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A cruiser's manifesto: Cruise ship rules to live by

Matt Hochberg

There isn't a right or wrong way to cruise, but it seems there are several unwritten rules many repeat cruisers seem to follow.

These are the things we hold to be true, that all cruise sailings are not equal. As a result, we rely on tried-and-true advice to ensure a great vacation.

Whether you are brand new to cruising or have sailed for at least four score and seven years ago, these are the rules all cruisers live by to avoid problems later.

I will book my cruise as far in advance as I can to save money.

The key to getting the best price is to book your cruise as soon as you know you want to go on the sailing and lock in the cabin you prefer.

The ideal strategy for booking a Royal Caribbean cruise is if you live in a country where you can reprice your cruise up until final payment date. Residents of the United States, Canada and select other countries are able to contact Royal Caribbean if there is a price drop and take advantage of the lower price.

By booking 12, 18 or even 24 months in advance, you have the luxury of watching the price and making a price adjustment if there is a lower price offered. You can do this unlimited amount of times until the final payment date at 90 days prior to sailing. 

Booking a cruise one to two years in advance is not practical for many families, so a great time to book a cruise is between six and 12 months before sailing.

In addition to the lower prices, booking well in-advance of a cruise assures you of the ship and stateroom you want to reserve. Suites and some of the higher in-demand cabins are the first to be reserved, and waiting to book usually results in far fewer choices. Moreover, my observation is the price for a suite on Royal Caribbean tends to only go up over time at a greater rate than standard cabins.

Since booking many months in advance comes at the risk of guessing your own personal schedule and hoping for no surprises, I always recommend booking refundable cruise fare to avoid penalties if an unexpected reason to cancel a cruise occurs.

I will read about the ports I’m going to before I get there.

Your cruise ship will visit different ports of call during your sailing, so picking a great shore excursion for the few hours you have in each stop is very important.

Your first step is to determine the most popular activities in each port. Then, start looking at what tours are available, either on your own or through the cruise line.

The key is to determine which tours you want to book, and reserve it in advance. In some cases booking in advance will save you money, and everyone can benefit from having the luxury of time to consider all options.

I will try new foods.

Going on a cruise is one of the best times to try new foods, because so many of them are included in the cost of your cruise.

There is no penalty for not finishing something you ordered, so you should always feel free to order something to give it a try and know you can always have a backup order if you do not like it.

This is a great opportunity not only to indulge, but to also try out some new foods, like escargot!

I will be flexible, especially about my plans.

Even if you spend more time than any other human being before planning a cruise, you will still run into problem here or there.

The key is to not let little mishaps greatly impact your cruise and to understand sometimes you just have to let the little things go by.

Whether the weather does not cooperate, a port has to be skipped, or your kids decide they cannot be bothered to wake up before 11am, it is super important to adopt a "go with the flow" mentality to cruises.

As a major advocate of planning ahead, a little bit of footwork does go a long way to helping avoid some major pitfalls. However, there is always going to be some risk to any well-thought out plan.

It is a great idea to make plans and look forward them, but know in advance that no matter how carefully a project is planned, something may still go wrong with it.

The key is not letting this incident ruin the rest of your day or cruise. We all experience frustration, but try to remember the classic mantra of don't worry, be happy.

Read more7 things I wish more cruisers knew about going on a cruise

If a problem does arise, I will talk to someone about it while onboard.

A really common mistake I see is someone on a cruise runs into some sort of a problem that impacts their enjoyment of the cruise and does not say something to a crew member about it.

Whether it is a malfunction in the cabin, accident onboard, disagreement with a crew member, or anything else that stops you in your tracks, problems should be addressed onboard and not after the cruise.

I know that feeling of not wanting be a bother, but Royal Caribbean wants you to have a great experience, and problems should be identified so they can be fixed.

A classic example is slow service in a dining room, where a waiter may be handling too many tables or a kitchen delay slows everything down. Asking to speak to the head waiter to alert them that there is a problem is a helpful way to get the situation resolved quicker.

If you have a billing discrepancy on your bill, speak to Guest Relations on the ship. If something is not working properly in your cabin, alert your stateroom attendant.

Read moreThe top crew members to find if you have a problem onboard your cruise

I will take time while on my cruise to forget about the real world.

One aspect of going on a cruise that I love is the ability to disconnect from the world events for a little bit.

Whether it is politics, breaking news, or college football, it is nice to intentionally or unintentionally take a step back from the daily grind these updates can have on our psyche.

As someone who always buys an internet package, I am not advocating completely ignoring what is happening at home, but going on a cruise can be a nice break from the 24 hour news cycles and constant jibber-jabber that slowly eats away at us.

A good rule of thumb is to not bring up these topics to other guests onboard (just like at parties on land, politics and religion are never good topics), and spend more time enjoying the beautiful scenery and discuss the fun you had that day.

I will have no regrets about partying until dawn but I will be respectful of my fellow guests sleeping while stumbling back to my stateroom.

This is an important mantra, because there is no judging the "which bars are still open at this hour" crowd.  But respect goes both ways.

There are lots of activities on a cruise, plenty of indulgences, and no work the next day to stymie sudden impulses, but that is not carte blanche for dragging others along unwillingly with you.

Leave the party at the lounge or bar, and quietly find a comfortable spot in your room to close your eyes and wake up many, many, many hours later.

I will be friendly onboard and aspire to meet some new friends.

Speaking of respecting other guests, you should always greet other guests with a smile and practice good manners.

One mistake I made early in cruising was ignoring other people I was cruising with, in the same way I might look at a land hotel as just a bunch of rooms with beds and I was on my way.

Not everyone necessarily wants a new friend, but a simple "hello" and "goodbye" in an elevator, or "how do you do" during a shore excursion is not only a polite way to keep things friendly, but you never know whom you may meet.

So many cruisers make new friends onboard by virtue of the fact they happen to be under similar circumstances, which leads to a conversation that might end up forming a new bond.

Speaking of being friendly, do not limit yourself to just other guests. The crew members onboard work very hard to make your vacation a great one, and you should feel free to strike up a conversation with them as well.  

Even if you do not meet your new BFF on a cruise, being cordial to each other is the least we can all do and is always a good idea.

After 2020, I will not take cruises for granted.

After the events of the last 12 months, it is clear we all took the ability to go on a cruise for granted.

So much of our world has changed, and with it the casual ability to go on a cruise vacation.  While other aspects of travel have returned, cruises remain shutdown and it has served as a good reminder of what we once had and why we should treasure the opportunity.

Travel has always been a luxury, so the old saying of "stop to smell the roses" is appropriate for whenever we are able to get back on a cruise again.