Food, sun, art, culture and sand… cruising is my family’s preferred way to explore the world. Ninety percent of our family’s travel has been by cruise ship and we’ve got most of the research and planning process down pat.
Taking care of a few key details before we leave home makes our cruise vacations more enjoyable and there’s less to worry about once we’re on-board.
Below is our short to-do list before every cruise vacation. There are other things to do prior to setting sail, but these 9 things are always our must-dos.
Whether it’s your first cruise or your fiftieth – oh, one can hope that we’ll be able to cruise 50 times with our kids! – hopefully you’ll find some of these tips helpful.
Book Your Pre-Cruise Travel Arrangements ASAP
If you haven’t booked a pre-cruise package with your air or reserve a pre-cruise package with your cruise line, you – or your travel agent – will need to arrange a hotel and transfers.
We like to give ourselves at least one overnight in your embarkation port prior to our cruise. We like exploring the city and for our Alaskan cruise several years ago and our European cruise last year, spending two nights in Vancouver and Barcelona gave us some time to adjust to the time change. We really needed it and by the time we got on the ship we were fully adjusted to the new time zone.
If you’re cruising from Port Canaveral, it might be a good time to check out the theme parks and either stay at a Disney resort or an Orlando area hotel like Floridays – read our review here (it’s close to both Walt Disney World and Universal Studios).
If you don’t have time for the theme parks, you can also book a room at Hyatt Regency – a hotel located inside Orlando International airport.
When it comes to getting to the cruise port, there are several options available. All cruise lines offer transfer service from either the airport to the ship or from preferred pre-cruise hotels to port.
Depending on how many are in your travel group, it can be pricey and arranging a private car transfer may cost less than using the cruise line’s transfer service. We’ve gone the private transfer route for almost all our cruises with kids. It’s a lot more flexible in terms of pick up time and for the most part, less expensive than the cruise ship’s transfer service.
Most private transfer services offer car seats and booster seats for infants and toddlers. We’ve also requested a stop at a supermarket prior to boarding to pick up last minute items like baby formula, diapers, snacks for the kids and alcohol.
Disney cruisers sailing from Port Canaveral may be interested in this post – it explains the embarkation process and options for port transfers.
Figure Out How You’ll Stay in Touch
Call your cell phone provider to see if your plan includes calls where you’ll be cruising. If you’ll be out of your coverage area, ask if they offer an international calling plan by the month. Buying a country-specific cell phone or getting a SIM card for your phone are other options.
You can also sign up for an internet package on the ship however internet connectivity and can be slow and spotty.
If you’re OK with waiting until you get to port, most Caribbean and North American ports have free WiFi connection – either from one of the restaurants, coffee shops or souvenir shops near the port area.
Disney cruisers are given 50MB of data on embarkation day (all you need to do is sign up for it using your cabin number and email address) so if you’re really good at limiting your time on your phone or tablet and waiting for free WiFi at the port, it might be enough to last you until the last day of the cruise.
Research Souvenir Prices
If duty-free shopping is high on your list, find out what the prices are back home so you’ll know what’s a great deal and what isn’t.
Notify Your Credit Card Company
Avoid having your credit card blocked or flagged for fraud by letting your credit card company know you’ll be traveling outside the country. Let them know the cities you’ll be visiting, the date you’ll leave home, and the date you’ll return.
Exchange a Little Money
If you’ll be traveling to a foreign country, get a little local currency before you leave home. The last thing you want to do after a long flight is to find a place to exchange your money. The lines are often long at the airport and rates will be higher if you’re exchanging currency somewhere other than a bank – at your hotel or the airport.
Make sure to get some one-dollar bills and one-euro coins. Trying to change large bills is a hassle, and you’ll want smaller denominations for tipping or small souvenir purchases.
Let the Cruise Line Know About Dietary Restrictions and Food Allergies
Your ship will do their best to accommodate you but give them a few weeks notice, and then reconfirm a few weeks before your cruise.
Our son has life-threatening nut allergies and we’ve been pleased with the attention and care we’ve received from the dining staff on Royal Caribbean and Disney ships.
Make Specialty Dining Reservations Sooner than Later
If you want to dine in one of the ship’s specialty restaurants, reserve a table online before you leave home if you can. Depending on the number of speciality restaurants and the type of cruise you’re on, there may be limited or no availability by embarkation day.
We’ve found that Palo reservations are really difficult to get once you’re on board a Disney ship but Remy’s is fairly easy to get (the higher price tag at Remy’s might be the reason why).
Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class ships have plenty of specialty restaurants to choose from and getting a reservation is fairly easy once you’re on-board however because of the number of dining areas on these ships, dining times are limited for only a few hours a day or on specific days only (ie. non-port days).
Plan Port Days in Advance
Time ashore is limited, so you won’t want to waste any of it figuring out what to do. Have a plan of what places you’d like to see or activities you’d like to do prior to your cruise.
Research what excursions are offered by the cruise line and investigate whether going with a private tour company is better for your family. Here’s our suggestions for Nassau, Bahamas, St. Thomas, USVI and Key West, Florida — we’ll be adding more port posts soon.
When cruising with kids, we like to explore the port for 3 or 4 hours and then head back to the ship 1 to 2 hours before all aboard time.
This gives us a chance to grab a snack, play on the lido deck or take a nap before everyone else starts coming back.
Get the Travel and Cruise Essentials Ready
Traveling with children requires a bit of research and planning in advance. Below are a few of our top tips and travel essentials for families with little ones.
- Travel Tips for When Your Child is Potty-Training
- What to Pack for Formula and Bottle Fed Babies
- Affordable & Travel Friendly Beds for Babies and Toddlers
- Things to Pack for a Disney Cruise ← most of this list applies to any cruise line, not just Disney
Getting these things done before leaving home will allow you to switch to vacation mode as soon as you’re through security. You’ll deal with the credit card bills later! 😉