Cruises are a fun and convenient way to book a quick getaway or group trip.  There are tons of options, from a long luxury cruise, to a cheap weekend getaway.  Food is generally included, and there are tons of options for entertainment, so there will never be a dull moment!  I’m gearing up to go on a Carnival Cruise to celebrate my friend’s birthday soon, and the process for booking and boarding a cruise is a lot different from booking a flight and hotel; here are a few things to keep in mind when booking your cruise.

Book early!  (Or book late)

Let me clarify:  If you know you want to cruise on a new ship, to an exotic destination, or your dates are not flexible, you should book early.  Popular cruises and new ships sell out fast!  You don’t want to be that friend that misses out on the birthday girl’s trip because you procrastinated on booking and now the prices are through the roof (or worse, the cruise has sold out).  Also keep in mind that most cruises do offer their very best deals earlier on.  You’ll also get a better choice of your stateroom.

With that said, if you have flexible dates or are not too picky about your destination, you may be able to score some awesome last minute deals!

If you’re flying into your departure city, fly in early (and book early, too!)

You don’t want to kill the buzz from getting an awesome travel deal by waiting until the last minute to book your flight, and realize flight prices are too high.  You also probably don’t want to schedule your flight to land too close to your cruise departure time either.  Cruises typically let you start boarding 5 or 6 hours before departure time, and that is because cruise ships are humongous!  You don’t want to get down there and find yourself scrambling to make it to the port before they leave you.  A flight delay or traffic between the airport and the port can make or break your cruise.

Pack a carry-on bag

Most cruises have security checkpoints, similar to the ones you have at the airport.  They also have luggage weight limits, so don’t over pack.  Keep in mind that any luggage that doesn’t fit through the security screening machine (16 inches high x 24 inches wide) will have to be checked in with a curbside porter.  The porters will then deliver your luggage to your room.  It can take quite some time for your luggage to make it to your room, so you may want to pack the following in a carry on bag:

  • Travel Documentation (passport, visas, marriage license if your reservation name does not match the one on your passport!)
  • Important paperwork (tickets, insurance information)
  • Wallet (just the necessities: cash, credit cards, driver’s license, AAA card)
  • Prescription medications in their original containers
  • A swimsuit and/or change of clothes
  • Personal toiletries
  • Anything else you might want access to before your luggage arrives

If this is your first cruise or you have a history of sea sickness, get medication ahead of time!

You don’t want to be throwing up for your whole vacation, that would be horrible!  Some people are fine with just a sea-sickness band.  If you think you need something a little more serious, maybe ask your doctor for some Dramamine.

Set up your on-board expense account early!

Specifically on Carnival cruises, all on-board expenses are handled with your on-board expense account.  Everyone in your reservation has to be attached to an on-board expense account, whether they have charging authorization or not.  If you are on a group trip with multiple people on the same reservation, make sure everyone’s expense account is set up accordingly!  You don’t want to get the bill at the end of the trip, and find out that someone else on your expense account has been spending more than they can afford.  To avoid all that, make everyone has their own account, and that anyone they will be responsible for is a member on their account.  They can determine if the people on their expense account have charging privileges or not.

Anything else I left out?   These are a few things that I found helpful to know before I went on my first cruise, and have helped me in booking other ones.  Mention some things you do to prepare in the comments!