Cruise Column: Planning is the key to a successful cruise vacation

By Mike Coleman

It’s official.

You’ve booked that long-awaited cruise vacation but are now wondering what you should do prior to departure. What will life really be like on board, you ask, and will it be worth it? ¨¨For first time passengers guests in some circles – these nagging questions coupled with pre-trip jitters are understandable. Over the next few weeks, however, the Cruise Guide will ease your stress levels by exploring the best way to plan and make the most out of your first – or 10th – cruise vacation.

Packing

Before departing, pack wisely. Do you really need three sweaters on a Caribbean cruise? Assess itineraries, even check weather conditions in advance, and pack accordingly. It’s a good rule of thumb when a flight is involved to at least check some bags while also taking a carry-on bag with you. Pack essential toiletries – toothpaste, toothbrush, medications, deodorant, makeup – to get you through the day and night in the event your luggage is misplaced.

Also, if you’re traveling with a spouse or kids, or both, put some of your clothes in your spouse’s suitcase, and vice versa, in case some luggage is lost by the airlines or cruise lines. That way, you’ll at least have another outfit to wear besides the clothes on your back if your suitcase ends up in Lima while you are arriving in London.

Remember, most of the major cruise ships, particularly on week-long voyages, have one formal night so don’t forget to bring that great dress, tuxedo (or dark business suit) and dress clothes for the youngsters if they are joining you.

Pack comfortable shoes and appropriate clothing for casual nights on board and shore excursions. Sandals really don’t work for long walking tours in specific ports. On the flip side, if your cruise features island hopping and beaches, leave the sneakers behind.
 
Patience is a virtue

If you’re flying to a cruise terminal, make sure that the cruise line either provides a transfer to the ship from the airport (it might be included in the cost of your cruise fare) or will help you make arrangements to take a taxi or shuttle from the airport to the cruise terminal.

If you’re driving to a cruise terminal, take a moment to make a mental note where exactly you’ve parked the car. In all the excitement of finally arriving at the terminal, and seeing the ship in living color, you’d be surprised how many passengers forget the name of the garage or level in which they’ve parked their vehicle.

The best way to make the most of your cruise experience, however, rests with how well you handle waiting in line, especially on embarkation (getting on the ship) and disembarkation (getting off the ship) days.

Let’s face it, travel can be stressful and no one likes to wait in line. The cruise lines do everything they can to speed up the check-in/check-out process, but with additional measures in place to ensure your safety and security and the fact perhaps a few thousand people are taking the same voyage on the same day at the same time, patience is a virtue.

Cruise Guide: Cruise lines create lifetime memories

By Mike Coleman

She kissed me on the cheek, under the stars on the lido deck, and my life has never been the same.

Heck, I was just 13 years old, but there I was on one of Carnival’s first ships, the Mardi Gras, sailing under a moonlit sky some 30 years ago and in awe of the beautiful cruise director who only moments before had planted a big one on my cheek.

She said I was cute, or something to that effect, to my mother. And, for a brief moment, I forgot she was still standing there – my mother, that is – as I soaked in the moment of not just my first kiss, but my first kiss from a woman, no less, on a magical cruise ship sailing the Caribbean seas.

Today’s cruise lines may not promise such fireworks, but they do deliver a variety of dream vacations, each filled with their own unique experiences and memories to last a lifetime.

Embarkation usually begins in Florida – the state is home to the headquarters of many of the world’s leading cruise lines and the five primary cruise ports (Port Everglades (Fort Lauderdale), Miami, Tampa, Jacksonville and Port Canaveral) handle most of the nations cruise traffic.

Since 9/11, however, cruise lines have been doing everything they can to bring ships to you, the consumer. As such, homeports have popped up across the nation from New York to Los Angeles, east to west, Galveston to Seattle.

Thanks to new ship launches, on-board cuisine featuring menus from master chefs Wolfgang Puck to Nobu Matsuhisa, wine and film festivals and ambitious on-board activities from rock climbing walls to Berlitz-accredited courses, and you can see why more than 10 million Americans will sail this year.

Each week, this column will explore the latest cruise industry trends. We’ll feature the amazing array of on-board recreational and educational amenities, exciting ports and unique shore excursions offered that will make your highly-anticipated voyage all the more memorable.

And, no Cruise Guide column would ever be complete without looking at the mouth-watering cuisine options the major cruise lines have to offer.

So whether it’s a romantic getaway for two, a business and incentives trip, or a family and friends gathering, this column will lead you to your own unforgettable cruise memory, be it a shared moment with loved ones or even a loved one’s shared moment with a cruise director.