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Timeline For Planning Your Cruise

Apr 29, 2008
You've worked hard to save for your dream cruise and you want to cover all your bases as you get ready to go. But planning can be stressful if you don't know where to start. Here are some tips for pulling off a glitch-free getaway.

Thinking about a cruise

* Read travel magazines and shop for travel guidebooks.

* If you don't already have one, find a travel agent who specializes in cruises and begin a discussion about how to plan the best cruise vacation that will meet your interests and vacation desires.

* Ask family and friends for suggestions.

* Decide on the type of cruise vacation you want and settle on a destination. Do you want to climb glaciers and kayak in Alaska, snorkel in the Caribbean or Tahiti, or visit historic sites in Europe, Asia, or Australia?

* Visit cruise line Web sites or contact the cruise lines directly to request brochures and pricing information.

Six months or more ahead

* Settle on a budget for the cruise. Make sure to take into account every possible expense: plane tickets, transportation to the pier, hotels, shore excursions, spa treatments, shipboard activities, bar bills  even cruise wear.

* Book your trip through your travel agent. A good travel agent will keep you on track and help you sort through everything from stateroom choices to visa requirements.

* Select your ship and stateroom. Cabin choices range from butler-staffed suites to inside staterooms without windows, and they're priced accordingly.

* Consider signing up for a travel protection plan to protect your vacation if the unexpected should happen. Research travel protection plans offered by the cruise line, your credit cards, travel agent or an independent agency; secure additional coverage if necessary.

* Obtain your passports and visas, if necessary.

Two months ahead

* Make sure you have a camera and luggage ready for the trip. If you get a new camera, learn how to use it before leaving on the cruise.

* Start researching your ports of call and your opportunities for shore excursions. To avoid disappointment, book popular tours in advance on the cruise line's Web site.

One month ahead

* Make a packing list.

* Reconfirm all reservations.

* Start making arrangements for pets and home care.

* If you're on any medications, make sure you have plenty of your prescription on hand for the trip, and be sure to have a second pair of glasses if you wear them. Carry all medications with you (do not put them in checked luggage) in their original prescription bottles to avoid any difficulty at customs.

Two weeks ahead

* Collect travel documents (cruise tickets, airline flight information). Read all material carefully to make sure the information is correct. If it's not, your travel agent can correct it.

* If you don't want to use your credit card on your trip, consider obtaining traveler's checks (store the check numbers someplace safe in case the checks are lost or stolen).

* If you will need any foreign currency on the trip, consider exchanging some dollars now.

* Have lots of one dollar bills on hand for tips to crew members, tour guides and taxi drivers.

One week ahead

* Touch base with your house and pet sitters to reconfirm arrangements. Also arrange to have mail held at the post office and stop newspaper delivery for the duration of your trip.Print a copy of your itinerary and contact information and leave with family or friends.

* Make two to three sets of photocopies of your passport, credit cards, insurance, traveler's check numbers, and any other paperwork people would need if your wallet were lost or stolen. Give one copy to a family member or friend.

* Set out clothes to pack; buy what you need.

Three days ahead

* Reconfirm overseas flights.

* Make sure you have reading materials for your trip.

* Make arrangements for your rides to and from the airport.

* Leave a copy of your itinerary and a set of house keys with a relative or close friend in case of emergency.

* Check weather forecasts for your destination.

* Prepare your house or apartment for your departure -- eat or dispose of perishable food, water plants, set timers, pay bills, etc.

One day ahead

* Reconfirm domestic flights.

* Make sure all your luggage, including carry-on luggage, is labeled both on the outside and inside with your name, flight information, hotels, cruise itinerary and phone number.

* Change your voicemail and e-mail messages at work.

A little organization can make your pre-trip planning easy and stress-free, leaving you to embark on your cruise vacation with a big smile on your face.
About the Author
Anita Dunham-Potter is a Pittsburgh-based travel journalist specializing in cruise travel. Anita is a weekly travel columnist for http://MSNBC.com and Tripso, and she is a contributor to Fodor's "Complete Guide to Caribbean Cruises 2007".
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