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Smart cruise planning: Essential tips and gear for a seamless journey

Our handy guide helps you make informed choices about cruise lengths, packing essentials and pre-cruise preparation


By Ron LaPedis

Let’s be honest. How many of you have an app running on your cellphone that is counting down the years, months, days, hours, minutes, seconds and perhaps milliseconds until your pension kicks in and you can hit the road on your retirement dream vacation?

You could go hunting, fishing, or camping, or perhaps plan for a retirement cruise.

I’ve been on several cruises and have met many fellow cruisers who are taking their retirement cruise. In fact, I am writing this while taking a 16-day cruise from Japan to Singapore. I booked this one-month trip in 2018 when I retired from my day job to become a full-time firearms instructor and columnist for Police1.

Why book a cruise?

There are cruises themed for everyone, from adventure, hunting, and fishing to food (including specific diets and allergies), adult beverages, movie franchises, and yes, even all things Disney. The major difference from other types of vacations is that your hotel room moves with you, allowing you to visit anywhere from a handful to hundreds of cities without needing to pack and unpack every few days.

For the best cruise deals, explore options through affinity groups like benevolent organizations, auto clubs, and credit unions. Flexibility with your destination and trip duration can also lead to better deals. Booking well in advance often results in significant savings on specific cruises, while last-minute deals on unsold cabins can also offer great value. Additionally, reading reviews on websites like TripAdvisor can help you compare different cruise lines and make an informed decision.

When booking a cruise, consider both the origination and destination, and how you’ll travel to and from these points. For instance, if you’re based in Omaha, opting for a 7-day cruise starting in Japan may not be ideal. Travel time alone could take up to three days, significantly cutting into your vacation time even before you board the ship.

Some cruises offer the option to be booked back-to-back, allowing you to combine a 7-day and a 10-day cruise into a seamless 17-day journey. For example, I experienced a Panama Canal cruise that started in Fort Lauderdale and ended in San Diego, with a few extra days spent exploring each city before and after the cruise.

While cruising, you won’t need to pack and unpack for each city you visit, but you will need appropriate clothing and supplies for the duration of your journey. If your cruise includes international stops with plans to explore cities before and after, consider bringing electrical adapters and securing an international cellphone plan. However, it’s important to remember that, despite possibly being part of your everyday carry for years, weapons of any kind, including knives and firearms, are not permitted on board.

So along with your cares, leave them at home and get ready to cruise with some of my best practices for a carefree cruise vacation.

Before you leave home

Do you have a passport? Make sure it expires at least six months after your cruise ends. Many countries now require international visitors to have a certain amount of validity left on their passports before allowing entry or issuing a visa. While some countries may only require three months, six months of validity has increasingly become the standard. Remember, obtaining a first-time or renewal passport can take up to three months or more.

Many credit cards reimburse you for the United States’ TSA Pre-Check or Global Entry programs. Might as well take advantage of one or the other. You need to book your interview appointment well in advance.


Your ship may offer one or more of these options:

  • Free, low-cost, or premium Wi-Fi packages. If you have Wi-Fi calling on your cellular plan, just keep airplane mode turned on and use Wi-Fi calling.
  • Cellular service onboard. This is different than international roaming. To avoid excessive fees, you may need to add a cellular cruise package if your carrier offers it.

Your carrier may offer one or more international roaming plans. For a few dollars a day, you get access to voice and data calls from wherever you are as long as you are not connecting to the ship’s cell service.

I went a different route and purchased an international Wi-Fi hotspot. These devices link to a local cellular carrier on one side and provide a Wi-Fi signal for your phones, tablets and laptops. I can connect a dozen devices while paying one low rate instead of per-device fees. I’ve had great success with the Solis Lite 4G LTE WiFi mobile hotspot and SIMO Solis 5G WiFi mobile hotspot. I use the Daypass option so I only pay for the days that I use the device.


Whether on board or in the city, your mobile devices need to be recharged. I have a battery I carry in my backpack and a charger that stays in my room.

The HyperJuice 245W USB-C 100Wh battery pack can charge multiple devices including a laptop at high speed and is perfect if your phone is eating batteries because you are using it for maps and translation.

Since this battery has a lot of capacity, you need a high-speed charger for it, like the HyperJuice 140W PD 3.1 USB-C charger.

What cables and charging base to use depends on the brand and model of your phone, tablet, or laptop. Most phones support the Qi standard, and I brought two Anker MagGo Qi2 certified charging stations and the included cables. This pop-up charger allows you to see your phone from bed.

Most power supplies are universal voltage (double check to be sure!) but you may need plug adaptors for the countries you plan to visit. The EPICKA universal travel adapter might be a good choice as it also has USB charging ports built in.

I am a huge fan of the Cable Matters certified 40Gbps Thunderbolt cables to support video and 240W charging. This does-it-all cable means I only need to carry a handful of the same cables that I use at home.

If you have devices that use non-rechargeable batteries, such as 2025, 2032, and so on, don’t forget to pack enough to get you through your vacation.

And of course, you need a bag to organize all your cables, chargers, batteries and so on.


Do you get seasick? Do you know if you will get seasick? Lower decks towards the center of the ship offer the least motion. It’s funny to me that the most expensive suites are the ones that have the most motion. Oh well, that saves me money.

Talk to your medical team about over-the-counter and prescription anti-nausea medications. Many cruisers swear by the ReliefBand, an e-stim device that is promoted to “turn off” feelings of nausea and vomiting. There are many options including rechargeable and disposable batteries and a band that will connect it to your Apple watch.


Even though you’re not changing rooms, you do need to pack for the length and type of your cruise. And if you’re planning your retirement cruise, you might need to pack more than a few medications. This is what works for me:

Packing cubes in multiple colors for different contents allow me to squish bulky items into half or less the space they normally would take and find what I need quickly.

The Eagle Creek pack-it tube cube is perfect to hold my eye drops, pills, EMT scissors and other medical supplies.

The KOVIUU Large Travel Pill Box lets me pack up to a month’s worth of pills by filling each section with the same type of pill instead of using it for day-by-day sorting. I use a Brother labeler to mark the contents. This smaller pillbox goes into my collapsible daypack loaded with emergency meds such as acetaminophen, allergy pills, ibuprofen, motion sickness and anti-diarrheal pills.

Since ships tend to be made of metal, these Neosmuk Magnetic Hooks snap to the walls of my cabin, giving me many more places to hang things.

Staying cool in tropical lands

I live near the coast and am not a happy camper when it is hot and humid. TORRAS offers a neck and midriff cooling device that put cold metal and moving air against your skin to help keep you cool. Yet another reason to carry that big battery in your backpack.

You need to remember to carry plenty of water when you travel ashore, and the Zojirushi SM-VA72-AM water bottle keeps it hotter or colder than any other brand I have tried.


Like a sidearm, the best camera is the one you have with you. Since the advent of more powerful cameras on mobile phones, I stopped carrying a dedicated camera and carry a set of lenses that can be twisted onto my iPhone using model-specific cases from Moment or Fjorden. The Fjorden cases have dual attachment points that work perfectly with this Peak Design wrist strap so you don’t lose your phone overboard when snapping that perfect image.

Which lens brand you go with depends on your phone, but I chose Moment, relying heavily on their 1.33x and 1.55x anamorphic lenses, which capture an image similar to a wide-screen movie.


Whether taking a vacation cruise, a retirement cruise, or your “I really thought this was going to be my retirement cruise, but it isn’t” cruise, there is plenty to think about before boarding — about a year before boarding in some cases.

I hope I’ve given you some ideas, tips, and tricks to make your cruise more rewarding. Happy sailing brothers and sisters!

About the author

Ron LaPedis is an NRA-certified Chief Range Safety Officer, NRA, USCCA and California DOJ-certified instructor, is a uniformed first responder, and frequently writes and speaks on law enforcement, business continuity, cybersecurity, physical security and public/private partnerships.