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Everything You Need To Know Before You Book A Cruise In 2021
Make sure you can answer these 9 questions before you book a cruise in 2021!
After more than a year of no sail orders, cruise lines in the U.S. have finally been given the green light to welcome guests aboard once again. Different cruise lines have set dates to return to the U.S. throughout the Summer and Fall, with Royal Caribbean’s fleet being the first to set sail in June. If you’re eager to book a cruise, you’re not alone! After a year of social distancing and quarantines, pent-up travelers are eager to explore new places and return to the sea.
However, in order to get back on board you have to successfully make it through the cruise booking process. Whether you are a first-time cruiser or a veteran of the seas, booking cruises can be surprisingly complicated. When all you want to do is get onboard to start having fun, navigating confusing cruise websites, figuring out which documents to bring, and planning the little details can quickly become frustrating. Luckily, we’ve narrowed down everything you need to know to make planning your next cruise a breeze!
Are you open to test cruising?
In order for cruise lines to get permission from the CDC to resume cruising, they must either verify that 95% of passengers and crew onboard the ship are vaccinated if they want to earn revenue right away or run simulated test cruises to prove post-pandemic protocols are safe for all onboard whether they are vaccinated or not. Cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean, need volunteers to embark on short, free cruises to test the protocols and help work out the kinks. If you are interested in volunteering for one of these free simulated cruises with Royal Caribbean, you can find more information and apply here!
Where should your cruise cabin be located?
When you are on a cruise ship, your hotel room will be known as your cruise cabin or stateroom. Every cruise line is a little different, but typically your first step will be choosing the type of cabin you want. Most cruise lines offer a variety of indoor cabins with no view as the cheapest option, and larger rooms with balconies or suites as the most expensive options. Once you’ve selected your cabin type, you may be allowed to pick your specific stateroom.
If you have the option to choose, pick your stateroom wisely. Book your stateroom after consulting maps of the ship’s deck plans. If you are concerned about getting the most rest and relaxation, try to avoid picking a room directly above or below any of the ship’s key entertainment areas, clubs, bars, or restaurants. If you or someone in your family has a disability, you may want to look for a stateroom that is closer to the elevators to make it easier to get around the ship. It’s also important to note that staying in the middle of the ship on a lower deck is the best place to avoid sea sickness.
Do you need additional travel accommodations?
Depending on which port your cruise departs from, you may need to arrange airfare and hotel accommodations for before and after your cruise. As passenger boarding typically begins early in the day, we recommend arriving at your cruise port’s location at least a day or two early to account for any delayed flights or cancellations. Of course, flying in early will require a hotel stay, or you may elect to stay in the area longer to explore everything the port has to offer.
If you are planning to drive to the cruise port, find out what the parking situation will be in advance and how much it will cost to leave your car there. It may be cheaper to hire a car to drop you off, or look into taking public transportation to the port. You may also want to ask about security in the parking lot to ensure your car and its contents will be safe while you’re on your cruise vacation.
Are you getting the best deal?
The cruise price listed on the cruise line’s website is rarely the best price available for the cruise. Do your research to see if you can get a better deal before booking your cruise directly through the cruise line. Reputable websites, such as Costco Travel and Vacations To Go, will offer cruises at a discount, including last minute deals. You may also want to consult with a trusted travel agent who will be able to research the best deals and prices on your behalf.
An alternative way to save money and have a less crowded cruise is to book during the shoulder season, or off season. The timing of this will vary depending on your destination, but generally this would be in the Spring, Fall, the very end of Summer, the first week of December, and right after New Year’s Day. Similarly, you can also look into repositioning cruises, where ships are moved from one location to another as the seasons change. These cruises are often less expensive, and combine interesting ports from different cruise itineraries that you normally wouldn’t get to visit on the same vacation.
Do you know where to book shore excursions?
Your cruise line will typically offer a variety of excursions that you can book directly through them. Until COVID-19 restrictions relax further, you may have to book excursions through the cruise ships in order to go ashore, as some ports will only allow cruise passengers to come onshore if they stay within their “cruise bubbles.” However, as the world goes back to normal you may be able to book the same shore excursions offered by the cruise lines or access more options by booking directly with the vendor yourself or on websites like Viator or TripAdvisor.
That said, proceed with caution if you don’t book your shore excursion through the cruise company. Give yourself plenty of leeway to make it back to the cruise ship on time and make sure you have a way to contact the ship staff in an emergency or delay. Typically cruise ships will wait for passengers who are delayed on an excursion booked through the cruise line, but they may leave without you if you are late from an excursion you booked yourself.
Do you understand the cancellation policy?
Due to the pandemic, many cruise lines have temporarily relaxed their cancellation policies in order to make consumers feel more comfortable booking cruises again. However, the added flexibility in these policies is temporary, and many cruise lines plan to switch back to their normal policies before the end of the year. Make sure you understand the cancellation policy as it pertains to your cruise dates so you don’t lose money if life gets in the way of your cruise.
In addition, consider protecting your trip with travel insurance. You can book travel insurance directly through the cruise line, but you may be able to find more reasonable, comprehensive coverage if you obtain insurance elsewhere. This will protect you and your money in the event of illness, cancellations, injuries, or last minute changes to your plans that impact your cruise.
What COVID-19 restrictions are in place?
If you are sailing in 2022 or 2023, your cruise likely won’t be impacted by too many COVID-19 restrictions, if any. But if you plan to be on one of the first cruises in 2021, you may have to abide by social distancing and mask requirements while onboard depending on the cruise line. Different cruise lines also vary on if they will require passengers to be vaccinated and if they will require a negative COVID test prior to boarding. As these policies are still very much in flux, make sure you are okay with your cruise line’s policies and keep apprised of any updates or changes to protocol.
Do you have the right documents ready to cruise?
Depending on where you are cruising, you may need to present different documents to be allowed to board your cruise ship. For example, if you are traveling internationally you will need to have your passport on hand. You may also need to get additional visas or immunizations. Your cruise line will be able to advise you on what documentation is required. If you don’t already possess the right documentation, make sure to start the process early to ensure everything is ready on time. If you arrive at the cruise port without the correct documentation, you may be denied boarding.
Have you highlighted important dates on your calendar?
As soon as you pick a cruise, make sure to highlight important dates on your calendar so you don’t miss out. While a deposit will be due at the time of booking, you will have to pay your final balance 75 to 120 days before the cruise starts depending on the cruise line. If you forget to pay by this date, your booking could automatically be cancelled.
As you get closer to sailing, your cruise line may also assign you booking times or windows to book excursions and reserve onboard experiences in advance, such as speciality dining and spa treatments. Make sure to look out for these early booking opportunities to ensure you are able to make the most of your cruise vacation.
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