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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Getting Off to a Great Start

Many of us consider ourselves lucky if we get a whole seven days off in a row. With vacation time so precious—and the money invested in a trip so hard earned—every moment of that cruise counts.

In this week’s posting, I’m going to share a few tips on how you can get your cruise off to a really great start:

1.     Board early. Veteran cruisers know that regardless of what time the cruise line says you can board, you can usually get in earlier. My travel agent advises noon; I’ve heard of some folks who show up as early as 11. You may ask, “What’s the rush? I’m going to be on board a whole week.” You’d be surprised how fast that week goes. (A certain cruise line—who shall remain nameless—likes to give out disembarkation documents for you to fill out the second day of your trip)
2.     Enjoy a leisurely lunch. Some ships have their dining room open for lunch on Embarkation Day. All of them open the cafeterias. Check out the food, then check out the ship; see #3

3.     Learn your way around. I can almost guarantee that after a week onboard, you’ll still be getting lost. Don’t miss the chance to get started on this early

4.     Meet your room steward. If you get onboard before 1 or 1:30, you may not get into your stateroom right away. I admit it’s a pain to drag your hand luggage around, but the room will
A Princess verandah room on Embarkation Day
open up soon enough. Room stewards usually come knocking on your door pretty soon after you get into the room. This is your chance to get your room as comfy as possible for the week ahead. Some things you can ask for:

·       Wine glasses (for your wine or theirs)
·       Bathrobe (some lines, such as Princess, make them available on request)
·       Thin blanket (why they use heavy duvets on Caribbean voyages are beyond me)
·       Different pillows (the ships usually have an assortment to choose from)
·       Empty frig (if you don’t want to be tempted by those $8 M&Ms)
·       Mattress pad (Princess has the hardest beds we’ve slept on)
·       Water and/or ice every day

The main dining room on Celebrity's Solstice
  5.  Check out your dinner table. Get into the dining room and find your table. More than half the times we’ve requested a table for two, we’ve found ourselves assigned to a table for four. Or eight. The first few hours of the trip is your best opportunity to get the table you want 

    6.   Make reservations. If you want to eat at a specialty restaurant, get into Holland America’s hands-on cooking class or into coveted shows on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis or Allure, and haven’t booked them from home, better do it now, before it’s too late

7.     Sign up for Cruise Critic’s “Meet and Mingle.” If you haven’t been to, don’t delay. It’s a must-visit for anyone who cruises. If there’s one of their “Meet and Mingle” events onboard your ship and you didn’t sign up ahead of time, ask Guest Relations when it’s planned. We’ve been to several and they’re well worth it. The best event took us on a tour of the different categories of rooms

8.     And a few more things. Sign up for beverage packages, spa treatments, make special dietary requests, make sure your onboard ship credit has been applied to your account, plan your excursions…The one thing you can’t do is gamble. Those itching to get to the slots will have to wait until the ship pulls away into international waters 

9.     Hurry up and have fun! Do all the above, and you’ll be good and ready for that Mai Tai at the Sail Away party. And for your cruise to really get underway!

A Passport Postscript
If you read last week’s posting about how your passport must be still valid six months after you get back from your trip, you know that I’ve been anxious about getting my renewed passport in time to make an early December trip. Good news: I just got it on Friday. I’m thoroughly impressed with the government’s efficiency; it took only two weeks to get it processed and into my hands. Now, I wouldn’t recommend you cut it as close as I did, but this should be some comfort for those of you who do.