It started as a conversation topic while on our way to Disney World. The next thing we knew, we were booking our first cruise for the following February. When we first booked our cruise in July, our embarkation date seemed so far away. However, we are now just over two months away from setting sail and we are busily preparing for our first experience on a cruise ship.
Although I am no expert when it comes to traveling by cruise ship, I do want to share a few pointers we’ve learned while preparing for our trip.
Determine your budget before booking
It is so important to determine your budget before booking your cruise. Cruises can get pricey if you’re not careful. Because you pay for most things upfront, your budget will determine what itinerary and company you are able to book.
Choose a cruise line
Because we are traveling with our young children, it is no surprise that we chose to book through Disney Cruise Line. After much research, and talking to people who have sailed with Disney before, we felt we would have the most fun by sailing with them. And since we are a Disney family, we can vouch for the family friendliness of the company. I’ve also wanted to check out Castaway Cay, Disney’s own private island.
There are many cruise lines to choose from. Make sure to do your homework and determine which one is right for you.
Choose an itinerary
Before you book your vacation, you must decide on a tentative time frame of when you wish to travel. I’m not talking an exact date- just an idea of when you are looking to travel. We like to travel somewhere warm in January or February to break up the cold, snowy Chicago winter so we chose a Bahamian itinerary that sails in February.
Once you have a relative date planned, you also need to decide where you want to go and how many days you want the cruise to be. There are three day cruises available all the way up to cruises that last a few weeks to a few months. Keep your budget in mind when deciding your itinerary. Also remember that any port excursions you want to book through the cruise line will be extra. So that will effect your budget as well.
Book your cruise
So you’ve determined your budget, decided what cruise line to travel with and chosen your cruise. Now it’s time to book it. I know that it is possible to book some cruises at a cheaper rate the closer it is to the embarkation date but we decided to book early in order to make sure we got the cruise we wanted.
Gather needed travel documents
It’s been a while since D and I have had the opportunity to travel out of the country and the kids haven’t left the country at all so we all had to get new passports. Not all cruises require passports- if your ship is leaving from the United States and you’re traveling to the Bahamas, for instance, only a birth certificate is needed. However, you never know when something might happen while you are in country that requires you to stay longer than your port stay and obtain your own transportation home. It’s better to have your passport just in case.
Research port calls
Now it’s time for the fun part. One of my favorite parts of traveling is researching the place we will be exploring. I love finding places to eat and explore while on our travels. It is also important to know a little about the culture. The same has been true with preparing for our cruise. The more prepared you are, the more fun you will have.
Decide what port activities to do
Keep in mind that any port activities you choose to participate in add extra costs to your cruise. Port excursions booked through the cruise line can get pretty pricey so make sure to take that into account while planning your budget. We decided not to sign up for any port excursions, choosing, instead, to explore the stops on our own.
I’m not an expert on other cruise lines but I can explain how the check-in process works with Disney Cruise Line. Online check-in is available starting a few months before the embarkation date. It’s an easy and straight forward process leading you through all the steps. Once you’re checked in, there is a form to print and sign that you bring with you to the cruise terminal. On the day you are able to check in, you can also register your children for the kids club as well as reserve any port excursion or on-board activity you would like to do.
After all of these steps, you are well on your way to your cruise. Spend the rest of the time until your embarkation date deciding what to pack and building the excitement. We’re spending our time reading books about the Bahamas to our kids and learning about the culture. We may even make a few Bahamian recipes to get us in the island mood.
What are your tips for first time cruisers?
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