Many of us only have time for a three- or four-day cruise.  And, if you’re flying to the port of embarkation, you may use up some of the valuable sea days burned out from the ordeal of just traveling to the ship.   Air travel, which was once a no brainer, is frequently an obstacle:  delays, cancellations and lost luggage are all too common.

lost-luggage.jpgOn a recent four-day cruise I met a couple who were very unhappy first time cruisers.  After a flight from Montreal to Orlando and a change of planes, their luggage didn’t arrive.  Of course, ships depart whether you have everything or not.  They had purchased many clothes for their first cruise and now had to replace everything.

Here’s my advice for having an anxiety free vacation.

* If at all possible, book a pre-cruise hotel and arrive in the port of embarkation a day early.  The Canadian couple would have retrieved their bags if they opted to fly a day earlier.  Just about any airline glitch — lost bags, delays, cancellations — can be resolved if you have an extra day to deal with it.  Priceline is my discount hotel of choice because I always seem to get a good deal.

* If you’re taking a cruise under five days, plan on packing everything in a carry- on bag.  Presto, the worry about luggage arriving disappears entirely!  Yes, it will take creativity to pack everything you need in a smaller suitcase, but you can do it.

* While cruise lines do sell air/sea packages, I recommend purchasing your own airfare to insure you have a non-stop flight.  So many people who buy air from the cruise lines end up with connecting flights, which would make anyone’s stress level rise.  I get the best air prices by using Kayak, a website that does a deep search of every airline’s inventory.  In terms of buying the cruise, however, consult a cruise specialist at a cruise holiday site.

* You must still get from the airport to the pier or a hotel.  Research the approximate time and cost of a taxi.  In Fort Lauderdale, the port is only a ten minute ride but taking a taxi from Miami airport to the pier can take 45 minutes and cost a fortune.  The simplest, and usually, least expensive way to go between airports and ports is by buying a cruise line transfer, which your travel agent can arrange.

* Take a stack of singles for tips.  The port’s baggage handlers can be very nasty if you don’t tip them well for carrying your bag from the bus or taxi to the ship.  Sure, it’s highway robbery but forking over a few dollars saves a lot of aggravation.

* If you must check a suitcase, be sure to have a change of clothing in your carry-on bag. And, never pack anything in your suitcase you can’t stand to loose forever, such as jewelry, medication, your documents and eye glasses.

* I’ve eliminated a lot of stress by wearing ear plugs on a plane.  Screaming baby? No problem.

* You can arrive with wrinkle-free clothing by laying items flat in a dry cleaner’s bag in the suitcase.  Trust me, this works!

Do you have tips for taking the torture out of traveling between home and the port?