Hi friends! I often put out calls for guest posts, and FormerlyHurogGirl responded on twitter, saying she could talk about cruises. I’ve never been on a cruise, but have always wanted to – so I was like “YES!” This is a lot of information, so I hope you find it helpful like I did! Because this is something I know nothing about I did a copy and paste job, just tweaked some formatting. 🙂 Feel free to ask FormerlyHurogGirl any questions!
Fiction makes cruising look simple.
I’m here to tell you – fiction lies!
In days of old, when covered wagons and dinosaurs thundered across the plains, you could look at your significant other, and say “hey, let’s go on a cruise next week!” You’d find something that left from a local port on the appropriate day, didn’t last longer than you had time for, and if you could pay for it, you packed your bags and went. Nary no more, my lasses and lads, nary no more, no more my dears. Cruising can be very good “bang for the buck” as a vacation, One pack/unpack and no travel arrangements between destinations, food and basic drink unending, entertainment included in fare. But you need to be aware of several pitfalls, and that’s most of what I m going into here, the potential negatives, so that you can avoid them.
Let’s get started.
Where do you want to go, and what do you want to do/see there? This is significant; there are some destinations that aren’t going to work for your time or budget, or for your interests. If you’re leaving out of California, for instance, you’re going to Mexico 90% of the time. “But I’ve been to Mexico a dozen times!” you cry. Sad. US law requires cruises to visit a different country (aside from the Hawaiian islands cruises of Norwegian’s Pride of America, which doesn’t have a foreign country in reach.) Rarely, usually at the beginning or end of the Alaska cruise season, there are “bop up to Vancouver BC and back” cruises, but they are few and far between. Your other options are 15 days to Hawaii, or a transit of the Panama Canal, which has its own issues, gone into below. Additionally, there are three divisions of the Caribbean, then there is Bermuda, and the Bahamas. Not the same cultures and not the same attractions.
What do you want to do on the ship? How do you feel about children on the ship? Or what do you need FOR your children? How much can you afford to spend vs. how you feel about small rooms? Also about crowding, also gone into below. Who is going with you? How many people in your room? How many rooms do you need or want? How much time do you have? Are you comfortable cruising one way instead of round trip?
First of all, you need to worry about GIVING THE CORRECT NAMES. What’s on the ID you all are using? H. Allen Jones is not getting away with cruising under that name, I’m here to tell you. Not unless, like M*A*S*H’s B.J. Hunnicut, his legal first name is H.
Let me make sure you really understand. If the reservation is for a different name from what’s on passport, birth certificate, driving license/state ID card – you’ll be left at the dock.
Now, what are you going to do with yourself for the next 3-30 days? How will you support yourself, because the cruise line is not giving you back your money. The cruise line is not giving you back your money. It’s going to be 3-10 business days -not days, but business days- until you even get back your fees and taxes. None of your fare is coming back to you.
Make sure you’ve got ID in front of you for the whole gang you plan to take along. Many cruise line fee structures do not ALLOW passenger changes. (That is, if H. Allen Jones can’t go, you can’t replace him with BJ Hunnicut for free.) You have to cancel and rebook for the new guest(s), and the closer you are to sailing date, the more expensive that is.- if it’s possible. Like an elevator, a cruise ship holds only so much; between taking out H.Allen and trying to add BJ, they may sell enough fares that they can’t add BJ. Same room you already had. Nope. Certain fare structures do allow name changes, but there are fees, last seen running between $50.00 and $100.00 per passenger change.
Confused? I would be.
Let’s say H. Allen Jones shows you a passport that says his name is Hannibal Allen Jones? That’s a correction, and may require calling your agency (the cruise line won’t let you change it yourself online, whether you book direct or through an agency) or calling your cruise line to get it done. The agency may have to call the cruise line, so have an hour put aside. Yeah, the hold times can be that bad. Good news; this is a correction to an existing guest’s name. Probably no fee.
H. Allen can’t go? Now it’s more complex. More and more of the ticket/contracts, as written by the cruise lines, involve a whole new deposit amount for the changed guest. Yep, you’ve lost anywhere from $49.00 to as much as $1500.00 out of your changed passenger’s fare.
Some special fares are completely nonrefundable. HAJ can’t go and you’re bringing Gytha Nogg instead? You’ve lost everything you’ve paid toward HAJ, and have a whole new fare for GN.
Depending on the length of your cruise, you also enter penalty periods at different points in the process. Normally, this is 120 to 90 days before sailing, but ~ Some of the lowest fares are in penalty immediately. This means if you’ve got one of those amazing fares about 40% lower than usual, something you set up when you were home in February, to cruise in September, you could cancel the next day in February, and lose anything from a deposit up to the total.
These are the first two reasons it’s a good idea to do some research ahead, and get an agent involved.
Cruise lines are moving away from using “brick and mortar” agencies. Online agencies have agents on the phones to help you, but you won’t get the same agent every time you call, and some agents are more helpful than others. Please bear in mind they are monitored, and penalized for spending too much time on any service call. Please have your ducks in a row.
Next thing to know is that it’s often not possible to get a specific cruise/ship within three months of sailing date, and trying to book a July 4 cruise in late June? Ha ha ha ha ha -no. Alaska, booked in May, June, July, August, September? I hope you won a NICE lottery prize! If you wanted that ROUND TRIP cheap, you should have booked it LAST May.
Alaska can be tricky; there are 7 day trips that start and end in the same port. This is usually either Seattle, Washington, USA, or Vancouver BC, Canada – on the mainland. These are safest. If you see something that has a fare less than $100.00 per passenger per night? Check it carefully, it may be one way.
You could be stranded in Alaska. Or it might start in Alaska and leave you stranded in the US.
Additionally, there are what are called “Cruise Tours”, which technically do this, but they give you from two to ten days to explore the interior of Alaska, and they include the hotel and travel from cruise port to interior locations, and out to the airport you’re returning from, if that’s what you’ve chosen.
So, next thing I’d like you to know: Different cruise lines have their own levels of sophistication or how family friendly they are. I liken this to types of restaurant chains. Least expensive, usually, is Carnival, rather like the golden arches, it is less expensive. Appeals to the masses, but not a 7 course meal by any means. Be prepared for shrieking children running through the premises. More like going into a Denny’s or diner, you’ll get a bit more sophistication and cost with lines like Royal Caribbean, Norwegian (this is borderline, some consider it more a rival to the arches), MSC, Costa, Princess. There are still children, and it’s not tablecloths in your booth, but you have actual flatware in the restaurant type change of this comparison. These lines are still mass market, but a little more formal, a little less all age.
Celebrity, Holland America Line, one or two other lines are the next step up. Holland won’t let you bring a child on your trip if they don’t have a place for them in the activities for their age group. This can be frustrating in trying to book it, and helps explain why you need to have the birth dates of all guests.
Disney is a special case; you’re buying the Disney experience, and they include some things none of the other lines have. They tend to fill up as much as a year to two years in advance, they are NOT a spur-of-the-moment option. They’re not heavily formal. They are relatively expensive, and the fares have some unusual structures. You will need to call your agency or the cruise line to make your final payment, they will drop the total if the fees and taxes are reduced. Then the software won’t accept the over payment you are offering.
Your Food Network Chef level lines are Azamara, or Cunard. Much formal clothing, mostly adults who are edging toward silver hair. Much expense. There are some other lines that are your five star restaurant types, where you have butlers for virtually every stateroom, and high levels of luxury. These are often long cruises where for 10 days or more you’re paying $10,000.00 per person or more.
Budgeting, what all is going to come on top of the fare? Fees and taxes for the ports the ship docks at, home and destination. This is where you learn that when adverts say “$799.00 per person for a two person room!” it’s more like $950.00 per person, because of the port charges.
Airfare. Good golly, the air fares.
Tips or gratuities.
The high end lines like Cunard and Viking have this subsumed in the fare. Celebrity has some fare structures that include it in your fare, but not all of them. All the “diner” and “fast food” lines charge these separately. You can fiddle with it, but the industry standard is a mandatory $11.50 to $17.00 per passenger per day charge that the cruise line will split per their formula to go to your room stewards, butlers/concierges, dining room servers, and a few other standard people. If you go into the spa, hair salon, or fitness center and get attention (in this case, I mean if you use fitness gear alone you’re good, but if you have a “personal trainer” help you, they’ll charge you a fee AND tip) you tip those outside that basic amount per day.
Again, this is not across the board, high end lines include it, or a couple of the Norwegian ships, notably the NCL Sky, but this is one of their best sources of revenue. You can buy packages if you are there to drink, but if you have maybe up to 2 drinks in 24 hours, it’s usually less expensive to buy individually. The Sky is a booze cruise, and not really a good trip to take children on with you.
If you book far enough ahead (suggesting a minimum of six months) with sixteen or more people or eight or more rooms, you may get a group discount, which usually amounts to the base fare for ONE passenger comped. This guest will still pay taxes and tips, plus any packages for drinks, internet, etc.
Are any of your cruise buddies NOT US citizens? Things just got more complex.
Besides that ‘correct name’ issue – and oh, heaven help us if it’s one of those names that honors both father and mother – this person needs to have a current passport from their home country, and their green card or other US Visa as students, work permit… what else?
Now, do they need separate visas for the countries the ship is visiting? Don’t ask your travel agent, they can’t keep track of ID needs for US citizens. https://visacentral.com/ is the place you want to go. If it frustrates? Call the consulate (or email) of the country issuing the passport. You want to do this as early as possible. There are “rush fees” for waiting, and if you call the day before? Yeah, cousin from Norway/China/Argentina is NOT going to be allowed aboard the ship.
Do you realize that someone visiting the US and trying to take an Alaska cruise is going to need a visa from Canada, too? Canada needs a visa for non-US or United Kingdom passengers to even BOARD the ship. This is one of the biggies; do NOT invite friends to go on an Alaska cruise with you when they come to visit from Europe, China, India, Argentina, ANYWHERE except Canada, Great Britain, or the US, unless you have time for them to get visas from Canada. Or you’ve wasted the money, and are going to have them left at the pier.
Some other countries will require visas too.
Not just for non-US residents, either. Cuba, some of the South American countries, African continent. One year, Belize was insisting on them. Oh, are you doing the Panama Canal, all the way through? Guess what? You need a passport. Yes, you’re leaving the US, and yes, your ship docks at the end in a different US port. However, it’s not a closed loop cruise, so you have to have a passport that doesn’t expire within 6 months of completing the cruise.
You might want to get vaccinated against yellow fever, and get anti-malaria treatment set up with your doctor too.
Unless you are doing the Pride of America cruise of the Hawaiian Islands from Norwegian Cruise Line, you are visiting a foreign country on your cruise, so you do need either passport or a combination of a government issued ID (license or DMV issued state ID usually, or if you work for a government agency/military branch, those are good) and an original or embossed copy of birth certificate for each adult. Children too young to drive can manage with only the birth certificate. But this absolutely MUST be embossed; faxed or photocopied? No. The cute one with the tiny footie prints from the hospital? No. Children not welcome under a minimum of 6 months, and sometimes up to 9.
Oh, ladies? If you’re expecting a baby, you need to not have reached 24 weeks by your return date, or they won’t let you on the ship. Recommend a letter from the doctor with an estimated due date and assurance it’s not an “at risk” pregnancy.
Paying on your cruise: Book early, that’s usually best choice of rooms and lower fares, plus! Plus! You can make payments instead of a giant lump. Cruise on layaway! Here’s the big thing on this; mostly the deposits are going to be lost if you cancel, full stop. But even more money is lost the closer you get to the trip, usually starting about 6 months before sail date. By the time you’re within 30 days of sailing and cancel or change a passenger, you lose the whole fare, only the fees and taxes are recouped.
Insurance: Check. Some cruise lines will sell you one through a specific time before your sailing. It will run 8 to 10% of the fare. Agencies like Expedia or Cheap Tickets may have restrictions that will only allow you to buy the insurance the very first time you say “Yes, book that room.” Canceling the cruise more than 10 days after buying it and the agency insurance means you can’t get the premium back.
Big warning: Cruise lines don’t care why you’re canceling, they won’t refund the fare.
Cruise lines don’t care why you canceled; they will not refund your fare. Death in the family? Too bad. Car accident between airport and cruise port? Too bad. Lost job, tornado destroyed your home, dog dying? Not their problem. Get insurance. Wouldn’t you rather pay an extra ten percent than lose 100%? Get insurance.
There are 4 general types of rooms:
- Interior rooms have no windows, are sometimes smaller, can feel claustrophobic, but are least expensive. Some people feel that all they do there is sleep, shower, and store purchases, so it doesn’t matter.
- Ocean view are same floor plan/size usually, but on the skin of the ship so they will have window from port hole through picture window, to rarely French window/door size. Rooms with portholes may be close to the front of the ship, where any motion is most noticeable. If any of you are motion sensitive, this is a bad choice.
- Balcony/veranda rooms are about the same size indoors, but have a private deck space from 35 square feet up to quite a bit more. 70 feet is usually the top out on this.
- Suites are usually largest, but not always. Likewise, not all “suites” have balconies. The pricing and luxuries of suites vary from slightly larger than balcony type rooms up to “gosh, this thing is bigger than my whole apartment and has a grand piano in it” with a butler, concierge, exclusive restaurant options, and a great many more things.
Big as they can be, some of them will NOT allow a third passenger, let alone a fourth.
There are other issues, more specialized.
- Children of split up parents.
- People who are on parole.
- People with health issues.
- Service animals. (no, pets are very specialized, not going there.)
- Dietary issues. Kosher or vegan can be a big deal, etc.
So, summarizing, you need to research well ahead of when you want to sail, you absolutely need to know exactly who is going and have their ID, and be prepared for a budget of up to 67% more than the “fare”. Then you can have a ton of fun.
What special needs do you have that the cruise line might need to know? Allergies are important! Are there any special fares or promotional extras you can get, and what are the limitations on those?
For those who have cruised before, can you/do you want to use the same cruise line? If you signed up for their repeat guest program, you may get perks.
Do you dare refuse insurance?
Okay, if I haven’t scared you off, you’re now ready to start thinking seriously about cruising. This may absolutely be the best type of vacation for you, ever. You can get more information from a site called cruisecritic.com as well.
Whew! That was a lot, right? Definitely I learned a lot of things I would need/want to consider. Do you have any tips to add? Or any questions for FormerlyHurogGirl?
My son was supposed to go on a cruise after his college graduation, but his grad school starts the day after graduation, so he lost the airfare, but he was able to let someone else take over his spot.