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Friday, December 5, 2014

Setting Off in Calm Seas

It may be counterintuitive, but going on vacation is stressful. There’s so much to remember, so much to do. And if it’s your first cruise, not knowing what to expect can ratchet this up a notch. But here are a few tips to ensure smooth sailing before your ship leaves the pier.

See when you need to show up at the port. This will vary by cruise line and port; check your cruise documents or the cruise line’s website. Usually, you have to be at the ship at least 60 minutes before departure.

Research the port and pier. You might want to see where in the port your ship will be and if anything’s going on there you should know about. For example, Ft. Lauderdale’s Port Everglades has been undergoing major construction for quite a while, and some of Princess and Celebrity’s ships are at the far end of the port. Which can mean a very slow trip and you’ll need to build in extra time. Here are links to the major Florida ports: PortMiami, Port Tampa Bay, Port Canaveral.

Plot out your path. The best way to avoid panic to the port is planning: where to stay the night before, how long you need to get to the port and where you’re going to park. Check out forums like the one on cruisecritic.com for ideas on where to stay. And know the route to the port in advance. Our first trip, we put the port street into the GPS and ended up on a road with the right name--but in the wrong town. By the time we discovered what went wrong and made it to the port, we were one of the last on the ship.

Bring seasickness medicine. That’s the surest way to not need it. 

Pack the right stuff in your carryon. When you get to the port, you’ll have to relinquish your
luggage, except your carryon. So, you should keep anything you’ll need for the next few hours in your carryon (the luggage may not show up in your cabin for hours—sometimes as late as 6 p.m.). Keep in mind, though, that if you’re planning on getting onboard before about 1 p.m. (when the cabins are usually ready to receive you), you’ll be stuck carrying around that carryon while you’re going to lunch or checking out the ship. You might consider one with wheels.

Don’t leave home without it. Before you leave your home, make sure you have your passport and driver’s license with you. Then check again. Have both, as well as the boarding passes you printed up after online check-in within easy reach because you’ll need it when you get to the port.

Securely fasten luggage tags on each of your bags. You need to print these up at home, and staple or tape them closed around luggage handles. (We bring a small stapler with us and do it just before leaving for the port. Or, you can always ask to borrow one from the hotel front desk.)

If you’re taking Celebrity and do the online check-in enough in advance, you can order luggage tags on their website. Color-coded stickers will come in the mail, and you can easily fasten them with their own adhesive.

Don’t bother eating on your way to the port; lunch is waiting. Enjoy the hunger—it’s the last time you’ll feel it. Then when you get onboard, you can enjoy a leisurely first meal in the buffet. Some ships have the dining room and other restaurants open, too.

Set aside some ones for the luggage guys. Tipping the guys at the port who take your luggage is not just customary—it’s essential. If you don’t, you should have a back-up plan for your luggage, like prayer.

Breathe deeply and relax. You’re on vacation!

Musing’s Tip: They won’t provide info, but they’re fun just the same—follow these webcam links to live feeds from the ports: Port Canaveral, Port Everglades, PortMiami