Things to Consider Before Booking your next Cruise Vacation
By Austin Fales
Cruising is one of the most profitable sectors of the tourism industry in the United States. In 2009, 10.2 million Americans took cruises and spend an estimated 27 billion dollars. Most of those ships stopped in the Caribbean, which is a large and growing market. Yet, in spite of their popularity, taking a cruise isn't always easy.
As many first-time passengers discover, not everything on a cruise ship is free. The idea that once you pay for your tickets everything is covered is a common misconception. Few cruise lines offer all-inclusive trips for a single fee. Let us take a moment to review a few of the most common charges.
A port tax is the fee each passenger is assessed anytime the ship docks in a foreign country. The fee is often quite small, but on long cruises that stop seven to ten time, it really can add up. In fact, budget cruises that never stop were created for that very reason.
More often than not, a passenger on a cruise ship must take a plane to get to the port city the ship departs from. Since more than two-thirds of American cruise ships leave from Florida, most folks have to fly there.
Drinks and Tips
While the meals are often included, you will have to pay for drinks. The average cruise guest spends well over one hundred dollars on alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks on a 4-day cruise. Then there are the tips to consider. Expect to pay another fifty dollars per person on tips, since the average guest will be eating at least nine meals on board.
What to Pack?
The cruise industry has changed quite a bit from the days of the opulent old ocean liners. For better or for worse, most modern cruise lines focus on causal fun for families. Yes, there are specialty cruises that focus on singles or luxury, but most ships cater to the family.
As we mentioned, most cruises are casual and guests will not be expected to dress up for diner as they did in the past. Since most of the 10.2 million American cruise passengers explored the Caribbean last year, we will focus on that region. The typical Caribbean cruise lasts for four days and stops at two ports of call. That means guests will spend most of their time aboard the ship. During the day, t-shirts, shorts, and sandals are the most popular ensemble. But at night, it can get quite cold. If you have never been on a cruise before and you need a frame of reference, think about the boardwalk at night. Even during the dog days of summer, the wind from the ocean can make it seem much colder than it really is. Therefore, it is always a good idea to pack a sweater, a sweat shirt, or a windbreaker. Khakis and jeans will also be required on most nights.
While it is true that most Caribbean nations do not require a passport for guests that arrive by sea, the laws are forever in flux. As a result, most cruise lines ask their guests to bring their passports. In fact, some will not allow you to board the ship if you forget it. So, make sure you know if you need it before you start packing.
Portable phones often work on board, but they must be activated for international roaming. Call your service provider before you leave to see if your phone can be used at sea.
What vacations would be complete without a camera to help you capture the memories. Check the batteries or charger and make sure you have extra film or a digital card before you leave.
If you have ever gotten sick at sea, it is always a good idea to bring along an anti-nausea medication, even though you probably won't need it. The sheer size of the modern cruise ship ensures that it will seldom sway or rock, which what typically causes sea sickness.
The Caribbean sun is hot and people, especially those with small children, should bring more sunscreen than they need. Trust us: it goes fast, since most of the cruise activities are held outdoors. A sunscreen with at least SPF 15 is recommended for the Caribbean.
What not to bring
Most of these are fairly obvious, be we will go over them anyway. Don't ever bring any type of weapon aboard a cruise ship, even if you buy it on one of the islands. Cruise lines take security very serious and you may be charged with a crime. Liquor is also a big no-no, unless it is wine. Some ships will allow you to bring wine or champagne aboard to celebrate a special occasion, but they may charge you a corkage fee. Lastly, virtually no cruise line lets passengers bring their pets. If for some reason you choose to bring furry friend aboard and it is discovered, you may be asked to leave the ship...at the next stop, of course.
Austin Fales is a freelance writer who writes about travel and leisure topics and options such as cruise vacations.
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Views expressed in the article are those of the author and are not necessarily the opinions of CaribbeanChoice, its staff or members.