59 Best First Time Cruise Tips

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Cruise Ships docked at Caribbean port

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Cruise Planning

A first time cruiser planning a cruise ship vacationPin
  1. Interior Cabins Are a Good Choice: Choosing an interior cabin can be a smart and economical option for first-time cruisers. Interior cabins are more affordable than ocean views or balconies. While you won’t have a view of the ocean, interior cabins offer a dark, quiet environment that can be perfect for a good night’s sleep. With so much to see and do, you won’t be spending much time in your cabin. So, don’t worry about the downgraded cabin amenities.
  2. Balcony Cabins are Worth The Upgrade: If your budget allows, upgrading to a balcony cabin can greatly enhance your cruise experience. Having a private outdoor space to enjoy the sea breeze and views can be a game-changer, especially for scenic cruises like Alaska. It’s a perfect spot for a peaceful morning coffee or an evening glass of wine.
  3. Arrive on Time for Embarkation: Embarkation day can be hectic, so arriving on time is crucial. Being punctual ensures a smoother check-in process and gives you more time to familiarize yourself with the ship. If you arrive before your assigned time, you must wait until it’s your turn to board.
  4. Passports Are Better Than Birth Certificates: While some cruises allow US citizens to travel with a birth certificate, having a passport is a better option. A passport is required for most international travel and can expedite the process in case of an emergency or if you need to disembark in a foreign country unexpectedly.
  5. You Can Bring Alcohol on a Cruise Ship: Most cruise lines allow you to bring a limited amount of alcohol onboard. However, there are specific rules regarding the quantity and type (usually wine or champagne). Check your cruise line’s policy beforehand to avoid any surprises at boarding.
  6. The Unlimited Drink Package is Not Worth It: Don’t be fooled by the offer. Cruise ship drink packages are not worth it for most people. Consider your drinking habits before purchasing an unlimited drink package. Drink packages are expensive. You’ll need to consume a lot of alcohol to get your money’s worth. Paying for drinks as you go is often more economical, especially if you’re not a big drinker.
  7. Arrive at Your Cruise Port a Day Early: Arriving a day early at your cruise port can significantly reduce travel stress. Arriving early reduces the risk of missing your cruise due to flight delays or other unforeseen circumstances. Plus, it gives you a chance to explore the port city.
  8. Book a Hotel With Free Parking: If you’re driving to the port, consider booking a hotel that offers free parking for the duration of your cruise. Some hotels provide special packages for cruisers, including parking and shuttle service to the port, which can save you money and hassle.
  9. Purchase Cruise Insurance: Cruise travel insurance is a wise investment. Cruise insurance covers unforeseen circumstances like medical emergencies, trip cancellations, or delays. We hope never to need it. But in unforeseen circumstances, you’ll be glad you bought it!
  10. Don’t Waste Time Searching For the Best Deal: While looking for deals is good, travel websites have the same prices. So there’s no need to compare prices. Although prices fluctuate throughout the year, you’ll always save money purchasing a cruise as early as possible. And if prices drop later on, contact the cruise line to get the reduced rate.
  11. Bring a Night Light: Cabin rooms on cruise ships can be very dark at night, especially in interior cabins. Bringing a night light can help you navigate the room in the dark, reducing the risk of accidents and making your stay more comfortable.
  12. Outlet Adapters are a Must: Cruise cabins often have limited outlets and may not match your plug type. Bring a universal outlet adapter or a power strip (without a surge protector) to charge multiple devices simultaneously. Outlet adapters are a must-have Amazon accessory for cruise vacations.
  13. Cruise On Older Ships To Save Money: Older ships often offer the same destinations and many of the same amenities as newer vessels but at a lower cost. While older cruise ships may lack some of the latest features, they can provide a more traditional cruising experience and are a great option for budget-conscious travelers.
  14. Cruise In The Off Season to Save Money: Cruising during the off-peak season can lead to significant savings. Consider traveling during shoulder seasons or when kids are in school for the best deals. However, be aware of the weather patterns in your destination during these times.
  15. Shorter Cruises Have the Best Parties: Short cruises, often 3-5 days long, tend to have a more party-centric atmosphere. Shorter itineraries attract a younger crowd and are packed with activities. These cruises can be a great choice if you’re looking for a lively, social experience.
  16. Book the Right Cabin to Avoid Seasickness: Choose your cabin location carefully if you’re prone to seasickness. Cabins in the middle of the ship at lower levels tend to have less motion than those higher up or at the front or back of the ship. Choosing the right cabin location is one of the most effective ways to avoid seasickness on a cruise.
  17. Make a Copy of Your Travel Documents: Always make copies of your travel documents, including passports, booking confirmations, and insurance policies. Bring the photocopies when you visit ports, and leave your travel documents in your cabin safe. This precaution is vital in case of loss or theft during your travels.
  18. Use a Travel Agent: For first-time cruisers, using a travel agent can be incredibly beneficial. Cruise travel agents can offer expert advice, help find the best deals, and provide insights on the best cabins and excursions. Plus, they can handle any issues that arise before or during your cruise, making your experience smoother.
  19. Cruises Are Not All-Inclusive: Understand that while cruises include a lot in the base price, such as accommodations, basic meals, and entertainment, cruises are not entirely all-inclusive. Additional costs can include specialty dining, excursions, alcoholic beverages, gratuities, and internet access. Budget accordingly to avoid surprises.
  20. Research Your Ship Before You Sail: Before booking, research your ship to ensure it meets your expectations. Look into the ship’s amenities, types of cabins, onboard activities, and dining options. This research helps set realistic expectations and allows you to make the most of your cruise. You’ll also have a better plan of what you want to see and experience, making for a smoother cruise vacation.
  21. Pack a Carry-On for Embarkation Day: On embarkation day, your luggage might take a while to be delivered to your cabin. Knowing what to pack in your cruise carry-on makes your embarkation day smooth and seamless. Pack essentials like medications, a change of clothes, swimwear, and important documents. This way, you can start enjoying the ship’s facilities right away.
  22. Don’t Overpack: Space in cruise cabins is often limited, so it’s important to pack efficiently. Focus on versatile clothing items and consider the dress codes for dining areas and excursions. Remember, cruise ships offer laundry services so that you can re-wear clothes.
  23. Choose Your Cruise Line Carefully: Different cruise lines cater to different types of travelers. Family-friendly lines like Disney and Royal Caribbean offer activities for all ages. In contrast, lines like Celebrity or Viking cater more to adults, offering a more refined experience. Choose a line that aligns with your preferences. Take our cruise line quiz to help you find the best cruise line for your needs.
  24. Use a Points Card: If you travel frequently, consider using a points card to book your cruise. Many credit cards offer travel rewards that can be redeemed for cruises, flights, or hotels. This can lead to significant savings and perks like cabin upgrades or onboard credits.

Onboard Experience

Splashaway Bay kids water park on Symphony of the SeasPin
  1. You Don’t Need Cash on a Cruise Ship: Cruise ships operate on a cashless system, where all expenses are charged to your onboard account. Your spending account is linked to a credit or debit card. Although you won’t need cash on the vessel, you should bring money on your cruise for port shopping and other small purchases.
  2. You Can Order Multiple Courses in the Main Dining Room: In the main dining room, feel free to order multiple appetizers, entrees, or desserts. All of the food in the main dining room is included in the cost of your cruise. So don’t be shy about trying different dishes. It’s a great way to experience a variety of cuisines.
  3. Turn Your Phone on Airplane Mode: Turn your phone on airplane mode to avoid roaming charges on a cruise. Use the ship’s Wi-Fi (though it may be costly) or wait until you’re in port to use local networks. Always check with your mobile provider for international plans before your trip.
  4. You Can Hear Through the Walls: Know that cruise ship cabins have thin walls. If you’re making noise, your cabin neighbors might hear you. Keep your volume down to maintain privacy and be considerate of your neighbors. Similarly, be prepared for potential noise from adjoining cabins.
  5. Balconies Aren’t as Private as You Think: While balcony cabins offer a private outdoor space, they are not completely secluded. Neighboring passengers might be able to see or hear you, so maintain a level of decorum when on your balcony. Remember this if you engage in fun on your cruise ship balcony.
  6. The Main Dining Room Serves Breakfast and Lunch: While most people think of the main dining room for dinner, it’s also open for breakfast and lunch. These meals are typically quieter and offer a more relaxed dining experience than the buffet.
  7. Be Ready for Itinerary Changes: Cruise itineraries can change due to weather, port availability, or other factors. Be flexible and understand that these changes are made considering passenger safety and experience.
  8. There’s a Hair Dryer in Your Cabin: Most cruise cabins have a hair dryer. So don’t worry about bringing a hair dryer on your cruise. You should check with your cruise line about prohibited items like hair dryers, hair straighteners, and curling irons.
  9. Use the Cabin Safe: Store your valuables and important documents in the cabin safe. While cruise ships are generally safe, taking precautions against accidental loss or theft is wise.
  10. Taking the Stairs is Usually Faster: With many passengers trying to use the elevators, especially during peak times, taking the stairs can often be quicker. It’s also a good way to get some exercise and work off the buffet.
  11. Formal Night Isn’t a Big Deal: While some passengers enjoy dressing up for the formal night, it’s not mandatory. There are always other dining options if you prefer a more casual evening. Make sure you know what to wear on a formal night on a cruise ship if you wish to participate.
  12. Don’t Tip Twice (Cruise Lines Charge an Automatic Gratuity): Most cruise lines add an automatic gratuity to your bill to cover tips for the staff. You don’t need to tip front-line crew members unless you feel the service warrants additional gratuity.
  13. Know When to Visit Guest Services: For general inquiries or issues, visit guest services during off-peak hours to avoid long lines. Early mornings or late evenings are usually less crowded.
  14. The Casino Payouts are Worse Than on Land: Be aware that the odds in cruise ship casinos are typically not as favorable as those on land. Gamble for fun, but don’t expect to win big.
  15. The Internet is Expensive: Internet packages on cruise ships can be costly and sometimes unreliable. If staying connected is important, consider purchasing a package, but set realistic expectations about speed and connectivity.
  16. Book Add-ons In Advance: For excursions, specialty dining, or spa treatments, book in advance to ensure availability. These popular activities can fill up quickly, especially on larger ships.
  17. Book Your Dinner Reservations Right Away: If you want to dine at a specific time or restaurant, make your reservations as soon as you board. Popular dining times and specialty restaurants can book full quickly.
  18. Learn the Cruise Ship Lingo: Familiarize yourself with common cruise terms like the atrium, muster drill, and guarantee cabin. Knowing the difference between port and starboard helps you navigate the ship more easily and enrich your cruising experience.
  19. Check Your Onboard Spending Account Regularly: Monitor your onboard account regularly to keep track of your spending. Most ships allow you to check your account via the TV in your cabin or the cruise line app.
  20. Download the Cruise Line App: Many cruise lines have apps that provide schedules, menus, account access, and chat features. Download the app before you sail to stay informed and organized during your cruise.
  21. Enjoy the Experience: Most importantly, remember that a cruise is a unique opportunity to relax, explore new places, and enjoy a multitude of activities and entertainment. Embrace the adventure, try new things, and don’t stress the small stuff. Whether it’s lounging by the pool, attending a show, or exploring a new port, make the most of your time and create lasting memories. Remember, every cruise offers something different, so keep an open mind and enjoy the journey!

Cruise Ports and Shore Excursions

white pass and yukon route railroad passing through a forest with a snow capped mountian in the backgroundPin
  1. Most Ports Accept US Currency: US currency is widely accepted in many cruise ports, especially in the Caribbean and some parts of Europe. However, checking the local currency and payment preferences for each port on your itinerary is always wise. Sometimes, smaller vendors and European cruise ports prefer local currency or may offer better prices if you pay in the local currency.
  2. Drinks are Cheaper in Port: Drinks are cheaper when you’re in port than onboard the ship. This is especially true in regions known for certain beverages, like the Caribbean for rum. Enjoying a drink in a local tavern or café can also add to your cultural experience.
  3. Shore Excursions are Worth the Price: Shore excursions, while sometimes pricey, can be worth the cost for the convenience, safety, and unique experiences they offer. These excursions are curated to showcase the best of each destination and often include transportation, guides, and entrance fees. If you’re interested in specific sites or activities, a planned excursion can ensure you don’t miss out.
  4. Don’t be Late to the Ship: It’s crucial to return to the ship on time before it departs from each port. The ship has a strict maintenance schedule and will not wait for late passengers. Always keep track of time and leave a buffer for unexpected delays when exploring on your own.
  5. Book Private Tours to Save Money: Private tours can be more cost-effective than ship excursions, especially for larger groups. Private tours also offer more flexibility and a personal experience. Do your research and book with reputable companies to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. However, private shore excursions aren’t guaranteed by the cruise line. If the excursion runs late, the cruise ship will leave without you.

Article by

Marcello De Lio

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