Cruise excursions: In some ports a must, especially where the excursion goes to faraway places. The cruise ship will only wait for passengers who have booked the ships own excursions. If you go out on your own please note the telephone number of the cruise ship or its agency in port. If you are in a port with other "alphabets" always have someone write down the port location in their language, so you can show your taxi driver. Always carry the "daily" program with you, where all pertinent information is written. Local taxi tours can be a good alternative and this way you support the local community. Always do a little "chit-chat" beforehand, to check the drivers language skills. Or find a private guide if you so prefer.
Cruise ship organized excursions are in general very expensive but give the guarantee that the ship will wait for you on return. In general:All tours cancelled by guests less than 48 hours prior to arrival in the port where the tour is scheduled to operate are non-refundable. If the tour is cancelled by the cruise line you will receive a full refund.
Hop on/off tours are very popular among cruise passengers. Tip: in sub tropic or tropic climates wait till the afternoon to take such tour: most of the stores and often museums are closed anyway and it will be much quieter aboard the bus.
Shuttles: Some cruise lines only announce their shuttles into port at the last moment, sometimes only a day before arriving in port. They do not want to jeopardize their often inflated excursion tours. Please do your homework or enquire at the excursion desk.
Your Wallet: Not only cruise lines like to empty your wallet (oh well...it is their business), but also the many pickpockets in ports will follow you around till' the right moment is there....
Never ever carry your wallet in your trousers back pocket...hide it somewhere else!
Make copies of your passport and keep the original in the safe. Loosing your passport abroad is a nightmare.
ATM's: Only use ATM's from official banks. Avoid the machines with names like: Travelex, Euronet, Moneybox, Cardpoint, and Cashzone. Their fees can be outrageous. Also avoid the ATM's on the cruise ship!
Credit Cards: When you are using a foreign credit card, and you are asked if you want to process it in home or local currency. Always use the local currency option. It will save you a lot. Read more on Dynamic Currency Conversion. Even some large cruise companies are using this deceptive practice!
Taxi's in port: In towns where taxi's have a meter: always ask the cab driver to turn it on.
The only exception to this if you negotiate a fixed price excursion. Always do a little small talk
with the cab driver, to really find out how his language skills really are.
If you negotiate a price: make sure you're talking the same currency, price per cab, not per person etc.
Even when things go wrong in the end (which seldom happens) use the following "acting school" solution. Take out your mobile phone: make a fake call, use a language your cabbie does not understand, even if you have to make it up and frequently use the words "taxi" and "police" and normally things will work out.
At the end of a trip, always get out of the taxi first and then pay the driver. It is much easier to dispute a rip-off!
Car Rental: Read this article from USA Today on how to avoid most "scams" by car rental companies. In addition always make some pictures of the car at the pickup point if some little damage exists.
Disabilities Issues: Cruise Passengers with mobility issues guide
Haggling: can be very tiring when walking around in non-western ports and markets.
Wear a business like shirt and carry a local language newspaper under your arm.
Only works if your spouse is not too keen on shopping!
If you want to buy something in a bazaar or souq, start at a third of the asking price, than work your way up in small increments. Always be patient and stay courteous!
Internet and/or Wifi: As connections on the ship are slow and expensive, your best bet is to
follow the crew, who are carrying a notebook, Ipad or otherwise into town, or just ask them.
They will know the closest and cheapest connection close to port. In case this happens in the port itself, remember that the crew has to be back on board an half an hour before the passengers have to, resulting in speedy connections during this small time frame. Also with many crew members using Skype etc., things might get a little noisy.
Ipads, Androids and other portable devices: Search for an "offline browser" for your device and save these and other pages for later onboard reading.
Liquor on board: While most cruise lines use strict rules of bringing liquids on board, often citing the most dubious reasons, things in real life aren't as bad. Soda's and beer in moderate quantities are in general no problem, and are for the cruise line not enough (embarrassment) reason to stop a passenger. Hard liquor can be a problem, depending how desperate a cruise line is. In ports where your hand luggage is checked by state officials and not by the cruise line itself this is often not a problem. The state officials are only interested in safety issues, not the least in booze or wine. It is totally agreeable that cruise lines forbid the use of BYOB drinks in their restaurants or bars, however to prohibit this in your own stateroom or balcony, doesn't reflect well on their sense of hospitality. Floating resorts are like land based resorts, where they do not have such rules.
Smoking: Smoking in general is only allowed on certain parts (often very windy!) of the open decks on most cruise lines. Cruise lines which still allow smoking on the balconies are: Costa and Fred Olson. Strangely enough all cruise lines offer lots of tobacco products in their duty free stores? If you want to quit smoking, take a cruise!, otherwise choose another vacation type.
Dining on board: The second seating is in general much quieter and less "rushed". On a "sea-day" everyone wakes up late, resulting in "busy" late breakfasts and lunches. Tip: Wake up early and you have the ship to yourself!
Water on board: The water on board is perfectly safe. It can taste a little off, especially after a few sea-days, when ships are unable to take in shore water and have to make it themselves. Some cruise lines make a huge profit on selling bottled water. In this case order one bottle at your first dinner and take the almost empty bottle back to your stateroom for refill and refrigeration. Totally acceptable.
Dining ashore: Check the bathroom first of the establishment before having a meal, it will show you much about the hygiene standards adhered to.
Bathrooms ashore: As habits will differ in many countries, always carry tissues with you, especially in non-western ports.
Disembarkation Day: The evening before is the right time to tip your cabin attendant for service rendered with the friendly request if you could vacate your stateroom a little later than the official program.
When to book: A golden rule in the cruise business is that they always have to sail at 100% occupancy. Unlike the hotel business it is for the cruise business impossible to do temporary lay-offs, close certain floors and alike. And a general cruise passenger will spend quite a bit on board: Excursions, drinks, bingo, shops etc. In the high season you pay the full ticket, in the off-season good deals can be had often a few weeks from embarkation date. The difference in pricing between agencies can be awesome... so please shop around. Be aware that some cruise lines offer family deals during school vacations resulting sometimes in a floating high school! Great if you have kids in this age group, but otherwise......
Dress code: Gala evenings only serve one purpose: The photographers on board have to make some money too! With the present airline luggage restrictions it is almost impossible to carry an extra tuxedo, cumber bund, lacquered shiny shoes etc, without costing an extra fortune. The same for evening dresses. Realizing that some customers love gala evenings and some hate it all together, cruise lines have to make an decision here. Nowadays it's awkward to see passengers dressed up all the way, while others feel perfectly comfortable in dress jeans, with the ultimate result that no one feels happy.
Shopping on board: The only good discounts to be had are on tobacco products. Liquor, jewelry etc. are much less
of a deal. Remember in Europe the duty free store can only be open if during the cruise a non EU port has or will be called upon:
Norway, Canary Islands, Gibraltar, Monaco, Channel Islands and any North African or Turkey ports.
Duty free means all taxes and duties. Tax free means only the sales taxes. Do not rush, on the last few days of your cruise things will be more discounted, even the pictures by the photographers will be sold at a fraction of their initially inflated price.
Gambling on board: This is often left to a concessionaire with his own rules. i.e. roulette tables have two "zero's" while the "in-prison" rule doesn't exists. The one armed bandits have poor pay-outs and are not published.
The cruise line itself general takes care of the following: Staterooms, F&B, excursions and onboard entertainment. Shops, Spa's, Photographers, Casino etc are in general farmed out (often at 30%+ of their revenues) If you keep that in mind, it is a lot easier dealing with the different departments, as everyone has their own interest.
"Friends of Dorothy" is a meet up for gay/lesbian people on board and "Friends of Bill W" is kind of like an AA meeting.
"Dorothy" is a reference to Dorothy Gale, the character played by Judy Garland in "The Wizard of Oz" and Bill W is Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous
The knot is a unit of speed equal to one nautical mile (1.852 km) per hour, approximately 1.151 mph. In general: The longer the ship, the more knots it can make.
Aft refers to a location or direction, the rear section of a ship. The opposite of aft is bow.
A beam is the width of a ship at its widest point
Starboard is the right side of the ship when you're facing toward the front of the vessel. Port is to the left.
Passports and visa requirements: Make sure you have the right documents. Holland America Line produced this handy checklist.
Last but not least: Enjoy yourself!
See also which Companies are the major players in the cruise industry.