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By: Shayne Benowitz

So you’ve booked your Caribbean cruise out of PortMiami and you're really, really excited. Maybe you’re off to Cancun, Cozumel, the Bahamas or Key West. No matter where you’re cruising to, we’ve got some tips and tricks to make sure it’s smooth sailing.

Before the Trip: What to Plan & How to Pack

The best way to enjoy a cruise is to be prepared, and most of that can and should be taken care of before the trip. As soon as you book your international cruise, ensure that your passport is up to date. You’ll need it if you’re leaving the country, so for any cruise that takes you outside the United States or Puerto Rico, you must have a valid passport.

Most cruise lines now require that you pre-register online. The pre-registration process is easy, and you can do at home from your computer. Have your reservations number, sailing dates and personal information including contact information handy. Typically, you’ll find the link to pre-register on the cruise line’s website.

While you’re on the website, take the time to browse the shore excursions, tours and spa treatments on offer for your itinerary. This will help give you an idea of all the possibilities onboard and to plan your trip. Remember that popular shore excursions and activities tend to fill up fast and often sell out. Book ahead if possible, or sign up as soon as you get onboard, to guarantee your spot.

The date of the trip is closely approaching and you’re starting to sweat what to pack. Be sure to include pool to cabin cover-ups, walking or exercise shoes for day trips or the gym onboard, and you might want to pack clothes with elastic waistbands - so you can really make the most of those endless buffets and nightly themed dinners.

When planning your itinerary, it’s helpful to have some time between your scheduled arrival time in Miami and boarding time on the ship. If a flight runs late or a tire pops, that extra night in the city saves you from a major headache - and if all goes according to plan, you have a night in Miami and you won’t be rushed. It’s a win-win scenario to plan extra time in your departure city, if possible.

Check out our three-day itinerary in Miami for a pre- or post-cruise vacation for inspiration.

The Big Day: Check-in & Boarding

The day of the cruise has arrived and you might find yourself a bit flustered about the check-in process. Don’t worry; follow whatever instructions the cruise line provides you with. Arrive at the ship early, but not too early. It’s nice to take advantage of the quiet ship and get some early sun on the deck or take time to relax in your cabin before the ship fills up and you set sail. You can also get oriented with the ship’s layout so you’ll know where to find dining rooms or the children’s play area easily.

Store your valuables in the safe provided in your room. Don’t keep more cash on hand than necessary and only remove your passport when you need it. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Most cruise lines give you a plastic ID card at check-in. You will need to carry this card each time you leave the ship for security purposes. The ship’s security personnel will scan the card and hand it back to you as you leave the ship to visit the various ports of call.

Soon after you set sail, there will be a fire drill. You’ll learn where your life vest is stored in your cabin, and then put it on to join your appropriate muster station. This can sometimes feel a bit unnecessary or like a downer early on in your vacation, but it’s a mandatory safety procedure and you should participate. Be patient and take the importance of safety at sea seriously for yourself, your family and your fellow passengers.

As mentioned previously, you will usually be issued a cruise card that serves as your ID and your credit card on the ship. Don’t forget that this is still real money! If you want to check in on how much you’ve spent thus far, you can ask for your balance at an information desk. At the end of the cruise, you’ll receive an itemized statement. Another cost that can quickly add up is the use of the cruise telephones and Wi-Fi. Your cell phone may have service, but it may also be roaming, which gets expensive. Your best bet is waiting to make calls from land and find an internet café or pay phone.

Other Important Tips

A few more quick tips about cruising: bring cash to tip cruise staff. The port side of the ship is on the left and the starboard side is the right when you face forward towards the bow. The back of the ship is often referred to as the stern or aft. Scope out an itinerary of activities for days at sea and nighttime entertainment to make the most of your cruising vacation. You’ll find there’s often gambling, comedy, live music, food, drinking,and Vegas-style or Broadway shows. Shops on board are usually duty-free, so there won’t be taxes; it’s a good place to buy that designer perfume you’ve been wishing for. Oh, and wear sunscreen and don’t forget to have fun!

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