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The Cruise Planning Timeline

Cruise Documentsby Linda Coffman

Getting Ready to Cruise—Things To Do

You’ve booked the cruise of your dreams and the sailing date is drawing near. 

Anticipation builds... but you'll need to come down off Cloud Nine for some practical considerations. I've tried to capture the really important things—and some of the merely convenient stuff—that you should keep in mind to prepare. These may not all apply to your cruise; however, you may be surprised by what you hadn't thought of doing.

3 months before sailing

  • Check with your travel agent or the State Department for the identification required for your cruise. (Passport or proof of citizenship.)
  • Gather the necessary identification needed. If you need to replace a lost birth certificate, apply for a new passport, or renew one that is about to expire, start the paperwork now. Doing it at the last minute is stressful and often costly.
  • Apply for any visas required by the countries on your itinerary. If visas are required, your travel agent can provide applications or you may use a professional visa agency.

60 to 75 days before sailing 

  • Make the final payment on your cruise fare. Due dates vary by cruise lines and certain itineraries, but your travel agent should remind you when the payment date draws near. Failure to submit the balance due on time can result in the cancellation of your reservation.
  • Look over Cruise Diva's Packing Lists and print out a list for each person you will be packing for.
  • Begin your wardrobe planning now. Try things on to make sure they fit and are in good repair (it’s amazing how stains can magically appear months after something has been dry cleaned). Set things aside in your closet.
  • If you need to shop, get started so you have time to find just the right thing (and perhaps to return or exchange just the right thing). You may also need to allow time for alterations. Start early—last minute shopping for just the right thing can be hazardous to your nerves.
  • Make kennel reservations or engage a pet sitter. (If you are traveling during a holiday period, you may need to do this even earlier.)
  • Arrange for a house sitter.

If you are cruising, but your kids are staying home:

  • Make childcare arrangements.
  • Go over children’s schedules to make sure they’ll have everything they need while you are gone (a gift for Suzie’s party, supplies for school project, permission slip for field trip).
  • If you have small children, you may want to put together a small bag of treats for them to open while you’re gone—tape yourself reading a favorite bedtime story or singing a lullaby (as long as it’s you, it will sound fantastic to them).

If your children are traveling with you, see the tips below for 30 days and one week before sailing.

30 days before sailing 

  • If you purchased an air/sea package, call your travel agent for the details of your airline schedule. Request seat assignments and any special airline meals.
  • If your children are sailing with you, check their wardrobes now (do it too early and the real little ones may actually grow out of things).
  • Make appointments for any personal services you wish to have prior to your cruise. For example, a haircut, manicure, pedicure, etc.
  • Get out your luggage and check the locks and zippers. Check for anything that might have spilled inside on a previous trip.
  • If you need new luggage or want an extra piece to bring home your souvenirs, check out The Cruise Shop.

2 to 4 weeks before sailing 

  • Pick up your cruise documents from the travel agent or print them out online.
  • Examine the documents for accuracy (correct cabin number, sailing date, and dining arrangements) and make sure that names are spelled correctly. If there is something you don’t understand, ask your travel agent or the cruise line now.
  • Read all the literature in your document package for suggestions specific to your cruise. Most cruise lines include helpful information and you can often pre-book excursions and some onboard services.
  • Go over your personalized packing list again. Finish shopping.

1 week before sailing

  • Finalize your packing list and continue organizing everything in one area.
  • Buy film or media cards and check the batteries in your camera.
  • Refill prescription medications with an adequate supply (bring along a copy of the prescription if this is critical medication) and put medication in your carry on bag.
  • Make two photocopies of your passport or ID and credit cards. Leave one copy with a friend and carry the other separately from the originals.
  • Get cash and/or traveler’s checks at the bank. If you use traveler’s checks, keep a separate record of the serial numbers. Get a supply of one dollar bills for tipping baggage handlers (at the airport, hotel, pier, etc.).
  • If you are visiting ports of call other than in the Caribbean, you might want to exchange some money ahead of time.
  • You may also want to put valuables and jewelry that you won’t be taking with you in the safety deposit box while you're at the bank. (See “1 day before sailing”—you may want to put some of the contents of your wallet in the safety deposit box as well.)
  • Arrange to have your mail held at the post office or ask a neighbor to pick it up.
  • Stop newspaper delivery or ask a neighbor to bring it in for you.
  • Arrange for lawn and houseplant care or snow removal during your absence (if necessary).
  • Leave your itinerary, the ship’s telephone number (plus the name of your ship and your stateroom number), and a house key with a relative or friend. If the ship’s telephone number is not included in your documents, your travel agent can obtain it for you.
  • If traveling with small children, purchase little games or toys to keep them occupied while en route to your embarkation port.

3 days before sailing

  • Confirm your airline flights; departure times are sometimes subject to change. 
  • Put a card with your name, address, and itinerary inside each suitcase.
  • Fill out your luggage tags and follow the instructions in your cruise documents regarding attaching them.
  • Complete any other paperwork that the cruise line included with your documentation if you did not do so online (foreign customs & immigration forms, etc). Do NOT wait until you are standing in the pier check-in line to fill them in!
  • Do last minute laundry and tidy up the house.
  • Pull out the luggage and begin packing.

The day before sailing

  • Take pets to the kennel.
  • Water houseplants and lawn (if necessary).
  • Dispose of any perishable food in the refrigerator.
  • Mail any last minute bills.
  • Set timers for indoor lights.
  • Reorganize your wallet. Remove anything you won’t need (check cashing cards, department store, or gas credit cards, etc), put it in an envelope, and leave in a secure place.
  • Finish packing and lock your suitcases.

Departure day

  • Adjust the thermostat and double-check the door locks.
  • Turn off the water if there is danger of frozen pipes while you are away.
  • Arrange to be at the airport a minimum of two hours before your departure time. (Or earlier for international flights—follow the airline's instructions.)
  • Have photo ID and/or passport ready for check-in.
  • Slip your car keys, parking claim checks, and airline tickets/itinerary in your carry-on luggage. Never check these items.

RELAX! You’re underway! Bon Voyage!!!

Practical Clothing & Packing Information from Cruise Diva:

Have DUCK Tape, Will Travel

Cruise Wear

A new cruising travel necessity... this is NOT your father's duct tape. Your cruise wardrobe—cracking the cruise lines' dress codes.

Packing for Women

Packing for Men

The original cruise packing list. Special needs for guys.

Packing It In

Cool Packing

The True Confession of a pack-aholic. As told in Cruise Travel Magazine Alaska - Majestic scenery, new frontiers to explore, and what  to pack.

Cruise Diva Picks:

TravelSmith - Where you'll find the clothing and accessories preferred by veteran cruisers. Browse their reversible outfits and online specials.

Packing for Secure Travel:

Hints from Magellan's Catalog, the choice of serious travelers...
  • Your Checked Luggage: Organize!!! Using packing organizers makes things much easier if security should need to check inside your bag. If you pack with Eagle Creek Pack-It Cubes or Pack-It Folders, it is easy for authorities to inspect bit-by-bit, rather than riffling through a whole pile of clothes. If you can find problem items quickly, you'll be able to finish an inspection faster.
  • Your Carry-on: Take less stuff. Expect to have your carryon bags thoroughly searched and take as few things as possible. Try putting all your little things, like pens and lipsticks, into Pack-It Sacs or Pack-It Cubes, inside a larger tote or cabin bag. This will make it much easier to empty and re-pack your bag. You may find it's easier to choose a bag without lots of small pockets to empty and reload.

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