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25 Tips to Ensure Valium-Free Cruising

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CRUISE SHIPS CALIFORNIA
AP

I'll show you mine if you show me yours! Here are my cruise tips for saving wear and tear on body and soul. I'd love to get a few tips from you as well. And, because air travel is so unpredictable, several tips are especially important and noted as a NEW RULE.

1. To arrive with wrinkle-free clothing for dressy nights, put each outfit in a plastic dry cleaner's bag and lay in suitcase. I put items on hangars so they go directly from bag to closet.

2. If you like to lie in the sun, use a very high sun block and reapply frequently, even if the label claims its waterproof. Since I love a tan as much as anyone, I apply it the morning right after my shower with a self-tanner.

3. When flying to meet a ship sailing from a port that is more than a ten-minute ride from the airport, buy an airport transfer from the cruise line through your travel agent. Saves time, money and aggravation.

4. NEW RULE! Never cruise without buying insurance from your travel agent. I've been told by knowledgeable insiders that Access America and Travel Guard are more likely to reimburse justified expenses than the cruise lines' own insurance company.

5. I never board an airplane without earplugs or a personal music device like an iPod. Crying babies drive me nuts!

6. If you're sailing from New York's Manhattan or Brooklyn pier, take Amtrak to avoid driving. Not only is gas prohibitively expensive but also it costs $30 per day to park a car in the Manhattan port parking lot.

7. Take a bunch of singles for tipping all the people who have earned a gratuity along the way.

8. NEW RULE! When flying to meet the ship, don't pack any items in your suitcase you can't stand to loose forever. These include documents, medication, jewelry, eyeglasses, and electronics gear.

9. I consider a carry-on bag with wheels necessary because of all the stuff I have to haul because my suitcase may not arrive outside my cabin door for three or four hours. In addition to the items cited in the above tip, add a change of clothes and shoes plus toiletries.

10. If your heart is set on a cozy table for two at dinner aboard a ship with assigned seating, ask your travel agent to pull whatever strings necessary to reserve one the moment you book. If that's not possible, run to the dining room the moment you board to reserve your table.

11. When planning your own shore excursions, take the name and phone number of the cruise line's local port agent, which is listed in the daily program delivered to your stateroom. If a problem or delay occurs, it's an important contact number to have.

12. The moment you board the ship plan to run to the spa to book treatments, the VCR library (the best go first) and make reservations in an alternative restaurant.

13. Is it me or have cruise lines reduced staff on the pier, resulting in extra long waiting time to process documents and board the ship? Take the torture out of waiting by having an Ipod, trashy book or magazine to read while standing in line.

14. If you plan on buying a cruise line T-shirt in the ship's boutique, wait until the last day when stacks of them are on sale.

15. Don't even think of buying grass during your Caribbean or Mexico cruise then packing it in a suitcase to disembark the ship. Before you reach your bag on the pier dogs with remarkable olfactory talents will have scanned the all luggage. Getting busted by DEA agents is a lousy ending to a perfect cruise.

16. No, you can't bring bottles of any alcohol aboard ship. But you may be interested in reading what other cruisers do to bypass this rule. See the comments on my blog post "Taking Alcohol Aboard A Ship" to see how some enterprising and determined people get around this rule.

17. You can determine the age of passengers likely to sail on a ship by checking the duration of the voyage. Two-to-five-day cruises carry the youngest passengers, on one-week voyages there will be predominance of passengers aged 25 to 50 and on cruises over a week, most passengers are retired.

18. To save money aboard ship decide your cruise will be alcohol free. If you have a problem doing that, check out "Friends of Bill W" meetings scheduled daily aboard all but the smallest cruise ships.

19. Remember, too good to be true is just that. Cruise lines that say a cruise includes "free" airfare, hotels, transfers and shore excursions really mean that these things are included in the cruise price. Nothing is free in the cruise industry.

20. A night-light comes in handy because blackout drapes mean the cabin will be pitch dark. It helps to avoid crashing into furniture when trying to reach the bathroom during the night.

21. When booking an Europe or Alaska cruise, book as far in advance as possible because the closer to departure you get, the higher the airfare will be. And, when budgeting for these destinations always factor in shore excursions.

22. Before booking a cruise that will require you to purchase an airline ticket, make sure seats are available to and from the ship's home port. Airlines are cutting capacity to many vacation destinations.

23. Never select one ship over another based on price alone. Always pick a ship based on your lifestyle and interests especially when food and service, kids facilities or the itinerary are so important.

24. If you contact a travel agent to book a specific cruise line and the agent tries to steer you to another cruise company instead, I suggest finding a new agent.

25. Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Line carry the most families with children. While there are few kid-free cruises today, especially during school vacation period, you'll find fewer children on Princess, Holland America and Celebrity if that's what you're seeking.

Anne Campbell is editor of ShipCritic Blog and Cruising From New York