Alaska cruise information tip #2 - Passport
Effective June 1, 2009, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) will be fully implemented. If you are starting or ending your Alaska cruise in Vancouver you will be required to show either a passport or other WHTI compliant document for entry or re-entry to the United States.
If you are traveling on a closed-loop cruise (a cruise that begins and ends at the same port in the U.S.) you will be able to enter or depart the country with proof of citizenship such as a birth certificate and laminated government issued picture ID, denoting photo, name and date of birth.
Baptismal paper and hospital certificates of birth are not acceptable. A voter registration card or Social Security Card are not considered to be proof of citizenship.
Non-U.S. citizens that live in the United States are required to carry a passport and the original copy of their Alien Registration Card.
Foreign-born travelers will need a passport and in some cases, a visa.
Alaska cruise information tip #3 - Luggage tags
Before you leave home, attach one of the baggage tags sent from the cruise line to each piece of luggage, including your carry-on. Double check the information you filled out on each tag for accuracy and make sure each piece of luggage has personal ID in the form of a nametag affixed.
Getting there -
Alaska cruise information tip #4 - Airport arrival
When you land in your gateway city head to the baggage claim area. If you booked your air travel or a transfer through the cruise line keep an eye out for the welcoming committee, a cruise line representative holding a card displaying the name of the line. Once you check in with this person they’ll ask you to claim your luggage and provide you with further instructions. Your baggage will be collected and transported to the ship for delivery to your cabin. You’ll board the bus for transportation to the pier so make sure you have your voucher accessible.
Whether you purchased a pre-cruise package or you are going directly to the ship the details of what to do at the airport will also be outlined in your cruise documents.
If you booked your own flight, claim your baggage and then make your way to the pier using your choice of transportation. Make sure to note the pier number for your ship. In cities with multiple piers drivers may not know the docks as well as they should. Upon your arrival, porters will take your bags to load on the ship. A tip of $1 per bag may be expected.
Alaska cruise information tip #5 - Flight delay
Give yourself peace of mind and arrive at least one day prior to your cruise. It will eliminate panic about flight delays/cancellations and/or delayed or missing luggage concerns. If this isn’t an option and you experience a flight delay on the same day your cruise is scheduled to depart – remain calm.
First, immediately inform the airline personnel that you are a cruise passenger and let them know you are sailing today. They can check the various airline schedules and may be able to put you on a different flight. Also request that the airline staff call the cruise line and explain the delay.
Alaska cruise information tip #6 - What to do if you miss the boat
Take a deep breath, count to ten and then locate the cruise lines port representative at the pier. If the ship just sailed they may offer to get you to the ship via a launch (small charter or tug.) Don’t count on this since your transfer would be made between two moving ships at sea – just a little precarious don’t you think? It’s more probable they’ll assist you with overnight accommodations and flight arrangements to the next port. If you booked your own flight, you may be charged for this service.
Once onboard -
Alaska cruise information tip #7 - Checking in
Most ships begin boarding in the early afternoon. Passengers with special needs are usually processed separately and guests who have booked a suite or are members of the cruise lines loyalty program may receive priority boarding.
Waiting in line should be expected unless you are sailing on a small ship with fewer passengers. Have your boarding pass, ID and any documents requested filled out in advance.
You’ll usually receive a pocket size map of the ship’s deck plan for finding your way around and a boarding card which may double as your ship charge card and cabin key. On some ships you’ll receive your cabin key once onboard.
You will want to be checked in no later than an hour before the ships scheduled departure which usually falls between 4-6 pm. For your safety be prepared to pass through security.
Once onboard, you’ll receive a warm welcome from the crew, locate your cabin and get settled in.
Alaska cruise information tip #8 - Where’s my luggage?
Receiving your luggage onboard large ships requires a little patience on your part. It’s a big undertaking loading and distributing as many as 5,000 bags and sometimes more. If your ship is ready to depart and your bags are still missing in action, contact guest relations. Hopefully, they’ll reassure you the luggage is on its way. If your luggage has been misplaced they will hunt it down and have it delivered to your first port of call.
Alaska cruise information tip #9 - Gratuity guidelines
When to tip? Who to tip? How much to tip? Even the most seasoned cruise passengers are mystified. Tipping practices today vary from required added service charges to no tipping at all. The first thing you need to appreciate is gratuities make up much of the compensation the staff serving you receives. This is one of those times when you do need to mind your manners and thank those who have served you well.
Since tips are handled differently than in hotels or restaurants it’s important to know the policy of the cruise line you’ll be traveling on. This information can be found in your pre-cruise documents, on the cruise line Web site or in the cruise line brochure. You can expect the suggested gratuity to be $10 to $15 per person, per day depending on how much and who the cruise line recommends you tip.
Gratuities are a personal matter. However, we believe the minimum tip you should consider is $4 per person per day for your cabin steward and waiter and $2 per person, per day for your assistant waiter. For the attentive services of a butler you should consider tipping $3.50 per person, per day. Please feel free to adjust these amounts at your discretion based on the service you receive. Even if the cruise line automatically adds a service charge to your shipboard account you can have it adjusted up or down by visiting the purser’s office.
Traditionally, tips are offered on the last night of your cruise. Envelopes are usually available in your cabin or you can pick them up at the purser’s office.
A 15% service charge is automatically added to your bar charges and/or dining room wine account but slipping the bartender or wine steward something extra is good practice. Gratuities for spa and beauty personnel should be offered at the time of service.
Don’t forget that gratitude doesn’t always take the form of money. If the service you receive is exceptional, take the time to write a letter of recommendation and personal “thank you.”
Tipping on small ships varies.
For the end of your trip -
Alaska cruise information tip #10 - Settling your account
At the end of your vacation you’ll receive a preliminary statement of the charges to your shipboard account. The balance will either be billed to the credit card of your choice or you may pay in cash. Review the charges for accuracy; if you find a discrepancy or plan on settling your account with cash or travelers checks, you’ll need to go to the purser’s office for assistance.
You’ll be asked to settle your account the day or night before you disembark, along with everyone else onboard. It probably goes without saying but you can expect some lines at the purser’s office. You’ll receive a final invoice for your records either in person or one will be delivered to your stateroom.
On small ships the process is far less complicated due to fewer passengers. Visit the purser’s desk, check your bill and arrange for payment.
Alaska cruise information tip #11 - Luggage procedures
Getting all the luggage off the ship also requires talent. On the last evening of your cruise you’ll be asked to pack your suitcases and place them outside your cabin before you retire, usually before midnight. You’ll be provided with luggage tags that correspond to the order of your disembarkation. If you require more tags, notify your cabin steward. The bags will be picked up overnight and placed in the cruise terminal according to the order they’ll be picked up.
Some cruise lines now offer an airline check-in process prior to disembarking if you booked your air travel through them. Your baggage is transported directly to the airport. This is a real timesaver. You’ll have no baggage handling responsibilities until you arrive at your final destination.
If you booked a post cruise activity you’ll receive separate instructions before going ashore.
Alaska cruise information tip #12 - Disembarkation
Once your ship is docked it will need to clear Customs before you can get off. This will take 90 minutes or more. On most ships you will be asked to vacate your cabin by 8 am and wait in one of the public areas of the ship.
Going ashore is based on a number of factors. Guests with air travel departing on the same day will get off according to their flight time. Travelers with access needs, guests with post cruise arrangements and suite passengers will usually be allowed to disembark early.
The cruise line will have transportation waiting for you if you booked a land package.
Alaska cruise information tip #13 - Customs and immigration
At the end of your cruise, customs and immigration inspectors will review your customs declaration form. This form lists all of the dutiable items bought in foreign ports or in the ship’s boutique. U.S. Residents are allowed a duty-free exemption of $800 USD per person. Be sure to have your receipts handy.
The Department of Homeland Security offers a pamphlet “Know Before You Go” which details what you can bring back.
In a collaborative effort, the Vancouver Port Authority, Vancouver International Airport Authority and many of the cruise lines have developed two programs designed to expedite the immigration and customs clearance process for cruise ship passengers.
U.S. Direct – allows passengers arriving at Vancouver International Airport to transfer directly to a same-day departing ship.
Onboard Check-in – allows passengers arriving on a cruise ship and flying out of Vancouver International Airport on the same day to transfer directly to the airport.