Congratulations, you’ve booked your first-ever cruise—or at least are planning (or hoping) to book one! We’re sure you’re brimming with excitement… and slightly overwhelmed with all the specifics. What should you pack? What’s the dining situation? What kinds of things cost extra? How do you book shore excursions? These are all questions every first-time cruiser has. So if you’re feeling a little anxious about what to expect, you’ll enjoy reading our list of tips and tricks for cruising newbies—they’ll have you sailing the high seas like a pro in no time.
So in the words of Bob Marley, “Don’t worry, about a thing, ‘cause every little thing is gonna be alright!”
Cruise Tips for First-Timers
Put a Lock on Your Bag
Your bag is checked before you get on the ship, and then left at the door of your stateroom a couple hours after everyone boards. Since you won’t know exactly when your bag will be dropped off, you may want to lock it up for extra safety.
Pack a Day Pack
Since you are without your bag for a few hours, make sure you pack a small backpack to carry on board with you that holds a bathing suit, book, sunscreen or whatever else you may want while waiting for your luggage to arrive.
Pre-Book Shore Excursions
You have two options—book on the cruise line’s website or go with a local company based on your port of call. Although booking through the cruise line can be more convenient, it is typically more expensive and you may not be able to switch excursions or get your money back if you cancel. However, if you book with a local company, you’ll have to figure out transportation and make sure you get back on time. You can always wait to book shore excursions at the Guest Services desk at any time during your cruise, but you have to wait in a long line and run the risk of them getting sold out.
Bring Mixers & Approved Alcohol
Most cruise lines allow you to bring on mixers and two bottles of wine max, but no spirits or beer. Since the beverages can get a bit pricey (only water and juices are complimentary), it saves a pretty penny to bring your own. Be sure to check your cruise line’s policy, they may vary slightly.
Dine on Your Own Time
Many cruise lines encourage group dining at a specific time and place, however you don’t always have to oblige. If you like sticking to a routine, go for it, but if not, there are usually plenty of other options available to you. Go buffet style or pay a little extra for one of the fancier dining options if you’re looking for ways to make your getaway a little more romantic. Or, order room service at no extra cost!
Check the Daily Itinerary
Every night, you’ll receive the next day’s list of activities. Shows, scavenger hunts, trivia, games, demos—there’s so much to see and do that you can’t possibly get to it all. That’s why it’s important to mark which activities are a must, so you don’t miss out. Oh, and don’t forget to leave some space in your day to relax by the pool, enjoy a relaxing spa treatment or try one of the many eateries.
Bring Cash for Shore Excursions & Casino Only
You only need cash if you’re gambling or to make shopping more convenient in port. The beauty of cruising is that it’s a cashless experience. You just connect a credit card to your room key, and then charge everything to your room including drinks, souvenirs, and optional dining. Which brings up another good point: Keep your key card on you at all times. It’s used as an I.D. card and your picture is tied to it, so you need it to get back on the boat after port days.
Prep for Port Days
You don’t always get a lot of time to spend in port, so it’s important to plan ahead so you don’t waste the day away. Figure out what time you need to be up and ready for any excursions, arrange transportation, get a day bag packed and ready, etc. If you choose to stay on board, take advantage of the many deals the ship offers for port days!
Pay Attention to the Time
Trust us, you don’t want to be that person that was behind because you lost track of time. And believe us, they will leave you if you are late. Then, you are stranded, with all your bags and money on the ship that is slowly sailing away. Even if you’ve sailed into a different time zone, keep your watch set on ship’s time—ship’s time always rules. A wristwatch is best, since cell phones may automatically switch to local time, which could ultimately confuse you.
Hang Out With the Crew
The crew is one of the most valuable informational assets you can have. Ask them about the best places to dine, best shore excursions, any insider tips, etc. They’ll be happy to help! And, even though they are working, they have off days and like hanging out and having a good time just as much as the next person.
Check the Deck Plan
The pool area and other high trafficked zones are bound to be busy, but there are plenty of other areas to hang out if you’re looking for a chiller vibe. You can easily avoid the crowds and get a nice cozy spot by simply checking the deck plan and exploring the ship a bit.
Although you can always opt out, it’s customary to tip the hardworking people who’ve helped make your cruise as wonderful as possible—from the baggage handlers to the cabin stewards to the bartenders and wait staff. The tips can usually be added to your on-board account, unless of course you prefer to pay each one in cash.
Oh, and one last thing… have a great time!