or if you have to take out a second mortgage on your home to pay for them.

If you've boarded before 1:00 p.m., your cabin might not be ready for occupancy. You'll be directed to the pool deck to relax, or to the buffet restaurant for the first of many opportunities to sample a great variety of food and beverages. They say (whoever they are) that on average, a person gains one pound for each day of a cruise.

When they announce that cabins are ready for occupancy, you may need a compass to help you find it before the cruise ends. So before you leave for your cruise, study the ship's deck plans from a brochure that you can get from any travel agency, or order free from the cruise line. Familiarize yourself with your cabin location before you board.

Continue Article >> Cabin Categories (Part 2)

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