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Saturday, February 27, 2016

What to Know Before You Go

You’ve done your shopping, planning and packing. But before you sit back and tick off the days, here are some things to know before you go:
 
First things first. Did you do your online check-in? How far in advance you need to do it varies by cruise line. We do it about six weeks before the trip. While you’re printing up your boarding pass, don’t forget to also do the luggage tags. You’ll need a color printer for these. And to staple them to your bags.

Signing a waiver is a must for climbing the walls
on Royal Caribbean ships

And did you…Sign up for shows (Royal Caribbean’s Oasis class ships), book the specialty restaurants you wanted to, sign the waivers that you need? (For Royal Caribbean, to use the zip line, FlowRider®, rock climbing and skating; you can sign them online up to three days before you leave.)

Carryon but don’t carry on. Most of the time, your luggage doesn’t show up at your stateroom right away. In fact, sometimes, it doesn’t even show up in time for dinner. So, you might want to slip something nicer than your shorts into your carryon. 

You'll need reservations for the Allure's
150 Central Park
When to bring your own. Even though the ships provide these, you might want to consider bringing your own blow dryer and shampoo. The ship blow dryers are usually substandard and the mass market cruise ships today are all going to shampoo dispensers in the shower.

Speaking of bringing your own, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean and Princess all let you bring a limited number of bottles of wine onboard. You can only drink them in your stateroom without incurring extra cost, but there’s nothing like sipping white wine on the balcony. You can get some nice wine bottle carriers with shoulder straps, which make toting them onto the ship a snap.  
 
All that baggage. When you get to the port, you’ll be surrendering all your suitcases except your carryon. Expect chaos. There are cabs, buses and cars converging in the same small place, trying to avoid creaming cruisers and each other. You’ll be directed to the drop-off, where baggage guys will take your suitcases off your hands and onto the ship.
 
Some of the cruise lines are offering fly/luggage programs, where they handle your luggage from flight to float, so you don’t even need to deal with it at all. There is a fee for this service.
 
Important: tip them. The baggage guys expect tips. The online forums are filled with horror stories of when people didn’t give them money or even when the amount fell short. Bottom line: if you want to see your stuff again, tip them and tip them enough.
 
Your passport to pleasure. Keep your passport handy when you get to the terminal. You’ll need to show it several times as you make your way to check-in. You will also need to present your boarding pass (what you print up during the online process) when you check in at the terminal.
 
In sickness and in health. A routine part of the check-in process these days is that you sign a form acknowledging that you don’t have any signs of sickness. What they’re really looking for is to keep norovirus from coming onboard with you.
 
Sanitize, sanitize, sanitize. Speaking of norovirus, the best way to stay healthy during your trip is not to dodge the lady with the spray, and to also bring your own stuff. The bad germs can be spread via railings and banisters, elevator buttons, ladles in the buffet, salt and pepper shakers, the TV remote control, telephone, door knobs and I’m sure there are some I haven’t thought of. We bring our own wet wipes and sanitizer sprays and use them continuously throughout each day.

Two smiles and says cheese. You’ll have two photos at check in—one you must say yes to, and the other is up to you. The first is for your sea card, which is your ID card and credit card rolled into one. You can’t get on or off the ship without it.

The other photo is for the benefit of the ship’s photographer, who will nab you as you head toward the gangway. You can oblige him. Or duck him. The choice is yours.

 
Read the fine print. Every day, your room steward will leave you with a newsletter, which is full of info on the activities of the day. Read it closely. There are details on when to be back onboard after port, whether you need to reset your watch and how to dress for dinner. As well as the shows, the sales and the all-important drink of the day. And sometimes, even the best events onboard are buried in the fine print.
 
Well, now you know it all. What’s left? Check out the weather at your ports of call, use your free Ship Mate app to track your ship and…have a great trip!

Musing’s Top Tip: Check out the great article from Travel & Leisure on the best time to apply for a passport and what you can expect on wait times. For more on passports, see the posting “The One Thing You Absolutely Must Know Before You Cruise.”