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About this blog

A weekly posting of "if only I had known" hints, secrets and advice to avoid cruise and travel mishaps and assure smooth sailing!

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Nothing says "tourist" like a rental car full of cameras, luggage, maps and tour books. Would-be thieves, in fact, can spot a tourist and his rental from a mile away. Here are a few tips to prevent you and your rental becoming a victim of theft:

- Don't have anything of value in plain sight while occupying the car, and definitely hide any valuables in the trunk while parked.

- Look and drive like a local. Avoid having maps, guides and other touristy info out in the open while driving and when parked.

- Leave glove box open to show there is nothing of value stored inside.

- Watch for snatchers at traffic lights - crooks who will reach inside your window and grab your purse or camera. Better yet, keep windows closed and doors locked when occupying the vehicle.

- For SUVs or hatchbacks, use the rolling cover during the day to hide any valuables. At night, remove everything, leaving only the harmless stuff, and roll the cover back so thieves will know there's nothing of value worth stealing.

Jan Neves

CruiseCrazies Authorized Agent

http://www.sevenseajourneys.com

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To avoid missing the boat in port, snap a photo of the "All-Aboard Time" before stepping off the ship to see the sights. It's a great visual reminder for the younger, care-free members of your party venturing out on their own. Plus, if you have a few too many shots in the local watering hole, you can refer to your cell phone camera if your brain becomes too muddled to remember what time you're supposed to be back on board.

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Have you ever seen the Northern Lights, a.k.a. Aurora Borealis? If not, then you'll have a greater chance of seeing them during 2016 or 2017 if you're heading toward the Arctic. With a forecast of heightened activity, you'll be able to view them from a wide variety of locations.

For the best experience, visit during early spring, between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.

Read the full article: Where to See the Northern Lights in 2016

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Now that summer has officially arrived, so has hurricane season in the Caribbean, lasting from June through November, affecting tourists and residents from the Southern Caribbean, and on north to the coast of Maine. Should that stop you from booking a Caribbean or New England cruise in late summer or fall? No, and here’s why.

Caribbean cruise rates are never better than they are in fall, especially from late August through mid-December. Crowds diminish, the kids are back in school, and cruising is generally quieter. It’s an ideal time to cruise.

Chances are slim that a hurricane will affect your plans. Cruise ships use the latest weather-tracking systems to steer around the path of storms. While you may encounter some rough seas, the crew will do a marvelous job of keeping you safe and the ship as steady as possible.

If you are planning a Caribbean cruise in fall, you can take a few extra precautions to lessen the chance of weather-related mishaps.

Arrive at your port a day or two ahead of your sail date, especially if you need to fly. While the cruise itself may not be an issue in a storm, getting to your ship on time could be. Weather delays and flight cancellations may leave you stranded at home.

If a storm does come your way, keep in touch with your travel agent for the latest cruise line updates and advice.

If you are cruising during hurricane season, keep an open mind and board your ship with the right attitude. If a hurricane messes with your vacation, the ship’s itinerary may change, and you may find yourself in ports you weren’t expecting. Go with the flow, and enjoy your cruise, wherever it may take you.

Jan

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If your vacation time is flexible, consider yourself fortunate. You have the ability to choose to cruise when prices are lower and cruise ships are generally quieter. There will be far fewer children to compete with, and ship activities will be more enjoyable. In the Caribbean, for instance, the highest prices and larger crowds occur during mid summer, school breaks and Christmas week. By choosing a cruise in, say, early November, you'll save money and easily navigate the ports and biggest attractions with fewer crowds and more elbow room.

For more on the subject of when to cruise where, see my article: Destinations and the Best Time to Cruise Them

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You’ll find that when you are about to reserve and make a deposit on your cruise, you will have the option of purchasing a round-trip air add-on from the cruise line. While an air/sea package might avoid the hassle of finding and booking your own air ticket, be aware of the pros and cons of these convenient add-ons.

Pros:

If you purchase the air/sea package, most likely your transfers between the airport and the ship will be included in the price.

It’s the ultimate convenience. The cruise line will claim your luggage for you and carry it to the ship, and all you'll have to do is board the bus.

If your flight is delayed, the cruise line will be aware of your delay and may be able to hold the ship for a few hours. If not, they will make every effort to get you to the first port to board the ship (not necessarily at the cruise line’s expense, however).

Cons:

While cruise air booking has improved in recent years with added ability to choose your own flights (though somewhat limited in airline and connections), some lines (Carnival and Norwegian, for instance) remain steadfast in choosing your flights for you and only making you aware of them just weeks before you cruise.

Generally speaking, cruise/air tickets are consolidated – or bulk - tickets, purchased by the cruise lines months in advance, and carry strict rules different from published rates. Most likely, everything will go smoothly with your flight, but in the event your flights are delayed or canceled, re-ticketing or rescheduling may not result in the flights you desire.

Arranging your own flights:

If you decide to purchase your own tickets, you might be able to find a better deal, flying nonstop with an airline you prefer while earning frequent flyer miles. For instance, Southwest has awesome deals (and bags fly free!), and can only be booked through the airline directly.

Enlist the help of a travel agent, especially if you booked your cruise through one. They may be able to find the exact flight you’re looking for at a great price. An agent can be particularly helpful with complicate itineraries, using some creative ways to get you from Point A to Point B that you would not have thought of yourself.

Keep in mind the time of your ship’s departure. You’ll want to be on the first flight out of your home city, and preferably non-stop, to avoid any delay in getting to the ship. If at all possible, fly in at least a day before your cruise to allow for delays, mechanical failures or flight cancellations.

Also remember that will have to find your own transportation to the cruise terminal and claim your luggage and carry it with you. For convenience, however, cruise lines offer cruise/air transfers for independent flyers. In some cases, depending on the distance from airport to cruise ship, cruise ship transfers are worth it. If, however, you’re flying to Miami for a cruise from the same city, a taxi is quick and cheap.

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Your cruise ship will be visiting some exciting destinations, and it would be a terrible waste if you didn’t experience at least one of the best features about the island or city you’re docked at for a day or a few hours.

I’ve talked to some cruisers who just prefer to “wing it” – disembark and just stroll around, hit the most popular beach or visit the local watering hole. Don’t get me wrong – sometimes it’s a good thing to take a chance and learn by accident. Still, it’s a great idea to learn the basics of the place you’ll get a glimpse of – the history, culture and the 5 best things to see. An organized tour – whether a ship excursion or local taxi guide – can be the best way to experience a place in the short amount of time allowed in a port of call, especially if you’re a first-time visitor.

Perhaps the biggest reason for port research is learning about the transportation logistics. Some ports require a 1 or 2-hour drive to the nearest landmark, and you will want to get the lay of the land and learn how you’ll get from point A to point B. Figuring this out in advance of your trip will avoid loss of precious time seeing all you want to see.

Sometimes, just a simple walk through a village or town not frequented by tourists will be all you need a get a feel for the local culture and customs.

Either way, armed with knowledge of your port city, you’ll be an informed traveler and won’t have regrets later.

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If you’re skeptical about a postcard you received in the mail or phone call offering a free cruise or vacation, you have every right to be. While some are legitimate, many are not. At the very least, they will ask you to attend a high-pressure sales pitch for a product or ask for a substantial sum of money up front, presumably for taxes, fees, service charges or other hidden charges.

A little detective work will usually let you know whether the travel provider is legitimate. Start by reading the fine print. Are there black-out dates or restrictions? Are there extra charges and fees involved? Check to see if the company is listed with the Better Business Bureau or perform a “Google” search to find out if there have been any complaints. Sites such as “rip-off report dot com” or “complaintsboard dot com” are good places to start.

Never give out any private information or credit card details unless you initiate the transaction or you’re confident that the promotion is for real. If you decide to pay in advance for a trip, be sure you know what you are paying for and what happens if you change your mind – will you get your money back. If they can’t give you the details in writing before money is exchanged, then walk away.

Everyone wants a free cruise or vacation, and the best offers are those in which you make the reservation yourself and not through a shady third party. For instance, casinos are famous for rewarding their high rollers with free cruises. The customer receives a voucher with instructions for making the reservation directly with the cruise line. It’s a very easy and uncomplicated process. The cruise line sends you a written confirmation, and you know exactly what transacted.

If you decide to take advantage of one of the postcard promotions, however, always pay with a major credit card allowing you some protection in case things go very wrong. In buying into one of these travel schemes, just be forewarned that you could end up paying much more for that “free” cruise than if you had booked with a respectable travel agent.

Photo credit: the lake news dot com

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Before embarking on your next land or sea vacation, load a weather app to your smartphone or favorite electronic device. Set the app's preferences for each place you're visiting on your itinerary, whip out your smartphone and have a day, weekend or week's worth of weather forecasts at your fingertips. There are several good apps for weather, but my favorite two are "Yahoo Weather" and "Weather Bug". Well organized, pretty to look at, and very functional, these handy tools will assist you in packing, dressing and otherwise preparing for whatever Mother Nature has in store while on your trip.

Photo credit: Yahoo Weather

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Agents and cruise lines love to promote their cruises, and their ads will boldly display a particular sailing with a "starting at" price - $199/pp, for instance. What you don't see until you investigate a little further is that the $199 cabin is the lead-in price, or the price of the cabin at the lowest category, which tend to be the least desirable in terms of location and size. The cheapest is also an interior cabin. Some people are quite happy with an inside cabin; they like sleeping in pitch-dark rooms and don't spend much time indoors to worry about small spaces. But if you're claustrophobic, need natural light and fresh air in your stateroom, or are squeezing four into a cabin and need room to move around, the lowest-category cabins might not be worth even the rock-bottom fare you see online.

Be sure you know what you're getting. Ask your agent to or cruise rep for details as to the cabin's location, size and nearby noisy public areas which may interfere with sleep. Your agent will be more than happy to find you a great cabin specific to your needs at a price you can afford. The cabin may not be cheaper, but you'll be a lot happier in the end.

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Are you bringing the kids on your cruise? You've got a few of choices for accommodations. You can all squeeze into a standard cabin for 4 (some ships allow 5 in a cabin). Another option is to book a more costly family-size cabin or suite for more elbow room. A better option, though, is to book two cabins. If the kids are young, book connecting cabins. If your kids are older (12 and up) consider booking two side-by-side cabins or, better yet, an oceanview or balcony cabin for yourselves and an inside cabin for the kids across the hall.You will need to book an adult in each, but once you're on board, you can reorganize yourselves any way you want. The interior cabin costs less, you'll get two bathrooms, the kids will have their own space - and so will you! Depending on category and pricing, you may actually save over the cost of a larger room. Even if you have to pay a couple of hundred dollars extra, it will be totally worth it - trust me! Whatever you decide, be sure to ask Guest Services for a spare key for the kids' stateroom so that you have easy access to their comings and goings at any time. One word of warning, though ... If you are planning on booking two adjoining cabins, side-by-side cabins or cabins across the hall from one another, book early, as they disappear fast.

Photo Credit: Dollar Photo Club

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Today's tip comes to you from Travel & Leisure: "Should I Be Worried About Cybersecurity When Traveling? (by Amy Farley).

Be smart when traveling with your electronic devices. Don't use shared computers, and beware of fake hot spots, unsecured networks and social snoops. Most importantly, be sure you have some type of "Find My Phone" service installed on all your electronic devices. If your phone goes missing, immediately lock it and change your passwords immediately. Alternatively, if you don't have this feature, immediately contact your cell carrier and disable the phone. At the very least, you'll have your phone locked with a passcode, slowing down or preventing a thief's access to any personal information stored on it.

For more information, read the article here.

Photo credit: Travel & Leisure

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Cruises have so much going on at any given time, catering to all kinds of individual preferences. If you want your family or group of friends to stick together like glue through the whole vacation, two things will happen: (a) you will miss a lot, and (b) you'll resent each other by the end of it. For example, your husband is fond of the casino, but the last thing you want to do on a warm, tropical day is spend it inside a smoke-filled, noisy room. Go to the pool or spend time lounging on your deck, while he goes to play the slots. You'll both be happy.

This is even more true for couples you might be traveling with. In the case of shore excursions, for example, you all want something different from the island you're visiting. Why not have each couple go off on their own adventure, and then meet for dinner that evening to compare stories.

Traveling with the kids? That's an easy one. They can have fun with their new friends in the kids' club, while you and your honey catch some much-needed alone time. Or one of you go for a relaxing spa treatment while the other climbs a rock wall with Junior.

Vacations are about discovering new people and places, and sometimes that means going it on your own. By enjoying what you like and and then sharing each other's memories, you'll all receive a much more enriching experience.

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You found a great cruise deal on line and booked it. You patted yourself on the back and told all your friends about it. Maybe it was a buy-one, get-one-free promotion. Or maybe it was a free upgrade. Whatever the deal, congratulations! But before you click the "Reserve" button, be sure you know what you're getting. Do yourself a favor and study the deck plan. Pay close attention to the following:

Square Footage. How large (or tiny) is the cabin? You and your 3 buddies crammed into a 145 square-foot cabin will, in all likelihood, no longer be friends by the end of the cruise.

What's directly above and below your cabin? Is there a pool deck or a jogging track? If you're a late sleeper, you won't be for long. The pounding of feet or screeching of chairs across the deck will have you up for breakfast early. Likewise, what's under your feet? Is there a loud night-club directly below? Not good if you're the early-to-bed type.

Noise. Engine noise, mechanical apparatus noise and noise from people congregating around elevators and stairs may be unpleasant for some folks.

A good rule of thumb is to book a "sandwich" cabin - one located between two decks consisting of cabins only - for the least amount of noise and motion.

Motion. Cabins close to the front and rear of the ship tend to be the most uncomfortable for those prone to seasickness. Choose another or bring your favorite motion remedy.

Obstruction. You will know whether a cabin is obstructed or partially obstructed. But if you look at the deck plan, you can choose a cabin, say, between two life boats for a better view.

Balcony. Before celebrating the great deal on that balcony, make sure it's what you want. Some ships, like the "Grand" class of Princess, have balconies that are fully covered, partially covered or totally uncovered. In fact, there is a whole deck of mini-suites with balconies on this class. While these are awesome cabins, they are totally uncovered and totally exposed to the view of cabins above you - in other words, no privacy. If you're not sure about the veranda cabin you have your eyes on, ask your agent.

Photo Credit - J. Neves (inside cabin on "Disney Magic")

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To save money and enjoy a more relaxing cruise experience, try a repositioning cruise. Cruise lines will typically have their ships spend a season cruising the same itinerary. During, say, the spring or fall, these ships will be relocated – or repositioned – to a new geographical area of the world to begin a new cruise season and new itinerary. Rather than have these ships sail empty, cabins are sold, usually at a reduced rate. For passengers who like lots of peaceful days at sea, this can be a wonderful way to spend a vacation. Instead of a hectic port schedule, the ship will spend many, many days at sea with a brief stop or two in interesting ports.

Of course, a repositioning cruise doesn’t come without its disadvantages. Because the sailing involves leaving one port and arriving at another – sometimes half a world away, air travel can be complicated and expensive. Also, while retired folks and those with a flexible schedule can afford the time to be away at sea for an extended period of time, many are not so fortunate.

Still, if you have the time and are creative with flight arrangements, a repositioning cruise can be a great cruise value.

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Sure, you're on vacation, but that doesn't mean you have to sleep the day away. You'll miss so much. Here are my five best reasons to force yourself out of bed before sunrise:

(1) View a breathtaking sunrise at sea; you'll forget all about how much you wanted to sleep in.

(2) Photograph nature in its best light. The natural lighting for taking photos is best early morning and just before sunset; this was especially true for the glaciers on our Alaska cruise and our cruise 2 years ago around the British Isles.

(3) Photograph highlights of the ship without the unwanted crowds; you will impress your friends back home, who will wonder if you had the whole ship to yourself!

(4) Enjoy the ocean view without distraction. No announcements, no blaring movie screen, rock music or chatty people - just you and Mother Nature.

(5) Have a leisurely breakfast and coffee before the mad dash, with first dibs at the food.

Photo: Bahama Sunrise, Disney Magic (J. Neves)

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A cruise is the perfect way to mark a romantic event. After all, nothing puts us in the mood than sun, sea and a cruise ship. Why not add a little something else to celebrate the grand occasion!Whether you are celebrating with an on-board wedding or simply looking for some alone time with that certain someone, cruise lines have made it easy to order gifts and packages to say "I love you." Your travel agent can help you choose the perfect gift or package. If you booked direct with the cruise line, log on to their website and choose from an array of gifts - spa treatments, champagne, wine, flowers, cakes, balloons, candy, special balcony dinners or breakfasts, and much more - or a complete package containing all or some of the the above.

Don't want to treat yourself? Maybe a friend or family member is looking for a way to honor you on your special occasion. Simply put them in contact with your agent, or give them your booking info and show them where they can find it on line.

For more tips in how to celebrate romance on a cruise, see today's article all about celebrating romance at sea.

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Those who have cruised before know what a popular place the ship's buffet is on embarkation day. It's as though 3,000 cruisers arrive on board and haven't eaten in days. Eager, hungry vacationers line up at the door, squirt the required antibacterial lotion into the palms of their hands, fill their plates, and search for the grand prize: a seat at which to enjoy their lunch - all while carefully and steadily balancing plates and cups along the way. Depending on the ship and venue, it can be a very organized affair in a spacious area, or it can be a crowded and confusing place, overrun with fellow diners in search of food and table.

Instead of beginning your cruise flustered from the crowds bumping to and fro, why not head to the dining room for a leisurely lunch . Most ships have at least one dining room or other alternative dining area open for those who would like a more relaxed meal.

For instance, when cruising on the larger Princess ships, my husband and I like to grab a bite to eat at the International Cafe after boarding and eat in the nearby Piazza, while listening to the string quartet or jazz ensemble that might be performing. We're not really interested in filling ourselves with a lot of food at the moment we board. After all, there will be plenty more where that came from in the days ahead!

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You might think that after the Costa Concordia tragedy in January 2012, people would have more respect for the muster drill. For the most part, on the majority of our cruises since that time, I have noticed an alertness among the passengers that wasn’t necessarily there before. Passengers WANT to know what to do in case of a ship emergency. Ships have stepped up their drills and passengers are paying attention.

At least that’s what I’d observed – until I boarded Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas last month. As we stood in our respective lines out on deck, I was stunned by the rudeness of others. While the captain’s voice came over the loudspeaker with detailed emergency instructions, people were thoughtlessly talking all around me, paying no attention whatsoever, and making it impossible to hear anything. I left the drill not knowing any more than I did when I arrived. Imagine how frustrating that would be for a first-time cruiser.

Fortunately, there are detailed instructions outlined in the cabin literature, as well, so it’s a good idea to review these with your cabin mates on the first day. However, there’s no substitute for a good visual presentation.

If you think you’ve experienced enough muster drills and are only there because it’s mandatory – like many of us, please at least have the common courtesy to remain quiet so your fellow cruisers – those who REALLY want to know the emergency procedures – will be able to listen to and hear the instructions.

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Has this happened to you? You book your cruise on-line directly with the cruise line. A few weeks later, you meet a travel agent, and you instantly strike up a bond. She's experienced, personable and seems to work hard to provide personalized service to her customers. Even better, she is prepared to offer you onboard credit, a bottle of wine and a free shore excursion. She also advises you of a myriad of ways to save money on your cruise and offers advice and tips on how to make your experience easy and enjoyable. For instance, she says she can save you money over the ship's excursion in St. Thomas by booking with a well-respected local tour guide. She recommends a quality discount hotel for a pre-cruise stay. You wonder to yourself - where was this Goddess of Cruise Planning when you started researching cruise vacation options?

Don't despair. Did you know that you can transfer your cruise booking from the cruise line to your friendly new agent? Well you absolutely can and should! In fact, to make things easy, you don't need to do a thing. The agent will take care of the whole process and assure that your booking stays exactly the same. Now you have a great agent, a great upcoming cruise and some added amenities. Your agent gets a well-deserved commission and everybody wins!

For more great reasons why you should choose a travel agent to handle your cruise, read my latest article: 10 Reasons Why You Should Use a Travel Agent to Book Your Cruise.

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You had every intention of heading directly to the airport after the cruise, but the prime flights were sold out, leaving only the 8:00 pm flight. Or maybe you chose this flight because it was the cheapest. "What on earth will I do for 12 hours?" you ask. Whatever you do, don't waste it sitting around at the airport. There are far better places to people watch. Here are a few ideas for spending those precious final hours of your vacation.

Take a ship excursion and tour the port city. Cruise lines know there are people like you with later flights and, therefore, will be more than happy to sell you one of their post-cruise tours. While they can be a bit pricey, these tours are the ultimate in convenience. Simply disembark your ship, climb aboard a motor coach with your fellow cruisers, tour the city and continue on with the group to the airport. No need to worry about your luggage - it will travel with you on your entire journey.

Hire a taxi or a local tour guide to show you around. Many guides will pick you and your luggage up at the ship, take you on a tour, and drop you at the airport. While this may or may not be less expensive than the ship tour, you will generally have more flexibility and a more personal experience.

Rent a car for the day. This is especially good if you can perhaps share the cost with another couple or have a late night flight. The more time spent with your car, the better, and you will have all the flexibility you need.

Book a hotel room for a day. They aren't always easy to find, but there are some hotels which will let you have a room for a few hours at their "day rate" provided they have availability. This is ideal if all you want to do is have a place to relax for a few hours, go for a swim, use their amenities or have a meal.

Take advantage of the cruise ship's luggage valet service. Sometimes the simplest and least expensive solution to how to spend your time is to simply walk or take a taxi to a shopping area, a beach or some other favorite local attraction. What you don't want to do is haul all that luggage along with you. Many cruise lines offer a service, for an extra fee, whereby they will send your luggage from the ship directly to the airport. Some airlines offer this service, as well, in select ports (Southwest, for one). Check with the cruise line or airline for details.

Visit friends or relatives in town. Perhaps your lucky enough to have friends or relatives in town with a vehicle who would be more than happy to pick you up and spend the day entertaining you. To assure that they remain your friends after the trip, don't forget to reciprocate the kindness next time they come to your town.

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The number of ships in port on any given day can have a significant impact on your cruise experience. The more ships in port, the heavier the crowds and the greater the demand for popular attractions. The number of ships can affect everything from available taxis to seating at popular restaurants. A super-mega ship like Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas carries 5,400 passengers alone, and if it is joined in port by two or three other modestly size ships, that number can double or even triple in size. Combine that with the number of locals and land tourists, and you can expect large crowds and exceedingly long waits for the most sought-after sights that you and every other tourist want to see.

While I don't choose a cruise based on the number of ships in port, I do like to check sites such as www.cruisetimetables.com or www.cruisereport.com - or, better yet, the individual port websites themselves - to find out what I can expect in terms of port congestion and how far ahead I should book an independent tour or otherwise arrange my day. For example, I might choose an off-the-beaten-track tour if I know there will be an overly large number of people in town.

Simply look up your port and the date on which you ship will be docked there, and you will learn how many ships will be docked and their arrival and departure times - especially useful if your ship is first to arrive and you want to get a head start to beat the crowds. Knowing in advance how many people will be competing for tours can be a deciding factor in how you plan your day in port.

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Don’t be afraid to venture out of your comfort zone when choosing shore excursions, but at the same time, be aware of your physical limitations. It’s fun to try new experiences, but if you tire easily or get short of breath when walking long distances, the strenuous hiking trail is probably not for you. Likewise, if you’re afraid of heights, perhaps ziplining isn’t the right choice, either. If you’re uncomfortable snorkeling in water over your head, don’t be tough guy - ask for a vest. No one will think less of you.

A few years ago when our two teen daughters accompanied us on a cruise, they wanted to climb up Dunn’s River Falls in Jamaica. As I always do when trying something new for the first time, I read reviews of the falls and listened to others’ own experiences. It sounded like a thrilling experience – for the healthy, physically fit person. However, for someone with not-so-great knee joints and a previous ankle fracture several years previous, I had my concerns. The girls wanted me to go with them, and with the reassurances from others that it’s no so difficult, I decided to give it a go.

I knew from the moment I started down the stairs to reach the bottom of the falls that I was going to have problems, and this was affirmed when the guide put me first in line for the trip up the waterfall – where they usually put the little kids who need help. Stairs are one thing – but the steepness of the rocks was too much, and the guide had to literally pull me up each step of the way. Meanwhile, the little kid behind me is vaulting over the rocks like an Olympic champion. I bowed out at the first emergency exit, wishing I had picked something more suitable to my limitations.

Cruise line excursions include helpful information in their descriptions as to the level of activity, number of steps, amount of walking and other information to help you decide if it’s the right one for you. If you choose an independent tour company, be sure to know before you go. With some careful planning and being honest with yourself about your limitations, you can have fun and be safe at the same time.

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With thousands of ports around the world, no wonder choosing a cruise itinerary is such an overwhelming task, especially if you’re setting sail for the first time. Here are a few guidelines for choosing your cruise destination:

Personal Style: First, ask yourself a few questions. Do you prefer tropical islands, the beach, sun and water sports found in the Caribbean? Do you want to experience the rich history of Europe? Have you been longing to see the glaciers and wildlife of Alaska? Do you see yourself relaxing on deck at sea for several days or do you want port-a-day touring in Europe?

Embarkation Port: If you are the type who wants to drive to your port of embarkation this will, of course, limit you to ships that sail from those cities and destinations to which they are headed. On the other hand, if you are willing to fly to a distant port, you will have more options for seeing places you would not have access to otherwise.

The Destination “Season”: Look at the cruises available for the time period for when you want to travel. Some destinations have their cruising seasons, while others have peak seasons but offer cruising year round. For example, Alaska’s season is May through September, while you can cruise the Caribbean year round.

Budget: What can you afford? A port-intensive itinerary could mean more money out of pocket for transportation, touring and excursions, while a cruise with more sea days could save you money (as long as you refrain from added-fee onboard activities). If you’re limited by both time and cash, then a shorter 3, 4 or 5-day cruise might be an option.

Most importantly, do your research. With a little planning, you’ll find the perfect cruise for your own personal style.

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When boarding a cruise ship – especially if it’s your first – you’ll gaze in wonder with your head in the clouds at your surroundings. However, once you have come down to earth, it’ll be time to get down to the business of reviewing a few safety measures to make your cruise a safe and enjoyable one.

Begin by taking a tour of the ship. Gather your family or traveling companions together and take a walk around the ship. I know – given the size of some of today’s super mega vessels, this could take a while. While walking around and checking out the many public areas, pay close attention to the location of the emergency exits, lifeboats and the medical facilities – being aware of the proximity of each to your cabin.

When you’re together with your family or companions in your cabin for the first time, read the safety information posted. This is especially true if you have children in your group. Locate your lifejackets, write down the location of your muster station, and review together the safety instructions. You will receive a visual presentation later in the day at the safety drill, but it doesn’t hurt to get a head start.

After you’ve unpacked, put together a “grab & go kit”. Place your key important items in a waterproof or zip-lock freezer bag, and store them in a single place, ready to grab at a moment’s notice. These items might include your medications, small flashlight, an extra set of eyeglasses, a list of contacts or PDA, a small amount of cash, a credit card and a driver’s license. If you store the kit in your safe, be sure you know the combination and can access it quick.

Most importantly, don’t use the Safety Drill as an opportunity to take a catnap. In the wake of the Concordia disaster, new, improved safety measures and crew training have risen to the forefront, and the requirement of safety drill attendance by every passenger and crew member is enforced more than ever. Pay close attention to the detailed instructions and demonstrations by the crew so you will be prepared in the event of an emergency.

For more tips and advice concerning safety on a cruise, read: Health and Safety on a Cruise Ship - A Review for Passengers