Welcome aboard, first-time cruisers! Get ready for an exciting adventure on the high seas! If you’re about to embark on your first cruise vacation, you’re in for a treat. Cruising offers a unique and unforgettable experience, combining the excitement of travel with the comfort and convenience of a floating resort.
From exploring exotic destinations on Norwegian cruise line to indulging in world-class dining and entertainment on celebrity cruises, there’s something for everyone on a cruise ship. But if you’re new to cruising, you may have questions about what to expect. In this article, we’ll provide you with tips for cruises first time and a sneak peek into the world of cruising, from the embarkation process to onboard activities, dining options, and shore excursions. So, buckle up and get ready to set sail on an unforgettable journey!
Table of Contents
Planning for your first cruise
Expectations for a first time or repeat cruiser
Tips for first time and repeat cruisers
Frequently Asked Questions
Ready to Cruise?
Planning for your first cruise
Planning your first cruise can be an exciting and enjoyable process. Here are some steps to help you get started:
1) Choose your destination: Research different cruise destinations and decide where you want to go. Whether it’s the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Alaska, or any other destination, consider factors such as weather, attractions, and activities that interest you.
2) Select a cruise line: There are many cruise lines to choose from, each offering unique experiences and amenities. Research different cruise lines to find the one that best suits your preferences, budget, and travel style.
3) Pick a cruise ship: Once you’ve chosen a cruise line, select a cruise ship that fits your needs. Consider factors such as ship size, onboard activities, dining options, cruise ports, and stateroom accommodations such as interior, ocean view or a balcony cabin.
4) Determine your budget: Cruises can vary in price, so determine your budget and stick to it. Keep in mind that the cruise fare may not be the only expense – there may be additional costs for gratuities, shore excursions, specialty dining, and onboard activities.
5) Book your cruise: Contact a travel agent or book directly with the cruise line, or search for deals online to make your reservation. Be sure to read and understand the terms and conditions, cancellation policies, and payment requirements.
6) Prepare necessary documents: Make sure you have a valid passport, visas (if required), and any other necessary documents for your cruise. Check the cruise line’s website or contact them directly for specific requirements.
7) Plan your packing: Pack appropriate clothing, toiletries, medications, and other essentials based on the destination, weather, and activities. Don’t forget important items such as sunscreen, a hat, and a reusable water bottle.
8) Research shore excursions: Research and book shore excursions in advance to make the most of your time at each port of call. Consider your interests, budget, and physical abilities when selecting excursions.
9) Familiarize yourself with cruise policies: Read and understand the cruise line’s policies on topics such as embarkation procedures, dress code, onboard safety, and tipping. This will help you be prepared and have a smooth sailing experience.
10) Get travel insurance: Consider purchasing travel insurance to protect yourself against unforeseen events such as trip cancellation, medical emergencies, or lost luggage. This is one of those good first time cruise tips as you don’t want your first cruise vacation to go sideways. If you choose the right cruise line and book through a cruise or travel agent, they will ask if you would like to include insurance through the cruise company.
By following these steps and doing thorough research, you can ensure that you’re well-prepared for your first cruise and ready to embark on an unforgettable adventure at sea.
Expectations of a first time cruiser
As a first-time cruiser, you can expect a unique and exciting vacation experience with a blend of relaxation, entertainment, and exploration. Here are some common expectations for first-time cruisers:
1) Embarkation Process: You’ll need to go through the embarkation process when you first board the cruise ship. This involves checking in, going through security, setting up your onboard account, and possibly waiting in line. Be prepared to provide identification, travel documents, and possibly a credit card for onboard expenses. And then get excited for your upcoming cruise!
2) Onboard Activities: Cruise ships are like floating resorts, offering a wide range of activities to suit different interests and ages. You can expect to find amenities such as pools, hot tubs, fitness centers, spas, theaters, casinos, shops, and more. There will also be organized activities and events like trivia games, dance classes, art auctions, and live performances to keep you entertained.
3) Dining Options: Dining is a highlight of cruising, with a variety of options to suit different tastes. You can expect main dining rooms with multi-course meals, casual buffet-style restaurants, specialty restaurants with themed cuisines, and 24-hour room service. Some cruise lines also offer inclusive dining packages or require reservations for specialty restaurants.
4) Stateroom Accommodations: Your stateroom, or cabin, will be your home away from home during the cruise. It will typically include a bed, bathroom, storage space, and sometimes a balcony or window. Staterooms come in different categories, such as interior, oceanview, private balcony, and suite, with varying sizes and amenities.
5) Shore Excursions: Cruising allows you to explore different ports of call, and you can expect a variety of shore excursions offered by the cruise line or local tour operators. These may include city tours, beach outings, cultural experiences, adventure activities, and more. Some excursions may be included in your cruise fare, while others may have additional costs. The ship docks early in the morning on stops. Use your daily cruise planner and head straight to the buffet early to not miss out on leaving the ship early when in port.
6) Shipboard Safety: Cruise lines have strict safety measures in place to ensure the well-being of passengers and crew. You can expect safety drills, emergency procedures, and guidelines for onboard behavior. Familiarize yourself with the ship’s safety protocols and follow them throughout your cruise.
7) Relaxation and Leisure: Cruising offers ample opportunities for relaxation and leisure. You can expect to soak in the sun by the pool, indulge in spa treatments, read a book on the deck, or simply enjoy the ocean breeze and scenic views. It’s a chance to unwind and disconnect from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Many cruise ships offer drink packages. Make sure to do your research whether you would get your moneys worth from this.
8) Socializing and Meeting New People: Cruising provides opportunities to meet fellow passengers from around the world. You can expect to socialize with fellow cruisers during activities, meals, and events, and make new friends along the way. It’s a chance to connect with people who share similar interests and create lasting memories.
9) Time at Sea: While port visits are a highlight of cruising, you’ll also spend time at sea as the ship sails between destinations. You can expect to enjoy the amenities and activities onboard during sea days, which can be a great opportunity for relaxation and leisure.
10)Unique Experiences: Cruising offers unique experiences that may differ from traditional land-based vacations. From watching sunsets over the ocean to stargazing at night, spotting marine life, and enjoying the sense of adventure that comes with sailing the open seas, you can expect a one-of-a-kind vacation experience.
Overall, as a first-time cruiser, you can expect a mix of relaxation, entertainment, exploration, and unique experiences, all while being immersed in the comfort and convenience of a floating resort. It’s a chance to create lasting memories and embark on a new adventure at sea!
Hot Tips for first time or repeat cruisers
1) Arrive 1-2 days in advance of your cruise
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.
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) Do not 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) Do not 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. The main dining room might be closed at first, but there will be other food options. 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 in advance 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 lines 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 post 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. Also make sure to research where a cruise shuttle will pick up from in the port city.
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) Do not 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q) What documents do I need to bring for embarkation?
A) It’s a good idea to have printed documentation of your booking #, itinerary, shore excursions. This should all be provided by the cruise line well in advance. Don’t forget your passport or other forms of I.D. you will need for getting through customs.
Q)What should I pack for my cruise? What are the dress code and packing guidelines?
A) For a cruise, someone should pack the following essentials:
1) Clothing: Include casual and formal attire, swimwear, underwear, socks, and sleepwear, taking into account the destination’s climate and any specific dress code requirements.
2) Toiletries: Bring travel-sized shampoo, conditioner, body wash, toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, and any other personal care items you use daily.
3) Medications: Pack any prescription medications you need, along with a small first aid kit containing bandages, pain relievers, and any other necessary over-the-counter medications.
4) Travel documents: Bring your passport or other identification, cruise itinerary, travel insurance documents, and any necessary visas or vaccination certificates.
5) Electronics: Include your smartphone, charger, camera, and any other devices you may need, along with any necessary adapters or converters for international travel.
6) Money and valuables: Bring cash, credit cards, and a small amount of local currency, as well as any valuable items such as jewelry or electronics that you may want to use or keep secure during your cruise.
7) Sun protection: Pack sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, and other sun protection items to protect yourself from harmful UV rays while on board or during shore excursions.
8) Miscellaneous items: Include items such as a reusable water bottle, snacks, a reusable tote bag, a book or e-reader, and any other personal items or entertainment options you may want during your cruise.
9) Formal wear (optional): If your cruise includes formal or themed nights, pack appropriate attire such as formal dresses or suits, costumes, or other themed clothing if desired.
10) Sea sickness remedies (optional): If you are prone to motion sickness, consider packing remedies such as anti-nausea medication, ginger candies, or sea bands to help alleviate symptoms.
Remember to check the cruise line’s specific packing guidelines and any restrictions or recommendations for your destination, as well as any COVID-19 related requirements, to ensure a smooth and enjoyable cruise experience.
Q) How do I navigate the ship and find my way around?
A) This usually takes a day or two to figure out the ship. Start by memorizing your room # and floor. You will soon learn the fastest route to the restaurants, cruise ship buffet, pool decks and so on. There is a fair amount of signage on board or always a friendly guest services or staff to help.
Q) What are the dining options onboard? Are there any specialty restaurants or dietary restrictions?
A) Many ships are similar in setup. Formal dining, buffet style dining, and a specialty restaurant or two, with plenty of snack options for in between.
Q) How do I handle gratuities and onboard expenses? What forms of payment are accepted onboard?
A) You can count on most cruise ships charging around $15 pp/day for gratuities. These can be prepaid in advance, or you will see them on your final bill. Tipping cash to your room attendant or dinner server is recommend at cruise end, but not mandatory. On embarkation day, you will be given a cruise card. This cruise card is as good as cash for anything you want to purchase on the ship. It is still recommend to bring a credit card or cash if you plan on getting off the ship and doing shopping or souvenir hunting.
Q) What activities and entertainment options are available onboard? How do I sign up for them?
A) Cruises are known for their entertainment on board. Shows, sports, clubs, rock climbing, movies, swimming to name just a few. Most ships make announcements in advance for activities you need to sign up for, while most everything else is first come first serve.
Q) What are the safety protocols onboard, including emergency procedures and onboard behavior guidelines?
A) Most cruise ships have a safety protocol briefing within the first 12 hours once you board the ship. They will explain safety procedures, protocols, and what to do in an emergency.
Q) What are the shore excursion options at the different ports of call? How do I book them?
A) Every cruise line will offer different off ship excursions. For instance, Princess cruises owns their own Island and will offer a different excursions than Royal Caribbean. You can see what the excursions are online and book accordingly, or wait until you are on the ship and book with guest services. The later you wait to book, the more likely the excursion will be full.
Q)Are there any specific requirements for traveling with children or infants? What are the onboard kids’ programs and facilities?
A) Children will fall into the same category regarding health and safety as adults. Regarding child care, most cruise lines offer some form. Some even have day camps. However the hours and days will likely change and it’s best to understand what your cruise line offers for childcare in advance. Some even ask that you pre-register your child (ren) for daycare or kids camps before boarding.
Q) What should I expect during disembarkation and the debarkation process at the end of the cruise?
A) Both the embarkation day and debarkation process can be a bit tedious. Cruise lines have become extremely efficient over the years. Be prepared for a bit of waiting in lines. The important thing is to have all the relevant information ready to help speed you through the process. If you are cruising with children, try and bring some extra activities along for some of the wait time.
Q) How do I stay connected to the internet and make phone calls while onboard? What are the costs associated with it?
A) You can purchase an internet package on your cruise. It should show you on your cruise lines website the exact cost and what it includes. If you decide you don’t want an internet package, there is usually an internet cafe aboard you can pay to use. Otherwise make sure to turn you cell phone to airplane mode to avoid roaming fees.
Ready To Cruise?
In the end, cruising can be an excellent vacation choice for both first-time cruisers and repeat cruisers alike. With its unique blend of relaxation, entertainment, exploration, and convenience, cruising offers a hassle-free and all-inclusive way to explore different destinations while enjoying the amenities and activities onboard a luxurious ship.
For first-time cruisers, it can be an exciting and immersive experience that introduces them to the joys of cruising, from the embarkation process to the onboard activities, dining options, shore excursions, and socializing with fellow passengers. It’s a chance to create unforgettable memories and try new experiences in a safe and comfortable environment.
For repeat cruisers, cruising offers the opportunity to revisit favorite destinations or explore new ones, and to enjoy the familiarity and comfort of cruising while also discovering new aspects of the cruise experience. Cruise lines often offer repeat cruiser perks and loyalty programs, making it even more rewarding to cruise again.
Whether you’re a first-time cruiser or a seasoned veteran, cruising provides a unique and enjoyable vacation option that caters to a wide range of interests and preferences. From families seeking a fun-filled getaway to couples looking for a romantic escape, solo travelers looking to meet new people, or seniors seeking relaxation and leisure, cruising offers something for everyone.
So, whether you’re embarking on your first cruise or planning your next voyage, get ready for an unforgettable adventure at sea. By saving money, look into more of the budget friendly cruise lines. For your upcoming vacation, board early for your first sailing so you can take it all in on cruise day. Bon voyage!
For our cruise line recommendations, please read our article on The Best Cruise Lines