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Opinion

Four steps for preparing for your cruise abroad

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September 30, 2011

Although I did welcome you aboard to my travel column last week, we still have a few logistics that need to be settled. Cruising is not something you can rush into and master overnight. It comes with practice and some “trial and error” experiments. Believe me, I was not an expert cruiser when I first sailed in 2002. I hope the following recommendations will help make your next vacation an enjoyable one.

1. Book early: it’s similar to arriving early at a movie theater; the earlier you book, the greater stateroom selection you have! That’s not to say you can’t luck out with an affordable last minute deal, but the odds aren’t exactly in your favor. Usually, the price may be quite high when you book so far in advance, as many people don’t know what the future holds in a year. However, as the cruise approaches, cruise lines will offer promotional pricing, which can be substantially lower than the initial price. If you call the cruise line, there’s a good chance that your cruise will be re-fared. On one cruise to the Caribbean, we got a $900 reduction, which promptly went into another round of drinks.

2. Pack smart: remember, you’re going on a cruise; you aren’t moving across the country. One nicely sized suitcase can hold everything you need for your week away. Don’t forget that airline bag fees will add unnecessary costs if you go over the weight limit. You should create a clothing checklist to make sure you have all of your essential items. On that list, include a nice polo and long pants (as shorts aren’t permitted in the dining room), a sweatshirt (it can get cold on deck at night) and tennis shoes (as you’ll do a lot of walking). In short, pack light! Less is more. If needed, you can always visit the laundromat on board.

3. Fly in the day before: Traveling is fun, but it can be exhausting—especially if you have a long journey. I recommend traveling the day before your cruise leaves. You can use your travel day to rest up and be refreshed for your day on board. Leaving on embarkation day provides little wiggle room (in case of delay or other disruption) and ends up tiring you out quickly. On our cruise to San Juan, we awoke at 2:30 a.m. for a 5:30 a.m. flight, arrived at 2 p.m. (after connecting in Atlanta), on board at 3 p.m. and the ship left at 11 p.m. Not a fun first couple of days.

4. Limit shore excursions: the best way to view a port is to take an excursion. You learn about the history and experience the culture. However, many excursions last anywhere from two-to-eight hours (or longer) and can be very expensive. On our first cruise, we did an excursion in every port, and by the end, we ended up more tired than relaxed. My suggestion is to take excursions in no more than half of your ports (example: if there are four ports of call, do two excursions). If you like the ports, you can always return and take another excursion in the future!

Now that we’ve cleared up some business, it’s time for the fun part of my column. Check back next week to learn about our first (and my favorite) port of call: St. Thomas!

Michael Leonard is a Spanish major at UW-River Falls.