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Originally published April 26, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 26, 2009 at 4:36 AM

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Cruise control: From insurance to packing tips

How to make sure you have a smooth, and budget-friendly, cruise.

Chicago Tribune

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If you're taking a cruise, here are some ways to ensure smooth sailing.

Insurance: Trip cancellation and travel insurance is a small price to pay if you must cancel a cruise because of a crisis, especially now when losing a job looms large for many. Also with medical evacuation costs often running into the tens of thousands of dollars, travel insurance could be a smart investment if, for nothing else, peace of mind.

Packing: Never pack anything in your luggage you couldn't stand losing forever, and, to save space, don't pack anything you don't intend to wear at least twice or that isn't readily washable. Most ships (especially mega-vessels) provide self-service laundry facilities onboard, so don't be afraid to pack on the light side.

Tape your name, address, phone and cell numbers inside your luggage. Outside labels are as abused as the suitcases themselves and might not survive the journey. Inside, they will.

Stuff an extra collapsible duffel bag or two into your suitcase. At the end of your vacation, you'll be glad to have additional luggage to store your dirty laundry or those never-thought-you'd-buy mementos.

Before your trip, take a snapshot of your luggage inside and out. This will make it easier for airline or cruise personnel to identify your belongings if they are lost. The photos also might prove useful for insurance purposes.

Documents: Always carry your cruise and airline documents on your person and not in your luggage or carry-on bag, which might easily be misplaced or lost in the confusion and hurry of travel.

Food to go: In these tight times, penny-pinching makes sense. For instance, before heading off to the beach or excursion, consider packing a lunch. Either ask your ship's waiter or room service to prepare something for you, or head to the buffet and pile on your own favorites for the day's outing. Not only will this save you money and time in scouting for a place to eat, but, in a foreign country, also dealing with currency exchanges.

Sodas: Are you or the kids hooked on sodas? Instead of running up a large tab for pop, consider purchasing the cruise line's all-you-can-drink sales. Prices vary, but anticipate anything from around $35 and up for a week's worth of never-ending fizzy beverages.

The right cabin: Hate noise and prefer a calm cabin? Avoid staterooms next to triple and quad cabins, especially during summer and holiday sailings, when you're more likely to find your neighbors are not singles or couples but families with kids.

Also keep away from rooms near elevators and utility rooms (such as the laundry) or those above or below the show lounge, casino or pool deck.

Not all private balconies are private. Check out the printed deck plan in the line's brochure to see if your neighbor above has a bird's-eye view of you and your veranda.

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Staying healthy: Norwalk virus has ruined many a passenger's cruise, and the best way to avoid a few days confined to your cabin is to soap your hands meticulously. Just as important, when you dine at the buffet, either wear gloves or use a napkin to ladle your food into your plate. Don't be embarrassed. Your neighbor on line might smirk inside, but you'll have the last laugh if others wind up catching the highly contagious virus.

Shopping bargains: One shrewd shopper we know never buys any mementos from the ship's gift shop until the last day of the cruise, when many T-shirts and novelty items are mostly half off.

You might find cheaper excursion bargains ashore than onboard. Lots of savvy cruisers simply step off the gangway and sign up for excursions with the myriad tour operators that typically line the pier.

Sightseeing: If you want to sightsee during a Caribbean cruise, consider renting a car or hiring a taxi for a guided tour of the island. You'll probably save a bunch over the ship's shore excursions and have a lot more say on how long you want to stay at the beach or linger over lunch.

If you are the go-it-alone type, you might find a cruise guidebook, a book on ports of call and, of course, the Internet invaluable in planning your own adventures.

Onboard art auctions: You might want to think twice before you shell out hard-earned money for a print or other painting or lithograph at the ship's onboard auction. You can attend the auctions just for the entertainment. No purchases are necessary.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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