General Cruise Tips
Tour Guides vs. Tour Drivers
For those of you who might be booking private tours in Europe for the first time, a little clarification might help avoid any later confusion. A tour driver and a tour guide are not the same. It is to your advantage when booking a private tour to be sure that you understand the difference and know in advance what you are paying for. A tour guide has a license, usually issued by the state / country. He or she has attended school to learn all about the sites you will see. A guide is permitted to go into the historical sites with you and tell you about the history. In some cases, but not all, the guide does not do the driving, so you also pay for a driver. Naturally, the guide’s services will cost more.
A tour driver is not licensed, has not attended "guide" school, and is not permitted inside the site to tell you about the history. Naturally, their services will be more economical. Many drivers are just as well versed in the area history as the guides. The difference of course is that they have to tell you the facts before you go inside. It is also important to know if your driver speaks your language, as some do not or are not fluent.
Mike and I have used both, and we have had some excellent results using drivers, as well as guides. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using a driver instead of an official guide. Just know what you are paying for in advance so you won’t expect something different.
Although we give you contact information in our reviews, we urge you to visit the websites of each guide / driver and read exactly what they do and do not offer before you book. Do your homework.
Identification and Credit Cards:
Make two copies of your passport(s). One copy is to give to someone back home; the second copy is to carry on your person while in ports. Your original passport should be kept in the safe in your cabin, unless you are in a country that requires you to take the real passport ashore.
Also copy your credit card numbers and the international numbers to call if they are lost / stolen. Leave these copies in your safe onboard.
BUT, do not pack any of the copies in your suitcase because if someone else goes into your suitcase or it is lost in transit, you’re up a creek and your identity would belong to the thief.
Before you leave home, call your credit card companies in advance to let them know you are cruising and to expect charges from the following countries …… doing this will prevent fraud alerts being placed on your card, which prevents your using it. Do the same for your ATM card.
Many foreign machines won't accept your ATM card if your password is not four numbers. Also make sure that your password does not start with a zero.
Each ship publishes its own daily paper (Princess Patter, RCI Compass, Celebrity Today, etc.). It will arrive at your cabin each night before you retire. In the "newspaper" you will find a schedule of activities that are offered onboard the next day/night, port information, as well as the dress code for the next evening. This paper should become an essential part of your planning.
Also in the newspaper you will find contact information for the ship representative in that particular day's port. I didn't really understand why I would ever need to know that until one day in Santorini. Some friends of ours had rented a car. They had a wreck, but weren't hurt. However, they were in a country where they didn't speak nor read Greek. Luckily, she had clipped the port representative's info and stuck it in her purse. They were able to contact him and he translated for them and notified the ship.
The most important thing to do is to keep up with your expenses day by day. Pack a notebook, calculator, pencil, and a one quart sized baggie. After you get onboard, designate one of the little drawers in the desk as the "receipt drawer". Do not put anything in that drawer except your notebook, calculator, pencil, baggie, and every single receipt you get. Nag your spouse and make sure he/she tosses all receipts into the drawer. You will be surprised at how easily this will become a habit.
Every single day, religiously, write in your notebook, every single thing you bought. It only takes a couple of minutes, so keep a running total, and keep it divided into onboard and off board expenses. After you write a receipt down, put a check mark on the receipt and put it into the baggie. Yes, you can check the official running bill on your cabin TV; but it’s better if you write it down. Not only does this practice help you control your spending, it also makes it easy for you to check over your printed bill at the end of the cruise. Also, the ship’s bill doesn’t include what you spent on land.
Don’t be bashful about asking if there is a charge for something. For example, at the buffet they bring around wine and ask if you would care for any. They don’t mention that it’s not free until after you take it. (At the Captain’s reception is about the only time I can think of that the drinks they carry around are free.)
Watch out for the bartender bringing around little shot drinks in souvenir glasses near the end of dinner. These are almost $7 a piece and that can mount up very fast.
Remember that a 15% gratuity is always added to the total cost of drinks, so an additional tip is appreciated, but not necessary.
Photos are a big pitfall. They are so tempting, but are very expensive. On formal night, have a friend stand in back of the photographer and take your picture while the "pro" is taking it. Don’t buy any photos until at least toward the end of the cruise. As they put them out, gather yours up and stack them together toward the end of the display. Each night, add the new ones to the stack. You can’t take them with you, and the stack will be moved over, but at least they are all together. Then toward the end of the cruise, you can decide how much money you want to spend on pictures and which ones are really worth it.
Ginger pills are an excellent alternative to patches. They can be bought at any health food / vitamin store. I have used them, and had very good results. The TV show "Myth Busters" did a show on seasickness and recommended the ginger pills.
We also use a product called a ReliefBand. This is not the same thing as a wrist band. It looks like this:
You can go to Relief Band and read all about it. Of all of the great features, the one I like best is that I can use it after I start to feel nauseous, so I don’t have to wear it all the time I’m cruising. The pills and patches have to be used before you feel queasy, and the wrist bands have to be worn all the time.
Since it is not a drug, you can start to feel results within minutes, and it doesn't have drug side effects, like headaches, dizziness, or drowsiness. You can eat and drink anything while you're wearing it, including alcohol. It is so safe that it can even be used by pregnant women.
This is how the website describes how it works: "Usually, without you even knowing it, your stomach muscles have a gentle rhythm of contraction. When you experience nausea, this rhythm becomes erratic. The ReliefBand® uses mild electrical stimulation of the median nerve, located on the underside of your wrist, to send a message through the brain that can make the stomach rhythm return to normal."
The bands are not inexpensive and you can use products that are cheaper; but you get what you pay for! Older versions use replaceable batteries; but the new ones have non-replaceable ones that last for approximately 120 hours of use. Pills and patches have expiration dates, and wrist bands are just ugly.
BTW, I do not have any connection whatsoever with this company. I just love their product. Online, the best price we have found for Relief Bands was at Drugstore.com
Getting Around the Ship:
On most ships, inside the desk folder along with ship stationery, you will find a small pocketsize map of the ship. If you need another copy, you can get one at the purser’s desk. Carry it with you the first couple of days onboard.
On many ships, the Port and Starboard carpets will be different colors or have a different trim so you’ll know which way to turn when you get off the elevator looking for your cabin.
In the Cabin:
The coat hangers onboard are nice wooden ones that take up too much room in the closet. I put the wooden ones under the couch or bed, and use wire ones that I bring with me. After the cruise, I just leave the cheap wire ones onboard. If you don’t want to bring them with you, the room steward will have some, but never enough for me. You’ll be surprised how much more room you’ll have in the closet with wire hangers.
Pack a power strip to take with you, as there are only a few outlets in the cabin. If you take your laptop, digital camera, battery charger, and other items that need to be plugged in, this will come in handy.
Take a small flashlight. At sea, there are no streetlights to illuminate a pitch black cabin! I have a purse size flashlight that I keep by the bed. Put a washcloth under it to keep it from rolling at night. I usually take a nightlight also to put in the bathroom, but some ships don't have an outlet you can use.
Bring air freshener for the bathroom.
Bring at least four clothes pins. These serve two purposes. First you can use them to hang wet swim suits on the line in the bathroom. Secondly, you can use them to pin the curtains together at night so you don't get sunlight peeping in and waking you up in the morning.
A word of warning for any newbies to Europe. If booking your own hotel, be sure that you check the hotel's amenities before you book. Things that we take for granted here in the U.S. may not be the "usual" in Europe. While doing my research, I found a great sounding hotel that overlooks San Marco Square in Venice. First clue --- the rate was almost reasonable! Then I looked at the list of amenities, and every single one of them was checked No. There is no AC, no TV, no private bathroom, etc., etc.! Just a heads up. Location, location doesn’t mean everything every time!
Pack clothes in each other’s suitcases. That way, if one suitcase gets lost, no one is completely out of everything. Also try to pack at least one change of clothes in the carry-on.
Ladies, go to http://whizzy4you.com/. They are great!
Take some self-stick address labels for the tags you have to put on your suitcases for disembarkation. Also write your home phone # on them before you leave home. Then just peel them off and put them on the luggage tags. This saves time at the end of the cruise when you have to pack, and there are a thousand other things you would rather be doing!
Take a change of clothes and a swimsuit in your carry-on bag so that you will not have to wait for your luggage to arrive.
Use a rack hanger for your slacks.
Pack a pop-up hamper for dirty clothes. That way you are not constantly trying to shove the dirty stuff in the suitcase under the bed. If your ship has a self serve laundry, you can use the hamper to transport your dirty clothes.
Extra zip lock bags come in handy for wet swimsuits on the last day, things the kids collect, snacks on excursions, oozing sun screen etc...
If you plan to spend several of the days at the beach, you might want to pack a collapsible ice chest (Wal-mart) to use.
If you plan on snorkeling, be sure to get your underwater disposable cameras before leaving home. They’re much cheaper that way.
Leave the beach towels at home. The cruise line will provide them for your use.
Take some plastic clothespins. Things dry a lot more quickly hanging with clips than folded over a line.
When you pack your clothes, use plastic laundry bags or tissue paper between the layers. Keeps your clothes from getting extremely wrinkled.
Watch the time and go get your life vests about 10-15 minutes beforehand and carry it around. When the drill starts they turn off the elevators. Depending on what deck your cabin is on, you could have a lot of stairs to climb. Your lifeboat station is posted on the back of your cabin door. It’s a good idea to go to your station early so you can get a seat and order a drink. Once the drill call sounds, drinks are no longer served, and the seats fill up very fast.
I like to print business cards with my home address and e-mail on it to have to pass out to those people I wish to stay in contact with. It saves scrambling for a napkin or something to write on the last day of the cruise. I also put our pictures on them so that people can put a face to the name.
Print out a short medical history, such as allergies or medical problems you have, just in case something happens. All of the important information is right there. Bring copies of your prescriptions. My son works in an ER, and he says that people can’t remember important info during a stressful situation.
Space Bags (where you suck the air out of the bags with a vacuum cleaner) work wonders with packing. If TSA opens your luggage, nothing will get lost because everything is in bags. The room steward will let you borrow a vacuum cleaner to use before you pack for home.
Room Service is free to order, but be sure to tip at least $1-5.
Check your table assignment immediately so you will know what area you will be in the first night and avoid all the confusion. Also, if you have been stuck in a bad location, you can request a change right away. Your seating assignment will be on your cruise card or in your cabin.
As a courtesy to others assigned to your table for dinner, please be on time; and if you're not going to be there, advise the waiter the night before. Most waiters will wait until the whole table is seated before taking orders.
Book specialty restaurants as soon as possible to get the night and time you want. The restaurant hostess will know when formal nights are scheduled, as well as what is on the menu in the main dining room each night. She/He can help you decide if there is a particular night when you’ll wish to avoid the main dining room.
When you are dining in the specialty restaurants, don't just tip your servers and wine steward; tip your host or hostess as well, (the ones that seat you). They are really dining room managers and have a lot to do with your dining experience. On a ship, they rarely get cash tips and they really deserve and appreciate it.
You can order anything on the dining room menus thru room service.
Always wear your tighter outfits early on in the cruise and save the roomier ones for later.
This is my personal packing checklist. Bear in mind that this is one I use on both land trips and cruises, hot and cold locations, by plane, car, and by ship. Therefore, you have to pick and choose what is appropriate for your use. You will NOT want to take everything on this list.
First Aid Kit
Ibuprofen / aspirin
sinus nasal spray
brush / comb
can of air-freshener
hair dryer (theirs is weak)
hand / body lotion
nail file & clippers
nail scrub brush
2 or 3 swim suits & cover up
aloe vera lotion
beach bag or tote
coat hanger w/ clips to hang swim suits up to dry
collapsible ice chest
snorkel, mask, t-shirt
sun visor / hats
sunglasses + extra pair
In cabin use
your address book
battery alarm clock
hi-liter pens in two colors
journal & pens
over the door shoe bag
zip lock bags
Swarovski price list
cameras & lens, battery chargers, extra batteries, camera flash cards,
camera cables to attach to TV or to download
empty thermos water bottle
Equal & Sweet n' Low
jewelry & tux studs
lg. manila envelope w/ cardboard to bring back photos safely
poncho & umbrella
spare pair Rx glasses
On Board Plane
magazine / book
nuts / snacks
socks or slippers
toilet seats & wipes
take AARP and AAA cards for entrance fee discounts
copy of credit cards, back & front
copy of passport information
Put colored ribbons on suitcase to identify
travel books and papers
Itinerary with scheduled excursions. If private tours, include agreed upon prices and contact info, meeting times, etc. Hotel info with addresses, prices and contacts.
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