Ever Been On A Cruise? I Really Need Advice, Please...

Lounge By butternut Updated 9 Mar 2010 , 1:14pm by butternut

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butternut Posted 3 Mar 2010 , 4:23pm
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Hello everyone. Ok, after talking about taking a cruise for decades, we have finally decided that it's time to plan one. (me and hubby) Unfortunately some of the "cruise" jargon is very confusing. We are contemplating a Caribbean cruise out of Fort Lauderdale Florida on the Emerald Princess (Princess cruiselines) There are two that we are looking at. Both are the same but the one that leaves the end of Aug is 500.00 more than one that leaves the first week in Sept. Not sure why such a difference in price (only two weeks difference). Anyway, we have no idea what to look for as far as types of rooms to choose (know we want a balcony) or which deck we should be looking at, front of the ship, back of the ship, middle, etc? Also, do you plan your excursions prior to your travel or is that done once you get to the islands? Believe it or not, I haven't found anyone in the biz to tell me this. Basically, any information or advice that anyone can offer would so greatly be appreciated. This is more than likely the only cruise we will ever take so I really want to do things right. Thank you sooooo much for anything you can offer. Have a great day!!

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Auryn Posted 3 Mar 2010 , 4:35pm
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I have never been on a cruise so I can only provide you advice from the perspective of someone who works in Fort Lauderdale and deal with a lot of cruise people.

If you can get the time off in Sept, take the sept one. The weather is the same (maybe a little milder) than august. August is more expensive because its peak tourist season.

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rosiecast Posted 3 Mar 2010 , 4:41pm
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Hi, and congrats on going on your cruise. On my very limited cruise taking experience I heard that you should plan on staying on the middle of the ship and the decks in the middle (as in height) so if there are 5 decks with rooms then you should stay on the 3rd deck.
As far as the excursions, when DH and I went on ours we played it by ear and got the excursions the day of or maybe the day before. You're on vacation so you might change your mind from one day to the next.

Have lots of fun!!!

BTW: have your bags packed and ready the night before you disembark the ship- it gets a little crazy because everyone just wants to go back home. LOL

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WendyB Posted 3 Mar 2010 , 4:59pm
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It is nice to decide your side trips each day ahead but you then risk them being sold out. Some very popular excursions can sell out quickly. If there is something you know you really want to do then buy it ahead.

FYI - we usually go on an excursion at every port (maybe 2 - depends on time) and $$ really add up. When you're planning your budget I'd recommend that you plan as much for your side trips as you do for the cruise/room.

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Chickycakes Posted 3 Mar 2010 , 5:21pm
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The one is September is probably "off season" and when people are busy with their kids are in school, etc, so less crowded which means cheaper! If you can go then, do it!
I went on one in January to the Grand Caymans and the weather is still gorgeous and warm.

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saffronica Posted 3 Mar 2010 , 5:22pm
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I've only been on one cruise, but here is what I learned:

1. Take the cheaper week. As mentioned before, it's the same cruise, but there just isn't as much demand because of the season. We got a great price on an off-season cruise; if we had gone a week later the price would have tripled.

2. Don't waste money on fancy staterooms; you probably won't spend much time in them anyway. I didn't miss having a window, even though I was one of the few who actually spent a lot of time in the room. Which brings me to my next point....

3. Make sure you have options for motion sickness medication if you think you might need it. I talked to my Dr. ahead of time and got a prescription...which ended up not working for me. And since I was pregnant I couldn't try other meds because I didn't know if they were safe for the baby. I've never paid that much to be that miserable in my life! Okay, enough whining from me....

4. You'll pay a lot more (likely double) for shore excursions through the cruise line than you will from locals when you get there. You do run some risks that way, but I've talked to people who have been on a lot of cruises, and they all said to just find excursions locally.

Have fun!

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butternut Posted 3 Mar 2010 , 10:12pm
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Thank you all so very much for your suggestions, and advice. I appreciate it more than each of you know. I got some really great advice here and we are now about ready to put down our deposit. I got more info from you guys than I have in a weeks worth of looking on the net or even talking to an agent. Thanks again for taking the time to help me out... You guys are really great!!!

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sadsmile Posted 3 Mar 2010 , 11:05pm
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You don't need the balcony as you likely won't be spending that much time in your room and the view from a balcony depending on where it is won't be that great anyhow unless it's one of the top of the line upper deck ones...$$$ Get off the boat your self and go find a taxi or a water cab and go have fun without the restrictions of a group with time limits. Research your destination now and print up you map and to do list. Everything you buy on board will be through you room credit so have a credit card already signed up. Take a small carry one with things you will need immediately as your luggage could be delayed in reaching your room and most likely will be set in front of your door out in the open... so no valuables in there. make sure you get to the Lido deck for the buffet meals or you'll have to order room service-which will not even ring or knock on your door if you leave the do not disturb sign on the hook...LOL We left that on so they wouldn't clean the room or go through our things. Do take your best dress up clothes for formal night- they won't let you dine in jeans and tank tops.. etc. Look at your cruises dress code. People will be dressed up to go to a club or a wedding or the prom. Find out what is on board and bring outfits for dancing or lounging. And most of all bring your smile, your patience and have a great time!

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lecrn Posted 3 Mar 2010 , 11:46pm
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We've only been on one cruise, but I may be able to offer a little advice:
Definitely go on the one in Sept! It will be cheaper and there will be less children @ that time, plus the weather will be cooler.
Most cruises charge extra for soda & alcohol. You can buy a beverage card, buy by the drink, or just drink the free water, juice, or tea.
The cruise that we went on offered 3 dining times for the evening meal. We waited too late to sign up & ended up eating @ 830pm. So, you may want to sign up early if possible. BTW, you will probably be seated @ a table full of strangers. I'm sure that there will be a buffet & grill options if you don't want to dine formally or want to eat @ another time.
Choose a cruise that doesn't have consecutive days @ sea. We had 2 full consecutive days (b/c a port was cancelled) & we were very bored.
You can pay for excursions through the cruise line, but they are expensive and the few that we did were very disappointing. You can go to trip advisor and look @ reviews of excursions that you can book independent of the cruise line. You are doing so at your own risk. I would not book one unless is was very reputable.
You may want to get a prescription for a scapolamine patch if you tend to get motion sick. You can also take some Dramamine (OTC). Neither my DH or I got sick. We rarely felt the boat move.
Please buy travelers insurance! It's only about $100 per person & it's so worth it! You never know what's going to happen. I'm speaking from experience when I say it's pretty horrible to get injured in a 3rd world country!

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Margieluvstobake Posted 4 Mar 2010 , 12:19am
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I've been on several cruises - mainly on Carnival. They own Princess also. If it doesn't make any difference to you, pick the cheaper week. Same cruise - less money. They alway charge more when the kids are out of school or during holidays. Balconys are great. I was in a balcony cabin on a cruise to Hawaii and it was fantastic. But they do cost a lot more. My DH and I always get the cheapest cabin on the ship now and spend our money on extras like excursions. We are only in there to sleep anyway. Normally the middle of the ship and lower down in the ship has the least movement.

You can probably go on the cruise lines website and look at all the excursions. They usually list the prices. If there is one that your really like you can purchase it in advance. There are advantages to purchasing thru the cruise line. Like if it is late coming back, they normally will wait for you. It will probably cost a little more than trying to hook up with something when you get off the ship. There is also a great website like this one except for cruising. wwwcruisecritic.com

It's not hosted by any cruiseline. It's just regular people on there that talk about cruises and excursions and anything else related to cruises. I love to cruise. My DH does also. You will have a great time.

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BlakesCakes Posted 4 Mar 2010 , 1:41am
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Take a look at the website cruisecritic.com It's the CC of cruising. Click on the Boards link and you can read for hours about Princess cruises and even find a link to the Roll Calls for both cruises.

Have fun--cruising is my favorite way to vacation.


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Ren715 Posted 4 Mar 2010 , 10:07am
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Hi Butternut,

I've been on many cruises and have lots of information to share with you.

First - go to this website: www.cruisemates.com. This site offers a wealth of information. It is broken down by cruise lines, destinations, etc. You will find valuable information on what excursions are good and which ones to avoid. What should you pack? Look to this site and you will know. Actually, anything you can think of you will find on this site. I used it extensively to gain knowledge.

Some considerations to pack include:
A power strip. Chances are that you will want to charge your cell phones, cameras, etc. and the outlets are limited in your cabin. This way you can charge everything in one place.
Bring Dramine pills (non/less drowsy formula) in case you get sea sick. We were on one cruise during a storm and the ship was rocking so much that everyone was walking like they were drunk. People were getting sick everywhere.
Downey Wrinkle Release - a must to bring. Irons are not allowed on board and this stuff literally removes wrinkles from your clothes (don't use on leather).
Binoculars we have some good quality traveling ones. Weve seen many a whale from our balcony.

Speaking about a balcony. Personally, I think it's worth it to get an outside cabin with a balcony. There is an in-between price for an obstructed view (you are right over the lifeboats). The only obstruction is that you can't see straight down. The cost is less and it is so much more enjoyable to relax on your balcony and watch the sea or the stars/moon. Sip a cup of coffee, tea or beverage of your choice. We love it! Its also wonderful to wake up in the morning in a new port and spend some time on your balcony taking in the sites. Our first cruise was in an inside cabin and we found it disturbing that you couldn't tell if it was day or night because the room is totally dark with the lights off. It really threw us off not knowing, especially in the morning...couldn't tell if it was still night time. Never again.

A cabin in the middle of the ship is desired. Less motion for you. Make sure it's not too close to elevators and check to see if it's above/below a public area like a night club, etc. so you don't get noise in your room.

Book your excursions before you cruise for the ones you absolutely know you want to take. The really popular ones fill up fast. For the ones that you are undecided on, they have a presentation on the first sea day that goes over all the excursions so you can get a flavor of what to expect.

Trip insurance - if you are cruising out of the country, make sure you get this but not through your travel agent or the cruise line. Shop around 3 good companies to compare are : Travel Guard,
Access America andTravelex. Don't think you don't need it. If you tip and break your leg and need to be air lifted to shore, it can cost you $50,000 or more. Also, your health insurance company may not cover you in foreign countries and these countries are not like the US, they require payment before treating you.

For the Caribbean or a humid place, bring along some moisture tabs (can be found in any sporting goods store in the diving section). I keep one in my camera bag to avoid moisture ruining my camera.

We love to cruise and after your first one, I will bet you will be planning your next one.

Let me know what ports your are going to...I may be able to help you with those.

Ive got a ton more advice but its 2am and Ive got to get to bed.


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michellenj Posted 4 Mar 2010 , 2:24pm
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I'm with Renee-a balcony is great to have. I've been on may cruises and allmost all of the cruise lines, and the balcony rooms are terrific. Princess is a great cruise line.

The more *desirable* staterooms are mid-ship on a higher deck, and when you book, you can either book and know your cabin number or book it as a "guarantee". That means that you won't know your room when you book, but they guarantee that you get the category room you booked, but very likely will be upgraded to a higher category.

I always get a book on the destinations and plan out my days on the islands myself. Certain places, you do NOT want to wander too far on your own. We had a very scary experience in Belize last year.

If you fly in to Fort Lauderdale and stay the evening before, research your hotel. I know some of them have free shuttles to the cruise terminal. We messed up and stayed at a hotel that did not, and it ended up spending like $80 to get there from the hotel.

Don't take too many dressy things. I always over pack and tell myself that the next time I am packing lighter.

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sadsmile Posted 4 Mar 2010 , 2:29pm
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OMG no NO no no... you do not want to use your cell phones or wireless lap tops while on or right near your ship. The ships have a tower that all communication are routed through and there is a huge fee for that. Your provider will be billed the ship charge which will be passed right on to you and adds an additional 7- 10 dollars a minute to your talk time and they round up. If you have roaming charges that will apply you will come back to a HUGE cell bill. One friend didn't know this and his daughter racked up a phone bill that over a thousand dollars. I have heard people talking about a couple phone calls of just a few minutes added up to hundreds of dollars. If you have that kind of money to burn then by all means don't worry about it, but if you are on a budget then be careful. We turned our cells off until we were a safe distance away from the ships.

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michellenj Posted 4 Mar 2010 , 2:39pm
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Very true! My uncle's fancy phone was automatically searching for emails or something on a ship, and it was a big bill.

Drinks are pretty expensive on the ship, and if you drink a lot of Diet Coke like I do, you can pay up front a dollar amount $30-40 for the week, for unlimited fountain bevs. At $2-3 per soda, it was a great deal for me.

A day or 2 into the cruise, they'll put big, fluffy beach towels in your room. Do not remove them from your room. They are hoping you'll take them somewhere and lose them, then they will charge you for them. If you go go to the beach, take one from up on the deck, which they don't keep track of.

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butternut Posted 4 Mar 2010 , 3:40pm
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WOW!! Such wonderful information. You all have been so great taking the time to share your experiences and offer advice. You've brought up things that I would have never even thought about. GREAT information and things to ponder. The cell phone and lap time information has me concerned. Hubby has to be able to contact employee from time to time. Hmmmm, really need to investigate this and figure out how to deal with this. Can't afford to come back to a huge bill. Thanks so much for bringing that up..
Thanks also for the websites. I haven't gone to them yet but certainly plan to as soon as I get through with my morning work. I want to be able to have time to really get into them. Wow, this is really great....
Another thing that we're a bit confused about is what restaurants aboard the ship are included in the cruise fee and which ones do you have to pay? Are meals that you order (room service) all part of the initial price or are there charges for them. I think that we have decided to pay the "gratuity" up front. I think that cost will be around 150.00 for both of us. So, does this take care of all the tipping that we would normally give? I'm so glad that the subject of soft drinks was brought up. I like my diet cokes but will probably opt for drinking iced tea most of the time to avoid spending too much money on sodas.
Thanks for bringing up the travel insurance. Yes, we definitely need to check that out. Ya just never know what could happen and need to have a plan in place "just in case".
Thanks again everyone. You've all been such a great help!!

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deb12g Posted 4 Mar 2010 , 4:26pm
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September rates are cheaper because it's the beginning of the height of hurricane season. We had one booked the year Katrina hit..........Needless to say, no cruise. I was upset because I had booked 4 rooms through my credit card, had paid that out as soon as charges were made, and they would only give money back by crediting my credit card. Needless to day, everything I bought for a VERY long time I charged to my credit card to use up the credit.

When the cruise was cancelled, not all of us were called. It was cancelled on Saturday, and cruise was leaving on Monday morning. Had I not called, I would not have known.

We haven't booked again since, but I'd love to try again!!

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butternut Posted 4 Mar 2010 , 5:04pm
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Thanks deb12g
Geeez, I'm so sorry to hear that. I can only imagine how disappointed everyone was. As for the money credited back to your credit card, that must have really been upsetting. Looks like in a situation like this, with your credit card already being paid off, the cruiselines would be able to give you back your refund in the way of a check or something. Also, did you ask if you could get a refund on the credit balance on your credit card? Just wondering if that could be an option. I hope that you plan another cruise and this time, everything goes smoothly and you thoroughly enjoy yourself....

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VannaD Posted 4 Mar 2010 , 5:11pm
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We are taking a cruise in April through carnival, our 1st. Ive been scowering (sp?) the internet and found many websites too, a good one is seauonboard.com, I cant remember if it just talks about carnvial, but you could check into it. As far as your soda woahs, Carnival allows you to take on a "reasonable amount" of soda, water and alcohol, if you dont want to purchase them onboard, so you may want to look into that with your cruiseline. Someone on one of the cruise forums mentioned buying an international phone card, to use while at sea or you could call your cell provider and find out about international rates. Thats all I can think of now, good luck! Oh as far as excursions, if you book through your cruisline, they will hold the boat if you are late getting back. If you go out on your own and get lost, lose track of time, or whatever, the boat will leave you, they have a schedule, and from what i understand they stick to it.

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sadsmile Posted 4 Mar 2010 , 5:49pm
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Most cruises if not all have the food all inclusive(meaning you walk up take/order what food you like and enjoy), some include a certain number of drinks and some include drink cards for alcoholic beverages and then once you use those up you have to purchase. It just depends on the inclusive package on your cruise. I didn't see anyone tipping the wait staff on the cruise I went on, but they were tipping the bar staff. I saw some people ordering double appetizers and double entrees and there wasn't ever a bill for food at our table or buffet. Just show up when the food is ready.

Ah... no bottles of soda and drinks they will be discarded at the scan of your luggage. And they may revoke your boarding pass because of it. They don't want trouble makers aboard. They want you to buy theirs. Absolutely no outside alcohol is permitted, you may purchase alcohol but it must remain unopened and the porter will have it stored for you and you will pay taxes on it when you get back to port here and then you get it and take it home. Same with buying on the ship.. it's cheaper, but you have to pay taxes when you get to port.
Our shore excursion officers warned not to be late for the returning transport because they couldn't hold it or the boat and had to keep on schedule. You can always find your own transportation anyhow, just research it a little before you go and allow plenty of time to return.

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sadsmile Posted 4 Mar 2010 , 7:40pm
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Buy your preferred brand of sunscreen/oil/ tanning lotion now and pack it along with some aloe vera/moisturizer. Sure the ship and your destination will have that stuff but it's double the price or more and may not be the brand you like. And always pick comfortable shoes over fashionable sandals you haven't worn before for your outings... talk about blisters! Buy those cute shoes now and break them in or forget about them.

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Margieluvstobake Posted 4 Mar 2010 , 7:55pm
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You also might consider taking along bug repellant if you are going on an excursion that will take you in any forested areas or on any hikes. As Sarah said, you don't want to have to buy anything like this on the ship. It is very expensive.

Also on the note about taking alcohol onboard with you, I know Carnival will let you bring on a bottle of wine, but bottles of whiskey etc they will not allow. Check with your cruise line.

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butternut Posted 4 Mar 2010 , 8:16pm
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Great ideas everyone. I bet I wouldn't have even thought about bug spray. Yeah, I'm sure all this stuff is sky high onboard and at the ports. I can see now I'm gonna have a suitcase full of all of these things. icon_lol.gif We're checking now with our phone company about internet/phone options while at sea and at port. Boy, this stuff is confusing. What makes it worse is that we've talked to 3 different people and guess what? Yep, 3 different answers. Amazing... Hopefully between now and the time we actually go, we'll get at least two people who agree with each other..... lol
Oh yes, comfortable shoes. Learned that the hard way icon_redface.gif No cutsie, new shoes for me. lol Just looked on the websites that you guys suggested and they are FANTASTIC!!! WOWIE, lots of great information. As soon as I take another break, I'm gonna go back to them. Thank you soooooo much!!

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sadsmile Posted 4 Mar 2010 , 8:22pm
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The thing with the phones is that your calls and such are routed through the ships sate light so it doesn't matter your coverage when your on and near the ship it will automatically be snatched by their tower. But if you can coverage at your destination then you can use that stuff regularly once there and away from any ships.

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Ren715 Posted 4 Mar 2010 , 8:52pm
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Yes don't use your cell phone while on the ship but certain ports like St Thomas may be on your cell phone plane. Check with the ship, but once you are docked in a port, you are back to using your own cell provider. Also, after a week on the ship your phones will be dead and will need charging. I don't like to charge my electronics all over the room--- to easy to overlook something when leaving. Camera, video recorder, cell phones, shaver, portable DVD player, iPod...too much stuff. We always bring a power strip.

Dining - when you get on the ship go to the dining room to check your seating. If you don't like the location, that is the time to speak with the maitre d. We love a window view and also a big table so we can socialize. I prefer the early dining but that's us. As for food, if you want 2 different appetizers, order both ( or 3). You may also order more than 1 dinner. To help control your weight, use the stairs on the ship as much as possible, and walk, walk, walk.

Luggage - your luggage will be brought to your room sometimes as late as 10 or 11 pm. I always keep a wheeled carry on with me with stuff we need so I'm not inconvenienced. You will have your room early but don't count on your luggage. I once had a piece come the next day. I always overpack and my family just accepts it.

Every night you will get an itinerary of the ship' s activities for the next day. Read it...there are many fun things to do or watch.

If you are flying to your port, I suggest getting in a day before and staying at a hotel that offers service to the docks. Plane trouble or bad weather can delay you-- why take the chance? Cruisemates.com has many reviews about hotels and people on the site are always happy to help.

Michellenj is right about going out on your own in certain ports. We had one of our best excersions in Belize (went cave tubing...so much fun) but would NEVER enter the city by ourselves. Other ports like st Thomas are okay.


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michellenj Posted 4 Mar 2010 , 9:01pm
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A couple of things:

-I am certainly not telling you to do this, but every single cruise I have ever been on, we have snuck on alcohol. When we went to Bermuda, my husband and his friends brought on an entire golf bag full of cans of beer. The thing mush have weighed 300#! icon_lol.gif We just stick the bottle in our suitcase.

-regarding tips-you will be given envelopes for each of the people you need to tip. Give them cash in that envelope the last night of the cruise. I can't remember if Princess gives the option of automatically charging the tops to your card so you don't have to worrry about all that cash, and divvying it up. Your cruise docs will have info about the restaurants that are an additional charge. Trust me, they will make sure that you pay everyone everything they deserve.

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michellenj Posted 4 Mar 2010 , 9:05pm
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OMG-one more thing-TAKE IMMODIUM WITH YOU. Also, a book or 2.

My family and I all got the Norovirus on the Freedom of the Seas, were puking and pooping our brains out, and the ship quarantined us to our rooms. The doctors really didn't even have medicine to give to us, and they ran out of Gatorade.

I'm sure you wn't get anything, but better safe than sorry.

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Ren715 Posted 4 Mar 2010 , 10:00pm
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Oh, I forgot one more thing.

Photos: I'm sure you will purchase some of the photos. They are taken at every port when you leave the ship, while you are dining and, during the 1 or 2 formal nights they have areas that you can go to and have your picture taken in different settings. These come out great and we always end up purchasing them. But...how to get them home without wrinkles? For that I always pack something stiff (it can be 2 pieces of heavy cardboard or a large leather day planner, etc.). This way you get to bring home your beautiful photos without creases.

Tips and money - Except for the casino, cash is not used on the ship. Check your TV every night for your tab...it can add up fast and you don't want a big surprise on your last day. Chances are that you will give your credit card for these purchases although some people do give their bank/debit cards. If you give a debit card, be aware that they take a big chunk of money out of it for a deposit which can deplete your funds for other things. I've heard lots of people get upset at that. We always use our credit card. You can add your tip on your card. The days of putting cash in the envelopes is really gone.

I'm so excited for you. Cruising is loads of fun. Dancing, comedy shows, big theatre productions, high tea, games, contests, swimming, buffets, etc....there's always something going on.

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Margieluvstobake Posted 5 Mar 2010 , 3:52am
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Yep, Ren is right. There is always something going on...Ice carving, eating, putt putt, eating, bingo, eating, trivia games, eating, hot tubs, eating.... Yes indeed, always something going on.

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butternut Posted 5 Mar 2010 , 2:15pm
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Oh Wow, more great suggestions. You guys really are the BEST!!
Sarah - I'm so glad that you talked about the cell phone charges onboard. We did finally get it straight exactly what the charges would be. It took the entire day to get the correct answers to our questions but we finally have in writing what the exact charges are along with information on texts and emails. Thanks again for bringing that subject up.
Michelle - OMG, I am so sorry to hear of your illness aboard ship with the norovirus. Oh, that must have been absolutely horrible!! Yes, good idea, taking immodium with me. Ya just never know, I guess.
Oh, cans of beer in a golf bag, huh? Too funny. We did inquire with the cruise lines and were told that you could bring onboard one bottle of wine per person and keep that in your state room. I'm thinking that it would be alright to purchase soft drinks (6 pks) on shore and bring back to your state room but I guess we'll have to check to make sure. Don't wanna get our hands slapped icon_lol.gif
Renee - Oh wow, GREAT,GREAT GREAT idea about bringing something that you can safely place a picture in to keep it from getting messed up. I absolutely would not have thought of that. I've already wrote myself a note to take something. Thanks so much for that suggestion.
Margie - I think eating might just be one of the main things we do. I mean after all, if you have food in front of you and you know you've already paid for it, it's gonna be hard to walk by it. icon_lol.gif I've got a feeling that I'm gonna have to walk, walk, walk to balance out all those extra calories..
Oh, I would love to see someone carving ice. That would be so cool.I haven't played putt putt in years so that too would be fun...
Vanna - I bet you're gettin excited about your upcoming cruise too. I haven't had much time to check out the website you mentioned but plan on doing that this afternoon. Thanks so much for that. I so hope you have a wonderful time on your cruise.
Thanks so much everyone!!

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