1. Pack for Your Cruise
This one might seem sort of self-explanatory, but we recommend packing sooner rather than later (helps to catch all those last-minute items you may forget if you wait until the last minute). Check the weather forecast for your ports of call as close to your trip as you can to make sure you’re getting good intel on whether there might be rain, snow, or maybe strong weather systems predicted (in which case, it’s good to at least talk through your Plan Bs and Cs). Pack accordingly—a poncho, umbrella or extra jacket can be worth their weight in gold once you’re on board with limited shopping options. Try on clothes you haven’t put on in a while to ensure proper fit and visualize each day on and off the ship as much as you can, packing your formal evening attire as well as your comfortable shore excursion wear. Be sure to check our ultimate packing list for all the necessary items.
2. Check In Online and Double Check Your Documentation
Perhaps even more important than anything else when it comes to cruise preparation is ensuring that your documents are in order. No passport (or in some cases, birth certificate)? No cruise. That goes extra for pandemic-era cruising when vaccination and testing documents are a requirement for embarkation. We’ll get more to that below.
So in the week before your cruise, check in online, upload any required documents, make sure that your shipboard account is ready for your charges, and (if it’s an option) snap your security photo to ensure boarding goes as quickly as possible. Ensure that your passport is in a location where you aren’t going to forget it when it’s time to leave for the airport or cruise terminal. Finally, print out your boarding pass, your luggage tags, your airline boarding pass, and any other documents that might be necessary to have with you (always handy to have a paper backup in case you lose internet access or your cell phone battery dies).
3. Get COVID Tests (If Applicable)
Though the cruise industry is constantly updating its protocols in response to the evolving COVID-19 pandemic health advisories and legislation, many cruise lines currently require proof of full COVID vaccination or a negative COVID test (many times both) in order to set sail. It’s important that you familiarize yourself with your cruise line’s policies and procedures, and ensure that if testing is required within a certain time frame of your sail date (for example, 48 hours), that you have a plan to do that and have your results in hand or digitally in time for your bon voyage.
4. Get Your House in Order
This is one of the least fun parts of vacay prep, but pretty important in terms of ensuring a good reentry back home: Prep your home for your time away. Initiate a mail hold with the post office, inform a trusted neighbor about your vacation and ask friends or family to keep an eye on your house periodically and snag any errant packages that might get delivered in your absence. Ensure that your pet care arrangements are set, water your plants, recalibrate your thermostat, and shut off your water line, if that’s something you typically do. We like to come home to a clean house and a freshly made bed, too—just something that dulls the pain of reentry. If you want to go the extra mile for yourself, line up a grocery delivery for the day of your return so your staples will be ready.
5. Money Matters
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. 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. Now might also be a good time to have a budget chat with your family to make sure you’re on the same page on spending limits (we’re looking at you, souvenir-happy kids).
6. Plan Your Ports of Call
Though you might have already done your research on your ports of call, now is a great time to make any last-minute reservations or changes to shore excursions. Popular excursions tend to book quickly and reservations can be hard to come by once you’re on board, so it’s a good idea to snag any remaining tickets now. Spend some time checking local news sites to familiarize yourself with any noteworthy news, such as advisories or upcoming events, in your ports of call, as well as a few handy phrases or greetings in any foreign languages.
7. Make On-Board Reservations — And Don’t Forget Celebrations
Aside from shore excursions, highly sought-after specialty restaurant reservations can be hard to snag once you board the ship, too, so if you have your heart set on dining at a specific venue (or on a specific night), make those reservations in advance. This also goes for other specialty reservations, such as on-board attractions, spa appointments, shows, and cabanas. And if you’re celebrating a birthday, anniversary, or other special occasion, make sure to give the cruise line a head’s up now. Most cruise lines offer the option of pre-ordering flowers, champagne, or even door decorations on your stateroom, so you can begin the celebration the minute you set foot on the ship.
8. 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? By signing up, you can virtually meet other Cruise Critic members who are sailing with you. You can plan group excursions, organize a Meet & Mingle and chat about everything related to your cruise holiday with people who are just as excited as you are.
9. Arrange Your Transportation.
If you haven’t booked a package that includes port transfers through your cruise line, think through and book reservations for getting from the airport to the terminal, and then from the ship back to the airport at the end of your cruise. Intrepid cruisers often turn to rideshare services like Uber and Lyft to get to and from the ship, but it’s worth taking a few moments to familiarize yourself with any local information about how and where to find those rides —and whether better options might exist.
10. Download the Apps
Familiarize yourself with your cruise line’s communication options. Many offer free apps you can download to your cell phone in advance, allowing you to text and chat with your fellow cruise companions while on board. Occasionally, there might be some hidden benefits to doing this before you leave home (such as completing a special pre-cruise quest on Disney Cruise), but in all cases, it’s a great idea to do this while you have access to WiFi.
Despite all the last-minute fussing and anticipation, it’s also important to get some shut-eye the night before your cruise. Resting up before a busy day of traveling, boarding and exploring the ship could be the difference between catching a show on the first night or sneaking in a nap (that might just turn into a full eight hours of Zs).