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The Ultimate Cruise Checklist

by Fran Golden | June 30, 2016

A cruise is one of the most all-inclusive vacations you can book — your fare includes accommodations, entertainment, and meals, not to mention transportation between ports. (No need to get a train pass or rent a car on this trip!) However, while you can just book a cruise, buy plane tickets, and show up on embarkation day, you’re more likely to have a rewarding vacation — and, let’s be honest, get everything you want — if you put a little more time and effort into planning ahead. Here, a thorough cruise checklist with everything you need to do after you book your cruise to prepare for your best vacation ever. 

1. Get your documents in order.
Find your passport and check the expiration date. (It must have at least six months left on it when you go, so if it doesn’t, you should mail it out for expedited renewal immediately.) You don’t want to get to the for your cruise pier and then be turned away because you don’t have proper documents.

In addition, if you’re sailing with a child who has a different last name — even if you are one of the parents — ask the parent with the same last name to write you a permission slip. One more thing: Pregnant women need a note from their doctors that their due date is not after the cruise line’s cutoff for travel. 

2. Determine if you need travel insurance. 
Don’t just take the pricey insurance offered by the cruise line. Research your options on websites, such as squaremouth.com. You may find you can save big bucks. If you have health issues, or a relative with health issues, or you are traveling during hurricane season, be sure to read the fine print. 

3. Set a budget.
Plan for extra charges beyond your cruise fare — including alcohol, souvenirs, and gratuities. This is key, as you don’t want to be in shock at the end of your cruise when you see your final bill.

4. Book hotel rooms.
You will most likely want to arrive the day before you cruise, and if you want to see your disembarkation port thoroughly you should also book a hotel night at the end of your cruise. Be aware that there may be advantages to booking your hotel through the cruise line, since packages typically include transfers, breakfast, and sometimes even a city tour.

5. Make onboard reservations.
Make reservations for anything you can book in advance on the ship, including specialty dining, spa treatments, salon appointments, and cabanas. This will save you hassles once you are on board, and assure you get your first choices.

6. Book your shore excursions.
Do some research about what’s available in the various ports of call during your cruise and prebook shore excursions that interest you. If you’re planning a DIY approach in a port, look carefully at transportation options and make reservations for stuff you really want to do (such as dining at a “hot” restaurant).

7. Notify the line of special requests.
Contact the cruise line with any special requests — such as food allergies, dietary restrictions (including gluten-free or Kosher meals). It’s important to do this in advance and to remind the crew of your needs once shipboard.

Fran Golden

Fran Golden is a Cleveland-based contributor to ShermansCruise who also writes for USA Today.

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