What to Know Before You Go

A cruise vacation is unlike any other type of vacation. Even if you've already visited a few Caribbean destinations, there's nothing like sailing between Caribbean islands and experiencing life for a few days at sea. If you're traveling with kids or teens, however, the trick to ensuring you'll have the best cruise vacation possible is to select the best cruise ship and itinerary. It's also important to choose the right cabin accommodations for the whole family.

If you've never been anywhere in the Caribbean, taking a cruise will allow you to explore several different Caribbean islands during one exciting trip. Each island offers a unique culture and its own assortment of things to see and do. The rest of this chapter offers information that'll be helpful once you set sail and start enjoying your Caribbean cruise adventure.

Tips on Tipping Aboard a Ship

In addition to the cost of the cruise itself and any optional tours or activities, at the end of your voyage it's customary to tip several of the ship's crew with whom you've had a lot of contact. It's important to calculate tips into your travel budget, as they add up quickly.

Throughout your voyage, the same cabin attendant will attend to your needs as they relate to anything having to do with your cabin or stateroom. You'll also have the same waitstaff for every meal in the ship's main dining room. Tips and gratuities are traditionally distributed on the final evening of your voyage. You will be provided with preprinted envelopes for these tips and gratuities, which are optional.

Keep in mind that on some ships, the crew relies on the tips for their income, and tips are often pooled with other crew members you don't see as a passenger. You'll typically find that the crew aboard the ship will provide excellent and highly personalized service.

The following are general tipping guidelines:

  • Cabin steward: $3 per person/per day of the cruise

  • Waiter: $3 per person/per day of your cruise

  • Assistant waiter: $2 per person/per day of your cruise

  • Busser: $3 per person/per day of your cruise

  • Maitre d’ and/or headwaiter: $1 per person/per day of your cruise

For a family of four traveling on a five-day cruise, tips will add an additional $235 or more to the overall cost of your vacation if you follow recommended tipping guidelines.

JUST FOR PARENTS

On most ships, any drinks you order from a bar (that get charged to your cabin/stateroom) will automatically include a gratuity for the bartender and server. Thus, additional tipping at the bars, clubs, and lounges aboard the ship isn't necessary.

Phone Calls and Internet Use

All ships are equipped with satellite phones that enable you to make and receive calls, typically from your cabin or stateroom. The per-minute fees associated with making calls from ship to land, however, are hefty. Expect to pay upwards of $3 to $5 per minute, plus an initial connection fee for each call.

High-speed internet access is also available on most cruise ships, also at a premium rate. On some ships you can play a flat fee for unlimited Internet access per day or for the duration of your cruise. While aboard the ship, this is typically the least expensive way of communicating with friends, family, and coworkers back home.

Cell phones usually don't work at sea, unless when you're very close to land or docked at certain ports of call. In these situations, if your cell-phone service provider offers international roaming, your phone will work, but roaming fees will apply when you visit most Caribbean islands.

The cheapest way to place a call to the United States during a cruise is to use a prepaid calling card from a public pay phone while visiting any of the ports of call. Near most ports, you'll often find an Internet café that also offers inexpensive calling to the United States. Prepaid calling cards are available at shops near virtually all ports (except on the private islands operated by the cruise lines.)

Souvenir Photos

Your cruise experience will create many lasting memories. To help you share these memories with others, while aboard the cruise ship, you'll have your photo taken on multiple occasions by professional photographers. In some cases, these will be candid photos, however—as you enter the dining room on the formal evening, for example, the photographers will have mini portrait studios set up.

Once your photo is taken by one of the ship's photographers, it will typically be put on display in a photo gallery aboard the ship later that day or the following day. Prints can then be purchased in a variety of sizes. Passengers are not obligated to purchase any photos taken. You can have your photo taken as often as you wish, then purchase only the photos you like in whatever quantity you choose. If you're interested in having a formal family portrait, you'll have several opportunities during your cruise. Of course, you're also welcome to shoot your own photos using your own equipment and can get them developed aboard the ship or once you get home.

Celebrate a Special Occasion at Sea

One thing that the crew aboard virtually every cruise ship specializes in is helping people celebrate special occasions. If you have an event you want to celebrate, be sure to contact the ship's activities director and/or your headwaiter to assist you in coordinating the details. In addition, at any time during your cruise, you can arrange to have a wide range of items delivered to your cabin, such as flowers, balloons, or champagne.

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