With these first-time cruise tips, you’ll be able to get the most from your trip and be fully prepared for the adventure ahead
Taking your first cruise can be an exciting and memorable experience. Cruises offer a unique way to travel. Modern cruise ships can be compared to a floating all-inclusive resort. You can explore multiple destinations without the hassle of packing and unpacking. So what do you need to know as a first-time cruiser? We’ve got you covered! Below are 11 cruise tips for smooth sailing on your next vacation.
It is incredibly important to arrive at the city your cruise departs from at least one day prior to embarkation. If you are just a drive away, you’ll have no problem. If you are flying into the city the day your ship is supposed to set sail, you risk delayed flights, lost luggage or missing the ship entirely. If you must take a flight to your port of embarkation, we recommend flying one to two days early and staying in a hotel. This gives you the opportunity to arrive early for boarding the ship, along with adding an extra day to your entire vacation.
Book in Advance
One of the most useful first-time cruise tips is to book everything in advance. You will have little to no cell phone service onboard the ship, so it will be difficult to book activities and excursions, look up weather forecasts, buy tickets and make reservations. You’ll also want to save yourself any roaming and data fees from your cell phone carrier by putting your phone on airplane mode. Most cruise ships do offer a Wi-Fi package to travelers, but many cruise-goers report that the Wi-Fi service is too slow and they regret paying for it. Why waste your precious and limited time on the ship waiting for a screen to load? Amenities and excursions that require reservations book up quickly. Skip the Wi-Fi package, do your research and book everything in advance.
Understand What’s Included – and What’s Not
If you are not yet a seasoned traveler, it may be news to you that “all inclusive” does not always mean everything is included. Depending on the cruise line, there will be amenities, restaurants and specialty spas that require reservations at an additional cost. For example, some cruise lines offer drink packages, but the package only includes a certain number of drinks per day. Other cruise lines offer room service, but room service in the middle of the night requires additional fees. Understanding what’s included – and what’s not – will help avoid unexpected fees charged to your room number.
Get to Know Your Crew
There’s no better way to enhance your cruise than by connecting with the crew on board. Crew members are from all over the world and have traveled all over the world with some remarkable stories to share. They can give you insight on hidden gems at the next port of call like authentic restaurants, cultural events, hiking trails and views. Whether it’s a birthday, anniversary, reunion or graduation, you should notify the cruise staff if you are celebrating something special on your voyage. Some cruise lines offer discounted amenities to celebrate your special occasion that aren’t a part of the all inclusive package. Although not guaranteed, you may receive a complementary spa day or a dinner reservation at a premier restaurant aboard the ship.
BYOB – Bring Your Own Booze
As a first-time cruiser, you may be surprised to find that some cruise lines allow you to bring alcohol aboard. This is among the top cruise tips for those looking to budget and save a few extra dollars. Check your cruise line’s alcohol policy and drink package options to determine what you can bring and what is prohibited. Do not try to sneak in prohibited alcohol as this causes delays with luggage and security. Most cruise lines allow you to bring one sealed bottle of wine aboard in your carry-on and offer a selection of hard alcohol for purchase in gift shops. Of course, there are several bars throughout the cruise ships, so it’s best to estimate your drinking volume and decide whether you should bring your own alcohol, purchase a drink package or purchase hard alcohol from a shop on board.
Embrace “Sea Days”
While exploring new destinations is something every passenger looks forward to, there’s often a schedule of activities for “sea days” that are not offered when the ship is docked. A top tip we recommend for first-time cruisers is to embrace the sea days. This is your time to truly explore the ship, try new activities or attend performances and group activities. If you have a day full of excursions booked for the next port, use the “sea day” to relax, rest and unwind. Sleep in an extra hour, order room service for breakfast, settle in a lounge chair on the pool deck or enjoy a few hours at the spa. Embrace the day in whatever way suits you as the ship travels across open waters to the next port of call.
Pay Attention to “Ship’s Time”
This cruise tip is absolutely crucial when booking excursions or exploring your current port location. Often referred to as “ship’s time,” some cruise lines keep a consistent schedule by following the time zone of the embarkation port. No matter what time zone you are in, you’ll follow this schedule. This can be tricky with smartphones because they automatically adjust the time according to the time zone you’re in. We recommend using a simple analog watch set to “ship’s time” when exploring port destinations. Depending on the cruise line, route and port destinations, your ship may change the time zone they are following. Check in advance to see if your cruise line will follow “ship’s time” or change with the time zones you’ll pass through. If you are late to reboard, the ship will not wait for you!
Pack Essentials in a Carry-On
As you board the ship with thousands of other passengers, it may take a few hours until your checked luggage is delivered to your cabin. Packing essentials in your carry-on bag allows you to start your adventure the second you step foot onto the ship. Must-have items to include in your carry-on are printed travel documents, prescriptions and motion sickness medications, valuable electronics, a change of clothes, swimwear, sunblock and sunglasses. If your ship allows for it, you’ll also want to store any alcohol you’re bringing aboard in your carry-on.
Participate in the Muster Drill
The muster drill, also referred to as the safety or lifeboat drill, is a mandatory safety procedure on cruise ships. Its purpose is to familiarize passengers with the ship’s safety protocols in case of an emergency. When it comes to cruise tips you must follow, it’s participating in the muster drill. If a guest misses the drill, they will be contacted by a ship officer and asked to complete a make-up drill. If the guest does not comply, they will be required to disembark the ship. Safety is a top priority on cruise ships. Familiarizing yourself with safety procedures ensures a safe and enjoyable experience.
Selecting a Cabin
If it’s your first time booking a cruise, you are probably wondering where the best rooms are located throughout the ship. The truth is, there is no “best” room on a cruise ship. For starters, you’ll spend most of your time away from your cabin. Unless having a balcony with a view is important to you, the innermost cabins on the lower levels of the ship are a better option. These rooms are where you’ll feel the least amount of movement from the ship, meaning less motion sickness and nausea. These rooms tend to be the smallest, cheapest and lack natural lighting. If you’re someone who doesn’t mind small enclosed spaces and prefer to only spend time in your room sleeping, these cabins are the way to go. Skip the spacious cabin with a balcony view and use those funds towards an adventurous excursion at a port destination.
Cruise staff work tirelessly around the clock to ensure smooth sailing, safety of all passengers and a luxurious experience. As they provide outstanding hospitality, don’t forget to tip accordingly. Some cruise lines offer guests the option to prepay gratuities before departure. Other options include a daily gratuity charge per person per room, or tipping additional cash in person to specific crew members. Even if you select to prepay gratuities prior to departure, you should have cash on hand for additional tipping to crew members who have gone above and beyond expectations.
With these top cruise tips for first-time cruisers, you’re ready to sail away!
By Debbie Taylor