Cruising - Tykemart (3)
TykeMart bloggers are seasoned cruisers. They have cruised with kids on many of the major cruise lines that cater to the North American market.
They share tips to help you find the best cruise deals. They share tips to help you get the most out of your cruise and stretch your vacation dollars.
From Alaska to Asia and points in between, our bloggers have cruised there. Learn little secrets that make your family cruise memorable.
Feel free to join in the conversation, tell us about your favorite vacation ideas and share your cruise tips.
We love to cruise. We’ve cruised many of the major cruise lines catering to North America and have cruised around the world multiple times.
Cruise cards, port side, aft, tenders, and traditional seating have become part of our vocabulary. We’ve learned how to navigate the check-in process and quickly settle in to make the most of our vacation.
But cruising can be daunting to first time cruisers. Check-in can be confusing and the ships can be overwhelming. Here are a few tips I wish someone had shared with me before I ever boarded my first cruise ship.
· Print out your luggage tags and attach them to your luggage before you get to the port
· Pack swimwear, sunscreen, comfy clothes, and the first night’s dinner clothing in carry on bags in case your luggage is lost enroute or they don't get to your stateroom before dinner
· Drop off luggage to porters outside of the cruise terminal - on our recent cruise on Celebrity June 2014 we sailed out of Venice, there were no porters. We had to take our luggage into the building where staff placed them on conveyer belts. I'm not sure if this was something new at this port or is something cruise lines are now implementing.
· Your luggage will be delivered to your staterooms, they may not arrive until later that night.
· Carry on important and expensive items
· Expect long lines in the cruise terminal. Find the right line for check-in. There are special lines for suite and concierge class guests, and frequent cruisers. If you can try to avoid peak check-in times, usually between noon to 2 p.m.
· Have your cruise tickets, passport, and credit card ready
· Your photo will be taken at check-in, it is kept on file to identify you each time you leave and return to the ship
· Everyone in your party, including infants, will be issued a cruise card – it serves as your stateroom key and “credit card”. The cruise card must be presented every time you make an onboard purchase. If your cruise card gets lost or damaged you must replace it at the purser’s desk
· Children will be fitted with a wristband that has your assigned muster station printed on it. Wristband must be worn throughout the cruise. If your child damages or loses the wrist band you must replace it at the purser’s desk.
· Your embarkation photo will be taken as you board. It will be available for purchase at the ship’s photo gallery. You are not obligated to have your picture taken nor are you obligated to buy it if you choose to have it taken.
· You must “punch in” with your cruise card every time you leave or re-enter the ship. This is how cruise lines keep track of their guests. It allows them to know which guests if anyone have not returned from any port.
· Staterooms may not be ready when you board. While waiting for your stateroom you can have a meal at the buffet, explore the ship, relax at the pool or at any public area.
· Be ready to get lost. It’s easy to get turned around on board. Directions are given in nautical terms. Familiarize yourself with them.
o Forward – front of the ship
o Aft – back of the ship
o Port – left side when facing forward
o Starboard – right side when facing forward
· Once you are allowed in your stateroom your cabin attendant will introduce himself and let you know what time you must attend the muster drill, and whether or not you must bring your life vest.
· If you miss your cabin attendant the drill time will be posted in the daily newsletter you find in your stateroom
· Your muster station is printed behind the door, on your cruise card, and on your life vest.
· Life vests can be found in the closet or under the bed. If you are traveling with infants and small children your cabin attendant will bring you life vests for them.
· International Maritime Laws require all passengers sailing on the ship attend the muster drill before the ship sets sail. Don’t even think of skipping it by hiding in your stateroom, they will find you.
· Check your stateroom TV for channels available, some lines have pay per view adult channels, you may want to use the parental controls to block them
· Register children at the youth centers so they can participate in activities.
· Cruise photographers are everywhere, expect to have your photos taken at every opportunity, in the dining rooms and restaurants, at the pools, as you leave the ship at different ports, on open decks during sail aways, and at every noteworthy event. You can also have portraits taken at the photo stations set up on board. You can take as many photos as you want but you are not obligated to purchase any.
· There are 2 types of dinner arrangements included in your cruise fare, Traditional Fixed Seating and Anytime Dining
o Traditional Fixed Seating – you will dine in the main dining room at the same time every evening. You sit at the same table and are served by the same wait staff the whole cruise. You may opt to dine elsewhere on any night.
o Anytime Dining – you can dine anywhere, anytime. Most ships have a dining room for anytime diners, you can make reservations or walk-in. There may be long lines during popular dinner times, you will have to wait if you don’t have reservations.
· Specialty Dining venues have cover charges per guest. It’s best to make reservations as these restaurants are busy.
· A 10-15% service charge is added to every beverage, spa, and salon purchase you make.
· Daily gratuity is added to your shipboard account. The charge is about $11+ per person/day. Everyone, including infants are charged gratuity. Tips and gratuities are not mandatory, you can choose to remove or reduce these charges by going to the purser’s desk before the cruise ends, deadlines for changing gratuities are posted in the daily newletters.
· Some ships have self-service Laundromats – it is also equipped with an iron and ironing board (travel irons or any other iron are not permitted in staterooms). Single use detergent and fabric softeners are available from the vending machine. You can change coins at the purser’s desk. But don’t wait for a day at sea to do laundry, it will be very busy. Nor should you wait til formal night to iron what you will be wearing that evening. You are not limited to the Laundromat on your deck, if machines are all busy you can do your laundry on any deck.
· Shore Excursions can be reserved on line before sailing or at the shore excursion desk on board. Some ships have systems where you can order shore excursions from the TV in your staterooms. Some lines also leave shore excursion order forms in your cabin, you can fill them out and drop them at the shore excursion desk. Your tickets will be sent to your stateroom.
· Ship sponsored shore excursions use local tour operators that have been vetted by the cruise line for safety, quality, and service. The ship waits for all passengers that are on ship sponsored excursions, they will not for guests who tour ports independently.
· If you purchased a ship sponsored excursion check your tour ticket or daily newsletter for the meeting point and time.
· When you arrive at the meeting point shore excursion staff will give you a ticket indicating your bus number. Don’t enter the meeting point until your party is complete, otherwise your group may get separated.
· The bridge will announce which deck gangways are on, signs will also be posted on public decks directing you to the gangway. Gangways are busiest as soon as the ship is cleared by port officials, there will be long lines of guests waiting to exit. If you can, consider leaving at a later time to avoid the crowds.
· Bring your cruise cards and photo ids to shore. You will need the cruise cards to exit and re-enter the ship. Local officials require each passenger present cruise cards and sometimes photo ids to re-enter the cruise terminal.
· Bring local currency when going on shore. You can exchange currency on board at the purser’s desk or currency exchange machines located on one of the decks. It is usually less expensive to exchange money at home or on the ship; foreign exchange kiosks on shore charge high fees. Or use your credit card for on shore purchases, check exchange fees with your card company.
· Be sure you know what time guests are requested to return to the ship. It’s a good idea to synchronize your watch to the ship’s time to avoid being late. Ships usually sail on schedule and will not wait for late passengers unless those passengers are on a ship sponsored excursion.
· Port guides are delivered to your cabin before the ship reaches each port. It has information about the ports, maps of the port and surrounding areas, and the contact info for the ship’s port agent. Keep a port guide with you when ashore, if you have any emergencies or miss the ship contact the port agent for assistance. If you don’t find port guides in your stateroom they are available at the tour desk.
· Some ports can’t accommodate large cruise ships, at these ports the ship will anchor off shore and shuttle passengers to and from shore using ship’s tenders or local boats.
· At ports requiring tender you must obtain a tender ticket unless you are on a ship sponsored excursion, are a suite guest, or have frequent cruiser benefits. The daily newsletter will tell you when and where tickets are being distributed. You must wait for your ticket number to be called before going to the tender dock.
· Take note of when the last tender leaves port to return to the ship. If you miss it you will get left behind.
· Several days before the cruise ends you are required to fill out a form telling the lines about your departure plans. Color coded Luggage tags will be issued and left in your stateroom based on your travel arrangements after the cruise.
· Tagged luggage must be placed outside your stateroom door the night before the cruise ends. They will be collected and be available for pick up in the cruise terminal the next morning.
· The final newsletter will tell you what services are available on the last day. It will tell you the earliest time you may disembark based on the luggage tag you were issued. You can hang out on any public deck while waiting for your turn to disembark.
· You can choose to “walk off” the ship. You will not be issued luggage tags and must carry your luggage off the ship. If you chose this option don’t place your luggage out for collection. You can disembark at your convenience once the ship has been cleared by port officials.
We are definitely a cruising family, we’ve been cruising with our kids since they were teens so it’s only natural that when grandkids came along they cruised with us too.
I remember our very first cruise was a 7 day Alaska Cruise on the Star Princess. At the time I had no clue how cruise fares worked and deciphering cabin categories and classes seemed impossible. How can the same type cabin have so many different prices?
My only requirement was a balcony cabin or my husband would refuse to go. Not knowing any better I happily agreed with all the travel agent's suggestions. I was told cabins mid-ship under passenger cabins are the best most comfortable ones and they’re quieter and better for people who get seasick. They are also the more expensive ones. My travel agent got me great staterooms in the highest class available.
Over the years we’ve stayed in balcony cabins and suites in different classes. We’ve since learned that none of us get sea sick, don’t mind hearing deck chairs being moved above us, don’t mind the long walk to an elevator, and we aren’t in the room enough to enjoy the added luxuries suites have to offer. I’ve learned to decipher stateroom categories and classes, I now tell my travel agent which category and class I want. In short we’ve become savvy cruisers.
Here are my tips for newbie cruisers to help choose the stateroom to fit your needs and budget. I hope it takes away some of the mystery of stateroom categories and classes.
Different cruise lines have different names for cabin categories and different class labels. Some use numbers, others letters, and still others a combination of both. The larger ships have added different stateroom categories like inside view, concierge and aqua classes, and more.
The reality is there are only 4 categories of cabins, everything else are sub-categories, meaning they are usually the same size as others in their category but have different views or include extra luxuries.
All staterooms have a private bath with a shower. Beds can be configured as one queen or two twins. Amenities include bath soap or wash, shampoo/conditioner, blow dryer, TV, limited room service menu (some lines charge a nominal fee for delivery), mini-bar (items consumed will be charged to your shipboard account)
There are many classes of suites ranging from mini-suites to penthouse suites which have 2 bedrooms, sitting and dining rooms. Added luxuries can include butlers, whirlpool tubs, balcony hot tubs, upgraded toiletries, in room meals, and more.
Maximum room capacity on all staterooms and suites is 4. Some staterooms can only accommodate 2 guests, which is why at times you may have to book a more expensive stateroom class if you need to fit more than 2 people in the stateroom.
(Rooms shown are on the Celebrity Century - furnishing may vary depending on cruise line & ship, but as a rule cabins are fairly similar across the board - there are exceptions on every ship)
Inside Stateroom – Four walls and a door.
Ocean View Stateroom – Same as inside stateroom but one wall has a large porthole (window)
Royal Suite on Celebrity Century
Photos by Celebrity.com
Once you’ve decided on category you must decide on stateroom. Staterooms in the same category are generally the same size, the class refers to its location on the ship. Generally, the lower the number, letter, or combination of both, the better the location meaning higher prices. As class numbers/letters ascend the price descends. Suites have different class categories. Depending on the cruise line you may find: mini-suites, Sky Suites, Royal Suites, Penthouse Suites, etc.
Every stateroom category mentioned above has several different classes. Meaning the stateroom size is generally the same, but is located in different parts and levels of the ship. Suites are generally located in the "choicer" areas of the ship.
(These are based on Stateroom Classes on Celebrity Cruise Line - specifically on the Celebrity Century. These are just EXAMPLES of some of the different classes for Veranda Staterooms, there are more than 3 classes for each category and each Category of Stateroom has its own set of classes. It should give a fairly reasonable view of how stateroom classes work on most cruise lines bearing in mind that different lines use different labels either numbers, letters, or both. As a rule classes are listed in order from the highest most expensive to the lowest least expensive.)
Staterooms in the highest classes are located mid-ship beneath non-service areas. These staterooms are closer to the main elevators and stairs and have passenger cabins above them. You may choose a stateroom at time of booking. If you’re prone to motion sickness, need to be close to elevators, and don’t want to hear deck chairs above you, or want a specific stateroom consider a stateroom in this class.
Stateroom Class 2D
Staterooms in the lower classes can be located forward or aft and beneath service areas. Some staterooms have obstructed views, meaning they are located behind life boats or posts. You may choose a stateroom at time of booking. If you aren’t prone to motion sickness, don’t mind walking farther to the elevator, don’t mind an obstructed view, and don’t mind hearing deck chairs being moved above you, consider this less expensive option.
Guarantee Stateroom – Most cabin categories have a guarantee stateroom class. It is the least expensive stateroom in its category. You may not choose a specific stateroom at time of booking, a cabin will be assigned to you sometime before the sail date. Guarantee staterooms may be eligible for a class upgrade, stateroom assignments are based on availability. If all you really care about is getting a stateroom on a specific sailing, but don’t care where it’s located this is the class for you.
To find out where specific staterooms are located and what category and class they are refer to the color coded deck plans. Categories and Classes are scattered throughout the ship on different levels.
When booking a guarantee stateroom you may be told that you are eligible for an upgrade. If you’re counting on that inside guarantee cabin getting upgraded to a suite or even an ocean view stateroom you may be disappointed. Upgrades, unless you get very lucky, generally refer to a class upgrade, meaning you will be upgraded to a higher class stateroom in the category that you booked. For instance if you booked a Guarantee Inside Stateroom you might get upgraded to a category 1A inside stateroom, rarely will you find yourself in an oceanview or verandah stateroom.
Any stateroom can be eligible for a class upgrade. You may be notified of an upgrade any time before sailing, they will inform you which staterooms are available. If you don’t like the options they offer you can decline an upgrade and stay in your original stateroom.
One thing to remember when choosing a stateroom, no matter which one you book you will have access to the same facilities and enjoy most of the same food, events, and activities all the other guest do.
Our family loves to cruise, we love waking up to a new place almost every day. It’s a great way to see the world with minimal stress; unpack once, no need to worry about where to sleep and eat, and no need to worry about getting to a destination.
We find that cruising is a great way to spend our vacation dollars. Once cruise and air fares are paid there’s not much more to spend on. Cruise fares include stateroom, most on board meals and entertainment. It’s easy to budget around the “extras”
Cruise lines offer so many services and activities, some are free, others costly. You need to pick and choose what you want to do and how much you are willing to spend to do it. Here are some ideas to help you and your family get the most fun from your cruise without breaking the bank.
· Check your daily newsletter to find out what’s happening on board, you can plan your day around scheduled activities. Always keep one handy, it lists activities, times, and venues.
- Learn something new and interesting, attend free port lectures, cooking demonstrations, galley tours, and more.
- Shows in the main theater and lounges around the ship are free. There’s always something going on somewhere on board, I’m sure there’s something you will enjoy.
- Learn a new dance step or work off those buffet meals, join a dance class. The cruise staff offers many different types of free dance classes, ballroom, line dance, salsa, and more.
- Join a free fitness class at the fitness center, or work-out on your own. Premium classes like yoga, pilates, and more are offered for a fee.
- Start or end your day with a good stretch or a walk or jog around the tack, you can do it on your own or join the fitness staff on these free activities daily.
- Unleash your inner Rockstar, belt out a few songs on Karaoke nights. You might win a prize!
- Be a Game Show Contestant, sign up for one of the many games they play throughout the cruise.
- Enjoy Trivia? Themed trivia games are scheduled throughout the day. Winners get prizes!
- Have a picnic! Celebrity and RCCL have grassy areas on board, grab sandwiches from the buffet and relax on the lawn. If your ship doesn’t have a lawn area find a spot on quieter upper decks for your picnic.
- Play ball with the kids. Most ships have shuffle board, table tennis, mini-golf courses, basketball courts and other activities for free, you may have to get equipment from the activity desk.
Photos by: C. Ahmed
- Register kids at the Youth Center where trained counselors organize fun activities. Most activities are free. Evening activities are actually group babysitting and is charged hourly.
- Enjoy a “date night” – drop kids off at the Youth Center for an evening activity. Hourly charges are about $6/child. It’s less expensive than in stateroom babysitting, hourly charge for this starts at about $18 for up to 3 kids in the same family.
- Need some “alone time”? You could splurge and reserve a lounger at Princess Cruise Line’s Sanctuary, an adult only area where staff pamper you, costs start at $10 for half a day. Or you could find a lounger on the less popular upper decks and relax for free.
- Movie night – All ships have a movie theater, Princess Cruise Lines boast an outdoor theater by the pool; in the evenings deck attendants provide throws and serve fresh hot popcorn. Check the daily newsletter to see what’s playing.
- Borrow a board game from the library or card room for a quiet family game night. You can borrow books too.
- Indulge in a spa day when the ship is at port. Spa and Salon offer port day specials. Reserve your service anytime while the ship is at port, as long as your service starts while the ship is docked you get the discounted price.
- Kids and adults will enjoy the backstage and galley tours. These tours are free, check the newsletter for date and time. Most ships have bridge tours for a fee.
- Celebrating a birthday or other special occasion? Let your Stateroom attend and wait staff know. On some lines your cabin attendant will decorate your door with a celebration banner and your waiter will present you with a special treat after dinner. If you want to go all out purchase a celebration package. Prices and packages vary.
- Ship sponsored excursion or venture on your own? Ship sponsored excursions can be very expensive, especially for large families. These tours are charged per person even kids. The benefits of purchasing a ship’s shore excursion is that the tour companies have been vetted by the cruise line for safety, quality, and service. The ship waits for guests who participate in their tours, they do not if you choose to tour independently. Booking your own excursions are generally less expensive, most tour companies charge per vehicle. Alternatively you can use public transportation or hire taxis at the local ports. If you decide to go it on your own, do your research before you leave home.
- Want some free drinks? Attend the Captain’s Welcome and Farewell events, free drinks are offered by circulating waiters; only drinks from the waiters are free, bar orders are not. Attend an art auction, the champagne is free. Drop by the liquor store for free samples and watch the bar tenders’ demonstration, guests are invited to try their concoctions.
- Before purchasing a drink package compare it to the per drink price. Drink packages are only worth it if you know you can drink enough to cover its cost.
- Bring your own wine, bottled water, and sodas. These are the only drinks cruise ships allow you to bring onboard. All other alcoholic beverages consumed onboard must be purchased from the ship. A corkage is charged when you bring your wine to the dining room.
- Check nightly dinner menus before you reserve specialty dining, you don’t want to miss lobster or baked Alaska nights. Dinner menus are posted outside the main dining room, or you could ask your waiter to show you the next day’s menu.
- Watch for photo specials, purchase any photos you want during the sales.
- Relax by the pool or join in the pool games.
- Gaze at the ocean on your balcony or on the promenade deck, it’s very relaxing.
Whatever you decide to do remember, you’re on vacation, enjoy!