To date I have been on 7 cruises and have 2 coming in the next year. I am not an expert in cruising but I can offer you some helpful tips for your first cruise. 🙂
Here are my tips:
- Destination: Pick a destination you are comfortable with. Your first cruise does not have to be on the other side of the world. My first cruise was a Canada and New England cruise and I loved it. Being a first time cruiser you learn about cruising and how things work. Make it easy on yourself the first time.
- Picking a ship: The ship itself and the amenities are almost more important than where the cruise goes. At least to me. The last thing you want is to be stuck on a floating hotel for a duration of time with nothing to do that interests you. Cruise lines’ websites are excellent about telling you what each ship has to offer and where they cruise to. I would highly suggest looking into the ship before booking.
- Deciding on a room category: I personally have no preference on a room. I have cruised in almost all the room categories and enjoy them all equally. Do some research and see what they offer. If you are cruising somewhere warm and would just love a balcony, then you should book a balcony room. I personally love a balcony. If you easily get sick from motion – select a room in the center of the ship (an inside room) around deck 7-10 (depending on how tall the ship is), you will find most stability there.
- Documents: Currently you do not need a passport if you are departing on a cruise from a port in the United States and returning to a port in the United states. However, the caveat to that is if you book a cruise that has a 24 hour stay in a port – then you do need a passport. I don’t see too many of these cruises. If you don’t have a passport, you will need to bring your birth certificate and a government issued photo I.D. If you plan to get a passport, do it at least 6 months in advance.
- Food allergies: If you have a food allergy, you should inform the cruise line well in advance so they know you are coming. My husband is a Celiac (allergic to gluten) and they accommodate him every time. Just let them know.
- Packing: In my experience, don’t over pack. Cabins aren’t extremely big unless you purchase a suite, which means there is limited space. You should pack smart though. Think about your destinations on your cruise. If you decide on a Caribbean cruise, light clothing and swim suits will do you just fine. Be creative and festive – you are on vacation after all.
- Toiletries: You can buy these things on board, but keep in mind they are marked up.
- Bring your own sunblock and pack aloe just in case.
- Getting to the port: Since the ports are in various states and countries, sometimes you will need to fly to access them. Do not book your flights very tight for arrival or departure. Sometimes planes get delayed coming in and getting off the ship can take longer than expected. You just never know. Also, if you are planning to drive to the port, make sure to look and see how much parking is while you are gone (it is not free) and get directions from the cruise lines website about the location of the ship and parking.
- Arriving to the ship: It is going to be a mad house. Just prepare yourself now. There is usually more than one ship departing from a cruise terminal on a given day plus people arrive early to get in line to get on the ship. If you think about it, the average ship has about 2,000 cruisers on it. Boarding is usually between 12pm-4pm (not always, but usually). That is a lot of people to check in.
- Pictures: From day one cruise staff will take your pictures all over the cruise ship and in the ports. It is free to have them take all of your photos and then you can go and look at them and decide which keepsake to take home. It will feel like your picture is taken a lot but once you get to the end of your cruise, you will have a nice selection to pick from.
- Food: I am convinced this is a primary factor in why people cruise. It’s included!! That is actually a big deal when vacationing. Food can be one of the biggest unknown costs you face, It’s nice to know it is already paid for with your ticket. One caveat being, some cruise lines now offer specialty dining which costs money, not much, but it is up to you if you choose to dine there. The food is delicious either way! Get all the courses, you won’t be disappointed!
- Beverages: Most cruise lines do not provide alcohol or soda as part of their inclusive option. You can buy beverage cards or just purchase items individually. You should plan to budget for this if you want to drink liquor, beer, wine, and sodas.
- Sea Days: There will be at least 1 sea day on your cruise and usually there is 2 or more. Enjoy your time at sea. Get an amazing massage, lay in bed and get room service and watch a movie, try your luck at the casino, the possibilities are endless!
- Excursions: These are optional things to do in the ports. If I go on a cruise that has 4-5 port stops, I will usually do 2-3 excursions. I do my research to see what the port has to offer, check to see if I can do the excursion cheaper myself (although if you aren’t back to the ship on time, they won’t wait for you – unless it is a cruise excursion), and I also check to see if there are things to do that may not be offered on the ship. Research will be key here.
- Entertainment: My favorite part of cruising. Since I started cruising the entertainment has changed a lot. You will notice on the newer huge ships that they offer known Broadways, Cirque du Soleil, well known comedians, and sometimes even popular musical guests. Some of the newer cruise ships now offer Ice Bars!
- Specialty evenings: A lot of cruise lines will do white parties where everyone wears white, 80’s parties, formal evenings, and other types of events. You can check with the cruise line to see what that ship offers so you know what to pack.
- Medication: As a rule of thumb, I pack prescription medications that I take, Aleve for headaches or pain, Dramamine if you get motion sickness, items for an upset stomach, Tums, and then a few extra common cold drugs just in case. The last thing you want to happen is that you are on a cruise through foreign countries that don’t sell something you need (this happened to me).
- Medical assistance: There is a doctor on board if something should go wrong. It will cost you to see them, but someone is there.
- Spending on board: Cruise lines run a cashless system. When you get on the ship they take a credit card or cash to put on file for you. On the last night you can settle your account with whatever you have on file or another form of payment.
- Internet: While cruise ships do have internet available, it will cost you. Keep in mind the cruise ship is out in open water. You can purchase a plan on board or find a place that has free WiFi in the ports.
- Shopping on board: There is duty free shopping and various shopping for you to take part in. If you decide to purchase alcohol at duty free, it will be held until the night before you disembark.
- Getting off the ship: You can choose to have your items packed the night before and the staff will come by and get your things and you arrange for what time you would like to get off the ship, OR you can keep your items and walk off the ship, all items in tow at specific times. I prefer the latter because I like to leave the ship early before all the crowds. This is typically what takes a long time. You go through port authority and customs.
Six of the 7 cruises I have been on were with Norwegian Cruise Lines. My first cruise was with them and I felt comfortable enough to go again and so on. I like to cruise with Norwegian because they have freestyle dining and a lot of options for things to do while on board. I did take a cruise with another company that I was not pleased with. That kind of put me off a little because I had such a different expectation after cruising with NCL. However, I do plan to cruise with other companies in the future to see what they are like. I hear a lot of good things about different companies and I am eager to try them out. I am 1 cruise away from being a Platinum Latitudes Member with NCL (that is a status you can achieve after cruising on many cruises with them – the points you gain are on different factors such as length of cruise, how far in advance the cruise was booked, if it was a suite, and if you booked a Latitudes offer).
I hope this was helpful. If you have any questions about cruising just leave a comment and I will try and give you my best answer.
Happy Cruising! ❤