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If you would like to leave on a cruise from the United States you might be thinking of taking a cruise with Royal Caribbean or Carnival or another cruise line. Cruises are fun, but you may not know what to expect or what documentation you need. Here are some guidelines:

Passport Or Other Identification

Here is the latest information from the US State Department:

Effective June 1, 2009, all U.S. citizens are now required to present a passport book, passport card, or WHTI-compliant document when entering the United States.

Please Note:Children under age 16 will be able to continue crossing land and sea borders using only a U.S. birth certificate (or other form of U.S. citizenship such as a naturalization certificate.). The original birth certificate or a copy may be used. See the Department of Homeland Security's Ready, Set.. Go! for more information on the changing travel requirements. 

For further information here is the link to the US State Department:

http://www.travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis_pa_tw_2223.html

Fitness Center

The Fitness Center on cruise ships should be free. But on some cruise ships the hours are not that long. On many Norwegian cruises the Fitness Center is open 24 hours. On Royal Caribbean the fitness center is usually open from 7:00 AM to 10:00 PM.

Internet Access

Many ships have Internet access available now but the service is not cheap. They may have public access computers or an Internet Cafe in a certain location of the ship. Certain locations may also have wi-fi hotspots. But even if you bring your wireless (wifi) laptop they will charge you to use the Internet. Wifi is usually not available in your room, but you must leave your room and go to a certain area that is designated.

At the time of this writing Royal Caribbean charges 0.65 cents a minute for either wifi hot spots using your laptop or using a computer at an Internet Cafe. This comes to $35 an hour. Or you can purchase package deals such as $35 for 60 minutes, $55 for 100 minutes, $75 for 150 minutes, $100 for 250 minutes or $150.00 for 500 minutes.

At the time of this writing Carnival charges a $3.95 setup fee whether you are using your personal laptop or an Internet Cafe computer and then they charge 0.75 cents per minute or package deals of 45 minutes for $29, 120 minutes for $59, 240 minutes for $89 or 480 minutes for $159. Click here for more details.

At the time of this writing Norwegian charges 0.75 cents per minute whether you use your personal laptop with wifi or an Internet Café computer or they offer a package deal of 100 minutes for $55.00 or 250 minutes for $100.

At the time of this writing Celebrity charges 0.75 cents per minute to use either your personal laptop or an Internet Cafe computer for Internet access or you can purchase a package deal of $24.95 for 38 minutes, $49.95 for 90 minutes, $99.95 for 208 minutes, $199.95 for 555 minutes or $399.95 for 1666 minutes.

NOTE: To get the most updated information on Internet Access click on the cruise names above to go to the Internet Access information for that cruise line)

Food and Drink

You don’t have to worry about bringing food on a cruise because on the ship most of the food is free. You are assigned a dinner time for the dining room and they serve you great meals for free. At the end of the cruise you usually just give a small tip to your waiters. Also, for breakfast, lunch and dinner you can go to many different food places on the ship and order food for free almost all day long. Some ships have a 24-hour buffet. You can also get drinks such as water, milk, coffee and juice for free. Carbonated sodas usually have to be paid for however. On many ships you can order food through room service 24 hours a day and this is usually complimentary.

Alcohol

You are not allowed to bring alcoholic beverages from home onboard the ship. You can purchase individual alcoholic drinks to be consumed onboard the ship from restaurants and bars. These can cost from about $5 to $11 usually. Some beverages include a souvenir glass.

If you purchase an alcoholic drink from an onboard shop then they will store the beverage on the ship for you and return it to you on the night before the end of the cruise so you can pack it. If you purchase an alcoholic drink at a port then upon returning to the ship they will take the beverage and store it on the ship for you. Then they will return it to you on the night before the end of the cruise so you can pack it.

Also see Carnival's Liquor Policy and Celebrity Cruises Liquor Policy for more information about bringing a bottle of wine from home. (Corkage fees apply)

Gratuity (Tipping)

Carnival recommends that you spend $10 a day for tips which is broken down to $5.50 to the headwaiter/waiter, $1 to the assistant waiter/kitchen staff and $3.50 to the cabin steward. This $10 charge is now automatically charged to your onboard account daily. 15% gratuity is added to bar bills.

Celebrity suggests that you spend $9.50 a day for tips. You pay the tips individually in envelopes on the last night of the cruise. It breaks down to $3.50 per day for your cabin steward, $3.50 per day for your dining room waiter, $2 per day for assistant waiters and .50 for the head housekeeper. 15% gratuity is added to bar bills.

Royal Caribbean recommends that you spend a total of $9.75 a day for tips. This is paid in envelopes on the last night of the cruise. It breaks down to $3.50 per day for the cabin steward, $3.50 per day for the dining room waiter, $2.00 a day to the assistant waiter and .75 a day to the head waiter.

Princess automatically charges $10.50 per day to your ship account to cover tipping for waiters, stateroom stewards, buffet stewards, galley staff, laundry staff and others. 15% gratuity is added to bar bills.

Norwegian says that guests should not feel obligated to tip but they may tip any of the staff at any time according to their discretion. $10 per day is automatically charged to a guests ship account to cover tipping for all services including dining. It is recommended that guests purchasing bar drinks tip the bar tender 15%.

Activities

On board the cruise ship there are usually many activities going on during day and evening hours. At night there is usually a show that can include comedy, singing and dancing. During the day you can usually participate in activities such as swimming, rock climbing, basketball, ping-pong, etc. These activities are all usually free. There also might be other shows and activities such as dancing, karaoke, sexy legs contest, belly flop contest, name that tune and more. Each room usually has a TV with movie channels. There is also usually a room for teenagers and young ones to play video games, watch movies, play ping-pong or air hockey.

Shore Excursions

A day or two before you land at a port you might want to sign up for a shore excursion or tour for the port you are arriving at. The tour prices can range from cheap to expensive depending on what you do. They can range from $15 to over $150 per person. But many of the activities are a lot of fun. They can include snorkeling, horseback riding, zip lining, wine tasting, kayaking, hiking, sailing and more.

Customs Declarations Forms

Before disembarking the cruise ship you have to fill out a customs declarations form listing all the souvenirs, alcohol and other things you bought at different ports. Each person is allowed to purchase and bring back to the United States up to $800 of duty-free merchandise, which includes one liter of an alcoholic beverage. If you purchase more than $800 worth of merchandise then you may have to pay duty tax on the rest of it.