52 Lessons Learned

In this article you will find:


Packaged Tours on Water


Turnkey Decisions


Land Lover Destinations and River Cruises


Lessons We’ve Learned


A Final Useful Tip

Planning is often the highlight of any travel adventure. Indeed, it’s sometimes more fun and fulfilling to plan a trip than to actually take it! After all, anticipating a new trip focuses the mind on many positive thoughts. It means stepping outside oneself, changing tired routines, doing revealing research, learning about amazing places, collecting interesting information, anticipating stories and memories, and taking charge. That’s the essence of wonderful travel. So, we all should be so fortunate to live such curious and travel-rich lives!

If you’re primarily a spontaneous and impulsive traveler, who does minimal planning and has lots of time on your hands, low anxiety cruising may be the perfect way to go.

Browse glossy brochures, explore eye-catching websites, and view exciting videos and you’ll discover the obvious – cruises are pre-planned packaged tours sponsored by floating resorts, with some approaching the status of small cities. Their guests expect to be pampered and entertained as well as encounter many serendipitous experience, including interesting strangers. You just need to decide which cruise package best fits your budget and interests, gather necessary documents, pack a bag or two, and show up in a timely manner at the designated departure port. Once onboard, settle into your stateroom from where you will operate for the next several days or weeks as a captive of this cruise ship. You’ll probably spend more on this cruise than you initially planned. But in the end, it’s okay. You’re in an interesting new place where you’re collecting new experiences, memories, and relationships . . . and maybe planning another cruise adventure!

Packaged Tours on Water

Turnkey Decisions

If you adapt well to ocean cruising, it’s a go-with-the-flow type of travel adventure where your most important decisions involve onboard eating, drinking, socializing, shopping, and playing. The big decisions – where you’re going and how you’ll get there and back — have already been made for you. You occasionally put into ports where you will repeat a familiar routine — join tours, dine, and shop before getting back on board and moving on to your next destination.

Land Lover Destinations and River Cruises

While destinations are important to many cruisers, most places are best explored by land rather than by sea. Except for the Galapagos, the Amazon, the polar regions, and a few remote islands covered by exploration and expedition cruises, we can think of few places that are best visited by sea. Two- to five-hour shore excursions from crowded cruise ports is just enough time to do some local shopping, have a drink or two, and claim bragging rights that you indeed visited ABC country and XYZ city. In many cases, your cruise ship will become your destination – enjoying onboard cruise activities with occasional port stops. You’ll soon identify with your ship name.

Most of your travel decisions are turnkey – just show up and select from a menu of inclusive or add-on options. Since the cruise ship often becomes the destination, it’s important to choose your ship wisely since much of your cruise experience will revolve around “life onboard.” 

On the other hand, river cruises are especially top-heavy on destinations – you’ll constantly hop on and off the ship to explore locate sites. If you are very destination-oriented and a country has a well-developed river cruise infrastructure (England, The Netherlands, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Portugal, Russia, Egypt, South Africa, Brazil, Peru, China, Myanmar, Vietnam, India), seriously consider taking a river cruise rather than an ocean cruise to these places.

Lessons We’ve Learned

Over the years we’ve learned several important cruise planning lessons – preboard, onboard, after-cruise phases. Here are our top 51 planning lessons (plus a 52nd lesson as a bonus):


    1. LONG-RANGE PLANNING. Plan well in advance. The best cruise deals and cabin selections are usually a year or more in advance – the time when cruise companies run their best early-bird specials.

    2. CRUISE PREFERENCES. Let your travel agent know your cruise preferences (budget, days/weeks, regions, style, large, small, children, seniors, ocean, river, expedition) so he or she can be on the lookout for your perfect cruise.


    3. EXTENTION PORTS. Choose cruises that have attractive embarkation and/or debarkation ports where you may want to extend your ground stays for a few days, such as Copenhagen, Barcelona, Lisbon, Istanbul, Rome, Cape Town, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Sydney.


    4. CRUISE PAYMENT. Put as little money down on your cruise as possible. If you pay in full and later learn the price of your cabin has gone down as you get closer to your departure date, you’ll be in a weak position to negotiate a price or upgrade adjustment.


    5. MAIDEN VOYAGES. Avoid maiden voyages, which are basically shake-down cruises where you may experience a host of unexpected onboard operational problems. Wait at least 4 months – after the new crew gets settled in, all systems operate properly, and the ship starts getting positive reviews from travel professionals and passengers (check out your desired cruise ship at


    6. PARKING AT TERMINAL/PORT. If you drive to a departure port, select a hotel where you can arrange long-term parking (many offer free parking or special parking rates for their cruise guests) and take a shuttle or Uber rather than pay high parking charges at the cruise terminal. Avoid pricey cruise transfer charges – another big profit center.


    7. CRUISE MATE CONNECTIONS. Meet your cruise mates before your cruise by checking out Roll Call and making contacts on You may be able to organize a private tour with these new cruise mates prior to meeting onboard.


    8. PRE-ARRANGE EXCURSIONS. Arrange reasonably-priced and a wider variety of shore excursions than offered by the ship before you board by visiting these tour and excursion websites:,,,, You can also contact local tour companies directly and arrange to be met for private tours. If you choose to go with ship-sponsored excursions, be sure to reserve these early so you qualify for ship discounts. If you wait until you’re onboard, you may end up paying 200% above retail.


    9. FORBIDDEN LIQUOR. Do not bring liquor onboard – maybe one or two bottles of wine and Champagne will be permitted, but hard liquor will probably be confiscated (see cruise line rules relating to carry-on liquor or ask your booking agent)


    10. SMALL CABINS. Prepare for small space living (around 200 square feet) unless you opt for a more expansive suite. A room with a balcony is usually a good choice for a feeling of additional space.


    11. EXTENSION CORD AND EXTRA OUTLETS. You should always travel with an extension cord (prohibited by some cruise lines for some strange reason) and a power strip with multiple outlets. Unfortunately, many cruise cabins seem to be designed by engineers rather than end-users. Invariably, you’ll be short of outlets and will welcome the extension cord and additional outlets.


    12. TECHNOLOGY. Familiarize yourself with all systems in your cabin, especially technology connected to your television and smart phone. Use this technology to order room service for breakfast and/or dinner early in your cruise. Cruise lines are increasingly expanding their touchless technology to include onboard contact and communication apps.


    13. ONBOARD SHOPPING. The best time to shop onboard is near the end of the cruise when shops want to unload their excess inventory. Look for pop-up sales outside the shops and other crowd-pleasing specials.


    14. BATHROOM ORGANIZER. Take a bathroom organizer – lightweight transparent plastic shoe organizer that fits on door.


    15. FOOTWEAR. Wear comfortable and sturdy shoes. Avoid walking around in flip-flops. They invite accidents, which will result in a visit to the high-priced ship doctor and clinic.


    16. TIP MONEY. Take lots of $1, $5, and $10 bills with you in order to tip the many people who offer services along with way. In other words, don’t be caught without tip money!


    17. SOLO DEALS. If traveling solo, check out cruise lines that are solo-friendly with single-cabin pricing.


    18. SHIP REVIEWS. Review individual ships by taking virtual tours (see and cruise lime websites), checking out ship reviews (, and contacting a cruise specialist travel agent (reputation).


    19. THE RIGHT SHIP. Identify the right ship for you – the most appropriate for your interests (may want to avoid youth-oriented cruises), budget, and travel style. Cruise lines and ships have their own unique character and cater to specific types of travelers.


    20. TIME. Set your watch to ship time and keep changing it as you go into new time zones. When you visit onshore, be sure to set an alarm so you are back on ship in time for departure. If you take a transatlantic cruise, consider going east to west rather than west to east since the east-west time changes will appear to give you a longer cruise.


    21. CABIN SAFE. Use it for your valuables, which hopefully are few, and important documents.


    22. SEASICKNESS. Choose cabins at the lower levels and in the middle of the ship. If you get seasick, start self-medicating with green apples which are available at the buffet.


    23. LIMITED CRUISE DEALS. You may be wasting your time doing comparative shopping for the same cruise. Cruise prices are largely fixed by the cruise lines – same price if you book directly with the cruise line, through a cruise or travel website, or with a travel agent. What you should shop for are cruise add-ons and perks, such as cabin credits, upgrades, free airport transportation, and special travel agency meet-and-greet gatherings. Large, well-established, and high-volume travel agencies often offer clients “added value”, because they are members of such luxury networks as Virtuosa and Signature Travel Network. On the other hand, if you are a member of Costco, check out their special cruise deals – one of the best kept secrets in the cruise industry.


    24. COSTCO CRUISE DEALS. Here’s the deal. Costco members receive 10-20% Costco Shop Cards for their travel purchases (spend $10,000 and you may get a Costco Shop Card worth $1,000-$2,000). Buyer-members use those cards for making additional Costco purchases. In addition, members receive a 2% rebate on card purchases (another $200 rebate). All totaled, your cruise purchase through Costco can result in a 12-22% discount off the regular cruise price offered by the cruise line, travel agencies, and online travel and cruise sites. As far as we know, no one can come close to beating such Costco cruise and travel deals!


    25. HIDDEN COSTS. Understand the differential costs of cruising – short (2-3 day) Cruises to Nowhere and Caribbean cruises are the least expensive; polar exploration and expedition cruises are the most expensive; river cruises are more expensive than ocean cruises; cheap cruises with many add-ons can be nearly as expensive as all-inclusive luxury cruises (see Regent Seven Seas comparative costs chart) under “Top Luxury Cruises.”


    26. REAL COSTS. Carefully consider the real costs of cruises, especially so-called inexpensive cruises that have many hidden costs. Question: what’s it going to cost me? May need to multiply the advertised cruise cost by 3 or 4 to get the final cost (some of the so-called inexpensive cruises lines charge for bottled water – part of their whole nickel and dime approach to budget cruising).


    27. ONBOARD WATER. Drink the tap water (safe) rather than purchase any cruise ship’s over-priced bottled water.


    28. CAMERAS EVERYWHERE. Watch what you do. Ship cameras are everywhere, including in elevators. They are great for security, but remember you are seldom alone!


    29. WALKIE-TALKIES. Consider traveling with a walkie-talkie, which will come in handy both onboard and onshore for keeping in contact with your travel companion(s).


    30. CASINO LUCK. Don’t spend too much time in the ship casino – the house REALLY WINS on cruise ships. You’re better off playing bingo where winnings can be nice.


    31. TRIP INSURANCE. Be sure to take out travel insurance, especially trip cancellation and evacuation insurance through a reputable travel insurance company. Avoid pricey insurance offered by cruise companies and some travel agencies that earn big commissions on such insurance sales.


    32. CREDIT CARD COVERAGE. Use a credit card that includes travel insurance – charge your cruise, flights, and rental car on that card. (check out Visa United Mileage Plus, Visa Sapphire, and American Express). Review the details on insurance coverage with your credit card.


    33. CRUISE SEASONS. Choose the best time of year (seasons) to cruise in various regions of the world. Remember, south of the Equator in November through February is summer time. That’s a great time of year to cruise in Southeast Asia, Australia, India, Africa,  South America, and the Caribbean. Hurricane season in the Caribbean runs August to the end of October. Alaska has a short cruise season — from May to September.


    34. SHIP SIZE. Size does matter when cruising. Therefore, be sure to consider the size of your cruise ship. Many seniors avoid large mega ships (4,000+ passengers) in favor of smaller ships (under 1,000 passengers). Many are not attracted to family-oriented activities (multi-generational cruises) and youth-oriented entertainment and activities. Seniors tend to seek quieter cruise experiences that are both fun and educational.


    35. RIVER AND EXPEDITION CRUISES. Consider joining river cruises and expedition/exploration cruises. These cruises emphasize destinations, wildlife, and nature rather than ports and traditional land tours.


    36. MOBILITY ISSUES. Understand the physical limitations of various cruises as well as cruise ships. If you have mobility issues, be sure to check on the cruise lines mobility practices. Viking, for example, is one of the least mobility-friendly cruise lines. They literally encourage people with disabilities to cruise with more appropriate cruise lines.


    37. BOARDING TIMES. Board later rather than earlier (if a 12-5pm window, go at 3pm). Early birds get to stand in line and experience large crowds. Later arrivals can board relatively crowd-free. The difference may be 90 minutes to board versus 20 minutes. There will still be plenty of food awaiting you!


    38. BUFFETS. Avoid the arrival buffet – too many people and not especially tasty.


    39. DINING ROOM. Frequent the dining room for breakfast and lunch rather than head for the buffet where you’ll encounter the proverbial runny scrambled (powdered) eggs.


    40. SET SEATING. If your cruise has assigned seating in the dining room and you’re unhappy with your tablemates – boring or obnoxious conversations, chatter boxes, narcissists, guest don’t show up to partially empty table — ask to be reassigned or given a private table.


    41. ROOM SERVICE. Use room service, especially for breakfast. It’s usually free.


    42. MAIN DISHES. Order more than one main if you feel like it or if you are unhappy with your initial main selection.


    43. DINNER RESERVATIONS. Make dinner reservations, especially for specialty restaurants, early in your cruise. Early birds get the best restaurants and seating.


    44. MEDICATIONS AND SHIP CLINIC. Be sure to take a good supply (add another 5 days) of necessary medications plus any sea sickness, diarrhetic, or cold medications. If you need drugs or medical attention while onboard, expect to be shocked when you get your medical bill.


    45. CRUISE STYLE. What’s your cruising style? How do you want to travel? Do you enjoy dressing up for formal nights? Dancing? Specialty restaurants? Enrichment programs? Do you prefer a very casual relaxed style of cruising?


    46. CRUISE RESEARCH. Do your research first on the Internet, but purchase your cruise through a trusted travel agent who specializes in cruises. RECOMMENDED: They know the business well, offer extra services and special deals (Virtuosa). You need to initially do this research so you know what QUESTIONS to ask your agent when doing the final booking. RECOMMENDED SITES: bounce between these 2 – and But don’t forget to check out the cruises offered by Costco (see Tip #24).


    47. CRUISE RIP OFFS. Avoid cruise rip off or shady practices which are similar to many large hotels and resorts. Cruise companies are in the business of making money, and they make their money off passengers before, during, and after the cruise. Once they get you onboard and the ship is underway, they maximize their profit centers by encouraging their “captive audience” to spend more money. At this point, many cruise ships are NOT your friend. Some try to nickel and dime you to death with expensive bottled water, liquor, and Internet services while others are more subtle with all-inclusive pitches. Once onboard, they want you to spend as much money as possible in profit centers largely run by experienced concessionaries under contract with the cruise line. The major profit centers include airport to cruise terminal transfers, overpriced drinks, liquor packages, photo operations, specialty restaurants, spas, casino, Internet, shops, art auctions, shore excursions, and automatic gratuities. In many cases you will be paying 50-100%+ above retail! And before you leave the ship, you’ll be approached to sign up for another cruise with incentives to act impulsively – the ultimate upsell!


    48. DISEMBARKING. Depart when you want to – staged arrangements are primarily recommendations (few cruise lines check your number or color code when departing). If you need to leave early, just get in line and go (no questions asked). But try to be nice and orderly– everyone benefits by not jumping the queue.


    49. CHECK YOUR FINAL BILL. Don’t settle your account until you’ve gone over your final bill carefully. Like hotels and resorts, cruise ships do make billing errors. If you need to question charges, you must do it BEFORE you leave the ship. So do your due diligence in carefully scrutinizing your bill. If you have any questions or disputes, visit the purser late at night or early in the morning before crowds form on disembarking day.

    50. FREE STUFF. Look for free stuff and special services – upgrades, drinks/food (art auctions, meetings, shopping specials, anniversaries, birthdays, other special occasions), and prizes.

    51. PROACTIVE CRUISING. Be proactive – complaining about a problematic cabin (too noisy, limited space, water pressure, stopped-up toilet, etc.) often gets action, including freebies such as a cabin upgrade.

A Final Useful Tip

Hopefully several of these planning tips will get you off and running in the right direction as well as help you enjoy a relatively trouble-free trip. One other tip worth considering. If you booked your cruise through a travel agent (highly recommended), be sure to keep that person’s name, phone number, and email handy just in case you run into a problem that could best be handled by the person who sold you the cruise and hotel add-ons. We encountered this problem with a hotel reservation that was nonexistent when we arrived in London during the Christmas holidays after taking a 7-day transatlantic cruise. Someone dropped the reservation ball and unfortunately the hotel was fully booked for the holidays. Pleading with the hotel staff to find us room was pointless since they had no record of us in their system. We immediately contacted our travel agent who managed to jump through a few hoops to get the hotel to squeeze us into a less than desirable room. On the last day the hotel apologized for the error and tiny room experience; they also promised us a free upgrade the next time we visited, which was in the following year. Keep that contact handy . . . just in case your best laid plans unravel. Always try to be your best travel expert, knowing full well that stuff happens on cruises and that help is not too far away – just a text, email, or phone call!

Most of your travel decisions are turnkey – just show up and select from a menu of inclusive or add-on options. Since the cruise ship often becomes the destination, it’s important to choose your ship wisely since much of your cruise experience will revolve around “life onboard.” 

On the other hand, river cruises are especially top-heavy on destinations – you’ll constantly hop on and off the ship to explore locate sites. If you are very destination-oriented and a country has a well-developed river cruise infrastructure (England, The Netherlands, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Portugal, Russia, Egypt, South Africa, Brazil, Peru, China, Myanmar, Vietnam, India), seriously consider taking a river cruise rather than an ocean cruise to these places.