Cruising with MJ – The Series
Cruising with MJ – Setting Sail on Your Own the MJ Way
Cruising with MJ – A Word on Picking the Right Cruise Line for You
Cruising with MJ – You’ve Booked Your Cruise So Now What?
Cruising with MJ – Let’s Get Packed
Cruising with MJ – It’s Almost Time to Cruise! What Do I Do Now?
Cruising with MJ – Three Days Until Sail Away
Cruising with MJ – Embarkation Day (It’s Time to Play)
In the third post in my Cruising with MJ series, I’m going to talk about the weeks and months leading up to your cruise. I’ll talk about things you should consider at booking or within a few days after like travel insurance. Then making plans on getting to the port, and finally a word about shore excursions. So let’s get started.
Travel Insurance – Yes or No?
I do not buy travel insurance for every cruise I take. I haven’t done the math to confirm my recollection, but I would say that the majority of my cruises are what you might call self-insured. Simply put, there is a certain amount of money that I can afford to lose. I won’t like it, but I can deal with it. Your typical 3-day “booze cruise” to the Bahamas falls into this category, as does any “inexpensive” cruise. Tolerance for this is subjective, and varies. At the other end of the spectrum was the 3 week trip to Europe that MrsMJ and I took during the fall which involved a relatively expensive cruise, a weeks worth of land-based touring before the cruise and a few days after as well. It was an extremely costly trip (by my standards), even with airfare covered by miles. Insuring that was a no-brainer for me due to the costs involved.
Generally, when I do purchase insurance, I do so through my travel agent. If you book a cruise through an agent, ask them what they have to offer with insurance, and do a little comparison shopping. There are multiple ways to purchase insurance, with one of the easiest being online at insuremytrip.com. You can also purchase the “vacation protection” offered by the cruise line if you book directly with them. I generally prefer traditional insurance, but if you have price shopped and find the option offered by the cruise line is more affordable, it is better than nothing in my opinion. Generally, it will reimburse you in cash for certain covered reasons, or with cruise credits up to a certain value if you cancel for any reason.
Getting to Your Ship
Well, now that you’ve booked your cruise, you need to think about how you will get to the ship. If you live near a port, that’s easy. You drive and park in a garage not unlike a trip to the airport. The rest of us must fly. OK, let me qualify that. I lived in DC for 12 years. The Port of Baltimore was 26 miles from our front door. That was nice, but in those years, we sailed from Baltimore exactly twice. The itineraries or timing just didn’t align enough for us for whatever reason. So more often than not, we found ourselves flying to Florida to board a ship.
You have some options. You can book the airfare on your own, which I’ve always done. Or you can book cruise line air. Nothing wrong with either. And there are some benefits to booking cruise air. Most notably, they know when and how you are arriving, and I’ve heard stories of ships being held for those who’ve been delayed but booked cruise air. The cruise line will also make sure you get rerouted to the next port of call should you wind up missing the ship if you book with them. I’m leaning towards trying cruise line air for our next cruise for these reasons, and for blogging material to share with you too!
This leads me to something I get preachy about sometimes. The cheapest travel insurance you can buy is an airline ticket that arrives at your port of departure the day before your cruise. (Off soapbox) But seriously, the stress of not knowing you’re going to make it to the cruise outweighs the cost of one night in a hotel for me. Opinions vary on this, but it is always my recommendation that you fly in the day before your cruise. Yes, I’ve successfully flown in day of, but I don’t make a habit of it.
You’ll find a lot of opinions on this, and frankly, mine varies. I book a mix of ship-sponsored shore excursions, private excursions, and no excursions at all. Ship-sponsored excursions may cost a couple of bucks more, than booking directly with a tour operator, but there is a little peace of mind knowing that if you miss a port, you’ll get your money back. When a ship arrives in port, you’ll find a plethora of people offering tours of various descriptions. They may be just fine, or they may not be. Overall, I prefer to book a tour through the ship if I’m not booking a private tour through my travel agent. That’s just me. In many ports, I’m just as happy reading a travel book and touring on my own. There is no right or wrong way. In some of the ports I’ve been to frequently, I’m also happy to let the masses do the touring while I enjoy peace and quiet on the ship, no hunting for pool chairs, and bar service without crowds.
Cruise lines make it pretty easy to book excursions online in advance of your cruise. If you don’t book in advance, you can also book onboard your ship. Private tours can be booked online in advance as well. You may have good luck researching tours through Trip Advisor, or you may find good information on tours from those with actual experience using a particular operator on the message boards at CruiseCritic.com as well. The bottom line, cruising is all about choices and the choice is yours.
Look for a future post on what to pack for your cruise.
-MJ, February 23, 2013