So you have booked your first cruise (or are thinking about it) but would like to know a little more about what is involved? Perhaps your neighbors have just returned from their third cruise and are telling you all about it as they unload the car – looking all tanned and relaxed! They promise to show you the holiday snaps as soon as they load them off the camera.
Finally, you decide to take the plunge and book your first cruise! But what do you need to know? What are the essential tips for a successful cruise? What does a “First time Cruiser” need to know?
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1st time cruising tips
There are a few things that you need to know when cruising for the first time or when deciding where your first cruise will be. The following cruise tips will help ensure you are prepared and ready to relax and enjoy this amazing holiday experience.
Initial Inquiry Stage
Find an experienced Cruise Consultant – An experienced Cruise Consultant can make all the difference to ensuring a great experience from the time of booking until the day you return. They will be able to advise the best times to cruise in the destination you choose to cruise to and what you need to know
Do your research on the cruise ship and the destination. Some cruise ships are geared up for families and some are more for couples or older cruisers. When you take a young family on a cruise you do not want to be fighting an army of zimmer frames! Likewise, if you prefer a quiet cruise then you may want to look at one more suitable to a mature mix of passengers.
Decide how long you want to cruise. For a first time cruise I would suggest up to 7 nights. This gives you a good taste of what cruising is all about.
Choose whether you want to do an Ocean or River cruise. These are both very different (stay tuned for my next blog on the differences!) River cruising is not as popular with families as cabins are much smaller and not usually suitable for young children.
Booking Your Cruise
This is the easy part! Once you know which cruise you want to book just head on down to your Cruise Specialist and lock it in! Your Cruise Specialist will be able to tell you if there is a special deal out for your chosen option which may include on board credit to spend on your cruise, reduced deposits, WiFi deals, specialty dining options, shore excursion deals and more. The deposit will vary from cruise line to cruise line as will the final balance due date. Your Cruise Specialist will be able to advise you of this at the time of booking.
Just remember – the best deals are usually outside of the normal vacation times.
First Time Cruise Packing Tips
Packing cubes are a fantastic way of being able to fit everything you are going need on your cruise into your suitcase. One good thing about most cruises is that you can take more than one suitcase per person. Although this will depend on how many passengers are in the one stateroom as you do need to store your suitcase in you cabin. (These usually fit under the bed.)
Do not bother with your hair dryer! There is always one supplied in your cabin. You will also be supplied with towels (including pool/beach towels). Having said that – the cruise ship hair dryers are a low wattage so if you feel you may need extra power by all means bring your own.
Bathroom amenities are included in each cabin so you can save a bit of room here if need be. Unless of course you like to take your favorite shampoo and conditioner!
On most cruises every cabin has its own en suite bathroom so leave the bathrobes at home – unless you are traveling with friends! Some cruise lines will supply bathrobes and some you have to pay for the privilege of using them – again check with your cruise consultant for your particular cruise. (Same with slippers).
Take a Lightweight Day Pack for your shore excursions! You will thank me for it! This will enable you to take all the necessities with you when out and about such as water, hats, sunscreen, reading material, maps and whatever you need for the day. Just make sure it is a comfortable one as you will be wearing it for a while!
Don’t forget to pack suitable clothing for the destination and season. No point taking your bikini on a winter wonderland cruise or a cruise to Antarctica (unless there is a spa on board!). Likewise, – it can get chilly at nighttime out on deck when cruising in the cooler months. When you want are heading to the sunny Caribbean then you may get away with just a bikini or board shorts and some nice summer attire. But even the Caribbean can cool off a bit at sea so take a wrap or light jacket just in case.
One essential item is your Universal Travel Adapter. It will depend on your cruise ship as to what kind of power sockets are in your cabin. With a Universal adapter it won’t matter which type of power socket you have and if you have one with the USB Ports you can charge multiple devices at the same time. [Insert link here] I also take either a small power board or a double adapter as there are usually very limited power sockets in you cabin. Some have a maximum of one or two only. Just make sure your power board does not have a surge protector on it as recent rule changes have restricted the use of surge protectors on board as they can interfere with the electric systems on the ship.
Portable travel clothes line – these are useful if your cruise line does not have a self-service laundry on board. You can at least hand wash a few items as you go which will lessen the amount of clothes you need to take. This is relevant on a longer cruise of over 7 nights or so. Some cruise lines do have self-service laundromats on board. Some charge a fee and some are included.
Waterproof Dry bag – these will keep your valuables, phones, clothes etc dry while you are at the beach or poolside. Insurance won’t cover you if you leave them unattended so this is a great solution as you can have them with you all the time!
Extra Coat hangers! When you want like to hang up your clothes make sure you take along extra coat hangers as you never seem to get enough in your wardrobe! Check out these cool folding travel clothes hangers! They don’t take up much room and best of all they are light! When you want are from outside New Zealand please use this link for Folding Clothes Hangers.
Checking In For Your Cruise
When you want have not been allocated a specific boarding time then this information is crucial for you. You must be on board your cruise ship at least one hour prior to the scheduled departure time. This is so the cruise line can conduct the mandatory Maritime Safety Drills before getting underway.
Most people on their first cruise are super excited to get on board and turn up at the crack of dawn ready to jump on and explore the ship straight away. Well – I am sorry to tell you that you are going to be bitterly disappointed! Once a cruise ship docks and all the necessary docking procedures are completed (this can take an hour or more!) the ship will need to disembark all the current passengers before allowing any new passengers on board. After they disembark current passengers the ship gets a thorough clean. Naturally this is far easier when there are few people around.
The best time to start your embarkation is about 2 – 3 hours prior to departure. You will avoid the majority of the queues this way. Unless of course you have priority boarding as part of your cruise fare.
In normal circumstances a ship may dock at say 7am, disembarkation is usually completed by about 9am and the incoming passengers don’t start boarding until about 11am – 12pm at the earliest. Sometimes it is even later than this depending on the size of the ship and the departure time.
On Board Your First Cruise – What You Can Expect in Your Cabin
Most cabins have the same basic layout – bed, en suite, wardrobe, desk and if you are lucky a sofa.
Depending on the number of passengers in your cabin you may have a king bed or you may get two bunks with an upper and lower berth on each bunk. This configuration tends to be the most cramped.
Unless you are planning to spend a lot of time in your cabin then the configuration may not be a big deal to you. However, when you have more than two people in a cabin things start to get a little tight! Planning ahead will save you some grief on lack of space. Check out the section on Packing Tips for some good ideas.
If budget is an issue then consider an inside cabin as this will offer the best price. Some cruise lines have started creating “virtual balconies” in an inside cabin such as the one in the below video. Quite clever really and at a much more affordable price than a balcony cabin – just without the fresh air!
Shore Excursions – How to Choose the Best Options
Choosing the best shore excursions can be tricky. You want to make sure you don’t miss out on anything amazing but you don’t want to pay through the teeth for them either! When you want to make the most of your time in port it takes a bit of forward planning. Most cruise lines will give you access to their Shore excursion options 60 days prior to departure. Of course this differs from cruise line to cruise line. Check with your Cruise Specialist as to when you are able to access your shore excursions.
If you have found a well informed and educated Cruise Specialist they may have already made some suggestions for your particular itinerary or at least shown you how to find information about shore excursions or alternatives available in your ports of call.
One thing to note – a lot of people say that you are better to book your own tours when in port as the ship options can be quite expensive. This may be a good idea if you are an experienced traveler. However, – be warned – if you book your own tours and you are delayed in getting back to the ship they will not wait for you. This means you will be responsible for paying your own way to meet the ship at its next port of call.
Food Glorious Food – What Are We Going to Eat on Our Cruise?
It’s true that most people who choose to cruise for their vacation will come back at least a few extra kilos than when they left and I’m not talking about shopping and souvenirs! Cruise ships are renowned for their amazing food options and selections on board. After all – it is a massive part of cruising!
On the medium to larger sized cruise ship you can find upwards of 5 different dining options on board. Some cruise lines charge an additional fee for specialty restaurants but on every cruise there are at least two options that are included in your cruise fare. This is the Buffet (or food court style) dining and the main A La Carte Restaurant. Opening hours will depend on whether it is a sea day or a port day.
Specialty restaurants cater for the more discerning diner. You may have a choice of Italian, Steak and Seafood, French, Asian, Brazilian and many more. These differ between cruise lines and cruise ships. But the service and the food is far superior to that of the buffet or main restaurant. When you want can fit it into the budget I highly recommend trying these out. The surcharge ranges but can be as little as $10 up to $90+ for a degustation or Chef’s Table experience.
Whichever option you choose – you will not go hungry!
Some cruise lines have started using Celebrity Chefs to create their various menus which has really made the food on board something to behold! Sometimes these are restricted to specialty restaurants and you may need to pay a surcharge but again – nowhere near as much as you would if you were to visit one of their shoreside restaurants (if you can even get a reservation!).
What About Liquid Refreshments?
You may have heard about the fabulous cocktails you can get on board a cruise. It’s all true! There is plenty of competition out there to find the quirkiest bar or novel experience for cruise passengers. But whatever tipple you fancy you will have no problem finding it on your cruise.
Most cruise lines are starting to offer drink packages for guests to purchase either before or during the cruise. It is worth noting that they often start around $60 – $80 per person per day USD. Some are cheaper and some more expensive. But the trick is to work out whether you are going to get good value out of it. Most cocktails are around $8 – $12 and a glass of wine about the same. So you would need to consume around 6 – 7 drinks per day just to break even.
The best value drinks package I have ever seen (other than the ones that are already included) is on Viking Ocean Cruises. Their package is only $19.95USD/day and includes everything except champagne and some drinks at the Torshavn bar. Awesome value!
Some cruise lines will let you bring a bottle of wine on board but most have restrictions on where you can enjoy it. There are a few cruise lines that will allow you to bring your own drinks on board such as Viking – They don’t mind what you take on board but their prices are already really good so why would you bother? Unless you have purchase a few bottles of nice wine from one of the vineyards you visited along the way!
Then there are cruise lines that are very strict and won’t even let you bring your own water on board. So best check before you go.
Entertainment On Board – What Activities Will There Be On Board?
Most big ocean cruise ships have many forms of entertainment – the problem is trying to fit it all in! The Broadway style shows are usually of a very high standard albeit a shortened version. Then you often have a Casino, Bingo, Pools, Spas, some have a bowling alley, ice-skating rink, bumper cars, FlowRider, rock climbing walls, hydro slides, ping pong, shuffleboard, mini golf, glassblowing, movie characters, movies under the stars, simulators, and so much more! Of course – as usual – it depends on what ship you are on so check with your cruise consultant first.
What Will The Children Do?
On cruises that allow children you will usually find a comprehensive Kids Club on board. These are usually split into different age groups so the children are socializing with others in the same age group. There are always planned activities and programs based on the age group and will keep the kids entertained for hours! Of course this means parents/caregivers get to spend some quality time together (or alone) and feel like they too have had a holiday! Check out this cool video on Disney Cruise lines to see just how much fun your kids are going to have! (Makes you want to be a kid again!
Please note that on some ships there is a no child policy and some smaller ships that do allow kids on board do not offer a children’s program so please double check if this is important to you.
Is There A Doctor On Board?
Almost every cruise ship has a medical facility of some sort on board. On larger ships this can be quite sophisticated but on smaller vessels there may just be a designated first aid provider. This is usually on the river ships and other vessels that don’t stray too far from land.
Of course if you have any medical issues it pays to let the ship know in advance so they can be prepared. In some cases you may not be able to cruise at all depending on your condition so please check with your doctor prior to booking your cruise.
In Summary – To Cruise or Not to Cruise
So – now that you have the low down on cruising you can decide if it is the kind of holiday that you would enjoy. Of course there is only one way to truly find out and that is to get yourself off on a short break cruise and try it out! Who knows, – you might just get addicted.
When you want enjoyed this post or if you think there is something else that I need to add please leave a comment below for me! Or if you want to share your cruise tips or hacks please feel free to share in the comment section below.