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Picking the right ship

There are many styles of cruise ship and even more destinations you can explore on a cruise, and at first glance this can be a frightening prospect for a newcomer to holidays at sea.

But in reality, it's no harder to choose a cruise than any other type of holiday.

There are just two simple steps.

First, ask yourself a few questions to establish exactly what your requirements are.
Then let one of Thomas Cook's cruise consultants guide you to the right ship, style of cruise and destination for your needs.

BUDGET ships are generally older, mid-sized vessels, offered at low prices to tempt traditional 'bucket-and-spade' holidaymakers to try cruising.

Budget ship operators include Thomson Cruises and Island Cruises.

Who will enjoy them? Families and couples on a budget who nonetheless enjoy a bit of style; these ships can appeal to traditionalists who find bigger 'resorts at sea' a bit intimidating.

In recent years, these older ships have lost some ground to a new CONTEMPORARY category of big, modern ships with room for up to 4,000-plus passengers.

Still affordably priced (though more expensive than the Budget ships), these 'floating resorts' offer large-scale facilities including multiple bars and restaurants, extensive gyms, vast spas, a range of swimming pools, open-air ballgame courts and imaginative children's centres.

Some of the most recent also feature groundbreaking innovations like mini golf courses, ice rinks, rock climbing walls and surfing pools, so they're a great choice for families, sporty types and people who like plenty of activities to choose from on holiday.

Contemporary ship operators include Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean International, Costa Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line.

Who will enjoy them? Families, fun lovers, sporty types, the young and the young at heart - anyone who likes the idea of being on a big city afloat and able to do as much or as little as they like will love these ships.

The next category, PREMIUM ships are often equally large scale but more exclusive - and expensive - than Contemporary vessels as they carry fewer passengers and generally offer better quality food and service, more unusual itineraries and /or onboard 'cultural' programmes led by expert lecturers.

Increasingly, the larger Premium ships offer higher-spending passengers extra perks like concierge and butler service, designer bathroom toiletries and fine bedlinen.

Not all Premium ships are big, though: some smaller specialist vessels - like sailing ships - are classed as Premium because they offer an unusual onboard experience.

Premium ship operators include P&O Cruises, Cunard Line, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Celebrity, Fred Olsen,Windstar Cruises and Star Clippers.

Who will enjoy them? Travellers who want bigship facilities but don't like to share them with too many other people; Those in search of an offbeat experience (eg a sailing ship cruise) or those keen on exploring art, history, botany and other subjects with the help of expert lecturers.

At the very top end of the cruise market, LUXURY is the final category.

Luxury cruise ships range from just over 4,000 tons to nearly 70,000 tons and can carry as few as 100 passengers or as many as 1,100. All offer exclusivity, elegance, and top-class service to clients wealthy enough to avoid travelling en masse.

That said, you needn't be a millionaire to afford a luxury cruise. If you can afford the top suite on a Premium ship, the lowest-grade suite on a Luxury ship is within your reach - and most luxury ships include 'extras' like onboard wine, drinks, gratuities and even some shore excursions in the price.

Luxury ship operators include Silversea Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Hebridean International, Regent Seven Seas Cruises andSeabourn Cruise Lines. Who will enjoy them? Anyone with the cash to buy some panache!

Guide to cruising

Cruising is the travel success story of the 21st Century, attracting more new 'converts' every day.

Of the 1.25 million Britons enjoying a holiday at sea this year, an estimated one in three will be stepping onboard a cruise ship for the first time in their lives - and they'll be spoiled for choice.

For over the past two and a half decades, the burgeoning cruise industry has launched more than 200 brand new cruise ships of all shapes, sizes and styles - with every new 'class' (or style) of ship more eye-catching and innovative than its predecessors.

A new generation of enormous 'megaships' ships offer - at an affordable price - everything you'd fi nd in a classy resort on land, from multiple bars and restaurants to indoor and outdoor pools, serene health spas, gigantic gyms, theatres, cinemas and extensive children's play areas and even rock climbing walls and ice rinks.

These ultra-modern leviathans have huge appeal for families, younger travellers and anyone who wants the process of getting from port to port to be as fun and exciting as the ports themselves.

Meanwhile the older, medium-sized ships they've replaced have attracted a new legion of fans by offering more limited but well-presented facilities at budget prices.

At the other end of the size (and price) scale, 'millionaire's yacht' -style luxury ships offer the last word in exclusivity, sophistication and heel-clicking service to those lucky enough to afford them, while sailing ships equipped with windsurfers, kayaks, jetskis and other watersports gear are popular with go-getters who enjoy some sporty action on holiday.

Ice-strengthened expedition ships take small groups of intrepid travellers off to explore the world's wilder shores, while 'cultural cruises' on ships as cosy and welcoming as a country house provide lectures, classes and conversation for travellers who like a strong dash of intellectual stimulation in their holiday cocktail.

And for travellers who like to 'get under the skin' of a country by exploring a variety of towns and cities at a gentle pace, river cruising - with its multiple daily stops and ability to reach the heart of the world's great cities - is the perfect solution.

So if you think cruising is a one-dimensional experience, it's time to think again; travellers planning to holiday on a ship now face as wide a range of choice as they would on a landbased vacation.

But therein lies a problem; before you pay your pennies and make your choice, how on earth can you make sure your chosen cruise ship is the right one for you?

The answer is 'Cruise with the specialists' - in other words, consult one of Thomas Cook's cruise consultants.

Whether it's in one of Thomas Cook's high street stores, online at www.cruisethomascook.com or over the phone, Thomas Cook has members of staff trained to have specialist knowledge of the cruise business. So they can give you all the information you need when considering a cruise - from what type of ship, to what to pack.

To help you on your way, we asked Thomas Cook's cruise specialists to give us their top tips for 'cruise virgins'.

As you prepare for your very first cruise, you're embarking on a grand adventure and - very possibly - a lifelong passion. We hope Thomas Cooks' Cruise Guide will - like our specialist staff - show you exactly why cruising is the success story of the century - and help you discover its delights for yourself.

Thinking of taking the plunge but still unsure about some aspects of cruising? Let Thomas Cook's panel of cruise specialists help.

Do I have to dress up?

Thomas Cook Cruise Consultant Carol-Anne MacDonald, Falkirk says.

Only if you'd like to! Cruising has become increasingly laid-back in recent years and - particularly on the big resort-style ships which have a range of restaurants and bars. The emphasis is on relaxing and enjoying your holiday in your own particular style.

That said, most ships ask passengers to adopt a reasonable standard of dress for everybody's comfort; which means covering up swimwear if entering an indoor dining area by day, and wearing smart casual clothing at dinner.

The vast majority of people have absolutely no problem with this and indeed, find the chance to 'glam up' on one or two special evenings is part of the charm of cruising - which is why traditional 'Captain's Welcome' and 'Farewell' gala dinners are still held in many ships' main dining rooms at the start and end of a cruise.

On these evenings, guests do get to meet the captain for cocktails and enjoy a 'gladrags' parade. It's also a good opportunity to have a formal portrait done by the ship's photographer while you're looking your best.

But if dressing up really isn't your thing, you can use room service (available on most ships) or dine at the buffet restaurant that evening - or ask your travel consultant to recommend a ship with alternative dining venues like a pizzeria, a Bistro or a 24-hour snack bar as a change from the main dining room.

While eating in the main dining rooms is free, some 'alternative restaurants' carry a per-head service charge (anything from £8 to upwards of £25). But they do give cruisers the flexibility - as in a landside resort ashore - to choose how casual or grand their evening will be and dress up or down accordingly.

 

Whom do I tip and how much?

Thomas Cook cruise consultant Ian Black, Solihull says...

Many cruise companies now include staff gratuities in the upfront fare. Those who don't will advise tipping levels (usually from around £5 to £12 per passenger per cruise day) in the 'small print' section at the back of their brochures, and in the information booklet sent to you after your cruise is booked.

Be advised that, on ships where tips are not included, it is VERY poor form to dodge tipping your cabin steward/ess, waiter and bus boy (assistant waiter) as staff depend on them.

Whether you tip better-paid head waiters and Maitre D's is up to you, as these are additional tips for exemplary service over and above the call of duty.

 

How do I avoid sea-sickness?

Thomas Cook cruise consultant John Boland, Peterborough says.

Modern ships have excellent stabilising systems to minimise movement, but if you're worried you can buy motion sickness remedies like acupressure bands or tablets in ships' shops.

And if in spite of these you find the going rough, the ship's doctor can visit your cabin and deliver an injection which will - quite literally - stop seasickness in its tracks.

 

What length and itinerary is best for a first cruise?

Thomas Cook cruise consultant Judith Scott, Cheltenham says.

While some first-timers ease into cruising by taking a cruise-and-stay holiday, others choose a port-intensive itinerary to alleviate fears that they will go 'stir crazy' on board.

This can be a mistake, though; modern ships have so much to offer on board that you really need at least a day or two 'at sea' to relax and enjoy the facilities. Going ashore at a different port every day is like booking into a nice hotel then spending all your time out on day trips.

Cruise Thomascook's Hot Tips

COOK'S CRUCIAL CRUISERS DID YOU KNOW...
Thomas Cook is Britain's NUMBER ONE SELLER OF CRUISES.
HOW DID WE REACH THE TOP SPOT? Through top-class staff training..
As Britain's Number One Cruise Agent we develop our staff on a regular basis. Many have first hand experience of cruise ships from their personal love of cruising, many more are sent on educational visits to experience ships' facilities. Thomas Cook has an extensive training programme including our online Cruise Academy, which consists of three levels and qualifies staff as a 'Cruise Specialist' so you can trust us to help you select the right cruise.

COOK'S CRUCIAL CRUISERS DID YOU KNOW...
...that you don't have to stay in an hotel to enjoy a citybreak? Overnight and even two - or three-night stays in the world's top cities are built into many river cruising and world cruising itineraries, so you can use your 'floating hotel' as a base from which to explore in depth.

COOK'S CRUCIAL CRUISERS HOT TIP

MEDICINE'S A MUST
"An essential on your pre-cruise checklist should be to ensure you have a plentiful supply of any essential medications you take regularly," says Christine Cullen, travel consultant at Thomas Cook's Lowestoft branch.
"While a ship's doctor can help out in an emergency they charge at private rates and may not have the drugs you need on board. So whatever else you forget, don't forget your essential medications."

COOK'S CRUCIAL CRUISERS DID YOU KNOW...
...that the range of cruise ship 'alternative' restaurants is truly amazing now? Foodies can try everything from French haute cuisine to alfresco Italian food, sample dishes created by top celebrity chefs, eat at a curry house and even dine Japanese-style in a traditional Tatami Room with low tables and sliding screens. Whatever you want, you can find it at sea - with a bit of help from your Thomas Cook consultant.

COOK'S CRUCIAL CRUISERS HOT TIP
SPA SENSE
"Cruise ship spas are simply sensational nowadays, offering everything from thalassotherapy pools and heated recliners to Turkish-style steam rooms and volcanic hot lava stone massages," says Moira Lumsden, cruise consultant at Thomas Cook's Dundee branch
"But realistically, treatments can be expensive and the bill can add up surprisingly quickly. So my top tip is to have all your basic beauty treatments - like manicures, pedicures, facials and waxes - done at home before you go, then you can splash out on something really special during your cruise without breaking the bank."

COOK'S CRUCIAL CRUISERS HOT TIP
If you plan to eat at a ship's speciality restaurant - either to celebrate a special occasion, try out a celebrity chef's creations or simply as a treat - do remember to book your table early in the cruise. Alternative venues tend to be small, exclusive and intimate, so they can book up quickly and if you don't get in quick you could face disappointment.

COOK'S CRUCIAL CRUISERS CRUISING CHECKLIST
Check in advance what level of gratuity is automatically added to onboard drinks bills as these can be as high as 15% - something to bear in mind when budgeting for your cruise.

COOK'S CRUCIAL CRUISERS HOT TIP
If you're prone to motion sickness, book a cabin low down and towards the centre of the ship, where motion is minimised. And try to stretch to a balconied cabin, as fresh air helps.

COOK'S CRUCIAL CRUISERS CRUISING CHECKLIST
Many UK-based cruise lines now offer short 'taster' cruises of two to five nights' duration, and these are perfect for people tempted to cruise who want to check it's really for them before committing to a long holiday at sea.

COOK'S CRUCIAL CRUISERS CRUISING CHECKLIST
Before you start hunting for brochures, go through our Cruising Checklist to establish what you're seeking.

Are you travelling alone, as a couple or with a family?
What, realistically, is your budget - not just for a per person holiday price but also for spending while you're away?
Do you need plenty to do on holiday, or prefer to relax with a good book?
Do you enjoy intellectual pursuits like lectures and classes or prefer watersports and outdoor activities?
Are you interested in health and fitness, and keen to shape up during your cruise?
Do you like to be completely casual and 'slob about' on holiday, or prefer to dress for dinner and put on the gladrags now and again?
Do you want to fly straight to the sun, or would you prefer the convenience of driving to a UK port?
How much time do you have at your disposal?

If you have a clear idea of your needs in advance, it will help your travel consultant come up with a range of cruise options suitable for you.

Cruise FAQs

What is included in the price of my cruise?  
Your cruise will include accommodation on board, meals, and most of the entertainment while aboard the ship.

What is not included in the price of my cruise?  
The price will not include organised shore excursions, carbonated soft drinks or alcoholic beverages (unless an 'All inclusive' package is purchased), photographs, gratuities (these are included in the cost on some cruise lines - please enquire for details), medical services, casino expenditures, spa and beauty treatments or other miscellaneous items you have purchase on board.

Am I best to book early?  
It is never too early to begin planning your cruise.  Booking early is generally your best assurance of obtaining the arrangements and cabin of your choice, especially if you are planning a cruise in the peak season or over Christmas and New Year.

When do I have to pay the balance of my cruise?  
Once you have paid you deposit then you can relax and start looking forward to your cruise, your remaining balance due date is then 17 weeks before departure.

What is the difference between an inside and outside cabin?  
An outside cabin will have a window or porthole and is considered an "Ocean View" room, whereas an inside cabin may have artwork on the walls and is considered a "No View" room.

What does it mean if I book a 'Guaranteed Cabin'?  
This would mean that you are not booking a specific cabin number, but you are guaranteed a cabin of the grade that you are wanting to book, or higher.

How will I know what activities are happening on the ship?  
Your cabin steward will leave you a daily news update, which will provide a detailed schedule of events for that day including locations and times.

How do I keep my valuables safe?  
Most cabins are now fitted with safes but otherwise there are boxes in the pursers office.

Are the cruise itineraries subject to change?  
Yes, all cruise itineraries are subject to change. With guest safety as the number one priority for the cruise lines, on the rare occasions that weather conditions and other unforeseen circumstances may occur, it may cause a change in the original itinerary. In these circumstances, the cruise line staff will do everything within their power to visit an alternate port of call.

Is there parking available at the port?  
We are able to offer parking at Dover however parking at Southampton is all done independently, for which the rates and style vary. Please contact one of our Cruise Sales team for further details by calling one of our specialists on 0871 664 7654.

How much luggage can I take?  
There are no restrictions on how much luggage you can take onboard, but do remember that if your cruise holiday involves a flight, airlines have their own baggage allowance restrictions. These vary on scheduled flights, depending on airline and route. Please note that on UK regional flights the baggage allowance may be less than on international flights. You will be advised at the time of booking what the limit is for your particular flight.  On cruises that depart the UK luggage is unlimited, however you should consider the size of your cabin.

How do I get to the ship?  
If you have airfare through the cruise line, a representative from the cruise line will meet you by the baggage claim. They will escort you to the transfer shuttle that goes from the airport to the port and back again after the cruise. Most cruise lines offer these services for an additional cost to passengers providing their own airfare.

When can I board the ship?  
Embarkation normally begins approximately 4 hours prior to departure. Passengers must be on board no later than 30 minutes prior to sailing.

Can I bring visitors on the ship?  
For safety and security reasons, no visitors will be allowed on board the ship.

Is cruising right for honeymooners?  
Without a doubt! Cruising offers an atmosphere that's just right for romance... cosy dinners for two, strolling on deck at sunset, dancing the night away (even under the stars). Most lines provide special services -- from Sunday or Monday departures to champagne and breakfast in bed. For more details just check the Cruise Guide for Honeymooners. Also, some ships offer special programs for performing a marriage ceremony or renewing your marriage vows.

Can I cruise if I'm pregnant?  
For health and safety reasons most cruise lines are unable to accept passengers that will are more than 28 weeks pregnant at the time of disembarkation.     

Are there non-smoking areas?  
Virtually all ships have smoking and non-smoking sections in the public rooms. In fact, many dining rooms, and even some entire ships, are now totally smoke-free, reflecting passenger requests. If you want your dining table in a non-smoking area, please advise the restaurant manager when boarding.

Are there different classes of service onboard?  
Today's cruise ships are "one class". The ships facilities are available to everyone onboard.

Will I get bored or feel confined?  
It's not likely. Most ships are a good size and it usually takes a couple of days to fully explore the different options available on board. You can rest by the poolside, join a dance class or sports activity, see a movie, or try your luck in a casino - the options are endless! In addition to the activities onboard, you also have the opportunity to explore new and exciting ports of call.

What if I have medication?  
Please carry any medication in its original bottle. It is recommended that medications be carried in your pocket or purse so they will be available when needed because checked luggage may not be accessible at all times. If you are using any prescription drugs, vitamins, or other medication on a regular basis, you should bring an adequate supply since they may not be readily available aboard the ship or in ports of call. Commonly used medications may be purchased at the office of the ship's doctor.

Can I book a disabled cabin?  
As we are currently unable to check this information online, we would advise that  you use our 'Ask an Agent' facility within this site, or call one of our cruise specialists on 0871 664 7654 and they will be able to assist you.

Are there laundry services on board?  
Almost all cruise ships have laundry facilities and many provide dry-cleaning services. There is, however, an additional charge for professional laundry and dry-cleaning services. Many ships also have self-service launderettes.

Am I likely to become seasick?  
Seasickness is not common on larger cruise ships as they are equipped with stabilizers designed to minimize the feeling of movement. If you should feel queasy, medicine is available from your cabin steward or the ship's doctor. If you are prone to motion sickness, you may want to consider consulting your doctor prior to departure.
 
Will I need a tuxedo?  
Many cruises now have a more relaxed and casual approach to dress throughout the cruise - while on others, formal dinners or parties are part of the fun. You don't have to buy a tuxedo just for the trip, as even on the most formal of ships, a dark suit and tie are fine for the dressiest of occasions. Also, many ships offer tuxedo rental services.

How do I pay for my purchases onboard?  
For your convenience, an account will be set up for you when you board the ship and purchases will be billed automatically to your credit card. If you don't have a credit card you may use a cash deposit. Traveller's cheques may be cashed at the Purser's Desk to cover gratuities and can be used to pay off your onboard account if you do not wish to have the charges applied to your credit card.


Do I have to participate in the cruise line's organized activities?  
It's up to you!  You can try everything or just lounge by the pool - the choice is yours!

What about tipping?  
On many Cruises gratuities are now included, if this is not the case you should reward great service.  Some operators will add gratuities to your on board account, which cannot be pre-paid and are to be settled at the end of your cruise.

What are my dining options?  
Most cruise lines offer both a Main Seating and Late Seating in the main dining room. Dining preferences may be requested at the time of the booking, however requests cannot be guaranteed. Your seating and table assignment will be confirmed at embarkation. Either seating will enable you to see all shows and experience everything your cruise has to offer. As an alternative to traditional seatings, some cruise lines now offer "freestyle" dining. This option provides guests with the flexibility to dine when they wish. You may also choose your dinner companions and request specific tables rather than being assigned to a particular time and table for the duration of the cruise. For your convenience, in addition to breakfast, lunch, dinner, and midnight buffets, many ships also offer complimentary room service. Low-fat and vegetarian options are often available.

What if I'm on a special diet?  
Please advise on any special dietary requirements at the time of booking, as special meals are available to accommodate different dietary needs. 

What if I am celebrating my anniversary/birthday?  
Cruise lines love to celebrate with you, so if you are celebrating a special occasion on the ship, we can add that information to your reservation in advance or you can let the maitre'd know.

What is an assembly drill? Do I have to go?  
These are normally referred to as lifeboat drills. Everyone on board the ship is required to attend a compulsory safety drill comply with Coast Guard and international safety regulations.

Are cruises suitable for children?  
Most cruise lines have developed supervised programs for children due to the increase in families choosing to cruise. Most cruise ships are happy to accept families (some ships do have exclusions and this will be detailed in the relevant brochures) infants are carried from the age of 6 months onwards on most cruises, but in some cases this is 1 year. These programs are designed to give your children a chance to go swimming, play sports, watch movies and get to know other children on the ship, while giving you an opportunity for some worry free rest and relaxation. Some children may be too young to participate in certain programs. Each ship will have its own range of facilities for your children.

What's available to do in the evenings?  
Nightly activities are just as exciting as during the day. Test your luck in the casinos, whoop it up in the nightclub, take in a show, or maybe stay up to watch a breathtaking sunrise over the sea.

Can we keep in touch with the outside world?  
Yes - very easily. Most ships have televisions in the rooms plus a daily newsletter with headlines. There are usually phones in the rooms or you can have the ship's radio operator contact the mainland for you. Also, many ships have fax capabilities or internet lounges. There are charges to contact the mainland in any form. Please check with the purser to find out details on charges.

Are the casinos and duty free shops open all day?  
They are open while you are at sea, however, they will remain closed while the ship is in port.

How do I pay for purchases in port?  
Most shops accept major credit cards and traveller's cheques. Some ships and ports of call have ATMs; however, they may not always be in service and fees are involved.

What is there to do in port?  
There is something ashore for everyone. Each port offers a unique experience where you can explore on your own, book an organized shore excursions from the cruise line, go shopping, relax on the beach or take in some historical sites.

Do I have to get off the ship at every port of call?  
Not if you don't want to. You are more than welcome to stay on the ship and relax by the pool or participate in some of the organized activities.

Do I need a passport, visa or vaccinations?  
All travellers must have a full 10 year British passport with at least 6 months validity after your return date, and some destinations require you to obtain a visa before departure.

Apply early: If you need to apply for a passport or renew an expired passport, you should do so well in advance of travel and at least four weeks before. (If you are 16 or over and have never had a passport in your own name, you should apply for one at least six weeks before your holiday. The UK passport service has to confirm your identity before issuing your first passport and will ask you to attend an interview in order to protect your identity). Visit - www.ips.gov.uk

As far as vaccinations are concerned this depends on where you are travelling to. Please check with your GP or travel agent in advance. Further information can be obtained from the Medical Advisory Service for Travellers abroad (MASTA) -www.masta.org
Your travel agent will be able to tell you if there is any current advice for the countries to which you plan to travel or you can access the latest information from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Travel Advice Unit, on CEFAX or PRESTEL.
Alternatively you can contact the Travel Advice Unit on 0870 6060 290 or online at www.fco.gov.uk/knowbeforeyougo orwww.fco.gov.uk

What type of people go on cruises?  
Cruising is becoming more and more popular all the time. It appeals to a very wide mix of young and old, couples, families and singles. Our passengers like the good things in life, but are generally friendly, sociable individuals eager to experience new things. You're sure to find like-minded people onboard.

If I'm travelling alone, how will I meet people and have fun?  
It couldn't be easier to meet people on board your ship. Most ships have parties for singles -- early on, so you can get to know people right away. You might also want to consider joining a larger table for dinner in order to get to know more of your fellow voyagers. On- board activities like classes and quizzes are a great way to make new friends. Some ships even offer social hosts who can be dance partners, dinner companions or a fourth at cards.
Most ships also have single cabins as well as single rates for double cabins. If you ask them, many cruise lines will even find you a roommate to share a cabin so you can obtain the per person/double occupancy rate, saving you even more on a great vacation.

Do I need travel insurance?  
All passengers are required to have travel insurance as a condition of travelling with us. It is the responsibility of the passenger to ensure their travel insurance is valid and all conditions have been complied with. You are strongly urged to ensure you have declared any pre-existing medical conditions to your insurer in accordance with the policy conditions as failure to do so may well render your insurance invalid in the event you are taken ill during your cruise and you would then be unable to reclaim any medical/repatriation costs incurred by you or on your behalf.

Is the main destination always the port?  
Usually yes, but in some countries the principal destination is given within the itinerary rather than the port e.g. Rome (from Civitavecchia.) At these ports of call and others that the ship berths some distance from the city centre, passengers who wish to go ashore independently of the cruise tour programme will usually find local public transport connections and private taxis close to the port. At certain ports, taxis may not be available at the ship's side and public transport connections may not be accessible within walking distance of the ship. In such cases, shuttle bus services or a city transfer service would usually be arranged. Usually, although there are some exceptions where the main places of interest are not on the coast but accessible by coach or train from the port.

Can I choose to explore independently at the ports of call?  
Our professional staff will be pleased to assist you with local arrangements in various ports of call, however if you prefer to explore independently that is normally fine. If you are planning on exploring independently in St Petersburg you must have a visa, however it is not required if you take one of the organised excursions. Taxis are available at most ports, but be sure to negotiate rates before you set off. 

What shouldn't I pack?  
Obviously there are certain items that shouldn't be packed in your luggage for safety reasons. Details of the items that cannot be carried in baggage on flights can be found on the back of your flight tickets. The Merchant Shipping Act also prohibits the carrying of certain items on the ship without prior authorisation from the relevant supplier, including :
All firearms and ammunition, sporting weapons, replica firearms and explosives of any kind.
Knives and other sharp bladed weapons.
Flammable substances (petrol, methylated spirits, paint thinners etc).
Items containing incapacitating substances that could be used to maim or disable.
Any other item made, adapted or intended for use as an offensive weapon.

How much tax free shopping can I bring home?  
Purchases made in EC countries are subject to the usual EC customs allowances. Outside the EC allowances vary. To check allowances, visit the Customs & Excise website on www. hmce.gov.uk Purchases made on the ship are subject to non- EC regulations - check on board for what you are allowed to bring home.

When will I receive my documentation?  
You will first receive a confirmation for your cruise within 14 days. Then approx 14 days before travel you will receive your tickets.

Can I reserve my cabin?  
Yes, but only if the desired cabin type/grade is available, and this is sometimes done at a charge. Cabin locations are illustrated in brochures.

How many formal evenings are there on a cruise?  
There are usually two formal evenings per week, for which the men are required to wear a suit.

How do I amend or cancel my cruise booking?  
If you need to make any amendments to/ or cancel your booking, please call one of our aftersales team on 0871 664 7654and they will be able to assist you.

Is there a credit card charge?  
A 2.5% credit card charge applies to all credit card payments up to a maximum of £50 per transaction (current rate which is subject to change) There is no charge if paying with a debit card.

ABTA and ATOL bonded  
All passengers booking with thomascook.com are ABTA and ATOL protected.  For further ABTA and ATOL information, please click on the links at the bottom of the page.

What is your registered address?  
Our registered address is
Thomas Cook Retail Ltd,
The Thomas Cook Business Park,
Coningsby Road,
Peterborough
PE3 8SB

Company Registration Number : 918380 England
ABTA Registration Number : J9375

Are there any special USA entry requirements?  
1) British passport holders travelling to the USA (or via the USA) are required to have either individual machine-readable passports or biometric passports. (If you need to check your passport we recommend you contact the UK Passport Office). Families will be required to obtain individual passports for each traveller including all children. If you have a machine readable or Biometric passport you should be able to qualify for travel (of up to 90 days) without a visa, under the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP). That is, provided no one in your party has ever been arrested (even if not convicted), or if suffering from a serious communicable disease (visit: www.usembassy.org.uk for details of all restrictions). For passengers holding a non-British Passport, or, if you are unsure whether you qualify for travel under the VWP please consult the Identity & Passport Service or US Embassy. 

2) US Customs & Border Control have introduced an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA). The system is web based only and requires all passengers (including infants) travelling via or to the USA to apply for authority to travel a minimum of 72 hours prior to travel. Effective from 12 January 2009 ESTA is compulsory. You may be denied boarding or refused entry to the US if you have not registered and obtained authorisation. To apply visit https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov. You will need your 1st night’s address which is shown on your invoice / ticket booklet. We recommend that you carry your ESTA approval with you when you travel. For additional information on travel to the US visit http://www.usembassy.org.uk/

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