Should I book my own air?
Absolutely! Depending on where you live, you'll usually get a less expensive rate if you book your own. The exception may be if you need to fly to San Juan. You'll also be able select your own flight times, something that you will not be able to do if you let the cruise line do it. Cruise Lines are notorious for the lousy flight times that they give you.
How early a departure should I book?
It depends on the cruise line, but you are usually told be the cruise lines not to book your departure flight until at least 1PM. I've booked flights as early as 10:50AM and had no problem. Once I was actually in the airport by 9AM. I was able to change flights and flew out earlier. I would say noon is fine to be safe.
Should I use the cruise line's transfers?
I never do. The taxi rate from Miami airport to a Miami hotel or the port is a flat $24 for up to 4 people. The cruise line will charge you much more and will make you wait on a bus until it's full. Taxi is MUCH faster and easily accessible outside baggage claim. Same is true for Ft Lauderdale airport, only the taxi rate is less if going to the Ft Lauderdale port or hotels.
What if I fly into Ft Lauderdale and need to get to Miami?
If you fly into Ft Lauderdale and need to get to Miami hotels or port, the rate is $70 for up to 5 people in a Town Car (recommended) or $140 for 10 people in a van. This service is run by Florida Limo. They are outside baggage claim. You can reserve your return transportation to Ft Lauderdale airport with the driver at this time, and he will meet you at a designated time at the pier. If you go by taxi, the rate is about $80 each way, but a taxi won't be able to take 5 people and luggage.
If I go to the port of departure a day early, where do I stay?
There are several hotels in the city of Miami that offer great rates and are close to the port. If your departure is from Ft Lauderdale, the same is true. You can almost always get a very nice hotel room (3 star) for $50 up through Priceline.
What to do if I arrive a day early?
In Miami, if we arrive early enough, we prefer to use the hotel pool to relax and look forward to what is to come. Then off to Bayside Market Place for dinner and shopping. It's a short taxi ride from the downtown hotels. If you are staying in Ft Lauderdale, there is also shopping available.
Are there safes in the cabins?
Yes. Most, if not all modern cruise ships have safes in the cabins and are really safe. They either use a 4 digit combination or a swipe card.
Why book a guaranted category cabin?
Unless you specifically have to have a certain cabin or category, I suggest that you reserve a "guaranteed" cabin in a certain category (inside or outside). It costs the same as a confirmed cabin number, but with a guarantee, you have a chance to be upgraded at no charge. An example would be to book the minimum category that you would accept. If you book an inside cabin, you might be upgraded to a higher category inside cabin or possibly an outside cabin. I've done this twice and was upgraded both times to an outside cabin. You can't depend on this happening though. Sometimes you will receive no upgrade. You could also try booking an outside guaranteed cabin and hope for an upgrade to a balcony cabin. It does happen all the time, but don't be disappointed if it doesn't happen.
What if I booked a guarantee? How do I find out my cabin number?
If your cruise documents come and you have not been assigned a cabin, wait until a week or two before the cruse and call your agent to see if they can find out for you. Sometimes they can and sometimes not. On Princess Cruises, there is a web site that you can access to check on this yourself. Sometimes you don't actually find out until you arrive at the pier and they'll write your cabin number on your luggage tags. Don't sweat it. They do it very well every day.
What if I find out later that the price of the cruise has gone down?
I like to check a couple web sites every week or so to watch the rates. They won't reflect the discount that you received when you booked, but if you keep watching, you'll be able to see if the rates change at all. Sometimes different categories that you were not interested in before may change, so watch all of them. One example that I've seen and has happened to me is I was booked in a balcony cabin and while watching prices, I found that the next category cabin (A Suite) was selling for less that the category I had booked. The cruise lines often have specials on certain categories to fill them.
Should I reserve the cruise lines excursions?
It depends. The cruise lines hype the excursions that they offer, but they are usually priced more than you can do them yourself for. In many of the ports, taxi drivers will offer you a "tour". They'll tailor this tour to the things that you want to do and offer you a price. If you want to do shopping then the beach or anything else, the taxi driver will do it for you. Often they'll drop you off (beach or shopping) and pick you up later at a designated time with no money exchanged until the end of the day. You can almost always chew them down some, so don't take their first offer. The ship's tours may be more convenient, but are not necessarily a better value.
What time will I be able to get on the ship?
This depends on the cruise line. Most of the brochures say 1PM, but don't wait until then if you can help it. Often at that time, lines will be very long. They usually move fast, but a line is a line and I don't like them. On RCCI, I've been on the ship by 11AM. Get to the pier for RCCI at 10:30AM-11:00AM. On Princess and Carnival, try to be at the pier by 11:15AM - 11:30AM. The lines will start getting longer after this. They usually start boarding at noon.
Is it worth the extra money to book a balcony cabin?
A balcony cabin probably won't make or break your cruise. If you can afford one, by all means, go for it! They are great, but be warned. You may NEVER want to go on another cruise without one. I've had insides, outsides, and balconies. Balconies win, but I would never refuse to go on a cruise if I could only have an inside cabin. It's still a cruise.
How do I pay for everything on the ship?
When you check in at the pier, you will need a credit card. This card will be used to settle your account at the end of the cruise. You will then be issued a "Sail and Sign Card". This card will be used to buy everything on the ship. No cash is used at all on the ship except for casino donations, tips for room service, and for tips at the end of the cruise for your waiter, assistant waiter, and room steward. Bar service tips (15%) are automatically added to each purchase.
How much do the drinks cost on the ship?
Depending on the cruise line, drinks very in price. Bottled beer is around $4.25, and mixed drinks range from $5.95 up. Overall, drinks on most of the ships are not any more expensive than a nice restaurant would charge.
Which dining room seating to choose? Early or Late?
It all depends on your own preferences. Early seating is usually around 6PM and late seating is usually around 8:30PM. I prefer early seating. By the time you get done eating, it's usually time for the early show in the lounge. If you have late seating, the show may not start until 10:30PM. It's totally your own preference. Not a real disadvantage in whatever you choose.
Will there be a refrigerator in my cabin?
Most modern ships have them in every cabin and other ships only have them in the more expensive suites. Check your brochure. If you don't have a refrigerator in your cabin, no problem at all. Your room steward will keep your ice bucket full at all times.
I'm afraid of cruising during "hurricane season". What happens if there is one?
Out of 22 cruises, I've only cruised 4 or 5 times that wasn't during hurricane season. September is hurricane season, but is also during the time of year that you can get a better deal on your cruise. If there is a hurricane, say the Eastern Caribbean, the ship will go to the Western Caribbean and vise versa.
What if I am prone to motion sickness?
I've never had a problem with motion sickness on a cruise and there have been some rough waters during the 22 cruises that I've been on. If you are worried about it, you can get a prescription from a doctor for a sea sickness (scopolamine) patch. I usually see a few people on each cruise wearing them behind their ear. You can also buy over the counter a product called Bonine.
How much to tip at the end of the cruise?
Suggested tipping guidelines are $3.50 per person, per day, for your waiter and room steward. $2.50 per person per day for your assistant waiter. Total per couple for a seven day cruise with these guidelines would be $133. If someone did something special for you during the cruise you may want to give them something too.