Insider Tips for Savvy Cruisers

Our cruise expert, Liz Fleming, shares the best tips for savvy cruisers

It’s like choosing between lobster or filet mignon… George Clooney or Ryan Gosling…. Belgian chocolate or Champagne. They’re all fabulous, but very different. Cruise styles are equally distinctive and can range from a four-month, round-the-world extravaganza on a ship the size of a small town, to a four-day, bare-bones escape on a schooner, with a whole smorgasbord of other possibilities in between. Ships – both river and ocean – run the gamut from cost-conscious to over-the-top-luxurious with every price point in between.

The question is… what floats your particular boat?

Are you a foodie? The bigger the ocean cruise ship (from 200 to 6,000 guests), the more restaurant choices and the more luxurious the vessel, the more famous the chefs and cuisine aboard. River cruise ships also offer spectacular dining, but their smaller size limits the number of restaurant choices.

Are you all about the view?

River cruise ships rarely sail more than a mile from shore and most feature staterooms with expansive windows and balconies so you’ll never miss a thing!

Do you live for entertainment?

The biggest ocean cruise ships have the most going on. Swim, play in a waterpark, ice skate, take cooking classes, ride bumper cars, try indoor skydiving and more. By night, bounce from casino to cabaret, symphony to art auction, dance club to jazz bar – there’s never a dull moment.

Love feeling like a local?

Sleek river cruise ships can sail into ports too small for their ocean-going sisters. When you disembark for shore excursions, not only are you part of a far smaller group of travellers (from 89 to 200 guests per ship), but you’re also right in the heart of everything, with no need for any transportation but your feet.

How to Handle Any Weather

There are lots of things in life we can control, but bad weather isn’t one of them! When you’re investing your precious travel time and money – not to mention months of eager anticipation – you can’t let Mother Nature get the better of you. Hope that you’ll be cruising with sunny skies and warm winds, of course, but be sure to plan for more challenging conditions.

Start by packing smart wet-weather gear. A reliable waterproof jacket is essential. Choose one that’s long enough to keep your backside and thighs dry, with a hood that can be pulled snugly around your face. The best ones are made of soft, foldable material, that will roll up and tuck into your equally waterproof backpack, another key travel gear element.

A lightweight, waterproof backpack will give you a place to stow your camera and wallet in the event of a downpour – it’s a must-have. Some travellers bring small umbrellas, but trying to manoeuvre yours through a sea of other umbrellas crowding around the guide is an experience you might rather skip. Put up your hood instead. Because there’s nothing worse than wet feet, be sure that your walking shoes are waterproof or give them a good spritz of Scotchguard before you leave home.

If your cruise is scheduled for the spring or fall, warmth should be a key factor in your packing strategy. A bulky coat isn’t the most space-efficient choice, so instead opt for down-filled layers, with a wind and waterproof outer shell. Technology has created a wealth of great, thin down jackets and coats that are easily packable but offer solid warmth on a cold day. My best advice is to bring both a down jacket and a vest for layering on the coldest of days. Toss a couple of colourful scarves and gloves into your bag and you’re ready for whatever the weather might bring!

No Surprises

Be Sure to build these into your cruise budget

Gratuities

The lovely room steward or butler who takes care of you and your stateroom is going to feel like family by the time the cruise comes to an end – and you’ll want to thank him or her. In case gratuities aren’t built into the cost of your cruise (note: some companies kindly take care of that for you), an appropriate amount is between $10 and $12 per day. Shore excursion guides and drivers often receive tips as well – $3 to $5 for the guide and $2 for the driver would be appropriate.

Room Service

What’s more relaxing than having breakfast in your stateroom or, better yet, on your balcony? Just one tiny detail… there may be an extra fee attached. Be sure to check before you order!

WiFi

Can’t imagine living without WiFi while you’re away? The good news is most ships now offer solid, reliable onboard Internet service. The bad news is that it often involves an extra charge. Check before you sign on to see what the most economical package will be for you.You do need to pay for Internet service? Here’s a tip to make the most of every minute. Compose any messages you’re planning to send, using your Word program, then log on and paste them into the email program. Quickly read your incoming messages, log out and again use your Word program to write your replies to send when you log in the next time.

Transfers

While many river cruise companies include the cost of transfers to and from the airport in the price of your holiday, it’s not a given. Check to see if you’re covered. If not, it will be up to you to choose either to pay to use the cruise company’s transfer service, or hire a taxi or Uber. Note: while the cab or Uber could be the less expensive choice, it’s important to be onboard well ahead of the sailing time, so plan accordingly