Whether you are a newbie to the exciting world of cruising, or are a seasoned traveler, there are a lot of things to consider when taking the plunge! I hope you enjoy the series of articles on cruising. While I don’t claim to be an expert, my husband and I have been on about 35 cruises and several more are booked.

Those of us lucky enough to live in Florida have access to a variety of cruise lines, ships and exotic destinations. Florida ports include Port Canaveral, Jacksonville, Tampa, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami.

Should we go to the Bahamas, the Caribbean Islands or Mexico? Or, travel to the west coast to cruise to Hawaii or Alaska? Should we go on Carnival, Royal Caribbean, MCSC, Princess, Celebrity, Norwegian, Crystal or one of the other lines?

Cruise charges

When you see the price for a cruise, make sure you are getting the full price. There are taxes and port changes that can add up quickly. Check with a local travel agency to see if you can get a better rate. Sometimes a “run of the ship” rate is offered. You don’t know where your room will be until boarding, but you will get a discounted rate.

There are different types of accommodations to choose from. The most common are inside, outside, balcony and suite cabins. There are different variations such as spa cabins, inside cabins with obstructed views and extended balconies. Choose the cabin type that best fits your needs and your budget.

The cabin basics are: inside cabin (usually the smallest room type with no windows to the outside and very dark), outside cabin (the room will be slightly larger and will have a window or a porthole and may also be called an ocean view room), balcony (may be slightly larger than an outside but has a private veranda with spectacular views) and suite (a large cabin with separate living and sleeping areas, a veranda and a variety of amenities and extra perks).

Pre and post-cruise travel

It is not advisable to travel to your destination on the day of embarkation. That includes people that fly and drive.

There are so many reasons that can derail your plans quickly and ruin your vacation such as delayed or cancelled flights, bad weather, accidents on the highway or car problems. The best suggestion is to arrive the day before you start your cruise. You will be so glad you did as it alleviates a lot of stress.

If you are driving, note that many local hotels around the ports offer deals called “Park and Cruise”. You pay for the hotel, leave your car on site and get tickets for a shuttle that takes you back and forth to the cruise port. You may also get a free breakfast. Many times the “Park and Cruise” will cost you less than parking your car at the cruise port as daily rates can be as high as $20 per day.

If you are flying home the same day of embarkation do not schedule your flights in the morning. Your ship may have arrived at its home port, but it has to be cleared by the customs agents as do you. Remember most ships have 3,000-6,000 passengers trying to get off the ship. Lines to be cleared by a customs agent are very long.

Cruise documents

If you do not already have a passport, you will need to check with your cruise line for their specific requirements. In some instances a certified birth certificate and photo ID is adequate, but sometimes that is not enough.

Passports are always the best proof of identification for traveling. They are valid for 10 years. You can get more information on how to apply and how to calculate fees at the U.S. Department of State — Bureau of Consular Affairs website: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/apply-renew-passport/how-to-apply.html

If you ever have a problem with customs in a foreign port or have a medical emergency where you have to leave the ship, you will be very glad you spent the money for a passport.

Be sure to print out your documents issued by the cruise line. Those include your boarding pass and luggage tags. Make sure the information is correct before you leave home.

Editor’s note: This is the first part of a series on the basics of taking a cruise. Next week cabin location and meal and beverage packages will be discussed.

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