You have been saving for months to take the vacation of a lifetime – a cruise out on the open seas, bound for some exotic locale. Maybe it is a four-night cruise aboard Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Century, leaving Miami and headed for Cozumel. Or perhaps it’s an 11-day cruise aboard the Queen Mary 2, bound for St. Thomas, St. Lucia, Grenada, Barbados and Grand Turk. You would be wise to spend time before you leave, making sure you get the most out of your trip.

Before you depart

Pack carefully. Remember, your ship is a big resort, so pack for a resort vacation. You will find that during the day, dress is casual, both on the ship and on shore. Dinner, however, may be a different story. It could be casual or it could be more formal, requiring a suit for men and cocktail attire for women. Or it may be a tuxedo-and-gown kind of event one night. You would be wise to ask your travel consultant what the cruise itinerary includes so you can pack appropriately.

You should also check with your travel consultant about the travel documents you need to have with you. Most U.S. citizens need to present a valid passport and a government-issued photo identification, like a driver’s license or military ID. It all depends on the type of cruise and the destination.

Before you leave your house, make a copy of your travel documents and complete itinerary to leave with a family member or coworker. This way there is a copy in case anything happens to yours.

Travel insurance is always a good investment for a big trip, especially on a cruise where the cost is generally non-refundable after the final payment. Trip insurance covers any cancellation penalties you may incur. It also provides medical and baggage protection. Again, ask your travel consultant to recommend the appropriate travel insurance.

What’s included

Once you are on board, you need to know what you have already paid for and what you will have to pay for out of pocket. Just about all meals, activities and entertainment are included in your ticket price. Basic beverages, like water, juice, tea and coffee, are included – but some sodas and alcoholic beverages are separate and will be charged to your room. You will find most services onboard the ship – like a trip to the spa or the casino – can also be billed to your room. You will also receive a bill at the end of the cruise that will include these extra charges. There will also be some optional shore excursions that you need to pay for separately, but these should be booked ahead of your trip as space is often limited.

Meals are a big occasion on a cruise. The ships are known for their sumptuous meals. There is often both a buffet and a dining room, with a couple of seating times. Do not plan to diet while you are on the cruise, but if you must follow dietary restrictions, the cruise line can probably accommodate you. Be sure you make your travel consultant aware of your needs, such as low-sodium, low-fat, vegetarian or kosher cuisine.

Gratuities, or tips, may or may not be figured into the ticket price. Sometimes the tip is figured into the bill you receive at the end of the trip. Other times, it is left up to you to tip your servers. Generally, you want to tip each of the following servers $3 cash for every day you were onboard: the dining room waiter, bus boy and cabin steward. An exception to this rule is drinks in the bar.

The tip will be included in your bill.

Staying in touch

Just because you are crossing the ocean does not mean you will be out of touch with folks back home. It’s up to you, as the ship will have the technology to keep you in touch if you so choose. Your cell phone may fade in and out – and you may run up some heft roaming fees – so use the ship’s phone if necessary.  Most ships also offer wireless Internet connection and have Internet cafes for your use.

Staying healthy and safe

Today’s ships have built-in stabilizers that cut down on the noticeable movement that leads to motion sickness. As a result, most people cannot tell the ship is moving and they experience no ill effects. But if you are prone to motion sickness, bring your medication with you – or ask the ship’s medical staff for it. You also might want to get a stateroom on a lower deck, where movement is less noticeable.

Should another medical problem arise, you can rest assured that every ship has medical facilities on board and trained medical staff to help you. And tell your travel consultant about any special medical needs you have so the ship can be prepared to serve you.

A cruise is often a trip of a lifetime. By taking some time now to know what to expect and how to prepare, your trip can be just that for you.

Source by Rachel Jackson