Your first cruise can be exciting as you prepare yourself for an unforgettable experience taking in foreign sunsets as you set sail from one horizon to the next.
It can also be a bit intimidating if you are planning to test the waters (so to speak) with your first holiday on a ship. With larger ships today reaching as tall as 16 stories high and holding between 3,500 and 5,000 passengers in one go, it is like a small town setting sail!
With so many people on board from different places (and with different tastes) most cruise companies make every effort to appeal to the masses by providing onboard activities, dance clubs, circuses, rollerskating arenas, ice bars - you name it!
You will see all walks of life aboard! Statistically, the average age of cruise ship passengers is 50+ yet 86% of cruise passengers are college/university graduates. It’s a bit of a mixed bag which may well be the theme of this type of travel as you set sail and experience your pick of 200 ports available to cruise worldwide.
Of course, the most popular destination tends to be the Caribbean with the Mediterranean coming second and other popular routes like Alaska and northern Europe not far behind.
As a cruise ship can be the equivalent of a town on a boat there are some important things that you can learn before boarding that will make your vacation more pleasurable and the environment itself more enjoyable for all passengers.
Below you will find our hot tips that everyone should know before going on your first cruise!
20 Not All cruises Are Created Equal
If it’s your first time booking a cruise it can be tempting to go for the cheapest deal or assume that if they’re going to the same destinations that they’re all pretty well the same.
The reality is that there is a wide variety of cruise categories that differ quite a lot from each other. While one ship may be a 5-star dining experience, another may offer more entertainment like the onboard festival Sea N’ Beats or the niche ship Meow Meow Cruise, which is dedicated to cat lovers.
Be sure you know what you’re looking for before booking and once you have your eye on the prize, then you can hunt for deals. Don’t just take the cheapest deal offered if it means the ship likely won’t be your cup of tea.
19 Some Cabin rooms Don’t Have Windows
This can be a real shocker for any first time cruisers. Sometimes you can get wrapped up in the frenzy or the grandeur of a cruise ship's common areas that you forget that not all cabin rooms are so glitzy.
In fact some may resemble a coach car in a train (in size) but without the window. If you find it difficult to be in tiny enclosed spaces, it can be crucial to research your room’s amenities and do some cost comparison before booking your room.
If the price of an upgrade seems daunting, convince a pal to come along with you and split the cost!
18 Pack a Day Bag
When you first arrive on the ship there will be a shuffling of your bags straight to your room which could be well before you are given the green light to enter said room.
It can be really helpful to pack a day duffle with your essentials like sunscreen, a bathing suit, a book, and any medication / must-have essentials so that you’re not panicked.
It can help to get a fold-up duffle bag that goes from a larger bag into a smaller pouch so that once you’re settled in, you won’t be forced to lug an extra bag around unnecessarily. Or pick a waterproof bag that can double as your beach bag for those days where you’re docking somewhere for a swim.
17 You Won’t Get Bored
Many people feel like it could be boring to take a cruise since you’re confined to it for days at a time. While this can be a deterrent from this type of travel for anyone who’s never experienced it, you will soon discover that every effort has been made to entertain and dazzle its passengers.
From daytime pool-side contests to late night clubs and dance parties, there will be no shortage of things to do as you set sail. If you have kids, there are usually separate kids clubs allocated with supervisors and sea-themed activities to keep them busy too.
16 Dress Code Is In Effect
If you’ve travelled a lot you may be tempted to pack your bag as you would for a backpacking expedition by making the most of the space in your suitcase. The issue with this is most cruise ships have strictly upheld dress codes at mealtimes. You very well could be turned away for wearing ripped jeans, flip flops, or even sneakers in the dining room (even the trendy kind!). Prepare yourself by knowing this ahead of time and mixing and matching between casual daytime outfits and evening wear.
For men, this often means a button up shirt and long pants and for ladies, you can just bring that LBD (little black dress) and some strappy sandals.
15 Skip On-Board Souvenirs
If you’re having a moment of weakness you might be tempted to get that picture of you and your beloved off the cruise ship photographer as a keepsake of an incredible holiday. They are banking on your sentimentality. You would be far better off bringing your own camera and asking a kind stranger to snap a pic for you.
Believe it or not, there are still 1-hour services you can find back home and develop your own picture. This could mean saving yourself anything between 10-20 dollars.
Any type of gimmick offering where you print your face on an object will likely end up becoming dusty old junk anyway. Keep moving!
14 Spring for The All-Inclusive Plan
All-inclusive may seem pricey up front but when you factor in the cost of a single beverage and meals onboard for 1-2 weeks, it can be far more expensive.
The all-inclusive means that you don’t have to think about much while on board, and the only meals you truly have to worry about are the ones on docked days. It also means you have more variety for lounging outside of cabin rooms which can feel a bit claustrophobic at times.
Some cruise ships are even top-rated for their cuisines including celebrity the chef restaurants of Jamie Oliver, Atul Kochhar and James Martin. At the end of the day, a basic meal package might be just the ticket as they often, but not always, include soft beverages.
It’s important to double check the fare and what’s on offer to ensure you are making the most of your experience without breaking the bank.
13 Higher Cabin Means Less Queasiness
It’s not common knowledge but it is said that the higher up your cabin room is situated, the less sensitive one will be to the effects of queasiness or seasickness.
If you are particularly sensitive to the motion in the ocean (or have suffered from car sickness routinely in the past) it can very well make or break your vacation.
If all else fails and you’re stuck in a lower level cabin, pack ginger-ale, ginger candies, ginger tea or even dried pieces of ginger as it is able to actively combat nausea. Failing that, even a sleeping pill might serve as a last resort option to get you through the night.
12 PLANning is essential
As we said before, a cruise ship is an equivalent to a small town. As that small town travels from place to place, often it creates a high demand for the most desired activities, tours, restaurant options... you get the idea.
To avoid disappointment, or being left on board twiddling your thumbs, book your activities on dock days well in advance. Cruise holidays are not the kind of holidays where you can ‘wing it’ and go with the flow. You will be competing with thousands of other semi-stir crazy tourists who are keen to explore the exact same things as you. Be prepared.
11 Sometimes You Can Bring Your Own Food
If you have dietary restrictions or just don’t want to splash out on the all-inclusive option onboard, you may want to explore ships that allow passengers to bring their own food along with them. That’s right, pack up a cooler bag and call it a day.
Obviously you won’t be able to cram everything in one go but as you dock at various locations you can replenish your cooler with fresh fruit and vegetables and whatever else tickles your fancy.
Since many cruise ships employ top-rated chefs, you can still dabble with the occasional supper but also enjoy foods that you’re used to.
10 Find Out If Tips Are Included
They very well may be but you want to be sure. Staff aboard a cruise ship are working very long (sometimes back to back) shifts to ensure that your stay runs as smoothly as possible. With a ship holding as many as 2000 crew members you can imagine how much effort it takes. Let the staff know you appreciate their effort by tipping generously if it’s required.
If tips have been included in the price of your ticket you can still offer a small gratuity to any member of staff who has gone above and beyond to help you out but you may want to dial it down from tipping on all meals.
9 Most Ships Have Laundry Rooms
The good news is that if you are a compulsively light packer you can still accomplish your elegant/casual mix and pack light by spending some time washing your clothes. Some ships have laundromats on them so you can tend to your own washing but most have a wash and fold service (which you will pay through the nose for) where someone will take care of your garments for you.
Sure it can seem like an extravagance but if it means more convenient travel and doesn’t require you to buy a whole new set of clothes halfway through your trip, it can be a true lifesaver.
8 Keep an eye out for Last Minute Upgrades
No one is saying that you have to spend a million dollars on your cruise (these cruises exist on ships like The Silver Whisper offered by Silversea which cost a cool million) but you can still feel like a millionaire if you keep an eye out for those last minute upgrades.
This can mean a bigger bed, an in-room balcony, complimentary spa services or higher end meal offerings. If they aren’t scooped up by the time the boat sets sail, they will often open it up to other passengers at a fraction of the cost. If you love a deal this could be worth keeping in mind for the ultimate luxe holiday.
7 Avoid Crowds, Arrive Late
For those of us who travel mostly by plane, it can seem counterintuitive to be advised to arrive late to your boarding. The truth is that the mayhem that is boarding can mean standing in a hoard of people unnecessarily since most ships tend to port and disembark/board at similar times.
If more passengers learned to stagger their arrival it would mean more efficient boarding for everyone. However, keep in mind that much like the train, the ship will not wait for you if you’re late so make sure to set an alarm on your phone and plan arrival times accordingly!
Boarding the ship in the best way means finding that sweet spot between too early and too late - you can do it, we believe in you!
6 Room Service Exists
If you had a rough sleep or just can’t be bothered to put on your ‘dining’ trousers to collect your breakfast, most ships offer room service. If meals are included in your fare, this likely won’t even cost you extra! So if you got lucky with your room and it’s like a home away from home, why not take advantage of this holiday amenity.
The only disadvantage is that you will likely have less of a choice then if you were to scrape yourself off the bed and make it to the dining room. That said, if you want a simple breakfast in peace - room service is key.
5 Internet is Costly
Repeat after us: switch off your data. Roaming is an absolute fortune while you’re on board a ship as often signals are bouncing from the ship’s satellite.
We all know our phone companies will look for any reason to slap on an extra fee on your tab so be sure that if you do plan to leave your data on, that you’ve checked with your carrier that there aren’t exorbitant penalties for doing so.
Nowadays wifi will be provided on most ships so you can complete basic tasks like emailing and even Skyping. In most cases, you won’t even really need your data except perhaps for those dock days if you need to keep tabs on your travel party. Even still, it can be far more economical to find wifi hotspots.
4 Bring Meds
If you are prone to migraines, indigestion, heartburn or (heaven forbid) think you might be coming down with a cold prior to your trip, be sure to pack whatever vitamins or medications that will help cure what ails you.
Wishful thinking may be recommended by most but when you’re aboard and that cold comes full force, it will be quite costly to get your remedy from the ship's pharmacy. At the very least stash some Emergen-C sachets in your bag to knock whatever it is out of your system or get some electrolytes in after a walking day.
3 Take The Stairs
Elevators may often seem like a convenience but trust us, on a cruise ship you could lose hours of holiday enjoyment waiting for these suckers. Not only are they crowded, but as a result, they are also slow.
Do yourself a favour and get your steps in! Not only is it a good way to work off that filet mignon you had for dinner the night before but it will get you where you need to go much more efficiently - even if you break a little sweat it can mean skipping a trip to the ship’s gym (which will likely also be quite crowded). Take the stairs!
2 Take Off From Foreign Ports Is Normal
It’s always important to note where you cruise is boarding as it can be an afterthought once you’ve got that super saver deal and paid your ticket only to realize you now have to buy a pricey flight to the docking city. Many ships tend to leave from major touch point ports like Florida, France or Italy.
Be sure that you’ve had a look at the flights before you’ve determined your cruise as many ships require that you’re present up to 2 hours before the ship leaves the dock. If you’re making your way from the airport this can be quite painstakingly stressful.
1 The Ship Itself Is A Work of Art
With the most extravagant ship costing as much as 1 billion dollars to construct, most ships can sail 73,000 nautical miles in a year and with an average speed of about 23 mph (or 20 nautical knots). These ships are truly engineered works of art!
While the Titanic was thought to be the largest, most opulent cruise ship for its time, today it would be about half the size of a modern cruise ship.
The world’s largest ship, Harmony of the Seas, measures in at 226,963 gross tonnes. These boats don’t just provide accommodation for temporary holidays as some are being used as permanent residences or on rescue missions to help smaller boats. With half the ship remaining under the surface of the sea, this will normally be where the crew sleeps and where some kitchens are kept.
An average cruise cabin manufacturer can produce 12,000 cabins per year and they are produced separately from the ship and then slotted in afterwards. As an age-old tradition of travel, many celebrities have boasted of their love of sea travel including David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Sharon Stone and Meryl Streep.