9 Things Smart Cruisers Always Do in The Run Up To Their Cruise

9 Things Smart Cruisers Always / Should Do in The Run Up To Their Cruise

I was on a 2-week cruise recently from Valparaiso, Chile to Buenos Aires and I came across many disappointed or frustrated passengers. Everything went great for me – with no unpleasant surprises – because I did the following in the weeks before the cruise, but others weren’t as relaxed as I was and this is why…

Smart Cruisers Check #1: The Sights

On this cruise, there were incredible sights and things to do. But so many people missed out as they did not do this first check. They missed a stunning volcano at Lake Todos Santos Lake, Petrohue falls, Falkland penguins, a heritage train through Tierra del Fuego National Park in Ushuaia.

I always check excursions as soon as the cruise line opens them, and again a month before cruising. For this cruise, excursions opened 100 days before sailing, but on others like my Regent Seven Seas Japan cruise it was nine months before.

As most passengers wait until they are on board, I was able to get every excursion I wanted. I made a note of the cancellation policy, which was 48 hours with no penalty before the excursion, and so after going to the port talks, I cancelled one as I saw self-exploring would be better in one port with no loss.

Doing the excursion check early also means I know what I need to budget. On this trip, excursions added $1,200 to my cruise. By checking early, I knew how much I needed, and it gave me time to save or look at less costly alternatives with independent providers.

But there’s another check I recommend also doing at least a month before.

Smart Cruisers Check #2: The Dining

On this trip I kept seeing people having to fit their dining around other people’s plans, not set their own.

Around four weeks before the cruise I check and make dining reservations. On some lines, though not on here, I book my anytime dining slots as well as specialty dining.

By doing it then, I got the days and times I wanted. If I had waited until on board, I could see my favoured times were fully booked.

Again, as there is no penalty for cancelling, I could adjust during the cruise which I did to join some people I met on the cruise for dinner.

Smart Cruisers Check #3: Get “Appy”

The check in process was a bit chaotic for this sailing. Partly as the port agents were a bit disorganised, but I saw many guests were not ready either.

Let me talk about the checks and things I do that made boarding smooth for me.

First, I check if there is a cruise line App and download it while on home Wi-Fi and get familiar with it. On Holland America, their Navigator App is critical for boarding and once on board.

It’s used to do the pre-boarding process like check in, health screen questionnaire and add a credit card.

It then held my boarding pass bar code which is scanned to enable faster boarding. Once on board it has the daily program, tour tickets, ability to book dining and excursions, check my on-board statement, chat with guest services and emergency contact details for the ship.

But also, for this trip, Holland America used the Verifly App where I could upload the required vaccination proof and Covid test for pre-screening, which then gave a green “good to cruise” pass, so could use the express lane at check in instead of lining up to have them checked.

So, checking for the cruise line app and doing online check well before the trip is key.

As soon as check in has been done online, the baggage tags are generated. I print those out rather than wait until checking in at the port and attach them before getting to the port.

This sped up my check in, as the baggage drop off was some distance from the check in area. I saw people arriving without their baggage tags printed and attached and having to wait while someone had to find and confirm their cabin and manually prepare baggage tags.

Smart Cruisers Check #4: Updates

I also saw some confusion at check in and when first on board, as people did not follow my next check, which is to carefully read every single email that the line sends in the run up to the cruise. Even if they look repetitive.

On this trip, for example, there were many changes which if missed could mean not making the cruise or being denied boarding.

For example, the port we were departing from changed from San Antonio to Valparaiso. They are a fair distance apart and arriving at the wrong one would have been disastrous.

Next, as I’ve mentioned, this cruise added specific requirements for vaccine booster, a COVID test within a set time period and then a close to the cruise rule that if I had been in China it had to be a PCR test. Not having these would mean denied boarding.

Also close to the cruise, they advised masks were going to be required for the first couple of days, so I could make sure that I packed them.

Then an update came with an allocated check-in time of 11:00am which they were enforcing, so arriving at a different time would mean hanging around.

So, keep reading and carefully checking every email update.

Smart Cruisers

Smart Cruisers Check #5: Copies

I also saw some people getting stressed out, as after handing in our passports – as the line retained them to handle the immigration in the multiple countries – we were told authorities in Chile and Argentina required us to have a copy of our passports and proof of vaccine when out in port.

Many people didn’t have that. But I have copies of everything. I create a folder for every cruise that has everything from leaving home to returning, it means I have everything I may need to check along the way.

In my folder, I have copies of my passport, vaccination, COVID test, insurance, my booking confirmation, itinerary, transfers, excursions and flight confirmations, and emergency contacts of my travel agent.

I also have a digital version, stored in a Dropbox folder which I set on my phone to be downloaded, so it’s on my phone even with no signal.

I have easy access to any documents I could possibly need if anything goes wrong, and for checking like if, as happened on my last cruise, the transfer was not there at the airport, I could easily check in the folder and get their contact number and sort it out.

Smart Cruisers Check #6: Money Matters

Another area I saw people stumbling over was cash and paying for things in port.

While on many itineraries, tourist places accept US dollars this is something I always check. I saw in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and The Falklands, the US dollar is not widely accepted nor are cards everywhere, and local currency is required by many venues, traders, and taxis.

However, knowing that would not need too much, as just for tips and souvenirs, I didn’t buy it in advance, and checked if I could exchange money on board. They do and in small amounts too.

I also though checked I had US dollars in a range of bills that I could use for tipping and gratuities on board.

It’s also worth letting your credit card company know you will be travelling internationally.

Smart Cruisers Check #7: Packing

The other thing I came across on this cruise was quite a few people being unprepared clothes and packing wise. It was cold, wet, and windy. And I’ve seen people in the onboard shops scrambling around buying warmer or waterproof clothing.

Before I go on a cruise, I check four things before I even start packing. First, I download a cruise packing list to remind me. I have one if you want that, but I also check online if someone has done one specific to the itinerary.

Next, I check the latest on the dress code. On Holland America, I know although they have dressy nights, it’s not particularly strongly adhered to, and I can get away with at most a collared shirt and smartish trousers. They also often have an Orange-themed night, so I brought something for that.

Thirdly, I review my excursions to see if I need anything like hiking boots or other gear I may not usually take.

Then I put all the ports on my phone weather app to see what I need. It was clear temperatures would vary so needed layers, waterproof outer layer, and warm hat.

One other thing I check is are there any first aid kit items I should stock up on. I’ve been surprised how many people have not appreciated this itinerary has pretty rough seas. Even from the minute we left Chile, it was bumpy and we were going round the Cape Horn – many people had not brought seasickness options.

On other trips, like my recent Galapagos cruise, it was insect repellant and sunscreen.

I have a whole video about packing and things to think about but checking well before you start actual packing is key.

Smart Cruisers Check #8: Home and Away

Another key check is your home arrangements.

On this itinerary I was in remote places, and as always let friends and family know where I was going and how to get hold of me.

I check on the best way to do that. For example, I found my mobile phone plan only gave me roaming with no fees in Chile, but in none of the other countries, and there are many sea days.

So, I have had my phone in airplane mode most of the trip. So, I told my partner, sister, and friends to contact me through chat options like WhatsApp. I downloaded Skype and added credit so I could phone my mum – who only has a landline – using Wi-Fi.

On this trip, as I was travelling solo, there were people at home, so I didn’t have to let the neighbours know to keep an eye on the house. They had a set of keys and know the alarm codes if any issues came up.

Smart Cruisers Check #9: Roll Call

One other thing I did was check the week before the Cruise Critic roll call for the cruise. It’s a great last-minute catch all for anything that I’ve missed.

For example, for this trip people arriving in Chile warned of random COVID tests at the airport, with quarantine if failed. So, I was prepared for that and knew how they worked.



Gary Bembridge

I grew up in Zimbabwe, but I have been based in London since 1987. My travel life spans more than three decades and that includes more than 95 cruises. In 2005, I launched Tips for Travellers to make it easy and fun for people to discover, plan and enjoy incredible cruise vacations. And the rest, as they say, is history. I have the largest cruise vlogger channel currently on YouTube, with more than 3 million video views per month.

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2 Responses

  1. Abby says:

    Excellent, clearly written content. A good reminder for all! Thanks, Gary for all you do for us!

  2. Lawrie Robertson says:

    We just came off the Viking Star. Over dinner with the Hotel Manager he made a great packing suggestion for couples to offset the challenge of lost luggage. Pack half your stuff in your travel partner’s suitcase and your travel partner packs have their stuff in your suitcase. You can get through several cruise days if the airlines misplace your luggage. Our colleagues finally got their bags back 4 days into the cruise. By the way, Viking was wonderful–food, travel arrangements, seamless disembarking.

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