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Using frequent flier miles -- find two or three cruises you'd like to go on about 10-12 months down the road. Reserve your airline tickets using the least amount of miles with perhaps a day leeway.
BUYING ITEMS -- Make a list of stuff you want to buy and write down prices here in the USA so you'll know when you find a good deal.
BUYING YOUR CRUISE -- check every week or so to make sure there will be cabins left when it's time to buy. You could reserve the cabin you want and watch the price... or wait till one or two weeks before the cruise and secure the LOWEST rate...as long as you keep checking to make sure cabins are still available.
HOTEL -- go ahead and put a reservation in for a place to stay as long as you can cancel. A week or so ahead, check biddingfortravel.com for your city to see what price to offer on priceline.com for a hotel in the area you want (we stayed at the Hyatt Regency Miami for $35 a night and could see the cruise ships from our balcony).
PACKING -- it's true---pack half of what you'll need and twice the money. I suggest leaving the expensive jewelry at home.
PLASTIC BOTTLES -- instead of bringing large bottles of shampoo, aloe vera, conditioner etc pack the hotel mini-bottles. The large plastic ones expand and deflate in the airplane and explode. The mini-bottles can be thrown away as you go.
TOILETRIES -- In each cabin are "samples" of shampoo, conditioner, body wash, shavers, Tums, deodorant etc. but it's a one-time-only. There is probably enough toothpaste for one for the entire cruise.
LAUNDRY --- On the Triumph, laundry rooms were behind the middle elevators in the hallway with three washers and three dryers. Each needed four quarters. Use sandwich bags for a scoop of dry laundry detergent each and a bag for dryer sheets. On "at sea" days it only takes a minute or two and all your favorite clothing items are clean again! Pack a collapsible bag for laundry the rest of the time to bring home. There were two days where there was a "laundry special"...all you could pack into a laundry bag for $12 and they would wash, dry and iron (if necessary).
TAXI -- for Miami airport to the port and the port to Miami airport, it's a flat $18 whether you have one person or four. QUICKER and CHEAPER than the package deals! Hotels in the downtown area of Miami are a little more. Takes about 15-20 minutes; more if during busy times.
SPA -- as soon as you board, call the Spa (or Salon) and see if they need a volunteer for the facial demonstration or any other demonstrations. It will only take a little more than an hour and the price is right!
INTERNET -- There is usually a drawing the first few hours for 100 free minutes... or free time to "try-it-out".... if you think you'll spend time here, get the package deals first and save $$. It's open 24/7 and is on the 4th deck next to the Oxford Bar.
GRATUITIES --- we had a charge of $68.25 per person on our sail-n-sign card the first day. Gives you an idea of what to bring if you do this in cash the last day (just have the purser take the charges off your account). I had a $1 tip for the person who brought the morning coffee to the cabin. It was a different person each time (not the cabin steward).
SODA CARD -- $20 for kids and $30 for adults. From the bar, sodas were $1 a glass, $1.50 a can, and $2.50 for the 20 oz twist top. This is the same price as the ones in the room, as well as the machines (next to ice machines) located behind the elevators in hallways. The cards are easier to use since you don't have to sign for each drink.
STAMPS -- you can buy the postcard stamps you'll need for the next port-of-call at the purser's desk (they don't add a handling fee or anything).
MEDICINES -- go to the infirmary, deck 0 forward (regular elevators by the atrium) and walk into the waiting room for free samples of seasick pills, Alka-Seltzer, aspirin etc. You don't have to even see anyone since the waiting room is separate. It has a weight scale too if you want to weigh your suitcase.
CUSTOMS -- keep track on a piece of paper as you buy items from other countries. Makes it easier when filling out the form at the end of the cruise. You'll need item name and how much you paid.
CASINO -- you can put your "sail-n-sign" card in the slot machines for points...but...the points are only good for the NEXT trip and can be used starting at 25,000 points!!!
UNDERGROUND TOKYO -- used 25? tokens bought from a machine near the entrance. Kids could get $20 a day (you can adjust that with the purser) and adults could get $50 a day.
ANNOUNCEMENTS -- there were only a few each day that were in the hallways. If you wanted to hear what was being said you had to open your door. The only announcements that came into the cabin speakers were during disembarkation.
CABIN RADIO -- located next to the switches above the headboard (we didn't find it until the last few days).
GIFT SHOPS -- there will be a 25% to 50% sale towards the end of the cruise on clothing and jewelry.
PHOTOS -- the photographers take A LOT of pictures! If you have one done with the backgrounds, they develop them as 8 x 10's which cost $20! I suggest you find your own background, use your own camera, and ask someone to take it for you. As for developing YOUR OWN pictures...it's a great deal at $8.88 for double 4x6 prints and they include a "Carnival" photo album with each order free.
GRAND CAYMAN -- the turtle farm is made up of circular cement pools with turtles swimming in them. You can pick them up for a picture. That's it (don't be disappointed)... as for Hell, it's a small souvenir shop with a place to walk out and see rugged lava-type rocks. If you need tender tickets from the ship, be aggressive, since sometimes they aren't fair on who gets them and when.
OCHO RIOS -- get your "water shoes" here! Buy them in the gift shops at the pier for $10. You can rent them for $5 at the Dunns River Falls. You'll need them, since the water is fast, slippery, and the rocks are smooth. There may be better deals on ebay...check first.
DISEMBARKATION -- wait till the crew has the fire drill before leaving your cabin. When your color is called, no hurry... just stroll down to deck 3, show your "Sail-n-sign" card and passport, and stroll off. There are bathrooms where you collect the luggage, and the last thing you'll need is the customs form after you have collected your bags.
As for SHORE TOURS offered in Miami... we were given an advisory saying we could NOT be at the airport any more than THREE hours before our flight left, and Carnival had conveniently offered shore tours for $39 a person (!!). We took the $18 taxi and arrived 4 1/2 hours early. Delta tagged our bags (no line) we got in the security clearance line (45 min wait) and we were able to find a bite to eat near the gates. We could have gone to the Bayside mall...it's on the left as you get back to mainland from the cruise ship area.