A cruise can be the perfect vacation for the right type of people, with many devoted cruise-goers swearing by the holiday formula as the perfect combination of relaxation and adventure. It doesn’t matter if you’re a group of adults or a family with young kids, there truly is something for everyone. Despite this, cruises can be somewhat daunting to first-timers as there is such a wide variety of options and experiences available. First-timers need not worry though, booking and planning a cruise is easier than almost any other holiday. There are, however, a few things to know in advance that will ease your fears and ensure your vacation is smooth sailing. Whether it’s a worry about seasickness or just a general unease about an unfamiliar experience, we have produced some tips to make the most of your first cruise vacation.
15 Things you need to know to help prepare for your first cruise
- Not everything is free (especially drinks!) – Whilst it might seem obvious once you have properly thought it through, not everything on the cruise ship is complimentary. This can trip-up a lot of cruise rookies on their first day when they are asked by servers if they would like a drink and are met with their cocktail and a bill upon the server’s return! The truth is that cruise companies make a lot of their money through the sale of alcohol, and buying drinks directly from the bar can get expensive fast. Most cruise lines will have a daily drinks pass that will give you unlimited (or heavily discounted) beverages, so consider buying this if you are planning on drinking a lot on your voyage. Alternatively, you can usually buy slightly better value drinks from the onboard store.
- Pack smart – You should be aware of the limited space to store suitcases in your room, but don’t skimp on bringing the essentials. Remember to bring your essential toiletries as the ship might not provide you with what you deem necessary. For example, conditioner is often absent from cabin bathrooms. If you are going on a more specialized cruise, binoculars could come in handy. You’ll want to bring a camera, but do you really need to pack five different lenses to get the perfect shot? Packing smart is the key to making the most of your cruise and your cabin’s space.
- Know the Weather Forecast – You will know your ship’s route in advance, so be sure to check the weather in each area and pack appropriate clothes both for on the ship and excursions. Forecasts can be unreliable, so be sure to bring a light coat (preferably with a hood) to make any rainy excursions comfortable for you. Ideally, you should check the average temperatures before you even book your cruise. The cheapest dates are often in the coldest months and this might disappoint rookie cruise goers looking for a sunny vacation.
- Know your cruise demographic – Before you book your cruise, try to find out the average demographics that take your planned cruise package. This can be determined by a variety of factors: is it a school holiday period? How long is the cruise? Who is being targeted? Make sure that you’d be happy with the crowd as you’ll be with these people for the duration of the cruise. Some routes are primarily taken by retirees and would be unsuitable for young families who need activities for their kids. Likewise, some voyages will skew younger and try to have more of a party atmosphere. The other passengers on the cruise will have a big effect on your overall enjoyment, and you can make some friends for life if you are lucky.
- Know the cost of extras – Your cruise ship will undoubtedly have services that will cost extra if you want to use them. Whether it be a spa or the gym, be sure to know the cost of any extras that you are interested in before you start the holiday. This will help make budgeting easier and avoid the accumulative build-up of extra charges that can occur when you never have to exchange physical money.
- Know your itinerary – The guided tours and activities organized by your cruise line are great but these excursions are often quite pricey and sometimes sell-out early. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to plan in advance what activities you’d like to do before stepping aboard the ship. Read reviews from past cruisers to determine the best excursions to participate and shop-around to see if there are any cheaper alternatives on-land. Doing this will give you peace-of-mind before traveling and might also allow you to participate in activities that you are more interested in. Exploring outside of the standard excursions can help make your cruise an unforgettable adventure.
- Plan for Rare Cases of Seasickness – Seasickness can occur on cruises, but the huge size of modern cruise liners and their stabilizers do a great job of stabilizing the ship and preventing the onset in the majority of people. If you are afraid of going on a cruise ship because you had seasickness on a smaller boat, we would recommend bringing aboard an over-the-counter medication for the rare chance that you do experience it. Try and get a cabin midship if you are really concerned.
- Remember to try the specialty food – We often hear of frugal first-time cruise-goers eating at the buffet for the entire duration of the voyage. They didn’t check out any of the other restaurants onboard as they didn’t want to pay extra. In doing so, they missed out on a variety of free-restaurants that provide some fantastic meals! Whilst you might need to book a table in advance, the quality is definitely worth it. If you are a real foodie with a passion for gourmet cuisine, it might be worth checking out some of the paid restaurants on board. Be sure to investigate the best places to eat on the ship before the holiday to get the most out of cruise ship cuisine!
- Bring a reusable water bottle – Bottled water can be expensive on cruise ships, so be sure to bring your own refillable bottle. You will be able to refill it for free from a filtered water machine scattered throughout the ship. You can also avoid paying for water during excursions by using this strategy.
- Plan for the Dress Code – It’s your holiday, so you might think that all you need is some casual clothes and swimwear but you might be missing out on some great nights out if you fail to pack some more formal clothing. Whilst during the daytime, you are pretty much free to wear whatever you want, at night the ship’s restaurants might expect slightly smarter attire. We’re not saying that you need to pack a tuxedo, but try to bring a smart pair of trousers and a nice shirt. These late-night events can take a good cruise and turn it into an excellent one!
- Beware of the WiFi – To be blunt, WiFi on cruise ships is typically unreliable, slow, and expensive. Whilst the WiFi is fine if you only need to send and receive the occasional email, if you require a strong and stable connection for your work, prepare to be disappointed. Our top tip is to use the Internet for any necessities when you are in port. If you are feeling extra prepared, download the free WifiMapper app to find free hotspots in the places you dock at.
- Understand Tipping Etiquette- Tipping on cruise ships is by no means expected, but giving a few dollars here and there can go a long way in making your holiday more pleasant for everyone! Bring some one-dollar bills to give a gratuity at the bar and for your room’s cleaner to reward them for their amazing hospitality. Tipping dealers at the casino is not mandatory, but it is a convention in casino’s around the world to give a small tip every so often to show your appreciation to the staff. There is sometimes the option to prepay for gratuity if that’s more convenient for you.
- Fly in early, fly out late – You should be aiming to get into the city that your cruise originates from the day before it sets sail. You would not want any unexpected traffic preventing you from taking your cruise. Perhaps more importantly, if you are taking a flight to get home once you cruise concludes it’s best to book it for the day after. Sure, you will have to pay for a hotel for the night, but a whole host of factors (weather, customs) can make your cruise not arrive back in time for your flight. Having that extra day will ease your mind and prevent any unwanted stress on the final days of your cruise.
- Travel Insurance – You never know what unexpected events may occur before or during your cruise, so it’s a good idea to mitigate the risk by purchasing travel insurance. Perhaps an illness might make your cruise impossible, or a freak accident renders you unable to make it. Cruises can be very expensive and having travel insurance to protect your vacation investment is a smart idea if you want to avoid cancellation fees.
- Relax – We all know the feeling. You’ve been on vacation, had a strict schedule to be followed to see and do everything that place had to offer. By the end of the holiday, you feel more exhausted than you did to begin with! A holiday is supposed to be a time for rest and relaxation, so rest and relax! We aren’t saying to lounge around the pool for the entire cruise (although if this appeals to you, by all means, go ahead), but make sure you have planned downtime in your busy schedule. It can be lovely to just sit in a coffee shop and take in the vibes of a port city rather than taking a jet ski tour of the area.
- Should you bring cash on a cruise? – Whilst you can pay all the costs incurred on the cruise by card at the end of your trip, it’s a good idea to have some spare physical cash with you on board. This can come in handy during your excursions, and can also be used to tip friendly staff. You can also pay your final bill by cash if you so wish.
- Can I use my debit card on a cruise ship? – You will be presented with a special card at the beginning of your cruise that can be used to pay for extra expenses without having to carry around your debit card. You can then use your debit card at the end of your vacation to pay the total of these extra expenses.
- Do you carry a purse on a cruise? – This is totally up to you. It can be a convenient place to keep your cruise money card and other essentials that you wish to carry around the ship like suncream or your sunglasses. It’s definitely worth taking a purse, wallet, or small bag on board for use at the port excursions. Some of these ports will be safer than others, so check before bringing valuables on-shore.
- Is food free on a cruise? – Typically, there are several buffets and restaurants available on the ship to eat at free of charge. However, some of the more gourmet options will involve an extra charge, so be sure to check your cruise line’s website first to see what free food is on offer.
Your first cruise should be an unforgettable experience taking you to exciting places and delivering top quality service along the way. Like any good holiday, it can be improved with a little bit of planning and foresight and by following our advice, we hope you will be able to make the most of your vacation and leave eagerly anticipating your next voyage!