General Cruise FAQ's
What time can I board the ship?
General boarding begins approximately four hours prior to departure. Passengers should be on board not later than an hour prior to sailing.
Can I bring visitors onboard the ship?
We're sorry. Due to heightened security, visitors are not allowed on board cruise ships unless they are members of a wedding party.
Are my meals included onboard the ship?
Most meals are included in the price of your cruise package. These meals include eating in the main dining room as well as buffets. Some cruise lines offer specialty restaurants that do charge a per person fee. These restaurants may require advanced reservations that you can make when you board the ship. Cruise ships offer free room service with a limited menu 24-hours a day.
Are there drinks included? How much do they cost?
Coffee, tea, water, milk and juices are included as part of your cruise fare. Soft drinks, bottled water, beer, wine and alcohol are additional unless you are sailing on select Luxury Cruise Lines, in which case it would be included. Prices for drinks are comparable to what you would pay in a hotel or restaurant.
Many of the Contemporary / Resort Cruise Lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean offer both adult and child, unlimited soda cards. These can be purchased from the bar and cost about $5 per day.
What is the drinking age on a cruise ship?
You must be 21 years old to legally consume alcohol, beer or wine on a cruise ship.
How much do I need to tip the staff?
You should budget a minimum of $10.50 per guest per day total for gratuities. This would recognize your waiter, cabin steward, bus boy, headwaiter and maitre d'. The cruise lines have made it easy for you in regards to tipping the staff. Many cruise lines offer the convenience of automatically charging your credit card for your onboard account. All bar bills have a 15% service charge added in.
Realizing tipping is a personal matter; you can alter the tipping at the purser's desk according to the level of service you received.
How do I pay for my purchases onboard the ship?
All financial transactions on a cruise ship are done through and onboard account you set up when you board the ship. You will provide a credit card or a cash deposit and then all purchases will be applied to your stateroom. You can conveniently charge all of your onboard purchases (beverages, spa services, ship souvenirs, pictures and shore excursions) to your cabin. On the last night of the cruise, a statement of all of your charges will be delivered to you and charged to your credit card.
If you do not have a credit card, you can leave cash deposit upon embarkation to open your onboard account. You may need to replenish this cash throughout the week if the purser's desk notifies you. Any unused cash will be refunded to you at the end of the cruise. Cash is accepted in the casino.
How do I find out about the ship's daily activities?
Every evening during your cruise, a daily bulletin will be delivered to your cabin with a complete agenda of all activities, events, movie schedules and special programs. This agenda will list the offered activities, hours of restaurants and shops as well as casino hours. Children's activities are listed on a separate sheet, so check with the purser's desk or your cabin steward for a copy.
What are Shore Excursions? Can I purchase them in advance?
Shore excursions are optional, guided tours in a cruise ship's port of call. They are offered in almost all cruise ports and cities and are a great way to enhance your cruise experience by allowing you seeing more of the places you visit. Shore excursions highlight the best local attractions and sightseeing opportunities; the best places to shop; and, give the cruise passenger a chance to experience the local culture.
You can pre-book your shore excursions directly with the cruise line or online with Smart Booking Travel. Smart Booking Travel offers many of the same shore excursions offered by the cruise lines but at reduced prices.
Are there activities for my kids?
Several cruise lines offer extraordinary programs for children and teens. Many cruise ships have children's play centers and teen facilities. The Children's Programs are organized by age groups, so your child will feel right at home with similarly aged children. These group programs are supervised by certified cruise personnel and included in the cost of your cruise.
Is there Babysitting for my kids on the ship? How much does it cost?
Group babysitting in the children's area is offered on almost all mass-market cruise lines. Certified children's programs counselors conduct and supervise children's activities, and when it comes time for naps, the children have sheet covered mats and kid's videos to help put them to sleep. Infants have their own cribs, and are rocked to sleep. This is generally included in the cost of your cruise.
Each cruise line varies in regards to their evening individual babysitting services (when the children's program is not in operation). In general, evening babysitting services are available for a babysitting fee (approximately $5 - 8 an hour). You can arrange your evening Babysitting service through the Purser's Desk onboard the ship.
How can I be contacted while I am onboard the ship? Can I check my e-mail?
All modern cruise ships have satellite telephones in the staterooms. You can dial directly from room to room and internationally from these phones. Instructions and prices are listed in your room. Making a call can cost anywhere from $6-20 a minute, depending on the service used.
Your family can also contact you directly onboard by calling your stateroom. Your telephone will likely have voice mail so they can leave you a message. They can also try you on your cell phone. Some Caribbean ports and private islands will continue to pick up a signal for an incoming call.
Most ships also have Internet Cages so you can access your e-mail from the ship. The cost of the Internet service ranges from 50-75 cents per minute. Some cruise lines offer unlimited Internet packages for your cruise duration at one special price. Check with the Internet cafe when you board for these special rates.
Will my cell phone work on the ship?
While you are docked in a US Port, your cell phone should work. Once you head out to sea, you will most likely lose your cell phone signal (unless you have a special satellite phone). Your ability to make and receive calls while in the Alaska, the Bahamas, Caribbean and Bermuda depends on your cell phone carrier and their coverage. You should check with your cell phone carrier prior to embarkation to verify access in your ports of call. If you need to make or receive calls from international destinations, you should speak with your carrier regarding programs for your specific phone.
What time will I be off the ship on the day of disembarkation?
Cruise ships generally arrive in their final port of disembarkation by 7:00 am on the last day of the cruise. Upon arrival, Customs Officials will board and inspect the vessel, then process immigration information for U.S. and foreign passengers. Once this is complete, the ship will be cleared for passengers to disembark. If all goes smoothly, disembarkation can be as early as 9:30 am. However, there can be delays.
If you are making your own flight arrangements, please be advised to schedule your flights home no early than noon on your day of arrival. If the airport is more than one hour from the cruise ship terminal, you should book even later flights home.
Does the ship serve breakfast the last day of the cruise?
Breakfast is served earlier than usual on the last day of your cruise. Breakfast buffets and the dining rooms will be open for you to enjoy one last meal before you have to disembark. Check with your cruise information sheet in your cabin for the full details on the times and places breakfast is served.
What are different meal seatings?
Some ships' dining rooms can accommodate all passengers in one seating. But most ships have two seatings which differ only by time. Early Seating begins between 6 pm and 6:30 and Late Seating begins around 8:15 pm. To choose, just decide whether you prefer to dine early or late then request your preference when you book. Which ever seating you choose, remember that one of the best ways to make new friends is to ask for a large table.
Many ships are now offering both alternative dining and choice dining options. This gives you the opportunity to enjoy special theme restaurants such as Italian, Chinese, Japanese or Southwestern restaurants separate from the main dining room and give you a chance to choose when and with whom you would like to dine. This varies by cruise ship.
Is it better to have Early Dining or Late Dining?
As a rule of thumb, Early Dining means you'll have dinner between 6 pm and 6:30 pm and Late Dining means you'll have dinner between 8:15 and 8:45 pm. There are many reasons why one dining may be better for you than an other.
Early Dining is great if you are traveling with small children who need to stick to a set meal and bedtime schedule; like to go to bed between 10 pm and Midnight; or you are an early riser.
You may want Late Dining if you don't want to feel rushed for dinner after a day in port; you love late-night social activities; and if you don't mind finishing your meal around 10:15 or 10:30 pm.
Is cruise ship dining as good as I've been told?
Everything you've heard about cruise ship dining is true. You'll find a varied selection of entrees (appetizers, salads, soups, vegetables, and desserts, too) every time you sit down. And there's virtually no limit on what or how much you can order.
Do I have to eat in the Main Dining Room?
One of the highlights of cruising is having plenty of options. Cruise lines know that people have different tastes in dining and offer many different choices to accommodate them.
The main cruise ship dining rooms are generally reserved for the traditional cruise guest. Dinner is served at the same time at the same table with the same wait staff and with the same guests each night. You can order from a set menu that changes daily. For most cruisers, this is one of the highlights of the cruise experience and gives them an opportunity to meet new people from all over the world and develop a relationship with a wait staff who has learned how to cater to their individual needs.
Many cruise lines now offer alternatives to this more structured dining experience. This not only includes casual dining venues like lido buffets for breakfast, lunch and dinner; and pizzerias; but also more specialty, gourmet restaurants offering Asian, French, Italian and Southwestern cuisine. Depending on your tastes or mood for the night, you can eat anywhere you want, including room service, which is available on most cruise ships 24 hours a day.
Is there a charge for meals?
You can eat all you want on a cruise ship without having to pay for a meal. You can literally stuff yourself with some of the finest food you'll ever eat at one of many restaurants and eateries you'll find on your ship. And all this is included in the cost of your cruise fare. However, many cruise lines today now offer alternative dining options that may require a small service fee.
These "reservations-only" restaurants are small dining bistros that cater to a small number of guests every evening. They offer passengers a chance to break the normal routine and have a nice, romantic dinner for two without the kids to enjoy each other's company. Many of these specialty restaurants are comparable in quality to the finest restaurants like Mortons, Ruth Chris, The Palm, or Joe's Stone Crab. The additional charges range from $10 - $20 per guest depending upon the cruise ship and the restaurant.
These restaurants book up very quickly, so you should make your reservations as soon as you board your ship.
Can I get a special diet?
Most ships can accommodate salt-free, low-carbohydrate, Kosher, or other diet preferences. However, this request must be made in advance, so be sure to advise us of this requirement when you book your cruise.
What if I don't like my tablemates?
This is rarely a problem. However, if you wish to move to another table, speak with the maitre d'. He'll make every effort to seat you with more compatible dining companions... discretely and politely.
Are there non-smoking areas?
Today, virtually all ships have smoking and non-smoking tables or non-smoking sections in the dining rooms and lounges. In fact, many cruise ship dining rooms are now totally smoke-free, and at least one ship is a completely smoke-free cruise ship, reflecting passenger requests. If you want your dining table in a non-smoking area, or prefer a smoke-free ship, just tell us! Onboard, in "open-seating situations," you can advise your waiter or the maitre d'.
What about tipping?
Tipping is a matter of individual preference. A general rule of thumb is to plan for about $2.50 to $3.00 per person per day for your room steward and dining room waiter, and about half that amount for your busboy. (A few cruise lines include tipping in the price and will so inform you.) Other shipboard personnel can be tipped for special services at your discretion.