Pickwick’s cruising tips

Since I have cruising on the brain these days (3 days and counting until my next cruise), I have decided to compile my list of cruise tips. These are things I’ve either tried, read about, learned in seminars, or have heard fellow cruisers suggest.
Booking a cruise
Transatlantic/Re-positioning cruises sell fast.  Book these many months ahead for best cabin selection.
Prices during holidays and spring break are sky-high, and, yes, people cruise over Christmas.
Check the air prices before booking the cruise. So often people find really good cruise prices and later, while looking at airfare, they have a heart attack when the airfare is higher than the cruise. I’ve seen this often with Ft Lauderdale.
Be careful choosing a cabin. As a travel agent, I always look at the deck plans to make sure you’re not above or below the disco.
“Anytime Dining” (or the equivalent) is a good option if the early dining is full and you don’t want to eat at 8:30pm. As part of the “Anytime Dining,” did you know you can usually make reservations online for each night you sail before you board? Some cruise lines require that you pre-pay gratuities with the cruise deposit if you choose the “Anytime Dining” option.
Have an early morning excursion? Use room service for breakfast instead of tackling the crowded buffet. It doesn’t cost anything extra.
Sometimes you can choose your dining table size. My suggestion is that you choose either a 2-top if you like eating by yourselves (although there’s no guarantee one will be available) or at least a 6 or 8-top. If you end up at a table for 4 with another couple with whom you have absolutely nothing in common, it’s going to be a really long week. At least with a large table of people there is more variety in personalities.
Life on-board
Finding each other, ugh! I have seen families use walkie-talkie’s. With groups, I suggest  having a designated hang-out location.
Most cruise lines allow you to bring on a bottle or two (wine/champagne) at embarkation.  However, while on the cruise, you are not usually allowed to bring liquor/wine on board to your cabin. When visiting ports you can buy and bring it on, but the cruise line holds it until final day at disembarkation. The same thing happens if you buy it in the ship’s liquor store.  Sometimes in the ship souvenir shop they sell variety packs with 6 little bottles of flavored vodka and they will  allow you to take them to your cabin.
***The points mentioned above are generally true.  Please remember that all cruise lines are different and have different policies and regulations.
And the No. 1 tip — Use a travel agent!
Happy Sailing!

My likes and dislikes of cruising

First off, I’ve barely scratched the surface of the cruising world. At this moment, I think I’ve done maybe 6 big ship cruises. Here is a list of some of my personal likes and dislikes.
Like: The ease of cruising, no schedules to follow, you can be as active or lazy as you wish. Scheduled for the 6pm dining? You can blow it off and eat at the buffet or take room service anytime you like. There is always plenty to do, but you don’t have to do anything.
Dislike: At embarkation there is always about a 2-hour window when passengers are boarding and the cabins are not ready. This makes the public spaces very crowded and on top of that everyone is schlepping around their carry-on luggage. It’s loud, dining area is packed, no place to sit, and dining staff is furiously working to clean up all the dirty dishes and tables. Once everyone is allowed in their cabins….aahhh.
Dislike: The loud pounding music at the main pool area. And trying to use your I-pod here is impossible. The loud music forces everyone to yell when talking to one another. I don’t mind passing through this area and hanging out for a little bit, but it’s definitely not my camping out space.
Like: Here is my little secret– I like sitting in the lounge chairs on the deck where the life boats hang. It’s shady, quiet and breezy. It’s lower to the water line and sometimes you even get a little ocean spray.
Dislike: Sitting at a table with strangers for dinner. I’m not good at small talk. There are tables for 2, you can always ask.
Like: On our last cruise we discovered eating lunch in the main dining room, rather than the crowded, standing in line buffet. This became the highlight of our days at sea. We always got a table of our own and we’d have a long, relaxing, three course meal with cocktails, and white tablecloth service.
Dislike: The hairy chest/belly flop contests, I think these events are probably geared more to the Caribbean and Mexico cruises. This probably does not go on with the upscale cruise lines like Regent, Oceania, or Seabourn. I’m getting old, but I’d rather go to high tea in the afternoon or play scattagories.
Like: Days in port and you don’t get off the ship. Sleep in late, while the others are lined up to get out the door, and have a leisurely breakfast (you’ll have the dining room practically to yourself). This is the best time to schedule a spa treatment, the spa runs the best specials on port days.
I love cruising and I’m counting down (7 weeks) and I’m heading out for my 2nd Alaska cruise, can’t wait!