Preparing for a Long Cruise
You’re headed out on that long-awaited small-ship cruise, thankful that, in large part, all the logistics of your cruise have been planned out for you, and that you’ll only have to unpack and repack one time.
To get the most of your small-ship cruise experience, particularly a cruise in the 7- to 10-day range, we offer the following suggestions to make sure you’ll fully prepared.
1. Pack prudently. Notice we didn’t say “lightly.” No one will fault you for bringing that extra warm layer if you’re cruising to Alaska or a spare pair of sunglasses if you’re small-ship sailing in the Mediterranean.
Simply pack prudently, keeping in mind that cruise ships have rooms that are typically smaller than hotel rooms - the upside of small-ship cruising, however, is that because the guest number is lower, the room sizes are often more spacious than you’ll find on a mega-ship. Still, pack what you need to stay comfortable, stay warm, not get sunburned, etc.
2. Check the weather in your cruise destination. Further to the packing suggestion, do be sure to consider the weather where you are sailing. Is it the rainy season? Particularly windy? Be sure to bring along a rain jacket, umbrella and sunblock - no matter where your small ship is sailing.
3. Ask about your small ship’s electrical specs. If you’re headed into international waters on your cruise, there may be alternate electrical standards than what US-based ships have. You’ll want to know this before you get on board … to avoid the severe disappointment of realizing you won’t be able to charge your phone.
4. Find out what costs extra. Most small-ship cruises are all-inclusive to avoid nickel-and-diming guests for every little thing. That being said, it’s a good idea to check on the prices for anything that might be deemed “extra,” e.g., shore excursions, watersports equipment rental, guide/driver services, beverages (both alcoholic and nonalcoholic) and spa treatments. It’s always a good idea to bring a little cash along.
5. List packing essentials. That extra pair of sunglasses we mentioned above isn’t necessarily essential, but there will be items needed on your small-ship cruise that it’s best to bring from home.
Everyday items - if forgotten - can be hard to find and expensive in foreign ports, especially the smaller places accessed by small cruise ships.
Think about and list items such as over-the-counter medication, insect repellent, batteries, feminine hygiene items, toothpaste, sunblock, etc. Ask about which toiletries are included in the cabin of your small ship.
6. Ask about accessibility on board your small ship cruise. Your small-ship cruise tour operator will be able to tell you about the layout of your ship and if there are narrow stairwells, steep gangways, uneven surfaces and more. If these are physically challenging for you, you can be prepared. Ask, also, about what active excursions are available and train for them as necessary.
7. Check in with your insurance company. Small-ship adventure cruises brings with it the opportunity for activities you don’t normally participate in - think kayaking, ice trekking, diving, biking). Give your health insurance company a call and find out what they cover while traveling; if you’re not satisfied, consider travel insurance, which may include emergency evacuation.
8. Plan for emergencies. OK, so it’s not the first thing we want to think of when we’re daydreaming about our much-anticipated small-ship cruise. Just in case you’re waylaid in a remote port, it’s a good idea to write down your cruise line’s main number, some information for local hotels in your ports of call, extra medication and a supply of snacks.
Packing for a Small-Ship Cruise
It’s almost time for your small-ship cruise … which means it’s time to pack! What at first may seem like a daunting task - because, after all, you’ll be at sea the majority of the time and when ashore, will be in small, more remote areas of your destination, so it won’t be easy to just go out and buy something you forgot.
Small-ship cruise operators can provide you with suggested packing lists and you’ll find plenty of suggestions online.
Here, a few essentials to start:
- Sensible shoes (sturdy sandals, water shoes, hiking boots/shoes, sneakers, slippers for onboard)
- Warm hat and sun hat
- Outerwear appropriate for your destination
- Passport or passport card
- Necessary electrical chargers and/or adaptors
- Detailed itinerary notes (and packing lists!) provided by your small-ship cruise company
- Vital medications
- Stainless-steel water bottle
- Hiking poles
- Snorkeling equipment
- Photographic equipment
Age Range on Small-Ship Cruises
Small-ship cruises hit all the right notes for the 20-something set. Newly minted in the workforce and possibly tight on vacation time, younger cruisers with an adventurous spirit can get more bang for their buck and sail in and out of tiny ports and up close to glaciers in wildlife, whether they’re sailing the Mediterranean or tackling Arctic seas.
Families with kids and parents in their 30s and 40s enjoy small-ship cruises because these expeditions are the whole package - self-contained, full of activity and rich with learning opportunities. The itineraries on small ships are often flexible and maybe even customizable and feature ports with far fewer crowds than the big ships.
It’s a lot easier to get on and off the boat, so families with young kids don’t have to wait endlessly in line to go ashore for the day’s excursion. In fact, much of the exploring from a small-ship cruise is done directly from the boat, via kayak or zodiac.
Your 40s and 50s - wild nightlife a thing of the past, let’s be honest - may also be a fantastic time to get more adventurous in your travels or try more unusual types of cruise - perhaps a masted ship in the Caribbean or a rugged icebreaker bound for Antarctica. Forego the flashy evening entertainment in favor of expert naturalist guides and historians who will enrich your cruise and the ability to sail in and out of interesting ports aboard your small ship.
Those in the 70-plus age range should research small-ship cruise companies carefully as many of the ships are, well, smaller and more unique in design, and use tenders to get cruises on and offshore for excursions. Mobility and accessibility can be an issue, so be sure to ask ahead about facilities on small-ship cruises.
Who Will Enjoy Small-Ship Cruises
Small-ship cruising might be for you if:
1. You like choices. Not only does the smaller, more nimble size of a small cruise ship make it possible to visit more remote destinations around the world, but once there, even your cruise itinerary may be flexible.
See a family of sea lions sunning on a rock in the Sea of Cortez? Ask the captain if he can pause of an hour or two while you and other guests venture out by sea kayak to take a closer look.
Follow a pod of whales off the coast of Norway? Sit for hours under the Northern Lights? Once ashore from your small ship, there are ample choices as well, for difficulty level of hikes and walks to interests, from local museums to market shopping. Fewer people on the small ship makes it that much easier to customize excursions to personal interests.
2. You want to disconnect. Small-ship sailing usually means you’re in a more remote location than on a large cruise ship … which means you may have no choice but to disconnect given spotty cell service and WiFi. Take advantage of the down time to really disconnect and step away from devices, reconnecting instead with each other and the destination or wilderness you’re seeing, likely for the first time.
3. Want to make some new friends. Love to bond with birders? Go back in time with other history buffs? Hike with mountain-lovers? Small-ship cruising means sailing, for the most part, with like-minded guests, those who have chosen this destination for the same reasons you have: wildlife sightings, wine country, culture, once-in-a-lifetime Arctic adventures and more. Shared experiences with these new friends will quickly become some of your favorite cruise memories.
4. Want to learn something new. From naturalists to historians to photographers, small-ship cruise companies employ regional and subject experts who get to know the guests intimated and can keep everyone, from kids to older travelers, engaged and educated about their destination.
Learn about conservation in the Galapagos, how to use an undersea camera when snorkeling, discover the geography of Greenland’s ice cap and follow a wildlife photographer into the jungle to glimpse rhinos in Indonesia.
Coping with Seasickness on a Small-Ship Cruise
Mal de mer, which rolls off the tongue quite eloquently, is the dreaded squeamish feeling of seasickness. And it might be the sole reason you haven’t yet embarked on a small-ship cruises. Rest assured, if you have your sights set on sailing under the Northern Lights or diving into the Galapagos, there are remedies that can help you get where you’re dreaming of going. A few favorite seasickness tips and tricks:
- Pack common seasickness remedies. This includes ginger chews or gummies, wristbands, tablets and patches.
- See the cruise doc. If you’ve run out of remedies from home, pay a visit to the doctor on staff on your small-ship voyage. She will usually have plenty of seasickness medication to distribute to ailing guests.
- Stay above deck as much as possible. Try not to go below deck for any extended period of time. If you do, and want to look out at the scenery, look out a window or porthole with your gaze on the horizon.
- Cut short your binocular time. As much as you’ll want to stare for hours at those polar bears or waddling penguins, extended binocular use can bring on seasickness.
Stay hydrated and fed. Drink plenty of water and don’t go about on an empty stomach. Pack extra snacks from home (granola bars, dried fruit, nuts) so you’ll always have something to grab.