Woman with suitcase iStock.com / Tinatin1 | What to know before you go

10 Things To Do Before You Board

by Gayle Keck | February 10, 2016

When it comes to preparing for a cruise vacation, focusing a little extra effort on certain details before you board goes a long way. But don't worry — it's not that much additional work. Just follow our 10-step, commonsense checklist in advance, and then let the carefree cruising commence.

1. Make sure you have an up-to-date passport.

Passports aren't always required, but it's a good idea to have one any time you cruise. Make sure yours is valid for at least six months, because many countries won't let you enter if your passport is due to expire soon.

2. Check if visas are required.

Your cruise line should tell you if you need visas for any foreign countries where your ship calls.

3. Consider buying travel insurance.

If you decide travel insurance makes sense for you, cruise lines offer policies, or you can buy them independently. Read your coverage limitations carefully and bring along the contact number in case of emergency.

4. Pack your credit card and ATM card.

A crew member will run your credit card when you board to set up an account for onboard expenses; an ATM card will come in handy if you need to withdraw local currency.

5. Get an international phone plan.

Your cell phone won't work at sea, but if you want to make calls while ashore in a foreign country, you'll likely need to activate an international plan through your carrier. For connecting on board — and abroad — check out our guide to how to use your phone while you’re sailing.

6. Set dinner plans.

If your ship has timed seatings, you may be able to choose yours in advance. And if it has specialty restaurants, you can often get a jump on other passengers by making your dinner reservations prior to boarding.

7. Check the ship's beverage policy.

Some cruise lines allow you to bring certain types of beverages on board — but policies vary widely, so be sure to confirm them in advance. You may want to purchase an unlimited plan for beer, wine, cocktails, or soft drinks. 

8. Book must-do shore excursions and spa treatments.

These are popular and can sell out quickly, so sign up in advance to avoid disappointment. If you plan to organize your own tour or join an independent one, set it up before your vacation, because communicating from the ship isn't always easy. In addition, a lot of passengers like to spend time in the spa on sea days, so book treatments well in advance.

9. Attach luggage tags to all bags. 

Print these out or use the provided tags on any bags you'll be dropping off for the crew to load. Just keep your passport, medications, valuables — and anything else you'll need right away — in your hand luggage.

10. Confirm Ground Transfers

Figure out how you're getting to the ship: Does your cruise line provide transfers or do you need to arrange them yourself? If the latter, make sure you know where the ship is docked!

Gayle Keck

Gayle Keck is a San Francisco-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times.

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