When you pack your carry-on for your flight, make sure that you have everything you need for the first day of the cruise including medication, a change of clothing and your swimsuit in case the airline or cruise line delays delivery of your luggage.
If Internet access is important to you, you’ll certainly need to budget for it. Once horrifyingly slow and expensive, shipboard Internet has improved substantially in the last decade. Though it continues to be slower than land-based connections, it’s positively zippy compared with the Internet that first popped up aboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Sky back in 1999. While some cruise lines still bill Internet on a per-minute basis, with packages averaging anywhere between $40 and $250, that is gradually beginning to change. Carnival is leading the way with reasonably priced packages that are based on your usage habits; a week of connecting to e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter will only run you $5 per day for the Social package. The line’s top-end “Premium,” at $25 per day, provides Internet fast enough to Skype with family members back home. A few lines like Viking Cruises provide free Internet to all guests.
Keep careful track of your onboard expenses to avoid an unpleasant surprise at the end of your cruise. Many ships have interactive television systems that will display a current readout of your bill; on those that don’t, a quick trip down to the Guest Relations desk is all it takes to get a current printout of your onboard account. It’s a good idea to do this at least midway through your cruise; while it’s rare, mistakes do happen (we were once billed for a very expensive bottle of champagne that we never ordered). Sadly, more often than not, all of our onboard expenses are usually just that: ours.
On big ships, a final bill will be slipped under your door on the last night of your cruise. If everything is okay and you’re paying by credit card, you don’t have to do anything but keep the copy. If there’s a problem on the bill, or if you are paying by cash or personal check, you will have to go down to the purser’s or guest-relations desk and wait in what will likely be a very long line. On small ships, you usually settle up directly with the purser on the last day of the cruise.