Cruise Tips & Tools
Types of Cruises
No doubt, you have spent a good deal of time considering your vacation cruise. You have decided on your destination, only to be faced with the decision of what type of ship you want to sail on. Before you approach your AAA travel office, the following information can prepare you for the types of decisions you will need to make.
- Resort Ships. These ships carry 2,000 - 3,000 people and typically have a large variety of on-board amenities. You will be able to choose between multiple dining rooms, pools and spas and some ships even have rock walls for climbing, ice-skating rinks, and surfing simulators. These ships generally sail to popular destinations such as the Caribbean, Alaska and Europe.
- Luxury Ships. This type of cruise generally provides a more intimate setting that the resort ship. They have a higher guest-to-crew ratio and lavish suites which often include butler service. The luxury ship may offer unique shore excursions or complimentary wine with dinner. These ships tend to offer longer itineraries and cruises to more exotic locales such as Tahiti and Antarctica.
- Exploration Ships. Destination, not the ship, is the focus of this type of cruise. These ships visit ports that the larger ships are unable to access and may provide a naturalist to host informative lectures. Exploration cruises sail to Alaska and Mexico, but also visit less-traveled areas like the Great Lakes and Central America.
- River Ships. The river ship cruise is becoming an extremely popular vacation venue. It provides many onboard amenities and the flexibility of cruising, plus it gives cruisers the opportunity to visit places that the larger cruise ships do not. Vacationers can visit the distinguished capitals of Europe, the tranquility of the Yangtze, or relive Huck Finn’s adventures on the mighty Mississippi.
AAA travel agents have firsthand knowledge of the many benefits and services offered by their preferred partner cruise lines. Cruise specialists at AAA will be able to find the best possible fare and make recommendations to you.
Activities & Meals
- Shore Excursions. When the ship docks at the various ports designated on the itinerary, you will have the opportunity to go ashore and explore. These excursions are not always the typical motorcoach tours, but may be sailing lessons, scuba diving or snorkeling. You may want to visit ancient ruins or climb a pyramid; maybe you just want to wander around the port of call, enjoy the cuisine and shop for gifts and souvenirs. Shore excursions incur an additional cost and may be booked in advance or while you are onboard.
- Onboard Entertainment. Live entertainment, dancing and nightclubs will keep you entertained during the evening and nighttime. Your cruise ship will host parties, show feature films, and stage elaborate Las Vegas-style shows and Broadway-style performances. Many ships also offer special types of entertainment just for children.
Mealtime offers a variety of choices for diners of all ages and tastes. It is not uncommon to find several different restaurants on the ship and the cuisine and décor are as varied as you would find in any resort city. Ships offer formal dining rooms, poolside bars, pizzerias, and espresso cafes. Some ships offer specialty cafes featuring Italian, Japanese, Chinese or Southwestern menus; they are usually more intimate settings and require a small additional fee.
One of the big advantages of cruise vacations is that they are mostly all-inclusive. Your fare includes meals, accommodations, parties, entertainment and some activities. Many cruise lines include gratuities in the fare. When you book your cruise, you will receive a "Cash Card" which you will use to charge your purchases aboard the ship. While ashore, most areas accept major credit cards and travelers cheques. Should you desire to do some gambling in the ship's casino, however, you will need cash; you can bring extra cash for this purpose or draw it from your travel account.
Your vacation onboard a ship can be as casual or dressy as you like. A good rule of thumb is to pack as if you are going to a resort. Always check the weather a couple of days prior to your departure, and always plan for seasonal weather. During the day you will need shorts, t-shirts, swimsuits, and other casual attire. In the evening, dresses, pantsuits or khaki pants are appropriate; most cruise ships do not allow shorts in the dining rooms. If there is a "Captain's Gala," you will want to take more formal evening wear, such as a dark suit and tie or cocktail dress.
You should bring all toiletry items that you normally use. You will be able to use your own hair dryer and shaver onboard most cruise ships, but many offer in-cabin hair dryers. Ask your AAA travel agent when you book your vacation, or prior to your departure for more information.
Always bring enough of your prescribed medications to last you through the cruise. Seasickness should not be a problem, as most ships are equipped with modern stabilizers to minimize the effect of ocean movement. If you are concerned, however bring some preventative medicines; ships also have medical facilities onboard.
Health & Security at Sea
Though not comprehensive medical providers, cruise lines understand that health issues sometimes arise and can provide excellent first response and emergency care to passengers until they can be transferred to a shore-side medical facility.
Ships are inspected twice a year to ensure that they meet the sanitation criteria established by the U.S. Department of Health Vessel Sanitation Program.
During the past two decades, North American cruise lines have compiled the best safety record in the travel industry while transporting, entertaining and pampering more than 90 million people throughout the world.
Cruise security is similar to that of air security. They use metal detectors, require photo IDs for guests and crew members, screen baggage and employ highly trained security personnel onboard every vessel.
First Time Cruisers
A cruise is the most complete vacation you can choose. Whether on a large ship, an exploration cruise, or a true sailing ship, your cruise will help you see the world in a completely different way - from the sea. You can opt to be pampered, entertained, and/or educated to whatever degree you choose. Regardless of your decisions and choices, a cruise vacation will make a difference in your life and you will want to return to the earth's oceans again and again.
What to Expect
Once you have booked your cruise, a lot of your travel issues are taken care of. Unlike air and auto travel, a cruise includes meals, accommodations, parties, entertainment and some activities; all you will need to decide on is what activities to take advantage of when the ship pulls into port.
Booking Your Trip. Many people find booking their trips online to be much easier than going to a travel agent. You may find, however, that you have questions pertaining to the cruise, your room, meal arrangements, or any of the numerous issues involved with ocean travel. Working with a travel agent that is experienced with cruises, can alleviate many of your worries. AAA has travel agents who are trained an experienced in these issues; they can answer your questions and make recommendations.
Boarding. Make sure you have your passport and all necessary documents ready as you board the ship. If you pre-register online, you can take care of items such as setting up your account, which will make your boarding experience much easier. Ensure you have placed your identification tags on your luggage before you arrive at the ship. Your large luggage items will be taken when you board and will be placed in your room sometime during the day. Be prepared, however, not to see your luggage until late in the afternoon or early in the evening. If you arrive early, your room may not be ready for you to occupy. You may use this time, however, to explore the ship and learn your way around. During the boarding process, you will be assigned your dining time, table and table mates. Assigning times is necessary due to the large number of passengers and the limited space in the dining rooms. Once you are in your cabin, you may use your room's computer to check your account, shore excursions, and other business issues pertaining to your cruise.
Departing the Ship. The day prior to arriving at your home port, you will be given your debarkation instructions. You will also be required to have your large luggage packed and ready for removal from your room. Ensure you keep out what clothing and toiletry items you will require for the next day. Also on the day prior to reaching your home port, you will be given an envelope for tips. If you have done your tipping through your Cash Card, place the receipt tickets in the envelope; if not, place your tips in the envelope. There will be a sheet provided with tipping recommendations; a good rule-of-thumb is $10 per person, per day. Be prepared for an early morning on the day you arrive in your home port. Generally you will arrive at approximately 7 am and will be off ship by 9 am.
As with air travel, cruises have their own set of terms. Familiarity with some of the terms listed below may help make your vacation a bit more hassle-free.
|Add On||A supplementary charge added to the cruise fare, usually applied to correlate air fare and or pre- or post-cruise land tours.|
|Cabin or Stateroom||The passenger's room, stateroom or personal accommodation.|
|Category||A price gradient of similar cabins from the most expensive to the least expensive or visa versa.|
|Debarkation||Exiting from the ship.|
|Deck Plan||An overhead diagram illustrating cabin and public room locations in relationship to each other.|
|Deposit||A partial payment of the cruise fare required at the time of booking to secure the cabin being reserved.|
|Embarkation||Entering or boarding the ship.|
|Gratuities||The passenger's personal expression of thanks (tips) to the ship's service personnel for services received.|
|Inside||A cabin that has no window(s) or porthole(s) offering a view of the sea or of the river (i.e. Oceanview)|
|Outside||A cabin having window(s) or porthole(s) offering a view of the sea or of the river (i.e. Oceanview).|
|Passage Contract||Detailed terms of responsibility and accountability found in the cruise ticket.|
|Port Charge||An assessment that also includes port taxes, collected by the line and paid to a local government authority.|
|Port Tax||A charge levied by local government authority to be paid by the passenger. In some air/sea packages, port taxes are included in the final price.|
|Shore Excursions||Off-the-ship tours at ports of call for which an extra charge is usually applied.|
|Tariff Rate||The rate printed in the brochure, i.e. brochure rate.|
|Transfers||Conveyance between the ship and other modes, such as airports, hotels, or departure points for shore excursions.|
|Triple Rate||An economical per person rate available to individuals for triple occupancy on a guarantee share fare basis.|
As always, your AAA travel agent will be able to discuss with you any unfamiliar terminology or other issues about your cruise.
Since September 11, 2001, passport regulations have changed dramatically and will continue to change as circumstances require. The following information is provided as a guideline. Check with your travel agent, cruise line and the Transportation Security Administration prior to scheduling your cruise, to ensure you have sufficient time to acquire the necessary travel documents.
A U.S. passport identifies you as a citizen or national of this country and is a request for you to temporarily travel or reside in a foreign country. It allows the passport holder access to U.S. Consuls and Embassies worldwide and provides authorization to re-enter the United States.
U.S. citizens and nationals who should have a current U.S. passport in their possession are:
- Individuals who will be living or traveling in a foreign country
- Individuals who have family members who live or travel in a foreign country
- Individuals whose employment requires them to live, work, or travel to a foreign country
Individuals who are traveling internationally are required to possess a U.S. Passport Book. Those who intend only to travel to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and/or the Caribbean, need only apply for the more convenient and less expensive U.S. Passport Card.
Individuals must apply for a passport by filling out the "Application for a U.S. Passport." To obtain an application, go to the U.S. State Department's website, and follow the links for passports. Members of AAA may obtain an application, as well as have passport photos taken, at their AAA Travel Office.
When submitting your application, you must present identification that provides:
- Confirmation that are a U.S. citizen or national*
- Confirmation of your identity*
- Two current color photos
- Fee (visit the U.S. State Department website for current fee information)
*There are specific guidelines for passport applications for children under the age of 16. Consult the U.S. State Department's website for specifics.
Individuals who are renewing or have an expired passport, may submit their previous passport as proof of identification; doing so, may allow a quicker processing time. For more information on renewing a passport and processing times, refer to the U.S. State Department's travel website.
For more information on passports, visit the U.S. State Department's website. For frequently asked questions, visit their FAQ page. You may also visit the U.S. Postal Service website, click on "Locate a Post Office," then choose one of the options provided for additional information on passport locations.
The information just provided is subject to change at any moment. Therefore, to ensure that you are provided with the most up-to-date and accurate information on these restricted and prohibited items, please visit the Transportation Security Administration's Travelers' website and/or the U.S. Customs & Border Protection website.
Passport Acceptance Offices
The following is a list of 23 Post Offices in the Hampton Roads area that can process passport applications and provide up-to-date information on passport acceptance procedures. Customers may call (800) 275-8777 to reach any of these offices.
Hampton & Newport News
When applying for a passport, you must provide two (2) current color photos. Passport photos may be taken at any of the Hampton Roads Post Offices listed above, except where noted. AAA members may have their passport photos taken at their AAA Travel Office; depending on the level of membership, there may be a small charge.
When applying for a U.S. Passport, you may apply in person or through the mail. Applying in person is a bit more expensive, as you must pay an "Execution Fee;" however, to apply by mail, you must meet certain qualifications. Passport prices and other pricing information can be found at the U.S. State Department's travel website.