First Time Cruise Tips
Great for people of all ages, and for all kinds of travellers (from single travellers to couples to groups of friends), a cruise can be an amazing experience.
We are committed to making sure that all first time cruise trips are absolutely unforgettable for all the right reasons: the gorgeous sights you see, the comfort of your room, the fabulous on board food and entertainment, the time spent with your loved ones, and the friends that you make on the way.
We know that heading off on a cruise for the first time can feel a little daunting, but do not worry: our comprehensive list of 60 tips and tricks for first time cruisers will ensure that you are fully prepared for the marvellous adventure ahead.
So read on, to make sure that you have not missed anything out.
Best Tricks and Advice
1. A little admin goes a long way
Before your cruise, you will need to check in, and the process is relatively similar to taking a flight or to taking an international train like the Eurostar in Europe. If heading off on an international cruise, a passport will be required, and you may also need a visa and vaccination certificates.
Make sure that you know what documentation is required well ahead of the cruise (your cruise company will be able to help you with this if there is any confusion), and most importantly remember to bring all of that documentation with you or you could be denied boarding.
2. Avoid the rush. Try and get onboard earlier – or later – than others
Embarkation day is the name for the day on which everyone boards the cruise ship. Some cruise companies provide you with early embarkation for an additional fee such as Carnival Cruises (Carnival’s Faster to the Fun (FTTF) package), which enables you to board the ship before the majority of other travelers.
Moreover, if you have accessibility requirements (for example, if you are in a wheelchair), you can ask your cruiseline to get your room ready ahead of time and enable you to board extra early so that you have time to settle in – usually this can be done for no extra fee.
There is usually a big rush to get on the cruise ship on Embarkation Day and if you have not otherwise arranged early embarkation, you can avoid the crowd and queues by either turning up extra early on the day, or hanging around a little having a coffee or some lunch whilst everyone else boards. It’s up to you!
On this note, it’s best to ensure that you are at the embarkation port at least one day before the cruise ship departs – that usually means staying the night in a hotel somewhere close by the port on the evening before Embarkation Day.
You do not want to risk missing the cruise entirely due to a delayed flight or cancelled train.
3. Here’s a tip: take a tip!
When arriving at the port of embarkation, ensure that you have enough $1 bills in your wallet for tipping the porters who helps to carry your luggage and bring it to the ship.
4. Baggage restrictions are much more free and easy!
One of the worst things about taking a flight is packing and repacking your suitcases to ensure that you have not packed too many liquids in your hand luggage and that your suitcases all weigh the right amount.
Even worse – you get hit with a huge fee if you are over the approved limit.
First time cruise goers will be delighted to learn that there are usually no such restrictions on what you can take on a cruise ship. It is wise to be sensible, though: remember that whatever you take on board the ship will need to be taken off and on again multiple times at your various ports of call. It is also advisable to leave some empty space in your suitcases for souvenirs! For this reason, cruise goers tend to be self-limiting when it comes to deciding how much luggage to take on board.
5. You will need to find the right line to check in
When you arrive at the ship to start your first cruise, be prepared to see several different lines for travelers waiting to check in.
For example Diamond Club Members or those travelling in Aqua Class on Celebrity Cruises will have their own (usually fast moving) line, and there will be separate lines for customers who have booked out suites and customers who have booked standard cabins.
6. Book Show, Restaurants and Spa in advance
Leave some time for spontaneous decisions, but try and pre-book as much entertainment as you can. On larger cruiseships, entertainment and leisure activities such as evening shows or spa treatments can get booked up very quickly, and there can be long lines for those who wish them to book on board.
The good news is that these entertainment activities can be booked in advance well before sailing day either online on the cruise line’s website or over the phone.
7. Get yourself covered
It goes without saying that if you travel anywhere out of your home country, it is crucial to get yourself covered by comprehensive travel insurance.
Make sure that your insurance also covers any sporting activities that you are going to take part in, like snorkeling or diving and any medical conditions that you may have. Families and couples can often get better deals by opting for an insurance package that covers them as a group, so do check this out.
8. Arrive 1 or 2 nights in advance
We’ve already touched on this above, but it bears repeating as we’d hate for your dream holiday to get off to a bad start. So, make plans to be in the port where your cruise ship is going to depart from at least one day in advance of embarkation day.
We actually recommend aiming to get there 2 nights in advance if you can, because then you have some time to rest and properly refresh yourself after your flight or car journey before you embark on your cruise.
When travelling to Europe, why not stay for a few nights in Barcelona or Venice in Italy. When heading to Florida relax a few days before or after your vacation in Miami or in one of the great hotels or resorts in Fort Lauderdale.
9. Leave that hairdryer at home!
So some people bring their own hairdryers on board our cruise ships, only to discover that hairdryers are amply provided in cabins, spas, salons, and bathrooms on board.
Free up some space in your luggage by leaving that hairdryer behind.
10. Try and book your shore excursions in advance
Here’s some more handy vocab for first time cruisers: ‘shore excursions’ are the trips that you take in and around the various ports that you will call at during your cruise.
These could include wine tasting, museum trips, diving lessons – you name it! Cruise companies provide a handy list of the shore excursions on offer in advance of the cruise, and it is a good idea to book up the ones that appeal to you in advance of your vacation.
Once you are on the cruiseship, you may become inspired to book a few more excursions, and you can still (theoretically at least) book them up at any point during the cruise prior to the excursion.
However, shore excursions can be super popular, so we recommend completing any additional bookings on either the first or the second day of the cruise.
- Book Shore Excursions
11. Cruise ships have a unique payment method
Keep that American Express card in your wallet, and hang on to your cash.
When you pay for almost anything aboard a cruise ship, the payment will be made using your room key. We think that’s pretty convenient, don’t you?
12. Know what is included in the price of the cruise and what is not
This tip will help you with your budgeting. Almost all cruise ships include a variety of shows as part of the cost of the cruise, for example, and many cruise lines will also provide you with most meals included.
Many additional options – such as spa treatments, special shows, and gourmet dining experiences – will require an additional payment.
Room service is often included in the price of the cruise – something that tends to delight first time cruisers, but some cruiselines ask for an additional fee for room service at night. A full pricing list can be found on the website or once onboard, so take a look at this information.
13. Go to Speciality Restaurants the first day
Fancy a specialty meal? Our advice is to enjoy your gourmet dining experience on one particular day. Each cruise liner has its share of specialty restaurants, and these can get pretty crowded towards the middle of the cruise’s duration.
However, if you plan to enjoy that specialty meal on embarkation day itself, you will find that most of the posh restaurants on the cruise ship are much less crowded. This is because everyone is busy settling in to their cabins and exploring the cruise ship, planning to enjoy that gourmet dinner later on in the cruise.
If you book that meal on the first day, you will find yourself in a delightfully tranquil environment, simply rubbing shoulders with a few old timers who have also realised that this is the best way to beat the crowds.
14. The muster drill is crucial – show up for it
Do you find yourself nodding off during the in flight safety instructions on a plane because you have heard it all before? There is something a little similar on a cruise ship and it is called the ‘muster drill‘.
This is a physical activity when all guests must practice assembling at a given location that has been designated as the meeting place in the event of an emergency. You must definitely attend this drill.
Just reading the location of the emergency meeting point in your cabin’s safety information is not enough – in the event of an actual emergency, things can get pretty confused. However, the muster drill enables you to plan your route to the meeting place from your cabin or from your favorite restaurant, and so you will find it much easier to repeat this route much more smoothly and calmly in the event of an actual emergency.
Don’t worry, though, first time cruisers – emergencies on cruise ships are very, very rare!
15. Take advantage of the spa tours
We’ve already mentioned that Embarkation Day is the best day to eat in a specialty restaurant as it enables you to beat the crowds.
The same goes for visiting the spa. Indeed, many spas will provide special introductory tours for guests on the day you embark.
Spa staff will guide you around and show you the different treatment rooms and explain various treatments. You are able to take a look at the onboard sauna, hairdresser and fitness centre.
16. Head to the pool deck as you depart!
As your cruise ship departs, old timers will know to head straight for the pool.
This is so that they can partake in the unmissable and joyful tradition of the ‘sailaway party‘ – make sure to join them as this moment really brings everyone together and fills you with excitement about the amazing adventure that you are about to share together.
17. Be prepared for photos
Your picture probably will be taken at some point (well, several points actually!) during your voyage. First timers are often surprised to find a cameraperson popping up in the middle of their gourmet dinner and snapping their smiling face.
Our advice? Be prepared for this. Cruise ships as a rule will hire professional photographers to roam throughout the ship during the cruise to take snaps of guests enjoying themselves. If you’re really not happy about your photo being taken, you can always say no thank you.
18. When your foot hits that boarding ramp, switch off your phone
Even if you do not use it on the cruise, a switched on cell phone could be silently accruing charges as your roaming data plan hooks you up to the ships network or local networks of the different countries that the ship passes through.
Some cruise ships provide free wifi and others don’t. But, if you want to access your emails we advise using a laptop or tablet, or only switch on your phone when needed.
19. Use Hand sanitizers and wash your hands often
One of the plagues of cruise ships is, unfortunately, the gastroenteritis causing bug known as norovirus. This is because a closed off cruise ship, with a large number of people in close proximity and sharing meals, provides a near perfect environment for norovirus to spread.
Norovirus can spread relatively quickly through cruise ships and it can knock you out for several days. Help yourself and other passengers out by using hand sanitizer before and after meals, and regularly throughout the day.
It goes without saying that you should wash your hands regularly too!
20. Know how to customize your room – be a ‘diva’
On many ships, room service will be included during the day, as we have mentioned.
Here are a few things that we think you should consider asking for from your room steward: extra towels if needed, additional soap, more tea and coffee and ‘egg crate foam‘ (don’t worry if you haven’t heard of this, they will know what you mean – this foam is put on your bed to make it comfier).
21. Find out if you can bring alcohol on board
We have explained that you can usually bring a lot of luggage on board the cruise liner if you like, but most cruiselines allow passengers to bring some alcohol onboard when you embark, but they are often very restrictive about how much you can bring.
After all, they want to be able to make a profit from their on board bars and restaurants. It can be very nice to enjoy a bottle of wine on your balcony, though, so our advice is to find out what the cruise ship’s maximum limit for your own alcohol is and to bring that maximum amount.
That way, if you do overspend on your budget and realise you can’t really afford the on board bar on the last few nights, you can sip some of your own wine in the comfort of your own room.
22. Find a hotel with parking for cruise customers
Cruise ships tend to depart from and arrive at the same ports again and again. As a result, they have developed strong relationships with certain hotels around their embarkation port.
That means that many hotels will offer special ‘cruise parking’ rates which enable you to leave your vehicle in their car park for the whole duration of your cruise (often provided that you stay in that hotel for the night before departure).
23. Look for hotels with a cruise shuttle
Many hotels within a certain radius of the port will provide a free cruise shuttle bus (or for a small addtional fee) for getting you to the port on time on the first day.
Shuttles services provided by the cruiseline are much more expensive.
24. Worried about getting seasick? Choose your cabin wisely
Seasickness is usually caused by the rocking of the cruise ship in rougher seas.
This rocking motion is felt most of all around the edges of the ship.
So, you can guard yourself against seasickness by booking a cabin in the middle of the ship (look out for the word ‘midship’ next to the cabin options), or on a lower deck.
25. Planning to drink on board? Look for an all you can drink package
If you like a tipple with your meals and you want to party on your chosen cruiseliner, you may find that you rack up a sizeable bill at the on board bar.
A better option may be to pay for an ‘all you can drink‘ cruise package so that you can still enjoy a cocktail or three but without the hefty costs traditionally involved.
Be aware, though, that not all cruise liners will include the drinks in your cabin’s mini bar in this package – and as with hotels, cruise ship staff can be very good about invisibly restocking these bars every day, thus tempting you to raid them time and time again.
26. Every cabin should have a safe – use it
We’d love to be able to trust absolutely everyone on a cruise ship, but unfortunately sometimes items do go missing.
Popping valuables in your cabin safe will guard them against theft.
27. Be nice to the crew!
One issue for many first timers on cruises is how to treat the crew. We’re all encouraged to get on with other cruise passengers, but what about the crew?
Should you leave them alone to get on with their job? Our advice is to always be friendly with the crew. Get to know them and chat to them – be nice to them at all times if you see them around!
Cruise ship staff are chosen for their excellent people skills, and most of them adore the job that they do as it enables them to meet new people. Don’t be afraid to have a laugh with them, or to approach them with any questions or needs you may have.
28. Don’t be afraid to switch up your dinner options
Have you ever ordered a dish in a restaurant, taken one bite and realised you don’t like it, but soldiered on regardless because you do not want to inconvenience the chef or pay extra for a different dish?
On a cruise ship, it is totally acceptable to return a dish you don’t like and ask for a new one, so don’t be shy about doing this! You can also order several starters or several mains for yourself if you’re feeling hungry – there’s no limit even if the menu in front of you looks like a strict ‘set menu’ in a restaurant.
29. Let the chef or waiting staff know what you like to eat!
They would surely be delighted to cook it for you and make it available for you to order.
Be aware that they may not be able to do so right away, but usually they will try and make your most favored foodstuffs available for you to order the following day.
30. Does your cruise coincide with a special date? Let the staff know!
Many cruisers book their cruise to coincide with their birthday, or with a special occasion such as a wedding anniversary.
You absolutely must let the staff know about this as cruise shop staff love to go all out with special gifts for your special day, like a song just for you, decorations in your cabin, and a delicious birthday cake.
31. All allergies and dietary requirements will be catered for
Whether you are a vegan, or whether your require gluten free or nut free meals, simply let the staff know.
You can tell them before you travel, or mention it to them at any time once the cruise is underway.
32. Treat yourself to a daytime meal in the main dining room
Cruise ships will provide you with a buffet for breakfast, lunch, and (often) dinner but there will also be a main dining room where you can eat a fancier meal with table service.
Many guests save their main dining room experience for their evening meal, but we definitely advise having your breakfast or lunch there a few times too.
Not too many people do this, and so this can be the best time to beat the crowds and enjoy a delightful lunch or a fancy start to the day with a gourmet breakfast!
33. Want 24 hour room service? It may be an option
As we mentioned above, most cruise liners provide room service throughout the day, and it is often free.
Nowadays, many companies also ask you to pay extra to get room service throughout the night as well if you want those delicious midnight feasts.
34. Your balcony is less secure than other parts of your cabin
Though a private balcony is part of your cabin and it is for your use alone, it is not so secure as the interiors of your rooms.
Do not leave valuables on your balcony – we find that a large proportion of the items stolen on cruise ships go missing from balconies. In addition, balconies can get a little windy and if you leave a pair of sunglasses, a book or a towel on the side it could get blown into the sea!
35. Be aware that other guests can see you on your balcony
Thinking of stepping straight from the shower onto your balcony to enjoy the bracing sea air on your nude body?
It’s time to think twice: not many first timers realise this, but very often you can be seen by other guests when you are on your private balcony.
36. Keep the window of your cabin closed when you are not in
Yes, this keeps your belongings safe from thieves, but it also ensures that the wind does not sneak in to your cabin and leave everything in disarray, or when sailing in the tropics your cabin will heat up or become very humid.
37. Make use of your balcony in the morning
One of the best ways to start your day on a cruise liner is to have your breakfast out on your balcony – trust us!
38. Want to keep up to date with your bill? Simply turn on the TV!
Your regularly updated, personalized bill for your stay on the cruise liner can be accessed via your TV.
39. Running out of clothing? Investigate the laundry services
All cruise liners provide laundry services, but some provide it for free.
Check out if your chosen cruise ship provides free laundry before you travel as this could be very handy.
40. There will be special events on board to keep little ones entertained
It is par for the course for cruise liners to provide events like slumber parties and kids’ film nights to keep the younger members of your family entertained. So, if you’re worried about the effects of sharing a suite with the whole family, you can always schedule a few of these child friendly events so that everyone in the family can enjoy a little time to themselves – and your kids can make new friends into the bargain.
Another option provided on a cruise is to have a qualified member of staff babysit your children for you in your room and keep your kids entertained whilst you adults head to the bar or to a show by yourselves.
41. Looking for romance on board ? Forget the crew
The atmosphere on a cruise ship can definitely be conducive to romance, and we have seen plenty of lovely lasting relationships starting between guests who met on cruises.
Hooking up with a member of the crew is a definite no-no, though. They could lose their job as a result depending on their cruise ship’s policies, and it will also be pretty awkward for you as you will be quite literally stuck on the same boat as them for days and weeks on end after your hookup ends.
42. Stay updated on current events
Cruise ships run daily newsletters which keep guests up to date about upcoming shows and shore excursions, fun little facts about the places you are going to visit, restaurant specials and new cocktails, and little pieces of information about upcoming guests’ birthdays or anniversaries.
If you have a news item that you would like to have included in this daily newsletter, simply get in touch with a member of staff.
43. Sunburn can happen when you least expect it
Many cruises take place under hot tropical sun, but the sea breeze can make the day feel nice and cool, disguising the strength of the sun.
First timers are often disappointed to find that they get sunburned after a few hours out on their balcony enjoying the cool wind. Our advice is to apply sun cream at the start of each day and to reapply it regularly throughout the day.
44. Follow this one easy tip to stop your towel from blowing away
Add a few towel clips to your luggage (you may not be able to buy them on board the ship) and use them to clip your towel securely to the frame of a deck chair or a similar surface.
45. Find your ‘go to’ den
Cruise ships can be raucous places, filled with a real buzz as everyone kicks back and enjoys themselves to the max. We all need a little down time, though, where we can listen to music, meditate, or read undisturbed.
One item on your agenda when you first board the ship, then, should be to find a quiet spot where you know you can go for a little peace and quiet. That might be your private balcony, or it might be a cosy little cafe tucked away midship.
46. Pack a coat
Even in the tropics, nights can get cold. A warm jacked is an essential addition to your luggage.
47. Smoking is still allowed on many ships
Smoking bans are becoming ever more ubiquitous in indoor spaces such as restaurants and bars. However, many cruise ships are exempt from such bans.
On many cruiseships you will definitely be able to smoke outdoors in a certain area and on some ships still on your balcony.
48. Have a flutter!
Many cruise liners offer on board casinos (though the pay outs are usually smaller than the pay outs for casinos on dry land).
But, you can also participate in a variety of games and quizzes throughout the duration of your trip to get great prizes such as a free spa treatment, a free gourmet meal in the specialty restaurant, or a free shore excursion.
49. Want a second cruise free of charge? Bingo may be the best way to go
As you settle in to your cruise, you will no doubt be enjoying it so much that you will not want it to end. Well, it will unfortunately have to end at some point, but most cruise ships will provide you with the opportunity to win a second cruise before your first has finished by offering it as a prize in the onboard bingo games.
Onboard bingo is also your best bet if you want to win a lot of money whilst you travel.
50. Remember that the itinerary is not completely set in stone
Storms at sea, sickness warnings at one of the ports you were due to call at, or the opportunity of more enticing shore excursions at a different port, can all change your itinerary slightly when you are on a cruise.
So, it pays to be a little flexible in your thinking, and to prepare yourself for the possibility that the cruise may involve opportunities and adventures that are different to those advertised on the official schedule.
51. Your ship will not always pull right up into the port
At regular ports, your cruise liner will pull up right next to the shore, and you will be able to walk down the stairs or the ramp onto dry land for some shore excursions. There is a special type of port, though, called a ‘tender port‘ where this is not possible. Tender ports are usually places where the water is too shallow to support your large cruiseliner.
So, instead your cruise ship will drop its anchor some distance from the port itself and a smaller ship (which is called a ‘tender’) will approach the cruise liner and take passengers to the shore or will use it’s own lifeboats.
Sometimes, it is possible for the cruise ship to take you right up to the shore line at a tender port, but sometimes high winds or rough waves can make this too difficult and they need to skip this port of call.
52. Not all ports that you stop at will be designed solely for cruisers
Cruise liners will always try and depart initially from an idyllic port that is ideal for tourists. However, not all of the ports that you stop off along the way will be so idyllic.
Prepare yourself to dock several times at a working port that is home to container ships -such ports can be pretty noisy and not offer the most amazing views (though some guests actually enjoy being amidst the bustle of a working harbour).
53. Don’t arrive late to re-board the ship
When you are out on a shore excursion, or generally exploring the bars at one of your exciting cruise destinations, it can be so easy to let time slip through your fingers.
The crew of your ship will be very scrupulous about ensuring that everyone is on board before you depart, but don’t keep everyone waiting – don’t be late to re-board the ship as cruise liners have to plan their timings according to tides and weather patterns.
Ships will wait for a short time, but will depart eventually when you won’t show up.
54. A great way to beat the queues and avoid the crowds is to stay on board!
When your ship docks at a new port, there is usually an excited scramble as passengers get ready for their scheduled excursions, or simply prepare for a taste of that dry land, sight seeing, and exotic restaurant meals that they have been hankering after.
Not so fussed about that day’s shore excursions? Why not stay onboard the ship as everyone else leaves it. The staff will always ensure that the spas, restaurants, and other types of entertainment are still running even when the ship is in port. You will have the delicious feeling of having this whole giant cruise liner practically to yourself.
55. You simply must experience the on board show
Cruise ships pride themselves very much on the quality of their shows, and these shows can attract talent from all over the globe. As a result, you can always expect the cruise ship shows to be absolutely excellent and a highlight of your stay. What is more, the shows will be included in the price of your ticket, so there is no excuse to miss out on them!
Find out when they are, and make sure not to schedule anything else for that time of day so that you can experience the unique event that is a show aboard a cruise ship. Shows can include everything from stunning musicals with a professional cast to moody dramas and singalongs.
Dance events and chamber orchestras are also a popular fixture of cruise ships, and there will always be plenty of family friendly options for passengers with kids.
56. Make the effort to make new friends
The time that you spend aboard a cruise ship is a very special one, and you can make some of the very best friends that you have ever had whilst you travel in this unique way.
You can meet people at bingo, at a show, or just sitting in the bar or the restaurant. But, however you choose to do it, once of our major pieces of advice is to make the effort to make new friends as you travel.
Many new friends you make onboard will be friends for the rest of your life.
57. Do not miss out on the sunsets
A sunset at sea is one of the most beautiful things that you will ever experience in your life – trust us!
So, find out the time of day when the sun will be setting and ensure that you are standing at your cabin window or on your balcony, or are out on deck (weather permitting) so that you can see it for yourself.
You will definitely regret it if you spent all of those glorious sunsets inside in the bar, restaurant, or bingo hall. Many cruise ships will enable you to enjoy your meal out on deck as the sun is setting, or sip a cocktail as the sky breaks into a riot of color before the onset of dusk – the perfect beginning to a fun night aboard the cruise ship.
58. Just ask for whatever you need!
Run out of towels? In need of a massage for a pulled muscle? Looking for a babysitter? Feeling super seasick or otherwise uncomfortable and wondering if you can change cabin?
No matter what your needs are, the crew and other staff members are there to accommodate them so just ask for anything it is that you need whilst you are on board.
59. If you cause trouble on the ship, you are at risk of being removed
If you are drunk and disorderly, get into a fight, are caught stealing, or otherwise cause trouble whilst on board the ship, do be aware that you run the risk of being removed from the cruise at the next port.
You and your luggage will be taken off the cruise liner and you will need to get a flight, train, or alternative boat back home. This can be mighty inconvenient, so the solution is crystal clear: have a drink and a laugh, but never get aggressive or be rude to staff members or other guests, and do not commit any crimes whilst on board the ship.
60. Be savvy about what you pack in your hand luggage
Here’s one final thing that first timers are not always aware of: cruise ship companies very often require passengers to deliver up the majority of their luggage the night before the voyage ends.
This enables them to load all luggage in to the respective areas and to enable the ship to make an efficient disembarkation. As a result, on disembarkation day, guests will very often disembark with just their hand luggage in their hands – the remainder of their luggage will await them in the cruise terminal.
This means that you will need to be careful about what you include in your hand luggage. Think about what you will need for the night before disembarkation, and the next morning itself: passports, medicines, essential cosmetics, and other items like that will surely be needed in your hand luggage rather than in the luggage you drop off in the hallway the night before.
Now you’re ready to enjoy your first cruise to the fullest of the full.
This guide has provided you with a comprehensive list of all of the things that you need to be aware of before your first time on a cruise ship. We wish you a fantastic cruise!