3 Tips for Checking In at the Cruise Port

Not sure what to expect when you arrive at the cruise port?

 

Every cruise line and port is a little different from the next, but there are a few things you can count on every time you arrive to check in for your cruise. These are the top three things you can expect when checking in at a cruise port.

1. Baggage Porters

When you first step foot on the street outside the cruise port, one of the first sights you’ll see are baggage porters. These people are eager to collect your bags and carry them onto the ship on your behalf. They are perfectly legit, and the only way to transport any bags bigger than a carry-on on board. You can personally carry any bags that will fit through a typical security scanner—like the conveyor-style ones found at the airport. Anything bigger needs to be handed over to a porter. Make sure you have a dollar or two per bag available to tip the porter. It is expected, and I always think it’s best not to upset the person responsible for safely getting all of my belongings on the ship.

Most often, your bags will arrive before your ship sets sail, especially if you’re at the port early. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes you will not get them until a few hours later. Be sure you have everything you need right away inside your carry-on. This includes medications, a swimsuit and sunscreen if you plan to sit by the pool for the sail-away party, a sweater if you get cold easily, or any other essentials. Also be sure to remove your wallet, ID, cruise papers (including your boarding pass), and other valuables from any bags you check with a porter. You will not be able to get in the ship if you do not have proper identification or the papers from your online check in.

The cruise line knows you may not have your bag in time for dinner, so they don’t usually set any expectations for your attire in the dining rooms on the first night. Still, I like to assume I may have to wear whatever I have on. I try to choose an outfit that is comfy enough to lounge around in for a few hours but also classy enough to wear to a restaurant. It’s a fine line to balance.

Pro Tip: Be sure your bags are properly labeled with your name and cruise ship cabin number before turning them over to the porter. Otherwise, they won’t know where to take them, and you’ll be without your bags longer than you need to be while they try to sort it out.

2. Long Lines

No matter what time you arrive, you will encounter a long line of people. The longest lines tend to be when the cruise port first opens and the first two or three hours after that. Don’t be surprised if the line extends outside and wraps around the building. Some cruise lines and ports have very organized lines with signs telling you where yo go. Others are quite disorganized and seemingly chaotic.

Depending on how many times you have sailed with a particular cruise line, you may have priority boarding over other cruise guests. There is a special line for these people. Some cruise lines have multiple lines for past cruisers, each with its own special boarding privileges. There is also a special line for people who have paid through the teeth for priority boarding, even if they have never sailed with the cruise line in the past. Don’t jump into the first line you see. The best way to sort through the hustle is to simply ask someone where you should go.

Once you have found yourself in the appropriate line, expect to wait 30 minutes to and hour to reach the front of the line. Even if you have checked in online, you still have to go through this process. Don’t try to skip ahead—you’ll end up right back where you started. The good news is that once you reach the front of the line, the check in process usually only takes a few minutes.

Most times, you’ll be able to walk right onto the boat after you’ve check in. But sometimes, you’re ship simply hasn’t come in or is still being prepped. If this is the case, you’ll need to wait some more. You will likely be handed a number and told to wait until it’s called to come to the boarding area. In the meantime, you’ll need to find someplace out of the way to stand in the overcrowded embarkation area (there are rarely very many seats available and you need to stay out of the way of people in line).

3. Don’t Wait Til the Last Minute

If you’re boarding the ship in a foreign city, it may be tempting to spend every last minute you can touring the local sights. But be sure to leave yourself lots of time to get to the cruise port and through the boarding process. The same goes for anyone flying or driving into the cruise port on the same day the ship sets sail. No one wants to have to wait for a straggler. Not to mention, it puts the ship behind schedule. And while it may seem like the captain has tons of time to sail to the next destination, it’s simply not the case. There are many factors the crew needs to consider at each port, from weather to underwater obstacles, tight turns, and high-traffic ports. The last thing they need to worry about is whether or not everyone is on board when they should be.

Your boarding pass likely says you must check in at least two hours before the scheduled sailing, but I recommend arriving a minimum of three hours before that time. This will give you extra time in case you run into any last-minute snafus…like forgetting your paperwork in your checked baggage. The ship will sail without you—I’ve seen it happen many times. Don’t be that person…you know the one.

These are just a few tips for checking in at the cruise port. What other advice do you have for fellow travelers? Join the conversation on the Wanderlust Wayfarer Facebook page.

3 Tips for Choosing a Vacation Destination

With so much world to see, how do you choose a vacation destination?

 

My bucket list is at least a mile long. Israel, Bali, Myanmar, Peru, Portugal, Russia…these are just a few of the places I’m dying to visit. But I’m open to traveling just about anyplace, which means I have a terrible time choosing where to go. Each year, I can only get to three—maybe four—countries. So how do I decide which ones to visit?

Here are three tips to help you choose the perfect vacation destination when you’re not sure where you want to go.

Decide What’s Most Important: Date, Budget, Destination

When you’re searching travel sites for vacations, there are a few different ways you can filter the results: date, price, and place. So before you even begin your search, decide which of these is most important to you. Are you a sun seeker or a skiier? Do you like farms or cities? If you have a specific type of activity you like to do or part of the world you want to see, narrow your search using those details. Otherwise, if you’re open to any destination, your best bet is to base your decision on date and price.

Perhaps, you can travel any time of year, but you only have $1,500. Sort your search by lowest to highest price. This way you won’t end up flipping for something with a hefty price tag that’s out of your budget. You may be surprised by what you find. There are plenty of times I’ve booked a trip someplace I didn’t know I wanted to go because I found a smokin’ deal. But beware…You know how they say not to try on a wedding dress that’s out of your budget because you’ll fall in love and nothing will compare? Well, vacations work the same way. Don’t look at river cruises if you’ve got a Carnival cruise budget—no offence to Carnival. It’s just a lot cheaper than other options.

If you know you only have four days of vacation time, and you can only take days off in September, filter your search by date and number of days. You’ll weed out a bunch of options that don’t apply to you, making your choice for a vacation destination easier. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found the right place for the right price but then realized it was at a time of year that simply wouldn’t work for me. Talk about disappointing.

Who is Your Travel Companion?

Even though you may be open to all sorts of different places, your travel companion may not be. Consider the types of things the person you’re traveling with likes to do. Does this person like to shop? Then New York City might be the perfect escape. Or maybe your companion really likes animals. You might decide to take a safari together.

There are three people I typically travel with: my mother, my husband, and my best friend. Each one has completely different tastes. So when I look at my bucket list, I think about which vacation destination is right for each person. For example, my mom loves charming seaside villages. A river cruise through France is perfect for her. My best friend? She’s all about the shopping. Vegas or LA are the best types of places for us to hit up together. My husband is a bit more adventurous. For our next trip together, we’re thinking an ATV drive through Machu Picchu, for example.

There are many items on my bucket list that don’t interest my regular travel companions. For these places, I’ll either convince one of them to cave in and go with me, or I’ll look for other options. I might join a tour group, or I’ll simply hop on a place all by myself.

How Do You Like to Travel?

Do you like to create your own schedule while you drive along vast highways? Or do you prefer to let someone else do the driving? Maybe you like a mix of both. These are important factors that can help you narrow down your vacation destination.

If you like to be part of a large group, start your destination search with a look at what tour companies have to offer. If you like being on the open ocean, then look at different cruise lines to see what they have available that interests you. Don’t bother looking at dates and rates for tour or cruise vacations if they’re not your style, but you might want to use them as a jumping off point for planning your own vacation.

There are times when I like to plan every part of a trip—train tickets between towns, bed and breakfasts in little villages, entry fees for attractions. And then there are times when I’m super busy and like to let someone else do all the work. Get a stack of vacation magazines and brochures, and simply start leafing through the pages. See what’s out there that catches your eye. You’ll likely be inspired by a few different itineraries or images. You can either book directly with the company that made the brochure or start booking your own plans based on the itinerary you found.

Want more great ideas for the perfect vacation destination? Follow Wanderlust Wayfarer on Twitter, where we’re constantly sharing cool places to go and things to do around the world.

Planning a Cruise: It’s Easy as Pie

Tired of the time it takes to plan an amazing vacation? Planning a cruise is about as easy as it gets.

 

I spent years painstakingly planning elaborate vacations. I coordinated trains, planes, and boats to take me to different places every 24 to 48 hours. It took tons of effort to find appropriate accommodations in each location. You know what it’s like—reading TripAdvisor reviews and mapping landmarks. Then I discovered cruising and learned you can have your cake and eat it too.

Choose a Place, Any Place

planning a cruise

Where do you want to go on vacation? Name a place. Any place. I mean it. From Antarctica and Australia to Aruba and Africa, there are cruises to pretty much every part of the world. Then go to a consolidator, such as Expedia or Travelocity, and search all available offerings from every major cruise line for your chosen destination. You can filter your results by price, date, or length, whichever is most important to you.

From there, you can compare the itineraries for a few different options to see which is right for you. Simply click “Book Now,” and most of the work is done. You’ve planned the majority of your trip.

Pro tip: I usually check two or three consolidators to see if I can get a better rate or special offer. Sometimes you can get an additional onboard credit or a discount on shore excursions, for example. Once I know the cruise I want to take, I also check the rates on that cruise line’s website.

No Extra Work

planning a cruise

The hardest part of planning a cruise is picking where you want to go. Once you’ve done that, it’s smooth sailing—pun intended. Everything is taken care of for you, except getting to your departure point. I don’t always have time to become an expert on every port, and I don’t have to. The cruise line will take you to a variety of places, feed and entertain you, and even offer daily excursions to the most popular sights.

There’s no need to coordinate any other details, aside from your flights. If there is a sight you should see, it will be offered as a shore excursion. It doesn’t get any easier than this.

There are so many reasons why a cruise vacation is one of the most budget-friendly and convenient ways to travel. And there are countless fun things you can do at sea. But the main reason why I enjoy planning a cruise is because I can do it fast, easy, and without any extra work.

Do you agree? Is planning a cruise as easy as it sounds? Share your thoughts with the Wanderlust Wayfarer Facebook group.

3 Ways to Make the Most of Your Vacation Days

Most of us have limited time off work. With so much world to see, the last thing you want to do is squander your vacation days.

 

Being a writer, I’m always looking for creative inspiration. Travel is a window to the world, unleashing my enthusiasm and refreshing my zest for life. But like most people, I started out at my current job with only three weeks vacation from work. I like to get out of town every three months on average. So, I had to learn how to manage my time carefully. These are my top three tips for stretching your vacation days throughout the year.

Weekend Warrior

Vacation Days

Thinking of weekends as vacation days gives you an extra four days for every trip (Saturday/Sunday before your week off and again after). I’m always amazed y the number of people I talk to who don’t take advantage of weekends as part of their vacation. Many people like to pack on the Saturday before they go or have a few days to relax after a trip. When you’re working with limited days off and a huge world to see, there’s simply no time for such luxuries. As my mom says, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” Words to live by for a budget traveler like me.

The minute I punch the clock on my last day before leaving on a trip, I’m in vacation mode. I make every minute count. Instead of only having five days off work, I now have nine. And I try not to waste a minute of that time. My preference is to catch a late-night flight on a Friday if I’m heading overseas or the Saturday-morning redeye if I’m staying within North America (I hate spending money on a hotel if I’m not going to arrive early enough to enjoy it.) This means there’s no time to chill or prep following your work week. But it does give you more time to spend at your final destination.

Pro Tip: Long Weekends

I plan every vacation around a long weekend. Instead of taking five days off work, I only need to take four, saving me an extra day each trip. If you have three weeks off each year, and you plan to use one week per trip, you’ve got three days in your back pocket. Tack those days onto another long weekend, and you’ve got almost an entire extra week off. Hello trip number four!

Tag on to Other Trips

vacation days

If you travel for work, consider tagging on a few vacation days. My former company sent me to Frankfurt for a conference each year. I wasn’t expected to be at “work” until the Tuesday afternoon, and there was always a three-day weekend leading up to it. I would fly to Frankfurt after work on the Friday night, arriving in Germany Saturday morning. From there, I would pay my own way to another place in Europe. I would arrive Saturday afternoon, spend all day Sunday and Monday in the other city, and fly back to Frankfurt Tuesday morning. Often, I would snag a flight between the two cities for as low as $50. And since the conference ended Saturday, I would spend the weekend in Frankfurt to see the sights there. Win-win.

I’ve also done this in US cities, such as Chicago. I was asked to give a presentation on a Thursday afternoon. My company paid to fly me in on the Wednesday night and covered my accommodations through Friday. I took one of my vacation days, giving me a long weekend to enjoy the city on my terms. I paid my own hotel accommodations for the next two nights, but my flight home was covered by my company.

You can use the same tactic for leisure trips as well. Two years ago, my husband and I did a Christmas market river cruise through Germany and Switzerland. The tour ended on a Thursday, so rather than fly home and waste away the weekend, we looked for nearby places with cheap flights. We ended up on a private tour of Istanbul for the next few days.

Similarly, earlier this year, my mother and I were departing from Barcelona on a cruise that started on a Wednesday. Since we had to take the Monday and Tuesday off work to accommodate flight time, we decided to take advantage of the weekend as well. We flew out on the Friday night and had four full days to enjoy Spain before setting sail. Why not?

Work Remotely

vacation days

In this day and age, most jobs let you work from home if needed. If you have a flexible office atmosphere, you can be creative with your vacation plans.

If I know I have a long connection between flights, I make arrangements to fly out early on a Friday morning. Rather than use one of my vacation days, I work remotely from the airport during my layover. My office still gets what they need from me, and I’m able to make the most of my vacation days by not wasting a whole day on flights.

Some workplaces may even allow you to work from your final destination. If you’re a writer, like me, all you need is a decent laptop and Internet connection, and you can do your job from anyplace in the world. If you don’t mind being tied to a desk for eight hours a day while on the road, you can take advantage of the evenings to enjoy the locale and not have to dip into your vacation days.

These are just a few of the ways you can make the most of what may seem like limited time off from work. Have more ideas you’d like to share? Head over to the Facebook group, and let us know how you stretch your vacations days.