Cruise Travel faqs

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Cruise Travel FAQs
If you have never taken a cruise, you’re in for a wonderful experience. Cruises are the most luxurious form of travel. Imagine a floating resort, created just for your vacation pleasure. Imagine days of sparkling ocean vistas, nights of first-rate entertainment, exotic tropical ports of call, non-stop pampering, and fabulous cuisine.
Taking a cruise vacation can be relaxing, exhilarating, and, at first, a bit confusing. Put your mind at ease by taking a look at the following frequently asked questions (FAQs) and answers that are sure to make your cruise smooth sailing.
What kinds of people take a cruise?

There is no typical cruise person. On nearly every ship at any given time, you’ll find families with kids, honeymooners, retirees, and singles and couples of various ages. Newer ships and ships with shorter itineraries tend to draw the youngest crowd. Older ships and longer itineraries (more than a week) tend to draw an older crowd. Cruises are not just for the rich. You can cruise for under $100 per night (including accommodations, meals, activities, and entertainment)—a bargain compared to land vacation prices.

Is a cruise good for families with kids?

Without a doubt. Most cruise lines offer supervised programs to keep children and teens busy and entertained in a safe environment. Kids can enjoy sports activities, video games, movies, and scavenger hunts while parents relax and enjoy quiet time. Many cruise liners specialize in family cruises; offering poolside visits by Mickey and Minnie Mouse (Disney Cruise Line), rock climbing, and ice skating. Children have a special menu in the dining room or they can make their own choices at the buffet table. In many cases, cruise lines offer reduced fares for children when sharing a cabin with adults.

In addition to family-friendly cruises on the large cruise ships, there are ecological and educational cruises, windjammers and river cruises, and many more possibilities for families looking for an enlightening, new experience.
Is a cruise good for honeymooners?

Absolutely. You want your honeymoon to be a dream vacation, and that’s why a cruise is a great choice. Cruising sets the mood for romance, with cozy dinners for two, strolls on deck at sunset, dancing under the stars, and so much more you’ll remember forever. Most cruise lines offer honeymoon packages, often as an add-on to the regular fare (a great wedding gift). The package might include a bottle of champagne, flowers, chocolate-dipped strawberries, his-and-hers massages, souvenir bathrobes, a framed souvenir photo, a travel diary, and a Happy Honeymoon cake. You can even get married onboard! Ask your cruise specialist for details.

Is a cruise good for single people?

A cruise is ideal for people traveling alone, because cruising is a social experience—you can’t help but meet people. In fact, most ships have parties just for singles at the beginning of the cruise so you can start meeting people right away. You never have to sit alone in the dining room—you’re assigned to a table with others, sometimes even other singles. You can also meet other singles at poolside, in the spa or health club, on shore excursions, in the card room or library, and at sports contests and other participatory activities. Cruise lines offer single-occupancy rates, and some ships have single cabins. Many cruise lines offer a single-share program, where you are paired with another single traveler in your cabin.

How long are cruises?

Cruise length varies, depending on how many ports the itinerary includes and how much time (and money) you have to spare. For example, you could take a 3-day cruise to the Bahamas, a 7-day cruise to Mexico, a 10-day cruise to Alaska, or an 11-day cruise to Hawaii. There’s a 19-day cruise of the Spice Islands, including Singapore, Jakarta, and Bali. A 24-day cruise goes from the U.S. to India, Burma, and Thailand; another to India and Africa. In 21 days, you can sail from New York to San Juan to Aruba, Acapulco, and San Diego. In 50 days, you can sail from Florida around South America, and back again. And, of course, you can cruise around the world in 99 days—the cruise of a lifetime.

What about seasickness?

All modern ships are equipped with stabilizing “fins” to minimize side-to-side rolling. In most cases you will feel no motion at all, even through rough sailing. Many people find sleeping on a cruise ship a uniquely relaxing experience, buoyed by the ocean and its rhythmic movement. If you are prone to motion sickness, bring medication with you (or ask the onboard physician for a remedy). When the cruise is over, you might experience “sea legs,” the strange sensation of feeling you’re still on water when you’re walking on land. This goes away within a few hours.

What documentation is needed?

This depends on the type of cruise and the destination. Generally, one of the following is acceptable for U.S. and Canadian citizens:

  • Valid passport.

  • Birth certificate or certified copy of a birth certificate. This document must be accompanied by official photo identification, such as a valid driver’s license.

  • U.S. naturalization certificate accompanied by official photo identification, such as a driver’s license.

Non-U.S. citizens who are permanent residents of the United States must carry their passport and Alien Registration Receipt Card. All other non-U.S./non-Canadian citizens must have valid passports and any necessary visas. Verify the existing identification requirements for your cruise, because these requirements are subject to change.

Do I need insurance?

Most Americans don’t realize that their regular health insurance might not cover them outside the U.S. That’s one reason for buying travel insurance—the other reason is for cancellations. If you have to cancel the cruise due to circumstances out of your control, the cruise lines charge a penalty unless you have insurance. If your flight is cancelled or late and you miss the boat, there’s no reimbursement for missed days aboard ship unless you have insurance. Travel insurance provides peace of mind—any illness or accident will be covered, and you’ll receive partial or full compensation if you can’t travel. A comprehensive trip cancellation-interruption policy offers reimbursement for cancellation penalties plus out-of-pocket compensation.

The cost of travel insurance is based on the cost of your cruise. For example, insurance coverage for a $2,000 cruise is approximately $175. You generally have two options when choosing travel insurance: the cruise line’s own insurance or third-party programs. The downside to buying travel insurance from the cruise line is that the policy won’t pay for medical costs related to preexisting conditions.
Do cruises have different classes of service?

The only differences are in the category of cabin you choose, based on size and location. No matter what you pay, you will enjoy the same service, menus, activities, and entertainment as everyone else onboard.

How do I choose a cabin?

Price is a major factor in choosing your cruise ship accommodations. If you need to keep your cost down and will use your cabin just to change clothes and sleep, choose an inside cabin (the lowest-price cabin category), which is a small space with no window. If you need a window, choose an outside cabin. Outside cabins could have just a small porthole or a large window and balcony. A cabin with a balcony is great if you like a quiet place to read or reflect on the sea. A mini-suite means there’s a sitting area. A suite usually means there’s a separate sleeping and sitting area (and sometimes a separate dining area as well). The most expensive cabins are typically on upper decks.

When choosing your accommodations, keep the following in mind:

  • Cabin size can be as small as 120 square feet (closet-sized), to 180 square feet (comfortable for two people), to 250 square feet (suite-sized, but still smaller than a hotel room).

  • Your cabin will have a shower, but if you want a bathtub, you’ll pay a premium.

  • If you need a quiet space, request a cabin not located near the ship’s engine room, disco, gym, or children’s play area.

  • You might want a cabin that has one or more of the following amenities: TV, VCR, safe, mini-bar, sitting area, or desk.

  • Families or friends traveling together might opt for adjoining cabins (with connecting doors). Most ships have cabins for four (with upper and lower berths or a sofa bed) and some even for five.

Is there laundry service onboard?

All cruise ships provide laundry service. Some also provide self-service launderettes and/or dry cleaning service. To find out what’s available, check with your cabin steward.

Are there medical services onboard?

All cruise ships are equipped with medical facilities and a fully trained medical staff. As with any doctor visit, a fee will be charged for medical services.

Can I use my hair dryer or electric shaver onboard?

Most ships are equipped with 110-volt outlets in the cabins. Some cabins are equipped with hair dryers, so check before you go.

Do I pay extra for onboard entertainment?

Never. Entertainment is always included in the price of your cruise vacation. There’s no cover or minimum and no charge for admission tickets to any show or nightclub.

What kind of onboard entertainment is offered?

Cruise lines consider entertainment an important part of the cruise experience, and it shows in the lavish onboard stage productions. Most cruise ships offer some sort of show every night in the main show lounge or theater—a big-production show or a comedian, pianist, magician, or vocal headliner. The best stage shows boast large live bands, singers, and dancers. On ships with early and late dinner seatings, the performances are scheduled twice a night. If you can’t make the scheduled time, or if you prefer an intimate setting, head to the smaller lounges, where you’ll typically find quiet piano music, a band playing swing or Big Band music for dancing, a lounge singer, karaoke, and so on. You might even find a few jazz musicians jamming.

Do I pay extra for food and drinks?

Food is always included in the price of your cruise vacation. Today’s cruise ships feature multiple dining rooms, international cuisine, and specialty restaurants. You will, however, be charged for alcoholic drinks. You’ll be able to charge your drinks to your onboard account.

What’s the food like onboard?

Dining on a cruise ship is an experience unlike any other. The food is not only plentiful but also gourmet-quality, especially on luxury liners. Many cruise ships have big-name chefs trained in world-famous restaurants. Meals usually feature a blend of modern Continental cuisine, regional specialties appropriate to each cruising area, and traditional favorites. In addition to complete breakfasts, lunches, and multi-course dinners, passengers are offered frequent between-meal food and refreshment interludes, such as mid-morning tea on deck, an ice cream bar featuring all the trimmings to make your own sundaes, hot hors d’oeuvres during cocktail hour, after-dinner espresso or cappuccino, and the traditional late-night buffet. Most ships offer health-conscious alternatives on their lunch and dinner menus and are responsive to special dietary needs. For example, a Kosher menu is available, as well as foods for special diets (low-sodium, low-cholesterol, low-fat, and vegetarian) and sugar-free desserts. Passengers should make special dietary requests at the time of booking.

Here’s an example of the food consumed on a typical seven-day cruise:

  • Beef: 8,000 lbs.

  • Pork: 1,250 lbs.

  • Veal: 750 lbs.

  • Poultry: 3,000 lbs.

  • Fish: 4,000 lbs.

  • Lobster: 500 lbs.

  • Caviar: 20 lbs.

  • Fresh fruits: 12,000 lbs.

  • Fresh vegetables: 22,000 lbs.

  • Sugar: 1,000 lbs.

  • Coffee: 500 lbs.

  • Butter: 2,000 lbs.

  • Eggs: 35,000 pcs.

  • Milk: 5,000 qts.

  • Cheese: 600 lbs.

When do I eat?

If you eat in the main dining room, you’ll choose either early or late seating, depending on your mealtime preference. (Most ship dining rooms are not big enough to handle all passengers in one sitting.) Early seating, usually around 6 p.m., tends to attract older passengers and families with small children. Late seating, usually around 8:30 p.m., is a more adult, leisurely experience. Ships with alternate restaurants also offer dinner service by reservation. Additionally, many cruise lines are beginning to offer “open sitting” dining, where guests dine at the time of their choice.

Most ships have tables for four, six, eight, ten, and twelve, and you indicate your table preference in advance. If you’re a couple booking a romantic getaway, you might prefer a table for two. The same applies if you are a solo traveler who wants to dine alone, though tables for one or two are not available on all ships.
Here’s a typical schedule for food service:

“Wake Up” Coffee 6 a.m.

Casual Buffet Breakfast 7 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

Dining Room Breakfast Early seating 7:30 a.m., late seating 9 a.m.

Casual Buffet Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Dining Room Lunch Early seating 12 noon, late seating 1:30 p.m.

Afternoon Tea 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Dining Room Dinner Early seating 6:15 p.m., late seating 8:15 p.m.

“Midnight” Buffet 11:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.
Is room service available?

Most cruise ships offer 24-hour room service at no extra charge.

Should I tip, and if so, who, how much, and when?

With the exception of a few luxury lines, most cruise lines do not include gratuities in the cruise fare. Suggested policy is to tip the dining room waiter ($3.50 per day), the cabin steward ($3.50 per day), and the assistant waiter ($2.00 per day). The last day of the cruise is the customary time to pay gratuities, in cash. You might also wish to tip your headwaiter, maitre’ d, wine steward, bellboy, or deck steward for some special service performed. For your convenience, a 15% gratuity is automatically added to all bar bills. Some ships allow you to charge gratuities to your onboard account. Typically, envelopes will be provided in the cabins or at the purser’s office to be used to disperse the tips. The ship will print tipping guidelines in the daily newsletter, and sometimes even on the envelope.

What kinds of health/beauty services are offered onboard?

Most cruise ships offer extensive spa and salon services. Professional beauty and health care experts offer everything from hair styling to facials, massage, manicure, pedicure, cellulite reduction, aromatherapy, hydrotherapy spa baths, and more.

How can I stay fit onboard?

Cruise ships often have their own gyms, equipped with stationary bicycles, treadmills, and step, rowing, and weight machines for a fabulous cardiovascular workout with a wide-open view of sea and sky. Passengers can take part in a variety of aerobics classes or hire a personal trainer. If that’s not enough, run on a jogging track, play ball on a sports court, enter a ping-pong tournament, or swim in one of several pools. Some ships have golf simulators, miniature golf courses, putting greens, batting cages, basketball, volleyball, and tennis courts. In the evening, dancing is a popular shipboard activity. It’s great exercise, but more importantly, it’s fun.

What kind of clothing should I pack?

Generally, the dress code is casual. Pack as you would for any resort destination. Daytime wear for men and women might include

  • Swimsuit and cover-up

  • Walking shorts, jeans, blouses, or polo shirts

  • Lightweight slacks or skirts

  • Workout wear

  • Sandals and comfortable walking shoes

  • Hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen lotion

  • Optional: Rain gear for an afternoon shower or a light sweater for cooler days in winter. For colder weather cruise destinations (such as Alaska), bring sweaters, a light-to-medium jacket, and a lightweight windbreaker for misty weather

For evenings, women might wear a dress or pantsuit, dress slacks or skirt and blouse. Men might wear slacks and a sport shirt, with a jacket for dressier nights.

Should I bring formal wear?

On some cruises, formal dinners or parties are part of the fun. With today’s more relaxed lifestyles, you can dress up or dress down. Men wear a jacket and tie, dark suit, or tuxedo. But don’t buy a tuxedo just for the trip—many ships offer tuxedo rental services. Women wear a cocktail dress, long dress or gown, or dressy pants suit.

What are some of the other things I should remember to bring?

  • Camera and film (film is expensive onboard or ashore, so bring a good supply)

  • Binoculars, especially on Alaska and other adventure cruises

  • Travel guidebooks about your destination and ports of call

  • Extra pair of prescription glasses or contact lenses

  • Prescription medications

What are shore excursions?

Shore excursions are tours offered by the cruise lines for each port of call. They are designed to help passengers make the most of their time in port, to get to the main sights and activities and back to the ship on time. Sightseeing excursions can range from a $25 bus tour to a more elaborate $250 helicopter “flightseeing” tour. You can usually book a more physically active excursion, such as kayaking, mountain biking, or deep-sea fishing. There are even shopping tours. Shore excursions are arranged and purchased onboard and can be applied to your onboard account. Book your excursions as soon as you can onboard to make sure you get to do what you want.

What are theme cruises?

A theme cruise is a cruise dedicated to a particular interest, or “theme.” It lets you immerse yourself in that special interest, while providing everything else you’d find on a regular cruise. A theme cruise also guarantees there will be people on your cruise that share some of your interests. On a jazz cruise, for example, jazz lovers would enjoy special concerts presented by jazz greats of the past and present. On a football theme cruise, hall-of-fame football players as well as current players would be available for autographs, lectures, films, and so on. Cruise lines have become particularly creative in designing special programs for every topic under the sun. Here are a few examples:

  • Stars of the Grand Ole Opry

  • Dixieland

  • Big Bands

  • 50s Sock Hop

  • Beatlemania

  • Women in Jazz

  • Famous Chefs

  • Food and Fitness

  • Fall Foliage

  • Art and Architecture

  • Highlights of Antiquity

  • Holy Land Wonders

  • Caribbean Carnival

  • Great Authors of the Century

  • Great Gardens of Europe

  • Great Songwriters of the World

  • Personal Finance and Investments

  • Civil War

  • Pearl Harbor Remembered

How do I stay in touch with my home/business while on the ship?

Every ship has a phone number that can be used to contact you while the ship is at sea. This information will be included in your cruise documents. You may even receive and make calls on your cell phone if your calling plan includes international coverage and if the ship is equipped with the required cellular communication station.

Some of the newer ships now have e-mail capabilities so you can retrieve and send mail. Check in advance how you’ll need to access your e-mail Web address, and bring along your user name, password, and the e-mail addresses of everyone you want to contact. In addition to Internet access onboard, you can find an Internet cafe in almost any port worldwide. You’ll be able to retrieve and send mail and in some cases send digital pictures.
How can I save money on the cost of a cruise?

  • Travel in a group. A group of 16 or more can usually qualify for a discount, and discounts are based on the size of the group. Group travel is often planned for a family or school reunion, a community group or club, a wedding, or a large corporation. Your cruise specialist might be able to link individual cruise passengers to group space so you can take advantage of the group rate.

  • One of the best cruise discounts currently offered by many cruise lines is the 2-for-1 discount—two people sail for the cost of one. These offers are capacity-controlled and may be withdrawn without notice. They are often offered on a “last minute” basis, 30–60 days prior to a sailing. The 2-for-1 discount is often extended when a cruise line changes its itinerary. Cruise lines may also offer 50%–80% off the second passenger’s fare. There is usually an expiration date to these offers.

  • Early booking discounts are available on most cruise lines. These early booking rates are capacity-controlled and can be withdrawn without notice.

  • Many cruise lines offer special promotions for families, such as a “kids cruise free” offer when two accompanying adults pay full fare, or an offer in which the 3rd/4th passengers sail for a reduced rate.

  • Senior citizens are often offered reduced rates on select sailings. One passenger in the cabin must be at least 55 years old to receive the discount. Cruise discounts are also available to members of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). Space is subject to availability and certain restrictions apply. If you’re over 50 and not a member, sign up now to take advantage of the special offers.

  • Some credit card companies offer special cruise promotions, such as savings, shipboard credits, or frequent flyer miles when you pay for your cruise in full with that credit card.

  • If you’ve traveled on a cruise ship before, you might qualify for an “alumni passenger” discount. Most lines have a program in place that offers extra discounts to their alumni passengers.

What do I need to know about ship terminology?

The following terms will explain basic ship lingo:

Aft: Back of the ship

Berth: Bed; also, where the ship ties up

Bow: Front or “pointy end” of the ship

Bridge: Where the ship’s officers control and navigate the ship (command center or “cockpit”)

Cabin: Where you sleep; also called a stateroom

Course: Direction in which the ship is headed

Disembark: Get off the ship

Dock: Landing wharf or pier

Embark: Get on the ship

Fore: Front of the ship

Galley: Ship’s kitchen

Head: Bathroom

Inside cabin: Cabin without an outside view

Muster: Assemble the passengers and/or crew

Nautical mile: 6,080.2 feet

Outside cabin: Cabin with an ocean view

Pitch: Up-and-down rolling of the ship

Stern: Back of the ship

Port side: Left side of the ship when you’re facing the front

Roll: Side-to-side motion of the ship

Starboard: Right side when you’re facing the front

Stern: Back of the ship

Tender: Small boat you take to get from the cruise ship to shore
How should I go about planning and booking my “perfect cruise”?

  • Start your research early and plan to book your cruise 3–6 months in advance so you can take advantage of the best values. Pick up cruise brochures, check online information, and get a feel for what you want in a cruise.

  • Decide on your destination. You might choose Alaska, Bermuda, the Caribbean, Europe, Hawaii, the Mediterranean, Mexico, Scandinavia, or the South Pacific, to name a few.

  • Decide the length of the cruise you want: 3, 4, 5, 7, 10, 12 days or more.

  • Set a budget. Include the cruise fare, port charges, government fees, airfare, and transfers. Consider extra costs for onboard purchases, sightseeing tours, spa services, and so on.

  • Choose your port of departure—where you have to fly or drive to in order to board the ship.

  • Choose the ports of call—the stops the ship makes—that interest you most. These are the places where you’ll want to leave the ship to explore.

  • Select the type of cabin you want, based on size, location, and amenities. Consult a deck plan to see where the cabins are located, and check photographs of the various rooms.

  • Call or e-mail your Gateway Travel cruise specialist with your budget and cruise requirements. Ask about cancellation policies, restrictions, discounts, children’s fares, senior fares, airfare specials, and anything else you can think of.

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