James D. Morgan/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — So you’ve done your research to choose a cruise line that suits your personality and selected a specific ship and itinerary that looks perfect.
Before your dream vacation commences, however, there are still several final details that require your consideration. These are some of the most crucial questions to ask yourself prior to stepping aboard.
1. Do I have the proper documentation?
Aside from a few rare exceptions, most cruise ships are foreign-registered and thus, by law, must sail to at least one international destination. This is true even of cruises, say, to Alaska roundtrip from Seattle; they have to make a stop in Canada.
That means passengers need to have proper documentation for travel between countries. It’s always best to consult with the cruise line to know exactly what is needed for a particular cruise, but requirements could include passports and/or additional visas.
2. Is everything included that I think is part of the package?
Hopefully, this one came up during your research of the cruise line itself, but in case it didn’t, be sure you fully understand exactly what is included in your fare. Cruises are generally a rather inclusive form of travel, but the degree to which they are varies, with luxury ships often including more than the more mainstream cruise lines.
Accommodations and most food and entertainment are usually included in the fare cost, but drinks outside of nonalcoholic basics are typically not. The more you pay upfront, the more will be included. Some luxury lines do cover alcoholic beverages as part of the upfront price.
3. Have I budgeted for gratuities?
Speaking of what is included, gratuities or service charges are either among the extras or bundled in. For those cruise lines that tack it onto the bill — while these technically remain discretionary, they may be automatically added to guests’ accounts per day.
It’s wise to know what the daily service charge may be to avoid surprises at the end of the cruise. Alternatively, the option is usually available to prepay the total so as not to have to worry about costs once onboard.
4. Did I pack the right clothes?
Cruise lines are becoming more and more casual, but formal nights are still sometimes held. Check the dress code for your cruise and be certain you have enough for elegant and relaxed affairs.
Of course, with airline weight limits on luggage to consider, you must also be efficient about packing. Check to see what self- and full-service laundry is available onboard. It might be better to pack lighter and send some clothes out to be cleaned on the ship.
5. Should I purchase shore excursions ahead of time?
As much as cruise ships are becoming destinations themselves, they still seek to take us to actual places, and shore excursions are the best means of discovery. But there’s nothing worse than getting there and finding out that a tour has been sold out already.
It’s always a good idea to pre-plan as much as possible and book shore excursions before a cruise to avoid upset. In some cases, you may be able to save some money by buying them independently. Just be mindful: If there’s ever a delay in returning onboard, the ship will only wait for tours reserved through the line.
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