Once your cruise is 3 months away you are ready to start nailing down the logistics of your vacation! Until now, your cruise has only been a thought – something that is going to happen in the future but is still SO far away. It’s time to start bringing your cruise to life by planning (and paying for) all the things you need to have a perfect vacation. This is your cruise checklist of what you need to do next.
Quick-Glance Cruise Checklist
- Take care of your final payment
- Research and book excursions
- Complete cruise onboarding (travel info, check-in time slot, and dining plans)
- Book travel and accommodation for departure and return
- Get cruise add-ons (wifi, drink packages, specialty dining, etc.)
If you booked your cruise more than 3 months in advance, chances are you only paid a deposit. For most cruise lines your final payment will be due 90 days before your cruise sets sail. Sometimes there are special deals or promotions that allow you to extend your deadline, talk to your travel agent if you have any questions!
The most important part of a cruise is planning what you will do in all the amazing places that your cruise stops! All the options for excursions can be overwhelming, we recommend two strategies:
Cruise Line Excursions
You can log onto your cruise line’s website (or mobile app) and see what excursions are available to book directly with them. The advantage of this strategy is that the excursion is going to be secure. You won’t have to worry about transportation, or missing the all-aboard call at the end of the day. If you book an excursion directly with the cruise line, the ship will not leave until you are back on board. This can give peace of mind if you’re planning an all-day excursion. The downside to this strategy is that it is the most expensive. The convenience and security comes with a cost; these excursions are much more expensive per person that booking through a 3rd party. Talk to your travel agent to see what they recommend and if there are any deals they can get for you.
Third Party Excursions
There are many different sites where you can book cruise excursions. Our favorite by far is Viator.com. After looking at what excursions are available through the cruise line, you can check to see similar excursions. You can compare the cost, read reviews, evaluate different options, and see what else is available. We have always had a good experience with third party excursions but there is more risk. Some excursions include transportation, but others require you to get a taxi or meet somewhere away from the cruise port. As you look at excursion options, keep in mind the potential costs of transportation, food, and souvenirs. Talk to your travel agent to see if they have any recommendations and like always, if they can save you money!
Complete Cruise Onboarding
To help speed up the check-in process cruise lines ask you to fill out some information. For most cruise lines, it’s easiest to complete your onboarding on their mobile app but you can do it on a desktop as well. Just download the app (sign in or create an account) and it will prompt you on what you need to fill out.
You can do this up until a few days before the ship sets sail but the real reason is some things are locked until you complete your onboarding. The two most important things that you can do during your onboarding is choose your check-in time slot and dining plans.
Check-in Time Slots
Check-in time slots are limited so depending on your travel plans it is really nice to be able to pick the slot that works best for you. The purpose of the time slot system is to get people on board quicker and limit the amount of time you have to wait in lines. If you are flying to the port the same day that your cruise sails, it would be nice to pick a later slot to give you more room. If you arrive the day before your cruise sets sail it is great to get on the ship as early as possible so you can eat, relax, and settle in.
Every cruise line has a different system for dining reservations but just like the check-in time slots, they are limited. Cruise lines usually have the option of picking the same time to eat each night or book different times. Some cruise lines allow you to specify the dining time for each individual evening, choose what restaurant location, and even allow you to sit at tables with other guests (can be a fun way to meet new people and make friends).
If you haven’t cruised before make sure you remember that cruise ship dining is fancy and at least a 3 course meal which can easily take up to 2 hours! You also don’t need to eat in the dining room every night, the buffet is always open! Balancing activities on the ship with your shore excursions can be tricky. If you finish an excursion at 4pm and also want to see a comedy show at 7 it might be pretty exhausting to slip a long meal in the middle. Depending on your preference, different dining times can have their advantages!
Travel and Accommodations
Now is a great time to take a look at flights and accommodations for your cruise! Typically cruise passengers must embark between 11am and 3pm. With a tight window it’s extremely important to make sure that you are there on time because the cruise ship will not wait for you! There are two main strategies for getting to your cruise port on time:
Travel the Day Before (Recommended)
To make sure you get on board on time for your vacation we recommend flying to the departure port the day before your cruise sets sail. That way if you have any flight delays or issues you will have some breathing room! The downside is that you have to find a hotel or some accommodation to spend the night. Talk to your travel agent to find out what hotels are located close to the cruise port and see if they can get you a better deal than booking on your own!
Tip: Always try to book a hotel with a free airport shuttle, that way you only have to pay for a taxi to get to the cruise port!
Travel the Same Day
You can absolutely fly to the departure port the same day that your cruise sets sail, however you run the risk of missing the boat if your flight is delayed. Give yourself plenty of time! It is much better to wait for a couple hours at the cruise port. Depending on where you are traveling from, this might not be an option. If you choose this strategy, make sure that you reserve your check-in time slot well in advance so you make sure that you get the time slot that you want!
Getting to and from the Cruise Port
The easiest and cheapest way to get to and from the cruise port is usually by rideshare (uber or lyft). You can look to see what transportation the cruise line offers. Our experience is that these transfers are usually more expensive but can make sense if you’re with a large group. Contact your travel agent if you need help booking airport transfers.
Getting from the Cruise Port to the Airport
It is usually easy to book your return flight on the same day you get off the cruise. Cruise ships disembark early in the morning so you should have plenty of time to grab a rideshare and catch your flight home.
Get Cruise Add-Ons
Cruise add-ons are the luxuries that are not included in your cruise fare (unless you book with a promotion). This includes things like drink packages and wifi on-board. These add-ons are typically a per day charge that is charged everyday during your trip. Some cruise lines like Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and Celebrity run special promotions for these add-ons during the year that can save you a lot of money! Other cruise lines like Princess and Holland-America have flat fees for these add-ons and don’t offer too many promotions. Ask your travel agent for help booking these add-ons as they will be able to get you the best price. You can also check your cruise line’s website (or mobile app) for information on add-ons!
It is no secret that people love to drink (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) beverages on cruises. No matter your drinking preference, every cruise line will have a drink package that meets your needs. Even if you don’t drink alcohol! Talk to your travel agent about different options and they can help you know if a drink package makes sense for you and make sure you get the best deal possible.
While cruising at sea between ports you won’t have access to cell service or data. This can be nice if you want to unplug, relax, and spend time with loved ones. If you need to stay connected, you have to purchase a wifi package. They have different packages for different internet speeds as well as, number of devices that will access the internet. Keep in mind that if you purchase wifi for 1 device, you can use multiple devices but only 1 can be connected at a time to the internet. Talk to your travel agent about wifi at sea to understand what package is best for you.
Cruising is a perfect hybrid between a resort vacation and a touring trip. There is so much included in your cruise fare that you don’t have to worry about (food, entertainment, lodging) yet you still get to see different places and explore the world! It can be as relaxing or intense as you want. Vacation your way and don’t feel pressure to do anything you don’t want to.
Once you’ve checked off this cruise checklist, sit back, relax, and get your countdown ready for your vacation. You won’t have much to worry about until it’s time to pack! Check back here 30 days before your cruise to look at our packing list, learn what to expect on board, and other last minute tips.