Individuals, families and couples LOVE cruising for a reason. It’s relaxing, convenient, fun, and perhaps most important, memorable (or so it should be).
Even in the age of COVID, people are wanting to get back to cruising. Somethings will change, but the majority of past expectations should still be there.
While our list of tips and tricks benefit rookie cruisers mostly, they are certainly helpful to cruisers of all kinds, whether tips for first time cruisers or seasoned veterans.
The below helpful tips for going on a cruise will aid in maximizing your cruise potential.
1) Arrive 1-2 days at your cruise ship embarkation port before departure date
Simply put, either drive or fly into your departure cruise port a day or two early. Cruises have a schedule to keep. They will not wait for you. Why risk missing your cruise because of flight delays or major highway gridlock? Plan accordingly by arriving a day or two early, and you will take the stress and worry out of making your cruise embarkation on time.
You can even use this to your advantage. If you are embarking from a city or country you have never been to, take the extra time to do some sight seeing. Enjoy the time on land at your own pace knowing you have plenty of time to make your cruise departure.
2) Pack accordingly
Try to do more with less. Bring along no more than a few pairs of footwear. Sandals for the deck or beach, comfy shoes for tours and sightseeing.
If you are a stickler for different outfits for every day, remember, cruise lines have laundry facilities (for a fee). Most cruise related events are casual, try and make due with wearing something more than once. Start your packing list well in advance. A lighter load will always be appreciated while navigating through airport terminals and the cruise port.
Check out our tips on how to pack a suitcase efficiently here.
3) Unpack accordingly
Sure, once you board the ship you are likely in a hurry to get to the buffet, the casino, the bar, or the pool & hot tub. Upon receiving your room key, take a few minutes to unpack your cruise cabin in an organized manner (or once your luggage arrives to your cabin). Nothing can be more frustrating than knowing you packed something, only to not know where you unpacked it to.
Your cabin will have limited space. If it helps, use the dressers and drawers as you would at home. Group like things together. Dedicate a drawer for socks & underwear, or take along a dirty laundry bag to keep clothes seperate. Remember you have extra storage under your bed. Use it if you must, just make sure to check what is under there at cruise end.
4) Don’t forget the little things
Cruise ships have shops on board that will carry most of anything you might forget, but at a price!
It’s easiest to remember the little things like suntan lotion, tylenol, or sun glasses so you don’t go paying a premium on your cruise ship or in port. Carry an additional toiletry bag for all the families shared little things. This could include medications, sun spray, lotions, ear plugs, moisturizers and so on.
If you forget something, once you sail away your only two options are to do without, or purchase during the cruise. Plan ahead to avoid being put in this situation.
5) Research your ports ahead of time
Shore excursions are often the highlight of cruising. A half or full day to explore the adventures of an unfamiliar place. There is a reason why they are popular and fill up fast.
If you want to do an excursion, plan ahead. Your cruise line will make available all shore excursion options online. By researching and booking in advance, you can skip the first day lines of trying to book on the cruise ship, while also guaranteeing a spot.
Remember, you can hire private tours that are not associated with the cruise line. Prices will be competitive, and you will likely be in a much smaller tour group. This option is great for a more intimate experience. We recommend using Viator. They specialize in half to full day trips. We have used them multiple times and are quite satisfied.
6) Don’t double tip
Cruise lines are renowned for adding a gratuity to a bar tab or spa treatment. If you are not getting an unlimited drink package, remember that the gratuity will already be added to your bill. The cruise line will give you a receipt to sign and a space for a secondary tip. Don’t feel the need unless you really want to tip twice.
We do recommend you take some cash along for your cruise. If you were happy with your room steward or dinner service, it’s recommended to tip them at cruise end. If you decide to indulge and order room service, it’s polite to tip your room service sever a few dollars. While credit cards are not needed, cash will certainly come in handy for these occasions.
7) Skip the buffet on day 1
Everyone heads straight to the buffet on embarkation day. After hours of travel and time standing in line for check in, the thought of lining up for a buffet doesn’t appeal to most. Check your ships secondary meal options. Many cruise ships open up one of their restaurants for an embarkation day lunch. This will give you more time to relax and avoid the ample buffet crowds.
8) Pack your bathing suit in your carry on
Most cruisers don’t want to deal with awkward and bulky luggage sets. They have to clear customs regardless on embarkation day. The cruise lines will have porters deliver them to your cabin after check in. It’s common that it can take a few hours for them to be delivered to your room cabin.
If you are eager to get to the pool or hot tub, pack yours and your children’s bathing suits in your carry on. Towels will be provided on deck, so you will be able to start your relaxation mode without issue.
9) Check with the cruise line about their drink policy
Most Cruise lines will let you bring a certain amount of alcohol on board per person (adults). There is often a corking fee involved with this, however it’s still cheaper than purchasing alcohol on board. Celebrate your vacation start with a bottle of wine allowed by the cruise line. Even on port days, you are usually allowed to bring a certain amount from port shopping back on board.
It’s a good idea to research this in advance. If you are getting the drink package for your cruise, make sure you read all the fine print, so there are no surprises. If you are booking through a cruise or travel agent, ask them about the cruise line alcohol policy to make sure things are clear.
10) Download the cruise app
This is important as it will have all the relevant information needed while cruising. It will also have your cruise ship information needed in case you are late from an excursion.
Further benefits of the cruise app: you can make reservations at the cruise ships specialty restaurants, use a currency converter while in port, check local weather conditions, and the list goes on. This might come in handy particularly for first time cruisers getting their feet wet so to speak.
11) Pack a dry bag
You will no doubt be spending time on a beach, by the cruise ship pools or hot tubs, or possibly a shore excursion that involves water. Why risk your personal belongings to kids splashing on the deck, a sand whipped breeze, or an accidental drop in the ocean? As dry bags are inexpensive, it just make sense to keep valuables needed close by and protected from mother nature, children, or a clumsy drop.
12) Purchase travel insurance
For an added fee, all cruise lines will offer vacation protection insurance. This is highly recommended. Whether purchasing travel insurance through the cruise line or on your own you will want to be covered. Especially in the age of COVID, the risk just isn’t worth it. A missed flight, injury or illness, even lost or damaged luggage should all be covered under your travel insurance plan. By spending a little more on travel insurance, you can have peace of mind knowing that you or your family are covered for that ‘in case’ situation.
13) Keep your phone(s) on airplane mode
Most cruise passengers have heard or read horror stories of other cruisers coming home to massive cell phone bills. It does happen to those who forget to put their phone on airplane mode. They stream, talk, or play games on their phones and wrack up massive roaming charges. As soon as you check in and are onboard, it’s a very good idea to switch to airplane mode.
If you are worried about not being able to connect with loved ones, many cruise lines if not all of them will offer some sort of Wi-Fi package. Purchasing a Wi-Fi package you can turn your phone on once a day, check voicemail, texts or emails, without using up your precious data or getting hit with expensive roaming fees.
14) Parking pre cruise?
If you are driving to a cruise port, check out other paid public parking lots within a few blocks radius of the cruise terminal. You will certainly pay cheaper prices than parking at the actual cruise terminal. Don’t hesitate to walk a few blocks . This will help you save money on parking or cab fare. Finally, arrive later in the afternoon if you can. Everyone on your ship is so eager to get on, if you can hold off, the lines will be much smaller.
15) Take the stairs
If this is a first time cruise, you will quickly learn how there can often be a wait time for the elevators. Most cruise ships have between 10-15 levels that elevators service. Do yourself a favor and take the stairs when you can. It will give you that extra bit of exercise, and help you familiarize yourself around the ship more easily.
16) Bring your own power adapter
Cruise cabins are not known for size (who can afford a suite?). By staying organized, you will help maximize your space.
Bring your own power adapter or power strip. Just make sure it’s cruise ship approved. This will come in handy especially if cruising with children. One spot to charge all those batteries, tablets, cell phones and more.
17) Avoid cruising during school holidays
This means Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Spring Break. Cruises are no different than airlines or hotels. Demand goes up, price goes up. If you can plan your cruise accordingly, you will save money. If you are determined to cruise over a school holiday, book far in advance. If for some reason price drops, your travel or cruise agent should inform you of the cheaper price.
18) Don’t overwhelm yourself
Simply put, don’t try to do it all. Cruises have lots going on around the ship and in ports. Between excursions, restaurants, shows, casino, pools, spas, activities galore, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. Take advantage of what is a priority to you. Sometimes it’s easy to burn out trying to do too much. A well balanced cruise will leave you feeling more fulfilled.
For instance, we love cruises that have many port stops. It’s allows us to be adventurous and explore familiar or new places. Others like cruises with few port stops to maximize lounging by the pool. Getting off the ship on port days is optional. If you are more inclined to enjoy the cruise ship decks, port days are a great time for lesser crowds onboard.
Time to Sail?
So your bags are packed and you’re ready to go?
We can’t stress enough how preparation is key. Planning in advance will allow you to enjoy your cruise to it’s fullest.
Stressing a little before your cruise begins during planning and packing, is better than stressing during your actual cruise vacation. We wish you the best on your next cruise vacation. Bon voyage!
Pro Tip* Cruise lines try to get 10% or more of their passengers to book another cruise while on board. If you are ready for your next cruise, check out the future cruise office. If you head there towards the end of your cruise, they might offer some great rates to try and meet their quota.
Looking for ideas on handy cruise accessories for your next cruise? Check out our article on the best cruise accessories.
Interested in a cruise but don’t know where to start? Try Cruise Direct. We have had great success with them in the past.