Are you about to embark on your first cruise? I’ve got you covered with these helpful tips for first-time cruisers. You’ll be a cruising pro in no time!
I took my first cruise in 2017, and I had no idea what to expect. Luckily, I had Kevin by my side, and he was a seasoned cruiser. Cruises are a great way to travel, and they can be so affordable! We’ve since cruised the Caribbean multiple times and even went on our first Alaska cruise.
I’ve compiled this list of cruising tips for first-timers so that you can feel comfortable climbing aboard your cruise ship, even if you don’t have a seasoned traveler by your side. All aboard!
How to Prepare for Your First Cruise
While you’re still in your planning stages for your first cruise, you’ll need to consider things like what to pack, where your cabin will be, and what excursions you want to plan ahead for. This section will cover all of these tips for 1st time cruisers.
1. Confirm your cabin location
Before booking your cruise, check your ship’s deck plans online to make sure your cabin is in the best location for your travel style.
If you don’t like noise, make sure your cabin isn’t situated below any well-traveled areas. You don’t want to hear scraping deck chairs or drunken partying when you have to get up at 6 a.m. for an excursion the next morning.
Maybe you want to be close to the elevator for easy access, or maybe you want to be far away from the elevator because it’s too noisy.
If you’re prone to seasickness, you should go for a midship cabin. If you want a view, make sure your window or balcony isn’t listed as a partially obstructed view.
2. Decide what excursions you’ll go on
Cruises aren’t just so you’ll sit around on the deck of a boat for a week. Get out and see the ports! Experience activities like snorkeling in Haiti, plane-spotting in St. Maarten, climbing Maya ruins in Mexico, and bear-watching in Alaska.
You can book your excursions through the cruise line or independently. For first-time cruisers, I recommend booking through your cruise line.
Cruise excursions are often more expensive than what you can find on your own. However, you don’t have to worry about language barriers and transportation that might not get you back to port on time. If a ship excursion is late getting back, the cruise line is responsible for either waiting on you or getting you back on track.
Do your research before hand to see how the prices compare to booking independently. For us, it was worth it to go through the ship.
3. Pack your own pharmacy
I always recommend traveling with your own stash of medicines. But you’ll especially want it on a cruise because the motion of the ocean can stir up a lot of sickness.
Your own medicine is one of my biggest first-time cruise essentials. If you think there’s a medicine or product you might need, bring it from home because the prices on the ship are way expensive.
You should be prepared for motion sickness because you can’t predict the rolling of the seas. Cruises are also known for spreading around illnesses since you have so many people in confined spaces, so bring along stuff to fight the common cold. Many people also deal with digestion issues from eating so much rich food on cruises. These are just a few things you’ll want to be prepared for.
4. Pack clothing for every occasion
What you pack ultimately depends on what type of cruise you’re taking.
For a Caribbean cruise, you’ll of course need your casual beach clothes and comfortable walking shoes for most of your excursions. For an Alaska cruise, you’ll want sturdy hiking boots and a rain jacket.
But did you also pack appropriate dining attire? Captain’s Night in the dining room requires “formal attire”, though on most cruises they aren’t usually strict about it. At least pack a nice top and pants and try to make an effort to clean up.
You’ll also need a swimsuit cover-up for even the casual buffet dining because you can’t dine indoors without a shirt on.
5. Bring your own wine
One of my best tips for cruisers? Bring your own wine!
Most cruises allow you to bring your own wine on board. Royal Caribbean lets you bring along one standard sized bottles per person of drinking age.
Pack it in your carry on for boarding. You can enjoy your bottle in your room, or you can bring it along with you to have at dinner.
6. Pack a carry on
When you check in, you’ll hand over your large checked luggage to be deposited at your cabin door when your cabin is ready. This can be little strange to first-time cruisers because you’re left for a while without your belongings and without a room to go to.
So you’ll want to pack a carry on bag in the meantime. This will be a small bag with your essentials for the day.
You’ll want any necessary medicines, maybe a bathing suit so you can swim while you wait, a change of clothes, electronics, and anything important that you want to keep with you and don’t want left in the hallway outside your cabin (like your wine).
7. Plan plenty of time to make it on the ship
Travel delays happen, and I would hate for you to miss the first day of your first cruise.
When we go to the Caribbean, we always drive halfway the day before and stay with family on the way down. That way, we aren’t making a 8 hour drive to Cape Canaveral the day of the cruise, and we usually only have to drive 4 hours.
For our Alaska cruise, we didn’t even think about travel delays. We booked a flight that landed in plenty of time and booked an airport transfer to get us to the ship. And then our flight was delayed for weather and I really thought we were going to have to pay thousands of dollars to catch the ship at the next port.
Luckily, we were able to make it on the ship with about 30 minutes to spare. Now, when you board the ship that late, there’s no one there to greet you, no one to take your bags, and no one telling you where to go. That’s not how I want your first time on a cruise to be.
So learn from us, plan for travel delays, and get to the ship terminal with plenty of time to spare.
First Time On a Cruise Ship Tips
For your first time stepping onto a cruise ship, it can be really overwhelming. These things are like floating cities, it’s a little insane. These helpful first-time cruising tips will help you navigate the ship, what you should do, and what you should avoid while onboard.
8. Explore the ship
Cruise ships can seem like a maze, and it’s easy to get turned around. Take some time to familiarize yourself with the ship on the first day.
Find out where all the dining options are, check out the activities, and find the theater and dance clubs.
Check out all the bars and their menus. Look at the cruise’s schedule and see which events you’ll want to attend and where they’ll be. Find a nice spot to look out over the water.
And above all, make sure you know how to get back to your cabin!
9. Take advantage of the free activities
There’s so much to do on cruise ships, and while you shouldn’t try try to do it all, do make reservations for some of the shows.
You’ll have plays, acrobatics, diving shows, and even ice shows to choose from.
And then there’s all the activities on board, like rock climbing, ice skating, zip lining, and surfing.
For the big cruise ships, you may need to plan ahead and make reservations for the things you really want to see and do. For smaller ships, they likely won’t have reservations for activities and you can decide more on a whim.
10. Enjoy some people-watching
A cruise is a great place for people-watching. There are all kinds of characters that will keep you entertained while you lounge by the pool.
Read about the 7 types of people you meet on a cruise here.
11. Eat what you want
You are on vacation, so when you’re in the main dining room, you can order as much food as you want. You’re allowed to order multiple appetizers, entrees, and desserts at each meal (I have seen where they’ll instigate a limit some items like the lobster tails).
A lot of the times, the buffet has the same thing that’s on the menu in the main dining room. So if you miss your dining time, you can still get it at the buffet.
There are also a lot of other little restaurants and snack shops located throughout the ship, so keep those in mind too. (Some of these do cost extra, though).
12. Know your drink packages
Look carefully at what the drink package covers; most only count for drinks under a certain price. Cruises have also gotten wise to people sharing drink packages, so they have limits to how many drinks you can get at a time. This goes for both alcohol packages and soft drink packages.
And in the end, you may have to have 10 drinks a day to get your money’s worth. So take a close look at the numbers before you buy one.
We opted out of a drink package. Once we were on the ship, though, the cruise offered a punch-card of 10 drinks for $79, and that was more reasonable for us. I’ve only seen this offered on one of our cruises, but you should keep an eye out for deals like this.
Ready for a cruise vacation? Plan your trip with these tips.
- Find cheap cruises: You can use Orbitz to find the best prices on cruises.
- Prepare for your cruise: Get ready for your cruise by reading up on top cruise tips and itineraries.
- Pack for your vacation: Make sure you’ve packed everything you need by checking out my packing list resources.
Did you find these helpful cruise tips for first-time cruisers useful? Let me know in the comments!