American Queen Steamboat Review


American Queen at St. Francisville

We recently took a 9-day cruise on the American Queen Steamboat, round trip from New Orleans from Feb. 22nd to March 1, 2014. The weather in some of the ports was rather ‘brisk,’ but the cruise itself was WONDERFUL, with stops in St. Francisville, Nachez, Vicksburg and Plantation Row. There are a number of different itineraries available on the American Queen (other than our Round Trip New Orleans), as it cruises the Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee Rivers as well. Check the website for all of the options.



Registration at Hilton Riverside (New Orleans)

Since an overnight stay at a local hotel is included in the price of the cruise, there was a registration desk set up in the lobby to greet everyone and give them breakfast tickets for the next morning. After breakfast we then went into the Registration Room, where we picked up our boarding passes and signed up for our dining room table. They also were taking reservations for the Premium Excursions (more on that later)


The ship itself is just gorgeous. It was built in 1995, but has recently been refurbished and you really DO feel as if you are on a riverboat ‘in the day,’ yet with modern conveniences (like the elevator). The ship holds 436 passengers, although our cruise only had about 250, most in the 60-80 age group, with no children … at all.


Mark Twain Gallery



The swing on Texas deck outside Front Porch


Rocking Chairs on the Bow of Observation Deck (Deck 4)

There were a number of beautifully furnished public spaces available to nestle in with a good book, such as the Mark Twain Gallery, Ladies’ Parlor or Gentlemen’s Card Room, although I only saw a couple of people in them at any given time. There was also areas at the bow of both Decks 3 & 4 with rocking chairs and swings that WERE used when we did have bursts of decent weather.



The two story Grand Saloon on Deck 1 (where all of the shows were) featured beautiful hardwood floors. Chairs would be moved onto the floor for the shows and then removed for later in the evening when the dance band would play and couples would dance.

There was also an elevated area around the perimeter of the dance floor, which is where we usually sat. There were also six small box balconies on Deck 2, reserved for suite guests. We were invited to sit there one night, but felt the view was better from the perimeter seating on Deck 1 anyway. As is the case on most cruises, people tend to sit in the same places throughout the cruise and this cruise was no exception, so there were some ‘balcony hogs’ … alas.


Grand Saloon Box Seats

Although this was somewhat of a small ship with just 436 passengers, it even had a spa



I understand that there is also a gym onboard, but we never found it, but we DID find the pool, which was up on Deck 5, next to the River Grill Bar and Calliope. The Calliope was usually played as we were pulling out of each port.


Our stateroom, 315, was on Deck three, category D, with a shared balcony. The double entrance doors opened onto the deck and was the only entrance to the room as the bathroom was at the rear of the cabin. On those brisk evenings, returning to the cabin was somewhat of a dash, but since it was a short distance, it was not a problem.


Texas Deck Balcony (Deck 3)

There were plantation shutters on the beveled windows in the door, which allowed us to control light as well as privacy. Fresh air was available through the transom window over the door. Two chairs and a small table were available outside each cabin and those were used by many guests throughout the ship, weather permitting.

Each cabin was named after a state, river or historical person, in our case our cabin was “Idaho,” which also had an information sheet about Idaho framed and hanging on the wall inside the room. It was kind of fun to walk around the boat and see the various names on the cabins! The Idaho plaque outside the cabin really did help us locate our cabin coming back in the evening when it was dark (remember this was on an outside balcony walkway).


Balcony cabin queen bed

Because the bed frames enabled the suitcases to be stored under the bed, the hi-loft beds were rather high so getting into bed was a bit of a challenge (for me), BUT the beds were wonderfully comfortable and allowed us to get a good night’s sleep.

The dresser doubled as a desk, which also had a safe, but there was NOT much room for anything else. There was an armoire to hang clothes, but with the plushy robes and life vests also hanging in the closet, there wasn’t much room for clothes, so I ended up rolling up one of the robes and sticking it in the upper unusable shelve to allow for more room in the closet. In our cabin there was just one desk chair, although in some of the larger cabins there were larger chairs and settees, which would have made for a more comfortable experience, I’m sure.

The bathroom floor and bathtub sized shower was tiled with a black hexagonal pattern, true to the day.There was a small glass shelf above the pedestal sink and a small double glass shelved unit behind that for storing toiletries, so the storage space in the bathroom was VERY limited. A hair dryer was available as well as a magnified lighted mirror next to the mirror on the wall. Towels were plush and because we were the first cruise of the new season, brand new! NOTE: Some cabins have a full bathtub.


Since this was a first/second seating arrangement, we were assigned a table that we would return to each night for dinner. However, at dinner the first night, one of the other couples enjoyed the ‘unlimited wine’ just a little too much and became quite rude, so we asked to be reseated for the balance of the cruise – they were more than happy to reseat us.


Karen and Percy

The service by our new waiter, Percy, and asst. waiter, Karen, was excellent. They were also serving two other tables, one of which was a little ‘demanding,’ so it was interesting to watch them wait on us and the demanding table with a smile and desire to make us all happy.

The dining room tables were set with white tablecloths and black cotton napkins, embossed gold chargers and white china and a red rose – simple, yet elegant.


Table Setting in J.W. White Dining Room

The food in the dining room was EXCELLENT – each night there were specials that featured two appetizers, a soup, a salad and then four entrees, as well as standard items available each night if you didn’t care for any of the specials. Each of the items was nicely presented also.

Chicken Pot Pie

Chicken Pot Pie

For dessert, there was always some kind of bread pudding, as well as a variety of other favorites – we were never disappointed.

Creme Brulee

Creme Brulee

About the only thing that was amiss in the dining room, at least at the beginning of the cruise, was the frigid temperature. But things did warm things up by the end of the cruise, so it ended up being quite nice.


Since our cabin was just a few cabins away from the Front Porch dining room, we ate all of our breakfasts and lunches there and even had breakfast outside a couple of mornings when it was warm enough. For breakfast there was a nice variety of items, including yoghurt, eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes, grits, biscuits, oatmeal, variety of breads as well as an omelet station. They also had a WONDERFUL blend of coffee and fresh fruit, as well as soft serve ice cream, homemade cookies available any time of day.


Front Porch Dining Room

Lunch varied daily, but there was always a nice soup, variety of salads as well as roasted chicken (that you would see roasting while having breakfast) a hot entree, panini sandwiches and pizza and then, of course, desserts too.

There was a cappuccino machine, but it was out of order most of the cruise (which I have seen happen on many other cruises), but the ice cream machine worked the entire cruise, which made my husband happy!

There was also the River Grill up on Deck 5, but we never went back there, other to listen to the Calliope one time.


Anna Cargill, Matthew Aaron, Lydia Myers and Chris Handley


Since this was billed as a Big Band Cruise, I was expecting most of the entertainment to be of the Big Band era, but as it turned out there were only three Big Band nights, but the Big Band entertainers WERE fabulous!

The other four nights were the four singer/dancers in production numbers accompanied by the Steamboat Syncapators, a truly EXCELLENT orchestra.


couple dancing to Phil Westbrook

There was also a lounge pianist that would entertain everyone before and after dinner in the lounge separating the dining room and the Grand Saloon. He was very entertaining and was able to honor most of the requests from the passengers and had couples up and dancing before dinner, even on the carpeting.

There was also a two man duo, Jay and Will, in the Engine Room Bar that played after dinner in the evenings, but we never made it back there.


One of the REALLY nice things about this cruise is that the cruise line provides 3 to 4 busses that follow you from port to port so you can ‘Hop on, Hop off’ at each port. This Hop on Hop off is included in the price of the cruise (which, if you do ocean cruises can add hundreds of dollars to your exit tab!)


American Queen bus, wrapped to look like the American Queen

The night before each port, a map is available that shows the bus route and where it will stop. You simply go to the kiosk next to the purser’s desk to sign up for the departure time you want, as there are eight options in 15 minute intervals. In some cases, our arrival into port was a little late so the ‘system’ didn’t really work as intended, but everyone ended up getting on the buses and everyone enjoyed the tours.

Once aboard the bus, there was a local guide that gave the history of the city and fun facts that only a local would know. What we ended up doing (as did a lot of others as well) was to go around the complete loop first and then return to the spots of specific interest to us on the next bus. The busses really did come by about every 15 minutes so it really did work out quite nicely.

There were also Premium Excursions available in most ports that went to a specific area(s) for a more in depth excursion. We opted to do this in Vicksburg and visited the Civil War Memorial. The guide was a HUGE Civil War buff and gave us LOTS of history about the war and pointed out lots of interesting things about the many memorial statues inside the park. It was well worth the $59.



Ship’s pilot, John, in the pilothouse

The cruise also featured our Riverlorian (a historian and the river, hence Riverlorian), Jerry Hay. He was actually pretty knowledgeable about the rivers and gave us loads of information to help us to understand ‘why’ things were the way they were on the river. He would give talks during the day, announce things as we would approach them along the way and also led tours of the pilothouse once we were docked. The tours were done regularly throughout the cruise and as the pilothouse is not a very big space, they have to limit it to about 10 or so people. The new rule on the river is that a pilot must be in the pilothouse at all times, so John was there to answer our questions.

The other thing that was REALLY cool (actually rather warm) was to go down to the engine room. You can go down there any time, but it was quite fun to go down when the ship was under way so you could really watch things move. I was impressed with how CLEAN it was down there, but can only imagine how hot it would be in the hot summer months down there! YIKES!


This is not a cruise I would recommend to a family as there just is nothing for children to do, but it is a perfect cruise for people wanting to relax and remember a time gone by. It would also be good for folks that have motion sickness issues as there really is no ‘motion’ to get sick from. It was also a great way to really ‘experience’ the South and the people of the South. I hope to return to the American Queen and experience some of her other itineraries in the VERY near future since we had SUCH a good time on this trip!


Cruising with Hurtigruten

Arctic Chapel - Tromso

Arctic Chapel – Tromso

When you say the word “cruise,” one typically thinks of a BIG cruise ship that holds anywhere from 2000 to 6000 guests and features Broadway style entertainment and lavish midnight buffets.

However, there are a number of cruise lines that walk away from this kind of mainstream cruising concept and provide a different kind of cruise experience. One such line is Hurtriguten that sails up and down the coast of Norway.

Offloading car1

We boarded the Finnmarken, a ship that even with full capacity only holds 1000 passengers. Since we boarded on Oct. 27th, during the off-season, there were only about 150 passengers that were going the entire voyage, from Bergen to Kirkenes. By that I mean that although this truly IS a cruise ship with staterooms, main dining room and a cruise director, it is also the ‘coastal ferry,’ whereby the locals (even with their car) can board the ship for just a port or two before disembarking.

Loading ramp-1These ships also take on cargo and deliver it to various ports along the way. It was quite fascinating to watch – once we were docked, the door of the hold would open up, the forklifts would off-load and load cargo and in the 15-20 minutes we were in port they’d close the doors and off we would go.

With Hurtigruten, a ship sails every day from Bergen going North and that same day, one sails from other the ‘end of the line,’ Kirkenes, going South. So on any given day, their fleet of 11 ships are spread out along the coastline of Norway, some going north, some going south.

Narrow straight-1

Going through a narrow straight

Needless to say, throughout our 7-day northbound cruise, we passed a number of other Hurtigruten ships, and of course there was friendly competition to see which ship could get the most passengers out on deck waving as we would pass.

Midnatsol-1While docked at Rorvik, we were even able to board their sister ship, the Midnatsol, during our 45 minute port stop (of course we had to be mindful of the time in order to disembark and get back to our ship in time).

With a traditional mainstream 7-day cruise, the typical cruise itinerary will call on 3 to 5 ports with some ‘at sea’ days as well. The ship will usually pull into port in the morning, you are in port the bulk of the day and then sail again in early evening.



Smitty, Sami and reindeer

Smitty, Sami and reindeer at the North Cape

With a 7-day Hurtigruten cruise, however, the ship calls on 34 ports, yes 34, which means hitting 5 to 6 ports per day! Although some stops are just for 10 to 20 minutes, just long enough to disembark passengers and off-load cargo, sometimes you are in port for a couple of hours, such as Tromso, Trondheim and the North Cape, which was enough time to do a 4 hour, beautiful and informative shore excursion.

Snow covered mtns-1Needless to say, the ship is ‘on the move’ pretty much the entire time. Some of the stops were made in the wee hours of the morning. However, I must say that even though the ship pulled into port after we had retired to our cabin, it was never bothersome or disruptive to our sleep.

One of the appealing things about this cruise (at least for us) was the casualness of it – there really is no ‘dress code’ and jeans are acceptable, even for dinner in the dining room.

Speaking of dining room, for meals, there was a rather extensive buffet for both breakfast and lunch that varied daily. As one might expect, there were some traditional English items, such as baked beans and kippers available at breakfast, but also a wide variety of homemade breads, meats and cheeses, including Brie and bleu cheese, available at both breakfast and lunch. YUM!

Lobster-1Dinner, however, was usually a set menu with assigned seating, but if you didn’t want what they were serving that night, upon request they would also prepare something different for you. The last night of the cruise, they put out an amazing seafood buffet that included mussels, prawns, a couple of kinds of crab and even lobster!

Norwegian fiddle-1For entertainment, local performers were often brought onboard, such as a traditional Norwegian fiddler, who played some folk tunes while a young man danced. Another night, a gal from a Sami tribe came onboard and sang some of their folk songs. Other nights there was a lounge entertainer, but as one might expect, he was barely tolerable, but that was OK since most everyone was outside trying to catch the Northern Lights anyway.

Although not for everyone, for us, the Hurtigruten experience was pleasant and provided us a relaxing weeklong cruise with a taste of Norwegian everyday life, close up views of majestic snowcapped fjords and the ability to see the Northern Lights up close and personal.

Norwegian Troll

Norwegian Troll

Norwegian Pearl Ship Inspection

Norwegian Pearl Haven Courtyard

Norwegian Pearl Haven Courtyard

As travel agents, we are often invited onboard a ship for a ‘ship inspection.’ This consists of a tour of the ship, which includes seeing the suites and prime cabins as well as regular cabins. We also get to see the public spaces and have lunch onboard. The hopes are that we will be impressed with the ship and better able to sell the ship, as well as the cruise line.

Norwegian PearlIn 2013, we did one of these ship inspections on the Norwegian Pearl. The Pearl is one of four NCL ships in the Jewel class, which also includes the Norwegian Gem, Norwegian Jewel and Norwegian Jade. These four ships were built in the 2005-2007 time frame and hold between 2350- 2466 passengers, depending on the ship.

Since the cost of building a ship is in the multi-millions of dollars, wisely, the cruise lines typically build a number of ships with the same ‘basic’ deck plan in order to save money on the overall ship design. Then they decorate them in different color schemes and fabrics in order to give a completely different ‘look’ to each of the ships. This is done to make sure a guest that sails on a sister ship would not ‘feel’ as if they were on the same ship, even though it is essentially the same design.

As time goes by and they build new ships with newer features, the cruise lines do their best to refit the older ships and try to replicate the newer features on the newer ships, but sometimes there’s only so much they can do, but it’s still WAY cheaper than building a whole new ship! Celebrity calls that “Solsticizing.”

TheHavenThe Haven is an exclusive area on NCL ships with a private courtyard, pool, exercise area, restaurant and lounge that you can only access with a Haven key card. The Haven level also has other amenities, such as butler service, priority boarding and disembarkation (which can be a GREAT amenity in a busy port!).

On the Breakaway, there are 42 cabins (suites) in the Haven area, but on the Pearl, there are only 14 cabins. However, if you’re looking for exclusivity, the Pearl might be a BETTER option as there would be less people in the exclusive area.

On the Breakaway, you would never have to leave the Haven area for dining as the dining room and lounge are all a part of the Haven area, whereas on the Pearl, you have to go down a deck to access the Cagney Dining room for the exclusive breakfast and lunch. What the other agents and I thought interesting was that even if you were at the Haven level, you would still have to pay the surcharge at dinner for any of the specialty dining rooms.

The nice thing was that there were suites as well as family cabins available in the non-Haven area of the ship  so a guest would NOT have to opt for the Haven area if you just wanted to book a suite.

Norwegian Pearl Lobby

Norwegian Pearl Lobby

Golden Princess Lobby

Golden Princess Lobby

The other thing I find interesting about the Norwegian ships is that their main lobby is somewhat understated, when compared to same space to say the Princess, Royal Caribbean or Carnival ships, which usually feature a truly GRAND, open lobby area spanning multiple decks with a huge “wow” factor.

Carpeting on NCL ships also features fish swimming forward, so you always know where the front of the ship is!NCLCarpet

Carnival’s Great Vacation Guarantee



Dear Valued Fun Planners,We are so confident your clients will enjoy their Carnival cruise vacation, we guarantee it. Introducing ourGreat Vacation GuaranteeTM – a very unique program designed with your clients in mind.So what is this program you might ask? Well, it’s simple. Your clients can sail away on any of our 3 to 8 day cruises to The Bahamas, Caribbean, Mexican Riviera, Canada and New England or Alaska from now through April 30, 2015. If they are not completely satisfied with their experience for any reason, all they need to do is notify us within 24 hours of the departure. We’ll arrange for them to leave the ship at the next port and Carnival’s Guest Services team will arrange complimentary transportation to either fly your clients back home, or in the event they drove, get them back to their port of embarkation. We will also provide them with a refund equal to 110% of their cruise fare.

That’s not all! In the unlikely event that they elect to exercise the Great Vacation Guarantee, we will even provide them with a $100 per stateroom onboard credit when they rebook another Carnival cruise within one year.

So if you’re looking for ways to close the sale and convince your clients that Carnival is the vacation choice for them, we encourage you to share our new Great Vacation Guarantee.

To read the full press release, click here.
For a list of Frequently Asked Questions, please click here.
And finally, to view a brief tutorial on the new Great Vacation Guarantee, please click here.

Thank you for your continued support!

Happy selling,

Joni Rein
Vice President, Worldwide Sales
Carnival Cruise Lines


Finding Your Way Around

Deck layout of Carnival GloryWhen you first board the ship, you might be given a small, pocket-sized ship deck plan – SAVE THIS.This will be MOST helpful as you try to get your bearings for where your cabin is in relationship to the public spaces onboard. If you lose it or need another one, they are also usually available at the Guest Services desk. Although in their efforts to go digital, those may or may not be available today.

Most of the newer ships have been designed so that most of the guest cabins are on certain decks (especially for the decks with balconies), with the public areas on other, separate decks. This DOES make it easier to navigate around the ship when you KNOW that some of the decks only have guest cabins.

Golden-DeckPlan_0611.inddIn some cases, the public areas are spread out between two decks immediately on top of each other, which really DOES help, because pretty much anything you are hoping to find will be on one deck or the other.

The exception to this, however, are the main dining rooms  – those will usually be on the lower decks – this helps with people that are prone to motion sickness as the smell of food sometimes intensifies nausea. By having the dining rooms on the lower, more stable parts of the ship, there is less chance of motion sickness.

As mentioned in the Elevator Ups and Downs post, it is a good idea to ALWAYS double check where you are when you first get off the elevator and then make sure that you head out in the right direction.

Depending on when you board, you may or may not be able to access your cabin right away. Instead, grab lunch in the buffet restaurant, your pocket guide and go explore!

Regardless of how many cruises I’ve been on, when I get home, I usually find that there were sections of the ship I never found, but exploring is fun and gives you a better ‘sense’ of the ship overall – after all, it’s going to be your home for the duration of your cruise!

ManiquinI usually start on the top deck and work my way down. Since some of the elevators will be used for luggage distribution on embarkation day, the wait for an elevator can be lengthy, so you may need to use the stairs and it’s MUCH easier to go down! Once the cruise actually starts, you may or may not have time to just wander around, so now is a good time to do so!

Be sure to book spa services, specialty restaurant reservations and popular shore excursions as soon as possible, if you have not already booked them online. They will fill up fast – especially for ‘at sea’ days!

Elevator Ups and Downs


Regardless of how many cruises you are on, each ship’s elevators create new challenges. It’s SOOOOO easy to get off of the elevator (especially when you are going back to YOUR cabin) and proudly turn to go where you think you are going only to notice halfway there that you are going the WRONG direction. Ooops

When you get off of ANY elevator, confirm that you are on the deck you WANT (when the door opens, the deck number is usually always on the side of the elevator shaft), so just give it a quick glance to make sure you’re on the right deck.

Immediately outside each bank of elevators will be a “You are Here” map with that deck’s floor plan and where you are on that deck. Especially when you are trying to get to XXXX, it’s easy to get turned around as to where XXXX really is, so the floor plan for each deck by the elevator is extremely helpful (you won’t always have your pocket deck plan with you).

ElevatorCarpetThat map will indicate where things are in relation to where YOU are, so you can find your way easier. If you DID get off on the wrong floor, do not worry – another elevator will come along momentarily, so just get back on (making sure you are going the right direction) and double check before you get off again … or just take the stairs! (If you DO get back on and it is going the wrong way, just enjoy the ride as it will eventually return and go the other direction anyway!)

When you DO get off the elevator, it is a good idea to double check which way you THINK you should go EACH TIME you get off the elevator. Each ship is laid out differently and you’ll be getting off elevators from both directions (sometimes you’ll need to go to the right, and other times you’ll need to go to the left to get to the same place), so it’s easy to go the wrong way, even though you THINK you are going the right way!

Travel Locations Part 1ALSO, on all ships, even cabin numbers are cabins on the one side and the odd numbered cabins are on the other side of the ship – generally speaking, the even cabins are on the port side and the odd numbered cabin numbers are starboard, but each cruise line is different. Knowing this can also help you make sure you are going down the correct corridor to get to your cabin.

In an effort to minimize this confusion, sometimes the carpeting is laid out to help you – on the Carnival Splendor, there is a big number of the deck number facing you when you get off the elevator and on NCL’s Pride of America, the carpet has fish swimming in the water (at least it used to), so if the fish are swimming forward, you will be going forward. If you want to go aft, then you’ll need to go opposite of how the fish are swimming. They may also have one color hall carpet on the port side and a different color on the starboard side.

Carnival ParadiseOne thing to note is that sometimes not all elevators go to all floors – especially the elevators near the center of the ship (atrium) – those will generally go to the middle floors, but will probably not go to the lowest and upper most decks.

This means that sometimes you either need to go up/down a deck to get to the deck where the elevator starts/ends OR walk down the hall to catch the elevator.

ALSO, as you’re standing waiting for the elevator, pay attention to the ‘ding(s)’ – there will be one ‘ding’ when the elevator is going up and ‘two dings’ when it is going down (or visa versa). Knowing this will help keep you from running to the elevator only to find out that it’s going the other direction.

Alaska Cruises

One of the most popular destinations I book for my clients is Alaska. If you have not yet done an Alaskan cruise yet, I HIGHLY recommend you do it !!!



Alaska cruises usually call on at least two or three of the following cities: Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway or Sitka; as well as cruising by at least one glacier (again these are just rules of thumb and CAN vary with the cruise line), but as my eighth grade teacher taught us, “No rule’s a good rule unless it has an exception.”

Alaska cruises fall into three basic categories:

Round Trip – These are ‘inside passage’ cruises that typically sail from and return to Seattle, Vancouver, San Francisco or Los Angeles. These are typically the least expensive of the Alaska cruises because they start and end in the same city, which makes your flights to and from the most cost effective. They usually also includes at least two ‘at sea’ days (If you sail from San Francisco, you will have four sea days and five from Los Angeles).

Alaska TrainNorth/South Bound – These are cruises that sail either from Vancouver northbound to Whittier/Anchorage or the reverse, southbound from Whittier/Anchorage to Vancouver. These are the cruises that are the beginning or ending of the cruisetours, but you can also just book them without doing a land extension (but why not?).

Cruisetours – This is the land portion of the cruise (either pre or post cruise) that takes you into Denali Park, as well as other cities. The land portion can vary from 3 to 15 days, and some include a train ride.

GlacierTo get the most of your Alaska cruise, you will probably want to make sure that there will be a naturalist onboard. Throughout the cruise, the naturalist will give lectures about what you are seeing or the history of the city you are visiting. They are onboard the entire cruise and are available for questions just about any time. If your itinerary includes Glacier Bay, a Glacier Bay Park Ranger will board as you enter the park and through the ship’s TV channel and sound system onboard, point out items of interest as well as the areas where wildlife are known to congregate. Hopefully there will be some kind of wildlife activity while you are cruising by…

BearThere will also be a WIDE variety of excursions available, from a simple city bus tour to sea planes and helicopter rides out to the glacier, dog sledding, whale watching, fishing for salmon and halibut and even river rafting, to name a few.

Before you actually book your cruise, you MAY want to compare the excursions offered by the cruise lines you are considering – occasionally there will be an excursion offered exclusively by one cruise line. You wouldn’t want to book your cruise and then find out the excursion you really wanted isn’t available.

NOTE: You can usually save quite a bit of money by booking your excursions from private companies rather than through the cruise line. Since Alaska is one of the United States and not a foreign country, it is QUITE safe and you don’t have to worry about people trying to take advantage of the passengers. That being said, however, booking through the cruise line is truly the easiest.

Fur brief sold in Alaska

Fur brief sold in Alaska

Everyone in the port cities are VERY aware of the cruise ship schedules. In fact, their store’s operating hours usually revolve around the cruise ship port times. Private tour companies are usually VERY accommodating in helping you get to and from the pier on time, so do not be afraid to book a private tour. They will do their best to get you back in time, but DO allow yourself PLENTY of time to get back as the ship will NOT wait for you! In most of the Alaska port cities, there are ships that arrive in the morning and depart early afternoon, then a second round that come in mid-afternoon and are there into the evening, so they truly can NOT wait. ALSO, since sunset in Alaska isn’t until about 10 pm, you still have quite a bit of daylight hours well into the evening.

The main advantage of booking excursions through the cruise company is that it DOES make it easier, although since the Alaska ports are pretty much in the center of town (not out in an industrial area where taxi’s are not permitted) it is pretty easy to meet up with a private tour dockside.

Alaska is truly amazing to I encourage you to get out and really ‘experience’ Alaska!

Muster Drill

Crew Member Leading Muster Drill

Crew Member Leading Muster Drill

The Muster Drill is basically an adult cruiser version of the elementary school fire drill — passengers and crew practice the steps they would take in an emergency situation. The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea requires the Muster Drill to happen within 24 hours of departure.

Having gone through covid, muster drills have changed. Each cruise line is different, but you will have some sort of  ‘safety briefing’ prior to sailing…. it could be a video you watch prior to boarding or one you watch once you are in your stateroom, but DO expect some kind of information on ‘what to do’ if there is an emergency. At some point, you will still need to ‘check in’ with a safety officer onboard to verify that you HAVE watched the safety video.

KeyCardOn your key card, as well as in your cabin, you will find instructions on where your Muster Station is onboard. Signs will be posted all over the ship directing you to the various Muster Stations. Safety is always the cruise line’s priority.

Muster Drill

Embarkation Process

NCL Pride of America

NCL Pride of America

When you first arrive at the pier to board and you see how HUGE the ship is, you will REALLY get excited! As you near the actual terminal, there will usually be a drop off point for your main luggage. If you CAN, drop your luggage off FIRST, even before you park – that way your luggage can start making its way to your cabin.

Since your main luggage will arrive at your cabin at a different time than you do (hopefully before, but usually after), DO make sure that you have the items you will need for the first couple of hours onboard with you (sunscreen, sun visor/hat, bathing suit if you’re planning to hit the pool).

You will get in ‘the line’ (unless you have priority boarding) and assuming you already did your pre-boarding check in, when it’s ‘your turn’ you will need to be ready to hand them:

• Your boarding pass (that you printed before you left home)

• Your passport

• The credit card you plan to use for your onboard account

• Proof of covid vaccination

The folks at the cruise terminal are usually VERY pleasant, and quite efficient. The lines move along pretty quickly too (although it seems like an eternity because you just want to get onboard!).

They will verify that the names on the boarding pass match your passports (and you truly DO need to make sure that the name on your booking matches the name on your passport, or they could deny you boarding)

They might also want to verify your credit card, which will be processed on the last day of your cruise to pay for all of the purchases you made onboard.

KeyCardThen they will give you your key card (each cruise line has their own name for them), which will serve as your room key as well as the link to your onboard account. It will also have other information printed on it, such as your name, dining assignment (even if it’s anytime dining) AND your Muster Station, BUT it will NOT have your cabin number on it (for security).

They may give you other boarding instructions, but the worst is over and you’re almost there!

From there, you will have to put your carry-on items through the security scanner (theirs are not NEARLY as sensitive as the ones at the airport). Each cruise line is different about what you can and can’t bring onboard with you (such as wine/alcohol), but they are mainly looking for weapons and drugs.

As you near the ship, you will have to stop again and hand your key card to the staff for them to take your picture, which will then be embedded onto your key card’s memory. Whenever you disembark/embark the ship, you will hand your key card to the crew, they will scan it and verify you are you and you, and then you can disembark/embark. Always listen for that ‘beep’ – that confirms that the system acknowledged you were disembarking or embarking.

Quite often you will hear announcements near the scheduled departure time with a guest(s) name – this is to verify that they HAVE returned back to the ship! It will depend on the line and the itinerary as to whether they will wait or not, but YOU do not want to be one of the people they are announcing over the loudspeaker!

GirlsCruiseSomewhere along the line, you will also get to meet some of the ship’s photographers (if they have them). They will want to take your picture beside some prop with the destination and sail date of the cruise, ‘suitable for framing.’ They will be at the gangway throughout the cruise, with other props for each port of call, so get used to them. Some are more obnoxious than others but if you really do NOT want your picture taken, just get out of line and walk around them. They have gotten better about letting you pass, but if you tell them, “I’m not going to purchase the picture anyway”, they won’t argue with you.

Various personnel will be at the door to greet you and welcome you onboard and then depending on which cruise line you are on, you may even be escorted to your cabin.

Hopefully your cabin will be ready and you can go directly to your cabin and drop off your carry-on items. Usually the TV is on with information about embarkation day and the required Muster Drill.

NewsletterThere will also be some kind of daily newsletter (again, each cruise line has a name for them) that will list ALL of the ships activities for the day, times and places (although they now want you to use the cruise ships app (some are better than others). In today’s quest to do everything digital, however, if you want a paper version, you may have to request one be delivered – you would do this through your cabin steward.

When you arrive at your cabin, do NOT be disappointed if your luggage has not arrived. Cabin stewards and other onboard personnel will be loading luggage and distributing it to cabins throughout the entire day, sometimes even after the ship has sailed.

A nice buffet lunch is also usually available on the Lido deck (and sometimes a dining room is open as well), so enjoy your first meal onboard!

Once your luggage does arrive (and it will probably not all arrive at the same time either) and you have unpacked, most suitcases will fit under your bed so it is out of the way (sometimes there is space on the top shelf in the closet, but if all else fails, talk to your cabin steward).

Cabin Stewards

Cabin Stewards

You will also get to meet your cabin steward(s). In most cases, they will try to track YOU down and introduce themselves to you first, but it IS important that you meet them. There is usually a table tent card on the desk or business card with their name and extension for easy reference.

Remember, they are here for you and in most cases, the nicer you treat them, the nicer you will be treated. Keep in mind that you will have daily charges added to your bill for gratuities, so do not be hesitant to ask for something you need. That being said, you do not want to be a pest either.

If your service has been stellar, you can also tip them personally – they will just beam!

Credit Cards While Abroad

Credit CardsOne of the best ways to insure your trip is to pay for it by using a credit card. It will help you keep track of your expenses as you plan your trip,  and then while ON your trip, credit cards are the suggested form of payment for any purchases you make at any of the ports of call. For Europe, it will also need to be a credit card with a microchip in it or it may not ‘work’ (Anymore, Europe’s point of sale centers can not process your transaction without the chip in the card).

The credit card company’s policies will protect you from retailers that try to pull a fast one. If there ARE any problems with your purchase after you return home, you will then have some recourse.

CurrencyUsing credit cards also minimizes the amount of cash you need to have on you (this is especially important when you are on a cruise and you are only going to be in a country for one day). When the charge is made to your credit card, the rate charged for your item will be whatever the exchange rate is that day, not the merchant’s ‘version’ of the exchange rate.

ATMWhen you DO need local cash, ATM’s are the best place to get it, rather than a currency exchange, which will charge an additional fee. ATM’s are everywhere and you can use your ATM card to get local currency. Just make sure you have a 4 digit PIN code!

It is best to see if your bank has a sister bank in the countries you will be visiting. If you can find out ahead of time where those sister banks are, you will be able to save yourself a transaction fee.

MakingCallOne of the MOST IMPORTANT things to do is to contact your credit card company and let them know where you will be traveling to and how long you will be gone BEFORE you go (two weeks prior is sufficient)! In most cases, there is a whole department devoted strictly to vacation updates. ALSO, if YOU are traveling, but your spouse is NOT, it is important to let them know that as well – that way they know that there might be local charges as well as from afar.

If you are traveling with your spouse, it is also recommended that you both take a different card (and I mean a different account). If something happens to one of your credit cards, you will then have a back up card.

In your luggage (or other place separate from where you carry your credit card), you should also have a copy of your credit card (as well as your passport and full itinerary). Just in case something happens and you need to contact your credit card company, you will have ALL of their information handy.