BEFORE YOU GO
[ Cruise Documents ] [ Identification ] [ Booking Air ] [ Packing ]
[ Transfers to the Pier ] [ Driving to the Pier ]
- You will get your cruise documents mailed to you a few weeks before you are to leave.
- Fill out the pre-boarding documentation as stated in the packet. Many times, you can also do this online a few days ahead of time on the cruiseline's website. This will expedite your boarding process once you get to the pier, and many times you get to go to a special, shorter line. If you don't do it ahead of time, you will wait longer at the pier and be trying to fumble around with this at the last minute.
- YOU MUST READ the entire booklet of documents, as they contain very important instructions and "fine print" of your cruise vacation.
- Use the provided luggage tags. These are color-coded and make it easier for the ship staff to get your luggage to your assigned stateroom.
Passports will be REQUIRED for cruise passengers to most ports-of-call, beginning in December 2006. This includes the Canada, Caribbean and Mexico. I highly suggest obtaining one even if it's not required, as it simplifies the identification process. Please go to TRAVELER INFO. for details on obtaining a passport. If you need a passport within a month, you can pay extra to expedite. If you are cruising prior to December 2006, you need proof of citizenship (birth certificate) AND a photo ID. In this post-9/11 world, you will not be allowed to board the ship under any circumstances without both forms of ID. I have personally seen this happen-- the cruise lines do not have any control over this. It is completely in the hands of the US Customs Authorities and Homeland Security.
I will be honest here-- although the cruise lines do offer air as part of the cruise package, almost always it is less expensive to book it seperately. (Cruises By Kate will do this for you at no extra cost!) One more consideration is the fact you are at the mercy of the cruiseline when it comes to flight times and connections. The only time I may advocate buying the cruiseline's air is when the port of embarkation is different from where the cruise ends. This happens often on Alaska itineraries. I also may suggest the cruise air for more unusual ports of embarkation such as Asia, South America, Australia, etc.
- If leaving from the Port of Miami, consider flying into Ft. Lauderdale and taking a shuttle or purchasing transfers to Miami. It may be less expensive.
- In winter, you may want to consider arriving at the port the night before for peace of mind. Another benefit is that you will probably get on the ship faster by beating the rush.
- When considering departure flight times, realize that although your ship may state it arrives back in port at 7 AM, it may be several hours before you actually are allowed off. This is because no-one is allowed off the ship until it has been cleared by US Customs. Even then, once the ship has been cleared, you must wait to leave the ship until called by group. (See DEPARTURE for more details.) Lastly, you have to take into account the time it takes to get to the airport. Remember that many other ships are arriving at the same time, so there will be a mad dash to the airport all at once. My advice is not to schedule your departure flight time until at least 4 1/2 hrs after the scheduled port arrival time.
For a printable complete packing list, please go to Packing List
[ PACKING and CRUISE CHECKLIST ]
Below I will address the dress codes, as this requires some explanation.
- You will not get your luggage right away as you board the ship. Sometimes it won't be dropped off at your stateroom until a few hours after setting sail. That said, you might want to have a carry-on packed with essential items you might need before you receive your luggage.
- Most mainstream ships have at least one "formal" night per cruise held in their main dining room. Cruises of 3-5 nights generally have one formal night, cruises of seven nights have two, and cruises of 10-12 nights have three or more. Even if you do not eat often in the ship's main dining room, you might want to experience the formal nights. The formal night is where they "pull out all the stops." Examples include lobster, filet mignon, rack of lamb, etc. Dining room dress on the other nights ranges from "casual" to "casual elegant." Remember though, casual never means jeans or shorts at dinner in the main dining room. Of course, if this isn't your style, the bigger ships have plenty of other dining options where you may dress as you like.
- Men: For formal nights, a suit is fine unless you're on a luxury cruise. (Then a tux is a must.) If you do wish to wear a tux to your formal night, the ship will offer a tux rental onboard. Casual means khakis and a polo or something similar. Casual elegant could mean khakis with a sport jacket, or more dressy pants and shirt like what you'd wear to a nightclub if you're a younger guy.
- Women: For formal nights, a gown, fancy cocktail dress or pants suit is in order. Casual means anything but jeans or shorts. Casual Elegant requires something like a nicer sundress or dressy pants ensemble. The public areas and dining rooms often crank up the airconditioning, so have a sweater or wrap on hand.
TRANSFERS TO THE PIER
If you book your air seperately, you will need to figure out how you plan on getting to and from the pier. Most of the time you can purchase transfers from the cruiseline; meaning they will meet you at the airport, take your luggage, and bus you to the pier. Downside is that you are at the mercy of the cruiseline's schedule, possibly with wait times, and on a bus with many people. The alternatives are to take a cab (easiest but most expensive) or shuttle service. (Cruises By Kate can provide you with shuttle info). If you're staying at a hotel the night before sometimes they will shuttle you to the pier. In any case, when arranging your own transfer you have to manage your own luggage until arriving at the pier.
DRIVING TO THE PIER
If you live near enough to your port of embarkation, remember to leave enough time for parking and weather/traffic delays. If you live more than 2 1/2 hours away, I highly suggest you arrive the night before and stay in a nearby hotel. Cruises By Kate can suggest some ideal choices. You can find parking and directions to the pier by asking your travel professional (Cruises By Kate) or looking it up online. Sometimes the parking fees can be steep, so be prepared.