Most cruise enthusiasts today are blessed (or cursed) with a myriad of electronic devices that accompany them when they travel. These devices should make your vacation more enjoyable. And, if they don't, my advice is leave them at home! I remember my first cruise back in 1978 when all I took with me was a 35mm camera. There were no cell phones, iPhones, digital cameras, etc. There were video cameras but they were the size of a small toaster oven. Traveling was much simpler then. In fact, life was much simpler then.
Today's reality is that we travel with lots of electronic stuff. When going on a cruise, it is a good idea to know what items you need to get the most out of your electronic gear. Here are a few tips:
A Good Portable Tripod
Nothing will improve the quality of your photos and videos like having a good tripod. This is especially true with video. A "good" tripod usually means a large, floor-standing model. However, there are alternatives that work very well and pack easily. You can find a lot of tabletop, miniature tripods that work extremely well, especially with the smaller, lighter pocket-sized digital cameras and smaller camcorders. You can find these at WalMart or any store that carries camera supplies. Another old photographer trick is a small beanbag that you can set on a table or cruise ship railing, then set the camera on top of the beanbag to steady it for your shot. I recently purchased a couple of small commercial beanbags that have a screw-type tripod mount called POD. You can find these on the Internet. Or, a little homemade bag filled with rice or beans will work fine.
The tabletop tripod shown in the photo to the right is the one we use. Another nice feature is that when the legs are folded up, you can use them as an extra handle to hold the camera for those hand- held snapshots.
Portable Battery Charger
The one thing I hate worse than anything is the 6' electrical cords required by most battery chargers! What a pain! They take up an enormous amount of space when packing and they end up strung all over the stateroom. If you have a digital camera or camcorder that uses a rechargeable L-ION battery pack you may be able to get a self-contained, portable battery charger that does not require a cord at all! Our new Panasonic digital camera came with one of these chargers and it was one of the reasons we chose Panasonic. However, we were able to purchase a portable charger for our Sony camera as well. These small chargers are great because they pack easily and the prongs fold up when not in use.
A Note About Voltage
Most cruise ships are constructed in Europe, therefore, they operate on 220-volt current. You will notice that your cruise ship stateroom will usually have one or perhaps two US-style 2-prong outlets which operate at 110 volts. Any of your US appliances will work fine on these US-style outlets, with one exception. You will probably find a US-style 110 outlet in the bathroom which is only for use with an electric razor. You CANNOT USE A HAIR DRYER OR CURLING IRON with these outlets, and usually there will be a small warning sign. However, the 110 US-style outlets in the cabin WILL support the use of a hair dryer or curling iron.
European To US Plug Adapters
I always pack three or four European-style to US-style plug adapters. A typical cruise ship cabin will have at least two Euro-style receptacles (220) and only one US-style (110). The plug adapters allow me to use my US-style plugs in these Euro-style outlets. WARNING! When adapting from a European outlet to an US-style plug, it is very important to note that you are going to be getting 220 volts through the US-style plug! The plug adapter does NOT affect the voltage, only the plug style. If you need to alter the current of the 220 down to 110, you could pack a voltage converter transformer, but these are bulky and heavy.
The good news is that many of the items you will need to plug in will probably operate just fine with the 220 current. This includes your digital camcorder battery chargers, laptop computers, video cameras, cell phones, Blackberry, etc. Because of the international nature of most electronics today, manufacturers make these devices to operate on any voltage from 100 to 240. In a few cases, there may be a physical switch that you have to set, but most items automatically detect the voltage and switch automatically. If you are in doubt, you can see the voltage requirements on the back label of every electrical device (see the Sony battery charger at left).
As a general rule of thumb, small electronic devices like cell phones, computers, cameras, battery chargers will all operate from 100-240 volts. Appliances that heat up, like curling irons, hair dryers, coffee makers, etc., will ONLY operate on 110 volt. Also, if you bring along a power strip, I can tell you from experience that they will NOT work on 220 using a simple plug adapter. However, always look at the label on the back of the device before plugging into 220 just to be on the safe side.
USB Thumb Drive
Another handy little gadget that does not take up a lot of room is a thumb drive. These have become very inexpensive and you can buy them virtually anywhere that sells electronics (WalMart, Radio Shack, office supply stores, etc.). I always carry a couple of 4 or 8 gigabyte thumb drives with me when I travel. Invariably, I need to copy a file from my laptop (I travel with a MacBook) so that I can give it to someone for their computer. Sometimes I have photos that I want to share with someone I meet on the cruise. On a recent cruise, I had to have the reception desk give me a couple of PDF files for my computer. I gave them my thumb drive and they were able to copy them onto that for me. Thumb drives are a great tool for sharing photo files or other computer files between you and others that travel with a laptop.
Flash Card Reader
This really only applies to those of you who travel with your laptop computer, which I always do. I do not like leaving all of my photos and video files in my camera for an extended period of time. I prefer to copy all of my photos/video clips to my laptop at the end of each day. One of the handy little gadgets that makes this quick and painless is a flash card reader. This little device plugs into the USB port on a laptop and has a slot to accept your flash card. There are some flash card readers that can accept multiple formats (Compact Flash, SD, Memory Stick, etc.). Check to see what type of flash memory your camera/video camera, etc., uses and make sure you purchase a flash card reader that will work for you. These are available at any electronic store or WalMart.
Extra Flash Memory Card(s)
If you think the memory card in your digital camera or video camera cannot fail, think again! As a general rule, if you bring a backup card with you, you will never have a failure. If you do NOT have a spare, you are inviting disaster! I always carry at least one extra flash memory card with me when I travel. Granted, in a pinch, you can usually purchase a replacement in the cruise ship gift shop or in port, but you will pay a much higher price than if you carry one you from home. An 8 gigabyte SD card can be purchased at WalMart for about $20 and is cheap insurance.
Portable External Hard Drive
Once again, this is really only for those who travel with a laptop, and even more so for those who shoot video when on vacation. If you have a High Definition video camera, you know that HD video clips can eat up hard drive space in a hurry. I have recently started carrying a small 320 gigabyte USB hard drive with me when I travel. The drive is about the size of a Blackberry/iPhone and packs very easily. I now copy all of my video files to the external drive and never have to worry about my MacBook hard drive running out of space! These drives are getting really cheap, too. I just purchased the 320 gig drive for $59 at WalMart!
On a recent cruise to Galapagos, we were testing a digital camera that did not have a protective cover over the lens. Unfortunately, we had about 20 great photos of a killer whale that were ruined because of a simple finger smudge on the lens. This could have easily been prevented if we had just had a small cloth to clean off the lens before taking the shots. Now, we carry a couple of small, extra-soft microfiber cloths with us when we travel. I always keep one in my pocket. They are great for cleaning camera lenses, LCD screens and even your computer monitor. Make sure to look for microfiber cloths specifically designed for cleaning glass or plastic.
We always carry several ZipLoc bags with us when we travel. One very handy use for these bags is a "rain proof" cover for your digital camera or camcorder. Even though the application is not exactly water tight, it is a cheap and easy way to keep rain from drenching your camera. Simply cut a small slit in the bottom of a ZipLoc bag, just big enough for your neck strap to slide through. The bag will slide down (open side facing down) over your camera/camcorder. We used this system quite successfully in Alaska (where it tends to rain frequently).