5 tips on cruising for first-timers

I am writing this having just completed an 8-day cruise along the River Danube. The cruise started in Budapest in Hungary, going through Croatia, Serbia, and Bulgaria and ended in Romania.  There was a pre-cruise stay in Prague in the Czech Republic and a post-cruise land tour of Transylvania in Romania including a visit to “Dracula Castle”. Most of my fellow travellers on this particular cruise are over 60, but cruising is suitable for all ages and also as a family trip.

Cruising is relaxing as everything is taken care of. You don’t have to pack and unpack, worry about where to stay, what to eat, or what sights to see. But you still have a choice on how you want to spend your time. It is a particularly good vacation for older entrepreneurs who want to get away from the routine and wind down for a week or so, allowing others to take care of things for you.

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 If you are finally going on that long-awaited cruise, this article is for you. It is the first in a series of articles dedicated to first-time cruisers. But before you head for the high seas, you might want the inside scoop on some of the ins and outs of the cruising world. Here are some basics that every first-timer should know before stepping onto that gangplank.

Here are the 5 tips

  1. Investigate the cruise line. You never know if the company that Aunt Mable chose last year discreetly filed for bankruptcy, or was written up for repeated outbreaks of the Norwalk Virus. A quick Google search will give you a wealth of information, but move past the results from PR companies and travel agents, and see what individuals have to say. There are many forums and review sites where previous passengers can rate their experiences, good and bad. In the USA, you can check the Better Business Bureau for a rating on the company and any history of complaints. Lastly, call your insurance agent. There are a few cruise lines that insurance companies will no longer underwrite for travel insurance because of long-standing problems.
  2. Plan your packing. Each ship has its own dress code and will send you information well before your trip so you can plan accordingly. Depending on the cruise, this dress code may be more of a flexible guideline than strict rules. Call your travel agent or the cruise line directly if you have questions. Don’t get too stressed out by the idea of “formal” dining, however; if you’re not in the mood to dress up, you can typically opt for a less-formal dining option on board.
  3. Put some thought into your carry-on bag. Most ships have hundreds of bags to get on board, sort through and deliver to each cabin. This process can take several hours, sometimes until after dinner the first night. Be prepared. Pack your bathing suits, sunscreen and anything that you may need throughout the day. If you have children, plan on including a change of clothes and their special toy or blanket.
  4. Remember that all-inclusive does not mean free. You are bound to have extra charges while on-board, even with an all-inclusive package. Alcoholic beverages, gift shop purchases, shore excursions, spa services and sometimes Internet charges, all have additional fees. Be sure to keep track of how many times you swipe that room key or you may have a surprise waiting for you at the end of your trip.
  5. Tips on tipping. Another additional item to budget for is the tip. Each cruise line has its own policy on tipping the staff. You want to find out that policy before you start. Some cruise line will provide envelopes for that inserting cash while others will automatically add gratuity to your tab. For my recent cruise, the guideline for tipping is Euro 12 per day per passenger for the staff plus Euro 2 per person per day for the Program Director.

Hopefully, these tips will give you some guidance so that you can cruise with confidence, like a pro.

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