Your cruise is getting closer, and you should be getting even more excited! Now everything is becoming more ‘real’ as you begin making the final preparations for your vacation.
Some of these final preparations are ‘fun’. For example, most cruise lines will now have their ‘onboard reservations’ systems open, and you can make reservations for dining at specialty restaurants, spa appointments, etc. If you think you will want to do these things on your cruise, it is best to book them now, so that you can ensure that you have the times you want. You can always make changes or cancel once you get onboard, even if you have to make a deposit in advance (deposits are always refundable). Some cruise lines also require reservations to see some evening entertainment, and you may be able to make those reservations online now.
Other preparations are less ‘fun’, but even more necessary. Final payment for a cruise vacation is usually about 90 days from departure. If you registered for a cruise line credit card, make sure you make that big payment on the card, earning points for your cruise! Once that bill comes in, you can then contact the credit card company and redeem those points for onboard credit, to spend on your trip. For Disney Cruise Line, if you book and make your payment with a Disney Visa card, you will earn $50 of onboard credit (you may be restricted as to what you can buy with this credit) and the Disney Reward Dollars you earn on the card can also be used to pay your onboard bill (no restrictions on their use).
Another important source of onboard credit is the shareholder credit. Once you have made your final payment, you can apply for this credit. The two biggest cruise companies, Carnival-CCL (which owns the Carnival, Princess, Holland America and Cunard lines) and Royal Caribbean-RCL (which owns the Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Azamara lines) offer onboard credit to shareholders. In order to qualify, you must own 100 shares of stock, however there is no restriction on how long you have to have owned that stock. You can buy the stock, print out a brokerage statement, and then sell the stock, all in the same day, if you wish. However, some regular cruisers simply like to buy their 100 shares and hold onto them, always having them when needed for their vacations. Once final payment has passed, send a recent brokerage statement to the cruise line and they will add the onboard credit to your account: up to $250 per stateroom, depending upon the length of your trip. Note that to get this credit for multiple staterooms, each stateroom must be booked by a different shareholder, who also has 100 shares. Since we have older children, we often book 2 cabins, with my husband officially occupying one stateroom with one child, while I occupy the other room with the other child. We will purchase 200 shares in a jointly held brokerage account (has both of our names on it) and this will give us the credit twice: once for each cabin.
At this time it is also important to make sure that your passports are up to date. Everyone in your family must have a passport to travel, even infants. Since turnaround times can vary, and it can often be difficult to get appointments at a passport office, at about 4 months out you will want to ensure that your passports are valid for at least 6 months after the end of your trip. If they are expired or expiring (or if you have never had a passport) then now is the time to apply.
The other major issue to consider is whether or not you will want any foreign currency on your trip. If you are traveling to the Caribbean or Mexico, you can likely get away with using US dollars on your cruise. If you are traveling to Canada, you may be able to get away with using US dollars, but the ‘rate’ offered on this exchange won’t be very good. If you are traveling to Europe, Asia or South America, it will be necessary to acquire foreign currency, as US dollars will not be accepted in most places. While you may be able to use credit cards in some locations, many stores and museums in foreign countries insist on cash payment. If you are traveling on tours provided by the cruise ship, your cash requirements will be minimal, but if you are traveling with independent arrangements, then having foreign currency is more important.
Look at the tour arrangements you have made, as well as any activities you are planning before or after your cruise, and make an estimate as to how much foreign currency you will need. While you can use ATMs in foreign countries, we find that we get a better rate purchasing the currency here at home, through Wells Fargo or American Express, or a local bank. Additionally, there is the peace of mind that comes with having the currency in hand, and not having to find a place to exchange money after you arrive. Note that while using a foreign ATM is a valid option, you should never exchange money at a tourist kiosk, particularly those at airports or train stations. Rates at such places are very poor, and they will charge high commissions, so those ‘easy exchanges’ will cost you quite a bit. If you wish to purchase your foreign currency before you leave home, now is the time to do so.
Next time, I’ll discuss what to do in that final month before you cruise.