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Pre-Cruise Planning Checklist

By Erica Silverstein
Cruise Critic Senior Editor

We've all heard the horror stories of people who show up for their cruise, only to realize they don't have the right passport or visa. Perhaps we've been guilty of putting off travel research, only to find out that the tour guide we want is booked up or a shore excursion sold out. Or -- and who hasn't done this? -- we're staying up until 3 a.m. the night before our trip, trying to do last-minute packing and other preparation.

Updated November 29, 2017

A little planning goes a long way toward a smooth sailing. To keep you on track -- and keep important tasks from falling through the cracks -- click on (and print out) this pre-cruise planning checklist and refer to it from the time you book your cruise to the night before you set sail. We realize that not every line item will be applicable to your trip and -- depending on when you book and your planning personality -- you might be checking off tasks a little earlier or later.

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Best Time to Cruise
It's one of the most common cruising questions: When is the best time to cruise Alaska, or Australia, the Caribbean, Canada/New England, Hawaii, Europe or the South Pacific? The answer depends on many variables. Fall foliage enthusiasts, for instance, will find September and October the best time to take that Canada/New England cruise, whereas water sports-lovers (and families) much prefer to sail the region in the summer when school is out and temperatures are warmer for swimming. The best time to cruise to Alaska will vary depending on your preferences for viewing wildlife, fishing, bargain-shopping, sunshine, warm weather and catching the northern lights. For most cruise regions, there are periods of peak demand (high season), moderate demand (shoulder season) and low demand (low season), which is usually the cheapest time to cruise. High season is typically a mix of when the weather is best and popular travel periods (such as summers and school holidays). However, the best time to cruise weather-wise is usually not the cheapest time to cruise. The cheapest time to cruise is when most travelers don't want to go because of chillier temperatures or inopportune timing (too close to holidays, the start of school, etc.). But the lure of cheap fares and uncrowded ports might make you change your mind about what you consider the best time to cruise. As you plan your next cruise, you'll want to take into consideration the best and cheapest times to cruise and see what jibes with your vacation schedule. Here's a when-to-cruise guide for popular destinations.