When you plan a cruise, there are many details to keep track of: shore excursions, dinner reservations, the right gear, getting to port -- but it all comes to a head in the exciting (and hopefully not panicked) hours of the Night Before. Whether you're making final tweaks to what's in the suitcase or bravely starting from scratch, these 10 tips will help you prepare for your cruise so you can spend less time worrying about forgetting something, and more time looking forward to your vacation.
Make a List; Check it Five Times
Even if you're not a "list person," write down everything you can think of that you want to bring on your cruise -- and then some. (Doing this way in advance of the night before will save you some heartache.) Just the act of writing a list helps to identify what you might need to buy, what can't be packed until the last minute and what you have already packed. The night before you leave, always check that packing list again to make sure it's all there. Consider making a separate list for those items you can't pack until the morning of (toothbrush, glasses, phone charger); your groggy brain at 4 a.m. will thank you.
Get Your Money in Order
If you haven't done so already, run out to the ATM to make sure you have some cash on hand for airport/road trip snacks, gas if you're driving, money for cabs and tips for shuttles and porters. If you're traveling abroad, having cash in the local currency will help, but if you forgot to make it to the bank, you'll be able to withdraw local money at ATMs in that country. Always call your bank before traveling abroad to put a travel notice on your card. Consider doing this even if you're traveling to domestic or Caribbean ports; it's easier to make one phone call from home than to figure out why your card was blocked during your cruise. While you're on the phone, check to see what foreign transaction fees your debit or credit cards are subject to.
Bounce Ideas Around
Don't pack in a vacuum -- especially for a family or group cruise. Ask a friend, family member or partner what you've forgotten to pack. Getting a different perspective can help with those little ah-ha! moments (did you bring dark socks for formal night?) Figuring out what you're each bringing -- especially if you packed separately -- also helps to avoid overpacking (two full-size bottles of shampoo, anyone?)
Create a Work-Free Zone (If You Can)
You're less than 24 hours away from stepping onboard the ship; vacation should start now. That means getting your business in order first. Reply to any emails that need an immediate answer, set your out-of-office email and let your coworkers know under what circumstances they may contact you.
Find a Printer
If your printer is out of ink or on the fritz, now is a good time to head to a library or find a friend with some paper to spare. Even though many documents -- including your boarding pass for your flight -- can be used as mobile-only codes, you'll need a hard, paper copy for your cruise documents as well as for luggage tags. (These tell crew where to bring your baggage once on the ship, so make sure you print enough out for suitcases and airplane carry-ons, if you want them delivered to your cabin.) Consider printing a copy of your itinerary or any other necessary information if you like having tangible copies to review.
Let Someone Know Where You're Going
If you don't have an emergency contact (which could include a house or pet sitter), consider finding one (just in case). Give a close friend or neighbor a heads up on the dates that you'll be out of town, any flight numbers, hotel names, contact information and of course what ship you'll be on. A little extra peace of mind while you're traveling is a nice thing to tick off the pre-cruise list. Plus, many cruise lines require an emergency contact when you fill out their forms.
Be Departure Day Ready
You're packed and ready for a weeklong cruise, but don't forget about your travel day. Whether you're driving or flying to your departure port, you'll need a place to keep your important documents, any medication and of course any 'necessary' snacks or Sudoku puzzle books. Also, think about what you're wearing -- is the weather at home or in port different from the weather you're sailing into? Layers are a traveler's best friend. And don't forget to throw a bathing suit (and some sunscreen) in your bag if you want to -- and can -- hop in the pool right away.
Post on Cruise Critic
If you're a member on the Cruise Critic boards, it's always fun to follow up a long cruise countdown with a post that you're headed out to sea. Did you join a roll call? If you did you'd see all the other Cruise Critic members who are sailing with you and could plan group excursions, organize a meet and greet, and chat about everything related to your cruise vacation with people who are just as excited (something to do as far in advance of your cruise as you'd like to). Don't forget to "humblebrag" across all social media channels -- post a status to Facebook or a photo to Instagram.
Find Other Cruisers
If you flew in a day early, you might be staying at a hotel near port. Or, if you're on a pre-cruise land extension, chances are you're at a hotel provided by the cruise line. In both cases, it's quite possible to run into other people headed out on your same sailing. Says Cruise Critic's Carolyn Spencer Brown, "It's just more fun when the lobby is crowded with excited folks going on my same trip -- and often you get to chat with others (easy to spot 'em -- luggage tags and the like)."
Don't Forget to Sleep
Despite all the last-minute fiddling, fussing and anticipation, it's also important to get some shut-eye the night before your cruise. Even if you know the chances of getting a good night's sleep are slim, resting up before a busy day traveling, boarding and exploring the ship could be the difference between catching a show on the first night or sneaking in a nap (that may just turn into a full eight hours).