Saturday, July 14, 2007

What To Do Before Your First European Cruise

Tags you'll need for your luggage. See below.

As I’ve posted previously, I’m currently on Carnival's newest cruise ship, Freedom, sailing in the Mediterranean Sea.

Disclosure: Reasons I’m Here

I enjoy having a fun time in general and would love to tell you that I’m on this cruise ship without having any intention on doing any research. But that would be wrong. I’m on this cruise ship for a couple of reasons:

  1. First and foremost: to have fun with the family. With me are my parents, my sisters, my aunt, my wife, and my infant daughter. My little baby is experiencing a lot and she’s only eight months old. While she might not remember all of the things she’s visited when she gets older, she can see through the albums and DVDs that she went everywhere with her family.
  2. Second: to write about my first cruise experience. Since this is my first cruise, it would be foolish of me to simply ignore the opportunity to write about it…in a book. The book, which for now I’ll title, “The Complete Guide to Your First Cruise” will be a how-to handbook of sorts: what to bring, what to expect, and how to have fun. It will be my first color book as well and should be hitting bookstores early next year.
  3. Third: to “experience” biblical archaeology. My itinerary will stop over at Rome, Ephesus, and other ancient biblical sites. Aside from using a time machine, the only way to appreciate the culture and the architecture of what it was like 2,000 years ago is to go to these ancient sites physically. My whole family is of the Christian faith, so this trip will not only be a physical experience, but also a spiritual one. If you have a similar interest of biblical archaeology or share the same faith, I invite you to read my book, The Jesus Tomb: Is It Fact or Fiction? Scholars Chime In.

Passports and Visas

If you are an American citizen, you’ll have no problem going to most of Europe with just your U.S. passport. If you don’t have a U.S. passport, you’ll need to get one as soon as possible. The U.S. State Department is currently backlogged with passport applications, so make sure you apply half a year in advance. Also, if your passport is expiring within the next six months, you’ll need to get it renewed as soon as possible as some countries restrict you from entering. A friend of mine asked me if I needed to get a passport for my baby for the cruise and the answer is yes. Infants traveling internationally need a passport too!

If you are not a “first world” citizen (U.S., Canda, EU, Japan, etc.), Europe does discriminate against other countries. You’ll need a current passport (not expiring within six months) plus you’ll need to apply for the Schengen visa, which is a universal visa that you can use to enter into Italy, Spain, France, and other EU countries. My wife has a green card in the United States so we had to drive to the Italian embassy in Miami to apply for a Schengen visa which basically requires:

  1. Visa fee.
  2. A valid passport.
  3. U.S. residence card and/or driver’s license (optional).
  4. Birth certificate (optional).
  5. Proof of reservations (plane and hotel/cruise line).
  6. Proof of emergency medical insurance (search on Google, these guys are everywhere).
  7. Proof of employment and monetary support (show that you have enough money to support yourself while in Europe, show credit card balance and bank statement that can support $150/day).
  8. They will ask to take your passport and mail it back to you with the visa in a few weeks if you are approved.

Prior to Departure – Important!

The U.S. government requires specific passenger information on all cruise lines ahead of the embarkation date. You’ll need to go online or call your cruise line for more information on how to submit your passenger manifesto. If you do not submit your info on time, you may not be allowed on board or you may delay the entire ship.

Before the Cruise: For Adults

By now you should have already packed your bags. I tend to be unconcerned on how things are organized and arranged in my suitcase, so thankfully my wife packs all of my clothes. Here are some of my tips on what to bring and what to do with your luggage:

  1. You’ll want to bring formal attire if you wish to attend some of the more formal festivities of the ship such as the captain’s dinner.
    <,li> Bring a swimsuit if you want to swim at a European beach or the ship’s pool decks.
  2. Proper dress code is required in some European sites, such as the Vatican (no bare legs or bare shoulders).
  3. A cheap rain coat or an umbrella just in case there’s rain.
  4. Remember that most cruise ships have a laundry service. Carnival’s cruise ship charges $15.00/bag for their laundry service, so you don’t necessarily have to bring clothing for every day of the trip.
  5. Bring walking shoes for port excursions that require you to go on foot a lot. Bring slippers and other footwear that doesn’t easily slip, especially if you want to swim on the upper deck’s swimming pool and spa.
  6. You’ll want to mark all of your suitcases with the cruise’s tag. These tags require you to put your name, address, phone, sailing date, airline, flight number, returning flight number, and cabin number. When you land and check out your baggage, the cruise line will pick up your suitcases and automatically place them in your cabins.
  7. On international travels, bring at least a couple days of clothing on your carry on. There have been a couple of people where the airline lost their luggage. This is unfortunate and a practical reality in airline travel.
  8. Your carry on should have your medicines and other essentials. Please note as of 2007, the airlines are currently restricting the amount of liquids you place in your carry on luggage due to security threats.
  9. Passports, tickets, cameras, medications, and other high value items should be in your carry on. It should not be in your checked in luggage.
  10. Make a copy of your passport information and visas at home just in case you lose your passports. Also make a copy of your credit cards that you bring with you plus the toll-free numbers of each credit card just in case you need to cancel these credit cards if they are stolen or lost.
  11. Bring sunblock lotion. I bought Neutrogena’s SPF 45 UVA and UVB protection from my local store. Neutrogena is non-comedogenic (won’t clog pores). There are other similar products available out there, just make sure you have UVA and UVB protection.
  12. Watch out for your airline’s weight limits. Some airlines are now restricting international suitcases to 50 lbs. It used to be 70 lbs for international flights. Continental Airlines charged me $25.00 for every suit case that was over 50 lbs. Yikes!
  13. Do you have a large party on board? Bring cheap walkie talkies! In order to communicate back and forth when we weren’t in our cabins, we utilized cheap short-wave radios to communicate throughout the ship.
  14. Cameras and batteries! Part of the fun is recording video and taking photographs of your experiences. You don’t want to forget about what you’ve experienced on the trip. For professional looking pictures, I highly suggest the Canon Rebel XT, it’s a relatively inexpensive digital SLR (semi-professional) and can take better quality photos than point and shoot cameras. It wouldn't hurt to bring a tripod if you want to take pictures of yourself as well.
  15. Do not bring heating elements like candles, irons and heating pads. Since they are a fire hazard, the cruise line will probably confiscate them. There are irons and ironing boards on each deck at the launderettes.
  16. There are towels in your cabins and at the pool deck – so I didn’t bring any towels with me.
  17. Bring at least one credit card with cash advance access so you can charge items such as water onto your cruise line’s boarding pass and withdraw money from foreign ATMs. Thanks to U.S. federal laws, your credit card also offers protection from fraud – the worst that can happen to you is a loss credit card and $50.00 worth of charges. This federal law protection does NOT apply to debit cards.

Before the Cruise: For The Baby

Having my baby girl with me on the trip is a blessing. But it would have been a nightmare if we weren’t adequately prepared. Here are some of my tips on what to bring and what to do before the cruise:

  1. Make sure you’ve paid for the baby’s travels. Domestic airlines are happy to let you fly with the baby for free, but on international flights, you are required to pay. A round trip international fare from Florida to Italy for a seat less infant cost me around $429.00. The cruise line also charges you for the infant at a discount.
  2. Inform the airline and cruise line regarding your baby, they'll usually give you higher priority in boarding. Our family managed to skip all lines at the airport thanks to the little one. This works on theme parks too.
  3. My wife had to make sure all of the baby’s diapers and formula was in the carry on luggage. We also bought medicines for the baby just in case she has a fever or diarrhea. Talk to your pediatrician for more information on what you should bring.
  4. Bring a toy or two to help her get comfortable in her environment.
  5. We bought a lightweight stroller. Normally, the little one is on a heavy stroller. But for travel, you want to use one of those umbrella strollers, designed to be easily folded and opened at moments notice. They weigh roughly 2-3 lbs.
  6. On the same note, make sure your baby gets enough shade from the stroller as well. On really sunny days, we used an umbrella.
  7. Bring a couple of pieces of the baby’s clothing in your carry on just in case there’s accidents during the flight or they’ve lost your baby’s luggage.

If I remember more tips, I'll just add it to this post.

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