Research the exchange rate for U.S. dollars
In February, I walked into Egypt for the first time in 25 years.
My ship, the Norwegian Jade, spent two days at port in Alexandria, Egypt, so passengers could plan side trips to Cairo and beyond.
Alexandria is not an intriguing port stop. But it was the home of the original great library of the ancient world -- long ago destroyed by fire, religious intolerance and who knows what -- and now the site of a gigantic modern library, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, which was inaugurated in 2002. It is a prime stop on tours of Alexandria.
I had walked halfway to the library from the cruise port -- including 30 minutes watching a group of men hoist a net of fish from the bay as it was done a century ago -- when I realized I had forgotten to research exchange rates between the U.S. dollar and the Egyptian pound.
We get lazy with exchange rates these days. Most of Europe now accepts the Euro, so the old need to research separate exchange rates for each country in Europe is over.
Except that Egypt, of course, is in Africa. No Euros there.
At the museum entrance, ticket-takers wanted 10 Egyptian pounds, which sounded like a lot of money just to walk inside and look around. But I paid by credit card.
My goal was not to find a book or do research -- I did note that nearly every book in the Religion section focused on the Muslim world -- but the architecture.
This huge building, in a part of the world where individual space is at a premium, was designed to shelve up to 8 million books, though currently reported to house less than 1 million. Inside are 11 open cascading levels.
You can stand at the top and see clear to the bottom -- quite a sight of contrast, clean and gleaming modern metal in a country known mostly for sand, dust and amazing ancient stone marked and marred by bandits, invaders and vandals.
Come early, maybe stay late
Don't fly to Europe to arrive on the day your cruise departs.
Come at least a day early. In addition to the obvious advantages of relaxing into your vacation and allotting time to tour the home port, consider the downside: The ship leaves without you.
I was reminded of the primary reason not to arrive on embarkation day during a cruise earlier this year out of Barcelona. When Norwegian Jade sailed on February 14, 2010, some 70 passengers missed the ship, as their flights were delayed by bad weather in the United States. Seems it was snowing in February on the East Coast of the U.S. What a surprise.
These passengers missed two nights of their 12-night Mediterranean cruise, as our first day was at sea, before a port stop for Rome.
Don't put yourself in such vacation jeopardy. Even if you make it on time, why set yourself up for anxiety?
Hold that drink until International waters
I learned not to buy an alcoholic drink aboard ship while in Spanish waters.
Cruise ships are required by Spain to levy a 7 percent tax on all purchases, and to send the money back to Spain at the end of the voyage.
To save a few bucks, don't order your first beverage on getaway day from Barcelona until you are about an hour from the dock. That should put you in international waters. If you're not sure, ask the bartender; he should know when the taxman stops collecting, because the change occurs all over the ship.
Mixing right with the Europeans at sea
Aside from Brits and Americans colliding in stairwells (as with driving, each nationality walks on opposite sides), the international mix on cruise ships usually goes smoothly, says Ralph Grizzle, editor of Avid Cruiser.
Cruising in Europe in increasing for both Americans and Europeans. While most passengers converge harmoniously, cruise lines from the United States still struggle to adapt to international customs.
Automatic tipping is a significant issue. In many countries, tipping is not customary. Americans typically add 10-20 percent for service. Europeans don't, as they assume that workers are paid a full salary and do not rely on tips for basic income. When Americans travel outside the United States, consult a guidebook or ask a guide what is customary. Tipping varies from country to country.
As for driving and walking on the left or the right, I was taught that in earlier times horsemen stayed to the left so they could hold the reins with their left hand, leaving their right either for a handshake, or more likely, a weapon for battle. Today, about two-thirds of the world, including most of Europe, drive highways and walk stairwells on the right. The other third, it seems to me, might consider giving in to the majority. At least in the stairwells.