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What You Need To Know About Planning For Your First Cruise

Cruises can be great…you get the relaxation and a stress-free atmosphere all while visiting multiple countries and experiencing multiple cultures in a short time frame. Once on-board 99% of the stress of vacation planning falls away, you don’t have to worry about transportation, time frames, parking, finding your destination, etc. However, it can take a great deal of planning prior to the cruise to ensure that the trip is as stress free as possible. Here is a timeline and some planning tips to make the process a little easier and more enjoyable for you:

Cruise Planning Timeline

18 months before sailing

  • Book the cruise. While you can generally book a cruise anywhere from abut 18 months to a week before the cruise sets sails, you will want to do it well in advance to ensure adequate time for payments and planning. Last minute getaways are great a well, but planing ahead can reduce the stress and frustration of trying to do in a rush.
  • Plan out your cruise budget, taking into account the cost of the cruise, airfare, transportation, any hotel costs, on board activities, shore excursions, food/drink, tips, and any port activities if you are spending some time in the port city.

12 to 18 Months Before Sailing

  • Make sure you have bought travel insurance, if you are going to. I would highly recommend it, you never know what might happen and if a situation arises where you need it the last thing you want is to have to regret not having it.
  • Check the expiration date on your passport. You will want to make sure your passport is good to get you through your trip, if not make sure you renew or in the case that you don’t have one-order one. This will ensure that you will have it in plenty of time before departure. (Do note that for most closed loop cruises (cruises starting and ending at the same port) you do not need a passport-but be sure to check with your cruise line).

6 to 12 Months Before Sailing

  • Verify required travel documents and make sure you have all needed documentation (such as passport, visas, birth certificates, photo ID, etc.). Check with your cruise line and destination ports for required documentation.
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3 to 6 Months Before Sailing

  • Make sure you have made the final payment on your cruise.
  • Book shore excursions.

1 Month Before Sailing

  • Confirm all reservations.
  • If needed, arrange for a house sitter, pet sitter, or child care.
  • Make sure you have made reservations for any applicable on board activities, such as photo opportunities or spa treatments.
  • Ensure that you have checked health alerts for the destinations you will be visiting and have received all recommended vaccinations.
  • Check your wardrobe and make sure you have everything you will need. Purchase anything you may not have.
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2 to 4 Weeks Before Sailing

  • Make sure that you have your needed travel documents (cruise line documents, airline documents). Ensure that all information is accurate.
  • Make sure you have an adequate supply of all prescription medications. If needed obtain a written statement from your physician on the need for the medication.
  • Exchange some money for local currency of the destinations you will be visiting.
  • Make photocopies of all important travel documents.
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One Week Before Sailing

  • Pack
  • Verify any house sitters, babysitters, and pet sitters.
  • Notify your bank that you will be traveling with dates and destinations.
  • Arrange to have your mail held at the post office.
  • Print a copy of your itinerary and leave it with family or friends.

One Day Before Sailing

  • Attach your cruise line luggage tags
  • Make sure your electronics (cell phone, camera, etc.) are charged and ready to go. Pack the chargers.
  • Check in online for your flight.
  • Double check to make sure you have packed everything you will need.
  • Get rid of perishable foods.
  • Make sure all bills are paid as needed.
  • Get a good night’s sleep so you are ready for your big adventure!
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Tips For Your First Cruise

  • Arrive to the port early. If you are booking your flight separate from the cruise, be sure to plan your arrival extra early. I would recommend planning on arriving the day before in case of delays, you don’t want to be late-the cruise won’t wait for you.
  • Be prepared for sea sickness-get an over the counter remedy just in case you get sea sick-it may save your vacation. Another option for preventing sea sickness is reserving a cabin higher up. The higher up the cabin the less likely you are to experience the motions that cause sea sickness.
  • Choose your cabin type wisely-if you are claustrophobic make sure you choose a room with a window or balcony room.
  • Pack a day bag with all your essentials. When arriving to the port your luggage will be taken to your cabin, likely before you are allowed access to the cabin. Make sure you have all your essentials in a day bag, including your travel documents, cell phone, wallet, medications, etc.
  • Make sure you check the dress codes. Some cruises have themed nights and require certain apparel. If you do not dress appropriately you will likely be turned away.
  • Skip the elevators. While on board, use the stairs over the elevators. Elevators tend to be overly crowded and you will waste valuable time waiting for them. Plus…taking the stairs will give you some extra exercise!
  • Plan a couple extra days to explore the port city. Plan on arriving early or staying a couple days after the cruise to explore the city. There is plenty to do and see and most cruises even offer excursions in the city that you can book through the cruise company.
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What You Need To Know About Planning For Your First Cruise
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  1. This is such a helpful article! Ive never been on a cruise before so ill make sure to check this when I do go on one!

  2. I love the cruise trip. There are things to prepare ahead, specially when it is about visa issue. Then we need to consider the cruise board programs and pack accordingly.

  3. Great tips here! I’ve never been on a vacation cruise before (only once and on a transportation cruise so it’s not the same experience) and I definitively want to try it someday. Thank you for the helpful guide 🙂

  4. These are great tips! I’m definitely claustrophobic so would need to request a room with a window.

    Do you have any tips on how to mitigate health risks on a cruise? Given all the attention the coronavirus is getting lately, I’m hesitant to get on a boat packed with thousands of potentially sick strangers!

    • As far as staying healthy, I would recommend taking standard precautions that you normally would. Wash your hands as frequently as possible, avoid touching door handles if possible (use an elbow or paper towel), carry hand sanitizer, clean surfaces before touching them (such as tables), and avoid touching your face (I know-this is very difficult!) I too am hesitant at this point about cruises-I don’t want to tell anyone to cancel their trip, but to be honest I cancelled my cruise in the near future until things start to clear up.

  5. It really does take a long time and preparation, but I agree with everything you laid out in this post. I have only been on one cruise and it definitely would have been a better experience had I prepared earlier in advance.

  6. Wow lots of preparations in advance! We must admit that we’ve never been on a cruise because we don’t really like that. However, we’ll have a very small cruise (with limited number of travelers) along the Nile in Egypt next April, and we’re really looking forward to it.

  7. These are all great tips! I was surprised to see that you start planning over a year in advance, but having to condense all of this into just a month or less for a last-minute deal definitely sounds more stressful. Also, very good to know about flying in to the port city the day before to account for possible flight delays!

    • I’m a planner, so I like to start way ahead of time (plus it gives me something to look forward to!) There is a lot more that goes into planning a cruise than people realize. I’m also very paranoid about getting someplace on time-so the earlier the better for me!

  8. Great tips Meliss. I’ve never been on a cruise (!) but really want to go on one. The anxiety-driven travel planner in me loves your chronological planning requirements – will save it for when I finally am able to take a cruise.

  9. Goodness you are so organised! I am not sure i have ever managed to plan a trip so far in advance, so I am super impressed. Is it also possible to decide things on the day – like if you wake up and fancy a massage, can you book one at the last minute, or do you always have to reserve ahead of time?

    p.s. love the tip about taking the stairs! I feel the same in hotels!

    • For most cruise lines it is recommended to book ahead of time, but not required. If there is availability you are sometimes able to book once on-board, but it is not guaranteed. Booking ahead guarantees you will be able to do whatever it is you want to.

  10. I love to plan ahead to ensure stress-free getaways so the idea of booking and starting the planning for the cruise 18 months ahead sounds perfect to me. Very informative post and great tips as well – thanks for sharing.

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