Cruising: Know Before You Go

(Most) everything you need to know leading up to your cruise.

Let's Get Started

Congratulations! You’re going on a cruise! 

We’ve put together this guide of (most) everything to know to prepare for your trip.

Remember: every cruise line is different! If you have not already been to your cruise line’s website to read their tips and important information, we suggest you do so. 

Lastly, be sure to check the travel date shown on your TravelPerks Dream Vacations invoice against the cruise line online check-in to confirm that our invoice corresponds to the itinerary you purchased.

Travel Documents & Smart Traveler Program

Document Requirements
It is the passenger’s sole responsibility to have all the needed documents to travel. Please visit our travel documents page to review required documents for your travel. If you have any questions on required documents, please reach out to your travel agent.

U.S. Department of State Traveler’s Checklist

A trip requires careful planning. Visit the U.S. Department of State’s Traveler’s Checklist for a list of important steps to take before traveling outside of the United States.

Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)

You can enroll for free at to receive travel and security updates about your destination(s), and to help someone reach you in case of an emergency. Groups or organizations can create an account for multiple travelers.

Travel Insurance

We highly recommend travel insurance! We have negotiated a very comprehensive and competitive trip cancellation/interruption program that is available exclusively to our valued customers. You can find more information about travel insurance here.

While note required, we recommend you download or print your policy to have with you during the course of your travels.

Cruise Pre-Registration (Mandatory!) & Preparation

Mandatory Cruise Pre-Registration

All cruise lines require you to pre-register information with them before you travel! This may be done online at the appropriate cruise line’s website or in their app. We highly recommend doing this AT LEAST 14 days before your travel and as far in advance as possible.

While timelines vary, most online check-ins begin 21 days before embarkation and close 3 days prior to your sailing.

Embarkation Time

When you check in for your cruise, you will also have the opportunity to choose your embarkation window, or it will be assigned. This is to help with the flow of people onboard the cruise ship. Be sure to plan on arriving at the pier at your designated time.

Your Ticket Packet

With the move to electronic ticketing, most ticket packets will be available to download or print after final registration within the weeks leading up to your cruise. We will send you can email with more details.

Since the boarding process is largely electronic now, this is mostly a document for your reference.

Luggage Tags for Cruise Ship – Print at Home

For any luggage you are checking onto the ship, special luggage tags are required to ensure it arrives to your room. With the move to electronic tickets, most popular cruise lines no longer supply these and you are required to print the tags to attach to your bag.

These will often be available after you complete your online cruise check-in, and available near the end of your ticket packet.

We highly recommend affixing these to your bag before arrival at the pier, if you are able. These tags can most often be affixed using tape and/or a stapler, or clear plastic sleeves can be purchased online.

Note: Some luxury & river cruises still provide printed documents and luggage tags. They either come directly to your home or we will send them to you as soon as they arrive in our office.

Pre-Cruise Travel, Hotels, Parking, & Getting to Your Pier

Pre- & Post-Cruises Hotels

Many hotels near the pier or airports have park and cruise (fly) programs. Many offer complimentary or affordable shuttles to get you directly from airport or hotel to your pier.

Our team of travel agents are happy to assist with pre-cruise hotels and transportation.

Parking at The Pier

Many piers have parking garages. Just be sure to look into from which pier you’re embarking and you can find information on parking available to you.


At the airport and the pier, porters are available for your convenience; however, their tips are not included in the price of your cruise package. The recommended tip is a dollar or two per bag (more in NYC).

Luggage & Packing

Luggage On Board

Cruise lines allow you to bring as much luggage as you like. You can check large luggage with the porters at the pier (see section above for more details) which will be brought to your room, usually within a few hours of embarkation.

HOT TIP: Most suitcases fit under the bed of your stateroom!

Carry-On Luggage

We suggest you take a carry-on bag for your travel documents, valuables, medications, toiletries, a change of clothes, or whatever else you may need for the first day, as it may be a few hours before your checked luggage arrives in your room.

DO NOT PACK YOUR TRAVEL DOCUMENTS IN YOUR CHECKED BAGGAGE! You will be unable to board without these.

Disembarking with Luggage

Checked luggage is collected the night before departing a cruise, which is another reason a carry-on bag is highly important. Don’t forget to keep fresh clothes, toiletries, and whatever else you may need for the next day.


What To Pack

This may vary based on your destination, but here are some basics to follow.

  • Chargers for all your electronics
  • Good pair of sunglasses (even in less-sunny locations, the glare of the sun on the water can be tiring to your eyes)
  • Warm locations – plenty of sunscreen! The sun is very hot in the Caribbean, even in the winter and you don’t want to be without it.
  • Colder locations (i.e. Alaska) – layers and a warm jacket! (Even in the summer, locations like Glacier Bay can be very cold.)
  • Books or craft supplies

Dress Codes

Depending on your cruise line, there may or may not be dress codes onboard, and/or for specific times of days or venues. Please reference your cruise line’s website, ticket package, or ask your travel agent for information on dress code. In general terms, there are three main designations for dinner attire in the main restaurants:

  • CASUAL: For gentlemen, an open shirt and long pants are appropriate. For women, casual dresses or pants are appropriate. No shorts, and on some cruise lines, no jeans or flip flops are allowed in the dining room for dinner. (Some cruise lines are more lax on the rules.)
  • INFORMAL: Gentlemen will be asked to wear a collared shirt and long pants (not jeans). For women, a dress or pantsuit is appropriate.
  • FORMAL: For gentlemen, a tuxedo or dark suit is appropriate. For women, a long or short cocktail dress or dressy pantsuit.

Some ships offer special theme nights, like White Night parties or Caribbean night.

Onboard Your Cruise

Now’s the fun part! You’ve made it on board. So how does this all work?

Cruise Line App

Most cruise lines have a smartphone app which makes cruising easy. If available, we highly recommend downloading the app prior to boarding, as it will contain all or most information you need, including your digital boarding pass.

Your Room Key / Charge Card

Your room key is also your charge card! This card will either be given to you at check-in, or can be found on the door of your room once you embark on the ship. This card is all you need during your cruise, as it will unlock your door and verify your inclusions (dining, beverages).

Cruises are cashless, so you will use this card to pay for anything (that’s not included in your purchased packages).

This card is also required (along with an identification) for getting off and on the ship when in port.

Onboard Account

Before you board, you’ll be asked to link a credit card to your onboard account for your charge card. On most cruises, you can check your balance any time using the app.

Daily Information Sheet

The cruise line will provide you with a daily information sheet that will be placed in your stateroom each evening. This lists all the activities that will take place the following day, as well as information about the days in port.

There is so much to do on a cruise! These sheets will include entertainment you may already know about, but often times there will be extra bonuses, like pub trivia, or a friendly game of water volleyball in the pool.


Your stateroom is designed to be "ship-shape" and efficient. Be sure to make use of the "DO NOT DISTURB" and "MAKE-UP ROOM" signs that are in your stateroom to enable your stateroom steward to best serve your needs. Your steward can also provide you with extra towels, pillows or blankets upon request, and can convert twin beds to a queen bed where applicable.

Children’s Programs

Most of the cruise lines offer children and teens programs. If available, babysitting services may be arranged onboard for a fee. Check your cruise line website for details.

Onboard Dining & Beverages


All standard meals are included in the price of your cruise. There are usually several choices for breakfast, lunch and dinner. These include buffets, main dining rooms, snacks, and more. Every cruise line and ship is different, and we encourage you to look at your options before embarkation!

Some companies offer sushi, 24-hour pizza, ice cream parlors, espresso, and so much more. Most ships also offer a light or "spa" menu for people desiring lower calorie or healthy food.

If you have special dietary needs, please see the restaurant manager and they will do their best to help you. We recommend you let your TravelPerks agent know at least 30 days before your departure.

Special Celebrations

If you are celebrating a special event (anniversary, birthday, etc.) please be sure to let us know. We will notify the cruise line, and most will provide you with a complimentary treat. Be sure to reconfirm this request directly with the hotel manager. If you forgot to tell us, don’t worry - just give the hotel manager’s one day’s notice to comply with your wishes.

Specialty Dining

For more variety, many ships now offer “specialty dining” opportunities for an additional fee. These are generally more upscale restaurants and are either a flat fee for an evening for served a la cart.

Beverage Packages

Depending on your cruise line, most ships offer a variety of different beverage packages. If purchased in advance, these will generally save you money. The levels often follow a tiered system, such as:

  • Non-Alcoholic: Includes soda, bottled water, some juices
  • Standard Alcoholic: Includes select beer & wine, cocktails up to a certain dollar amount (i.e. $15)
  • Premium Alcoholic: Includes all/most alcoholic beverages on board.

Most cruise lines allow you to pay the difference. For example, if you purchased the standard drink package but would like a cocktail that’s priced at $18, your cost will be $3.

Room Service

Room service is most always an option, though availability of time and costs could change. Be sure to check the current rates onboard.


Tipping is a personal matter and the proper way to compensate the staff for the excellent service you receive. Most ship staff work primarily for tips and earn them many times over. Tips are generally $15 to $20 a day per person and are added to your onboard account automatically.

Some cruise lines allow for pre-paying your tips, and some even require it depending on your meal plan choices. If you haven’t pre-paid your tips and would like to do so, either review your cruise planner or ask your travel agent if this is available for your vacation.

While at your discretion, we do recommend tipping for room service at $1 to $2 per person being served. Tips for bar items are included in your charge. Spa and other personal services may have the tip automatically included. Where it isn’t, tipping is appropriate at normal levels for similar services in the US.

Shore Excursions

Booking Your Shore Excursions

Shore excursions are the highlight of the cruise for many people. Whether it's action/adventure, sightseeing, relaxation & pampering, or a happy combination, excursions give you a great chance to broaden your experience.

Most cruise lines now allow you to book shore excursions in advance online. We recommend booking your excursions as far in advance as possible as the popular outings tend to sell out well before your sailing.

In addition to the ship’s excursions, there are independent companies who also offer wonderful tours. Visit our Shore Excursions page for more options. Many of these companies allow you to search by your cruise and will only show results that work for the hours your ship is in port.

If you want help booking your excursions through these alternate sources, please ask us for assistance. The cruise lines do not allow us to assist you with their excursions.


Some ships do not dock at some ports; rather they anchor in the harbor. Tenders are used to transfer passengers to and from the port and ship. If you have a mobility issue, this may be an inconvenience for you.

While In Port

When you are in port the ship is always available for meals and limited activities. However, the casino and shops will not be open. Think of the ship as your floating hotel.


Disembarkation Day

When the ship arrives back in port on the last day of your cruise it normally requires one to two hours for the customs officials to clear the ship after it docks. Relax on deck, in one of the lounges, or in your cabin if allowed by the cruise line.

Keep in mind that there are many guests leaving the ship at the same time. You may be required to go through Customs prior to disembarking the ship.

To help with the flow of passengers, you will often be assigned a disembarkation time. To expedite an orderly debarkation, you will have been given color-coded luggage tags and announcements will be made calling those colors when you can leave the ship. Those with early flights usually have priority.

Our best advice: Relax and enjoy the final morning of your cruise.

Return Flights

If you are catching a flight the day of disembarkation, we generally recommend booking nothing earlier than a 12pm flight, depending on the port. If you have questions or would like assistance with return flights, we are happy to assist.

If you have a late return flight, consider spending time outside of the airport. Many cruise lines offer tours of your disembarkation city or consider renting a car at the airport or pier and doing a little independent sight-seeing or shopping.

Future Cruises Booked Onboard & Loyalty Programs

Future Cruises

While onboard your cruise, you may be offered the opportunity to book another cruise with the same line at attractive rates. This is usually the very best deal possible.

If you decide to re-book, please remind the cruise line employee that you have booked with TravelPerks and would like your agent to be notified. Please notify us of your new reservation upon your return home, as well. We will reconfirm your reservation with the cruise line to ensure you have been quoted the absolute best rate available, as well as provide you a special bonus.

Loyalty Programs

Loyalty programs are important to the cruise lines and most tour operators. These programs offer you amenities on future cruises. We suggest you enroll in these programs either before your cruise or while on the ship. Once you have your membership number, please provide it to us so that we can find the best deals for you in the future.