Are you thinking about or have you already booked your first cruise? You're going to have a great time, meet new people and see new places. The ship will have tasty plentiful food, entertainment, activities and scenic ports of call. There are some things to be aware of so your day to day travel needs are met as well as possible and you can maximize the enjoyment of your trip.
If you struggle with being punctual you need to remedy - that at least temporarily for your cruise. The boat waits for No One. The larger the ship the more likely they are to leave you behind. There is a scheduled and the ship has to stick to and it. It is your responsibility to be back at the port to return to the ship. If you miss the ship’s tender that takes you back to the boat it is your own expense and responsibility to get to the next port.
Research to find the cruise company and ship that is right for you because they are not all the same-not even close. Cruise ships are not only large vessels for thousands of people. There are shops that can be as small as 50- 200 passengers. Some cruises are family-friendly while others are geared more towards adults and even towards the over-50 crowd specifically. A good way to gauge the type of passengers that will be on your boat is to look at the cruise's website. They will likely have real photos of past passengers.
- Carnival is known for being a lively fun ship and great value as well as the most ports in the U.S.
- Royal Carribean is known to be entertaining and innovative (i,e. for tech heads and teens)
- Princess cruise lines lean towards a more tranquil atmosphere
- Holland America is your cruise if you love superb food - and the one to see Alaska on
- Viking cruises are luxurious and great for couples
and many many more. You see why research is key!
Loving every minute of it
Don't assume all ports of call will interest you. Read each itinerary very carefully. Imagine yourself getting off at each stop and what would interest you there based on the detail the cruise company provides. These excursions are going to add to your expenses and most of your shipmates will go on them. You do have another option- you can arrange an independent private tour of an area vs. a fee-based excursion so it is a very tailored to your interest experience. You are there at the port you may as well take full advantage. It is in their best interest to get you back in time for the tender but still keep an eye on your watch.
If there are multiple ports of call and one does not interest you, you may want to stay back and take a nap or sunbathe on deck during that time but generally, plan on looking forward to each stop of your trip. Also check ahead to see if it's in an area known to have a lot of beggars, scammers or pickpockets. Unscrupulous people have been known to slice away at fanny packs, handbags, cross body bags and backpacks so be mindful or put a metal wire thru your tote so no one can cut it away from your safekeeping.
There's no place like home
Depending on which country you are coming from or are familiar with lodging in cabin rooms will seem small to Americans. Many European countries are used to smaller accommodations so it will be personal perspective as to how you perceive the spaciousness of your cabin.
Generally, the rooms are just a bed, a toilet and very little room for anything else. The idea is you will only be in your room to sleep and bat/ groom yourself. Pack lightly and anything you need within the first 6 to 8 hours of the boat leaving the dock have in your carry-on. It could take up to 8 hours to get your checked luggage to you. If you want to freshen up for dinner or have your swimsuit ready to go jump in the pool you'll want those things in your carry-on. Always remember to pack any medication in your carry-on as well. Because the rooms are so small you may want to bring some toilet spray because there's no circulation in sealed rooms and little space for unpleasant odors to dissipate.
Cabins generally don't have many outlets for you to charge your devices so be prepared for having only one or two. You can get a boat friendly power strip and make sure it is compatible with the boat so you're not blowing out the power of your whole floor.
A room with a view
Some things to keep in mind when you're choosing a cabin:
1. If you want a quiet room be sure that you're not near the elevator, restaurant or bars. If you have mobility issues you want to get a room close to the elevators because on larger ships it could take you quite some time to get from your cabin to the elevator. The compromise there is you may need earplugs.
2. Seasickness can be a problem and where your cabin is located will make a difference. Plan to pack your preferred method of seasick treatment like ginger, Dramamine or sea bands to help you manage this. A cabin at the water line in the center of the ship will give you the least trouble with this.
3. If a room with a view is your priority if at all possible get a room with a balcony. These go quickly so you'll have to book quite a ways in advance.
Dining on a ship
You may have a specific eating time and table for the duration of the cruise. This can be a make a break if your trip is good or bad. Cruises are known for their glorious buffets but you may want to dine in a ship’s restaurant that has an upcharge.
If you do start to feel like you're being nickel and dimed think of it this way, you're paying for what you use and what you want.
To tip or not to tip
Performers, housekeeping, bartenders etc are all trained to keep your safe and they are not paid well for the work they do and rely on tips. They take time away from their lives and families for weeks at a time to give you a good vacation experience. Some cruise lines do include gratuity but if they do not you will generally be given a guideline for appropriate tipping of $5-15 per day per staff.
Some ships require reservations for shows and if you buy a drink package both adults in the cabin may be required to buy it with a few exceptions (pregnancy, recovering addict, health reasons, etc).
Start with your smallest suitcase then go smaller
Pack light, pack smart.
You can’t depend on the ship or ports having small necessities so pack them! Sunblock, clothing refresher (you’re not bringing a lot of clothing so keep what you have packed nice and fresh longer), multi USB port plug, hats (gloves if you’re going on a winter cruise), medication both prescription and regular meds for headaches, allergies, children’s medication. You'll want bug spray for hot climates, small bills for trinkets at ports.
Ladies, Leave your fancy high heels at home. They take up a lot of suitcase real estate and you will deeply dislike them within an hour of putting them on for dinner. Some cruise ships are megaships and you will be walking a lot. Great for your Fitbit but not your heels. Allow time if you have a set dining time to get on elevators and getting TO the elevator.
Nice to haves
A document holder in a bright color so it’s easy to find. Travel comes with travel documents and keeping them in the same place and organized makes your travel life much easier. On a cruise you will have boarding passes, itineraries, customs forms, passports, flight info if you flew to your port of call, a pen etc. I even like them when I am on press trips to keep my location itineraries from my sponsor, contact information from stops along the way and my own business cards to share.
A pool tote - No one goes to a pool empty-handed. This can double as your port excursion bag too.
Sunburn cream or aloe and band-aids for blisters or scrapes. You just never know but you can pay 5x the price on the ship if you don't pack them. Wouldn't you rather spend your money on a new food or experience and not something you have at home in your medicine cabinet?