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Expert cruise advice 1-866-266-9392
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Here are suggested steps to follow to ensure your cruise experience is enjoyable and hassle free!
Booking Your Cruise
Booking is the last step before you embark on your ultimate cruise—and Hotwire has options to help make your process a lot easier. For instance:
Choose When to Book
With Hotwire, you can book a cruise up to 18 months in advance. By booking this early, you can find great cruise deals!
Select a Cruise Type & Payment Options
With Hotwire, you have the option to purchase two kinds of cruise packages:
Standard Rate, or a
Hotwire Hot Rate
If you decide on a Hotwire Hot Rate cruise, you’ll need to pay the full amount at the time of booking. Note, this type of booking is nonrefundable. For Standard Rates, you can generally make a partial deposit if your cruise departs more than 60 days in the future. Otherwise, the full amount is required.
Decide to Book Online versus Over the Phone
It’s all about your comfort level. Booking online is easy, or if you prefer, you can speak to a helpful cruise expert at 1-866-266-9392.
Obtain Help & Refer to the FAQ’s
You’ll find even more detailed information about how and when to book a cruise at the Hotwire Help Center.
Getting To and From Your Ship
Knowing when and where to arrive for your cruise is key to starting your vacation off with a smooth start.
On the day of your departure, you’ll start by “checking in” at the pier, where your proof of citizenship will be checked. At this time, you’ll also set up your onboard account.
When to Arrive
Ship boarding usually begins 4-5 hours before the ship is scheduled to depart. All passengers must be onboard at least 90 minutes prior to departure.
Passports are now required on all cruises. Please be sure to have your passport with you at the dock in order to board.
Some cruise lines will send your boarding and confirmation documents by e-mail rather than regular mail. Be sure to check in advance which method you’ll receive yours in.
If you purchase an air/sea package, transfers between the airport and ship are included in the price. If you book a flight separately, you’re responsible for making your arrangements.
Overnight Hotel Stays
If you don’t live near the embarkation city, it’s recommended that you arrange a flight the day before cruise departure and stay in a nearby hotel.
Getting to the Port
It’s also worth investing in a hotel-ship transfer or tender to get you to your ship. These can be found on Hotwire or through your cruise line.
Ports in most major cities feature parking lots nearby. It’s a good idea to map ahead of time if you’re driving.
Preparing for the Unknown
Learn about the resources offered by cruise lines to keep you fit and shipshape while on your cruise.
Most large cruise ships are equipped with stabilizers to minimize movement. Onboard shops also offer seasickness medication.
All cruise ships have doctors onboard to provide medical care. In the event of a medical emergency, passengers can also be airlifted, or the ship can detour to a nearby port of call.
All passengers participate in a mandatory safety procedure called a muster drill. Passengers take part in this drill to learn how to safely evacuate the ship in case of an emergency.
Cruise Travel Insurance
An insurance plan is a great way to ensure that your vacation investment is protected. Our sister company, Expedia, provides Hotwire’s cruise travel insurance. See the Expedia cruise insurance site for more info.
Before You Leave
From booking your shore excursions to packing your bags, there’s a lot to remember when preparing to leave for your cruise. Refer to this information to ensure a smooth departure:
Reconfirm your cruise reservations by contacting the cruise line or a Hotwire Cruise specialist at 1-866-266-9392.
Remember travel insurance to protect your vacation investment in case of injury or sickness.
Where available, complete the advanced registration information on the cruise line’s web site to reduce the check-in time at the pier.
Be prepared to provide your reservation number, passport information, and other details to complete the registration.
Reserve shore excursions, spa and salon appointments, and dining reservations as much ahead of time as possible. Many cruise lines allow you to reserve online.
Be prepared with cash. Some cruise lines require that you use cash for tipping and casino gambling. It’s also handy to have cash in port and for parking at the pier. Most cruise ships have ATMs on board; however, the ATM service fee may be significant.
Pack efficiently, leaving enough room to bring home souvenirs. Most cruise ships offer laundry services, so you may not need to bring as many clothing items as anticipated.
If your ship has formal nights, men should bring a dark suit or tuxedo and women should bring a pantsuit or cocktail dress.
Remember to bring your travel documents (e.g., cruise ship itinerary/tickets, passports, personal identification, shore excursion confirmations, etc.) along with photocopies.
Boarding Your Ship
Upon arrival at the pier, you’ll proceed through the embarkation process, making your way through customs and cruise ship check-in. The process can move quickly, so keep these tips in mind:
Arrive at the pier early. Ship boarding begins as early as 4-5 hours before the ship is scheduled to depart.
All passengers must be onboard at least 90 minutes prior to departure.
Parking is available at most of the piers – for a fee. Be prepared with cash as many pier parking lots accept cash only.
During the embarkation process, you’ll likely need to show personal identification more than once, so have your passport and cruise documents in-hand to speed check-in.
Cruise Lines & Ships
There's a Ship for Everyone
Selecting the perfect cruise line and ship is the first step in planning an enjoyable vacation. Ships can range from 200 to 5,000 passengers, influencing the atmosphere of the ship. Some cruise lines cater to families, while others are geared toward couples. Still others have a more upscale ambience.
Cruises by Line
With multiple entertainment offerings and broader appeal, cruise lines like Norwegian, Carnival, and Royal Caribbean are the most popular options for first time cruisers. Please visit our cruise line page for more detailed information.
Cruise Line Info:
Azamara Club Cruises
Carnival Cruise Lines*
Disney Cruise Line
Holland America Line
Norwegian Cruise Line*
Paul Gauguin Cruises
Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Royal Caribbean International*
Seabourn Cruise Line
Uniworld Boutique Cruises
Viking River Cruises
*Most popular for first time cruisers
Cruises by Theme
The following are recommended cruise lines based on theme:
Carnival Cruise Lines, Celebrity Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean
Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Silversea Cruises
Azamara Club Cruises, Costa Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Cunard Line, Oceania Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Seabourn Cruise Line, Silversea Cruises, Windstar Cruises
Crystal Cruises, Cunard Line, Holland America Line
Cruises by Size
Ship offerings include everything from small to large ships:
When & Where to Go
Choose Your Destination
Ships depart year-round, sailing to a range of destinations and climates. No matter the season, you’re sure to find a cruise that fits your wants and needs.
When to Go
Generally, cruise rates tend to be lowest from October through December. However, discount cruises are readily available in year-round destinations such as the Caribbean.
Activities & Entertainment
Whether you spend your days at sea or in port, there are a variety of options for activities and entertainment. Most cruise lines include:
Pools & Water Sports
From swimming pools to water slides, larger ships include water sport options that cater to both kids and adults, with some areas reserved exclusively for grown-ups.
Shows & Music
The larger cruise lines feature nightly Broadway-style musical revues, comedy, or magic acts. Musicians and performers also appear around the ship.
Spa & Fitness
A full service spa/fitness center has become an onboard staple. There's a charge for spa treatments and instructor-led classes.
Onboard movie showings are standard. Some cruise lines even feature first-run movies, while others feature outdoor showings.
Once a ship hits international waters, a lively, fun-for-all atmosphere kicks in at the casino. Even new gamers will enjoy kicking back at the tables.
Courses & Training
Learning and enrichment onboard have become more varied. You'll find classes in everything from finance and software to wine appreciation.
From traditional menus to open seating, cruise ship dining options range from formal to relaxed. All meals are generally included in the price of the cruise. Note that some alternative and specialty restaurants carry a cover charge.
Formal dining rooms onboard have evolved along with the ships. Menu options have expanded to include healthy and modern options.
Alternative & Specialty Restaurants
Enjoying extraordinary foods at onboard specialty restaurants is a key part of any cruise. Enjoy cuisines from Asian fusion to Italian country for a nominal price.
Most cruise ships feature set room service menus for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The service may be fancier depending on your room category.
How formal (or not) you’d like to dress can play a big part in your cruise line choice. Our cruise line overviews provide a look at the dress code requirements for each line.
While most cruise lines offer supervised activities for children, some don't and some ships have more robust programs than others. Please visit our ships page to check your onboard options.
Programs & Options
Today’s onboard kid programs go beyond the basics. From pool parties and rock climbing to teen dances, your little (and big) ones are guaranteed fun to match their style.
Most ships do offer (for an additional fee) babysitting services, either in a group setting or with a sitter coming directly to your cabin.
Many programs have minimum age requirements (generally age 2 or 3).
Safety & Services
Basic safety is extremely important on all cruise ships. When traveling, you can rest assured that the protection of your family is the top priority.
Once onboard, all passengers MUST participate in a mandatory safety procedure called a muster drill. Passengers take part in this drill to learn how to safely evacuate the ship in case of an emergency.
Some passengers experience mild motion sickness. Onboard shops offer seasickness medication. Large ships are equipped with stabilizers to minimize the movement and most avoid rough waters whenever possible.
Most cabins have telephones for onboard calls. Also, most wireless carriers feature a Cellular at Sea option. (Be warned, the roaming costs are hefty).
All ships have doctors onboard to provide medical care. In the event of a medical emergency, there’s an onboard plan to get you to the nearest port of call.
Computers & Internet
Most ships have for-fee Internet cafes and many offer Internet access from the cabins; some even provide ship-wide wireless Internet access for laptops.
Discover the Best Value in Travel
Cruising is a popular vacation choice because it’s an excellent travel value. Today’s cruise rates include most amenities and activities on board—from Broadway-style shows to fine dining.
What You Get for the Price
Specific amenities vary by cruise line.
Room & board
Most non-alcoholic drinks including coffee, tea, and water
Entertainment (including shipboard & onboard activities)
Use of fitness center equipment
What's Not Included:
Specialty coffees, sodas, and alcoholic beverages
Meals in alternative restaurants
Spa & salon services
Exercise classes (e.g., yoga & pilates)
Organized shore excursions
Compare the Costs!
When you add up the cost of a land-based vacation (e.g., hotel + meals + entertainment) you'll find that a cruise may cost less.
Today's cruise rates include most amenities and activities on board—from Broadway-style shows to fine dining.
There are shows, sports, casinos and activities for all ages. Check out dining options and the cruise lifestyle.
Select the cruise line that best fits your travel needs.
Cruise Lines & Ships
Find out cruise destinations and peak seasons by region to find the best cruise for you.
When & Where To Go
Discover suggested steps to ensure your cruise experience is enjoyable and hassle free!
Use this insider's guide to check off all of your to do’s before you embark on your cruise.
* Prices based on 4-night cruises for sailings over the next 3 months. Prices are cruise only, per person, based
on double occupancy, and do not include applicable government fees & taxes. Prices and availability are subject