A preparation timeline from one year out to one day away

By Ashley Richardson

AAA World Article

Global cruise travel is booming, and that’s good news for cruisers everywhere. With so many ships ready to set sail, you’ve got options—and lots of them!

Whether you’re looking to brave the vast Atlantic or float gently along a European river, there’s a vacation just right for you. So let’s get planning.

Here’s what to expect during every stage of preparing for a cruise.

One year before

Expect to crunch some numbers and do lots of research. Vacations aren’t magically planned overnight; finding the right cruise takes patience. Start by figuring out how you want to travel. Large ocean cruise ships and small river cruises both have their pros and cons.

You’ll also want to consider things like cabin size, onboard entertainment options, and land excursions. It’s important to recognize that different types of cruises and cruise ships will have distinct amenities and atmospheres. Prioritize your must-haves and maybes.

Tip: Cruise lines are constantly running promotions. You can find short sales, last-minute deals, bundles, and so much more. Your trip doesn’t have to break the bank. When preparing for a cruise, shop smart. 

One month before

Congratulations, you booked a cruise! But now it’s time to figure out some logistics, like who’s watching the kids while you’re away, picking up the mail, and watering the plants. What about a pet or house sitter? When preparing for a cruise, one month out is the perfect time to start making these arrangements. You should also email emergency contact information to your loved ones, including an itinerary and phone numbers. It’s important to make sure that friends and family can reach you, even while you’re out at sea.

Now is also time for the fun part—vacation shopping! You might want to splurge on new sandals, swimsuits, sun hats, and cover-ups. Just don’t forget the important stuff. You’ll want to start a precursory checklist of cruise necessities, like a flashlight (for inside cabins), sunblock, or mini first-aid kits.

Tip: You should also start researching land excursion activities and check your cruise info. Did you get the cabin you paid for? What about included hotel and flight bookings? Whatever your cruise package entails, make sure it’s there. If not, call immediately. And don’t forget to fill out any required pre-boarding forms. AAA Travel Agents can help you with all aspects of planning and booking your cruise.

One week before

It’s getting down to the wire. But don’t panic. You should be pretty organized at this point. All that should be left are the little things. When preparing for a cruise, here’s what to do one week out.

Laundry: Wash any clothes you plan on taking.

Pack: Get everything into that suitcase, which probably sounds more daunting than it actually is. Make a checklist so you don’t forget anything.

Finance: Research the best money/payment options for your time on the cruise and on land. Get your foreign currency or traveler’s checks in order and let your credit card company know you’ll be away.

Print: Cruise tickets and other essentials, like copies of your passport, hotel confirmation vouchers and travel insurance documents. Flying to port? Double check your flight times. But remember, you can’t check-in until 24 hours before. So, pick up plane tickets at the airport, opt for a mobile boarding pass, or print them out the day before.

Follow-up: Double check that your out-of-town arrangements are still good to go. And if you’d like a ride to the airport, now is the time to start asking.

Tip: One week out, most people are excited to post their vacation plans on social media. Don’t! Telling the world that you’ll be away for an extended period of time might leave your home vulnerable. Travel plans should always be on a need-to-know basis. Only alert your family and most trusted friends. And don’t post social media statuses or pics until you’re home.

One day before

This is it! It’s almost time for your cruise. Yes, it’s exciting, but it can also make you a little anxious. Try to stay calm. Worrying may lead to forgetting important things like medications or passports. Instead, simply take another look at your checklist as you finalize the bags. Add missing items and take away ones you deem unnecessary. And if you haven’t already done so, book transportation to your port, airport, and any other destinations.

Tip: Most importantly, when preparing for a cruise, one day out is a good time to set an alarm and get some rest. You don’t want to be late or miss the big adventure!