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Perfect Cruise Tips

10 Steps to Enjoying the Perfect Cruise

Although these steps are meant for honeymooners, most of the information is relevant to any cruise :

1. Find your dream boat. The biggest mistake cruising newbies make is booking the wrong ship. Most people focus on the destination (Caribbean, Mexico, etc.) and donít pay enough attention to the ship itself.  Cruise linesóand even individual ships within a lineóvary greatly in terms of atmosphere and facilities. Some have a party-all-the-time ambience and/or a great gym and spa; others are ideal for curling up on deck with a good book. So work with a travel agent who specializes in cruising. Discuss your budget and what you are looking for, or better yet, arrive at the agency with your personal wish list in hand.

2. Book early. There are two ways to get the best price on a cruise: book early or book at the very last minute. Both will save you money, but early bookers get the best choice of cabins for roughly the same ďsaleĒ price as late bookersóand avoid being disappointed because their ship is sold out. "Early" usually means three to six months before the cruise; the savings generally are 25 to 50 percent off the published brochure price per person.

3. Get the best cabin you can afford. Some people say that it doesnít matter what your cabin is like, since youíll only dress and sleep there. Not so! If this is your honeymoon, youíll want every detail to be perfect. Donít assume anything: queen-size and even double beds and bathtubs are not givens on a ship. While some cabins do have oversized beds, in others single beds are pushed together for couples. In some cases (mostly on older ships), the beds are nailed to the floor, not exactly a honeymoon dream come true. Most cabins have small (single-occupancy) showers, not bathtubs, so if you like to soak ask for a room with a tub. Most important, a nice cabin makes you more inclined to enjoy things like room service and sipping morning coffee in your PJs. The ultimate luxury: a private veranda so you can leave your sliding-glass doors open and fall asleep to the sounds of the sea.

4. Take care of business. A bit of preparation pays off in a carefree trip. In the pre-wedding whirlwind, itís easy to forget that life will go on while youíre away. Such as the mail (stop it.) And bills (pay them.) And your pets (kennel them.) Tape a "To Do" list to your fridge, and check things off as you go. Donít forget to shop for film, extra batteries, sunscreen and travel-size toiletries. These are more expensive to buy on the ship, and you may not find your favorite products. Consider filling small plastic containers with conditioner and shampoo from the big bottles, which you can leave at home.

5. Pack light, pack right. Be prepared for the off chance your luggage will get misplaced. Even if your bag isnít lost, it often takes hours before it gets to your cabin. So pack for survival: Put a little of everything youíll want and need in  a carry-on bag. This includes undies, shirts, socks, a bathing suit and  something to wear to dinner. As added protection, buy travel insurance that covers you for lost, stolen, damaged or delayed luggage.

6. Beat the rush. On most cruises, youíll want to schedule all kinds of things. So will everyone else usually at the same time. Shore excursions are described in a brochure that comes with your cruise tickets; book any excursions you canít bear to miss early on (Increasingly, lines allow you to book them before you leave home.) Itís also a good idea to make your spa appointments and specialty restaurant reservations on the first day of the cruise so you donít lose out.

7. Be shore-savvy. Some shore excursions are worth taking. Others are not. How do you know the difference? Take shore excursions when they offer a chance to do something really spectacularólike helicopter flightseeing. A car and driver can be a more personal (and less costly) way to sightsee. To make it more fun (and affordable), put your own group together and share the ride with newfound friends youíve met on board. If you're on an Alaska cruise at Celebrity Cruises, take time to check out the amazing wilderness that Alaska has to offer. But note: if you go solo and miss the boat, youíre on your own.

8. Get the royal treatment. Ask your agent about cruise lines that pamper their passengers with in-room extras like terry cloth robes, fruit baskets and the like. Let the cruise director know youíre newlyweds. Ask about honeymoon and anniversary parties, dinner at the captainís table and other special recognition. You can also buy packages that include things like a formal portrait in an engraved frame and a champagne breakfast in bed. Most lines also tailor packages for couples who want to kick off their honeymoon with a wedding.

9. Stuffing the envelope. The last night of the cruise is a bittersweet time. Youíve had fun. Youíre going home. And then thereís that little business of tipping to take care of. Remember that tipping is always entirely up to you. Most cruise lines will recommend just how much to tip. (About $3.50 per passenger for the waiter and cabin steward and $2 a day for the busboy.) These are only guidelines; tip what you want. You should never feel pressured. The maitre dí, for example, need not be tipped just for asking, "How was your dinner?" On the other hand, if he made your cruise extra special by finding that table for two, let him know with a monetary gesture that says, "Thank you."

10. Cruising for romance. On most cruises, youíll be assigned a dinner table (usually with other passengers) and time (early or late) for the entire trip. See the maitre dí as soon as you board to specify which seating you prefer; also let him know if you prefer a table for two and be sure to advise him of your newlywed status. After dinner, remember that the hot tubs never close, and youíll probably find yourselves alone under the stars. For more alone time, stay on the ship when everyone else goes ashore itís like having your own private yacht.

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