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As someone who has been on numerous cruises in Alaska, Hawaii, the Caribbean, the Mexican Riviera, and Northern and Southern Europe, I have some pieces of advice that you might not get from typical travelers or agents. Cruise Tip #1: Pre-book your excursions. Yes, you heard me right. Everything I've read says to not book excursions, or to book through local agents. Some agents say not to book excursions at all. I have been on 12 cruises. On 11 of them I pre-booked all of my excursions. On the twelfth cruise I did not and I regretted it. I always take the time to read everything available about the cruise such as reviews, print-out brochures, Google searches, etc. After researching I decide on one "big excursion." For instance - While in Alaska I took a helicopter to a dog sled camp located ON a glacier. AWESOME TRIP! Then I book a couple of "low end" excursions, such as tours of the town. I try to make sure I don't have too many exhausting excursions back to back. Cruise Tip #2: Arrive early to the cruise terminal Again, most travel agents say take your time. I disagree. I love getting to the cruise terminal early and watching the people depart from the previous cruise. Maybe it's because I'm a people watcher. I don't know. I also like watching the crew members get off for the much needed break (most only get one or two days off per month). I also like watching the crew paint the ship, wash the windows, and load the food in preparation for my vacation. Cruise Tip #3: Skip the souvenirs and send relatives real postcards from every port - they will love them. My Mom and Grandmother love getting my postcards, some coming as late as three months after a cruise. They love seeing the stamps and postmarks from different countries. They were far more precious to them than any souvenir. Handwritten letters and postcards are becoming a lost art. Cruise Tip #4: Send an email from every port at an Internet Cafe. I created a "group friends and family" list on Yahoo. At every port I sent a brief description of the port, weather and how we were doing. It put friends and family at ease and in one case it became a lifesaver. During the London train bombings of 2006 I was in London. I was on a day trip to Bath and Stonehenge. The bombings occurred and there was no way to let my family know I was alright. I knew they were panicking. When I got to Bath, I slipped into an Internet cafe and in 2 minutes let everyone know I was safe.

Cruise Tip #5: Get to know the service staff and tip extra. Because I have had the fortune to work in the service industry when I was working my way through college, I have made a habit in my life of getting to know people whom others might not even notice. Some of my best memories of cruises are the serve staff I spoke with and got to know aboard the ships. Here are some of the more memorable ones: - the assistant waiter from Chile who introduced me to Chilean wine - the assistant waitress whose work enabled her to purchase a house in her home country so that she and her children could have a better life - the breakfast hostess from the Philippines who lives onboard with her husband - They desperately want to have children but she seems unable to conceive. - the cabin steward who works overseas 7 months at a time so that his four children can have a house and go to school - the single mother whose three children live with their grandmother so that she can work onboard and they won't have to live in poverty - and many more Despite our struggling economy in the U.S., most of us know nothing about what constitutes true poverty. We live in a world where up to 70% of the world's population lives on less than $2.00 per day, many less than $1.00 per day. Many cruise lines bill your credit card for service automatically but I always tip extra because I know it's needed at home. Service on a cruise is always excellent but I find if you tip your regular service staff (waiter, assistant waiter, and cabin steward) several times throughout the week your service will be even better AND your service staff will feel very appreciated. Have fun on your cruise! Bon voyage!

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