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Cruising FAQ

FAQ index

  1. Is it worth doing an excursion and should I book with the cruise line or independently?
  2. What are the recommendations if one suffers from motion sickness?
  3. Do cruise ships offer zodiac style rides along the shores?
  4. Do we need to get dressed up for dinner?  Will I need a Tuxedo?
  5. Do I have to attend the mandatory muster drill?
  6. Where is the best place to ask cruising questions?
  7. Why do they not offer excursions on sea days?

Is it worth doing an excursion and should I book with the cruise line or independently

It all depends on the port and what your interests are, so there is no general answer.  Some ports are full of tourist attractions, others just have wonderful scenery good for hiking.  Here are some considerations.

Firstly there is the question of docking versus tendering.  Big ships will have to tender in small ports, smaller ships may berth, but often go to smaller ports and so they may have to tender too.  The itinerary should indicate the ports where you will tender.  Big ships take longer to get everyone ashore, and so may give priority to the cruise line excursions.  If you are making independent arrangements, you are given a time to be back, either "gang plank up" if berthed, or "last tender leaves shore" if not berthed.  It is unwise to miss these times.

If there is a delay for any reason, traffic, breakdown, lost passenger, the ship will usually wait for its own organised tours, or if it can't, their agents will get you to the next port.  If you are on a private tour you are on your own, unless your tour operator has made provisions for this.  The ship will often wait if it can, but there is no guarantee.  Sometimes the tides dictate departure time, sometimes the berth is needed for another ship, sometimes the schedule to get to the next port has no slack.  The captain weighs all this up and takes a decision to minimise cost and maximise the experience for all the passengers, not just the late ones.  Arrogant passengers may say, "Oh, they'll wait for us", I have heard people say this, but only if he is able.

There is another consideration for cruise line versus independent tours, which is what happens if the weather prevents access to a port, and the captain decides to skip it.  This doesn't happen often, as the captain's priority is to make the itinerary, and give the passengers the best experience; however he has a higher priority which is the safety of those on board.  If the captain skips a port, then booked excursions with the cruise line are automatically refunded through your on board account.  In the case of private excursions it depends on the arrangements at booking, some operate a "no dock - no fee" policy, some operate a loss of deposit and some operate full fee up front, whether you dock or not.  Usually if the arrangement is pay on the day, then they will operate on "no dock - no fee".  You need to discus this when making the booking and what happens if you miss the sail away.

Generally there are four options in a port.

  1. take a ship's excursion
  2. organise your own private excursion, (or join someone else)
  3. do your own thing
  4. stay on board

I'll deal with option 3 first.  Do your own thing.  This is just, get off the ship and wander around the town or visit somewhere without a local guide.  It is easy to do when the ship docks right in town like Antwerp, but in other places you need a shuttle, as the dock may be out of town.  Sometimes the port or town provide a complimentary shuttle, sometimes the cruise line do (it can be complimentary but often at a charge; $5 or $10) and sometimes they provide an excursion called "do your own thing".  The big problem is that you don't know if there will be a shuttle until you get the platter the night before.  By then it is usually too late to book something elae, as they will have been snapped up.  By using information at Whats in port you can usually assess if a shuttle is needed and will there be a local one.  Remember to be back by the stated time (in the patter).

Option 4 next, Stay on board.  This seems a non starter, but if the port doesn't offer anything that interests you, it is an option.  The ship will be a bit quieter with others ashore, and internet access will be easier (less people using it) and there is the possibility of free wifi spilling over from the cruise terminal.

I'll deal with options 1 and 2 together Excursions, since they are similar in the experience you get, it is the organisation of them that differs.  These excursions are popular and if something interesting is on offer can be the most memorable part of a holiday.  Usually the same people offer the excursions whether it is through the ship or booked independently, it is just that the ship chooses which they will offer, and then add a mark up (handling fee).  This brings us to the the main difference for many - cost.  Private bookings are usually cheaper, but you get the same experience.  Actually you can get a better experience, as the guides are flexible and can tailor the excursion as you go along on a private one, giving you choices according to the interests of those on the excursion, the weather, or whatever.  The ships excursions are usually fixed according to the brochure description, although sometimes the order might vary.  The ships excursions usually run in 50 seater coaches, whereas private excursions usually run in minibuses.  It can take a while to get 50 elderly people back on the coach and there is often someone who selfishly thinks that "back on coach times" do not apply to them.  They do not gain as lost time is just deducted from the next stop and everyone loses.

So why not always go private? Some people prefer this, and always go private, but you have to consider the risks and be prepared for them.  Private excursions can be more flexible, more comfortable, go to better places and be more friendly with the smaller numbers, which is why many people prefer them.  If on the other hand you prefer peace of mind rather than being prepared, the more expensive ship's excursion may be your better option.  Whether you are booking your own private excursions or the ship's ones, read through the available excursions as soon as they are made public (either a brochure through the post or on the web site and usually a few weeks or so before departure).  Book any that interest you straight away, you can always cancel later.  If you wait until you sail and can benefut from the port lectures, you may find the ones you want are already wait-listed.  If some problem occurs and they have to ration places they are likely to give priority to order of booking.

There is one thing to be aware of if visiting a Russian port.  The platter will warn you that independent tours require a Visa, and you will be unable to get off the ship without one.  This puts the frighteners on many people and they book ships tours even though they prefer independent ones.  The cruise line have a duty to give this warning, as you can not just get off the ship and wander about as you can in many ports.  However, as they want to sell their excursions they neglect to tell you this does not apply if you book a tour with an approved (by the Russians) independent tour operator who will look after all the formalities (they will need your passport details).

What are the recommendations if one suffers from motion sickness?

I had mal de mer once on a cross channel ferry in a force 10 gale, but I have had no problems since on a cruises.  Cruise ships generally have stabilisers (the Captain may say he has put the paddles out) which help a lot.  Generally it is not a problem; on all our cruises we have only had a few days with rough weather.  If you get motion sickness in a car, then you may need to consult someone with more than anecdotal knowledge.

If pitching and rolling disturbs you, then being able to see the horizon can help.  My wife suffers mildly but only needs medication on very bad days.  She has used whatever they have on the ship (you can get them at reception, one at a time, at £1 each).  She has also used Avomine (25mg).  She finds they make you sleepy and if taken in the morning can knock you out for most of the day.  She tried arm bands but found them no use.  I have seen people with patches, but I have no idea on their effectiveness.

"Diplomats" on Cruise Critics uses Sturgeron (not available in the US), see full post (need to be registered).

Do cruise ships offer zodiac style rides along the shores?

You only get these on the very small coastal cruisers, not on the larger ocean going cruise ships.  They do not have Zodiac craft available, they only have the tenders/lifeboats.  They usually have one zodiac for man overboard type events, but it isn't used otherwise.  However you might get these on an excursion if the port has someone doing them.  The King Crab excursion at Honnigsvag is on similar rigid inflatable craft, and you can get whale watching excursions from Húsavík on these as well as conventional boats.

Do we need to get dressed up for dinner? Will I need a Tuxedo?

This seems to the most hotly debated topic among cruisers.  At one end of the spectrum you have people who look upon this as the highlight of their holiday and liked to get dressed up for dinner every night and expect everyone to do so, not only in the dining room, but throughout the ship.  On the other hand you have people who take a holiday to relax and like to be casual.  The cruise lines like to steer a middle course and try to keep every one happy.  Generally the cruise lines will give guidance on expected dress code, although their wording is not always clear.  There is a difference between the lines, some being more formal and others more relaxed.   It makes good sense to study the requirements and choose the appropriate line axccording to your preference.

The majority of lines operate with a set number of formal nights, indicated in the patter. Black tie is only required on formal nights and most lines will accept dark suit, white shirt and tie rather than insist on a tuxedo.  Some people wear formal in the cafeteria/buffet though normally it is accepted that this is an escape route from the formal dining room.  This was so on the Braemar, we went to the Palm Cafe on one formal night, as they didn't have a decent menu.  We are not getting dressed up unless there is lobster available.  Most people there were just smart casual, there were one or two bow ties.  Torn jeans, swim suits and bathrobes are generally not acceptable in the restaurants.

I have only travelled on a few of the lines but from reading Cruise Critics I think it is pretty much ship dependent.  On Disney you could probably wear stuff that the fashion police on Cunard (other passengers) wouldn't tolerate.  On one ship we had a table turn up in open neck lumberjack shirts on formal night.  They had a few looks from other passengers, but otherwise just got on with their meal.

Do I have to attend the mandatory muster drill?

No, but you might wish you had.  In English the word mandatory means "not optional".  The cruise lines use this wording, not because they are sadistic and like to inflict us, but because they are obliged to do so under maritime law.   Moreover, they will hold a roll call, either by card-swipe or names/cabin #s called out from a register.   So if you are tempted to miss it, you will be found out.   What happens then is up to the cruise lines policy. administered by the captain.   This can be, at best, a special session which, to make sure the point gets home, could take much longer than normal.   At worst you could be disembarked.

The main purpose of this exercise is so that every passenger knows what the emergency signals are, where their muster station is, how to put on their life jacket and above all to listen to instructions by the crew.  Not all emergency situations are the same, and the passengers can not be trained for every eventuality.   Instead the passengers are given the basics and the crew trained in all the different types of emergency and how they are handled.   So it is important to listen to the crew, who are coordinated from the bridge, and follow their instructions.

Muster drills vary from ship to ship so you should read the first days patter very carefully.   Some require B2B passengers to attend both drills, some only require attendance at the first.   Some require life jackets to be brought, others do not.   If life jackets are brought, take care that you do not trail the straps, which is a tripping hazard.   In my experience Princess Cruises and Fred Olsen have good drills, HAL and Cruise Maritime are less satisfactory.

Where is the best place to ask cruising questions?

Google is the best place to ask any question, the trick is knowing how to phrase the question so as to avoid the meta sites that scoop up questions, promising answers but not delivering anything of use.   If you can't get an answer from Google, then go to Cruise Critics and ask there.   There are two useful links, the first is their main web site, which is a cruising web site giving information about the cruise lines, the ships, which cruises they have, which ports they go to, etc..   The second is a community forum, where people can ask a question and others will answer based on their experience.   This forum is open to read, but you must be registered to post a question or reply.   There is section within this forum called Roll Calls, for people who are on the same cruise to share experiences and planning.   The roll calls require registration to read as well as post.   Cruise Critics originated in USA but is now worldwide, although take up is still mainly American.

Why do they not offer excursions on sea days?

The cruise lines found that they were not popular with the passengers as they didn't like getting their feet wet.

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