Congratulations -- you've booked a cruise. You could spend the next few months or year daydreaming about Caribbean beaches…or you could become a travel-planning crazy person, obsessing over the absolute best schedule for your day in port, comparison shopping for must-have items to trick out your cabin or stalking online forums to make sure you don't miss a thing on your sailing.
If you enjoy hardcore travel planning, Cruise Critic has a wealth of advice to offer. But if your family, friends or therapist are telling you to take the planning obsession down a notch, here are eight ways not to go nuts when planning for your cruise.
1. Use a travel agent.
If you're freaking out about when final payments are due, or whether you've paid too much for your cruise, you'll be happier if you can delegate those worries to someone else. If you've booked your cruise with a travel agent, ask her to alert you to important dates, such as payment due dates or when advance reservations for shore tours and onboard dining open up. A good agent can also alert you to price drops and upgrade offers on your booked sailing.
2. Divvy up the work.
If you're cruising with a group or extended family, you have many shoulders to carry the load of cruise planning -- don't feel you need to do it all yourself. Give everyone a port to research, or put one person in charge of dining reservations, another in charge of group T-shirts and a third in charge of hotel research.
3. Book excursions on the trip.
You can lose your mind over excursion planning. Which tour is best? Should I book independently or through the cruise line? Is it better to go it on my own? If you're up to your ears in guidebooks, travel apps and message board responses, just call it quits. You can book most tours once you're onboard (with shore excursion personnel available for questions), and you can even book tours with independent operators, hire taxis or rent cars once you're in port.
4. Bring a raincoat.
Don't obsessively check the weather forecast for weeks leading up to your trip. Instead, make peace with the idea that you might get wet on that bike ride or that your scenic overlook might be fogged in. Throw some wet-weather gear in your suitcase, and plan to continue with your plans, rain or shine, or be willing to switch to Plan B if weather gets in the way.
5. Use a packing list.
"What am I forgetting?!" is a refrain often heard the week before a cruise once the packing process is underway. Keep calm and acquire a packing list. You can draft your own or scour the internet for a list that works for you. Check items off as you pack them, and you'll always know what's in your suitcase -- and what you need to run out to the store to acquire.
6. Don't spend hours on the message boards.
The internet has amazing advice, but it's also a dark and scary place. If you're staying up until 2 a.m., reading thread after thread about whether your cruise ship has seen better days, if the buffet really has chocolate doughnuts every morning and the pros and cons of early and late dinner seatings, it's time to call it quits. Set a time limit for message board use, or make sure you stop when your specific questions have been answered.
7. Embrace your body image.
Everyone wants to look their best on vacation, either because it's the first time in months you'll be wearing a swimsuit or you plan on taking frame-worthy photos. Know that you are beautiful the way you are, even without starving yourself to lose 10 pounds or buying hundreds of dollars of new clothes. When you embrace your current weight, shape and wardrobe, you will take a lot of stress out of pre-cruise planning.
8. Master your FOMO.
We've saved the hardest for last. We hate to break it to you, but you can't do everything on one cruise. You will inevitably miss a show, get a dud tour guide, miss some museum and order the wrong dessert -- and it will be OK. You will still have memorable experiences and enjoy yourself immensely, so focus on the positive. Worst case, you book another cruise onboard and come back and do it all over again next year.