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How to Put the Smooth in Smooth Sailing - 12 Tips to a Relaxing Cruise

Vacations should be relaxing and stress-free and a cruise is just the ticket. In order to make that happen, a little planning beforehand is essential for a great cruise. Enjoy these tips for a relaxing time.

Talk to others who have cruised, or a travel agent. They can usually steer you toward the best cruise lines, tell you the differences between cruise lines, help you know which shore excursions are a must, and which are duds.

Set a budget and plan to stay within it. This will not only help you have a great time without worrying about spending money you don't have, but it will also help you stay real. The price of the cruise pays for many things, but not everything. All inclusive cruises usually include food (lots of it) and some non-alcoholic drinks such as tea, coffee and juice. Alcoholic drinks are almost always extra as well as sodas. There are some food venues that are extra as well. If you eat on shore, that's on your dime. While you can debark and go on shore, any activities (shore excursions) are extra.

Make sure all travelers have passports or other acceptable federal re-entry documents. Also, carry photo ID (i.e., driver license) while on shore. You will need these to board the ship.

Pack appropriate clothing. Most cruises, the dress code is casual and depending on the destination. For example, for an Alaskan cruise, casual may be khakis, nice shorts, comfy shirts, etc. while a for Caribbean cruise, swimsuits are the norm for on-deck. Dining rooms almost always want cruise casual or formal. Check your cruise line for details. Also, check the weather forecast for your destinations before cruising and make sure you bring appropriate clothing. Nothing sucks worse than packing only shorts for an Alaskan cruise.

Plan and purchase any shore excursions early as these tend to fill up fast. Usually, no more than one excursion per port allows time for having fun and shopping. If you try to book back-to-back excursions, you may not have enough time. IMPORTANT: Book your excursions through the cruise line. If you do not book your excursion through the cruise line and go off on your own, and your excursion runs too late where you miss the ship, it is your responsibility and expense to either catch up to the ship, or fly home. They will NOT hold the ship for you. However, if you book through the cruise line, most cruise lines will hold the ship for you if the excursion is running late. Verify this with the cruise line to be safe.

If you get motion sick, your doctor can prescribe a remedy for you. My wife swears by the trans-dermal patches that fit right behind your ear and keep you from getting sick. No sense ruining your vacation by being sick.

Don't cut it too close. Make sure you have plenty of time to travel to the departure port, whether by plane, train or automobile. If you are flying, keep in mind that connecting flights can be delayed and bring you in after the ship's departure. I find it better to arrive the day before the ship leaves to allow for these delays. Booking the flight with the cruise line, even though it is more expensive, usually gives you some relief in case of delays as the cruise line will usually fly you to the next port at their expense in case you miss the ship. Check with the cruise line.

When arriving at the pier, allow the porters to take your luggage and tip them (usually $1.00/piece is sufficient) so you don't have to wrestle it on board. They will take it on board where it will be delivered to your stateroom. Make sure you keep important things, like medication, money, credit cards, a book to read, etc. in a carry on that you will keep with you when boarding as it may be several hours before your luggage arrives at your stateroom.

Once on board, you can find your cabin and begin to learn your way around ship. Check your cabin, your dining assignments, etc. to make sure everything matches. If not, visit the customer services desk, usually located on the main deck, where they can correct any problems. Before sailing, there will be a mandatory safety meeting, usually at your muster station (the place to go when the general alarm sounds). It is important to listen carefully, even if you are a frequent cruiser, as things change.

Plan your on board activities. Each day, you will receive a newsletter outlining the next day's activities: shows, movies, contests, etc. These will also usually list the hours of operations of the spas, restaurants, shore excursion desk, etc. Most ships even have channels on the television with information such as weather, pool temps, and even the sea condition. Sea days (where you are sailing and not in port) are great for visiting the pool, spas gyms, and other amenities. They are also good for taking in some shows.

When in port, make sure you take all required documentation with you: passports, cruise card issued by the cruise line, photo ID and any other documentation required. You are usually required to be on-board 30 minutes to an hour before departure time. Watch your time and make sure you are back on board by the required time. Watch especially if you have to take a tender to the ship and make sure you know the last tender time.

Know what you're tipping. Most cruise lines will automatically charge a daily gratuity to your shipboard account. Typically, it is $10 per person per day and is split between the staff so you don't have to tip each individual. It isn't mandatory, but you need to make any adjustments before the last full day where your account is settled. Also, realize that there is usually a 15% gratuity added to any bar purchase, including colas. If you wish to tip extra, please do.

Have FUN! Forget about the world and this will be the most relaxing vacation you have ever had.