Foreign Currency.

Thirty years ago you could bring US dollars to virtually any country and most merchants would accept them readily. Today, the US dollar, while still the world's benchmark currency, is pretty much reviled in just about every country on the planet. Try paying for a coffee at a cafe in Italy or England using American money and see how they feel about it.

Yes, you can find places to exchange your money while you are on vacation, but why spend the precious time seeking them out?  Why subject yourself to the usually horrendous exchange rates?  Trust me, they are not in your favor.

A couple of weeks before you head out on your vacation, figure out how much foreign currency you'll probably need in each of the countries you'll be visiting. Go to your bank and place an order. Some larger banks have some popular currencies on hand, but most branches don't, so you'll have to wait a couple of days for your branch to receive your currency.

How much foreign currency will you need? First off, for two very good reasons, we strongly suggest that you use your credit card for every possible purchase you make while in a foreign land.  1. You're credit card company will provide you with the most favorable exchange rate, and 2. Using your credit card means you won't need to carry as much cash.

As to how much foreign cash you'll need, think about the time you'll spend while in-country.  You may need cash for little purchases like food or drinks purchased from a street vendor.  Perhaps souvenirs from a bazaar, taxi rides, etc.  If you're spending time in a hotel, don't forget about gratuities.  Keep in mind that you may be tempted to take advantage of a 'cash discount' on a substantial purchase offered by a merchant. It's common for tourists to buy items the location is famous for manufacturing (watches in Switzerland, furs in Russia, pearls in Japan, etc.).  If you think you might be tempted, bring enough local currency.

Having too much local currency is better than not having enough. You can always return the unused amount to your bank. They're going to hit you with another exchange rate, but your own bank should be better than most other places.

Dinner Reservations.

Gone are the days when you were required to eat dinner at the same assigned time every day, at the same table, and with the same passengers.  On most ships today dinners offer you more flexibility and more choices. On larger ships not only can you have a beautiful gourmet meal in the large main dining room that seats hundreds at a time, but you can also choose to eat in one of the several specialty restaurants available on-board.  These are generally very high-class, beautifully decorated, more intimate settings, with a specialty menu. One might be a steakhouse.  Another might be Italian, while yet another might offer Tai or Mexican fare. Take note that eating in these specialty restaurants generally comes with a modest additional charge. Regardless of where you'd like to eat dinner, you can call and make a reservation or you can just show up whenever you want.  But take heed. Making a reservation gives you priority, while just showing up means you may have to wait (especially at prime time).

Avoid the Morning Rush.

Mornings can be very hectic on a cruise ship. If you are not prepared it can also be one of the more frustrating times of your vacation. But just like every other potential frustration, if you anticipate it there's almost always a way to avoid it completely.  Isn't that what makes a perfect vacation? No frustrations.

Most ships use their big buffet room as the main spot on the ship for breakfast. The vast majority of shore excursions begin around the same time in the morning (usually within an hour of each other, say between 8:00-9:00am). Therefore, you can imagine that the breakfast buffet is pretty busy as the vast majority of passengers are trying to get themselves fed and ready to go onshore, all around the same time.  The line to get into the buffet can be quite long and finding an empty table at which to sit and eat can be tough.

Here's our best advice.  Avoid the breakfast buffet.  Instead, take advantage of room service.  It's free and on most ships it is available 24-hours a day.  Also on most ships, the menu is quite substantial so you shouldn't feel like you're missing anything. Better yet, place your order the night before and ask them to serve it at a certain time. Most ships today will even recommend this little gem of an idea to you by placing a breakfast order form in your room, or on your door, the night before.  Fill it out. Mark the time you'd like it delivered. And set your alarm for a most enjoyable next morning. You can wake later than you would had you planned to eat at the buffet, enjoy your leisurely coffee and breakfast in your PJ's, and get ready for your day. All without leaving the comfort of your stateroom. A perfect morning with zero frustration.

Make a List

It's amazing how many stories we hear about people forgetting to pack something important.  It's one thing to forget something that is easily replaced, like a tie, a belt, flip-flops, bathing suit, etc. (These and lots more are available for purchase on-board practically every cruise-ship). It's another to forget something like a prescription medication, a passport, or prescription glasses.

Our advice is simple. Before you make a list of things to pack for your trip, at least one week in advance, take one of your smaller suitcases out of storage and set it in a conspicuous area of your bedroom where you'll have to pass it several times a day. Immediately run around the house and grab all of those important hard-to-replace items and toss them in the suitcase. Your passport (assuming you need it for your trip) should be the first item. If there are items that you can't yet pack because you need them during these last few days at home, then write that item on a piece of paper and throw it in the bag.  Make sure all 'important' items are accounted for first. Next pack all of those items that you feel might be easy to forget but really don't want to have to purchase later. It might be a special pair of earrings you want to wear on formal night or a romantic greeting card you picked out to give your spouse while on the trip. It might just be a pair of sunglasses that fit you perfectly or a particular brand of moisturizer that may not be easy to duplicate on the trip. If you think there's a chance you'll forget it, throw it in the bag now.

Once that's done, you'll be surprised how many things come to mind as the next few days go by with that bag sitting there in plain sight. It's likely you'll throw several more things into that bag long before the actual day of packing. But that's a good thing as this exercise will surely minimize your chance of forgetting something.

Choose Your Cabin Location Wisely.

Are you a light sleeper?  Are you concerned at all about sea sickness? These are factors to consider when deciding not only on the type of cabin you'll want to live in while on your cruise, but just as important (if not more important) the location of that cabin. Many cruisers don't know how important your cabin location can be to the comfort and enjoyment of your cruise.  While today's mega-ships have the latest stabilizer technology, if the ship does experience a bit of rough seas, you may feel more of the up and down motion in a forward or aft (rear) cabin.  Many people actually enjoy the rocking motion while they sleep but if you're not one of them, we suggest you pick a cabin as close to the middle of the ship as you can.   Similarly, if you are a light sleeper we suggest you not choose a cabin in the forward section of the ship.  From time to time the ship may be cutting through some waves in such a way as to create a bump, bump, bump feeling.  This sometimes translates into a vibration of sorts that may be felt while you are tucked in bed.  Some people say they love it. If you're not sure if you're going to be one of them, stay away from the forward cabins. There are other factors when considering your cabin location, but these are the two most important ones that can have a real effect on a good night's sleep.

Things to Book Early.

Popular stuff fills up quick.  That's pretty much a good rule of thumb in all circles.  It's no different when you're on a cruise vacation.  If you're a procrastinator you might come across some disappointments while on your vacation.  So either take someone with you that is your opposite or make a vow to yourself not to give in to your tendency for delay with the following.

Some shore excursions are not only popular but also limit the number of people.  Therefore, don't be surprised if by the time you get to planning your port-of-call days a few options are no longer options.  Our advice is simple.  As soon as shore excursions become available to you (shore excursions can't be booked as far in advance as the cruise itself), check them out and make your choices early.  The good news is that if you change your mind later and wish to cancel, most cruise lines are very accommodating, most times right up to the day of the excursion.

Spa services are very popular on a cruise, even though they are on the expensive side, most especially on days when you are at sea instead of docked at port. Experienced cruisers know this and thus will book their hair styles, manicures, massages, etc., long before the cruise even sails.  If you wait until you're on-board to book something for an at-sea day, there's a good chance you'll be disappointed.  However, on those days when the ship is docked at one of its ports-of-call and most passengers are off the ship, that's when the spa services go on sale.  You'll receive notices in your stateroom of certain services and even packages of services that are being offered at deep discount prices in case you decide to stay on-board that day.

However, there is a way you can take advantage of the discounted spa services and take an on-shore excursion, both in the same day. While many excursion are all-day events, you'll also find tours and activities offered that are only half-day or even just a couple of hours.  You should be able to experience a bit of your host city and take advantage of a spa service too.

Pack Smart

Here are a couple of things to consider when packing for your cruise.

Once in your stateroom you'll unpack your luggage.  Now, what do you do with the empty suitcases? The average person takes one medium/large suitcase and one carry-on sized suitcase.  This would mean that the average couple now has to find a spot to store at least four empty suitcases. Unless you're in a large suite with a big walk-in closet, you may find it inconvenient to shove or stack them in a corner of the cabin, only to have to look at them all week.

It's possible for some soft-sided (not hard-shell) suitcases to fit under the bed. However, because the beds are lower to the floor than standard beds, there might be a bit of 'crushing' so keep that in mind.

Some ships will offer to store your empty suitcases until the end of the cruise, but you may not want to count on that service being available as sometimes they only offer that to passengers in suites.

Most people don't know that ships have laundry machines, usually on every other floor. If you don't want to spend any precious vacation time doing your own laundry, the ship also offers laundry services. Dry cleaning too. As you might imagine, these services are usually on the expensive side, but certainly convenient. (If you need your suit or tux pressed for formal night, they'll usually do that for free.)

Our best recommendation is to consider carefully each item you are thinking about packing. Take only what you need and forget about taking 'contingency' items.  Choose items based on their weight and amount of space they take up in your bag. Jeans are much heavier than most slacks or leggings and take up much more space. Light weight, thin, poly-blend polo vs. thick cotton.  Take only one pair of versatile dress shoes, one pair of sneakers, one pair of thin flip-flops, one light suit or tux and one light cocktail dress (for formal nights). If you think you'll need something for chilly weather, consider leaving the thick coat home and taking a light, water-resistant windbreaker and layer underneath it. Take only one versatile purse (better yet a tote), mainly one to take on shore excursions. Following these packing suggestions and the two of you will likely be able to share only one medium/large suitcase and one carry-on (maybe two). Keep in mind that if you end up needing fresh clothes you can always do a load of laundry or pay to have a few pieces washed (they charge by the piece).  It may be better than to deal with twice as many suitcases.

Pack a 'First-Day' Bag.

Just before you board your cruise ship you'll give your bags to the luggage handlers who will load it onto the ship.  From there, the crew will eventually bring each bag to its respective stateroom. With thousands of bags to handle, you can imagine that this process takes several hours to complete.  Most ships allow you to check-in and board early in the afternoon.  You may not see the bulk of your luggage until later that evening.  Therefore, you should expect to be without your luggage for much of the first day on-board the ship. This can be very inconvenient if you're not prepared.

Therefore, to have a perfect first day, pack a small 'carry-on' bag with items you'll want to have during your first few hours on-board.  Pack it as though you don't expect to see your luggage until very late that first night.  Give all your other bags to the handlers, but carry this one with you to your cabin. You'll want to have your bathing suit and flip-flops, sunscreen, toothbrush and toiletries, medicines, dinner clothes and your pajamas in case your luggage doesn't show up until after your bedtime.  Don't worry, they won't wake you.  They'll just leave the bags outside your door.

Food Allergies on a Cruise?

While some cruise lines make a greater effort than others to accommodate people with food allergies, you should still follow this advice on any and every cruise.

Before you embark on your cruise, make a call (or better yet, have your travel consultant call) to the corporate office of your cruise line. Ask to speak with the office that handles the on-board dining. Talk to someone that seems to be more than just a receptionist or secretary (no disrespect intended).  First, make them feel good about your call. You want to let them know that you will shortly be taking a cruise with them.  You are very excited about it and have heard lots of wonderful things about the cruise line and its wonderful staff. This will make this person like you and want to help you in any way they can.  Next, tell them you are calling because you have food allergies and would like their advice on how to handle the issue when on-board their ship. Have a pen and paper handy.  Because you set up the call nicely, don't be surprised if this person doesn't go over-the-top trying to help you.  They may even offer to have certain foods brought on-board just for you.

The advice they offer you will likely include the following.  If it doesn't, follow it anyway.  Most importantly, immediately upon your arrival on-board the ship go find the Main Dining Room's Head Waiter. He (yes, it's probably a man) will likely be at his post preparing for that evening's dinner.  Introduce yourself and don't be surprised if he already knows who you are and begins to explain what he and his staff will be doing to accommodate your allergies.

Convenient Cabin Locations

When it comes to offering cruise advice, we have two top tips dealing cabin selection. One deals with selecting the right cabin for you based on possible sea-sickness issues or propensity for being a light-sleeper. Those are discussed in another article. This one deals more with convenience.

Going back to the idea that every moment of a vacation is precious, you'll want to give some consideration, when picking out your stateroom, to how much walking you'll do going to and from your cabin. It's likely that you'll go back and forth several times a day. To meals and back. To a shore excursion and back. To the pool and back. To a show and back. To the gym or spa or casino and back. You get the drift.

Some of today's cruise ships are incredibly long. The longest being over 1,600 feet. That's about one-third of a mile. These behemoths do have at least two elevator/stair areas so you're never too far from being able to go up or down. However, imagine that your cabin is at the very forward section of that ship.  And let's say that you hit the gym every morning, and you like spending some time at the solarium every day, and you enjoy a particular hot tub (because of its view) every night before retiring to bed. And let's say that all of those are located in the aft (rear) section of that ship. This means that you'll be doing a good deal of walking to and fro (up to 1/3-mile each way).

We all know that walking is beneficial to our health. But if you feel that your precious vacation time is more valuable than spending it taking long walks back and forth to your cabin, then take a good look at the options available to you on-board. Consider all of the places where you might spend a good deal of your time. If the majority of those places tend to be at one end of the ship or the other, you may want to give some consideration to choosing a cabin closer to that end of the ship.

Book With an Expert

Booking a cruise on your own is likely to cost you more money (perhaps a lot more) than booking it through a Professional Cruise Travel Consultant. You won't be getting the expert tips and advice that can truly enhance your experience. And you'll have to spend hours researching and booking your shore excursions, tours, and other activities.  

Booking and planning a vacation should be fun, not stressful. Call your Cruise Expert today. If you don't have one yet, we'd be honored if you called us.


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