Do’s and Donts

Do’s and Don’ts

The first rule of travel is enjoy yourself.   Travel is a wonderful learning experience, broadens your horizons, should be relaxing and just plain fun.   Common sense can keep your exciting holiday from turning into a disaster.

Taxi’s: Remember that taxi’s are not metered on most islands so be sure to ask how much the fare will be to your destination before you enter the cab.   The proper credentials for a licensed taxi driver will be prominently displayed for all to see.      DON’T  hire an unlicensed  taxi driver.   Most taxi drivers are a delight to talk with, their insights on the island your visiting can be fascinating, they know the good places to see, good places to eat, gamble, and of course where the finest beach’s are located.     They are also competitive with each other and try to keep their prices low, if their service was helpful and pleasant please remember  to tip them a dollar or two, more if they are lifting heavy luggage.

Pictures: Don’t take anyone’s picture without their permission.   You may encounter colorfully dressed local islanders who make their living posing for photographs for tips.  These make wonderful photos for the friends back home to see and are worth the tip.  Some islands have strangely dressed people who are not doing this for tips, it is to celebrate their culture or religion and may not appreciate being photographed.  Remember the rule of common sense, be polite and ask permission, nine times out of ten you’ll be answered with a broad smile and a wonderful picture opportunity.

DON’T BUY DRUGS .  You are visiting another country when traveling the Caribbean.  There is no bail on most islands.   Your hearing may not be for weeks or months.   Island jails make US jails look like the Hilton Hotel.   Its crowded, hot, and some require your family to come to the jail twice a day to bring food.   DON’T take the chance.  Penalties are harsh and extreme, and the US government cannot and will not help you if you are arrested on drug charges.

Look both ways when crossing the street.   Sounds simple.   The fact is more Americans are killed by being struck by cars while crossing the street  than anything else.   Why??   In the US we drive on the right and were conditioned  since childhood to look left then right when crossing.  Some islands drive on the left and its confusing when crossing the street just where to look.  In St. Thomas for generations donkey carts were the main mode of transportation.  The island is mountainous and the roads are rocky.   The donkeys were trained to stay to the left on the roads.  When cars were introduced to the Island donkeys were still in use and they resisted being trained to stay on the right.   So due to the vote of the donkeys, drivers on St. Thomas drive on the left.

Goats: Remember that many of the Islands are third world countries and many families rely on milk from the family goat.   As you drive along you will notice many homes with the goat in the yard happily eating the foliage. Sometimes the goats decide to travel a bit.   They have “free range” in most islands and frequently appear at inopportune times on the roads.   If you strike one of these goats it can be serious.  Remember families depend on these goats for milk, meat etc.   Avoid the legal mess, a ruined vacation and a bad day for the goat.   Drive slow and enjoy the scenery.   After all that’s why your there, your on “Island Time.”

Haggling prices, learn to bargain. In the US we see the price tag and pay the price.   Not so in the Islands.   Ask the price, offer something lower,  the merchant will counter with another offer.   They will not be offended by this process, its business and how they do things.   You’ll both come to something that is reasonable for both of you and all will be well.   This goes on in the straw markets all the way up to the fine jewelry stores, a person who is not shy and bargains well can save lots of money.

Click Here for insider tips on how to get that travel bargain and save a lot of money.

In the US, making a circle with the thumb and index finger means “OK”. To the French (and others), it can be taken as an insult. It means “worthless”. A raised thumb gesture (one thumb up) will work better and avoid misunderstandings.

Church Ladies: Sunday in the Islands is a very special day.  Most of the business’s are closed and the majority of the Islanders can be seen walking to their closest church. All the women are wearing their hats, the children are dressed up in their Sunday best, the men in suits.   If you walk by one of these old churches you will hear the gentle preacher giving his sermon and the wonderful songs emanating thru the open shuttered windows.  It is one of the most charming experiences you will take home with you.

Don’t drink and shop

Sounds rather obvious.   However it is very customary while shopping in the Island stores that they will offer you beverages.  This may consist of bottled water, soda, beer, fine Island Liquors, to fine Scotch.  In a few of the CGI member stores we have seen the Back Salons where celebrity visitors to the Islands are shown fine jewelry.  Please remember that the rich and famous have been shopping in the Islands for generations for their jewelry.  The complimentary drinks are expected by these clients, and are offered as a tradition.   We highly encourage shoppers to decline the alcohol and stick with soda and bottled water while contemplating a jewelry purchase.  With the level of heat in the Islands along with the excitement of a vacation, alcohol can affect you quickly and impede your judgment.  Don’t let Johnny Walker or Jimmy Beam direct your Jewelry purchase decision.

When you have found that perfect piece of Jewelry and have come to a fair price, then you can celebrate with a drink, not before.

Cigars: Fine cigars are a tradition in the Caribbean.   Walking thru the halls to your room at any fine resort in the Caribbean you will notice several distinct smells.   Appletons Rum, Cuban Cigars, and fine perfumes, an unspoken language of decadence, sensuality and leisure.   Lets face it, Americans love the forbidden fruit.   Cuban cigars are not available in the US.   So Cuban cigars are in demand and are plentiful in the Caribbean.  Enjoy them during your stay, life is about enjoyment.  However the United States has strict laws regarding the import of Cuban Cigars back into the US.   Do not even attempt to smuggle these back into the US.  Customs officials are very good at spotting them.  There are stiff penalties for smuggling Cuban products into the US.  Let the cigars be a sweet memory of a fine relaxing Caribbean holiday, and not the story you relate to your cell-mate.

Island Village of Ocho Rios: The new 16 million dollar complex opened to the public in April of 2002 and is an instant success.  Sparking a new found interest in visiting Jamaica.    For more info Click Here.

A Day at the Beach; An absolute must for every traveler to the Caribbean is a day at the beach. Some of the highest rated beaches in the world are here.   Just again use common sense.   Don’t swim with your keys in your pocket, you may loose them.   Do use sun-screen, the angle of the sun in the Caribbean can lead to some awful burns and sleepless nights.   Some islands offer clothing optional beaches which are usually well marked and well maintained.   Some islands frown upon nudity for religious or cultural reasons and this must be respected, this is after all their country.  One important tip,  if you visit a nude beach have one person stay with your towels and clothes and suntan lotion at all times especially if your group goes swimming.   There is nothing sadder than a group of tourists stranded on a beach with no clothes, no towels, no keys, no wallet, not even a smile.   It has happened.

Patois: You may notice as you engage in conversation with inhabitants of various islands that their speech sounds strange.  A sort of blend of English, Spanish, Dutch, Creole and some that cannot be identified.  This is known as that islands “Patois”, and it literally will be different island to island.  The reason for this is simple.    Many of the inhabitants of the Islands came from various parts of the world.  Many of the slaves brought over from Africa only spoke the language of the area they were born in.   In order for all to communicate without a formal education a “mixing” of languages developed.

It is wonderful to listen to and takes awhile for your ear to adjust, but soon you begin to understand.  For an example of Jamaican Rastafarian Patois CLICK HERE.

Papiamento:  Another wonderful dialect. Learn about it HERE

Island Dogs and Mexican Dogs: A few words about stray dogs . They generally behave themselves and many are seemingly well fed, happy and in good shape. In fact, many of them are well known members of the community. Many people locally know them by name and sometimes they adopt someone for a while, mooch a rabies shot and a collar, and then get on with their lives, hanging out with their buddies on the beach. As most inhabitants of the Caribbean, the dogs are also laid back and cool. Having said that, it’s always wise to keep a healthy distance to animals you don’t personally know.

Driving in Mexico: There is definitely good cause to issue a warning about Mexican traffic behavior. Do not try to apply logic to a situation, but assume that every other driver will act randomly. People often don’t look where they’re going and they are often going too fast. Do not trust a vehicle’s turn signal, nor the lack of one. Two people on a bike (the passenger standing on the hub of the wheel on little extensions called ‘diablos’, devils) or a whole family on a scooter is a common sight in Playa. Apart from that, roads in Mexico are sometimes badly planned and sometimes in horrible shape. There is a general lack of awareness in this area and safety isn’t always of highest priority. So, be careful! Heads up and eyes open and you’ll do just fine.

Definitely avoid driving on the highway at night, as you might run in to animals (not so common), cars with no lights (common), drunks behind the wheel (very common) or people just walking around on the side of the road (also very common). Drunks in traffic is a problem, especially on Saturday and Sunday. Be very careful overtaking, as you might meet another overtaker who isn’t as careful. A left turn signal from the car in front of you means you can pass. Or it can mean he actually wants to turn left (what can we say…). Be extra careful when you want to turn left and make sure nobody tries to pass you. If you need to cross the highway and there’s traffic, pull over to the right until it’s safe to cross.

All gas stations in Mexico are called Pemex. There are several in Cancun, but the further south you get, the scarcer they get.  We recommend avoiding morning fill-ups. They quite often line up, which is a bummer when you want to get going and have fun. Gasoline is about 5 pesos a litre. Do check that the gas pump is back to zero before the attendant starts pumping gas in your car. A rental car full of foreigners is an easy prey and the gas pump trick is a common little scam, apparently.

There are usually signs with an arrow telling you the direction of the traffic, but they are not always correct and quite often not respected. Going the wrong way down the road must be the number one reason for being pulled over here, so try to avoid that!  If a cop walks up to your window to stop you, just ignore him and drive away. Seriously! If you do get pulled over, and cannot make a get-away, be polite and calm. Under no circumstances try to speak Spanish with the police. Very few police officers speak English. You want them to become frustrated and think that they are wasting time. Shake your head, speak smoothly and quickly in any foreign language, (a mixture of Swedish/Russian and Klingon?)  and offer no money. With good manners and an apologetic looking face you might get out of the ticket, but if you don’t, they are usually fairly cheap. It is common in Mexico for the police to remove license plates from vehicles to force the offender to show up to take care of the fine. This usually has the effect of getting motorists to cough up a few pesos, and then the plate is returned, and the officer moves on to the next prey. If you are driving your own vehicle in Mexico, use carriage bolts to attach your plate and you have nothing to worry about.

Casinos: The Caribbean hosts some of the best Casinos in the world.   Most are in the luxury hotels and all inclusive resorts.   They are closely regulated by their countries.   The rules all seem to be about the same.   However in some of the islands you will find smaller casinos in the main part of town.   The cost is usually really low, they mainly consist of slot machines and a few low cost table games.   The locals will warn you that this is ripe ground for pick-pockets and those offering you the local “treats.”   I won’t get into much detail, but remember all of those scenarios in the movies of tourist disasters that you thought were so clich�?    Stay with the established resorts and hotels   for gambling.   Again taxi drivers are a great resource on tourist safe gambling establishments or ask at your hotel.

One trend I have noticed are young people traveling to the Islands on holiday as a tour package.  They get a wonderful bargain, enjoy the beaches, dive and enjoy the sun.  The drinking age is generally 18 and they do check ID.   The gambling age is 18 and again they check ID.   The lure to gamble and drink in these exotic environments is strong.   We do visit the casinos on a regular basis and I’ve noticed a lot of really nice young adults getting caught up in the glamour.  The drinks are usually free while your gambling, many times food is provided at the tables for free.   I met one really nice young man who was having a wonderful time.  However he confessed to me when he was leaving that now he had to explain to mom and dad how he spent $700.00 on their credit card on “free drinks.”

On the other hand I was at one Roulette table in Nassau where a young fellow of about 19 sat with a look of shear torture.  He had started with $50.00.   In front of him were over $7,500 in chips.  He was on a streak and just couldn’t seem to lose.   His dilemma was when should he quit.   My advice was to play the streak until it turned out of his favor and then cash in the winnings, go out to dinner, and return tomorrow with another $50.00.

Time Share Sales: While you are visiting the various Islands you will be approached by a person asking how your vacation is, if your on a cruise ship, hotel etc.  They will offer you a deal to come hear their program at a local hotel and in return you’ll receive things like a free lunch, passes to various tours, money, or shopping credits.   They are usually pretty vague on what it’s about.   These people are hired by local companies to get tourists in to their seminar on a particular time share offering.   Now I am not for or against timeshares.  They can be wonderful deals.  But clue # one on if this is a high pressure sales pitch is if they require one of the people in your group to have a valid major credit card.   I attended one of these seminars to view it first hand.  The food was ok, a person was assigned to us who was personable, local, and seemed to be there to coax information out of us.   They showed us a wonderful example of their time share suite.   On return to the seminar area we were taken into a little room with the “closer.”   We agreed it was a wonderful suite, however in our case, since we travel almost weekly, not in our best interest.  The price plummeted quickly from $21,000 to $3,500.  Great deal however we still had to pass.   They were very polite, and on our way out the receptionist gave us the agreed upon $50.00.  It took up about 3 hours of our time, some uncomfortable moments for us as we had to insist this wouldn’t work well for us, however they were polite.

Cruises: Don’t take a chance on ruining your vacation by buying an inexpensive cabin and hoping for an upgrade. Buy the cabin you would like to have, then if you get upgraded, you are that much ahead. If you don’t, you’ll still be comfortable.

Start making your reservations as far in advance as possible. Depending on the season, some cruises will be “booked solid” shortly after their brochure is published. Early booking increases your chances of getting the cabin you want, on the cruise you want. By getting it out of the way as soon as possible, not only will you have peace of mind that comes from knowing that you are confirmed, but prices will be much more affordable.

Once you have selected the cruise you want, it’s time to select your cabin. You have two options here. You can elect “Run of the Ship” or you can pick “the perfect cabin”.

With “Run of the Ship” you pay a basic charge for an inside or an outside cabin. The cruise line will not select your cabin until immediately (during the last week) before sailing. The advantage here is that your price is the lowest available for the category, and you stand a very good chance of being “upgraded” to a much better cabin at no charge.

In selecting a cabin, here are a few things you’ll want to consider.

Do not select a cabin immediately above, below or beside any of the following; a disco, nightclub, lounge, theater, swimming pool, galley or jogging track. Cabins adjacent to the elevators, stairwells, thrusters or anchors are not your best choices either.

If you are set on an outside cabin, check to see if you will actually have a view of the sea, or a lifeboat.

For those of you taking small children, I strongly recommend against an outside cabin with an open balcony. Think about it. That railing is about three and a half feet off the deck and it’s a LONG WAY DOWN! Children are incredibly fast and their judgment is not always the greatest (not that ours is that much better, but we can rationalize our stupidity). Anyway, it only takes a second for a tragedy to occur.

If you are prone to motion (sea) sickness, the best cabin location for you is on a lower deck in the middle of the ship (midway between the bow and the stern). The pitch and roll — movements made by a ship—will be less noticeable in that area.   Most modern ships utilize stabilizers for a smooth ride.

Set aside gratuity money and keep it in your room safe. Many cruisers compute the “recommended” amounts in advance and get cash in the proper denominations before leaving home. If your ship automatically charges gratuities to your onboard account, you may adjust the amounts according to the level of service you receive

Pack Light.   Everyone over-packs & regrets it.   Experienced travelers keep clothing to a minimum.  Mix and match.  Remember its a vacation to relax and unwind.   You will be buying wonderful tee shirts at the different ports so why not wear them?    Bring along an extra light weight carry on  bag which you can fold up in your luggage.   After all the wonderful shopping you will be glad to have the extra room to transport it home.   Place your soiled clothes in the fold up bag and any more fragile items in the hard luggage.  Wrap fragile items with clothing.

Cruise wear falls into three categories: Casual — Informal — Formal

Casual Wear

This is exactly what it implies—clothing to be comfortable in.  Your plans for the day will dictate what you should wear.  For warm weather cruises you’ll typically need swimwear, a cover-up, and sandals for pool and beach.  Time spent ashore touring and shopping calls for shorts topped with tee shirts or polo-style shirts and comfy walking shoes.  Conservative is a rule to live by and mix-and-match will save room in your suitcase.  If you plan to purchase souvenir tee shirts, make them a part of your cruise wardrobe and pack fewer tops.

Evening casual does not mean shorts.  For men it’s Dockers-type slacks and nice polo or sport shirts.  Ladies’ outfits will be sporty dresses, skirts and tops, or pants outfits.  By sticking to two colors and a few accessories, you can mix up tops and bottoms for a different look every night.

The first and last nights onboard are always casual for obvious reasons—you may not have your luggage before dinner that first night and you’ve already packed for home on the last night.  A word about jeans… personally, I hate them but many people consider them casual wear.  Some cruise lines discourage them in the dining room.  Use your own judgment and keep in mind, denim is hot–you might want to wear a lighter fabric.


This one’s a little trickier—it only applies to evening and can mean different things, depending on the cruise line.  Informal for women is a dressier dress or pants outfit and for men it always includes a sport coat.  Often, but not always, it also means a tie for him.  Check your documents carefully.


Formal night is Fantasyland for women and torture for men… from the sounds of male complaints, that is.  This is your night to shine—you’ll see women in everything from simple cocktail dresses to elaborate glittering gowns.  Tuxedoes (either all black or with white dinner jacket) or dark suits are required for gentlemen.

Ladies, have you been a “Mother-of-the-Bride” lately?  Chances are your outfit for the wedding is just perfect for formal night.

After deciding to go all out, whether to buy or rent a tuxedo is up to the individual.  As a rule of thumb, if a man is going to wear a tuxedo more than two or three times, it makes economic sense to purchase one.  Most cruise lines make it easy to rent the entire outfit, though—and if you do so, it will be waiting for you when you board.  Be sure to make these arrangements in plenty of time—your travel agent can get the details from the cruise line.

Even if you are renting, by all means buy your own studs.  You don’t have to spend a fortune on them, just get some that look classy.  Why?  A sure fire way to spot a rented tuxedo is by the inexpensive studs that come with them.   Or while shopping at the Island Jewelry stores pick out a set of jewelry specifically for the tuxedo for cruising.   This usually guarantees another cruise in the future to show them off!

A word about vests… many men with a little “girth” consider them more comfortable than cummerbunds.  And finally—I’ve heard that a “tuxedo” is a rented suit and a “dinner jacket” is the formal clothing owned by the gentleman wearing it.  Whatever the definition or terms of ownership, men look stunning in “black tie.”

Which Formal Night is “Most” Formal?

Every woman wants to know the answer to that question because we all have a dress we think is more stylish, or maybe we just feel more beautiful wearing it.  Ladies, unless you eat like a bird or never gain an ounce… save your roomiest formal outfit for the second formal night.  I have a friend whose daughter spent the second formal night of a cruise crying her eyes out in her stateroom because her dress was difficult to zip.

How glittery can you get without being mistaken for a Vegas showgirl?    When selecting formal outfits, I like to think simple.  There’s nothing more elegant than a well-cut, simple, black dress.  But there’s nothing more fun than a flashy or sexy dress that turns heads.  It’s totally up to you!   High spiked heels look wonderful, but when the ship is rolling they can be very dangerous to walk in.   And this is the perfect time to show off those wonderful jewelry items you purchased while in port.


When you board the ship your meal time and table assignment will already be made for you.  There are usually two seatings for dinner; the main seating and the late seating.  Usually the main seating starts around 6:00 to 6:30 PM and the late seating around 8:00 to 8:30 PM.  Your table assignment is made for the entire cruise and you can choose the number of passengers you dine with.  The cruise lines usually offer tables for 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 or 12 guests.

Early dinner sitting vs. late dinner sitting.  Which is best?   This is a question many ask on their first cruise.  There are pros and cons to both.  The best way to answer this is to examine who is in your group.  If anyone is Diabetic, older and tends to go to bed early, and those with young children tend to prefer the first sitting.   Those who tend to come back later from shore excursions, need extra time to get all dressed up for dinner or tend to stay up partying to the wee hours tend to prefer the late seating.

Be sure to let your travel agent know if you have special dietary needs so they can make arrangements for you in advance.  Even if the cruise line was not notified, they will prepare meals around whatever special dietary needs you have.

Most ships feature 24-hour room service should you get hungry and not feel like leaving your cabin. Somewhere on the ship food is likely being served just about anytime of the day or even during the night.

Most ships’ cabins have only one or two electrical outlets located near the desk/vanity table (not counting the shaver-only outlet in the bathroom).  A short extension cord allows you to use more than one electrical appliance at once .

Awaken to the wonderful morning sun each morning, even if you are in an inside cabin.  Before you retire for the night, leave the television tuned to the channel with the “view from the bridge” and you’ll awaken with a “window” on the outside world.  Remember to turn the sound off.

Pack a small flashlight to find your way around in the dark or in an emergency.    If all the power went out, say in the case of a fire, you may need it to get thru dark halls and stairs.

Personal 2-way radios are a great way to keep track of cruise companions, but set the volume low so you don’t disturb your fellow passengers.   Don’t utilize these during show performances.

This is a wonderful time to have professional photos taken of yourself and your family.  If you don’t like them you are under no obligation to purchase them   However they are usually really nice and quite reasonably priced.

One word of warning, for security reasons when you first are boarding the ship they take a picture of everyone as they board.  Many people tend to be very excited and make really weird faces.  These pics are utilized by the ships security when you board again in other ports to make sure the correct passengers return.  You may wish for them to ID you with your tongue in your mouth and eyes in their correct position.

Bring a large insulated mug with a lid on it, or buy one in one of the ports.   The bartender on the ship will gladly fill this with ice as needed and you can sip on water all day and not get dehydrated.  You will feel better and your bar tab may stay on the reasonable side.

Be sure to bring enough prescription medicine to last throughout your cruise, as it may not be available on board or in some of the countries visited.  Medicare and many health insurance plans DO NOT cover the cost of medical care at sea, in foreign countries, or for air evacuation. We highly recommend to obtain travel medical insurance prior to travel in order to be reimbursed for services rendered.

Check the balance of your on board account before the end of your cruise. Straighten out any discrepancies immediately and avoid a long line at the Purser’s Desk that last morning after your final bill arrives.   The cruise lines usually will not accept a personal check as payment for this account, cash or charge card only.

Prepare to budget yourself for an average of $200-300 per person in spending money for a one week cruise, more so if you like to indulge in tours, spa treatments and gambling.

Here is a quick look at what all the little “extras” can cost:

  • Soda: $1.50
  • Domestic Beer: $3.50
  • Imported Beer: $4.25
  • Cocktail: $4.50
  • Glass of Wine: $2.50-3.00
  • Bottle of Wine: $18.00 and up
  • Ice Cream Cone: $1.50 +
  • Shore Excursion: $35 to $150
  • Massage: typically $75 to $125

Also bear in mind that most cruise lines automatically add a 15% gratuity to any drink purchase.

Travel Insurance:

Get travel insurance from CSA Travel ProtectionTravel insurance is a small price to pay for the financial peace of mind a full coverage policy provides. Some travel insurance policies also cover missed connections, lost or delayed baggage, emergency medical evacuation, emergency medical and dental expenses and emergency legal assistance. Be certain to closely review the details of your policy prior to purchase to be certain you have the coverage you need.

Travel insurance prices used to be based solely on the cost and/or length of the trip, on a per person basis, regardless of age. Now, more and more companies are basing premiums on the total cost of the trip per household and/or on a combination of the cost of the trip and the ages of the passengers. Many travel insurance companies cover children under certain ages for free, if they are traveling with their parents.

Here are some other tips to keep in mind about travel insurance:

— Medicare, as well as some HMOs, will not cover you outside of the United States.

— You can purchase travel insurance through your travel agent, the cruise line, directly with the travel insurance company (most have toll-free telephone numbers and web sites) or through the company that you use for your automobile or homeowners insurance.

— In some parts of the world, you must pay in cash at the medical facility at the time of treatment. Travel insurance will cover this, up to the limits of your policy.

— If you are injured or become ill in a remote location, or a place that does not have suitable treatment facilities, you may need to be airlifted to the United States or another country for care. Emergency medical evacuations can run into the tens of thousands of dollars, and your insurance will cover this, up to the limits of your policy.

— Some companies do not cover preexisting medical conditions at all, while others require that the insurance be purchased within seven to 14 days of making the initial cruise deposit in order to provide this coverage. Most of the policies available through the cruise lines exclude coverage for preexisting medical conditions.

— When it comes to trip cancellation or interruption due to death, illness or injury, most travel insurance companies normally cover you for yourself, your traveling companions and your immediate family members. Check with your travel insurance company to find out how they define immediate family members.

— Some cruise lines offer cancellation waiver insurance, which is not the same thing as trip cancellation or interruption insurance. Waivers generally only apply to cancellations made at least several days prior to the scheduled start of the trip. Trip cancellation and interruption insurance will cover you from the time that you purchase your cruise until you return from the trip. To be covered in both instances, you may need to purchase a combined waiver and cancellation and interruption insurance policy.