Vacation Cruising by Jim Rannazzisi - HTML preview

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• Gratuities

• Internet Access

• Laundry, Pressing & Dry Cleaning

• Medical Treatment

• Shopping

• Shore Excursions

• Spas, Salons, Personal Trainers & Specialized Exercise Classes

• Sports

Other necessities of a personal nature can add up as well. Be sure to pack extras for essentials like toothbrushes, toothpaste, hair spray, soap, etc. You don’t want to find yourself in a position where you may have to buy these things on board because they’re much more expensive.

Before leaving home, consider the cost of passports, visas (for certain countries), and travel insurance (an option, but highly recommended as we have stated). You need to figure in these costs, but getting out of them isn’t an option.

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Those expenses aside, the majority of on board

"extras" are strictly discretionary. You can choose whether to purchase alcoholic beverages or cappuccino, for instance.

And no one will blink an eye if you shy away from the casino or spa. While the extras greatly enhance the overall experience of a cruise, they can quickly add up and exceed the initial fare if you aren't careful.

Cruise passengers are caught in something of a "Catch-22"—either pay a higher fare up front or pay for non-included items later. By determining your priorities in advance, you may find that a truly all-inclusive luxury cruise can be comparable in total cost to a mainstream or premium level cruise, depending on the category booked and your personal spending habits.

The ships generally plan on about $100/day/person in on-board revenues including drinks, shops, slots, shore events, etc. You certainly don’t HAVE to spend this much, but it’s a good starting point to consider.

It certainly is possible to not go overboard with extras, but one area to not skimp on is gratuities. We’ll have a section on that in this book, but tipping will insure great service, and that can be just as important as anything.

Read the fine print in your chosen cruise line's brochure and you should face no spending bombshells once you are on board.

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WELCOME ABOARD

The time has arrived, you’ve reached the embarkation port, and you’re reading to board the ship and start your vacation. What do you do next? We'd like to offer up a few suggestions.

There is always the chance for an upgrade of your accommodations. If your ship has better cabins that went unsold you might be able to work your way into a free upgrade or at least one for a discounted rate.

If the ship is sailing and the better cabins are empty, then anything the cruise line gets helps cut their losses.

Check with the Purser’s office to see if there are any available. Some cruise lines will only accept cash or traveler’s checks for this upgrade, so you might need to plan ahead and bring some.

You’ll probably want to find your cabin steward who can show you how everything works. Make them your friend, they can be very helpful. If you have your luggage, it’s nice to unpack so you’ll get it over with and have some room in your cabin. Don't panic if your luggage isn't in your cabin when you arrive. It may take a few hours for luggage to be distributed. Inspect your cabin and report any complaints immediately.

There are plenty of other things you can do, though.

Learn the exit route from your cabin to the open decks, in case of emergency. You should check to see if your meal seating confirmations are in your cabin, if unacceptable, you need to go see the Maitre d’. Check to see when the

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lifeboat drills are scheduled. If you plan on using the spa, salon or babysitting service, find them and sign up before all the good times are gone.

Check on the cruise line-sponsored shore excursions if you know you are definitely going. See if you can sign up now, so you’ll be sure to get on before they sell out.

Grab your deck plan and take a walk to familiarize yourself with the layout of the ship, and learn how to reach your cabin from the main stairways. It’s a good idea to start with the top deck and work your way down. Make notes if you need to.

Every evening, you’ll receive a newsletter outlining the activities on the ship for the next day along with information about dinner and special events. It is important for you to read this every night! You will not want to miss out on items of interest to you. If you can't read it in the evening, take it to breakfast with you and read every line item. There is nothing worse than to have missed the "belly flop contest"

if you are a potential winner, or to miss water volleyball with the crew.

There are so many things to do aboard your ship. You’ll have many different opportunities to eat and enjoy dinner conversation. You might want to exercise some of those meals off in the ship’s gym. Most cruise ships have fully equipped gyms and some have exercise classes scheduled.

You can try a game of chance in the casino or go to the ship’s theater and catch a movie. Aboard luxury ships, videos and DVDs are complimentary. Since the best go first, dash to the library and grab the ones you want. And be kind, return videos to the library after you've seen them -- many

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passengers don't. Also, instead of buying a book to read on board, borrow one from their library.

Enjoy some live entertainment shows. You’ll be the beneficiary of some excellent talent. Many ships have on board comedians to keep you laughing. Others provide Las Vegas style dancing revues. Be sure to take advantage of this free entertainment.

Most cruise lines have games for cruisers to play. From the “Not So Newlywed Game” to “Trivial Pursuit,” try your luck and win fabulous prizes! Well, you can win prizes that feature the cruise line’s logo at least, but many are quite nice. Some people love to win this kind of booty and strive to be the big winners of these games. Be prepared for competition.

You can easily become a dancing fool in the lounge.

Almost all cruise ships have excellent nightclubs. Put on your dancing shoes and boogie oogie oogie till you just can’t boogie no more!

You friendly cruise staff is eager to make sure you have a good time. Here's a short account of what happened to me when one staff member recruited me to become part of the entertainment. It became “My Most Memorable Multi-

Generational Cruising Experience.”

Of course, there’s always the option for complete and total relaxation. Simply lie on the deck and catch some rays. You deserve to take it easy and what better way than just sitting back and taking it easy while on board your luxury liner!

When it comes to paying for things on board, most cruise lines have developed a billing system for your

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convenience. They will take an imprint of your credit card and set up a tab for the cruise. You will then receive a total bill at the end of your cruise.

Be sure to keep all those little receipts you sign to verify the tab at the end. This is important, as it isn’t out of the realm of possibilities that overcharges to your account might occur. Sign your receipts in a way that makes it easy to distinguish and difficult to duplicate.

One couple reported that when presented with their bill at the end of the cruise, there were over $600 in charges on their bill that they had no receipts for. When they disputed the charges and the purser looked into it, someone else had charged items to their account. If they hadn’t had their receipts, they probably would have been stuck with the overcharge. As it was, the purser had no choice but to remove the charges.

If you don’t want to take the time to go through the bill and match them up with your receipts at the end of the cruise request your bill a few times during the trip and check the receipts as you go. They will give you a copy of your bill anytime you ask, so take advantage of that and stay on top of your charges.

You can usually use a credit card, traveler’s check or U.S. dollars aboard the ship if it sails out of a U.S. port.

Personal checks are not always accepted or they may have limits, so you’ll want to check the cruise line’s policy on this if you plan on using this option.

Using your credit card can be more valuable than using cash, so use it when you can. You’ll probably be able to get a better exchange rate than changing money to spend

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yourself and you’ll be in a stronger position; the credit card company can often charge back disputed charges.

Many times your credit card will offer an extra guarantee or warranty when you purchase items with your card, but you’ll want to read the fine print for exceptions.

You won’t have to risk your safety by carrying and displaying large amounts of cash, plus if you lose your card, most credit cards have a low maximum liability limit if you quickly report the card as lost.

Using an ATM is also a good idea. With the ability to draw out small amounts of cash as needed, you can avoid the risk of traveling with large amounts of cash. Using your ATM card can also be a good way to get cash in foreign countries. The ATM will issue money in local currency so you won’t have to worry about calculating exchange rates.

When exchanging money, you should exchange at the bank’s wholesale exchange rate. You may still want to shop around to different banks since some will charge a high usage fee for their ATMs. Although, even high ATM fees may be less than others some will charge for currency exchanges. Don't wait until you're out of money to go to an ATM, the machines can run out of money or break down.

We need to take a moment here and talk about what is often a controversial topic not only on a cruise ship, but also in general – tipping. As we’ve said before, this is one area you won’t want to skimp on, so we’ll offer up a couple of guidelines.

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TO INSURE PROPER SERVICE (TIPS)

Let the controversy begin. Tipping has become a hot topic among cruisers. Some cruise lines have pulled away from tipping, but they seem to have done so just enough to confuse the issue. Tipping is a traditional part of cruising and just like the restaurants you frequent at home, it is an important part of the income of those that will help you on your cruise.

The people that will be assisting you are in the service industry, and it is the passenger tips that will make up the largest percentage of their income. Some of these employees make as little as $25 a week, so they rely heavily on their tips and are willing to reward generous tipping with outstanding service.

Each cruise line will provide their own guide to tipping; in fact some even provide all the envelopes for you to pass them out in.

For some general guidelines to help you know who and how much to tip.

• Airport skycaps generally are rewarded $1.00

for each bag if they carry them.

• Porters at the loading area of the Cruise ship also look forward to $1.00 for each bag

• Cabin Stewards and Waiters $3.00/3.50 each

per passenger, per day

• Servers or Busboys $1.50/2.50 per passenger, per day

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• Maitre d’ $2.00 to 10.00 per passenger for the entire cruise depending on how helpful they have been.

Many bar and lounge tips are included on your bill at a standard 15% which you can generally adjust for poor or excellent service. Check your individual bills to see if a tip has already been included. You can expect to spend about $10-$15 a day in tips, so be sure to budget for that.

Often, cruise ships will automatically tack on tips to your on board account. It’s a good idea to ask for this to be removed and then take care of tipping yourself.

Experienced cruisers say they like to have control over who gets what based on the service provided, etc.

Some cruise options require that gratuities be pre-paid.

If you're cruising with Royal Caribbean International and you want the flexible My Time Dining preference instead of fixed time seating, then pre-paid gratuities are required.

Cruising offers a lot of experiences you won’t get anywhere else. Take advantage of them, but be mindful of what you spend. Unless you have a limitless amount of cash to spend, some general tips and tricks could help. Read on!

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CHARGE IT!

During the cruise, you’ll have the opportunity to shop in places you probably have never encountered before.

Location specific items like Hawaiian coffee or Mexican maracas will be the biggest draw for you. Bringing home things like these for friends and family are sure to make you popular. Just remember to spend wisely.

On board, they are sure to have swanky boutiques with beautiful wares all for the low, low price of, well, you know.

The prices aren’t always all that low! It is very easy to get caught up in spending a lot of time and money in the ship's on-board shops. You can buy everything from munchies to watches to diamond jewelry. But you really have to ask yourself if these shops, with no competition around, are really the best place to make upscale purchases.

Forgetting the expensive watches and jewelry, it's almost as easy to add digits to your on-board expenses by loading up on cruise line signature wear, t-shirts, "designer watch sales," and "gold by the inch."

Those passengers "in the know" tell everyone to wait for the last day, when the cruise line needs to get rid of its merchandise because the cruise is almost over. At least, this is how many justify a final binge. But if you are one of life's unfortunates who were born with that "must shop" gene, you should indeed wait until the last day or two of the cruise, because the shops on-board do, indeed, discount many items.

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Do a little homework about shopping before you leave and resist the lure of "getting an irresistible bargain." You can get "clipped" quickly when you succumb to all those beautiful rings, broaches, and necklaces in the hundreds of shops in St. Thomas and elsewhere.

Each ship will recommend certain shops (of course, they get a "kickback" for doing so), and will tell you that they "guarantee" your purchase. There's absolutely nothing unethical about this, it's just a way for the cruise line to enhance its revenue. Each cruise line's policies vary, but this frequently involves a hassle (what you want to avoid on a cruise, of course!) to get your money back. So the phrase for shopping is " caveat emptor."

So what is meant by “caveat emptor?” It literally translates to buyer beware. Remember merchants know that putting up a duty free sign often means bargain to many. There are some great buys to be had, but make sure your purchases are good values. Stick with brand names you know and make sure those brand names are spelled right on the product. In other words, make sure it’s not a fake. Also, duty free may just mean it is duty free where you are buying it. U.S. Customs have their own guidelines for taxation when you return.

In the US we see the price tag and pay the price. Not so in the Islands. Ask the price; offer something lower, the merchant will counter with another offer. This process will not offend the locals and how they do things. You'll both come to a price that is reasonable for both of you and all will be well. This goes on in the straw markets all the way up to the fine jewelry stores; a person who is not shy and bargains well can save lots of money

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So realize that in many countries of the world, negotiation on the price of an item is appropriate and often expected. Satisfaction guaranteed is much more widely practiced in the United States. Make sure you are familiar with their return and exchange policies. Many countries do not enforce copyright laws; the logo you see may have nothing to do with the company it represents to you. Check to see if the item is a fake.

Some items for sale may need a special license for export. This is especially true for antiques, works of art or other items of cultural significance. Taxes can make up an even larger percentage of the purchase price than you will find in the United States. Duty free may only mean the items are free from duty where they are sold. U.S. Customs have their own guidelines for taxation when you return.

Many cruise lines offer on-board art auctions, although

this practice is waning. These are huge moneymakers for the lines and it’s easy to get caught up in a bidding war. For the cruiser on a budget, I’d say, in general, to stay away from these auctions, but they’re great fun to watch. And if you just HAVE to have that Van Gogh reprint, just have a set price in mind that you’re willing to pay and then don’t go over that price – no matter what! Another tip is to go to the auction on the day they offer free champagne. This is definitely another good way to save on alcoholic beverages.

Remember when you’re shopping that you’ll be bringing your purchases home. There may be restrictions on what you can and can’t bring back. It might be a good idea to check out the U.S. Customs Service’s traveler information,

Know Before You Go web page. This site contains information on U.S. Custom’s declarations, duty free exemptions, prohibited and restricted articles and the procedures for shipping items back to the U.S.

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Not only will you have access to some great shopping, you’re going to see some wonderful places!

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LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

Ports of call are the various places the ship docks at during your cruise. Of course, you will already know what places the ship is going to dock at because you considered that before you booked.

Ports that you visit offer an opportunity to stretch your legs and get off the ship for a change of pace. It is important to realize that you will only get a tiny sampling of the port or country that you'll visit. Most often (particularly in the Caribbean), you may be bombarded with hordes of people who will be lined up to take you around the city or island, or to sell you something.

Some ports offer world-class opportunities to see things worthwhile. You’ll have to decide yourself whether or not the particular port is a place you’ll want to explore. To make the most of your cruise, we would suggest debarking at each port just for the experience. You may find a place that initially doesn’t interest you will turn out to be one of the most interesting you’ve visited.

Get out and encounter the local culture wherever and whenever possible. Remember you’re on vacation and you want to make the most of it.

The ship will offer up activities for you to do, although, there is an extra charge for these activities not included in your cruise package. Let’s look at these shore excursions and how to make the most of them.

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More Than Bus Trips

So many places to go, so many sights to see, how does the cruiser take it all in? Shore excursions are a huge part of the cruise experience, and you’ll want to plan on taking advantage of them. Shore excursions can range from simple tours to golf or adventure-type activities. Decide on what you’re up for and sign on for some great experiences.

You really should take advantage of as many shore excursions as you can, although they can be a bit pricey.

After all, you’re on vacation, and you might not get another chance to go para sailing or scuba diving or whale watching!

To pick the ones that are right for you, consider a few things.

Shore excursion expenses are typically not included in the cruise fare. You can expect to pay $20-100+ for shore excursions. If you didn’t book with one of the two discount third party alternatives before boarding, check out the available activities and sign up for the ones that interest you the most.

You’ll want to know the cost of the available shore excursions. There are generally fees for ship sponsored shore excursions. They can cost range from only twenty dollars to several hundred. You’ll want to know the costs of shore excursions in advance so you can compare complete cruise packages. There can be a large range in costs for shore excursions.

Many of the available excursions are listed on the cruise line’s web page and some can be booked in advance before you reach the ship. There should also be information in your ticket packet for you to read. Once on board, most will have a lecture about the port of call with

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a description of the available shore excursions and have someone available to answer your questions about the packages.

First, know the general game plan to see if you are interested. Find out how guided you’ll be, is this just transportation or a tour? Will you be able to take the tour and still have some freedom to wander? How much walking or physical activity will there be on the shore excursion? Food may be provided, so check on this to see if you’ll have the added expense of a meal.

You’ll also need to see if admission and fees are included when you get there, or will there be extra charges to participate once you arrive.

The general consensus among regular cruisers is that, if you want to save money, you should use one of the discount excursion companies like Shore Excursions by

PortPromotions.com or ShoreTrips.

Alternatively, you can contact a tour operator ahead of time or hire a guide when you arrive in port. If you do choose to hire a guide in port, the per-person costs can be cut even further is you share your guide and transportation with another couple.

If you do strike out on your own, you might want to consider renting a car rather than taking a taxi. With a rental car, you’ll have the freedom to go where you want when you want, and the expense might be well worth it over taking a cab.

We’d like to interject a note here about cabs. Find out in advance what the cab’s rate is and how far you’ll have to go to get to your destination. I know of one

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couple who were docked on a Hawaiian island and wanted to go para-sailing. They took a cab from the ship to the para-sailing location only to find out that they couldn’t para-sail because it was whale season. On top of that, the cab cost them $87 for a 30 minute trip and there was no way back to the ship except by cab at another $87. It was a pretty expensive outing for not doing anything that day!

Be sure you have a licensed taxi driver. The proper credentials for a licensed taxi driver will be prominently displayed for all to see. DON’T hire an unlicensed taxi driver.

Most taxi drivers are a delight to talk with, their insights on the island you’re visiting can be fascinating, they know the good places to see, good places to eat, gamble, and of course where the finest beaches are located. They are also competitive with each other and try to keep their prices low, if their service was helpful and pleasant please remember to tip them a dollar or two.

Check with the cruise director or physician about where to eat onshore. Some food items and beverages, especially water, may be off limits. Know the exchange rates, if any, and order wisely to maximize your budget. Remember, though, that food on board is included in your cruise package, so if you can stand to skip a meal and eat on board, this is a good idea to save money.

You aren't likely to be covered under a ship's insurance if you explore on your own. Check the details of your ship's cruise policy beforehand. If you explore on your own, it’s up to you to get back to the departure point on time. If you miss a launch, you'll have to meet the ship at the next port -

at your own expense.

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During a shore excursion, always carry identification, the name of your ship and its docked location. Take a photocopy of your passport with you as well. Leave valuables, excess cash and unneeded credit cards aboard.

Guides may give you badges to wear for identification, but bear in mind these identifiers only make it easier for shop keepers and thieves to target you.

Safety

This is a good time to talk about shore excursions and safety. As we said before, your time at port can be your own or you can join a cruise line sponsored shore excursion.

Wandering a port on your own can be a great way to get away from the crowd and immerse yourself in a new culture, but it will also present challenges.

Since everyone for miles just noticed the big white ship full of tourists coming in, your chances of blending in unnoticed are probably small. Even if you are traveling on a tight budget, the fact that you got off this ship labels you as wealthy, and compared to what you’ll find in most parts of the world, you are. This could place you in a dangerous situation, so you’ll need to be careful. The more you know about the specific port and country the better.

Doing a little research can greatly increase your safety. The less experienced traveler should consider the packaged shore excursions. Although possibly more confining than wandering on your own, you might actually find more freedom to enjoy shore activities since you’ll know you’re safe. There are generally fees for ship sponsored shore excursions, so you’ll want to know those in advance so you can compare complete cruise packages.

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You need to pay special attention to avoid becoming the victim of a pickpocket. Some things to keep in mind:

• Don’t travel in narrow alleys or poorly lit streets.

• When possible, avoid having crowds of people surrounding you.

• Carry a dummy wallet and put your money in your front pocket.

• Place a rubber band around your wallet, it will make it much more difficult to remove from your pocket without your knowledge.

• Carry your purse under your arm.

• Carry your money under your clothes.

• Know the pickpocket's tricks

There are lots of situations that pickpockets use to create opportunities to relieve you of all that heavy cash. Be especially aware of your money when you find yourself in the following situations.

• Getting bumped by someone else.

• Having something spilled on you or someone pointing out a spot on your clothing.

• Someone approaching you and asking for help or directions.

• Someone causing a disturbance that draws everyone’s attention.

• Being surrounded by a crowd, especially if you are surrounded by groups of children

Shore excursions are a large part of the cruise experience, so don’t miss out on the exotic ports of call you’ll be visiting. Enjoy the scenery, meet the locals, and take lots of pictures to share back home!

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You will also spend a lot of time on board the ship, so let’s look at some ways to save money on board.

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FOOD, FOOD, FOOD

We all must eat! Luckily, for you, cruise ships can offer up some of the most delicious and well-prepared food around. You may be lucky enough to sample foods you’ve never tried before, and you’ll want to enjoy the great cuisine.

The deal is food, food, and more food. Breakfast, brunch, lunch, mid afternoon snack or tea, dinner, midnight buffet and room service, you’ve never had so many eating opportunities. They have to think up names for all the different meal times. You’ll have as many as ten opportunities a day to eat.

Food on board is covered in your cruise package, but there are extras that can add up quickly busting your budget. Many will have specialty coffee shops or pool side snack bars that are not included. If you want to save some cash, try to stay away from these. There really is no need to put extra charges on your account for these.

Complimentary ice cream is often served during the late afternoon in the buffet area and offered as a dessert selection in the dining rooms. Free coffee and tea are usually are available 24-hours a day someplace on most ships and you might consider bringing an insulated mug from home to fill up at the beverage station.

You will be able to request your dinner time, so it’s a good idea to explore this a little more closely. With so many opportunities to eat, seating and such can be an important part of your cruise.

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Dinner Meal Time Selection

Cruise ships generally offer two main seating schedules for dinner. Times vary among cruise ships, but the early seating is somewhere around 6:00 p.m. And the late seating around at 8:30 p.m. Many cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean and Carnival now offer a flexible dining option in addition to the fixed time seating options. And NCL features Freestyle Dining which they describe as: “No set dining times, no assigned tables, a relaxed dress code and more restaurants than days in the week on every ship, so you can enjoy whatever you're hungry for, whenever you're hungry.”

The trend is for more and more cruise lines to offer these kinds of dining options.

These fixed times, obviously, aren’t exactly the same for every ship, but these examples should be close. Once you pick a mealtime you’ll be expected to follow it for the dinner meal of the day. Most ships have a flexible schedule for breakfast and lunch.

If you can’t make your mealtime, you might let your waiter know so they don’t wait for you. You’ll have lots of other meals that you can catch. You can’t go hungry on a cruise ship. There are lots of other opportunities to find food. There are always casual dining options available.

Most ships have free room service, some for all 24 hours.

It’s up to you and those in your party to choose which mealtime is better for you. When do you usually eat at home? What type of cruise activity is your favorite?

The early schedule will cut into your sunning on deck time. The late seating cuts into your nightlife. If you like to linger over a long dinner, the later seating will feel less

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pressure to clear the table since there won’t be another seating immediately following your dinner.

If you take the second sitting, you’ll have more time to spend on shore exploring the ports of call or participating in shore excursions.

Table Assignments

Many ships have 2, 4, 6, 8 and larger person tables in their dining rooms. The cruise line will do its best to match you to your preference, but just like the cabins, those who book earliest will have a better chance at getting their request.

When deciding what size table to sit at, there are a couple of points to consider. If it’s just the two of you, and you want privacy, go for the 2 top. You will have to move quickly, since there is a limited number of two person tables available. The four tops can be risky for a couple. You’ll only have one other couple at the table, and you might get lucky or get stuck with some duds. Many cruisers enjoy the chance to get to meet others and go for the larger tables. A bigger table will also increase the chance that you’ll be able to find others in the mix whom you will enjoy meeting.

If you’re not happy with your seating or your companions, speak with the Maitre d’ immediately. They probably won’t be able to do anything immediately since all the tables will already be full, but they can start to work on solving your problem.

Your seating request should be listed on the cruise information packet that you’ll receive after booking. Most cruise lines will confirm your dining option, if appropriate,

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and seating before you arrive. You’ll usually also find a meal assignment card in your cabin when you arrive. It should have your table’s number on it. You might want to take the assignment card along to your first meal, so you know where you are going.

Every cruise line will state that "no requests are guaranteed" and that your table assignment will be confirmed at embarkation. The worst way to start your cruise vacation is to find out at embarkation that the cruise line wasn't able to honor your dining preference. For example, you wanted the main seating and you've been assigned the late seating or you wanted the late seating and have assigned to the main seating.

Also, if you are just traveling as a couple and want a table for two, you won't know whether you have a table for two until you arrive at dinner that first evening. The worst scenario possible is you think you have a table for two and then find out at dinner that you've been put at a table with four other couples.

To avoid these problems, make sure at embarkation that your dining preference, as well as all others in your group show what you requested. Your boarding cards issued by the cruise line at embarkation, such as should show your dining room assignment — early or late — and table assignment.

Verify that all members of your group have the same dining room and table assignment. If not, as soon as you board the ship, go immediately to the dining room and meet with the Maitre d' to ask him to make the needed changes.

The Maitre d' will usually always try to accommodate your wishes if at all possible. The key here is that changes are made on a first-come, first-serve basis, so the earlier you

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see the Maitre d' the better your chances are to get the needed changes made.

Similarly, if you are expecting a table for two, visit the dining room as soon as you board the ship and find your table (each table is numbered). If it isn't a table for two, speak with the Maitre d' to get it changed. You spend a lot of time at dinner and you want it to meet your expectations.

Bring along some zip-lock Baggies. They’ll come in very handy for shore trips. Order up a sandwich from room service and pack it in your Baggie to take on shore with you.

This way you won’t have to eat in a restaurant that will most likely break your budget. I’ve heard tales of $18.50 for a salad in Hilo, Hawaii, and $32 for a tuna sandwich in Cozumel!

If you have special dietary needs, notify the cruise line in advance of sailing. Often the menus will already have choices that are low calorie, low sodium or vegetarian. But, you’ll still want to notify the line up front to see if they can accommodate your requests. Some cruise lines need more time than others to accommodate your special food requests, so visit the cruise line's web site after you make your reservation and you'll know when you have to notify them of your special dining preferences. They can usually make some accommodations for your special needs.

As we’ve stated before, you certainly won’t go hungry on board a cruise ship. Beverages, however, can break your cruise budget. There are ways to save on these too though.

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Specialty Dining

Every cruise ship has one or more specialty dining restaurants that offer a upgraded dining alternative to the experience in the main dining room for a nominal charge.

The fare may be a steakhouse, Italian cuisine, Asian or something else. Sometimes the meal is even prepared at your table. These specialty dining options are very, very popular as the food and service are usually well worth the small added charge. Depending on your cruise line you may be able to book them in advance of sailing...or have to wait until on board. In either case, don't dally; make that reservation as soon as you can.

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GETTING YOUR DRINK ON

For those of you who enjoy a little nip here and there, drinking on board the ship can be an expensive proposition.

Don’t expect to get plowed on $20 like you might be able to do at home. Drinks are expensive, but you can save here as well.

In this section, we’ll address both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Both can be quite expensive on board, and many people report this is where they spend the bulk of their money, especially if you like your wine and beer.

Whether or not to BYOB (Bring Your Own Beverages) is a hot cruise passenger topic. Many cruise lines look the other way at soft drinks and bottled water toted by embarking passengers, but they are increasingly intolerant of allowing them to bring alcoholic beverages on board.

DO NOT accept the umbrella drink of the day as you board. If you are a newbie, you think this is a nice gesture on the part of the cruise line. And then they ask for your stateroom number so they can post the $8-$9 charge.

Probably the best tip I’ve seen for getting your own liquor on board the ship is coming now. TAKE HEED – THIS

IS A STELLAR SUGGESTION! Send yourself a cost-effective bon voyage gift of your favorite spirits to be delivered to your stateroom, either from the cruise line or an independent service. Since it’s a gift, they probably won’t restrict the possession of it in your cabin! There are many places online that will put these together for you at a reasonable cost.

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Bar drinks and wine typically cost about what patrons would expect to pay at a nice lounge or restaurant in a resort or at home (depending on where you live). Keep in mind, unless you really want a souvenir glass to take home, order your umbrella drinks in regular glasses—you will pay extra for the keepsake glass.

Wine by the bottle is a more economical choice at dinner than ordering it by the glass. Any wine you don't finish will be kept for you for the next night. Gifts of wine or champagne ordered from the cruise line (either by you, a friend, or your travel agent) can be taken to the dining room. Wine from any other source will incur a "corkage" fee of approximately $8-10 per bottle.

If you’re a beer drinker, order up the buckets that give you 5 beers for $10. By far, this is a huge savings over the $5 apiece most of the bars charge.

Naturally, tap water is always plentiful and free.

Consider bringing along a powdered drink mix such as Crystal Light or Snapple for a flavorful and refreshing change? An insulated cup or mug makes it easy to prepare and keep chilled—cabin stewards keep ice buckets filled in passenger staterooms. Or, order up a pitcher of fruit juice from room service. Juices are complimentary beverages and a healthy choice.

In lounges, order the less expensive "bar brand" mixed drinks or the reduced price drink-of-the-day. There will be one every day usually listed in the nightly newsletter.

On some ships discounted "beverage cards" for unlimited fountain soft drinks and/or a set number of mixed drinks are available. You should, however, wait until you set

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sail before buying these drink cards as you’ll avoid the taxes and save a little cash!

Be sure to attend the Captain's Welcome Aboard party where complimentary drinks are served and, if you are a repeat passenger, don't miss the loyalty club get together for the same reason. The art auctions often offer free champagne on certain nights, so attend these for the free booze and enjoy watching people bid ridiculous prices for mediocre art.

If you like Margaritas and want something for in your cabin at sail away, buy the large mix bottles, tequila and triple sec, mix them up at home and then pour the whole mixture back into the larger mix bottle. Double bag in Ziploc bags and pack in your carry-on. You are less likely to have a mix confiscated.

It really isn't fun to sit around drinking in your cabin, though, and a big part of a cruise is the sociability found in public areas of the ship. Keep this in mind when deciding how important it is for you to have liquor in your cabin.

A lot of ships provide in-cabin mini-refrigerators. Some will allow you to purchase soft drinks on shore and bring them to your cabin.

Don’t forget to bring that mug from home to fill up at the beverage stations. This, alone, will save you quite a bit of your vacation cash!

There will be all kinds of opportunities during your cruise to participate in extra-curricular activities. How can you save money while still enjoying what is available? Here are a few tips to get you started.

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MAMA NEEDS A NEW PAIR ‘O SHOES

If you’re on a budget, it’s probably a good idea to stay out of the casinos on board. Generally, they’ll suck your money away and you’ll be left with empty pockets and a dazed look on your face!

However, if you like a good game of blackjack or Texas Hold ‘Em, you should be sure to set a limit for your gambling and stick to it at all costs. Even if you were “that close” to hitting a royal flush, don’t spend all your cruise money on the tables.

If you must gamble, make a side bet for the dealer.

They want you to win. If you are not as skilled at Blackjack, they will be more inclined to tell you when to hit or stand if you have attempted to place a side bet. Yes sometimes you both will lose, but that is why they call it gambling.

Here's what about.com has to say about cruise ship gambling:

Fortunately for those of us who like to gamble, cruise lines continue to build bigger and more elaborate onboard casinos. Many passengers consider them an essential feature of the cruise experience, and ships ranging from luxury to main stream all have casinos.

Crystal Cruises' ships include "Caesar's At Sea"--an ocean version of the famous Las Vegas casino.

"Caesar's At Sea" features five blackjack tables, baccarat, a roulette wheel, a craps table and over 80

slot machines on Crystal Symphony, and more than 100 aboard Crystal Harmony. If a luxury ship like Crystal is out of your price range, Carnival, Holland

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America, Princess, and all of the other mainstream ships include casinos.

In my opinion, one of the best parts about gambling at sea is that the cruise ship dealers and other casino workers are more patient and willing to help a beginner learn the games than what I have seen in Las Vegas.

Most cruise ship passengers are on vacation to enjoy the cruise, and gambling is just one small piece of their trip. Therefore, the casino is competing with other shipboard activities. At one time, a cruise might be the first gaming exposure for many passengers. With the advent of riverboat and Indian tribe casinos, this is not necessarily true anymore. However, I think that cruise casinos still recognize that most of their passengers are not big time gamblers. They just want to have some fun.

If you're new to casinos and the games they provide, then you're in luck. Most cruise ships will provide gaming lessons for all the favorite games. As many times as I go to those craps lessons, I still can't seem to fully understand the game. It's a good opportunity to learn your way around the casino without having to lose any money in the process.

Here's some great advice on cruise line gambling I found in a comment to blog post:

As an avid cruiser and a gambler, I would agree with the general consensus here... Only take what you can afford to lose.

I approach a casino with the thought that any money I take with me is going to stay there. If I can leave with a dollar, that is a dollar more than I expected to leave with.

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I would agree that the slot machines are a waste of time because it is all about being in the right place at the right time (let's not forget that these days, computer programs determine when a slot machine will pay off).

Stick with games you at least have a fighting chance at like Craps, Blackjack, Three Card Poker, etc. Forget about Roulette...there is no fighting chance there.

But, here is the most important piece of gambling: It

is entertainment! Do not look at it like it is a way of making money, because you will not. If you approach it to have some fun, it will be fun. If you approach it like a job or a source of income, you will lose (perhaps save for live Poker).

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SPORTS AND SUCH

Whether it’s golf or snorkeling, there are still ways to save money while taking advantage of participating in your favorite activities while on your cruise. The cost of a simple day at the beach can skyrocket if you rent snorkel gear, floats, and other water toys. While there's nothing you can do to cut down on the cost of a Jet Ski rental, you can save money by bringing along some of your own toys.

Discount and sporting goods stores sell snorkel gear relatively cheap and a blow-up rubber raft can cost as little as a dollar. Take your own and if you don't want to bother carrying them home, give them away—you can really delight a local youngster with a simple gift and save money to boot.

When snorkeling, you might want to pack a small zip-lock bag with corn flakes. Drop a few and watch the fish come to you. Careful, though - it can REALLY draw a crowd!

Another great tip for snorkelers out there - pack a few large milk-bone dog biscuits. Take one along with you snorkeling (easier for guys - put one in swim trunks pocket). When the biscuit softens up a bit, you can rub off pieces and the fish will swarm. Easier and cheaper than the 'fish food' tablets you can purchase .

Scuba tours are often offered for certified divers, but independent arrangements can be made with a local dive shop and you can bring your own gear. Be sure and bring along an underwater camera for some amazing pictures!

Golfers may avoid equipment charges by bringing their own clubs, but should be prepared for hefty greens fees at

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resort courses. Keep in mind that you will, most likely, not encounter courses like the ones you can find in exotic areas.

They can be well worth the green fees, but consider walking instead of renting a cart. Not only can you work off some of the buffet you had for breakfast, but also you’ll save a little cash while still enjoying the beautiful courses!

Pampering yourself should be a big part of your cruise vacation as well. You are on vacation, after all! Take advantage of everything that’s available to you while on board your ship.

Calgon, Take Me Away

Modern cruise ships have elaborate spa and salon facilities that offer a menu of massages, body wraps, facials, and skin treatments as well as hair and nail services for both sexes. Unless your cruise plans include this type of pampering, get haircuts and manicures before leaving home and bring along your own polish for fingernail touch-ups.

We would, however, highly recommend you get

yourself a spa treatment, if your budget allows. Not only will you feel better, you’ll be more relaxed to enjoy all of the activities you have before you. So many times, we don’t take the time to make ourselves feel better. When you’re on vacation, it’s the perfect time. Just be sure to book early. These activities fill up quickly!

Be aware that the spa employees are usually not employed by the cruise line itself. They are often employed by a private company that requires the staff to try very hard to sell you "treatment" products. $300 worth of goop will certainly do a treatment to your budget. Even a massage can be less than relaxing, as they are hawking their wares while they massage. If you must have a Spa experience,

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don't hesitate to tell your therapist that you do not want to hear any recommendations on products. Be firm. You can do it!

If you are one of the first to board, run up to the spa immediately. You can volunteer to have a massage, etc.

when they have the tour later in the day. It is free but you will have hordes of people coming in while they demonstrate. However, you are usually on your stomach so no one sees your face!

Many ships also have therapy pools, steam rooms, and saunas. Steam and sauna are generally included in the cruise fare; the use of therapy pools often is not.

Large cruise ship gyms feature an array of exercise machines available without charge. Also complimentary are most simple aerobics and exercise classes, but some specialty classes (such as yoga or Pilates) and personalized instruction are extra. If there is any question in your mind, ask about fees before you join a class. Walking and jogging around the deck are always free and offer the benefit of invigorating sea air.

If your heart is set on a massage, hair styling or other spa treatment during a day at sea, be among the first to board and then run to the ship's fitness center - these are booked first.

However, some cruise lines will discount massages and spa treatments during the last two days. If a spa treatment or massage isn’t high on your list of priorities, you may want to wait to see if they have them discounted. You may have to have your massage poolside, but heck; a massage is a massage!

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While you will certainly enjoy a spa experience or a massage, a lot of people have trouble with the rocking and rolling aboard a ship. Sea sickness can be a problem for some people.

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OH MY ACHING TUMMY

In general, experienced cruisers feel the concern about sea sickness is overdone, perhaps more among first time cruisers. The larger ships have several stabilizers that even out the pitch and roll of the ship--but in heavy seas (i.e., waves 15 ft. or more), you can certainly feel some discomfort.

Many cruises these days tend to be in calm waters and the ships have gotten so large that their sheer size helps lessen the motion. Modern weather tracking devices help keep the ship sailing in calm waters by avoiding any storms.

The improving technologies of large modern ships provide for better stabilizers that counter act the motion of the ocean.

If you think you are prone to sea sickness, there are some measures you can take to prevent it. Book your cruise in calm waters aboard a larger modern ship with stabilizers.

Get a mid-ship, lower level inside cabin; those have the most stable ride. Get your cabin with beds that are parallel to the length of the ship; the rocking is usually easier for your body to handle than a rolling motion. Once on board, spend some time on deck and focus on a fixed point of the horizon. This helps your body to adjust to the motion.

Speak with your doctor before you leave for

recommendations of preventative medications you could use. Some people find an acupressure bracelet around the wrists to be helpful. Avoid alcohol; it will only increase the symptoms of motion sickness.

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There are so many sights to see, and you’ll want to bring back memories to share with your family and friends.

What’s the best way to do this?

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SMILE FOR THE CAMERA

First and foremost, bring lots and lots of disposable cameras. They are small and convenient, plus you won’t have to worry about toting around your expensive digital.

Bring at least two times as much as you think you will need, especially if you cruise in the fall-you can always use the extras at Christmas. Better to have it and not pay cruise ship prices!

Buy waterproof cameras for those activities you’ll be doing that involve water. This is true especially if you’ll be snorkeling or scuba diving. Pictures of underwater life taken by you are ones that are not easily forgotten.

I know of one couple who left for their cruise with eight disposable cameras and ran out of them on the third day! If you’re on a budget, budget your pictures too unless you want to pay significantly more for extra cameras on board or in port. Be sure and take the pictures of what you really want to remember or show off to others.

These days, they do have cheap digital cameras for when you don't want to take your expensive one and possibly lose it. For $17.50, it is palm size and can still take 64mb of pictures. Not bad...and it fits in the fanny pack which expensive ones might not.

If you do take your digital, make sure you have an extra memory stick and plenty of batteries. Those of us who use our digital cameras extensively know that those puppies eat up the batteries. If you haven’t already, it’s a good idea to invest in rechargeable batteries and a charger. Then you

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can just plug in the charger in the evening and have fresh ones for the next day.

If you have a laptop, definitely take it along with your digital camera. Each day you can take tons of pictures then download them into the laptop so you’re not limited to the memory available in the camera. This will allow you the opportunity to take more pictures that you can dream and print them out once you get home!

The ship will have professional photographers on board for formal portraits. These are wonderful keepsakes to bring home, but they can be quite expensive. Wait until the last day of the cruise and stop by the photo shop to see if they will discount your pictures. Many will.

Just keep "stacking" your photos that you might be interested in buying on a bottom shelf of the display rack (no one will bother them) and on the last day of the cruise some cruise lines will cut the prices in HALF! Then, not only do you get photos at half the price, but also the "impulse-buying" issue has hopefully passed and you only go home with photos you will actually use!

Even though you’re on vacation, some people just can’t do without keeping in touch with the outside world. We’ll briefly look at how to do this while on the cruise ship.

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PHONING HOME

Many people want to make phone calls back home to make sure the “real world” is going on fine without them there. Parents may want to check on their children, or business people may want to see if their office is still open for business. That’s fine, but be aware that these charges can add up quickly – and they’re pretty hefty.

Ship-to-shore telephone calls are very expensive—

ranging from $6 to $10 a minute. If you don’t want to use a cell phone to keep in touch and must use the ship-to-shore service, keep it brief and be aware of what it will cost.

Cell phones won’t work on the ship unless you’re docked. However, this is the best way to keep in touch with home. Make sure your cell phone company won’t tack on extra charges for these calls. Check with the customer service department of your carrier and let them know where you’re cruising. They’ll be able to tell you what the rates will be.

You may want to have your family and friends call YOU while you’re cruising. The information packet you receive should list the ship’s satellite communications telephone number. Leave this number with someone at home so they can get in touch with you in case of an emergency.

In the event that should happen, they’d need the cruise line’s name, the ship’s name and your itinerary.

You should probably reinforce the emergency part since the calls are expensive and the ship’s personnel will have to track you down.

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You may want to buy a calling card before you leave and make calls while in port. You’ll probably get a better connection and you’ll have considerable savings.

Most ships are wired for Internet access these days and email is a far cheaper way to stay in contact with the office or family. Connections can run from 50 cents to a dollar a minute and often are slow. If you have a laptop with wireless connection, don’t bother to bring it for Internet access – most of the time, they won’t work on board the ship.

If your cruise ship has a 'package' deal of a certain number of minutes for a set fee, you will often pay less per minute. However, if you can wait until you arrive in ports of call, shore side Internet cafes are often inexpensive and have fast connectivity.

To save money while online, set up a simple web-based email account with Yahoo. Accessing Yahoo is universally very fast and you can get web-based email anywhere in the world. Don't use the email address assigned to you on your cruise ship; it's almost always more expensive than using a web-based mail account.

In the event you run out of clothes or find yourself with unexpected spots on your favorite outfit, the ship does have an on-board laundry. It’s not always a good idea to use it, however.

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WASH DAY

Even though the on-board laundry services might tempting, these services can really add up, especially laundry, as charges are per item and the rates are similar to those charged in hotels. If doing laundry is important to you and you don't want to send it out to be done, look for a cruise ship that features a low-cost or complimentary self-serve laundry room (they usually feature an iron and ironing board in addition to washer and dryer).

An alternative is to hand wash laundry and hang it to dry in your bathroom. Tuck a small bottle of laundry liquid and clothes pins in your suitcase. Don't bring along a travel iron to touch up wrinkled garments! Irons are a fire hazard.

Instead, pack a clothing steamer or hang wrinkled items on the bathroom door while you take a steamy shower.

Wrinkles should fall out.

What do you do with the dirty clothes you amass while on board? Consider bringing a foldable hamper. You can usually get them at the dollar store. They fold flat in your suitcase and if you don't want to bring them home leave them. After all, they only cost a dollar.

A possible alternative to taking a hamper for dirty clothes is to take along a couple of kitchen size plastic trash bags (the kind with the built-in drawstring). You can hang the bag on the metal bar inside the closet on and you can toss your dirty clothes in it each day. On the last night, squish the air out of the bags and put them into the suitcases first, which kept the dirty stuff separate from everything else. At home, toss the bags into the laundry room.

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On cruises, there are plenty of freebies to be had. The secret is knowing where to find them!

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NO MONEY, NO MONEY, NO MONEY!

Be sure and sign up for the nightly games. You won’t win a million dollars, but you could win cool cruise line gear.

This can include anything from travel mugs to canvas bags to T-shirts and such. Some of these are very nice and great reminders of your cruise.

Go to the “shop talk” on the first day at sea. Sit down near the front because they often throw samples of items out in the audience: T-shirts, etc. One cruiser caught a black pearl necklace in a box on one cruise. Another got a small bottle of vanilla and a small bottle of liquor.

If you write a letter to your cruise line after returning from your cruise, they might respond with a letter that entitles you to a gift on your next cruise with them that can be redeemed 45 days before your next cruise. This could be anything from free photo coupons to a free beverage card.

It’s definitely worth the time to write a simple thank-you letter. Plus it’ll make your grandma proud that you learned something after all those years of gifts she sent you!

Some cruise lines will give out free playing cards in the casino. This can be a nice reminder of your cruise –

especially when you’re playing a card game with the family.

Rub it in as you deal out hold ‘em. Remind everyone that YOU got to go on a fabulous cruise!

There are also some general suggestions made by experienced cruisers that can make your cruise easier to enjoy.

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IN GENERAL

These are general tips to enhance your cruise experience. They have been compiled from input given by those who have been on-board many ships and found these tips make their cruise easier.

Take colorful post-it-notes to leave messages on the doors of cruise mates or even in your own cabin for other members of your group. You can also use these to leave messages for your cabin steward or housekeeping.

Buy plastic clothes pins from a dollar store and use them to clip wet bathing suits and other clothing to your balcony chairs in the daytime so they would not blow off.

You can also use them to hang hand washed laundry in your bathroom to dry.

The number one item you should bring with you, many say, is one of those cheap, over the door shoe racks.

These are the ones with the plastic pockets in them.

Cruisers report these are excellent for organizing often used items. They say once you use it you will know why it’s so important.

If you’re a smoker, buy cigarettes after getting on board to save money as they are a lot cheaper. You can bring your own from home, but if you run out, buying them on the ship is cheaper than in ports of call.

When on shore, bring along a backpack with a tote bag stuffed inside. The backpack is easier to carry, and you’ll have the extra bag in case you end up with more purchases than you expected.

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Use a five-pocket check holder/organizer for all of your documents while traveling. Label the pockets with categories like: airline docs, cruise docs, cards (phone cards, insurance cards, etc) mail, stamps, addresses and money where you can keep all of my singles for tipping along with travelers cheques. The advantage to this is they are often wallet size and can be easily carried along with you.

Bring baby wipes. They can serve a couple purposes. If you get a stain on your clothing, rub it with a baby wipe. It will either remove the stain or pre-treat it for the wash.

Restrooms in ports of call may be lacking the toilet paper.

Use your baby wipes!! They’re great for cleaning up sticky hands and faces after eating.

If you’re cruising with friends or family, bring walkie-talkies to keep in touch with each other. They’re small, compact and a lifesaver if you get separated on shore or on the big ship!

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WRAPPING IT UP

You should be prepared for a stupendous time on board a cruise ship while on vacation. There are more things to do on that liner than in many resorts. Plus, you’ll have the opportunity to see places you’ve only read about or dreamt of seeing.

As you can see in this book, cruises don’t have to be horrendously expensive. They can actually be affordable for the average Joe. All it takes is a little ingenuity to have an incredible time.

Even $20/day can provide something fun and different every day. You can buy 2-3 drinks one day, gamble one night, have wine with dinner, buy a small photo, get cheap t-shirts from ports, which make great souvenirs for friends especially when you're able to find them four for $10, or dinner at an alternate restaurant. You just can't do it all every day!

Some closing words that I think are appropriate come from experienced cruisers. They say:

"Most important tip of all, when on the ship, forget all your worries back home and just relax and be pampered! Most of us don't have that option in our every day lives!" — Rhonda Spruill

"Have fun and be prepared to do something you do not do in an ordinary day!" — Bradley J. Edmonds

You get out of the cruise what you put into it, just like everything else in life." — Wanda Foster

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Most of all, do not live by the saying "this is a once in a lifetime thing!" That mentality might be why some people lose their minds and get carried away. By keeping that in mind you’ll be better able to stick to your budget. Rather than accumulating more stuff that will wind up in a garage sale, take lots of video and soak up the moments you’ve had while tucking away money for your next cruise adventure.

BON VOYAGE!

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