Planning & Packing for a Cruise
Every March for the past 8 out of the last 10 years, we have traveled Caribbean cruise. There is so much that goes into trip planning and packing, so I thought I’d share all the tips that I’ve learned over the years so you can be ready to set sail!
Shopping for the best cruise deal
It’s no secret that travel prices fluctuate, a lot! Many pre-pay and reserve their spot on a cruise 6+ months in advance. We have found the best way is to…
1. Determine which week you want to travel.
2. Research a few different cruise destinations and ships you are interested in and pick 2 to watch that are leaving from the same port or a nearby port. Don’t book quite yet. Just watch the prices for the week you are traveling, and the same ship/stops on different weeks. Watch the price drop/increase trend, more on this later.
3. Watch flights for the week you want to go on vacation, utilize apps like Hopper which tracks flight prices or Google flights to watch prices, then snag your flights BEFORE you book your cruise.
We always know the week we are traveling and will wait until 2-5 weeks before the cruise to actually secure our spot. This means we usually get a “last minute” deal price, but it also means we have to pay in full (usually when you book months in advance you can pay a deposit and set up monthly payments).
For example, We know we will cruise the 2nd week of March. Starting in December we research which cruise we want to go on. Select the ship and ports, then we watch and wait. Multiple times a week we refresh the site and check the rates. Usually the same ship going on a cruise in a few days is the cheapest. The cruise line is trying to incentivize last minute travelers to hop on a cruise for sometimes up to 80% off!
Compare the price to the week you want to travel. If your cruise is continuously going up in price that means its getting near sold out, but if your cruise is going to down in price that means there’s still lots of rooms available. Sometime in January we secure our flights for the best deal, flying in the day before and returning home the day we arrive back in port.
Deal or No Deal?
The cruise industry is always offering some type of incentive when booking a trip, but what is actually a deal vs. not? Let me help you figure it out!
1. Free Gratuity: DEAL
– This is a significant DEAL! You are charged everyday, per guest ,for tips and gratuities. Our last cruise this equaled to $218 for the two of us. If you can sail when this offer is going on take advantage.
2. Kids Sail Free: DEAL – But there’s a few exceptions.
This only applies if you are sharing a stateroom with your kids. Only 4 guests can fit in the majority of cruise ship rooms. If you have a family of 4 or less this is a DEAL. If you have a family of 5 or more, the discount isn’t great since you’ll need two staterooms.
3. Free Drink Package! DEPENDS!
-First, this will depend on the cruise line you are sailing, but know nothing is exactly FREE. There are gratuities charged per day for this free drink package equaling to an extra $130+ on your bill for a week, per person. Does this save you money if you are drinking alcoholic beverages? Yes, most likely! Each drink is $6+ so across one week you would need to drink 21 drinks to break even.
-If you do not drink, decline the “Free Drink” package and instead purchase the Soda Package which includes non alcoholic beverages for only $70. Or you can buy each drink a la cart.
4. Specialty Dining: DEAL
– If this is included for free it’s actually a pretty decent deal, definitely go for it!
- Fly out on a morning/lunchtime flight the day before our ship departs. Booking the last flight the day before could put you in risk if flights get cancelled, delayed, or you miss your connection.
- Stay in a hotel that offers a free shuttle to the port. Call around, there are plenty who offer this feature + a continental hot breakfast.
TRAVELING WITH FAMILY:
- Try packing half of your luggage in each other’s suitcases that way if one suitcase gets lost, you will still have some of your clothes, swimsuit, and toiletries.
TRAVEL WITH DOCUMENTS:
- Travel with a valid passport before cruising. It’s true that you don’t NEED a passport if you are traveling out of a US port and returning to a US port. You can make do with a drivers license and birth certificate. But I HIGHLY recommend going to distance and securing one BEFORE your cruise, here’s why… Many times guests get stuck on the island and don’t make it back before the ship sets sail to the next destination. While it’s rare, a freak accident can happen (like your ship breaks and they have to fly you home from an island), you’ll be thankful you have that passport.
MAKE PHOTO COPIES:
- Take a photo of your passport, ID, drivers license, insurance card, etc and EMAIL yourself a copy. In the event you lose your documentation, it’ll speed up the process immensely to have copies you can print.
CONTACT THE BANK:
- Notify your credit card and bank companies that you will be traveling, so they don’t decline the charges as fraud when you shop abroad.
Let's get packing!
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Snorkel gear is a must! We found this full face mask one-piece on amazon. It’s so much more comfortable than the traditional goggles & snorkel set. Just pair this with some flippers. We usually will find one or more stops that has beautiful coral reef and a fun place to snorkel.
Games: We will usually bring a card game or two aboard to play after dinner. A few of our favorites are: Cover your Assets. Play Nine, and Nerts.
Of course pack your daily medications, but there’s nothing worse than getting sick aboard a ship without medicine. I bring my favorite little amazon pods with labeled “emergency” medication. Here are a few suggestions to pack:
Oxypowder:This has changed the game! No more travel constipation. Take 1-2 tablets NO MORE at bedtime, the next morning you’ll wake up regular (not runny, not in the middle of the night). Also eat plenty of fruit, veggies, and fiber at every meal to keep things regular.
Anti-nausea: For help you can use Dramamine which is OTC and easily accessible at your local drugstore. A prescription of Zofran, or Scopolamine (patches can also be prescribed by your Doctor). They just go behind one ear and you wear it all week.
Cold Medicine: In case you start to have cold symptoms or congestion, Sudafed is your best friend. You can also try Mucinex AM/PM.
Pain Medication: Vacations can be tough especially with children, I highly suggest Tylenol & Ibuprofen for pain and/or headaches.
Sea Bands: These are acupuncture bands that you wear on your wrists. Helpful and non-medicinal. They offer these for children and toddlers as well.
Packing Checklist For a 7 Day Caribbean Cruise:
–Shoes: 1 nice sandal, 1 beach sandal, hiking sandal *optional, Tennis shoes.
-Swim: 2-3 swimsuits, 1-2 swim coverups, Beach bag or backpack, Hat/visor, Sunglasses, Sunscreen 2+ aerosol.
-Clothes: 7 Nice outfits to wear in the evenings – combination of jumpers, dresses, leggings and blouses, 1 open cardigan/sweater, 1 hoodie/zipper jacket, 3 pairs shorts, 4 comfortable tops, 2-3 bras, 3-4 sport bras, 3-4 pairs exercise outfits, Underwear and socks, 2 pajamas/comfy clothes for bed.
-Bags: Smaller purse/fanny pack to carry around the ship.
-Essentials: Lotion, Sun Bum Cool Down Aloe cream, 1-2 facial/body lotions.
-Fun in the Sun: Snorkel Masks
-On the Plane: Airfly duo – allows you to sync your wireless headphones to the airplane tv OR sync 2 headphones to 1 tablet/iPad.