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CruiseGuide 2011



Cruise Questions Answered



cruise questions answered

We regularly get e-mails, and thought that our viewers could benefit from questions being asked by others. Often it is your questions that reveal great cruise tips we've forgotten to mention! If your question has not been answered here, feel free to contact us at support@thecruisinginsider.com. We answer each and every e-mail!


Main Dining Gratuities

Dear Cruising Insider,

Here is something that I would like opinions on. After 20 some cruises, mostly with Royal Caribbean, we now prefer to simply eat dinner at the Windjammer rather than at the main dining room. Doing so allows us to eat when we want and provides a much wider choice of items.

We have tried the MyTime Dining option which gives us more flexibility, but it can still result in long waits for a table if prior reservations are not made, and occasionally has resulted in dinner taking two hours to complete.

Another advantage of not eating in the main dining room is that we can avoid having to pack formal clothes, saving one suitcase between us by the time dress shoes are included.

Now the question. If we avoid the assigned dining table and only eat evening meals in the Windjammer or alternate dining venues, what do we do about the gratuities for the dining staff? We have done the following at times during these cruises. 1) Gone to our assigned dining table on the first night and then again on the last night to distribute the recommended gratuties for the full cruise, even though we were only at the table two nights out of a 14-night cruise. 2) Gone to the main dining room only on the first night and then stopped by the table on the last night without eating there and distributed gratuties, but at less than the recommended amount for the full cruise. 3) Avoided the main dining room altogether, and only tipped the staff in the Windjammer whose tables we regularly ate at or those who provided extra special service.

We know that on every cruise there are those who never visit the main dining room. We also know that the dining waitstaff depends entirely on tips. What are your thoughts please?




Thanks for your question. I guess this is one place where we differ from you, because we always find it a great treat to be pampered every night in the formal dining room... but having said that, I also understand the convenience and freedom that dining in the buffet-type venues allows. These days everybody's lives are so scheduled out that it's nice to go and come when, where, and how you want, at least when you're on vacation.

That having been said, the dining room staff gratuity issue is a very personal one, and this call will ultimately boil down to your personal beliefs and judgement. It's true that the crew relies heavily on tips. It's also true that if you're not getting the service most nights because you're not in there, then you shouldn't be forced to tip fully.

Personally, I would probably at least offer them something (whatever amount you deem sufficient) of a gratuity, just as a kind gesture, even if I very rarely used the dining room, as you're doing. This would still allow you to give a nice tip to those who are taking care of you in the Windjammer, without going over the total amount that you normally would've given to the dining room staff (who often work the Windjammer and other food venues during the day).

But again, ultimately this will have to be your call. And as you know, each cruise offers a different quality of dining/service experience. Your point is well-taken when it comes to paying for a service you'll use nearly never, but I would take this one on a cruise-by-cruise basis. The simple fact that you've put thought into this topic shows that you're considerate of others... you're the type of folks we love to cruise with!

Smooth Sailing,
--Kim & Johnnie

The More, The Merrier

A group of friends and I are planning on going on a cruise after college graduation. We want to keep it cheap but also have room where we aren't getting on each other's nerves. Does it make a difference in price if we get one room or two? Would getting the second room be more expensive?





Thanks for your question... and congratulations on picking the ultimate way to celebrate the milestone of your college graduation! How else could you all be together, celebrate every night, bond together through some amazing shared experiences at exotic ports, and not have to worry about a thing? It's all taken care of!

It's smart that you're open to some options when it comes to saving money. Very smart. Begin your planning by being flexible on which week you'll travel... you'll often find huge swings in cruise prices from month to month, or maybe even week to week. Once you've settled on a particular week, then I would very strongly consider going with 3 or 4 people to a room. Yes, you will definitely save money this way, since tickets for the 3rd & 4th person in the room are much cheaper.

You have to remember that you'll likely spend very little time in the room, other than when sleeping. It's not like at home where you'd be spending hours on end in the room. So even though having 3 or 4 people in a room can mean things are tight for a few minutes while you're dressing, once you bust out of that stateroom door, you've got a thousand-foot-long ship to roam on your own all day and night. And a whole lot more cash to spend on your sail-and-sign card.

This is a personal decision which will depend on how much money you plan to spend, how well you like your cruisemates, and how much you personally need your privacy. But I'd recommend doubling things up in the stateroom, and going with 3 or 4 to a room. It's a smart way to save cash, and to be well on your way to paying for your next cruise!

Smooth Sailing,

--Kim & Johnnie

One More Drink (of Orange Juice) For The Road

On my upcoming Carnival cruise is breakfast available on the day we disembark?




Thanks for your question, and congratulations on your upcoming cruise!

Yes, breakfast should be available before you disembark... we've never had an experience where it wasn't available the last morning.

This is a great way to get breakfast done conveniently, before the getting-home hassle begins... plus it beats throwing $20 away on breakfast at a fast food outlet!

Enjoy your trip.

Smooth Sailing,



Where's The Party?

There's an 8 day Carnival cruise that I'm considering.  I've heard that there is a "party" cruise line.  Is Carnival that cruise line?



Carnival is indeed often considered a "party" cruise line, probably because it often tends to attract a younger crowd. If you're
into nightlife, Carnival is definitely ready to please... if not, it's a big ship! You'll find more than you can do in a week if you want to stay busy and/or party... but at the same time, there's always plenty of beach chairs, and first-run movies available in your stateroom if you just want to "chill out" and have some peace and quiet.

Bottom line, whether you want a fast pace or a slow one, Carnival will deliver for you!

Hope you enjoy your cruise... stop by and say "Hi" when you get back on our free Message Board!

Smooth Sailing,
--Johnnie & Kim


Cold Weather Questions


My husband and I are considering our first cruise.  It would be a mid-November departure from NYC to Bahamas.  Will we appreciate the warm climate for most of the trip or will we be wishing we flew south first before boarding??  Just don't want to waste half the week in cool/cold weather!!
Thanks for your response!

Kathleen R.


Congratulations on considering a cruise vacation! That is a question that depends as much on what you'll want from your cruise vacation as anything else.

Why? Because it depends on what you find you enjoy most on "sea days." On a cruise vacation there's so much to do, you may find yourself forgetting you're at sea from time to time.

Yes, it's going to be cool when you depart NYC at that time of the year. And yes, to some degree, it's going to be cool outside while you're traveling for 2 1/2 days at sea. But you'll likely find so much to do onboard that you may not find it much of a problem!

When you get into the area of the Bahamas, you'll find that the temperature averages around the upper 60's to lower 80's during November, so anything will go for the 2 or 3 days you're down there... so soak it up in the pool when you're not ashore on those days!

Bottom line -- do some investigating on the website of the cruise line you're considering traveling with. Look at what amenities are available on the specific ship you're considering. If you find that there are enough attractions and activities on board to keep you busy (and likely you will), you may not miss the pool for the couple days coming and going.

But if you think you'd enjoy spending a lot of time hanging out in the pool chairs and listening to the live band outside (and that is great relaxation time), then you may want to consider flying down, and picking up a cruise from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Port Canaveral, or something like that (wherever the best deals are). Because you ARE going to find it chilly outside on the decks during that time of year, while sailing to and from the Bahamas. Even in the Gulf, even during warmer months, it gets chilly on the decks during sea days, and a lot of that is simply the strong winds at sea combined with the speed the ship is moving. Even on cruises in warmer months, we always bring a light jacket for the sea days.

So, put some thought into exactly what you want most out of the cruise, and what you can do without.

Don't sweat it too much -- I promise you, you're going to have a great time regardless of where you depart! :o)

Smooth Sailing,
--Kim & Johnnie



Pool Hours

Hello Kim -

My mother and I are going on our first cruise in Sept with Royal Caribbean to Grand Cayman and Cozumel. I am wondering if the pools and whirlpools on the ship close after a certain time?

Thank you.


In our experiences we have seen the pools open and closed at odd times on the lines we've been on, so we spoke with Royal Caribbean directly to get an accurate answer. We were told that, on Royal Caribbean's ships, the pools were almost always open, unless there was some type of maintenance going on. On our cruises with Royal Caribbean, we've seen folks out at the pools at late hours, but I'm not sure if, on the trips where we've sailed with Royal Caribbean, the pools were 'always' open, even while at sea. For starters, you'll may find that, when you first enter the ship at the cruise terminal, the pools are empty. Then, when you wake the next morning, you'll probably find that they have filled them with the fresh clear seawater you're now sailing in (yes, saltwater). I can't vouch for every cruise line, but even during the cruise, they will probably drain the pool at some point and then refill it a number of times (I hear it's every night on at least one line, but I've never sat out there to check this).

But at any rate, you can be fairly sure you'll find them open quite a bit during your cruise. The only times I recall for sure seeing the pool closed during the day while at sea is during times of rough seas, when the ship is rolling badly, causing violent waves in the pools (for safety reasons). And you're unlikely to see those types of conditions happen on your average cruise trip.

But not to worry, you'll find so much going on around the ship, that you'll probably not even use the pools as much as you think...have a great time!

Smooth Sailing,
--Kim & Johnnie Rhodes



Cruising the Canal


Saw your various postings. Probably a universal question, but if have never been on a ship, and don't want to over pay, (first time will be learning experience) and only know one thing, want to go through Panama Canal, then how to get the cheapest thing for two people (complication: one person lives in Albuquerque, N.M., and one in Cumberland  R.I.  Can I do it? (put it together somehow i mean)


Thanks for your question. Since your main reason for taking this cruise is to travel through the Panama Canal, then we would recommend a one-way cruise, such as the one offered at the link below:
There are round-trip cruises that start at a port, such as Miami, and end up back there again, but these may not go all the way through the Panama Canal.  The one-way cruise is a sure bet that you'll travel the whole canal, if that's your main interest.  I don't think the fact that you and your traveling partner live in separate locations will pose a problem...for instance, on the cruise linked above, you both would just need a one-way airline ticket from your homes to Fort Lauderdale, and would need another one-way airline ticket from San Diego back to your homes.  The airline tickets will probably run a little more money due to the fact that you're not buying round-trip airline tickets.  So, yes, you can do it, and it should be the trip of a lifetime.  Enjoy!

Smooth Sailing,

--Kim & Johnnie


Excursion Booking: Now or Later

Hi Kim,

I found your webpage most informative, thank you!  My question is regarding onshore excursions.  Is it really necessary to book them ahead of time?  We are going to be in the Bahamas in 3 weeks and will be in Nassau for 1 day so we didn't want to book an excursion ahead of time in case once we get there, we decide to do something entirely different.  I've heard conflicting stories regarding where you end up once you get to Nassau.  Apparently, there isn't a beach or shopping area in the immediate area.  We are looking to spend a relaxing day on the beach and do a little shopping.  Not real iterested in doing any scuba diving or anything like that.  

This will be our first cruise, so we're not familiar with how it all works. Thanks for any suggestions you can offer.

--Rebecca R.

Thanks for your question.  No, it is not necessary to book your excursions ahead of time; you can do that while aboard the ship.  We do often book ours ahead of time if we know, for sure, what we want to do at a certain port, but we have also booked excursions aboard the ship.  If you're mainly wanting to just relax at the beach, we recommend that you do one of the 'beach break' excursions...or, since you'll be in Nassau, you may want to check for an excursion to the Atlantis Resort!  This would give you the opportunity to check out a resort known the world over, and also would be a great place to hang out at the beach.  Either way, if you're wanting to do a little shopping, check with your cruise line to see how long the excursion lasts (probably 4 or 5 hours), so you're sure you'll have time for a little shopping afterwards.  One word of caution, however you plan your day: be sure you're back aboard your ship with ample time to spare; the ship will not wait if you're late.  You're okay if you're on an excursion through the cruise line, but just keep an eye on the time if you're out on your own.
That having been said, congratulations on making an awesome vacation choice -- you're going to have a great time!  One of the greatest things about a cruise vacation is knowing that once you're aboard, everything you need is taken care of.  Drop us a line when you get back and tell us about it!
Smooth Sailing,

--Kim & Johnnie


Hurricane Season Concerns

Good Morning Kim
Thank you for such a great web site.  It is most informative!
We are planning a Canada & New England Cruise in the first week of September 2008.
We have learned through the internet that the hurricane season is around that time.  Have checked past hurricane seasons and we will have to base an opinion on that.
Should we be concerned to cruise around that time of the year?  We have not yet booked.
Thank you and you have a great day.

--Denis & Geraldine

Denis and Geraldine,
Thanks so much for your kind words about our site...they truly mean more than you know.  We hope that it will continue to be a source of information for you, and that you will spread the good word about our site. 
Although September will indeed find you in Hurricane Season, we doubt that you will be affected significantly, being as far north as you will be.  However, if something happens to blow that far north, it has been our experience that the cruise lines will possibly just 'work around the weather.'
In other words, they may decide to have you board at another port location to avoid the weather, in which case they will probably give you some type of credit for your inconvenience.
By the same token, if the weather strikes your departure port while you're at sea, they may bring you back to a different port location for departure and then bus you to your vehicle when the weather clears, etc.;
Or, if no other option is available, they may cancel the trip and refund your money.
At any rate, the cruise lines usually 'take it upon themselves' to bear the burden of dealing with uncertain weather during hurricane season.  We can't guarantee what any cruise line will or won't do, but usually they're the ones who make good on things when the unexpected happens during hurricane season.
If things go like they have the past couple years, you shouldn't have much problem!  And we certainly hope weather doesn't stop your trip.
Again, thanks so much for visiting our site, and please don't hesitate to ask any other questions!
Smooth Sailing,

--Kim & Johnnie


To Dress to the Nines?


This is our first cruise. We are leaving from Seattle for Alaska on May 11. We were really wondering about dress wear for dinner. Are dresses a necessity or dressy pant suits. And anything you think we should know. I really enjoyed your site but was not able to access the first thing on your list about what to do at home preparing for the cruise had no trouble with the rest. The first cruise ships have already arrived in Seattle. I believe it was Tuesday when the first one came in. Thanks for the great site and any help you can give me. My husband and I are celebrating our 45th anniversary so we are not youngsters but not over the hill yet.

Thank you again,

Rose Marie D.

Rose Marie,

Congratulations on your 45th anniversary, and on making a great choice on how to celebrate it!  We celebrate our 15th anniversary on April 10th. It's truly a blessing in this day and age to see folks like you stick with each other for the long haul.  We know that doesn't happen by accident. You are to be commended!

As far as Formal Dining goes, the cruise lines are usually pretty easy going about what to wear.  Usually, on a one-week cruise, you'll only have two true "Formal Nights", where they'll recommend dresses for the ladies and tuxedo or suit for the gentlemen.  The other nights in the formal dining room are something along the lines of  "Smart Casual", in other words, khaki pants and a nice shirt are fine for the men, and pant suits are fine for the women for all the other nights in there.  We've even worn blue jeans and a nice shirt a time or two in the formal dining, just not on "Formal Night", and they're not going to give you any problems.  The only time I've seen them say anything is when a guy wore shorts to formal dining, and they told him he needed long pants.  So don't let the formal dining scare you --  you're going to be spoiled when you go in there!  Go have a great time!  Do try something new every night while you're in there -- you can even order two different plates for one person, that way you'll have that steak in case you don't like the other plate!

You mentioned having trouble with the first link on our page -- I believe you're talking about the one that says "Cruise Tips Home".  If so, that is just a link that takes you back to our main home page, it doesn't take you anywhere else.  But speaking of preparing at home, do take a look at our "Cruise Packing List" page, and make sure you click the link for the "Printer Friendly Version".  That'll take you to our Packing List that even has checkboxes to check as you pack, and blank spaces to write in extras that you think of.

Finally, thanks so much for your kind words about our site, it means more than you know!  Remember we're always here if you have any questions, and, let us know how your trip goes!

Smooth Sailing,
--Kim & Johnnie



After-Christmas Cruising

Do cruises the week after Christmas tend be be full or not so full?  When is the best time to book for that week???


That time of year does tend to be busy for the cruise lines, but no situation is ever exactly the same.  But the best time to book is most always right away.  Often you will find that the rooms go cheaper the earlier you can book them, and, of course, by booking earlier you'll have more choices as to which room you want.  We've heard it said, "book early, or book late."  Which is to say, early on, the cruise lines are eager to get bookings going, and will often offer great prices then.  And as the cruise draws near, they're frantic to fill those last rooms, so the good deals come again -- it's just that, being that late in the game, you're very limited on room choices.  So it's best to book as early as possible.  We've even had situations where we booked, only to see the cruise line drop prices a couple weeks later.  We'd call, tell them we saw the lower price, and they'd automatically lower our booking price to match the new price!  (They don't want to go through you cancelling, then bothering them again to re-book at the lower price)  So our advice is, book as soon as possible!
Have a great trip, and let us know how it went!  Any other questions, we're alway's here...
Smooth Sailing,
--Kim & Johnnie


Don't Rock the Boat!

Hi Kim
Thank you for your reply and information.
Where on a ship is the best for the least motion.  We were told the center and closer to the bottom.  How bad would the 8100 (stateroom number)  be on the Naviagtion Deck, port side, on the new Eurodam Holland America be?
Any suggestions on what tours that would be good to do on this Sept 1, 2008 cruise might be?
Regarding dining, is the anytime dining a good idea?
Any other addtional information would greatly be appreciated.
Thank you very much.

Denis U.

The information you were given is generally correct -- there is less motion in the center and towards the bottom of the ship.  However, although we do generally book a room near the center for this reason, we always try to be on one of the upper decks near the center.  We do this kind of as a 'tradeoff' -- less motion due to being in the center, but closer to the dining and other facilities by being on the higher deck.
We've never cruised with Holland America, so we're not familiar with many things about that line or that particular stateroom.  But if you'll stick with the 'near the center' idea, you'll have a much smoother ride.  Actually, believe it or not, some people like the motion in their room -- they say it rocks them to sleep at night!!  I say, the little rocking I get in the center of the boat is enough for that.
For dining, we always do the Formal Dining...we find it to be a great treat and would do nothing else.  But it's hard to go wrong with dining, you're pretty much going to be taken care of however you choose to go.
But while we're on the topic of dining, we'd like to recommend the later dining times if available.  We like the later seating because, on port days, the later seating allows us more time in port, without having to rush back to the boat before departure to get ready for dinner.  On a cruise, you're already limited to only a few hours in port...we sure don't want to be limited any more than that by an early dining time.
We hope you have a great trip, and let us know if you have other questions.  And, when you get back, drop us an e-mail reviewing your cruise!
Smooth Sailing,
--Kim & Johnnie






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