Cruising with MJ – You’ve Booked Your Cruise So Now What?

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 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.

Shore Excursions

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 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

About Marshall Jackson

Marshall Jackson is a former airline pilot, grounded by diabetes. After spending several years in operations management, he exited the airline business for a more stable career. But that hasn't dampened his interest in airplanes, airlines and travel in general.

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  1. With regards to insurance- what do you do for medical coverage? It is my understanding that the only way to have medical coverage on a ship is to purchase some sort of travel policy. For me the risk there is far greater than insuring the actual trip costs.

  2. I don’t know how to cast a vote on your group cruise question…clicking everything!! Sure–a group cruise would be fun.

  3. I’m with brant. I purchase trip insurance because my Heath insurance wouldn’t cover the emergencies that may happen on a ship. I get my trip insurance through USAA

  4. I’m glad you commented. I changed health insurance providers with my relocation to Georgia, and I had not even thought to check what coverage (if any) they will provide for care offered on a cruise ship. My last plan had a list of conditions on what it would and would not cover in that regard.

  5. Kathy, I had set the poll to close on Feb 20, so it doesn’t allow additional votes. There is some interest in a group cruise and I’m looking at it. One thing that is standing in the way right now is that I have to convince myself that I won’t get sued if I host a group and there’s a fire in the engine room during the cruise. 😀

  6. We also self insure (since we are both young retirees and our immediate family is healthy too) therefore, we buy travel insurance for our cruises from wheels up (lost luggage, trip delay, trip canx, medical evac, medical issues, to wheels down. This year since we have three cruises, one land trip to Cuba we bought Travel guard’s annual policy. Our cost is less than .5%, normal cost for travel insurance is 4-8% of total cruise cost. If you need coverage for pre-existing medical conditions and you’re older, expect to pay more towards 8%+ of total cruise price. Strongly recommend not buying cruise line travel insurance–you will not be insured if the cruise line files for bankruptcy–prior to your cruise. Altho, we have been USAA members for over 35 years, we purchase our tvl insurance policy from, tho MJ’s is also good.

    We usually take action limousines based here in Atlanta to get to the Atlanta airport (cost over a 21 day cruise is less about $5 a day, generally $5 per day cheaper than using airport parking vendors (e.g., Park & ride, Wallypark, etc.,) Moreover, tone for our cruise is set when picked up at home and delivered to terminal without concern for parking–then rush to check-in. Inverse is also nice, getting picked up and driven home without having to take airport shuttle to parking lot.

    When we sail Regent Seven Seas, excursions are included so no worries about arranging private excursions. For our Siversea cruise next month we are using both Ship excursions and a private excursion in the Azores that we coordinated other pax to join us from cruise critic.

  7. Wes – I’m curious about how you booked your land trip to Cuba. I’ve always wanted to go there, but I was under the impression that my U.S. passport might make that impossible. For the time being.

  8. How do you get your travel agent booked Celebrity & RCCL trips to import into tripit? Mine send a scan of a pdf (usually with some notes) that isn’t tripit friendly. Is there an easy way to get a tripit compatible email or do you have to type it in yourself?

  9. @reeder, has only worked for me when I have booked directly with the cruise line, and received a confirmation directly from them. It would seem to not matter, but it does in my experience. I have never had a .pdf confirmation forwarded from my TA that appears to be the same thing I would have received from the cruise line work. Alas, I usually just manually enter things now.

  10. Hi Deandra,

    Travel to Cuba is possible if the agency you are using has a license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control.
    Pls see more info on the OFAC liscense below. We are traveling with Walter Reeves’ Master Gardener group here in metro Atlanta, using Earthbound Expeditions:

    A specific license requires paperwork and State Department approval on case-by-case basis. You may be approved for a specific license if you fall into a certain class of persons. Note that a specific license may be granted to an institution (i.e. university, church) under whose auspices an individual may then travel without applying separately to the State department, or a specific license may be applied for and granted to an individual. Some of the classes of persons who may be granted a specific license are:

    Persons visiting immediate family in Cuba
    Full-time graduate students conducting academic research to be counted toward a graduate degree
    Undergraduate or graduate students participating in a study abroad program of at least 10 weeks in length
    Professors/teachers employed at a US institution travelling to Cuba to teach
    Persons engaging in religious activities
    Freelance journalists
    Persons engaging in humanitarian projects
    Persons engaging in non-profit cultural exhibitions

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