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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 speci