April 21, 2021

29 Important Things To Know Before You Go On Your First Cruise Ship Adventure

Before you book your very first cruise, it’s important to research multiple cruise lines and talk to friends, family, or your travel agent about their own personal experiences. From luxury travel or adventurous excursions to a family-friendly atmosphere or party vibe, different lines have their own niche and it’s up to you to decide what you’re looking for. While you may be able to save X amount of money by going on a budget cruise, it doesn’t mean it will be the perfect vacation for you and your family.

Before boarding, there are some things you should know to help make your first cruise more enjoyable. So here we share with you some of those important things to know prior to going on a cruise and save yourself some valuable time, money, and energy.

1. Research Activities Before Booking

PHOTO: A kayaking excursion on a Paul Gauguin Cruises voyage. (photo via Paul Gauguin Cruises)

Ports of call are just as significant to consider when booking a cruise as differentiating between cruise lines themselves. Do you want a relaxing luxurious European river cruise or a family fun action-packed Caribbean cruise where you can visit Royal Caribbean’s own island? Knowing the kind of activities you want to do while on vacation can really help tailor down your list of potential options.

2. Talk to Your Travel Agent

PHOTO: Couple meeting with a travel agent. (photo via Drazen_/E+)

Feeling a little overwhelmed yet? Talk to your travel agent about what you want out of your vacation. Let them do all the hard work on deciding what cruise line and itinerary would best fit you and your family.

3. Review all Documents Well in Advance

Businessman giving U.S. passport (Photo via Kritchanut / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

You have the perfect cruise picked out and now there’s nothing else you have to do before boarding the ship, right? Wrong. It’s very important that you review all travel documents sent to you with your confirmation once you book.

Your confirmation will oftentimes say something along the lines of “Failure to arrive with proper documentation could result in denied boarding, and no further compensation will be offered.”

No one wants to be turned away from the ship because they didn’t read through all the instructions. Some cruises require you to obtain your own travel visas for the ports of call you’ll be visiting, and you’ll need to show proof of these visas before boarding the ship. The best thing to do is to know before you go.

4. Understanding Your Reservation/Check-In Process

PHOTO: Norwegian Cruise Line has a new app for guests to use. (photo via Norwegian Cruise Line)

Oftentimes the reservation you are given already has your exact stateroom picked out. But if no stateroom is assigned, make sure you write down the type of stateroom you booked. That way you know exactly what you should be getting when you check-in.

If available, check to see if your cruise line has an app that will make the check-in process easier. This will save you a lot of time when it comes to boarding the ship. Yes, you’ll still have to go through security and check your over-sized luggage, but the process of actually checking-in to the ship will be lessened.

Be sure to double-check when the online check-in process needs to be completed by—most cruise lines won’t let you check-in with the app within 24 hours of departure.

5. Give Yourself Ample Time to Arrive

PHOTO: Airport flight status board. (Photo via phive2015 / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Looking over your itinerary you see that the ship won’t leave until 5 p.m., giving you ample time to take a late flight or explore the port before boarding the ship! Nope. The time listed is much like flight time – this is the time the plane is supposed to be leaving, and you’ll need to board in advance.

Oftentimes cruise lines won’t even allow passengers to board if they arrive only one hour before the ship is supposed to leave. Don’t risk missing your vacation because you opted for the later flight that ended up being delayed.

6. Have a Map of the Ship

PHOTO: Corridor on a cruise ship. (Photo via rilueda / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

You’re finally on the ship and it’s time to relax. But wait, there are all these people gathering in the main lobby with a lost expression on their face. Make sure you have a map of the ship handy to reference where your stateroom is. Yes, there will be lots of crew members around to help you find your way, but there will also be plenty of other passengers trying to find their room as well.

Be sure to understand where your room is in terms of the ship—bow (front), stern (rear), port (left) and starboard (right) sides. Occasionally there will be rooms you can only get to from a certain side of the ship and you don’t want to be left wandering aimlessly while carrying all your luggage.

7. Listen to the Loudspeaker Announcements

Rescue boats on big passenger ship (Photo via iStock / Getty Images Plus / eugenesergeev)

Once everyone has boarded, the Captain, Cruise Director, or Coast Guard will come over the loudspeaker to initiate the safety test. This is required under international maritime law—there is no need to panic. It’s important to take this drill seriously and remember where it is you need to go in case of an emergency.

All restaurants and bars will be closed during this time, so please don’t try to grab a drink while on your way to your designated safety area. The drill lasts only a couple of minutes, and then you can get back to relaxing.

Depending on the cruise line you choose, the Cruise Director may come over the loudspeaker to tell guests about entertainment options that are about to occur. It’s easy to forget what time it is on a cruise ship, so listen to these friendly announcements reminding you of the things you don’t want to miss.

8. Double Check Your Wi-Fi Options

PHOTO: Be cautious when using public Wi-Fi networks. (photo courtesy of 643702160 / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

When you booked your cruise, you may have been given additional options for your cruise package like ‘Free Wi-Fi’ and ‘Discounted Shore Excursions.’ Wi-Fi on cruise ships is oftentimes different from staying at a hotel. Hey—it’s hard getting Wi-Fi in the middle of the ocean.

It’s important to check if the internet package you signed up for is limited to a number of minutes or devices. You don’t want to use it all up on the first day. Along the same lines—be sure to double-check your phone and international plan options. Coming home to a surprise bill because you left your phone on roaming the whole time is never pleasant.

9. Patience Is a Virtue

The historic 30th voyage of the Groove Cruise West Coast. (photo via Groove Cruise)

Symphony of the Seas is the world’s largest cruise ship and can hold well over six thousand passengers. All those people want to be fed, relax with some drinks, and enjoy their time on-board just as much as you.

Cruise ships are well-oiled machines for taking care of such a large number of guests at one time, but it’s important for passengers to also remember to have patience onboard the ship. Don’t cut in the buffet lines or push your way to the front of the bar for a drink. And definitely make sure you plan enough time for boarding on and off the ship.

10. Gratuity

PHOTO: Customer paying the restaurant bill. (photo via Photobuff/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

To tip or not to tip? This can get a bit confusing while on a cruise. Sure you have an unlimited meal plan, but does that include gratuity? With some cruise lines, it does. It’s important to double-check before leaving to see if gratuities are automatically added to your daily charge or overall cost of your cruise. If it’s not, then it’s best to tip in cash, so make sure you have plenty of $1/$5/$10s for the duration of your trip.

11. Try More Than Just the Buffets

PHOTO: A dessert buffet on a cruise ship. (photo via Manu1174/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Cruise ships are littered with buffets and eateries. The food is ever-changing and it’s not uncommon to gain a couple of pounds during your vacation. But, if you stick with the same buffets you become comfortable with after boarding the ship, you’ll miss out on some really neat experiences. Be sure to review the ship itinerary and check for any special events happening in the formal dining room and plan your outfits accordingly before packing your suitcase.

12. Know Which Restaurants Require a Reservation

PHOTO: Holland America Line’s Master Chef Rudi Sodamin prepares one of his “Food Faces.” (photo courtesy of Holland America Line)

Not all restaurants on cruise ships are created equal. There is a growing number of exclusive chef-inspired restaurants that require a reservation and are not included in the dining plan. If it’s important to you to visit one of these then be sure to make a reservation soon after boarding the ship (or before if the ship allows). These restaurants oftentimes cannot accommodate a large number of passengers, so reservations fill up quickly.

13. Use the Hand Sanitizer Stations

PHOTO: A woman applying hand sanitizer. (photo via Elenathewise/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

This may be something that you don’t think of too often. Remember, no matter how clean a ship may seem, there is a multitude of germs spreading around while you’re on board. Just the sheer number of people you’re constantly surrounded by is an adjustment for our immune systems. Hand sanitizer stations are often located throughout and should be used with frequency. No one wants to be sick while on vacation, and this little miracle worker can help to prevent that.

14. Review the Entertainment Options

PHOTO: Elements, an aerial acrobatics show on Norwegian Cruise Line. (photo via Norwegian Cruise Line)

Cruise ships are loaded with things to do, especially in the evenings. It’s important to map out what the most important activities are for you and your family. Taking the time to do this before your trip can save on time and the potential of missing out on something you really wanted to experience. Plus it just gets you that much more excited before disembarking on your dream vacation.

15. Balconies Are Not Diving Boards. But Also, Some Cabins Might Not Even Have Windows.

PHOTO: Ocean views from Royal Caribbean cruise ship balcony (photo by Lauren Bowman)

Don’t ‘do it for the ‘gram’ or any other social media platform. Jumping from your balcony can cause serious injury or death. What’s more, it can even get you banned from the cruise line. Yes, you’re here for a good time, but passenger safety is a big responsibility for cruise ships and it’s taken very seriously.

While we’re at it, it’s important to note that actually, some cabins have no windows. It depends on what you’re looking for and how much you can afford. So not all of them are luxurious.

In size, some of them are very reminiscent of a coach car in a train. If you are one of those people who finds it difficult to even sleep in a small, enclosed space then you had best do your due diligence regarding your room’s size and amenities. Compare costs before you book your room.

If you find the price of upgrading to a larger room to be a concern, consider talking someone into joining you and splitting the cost.

16. Just Because You Can Have Unlimited Drinks, Doesn’t Mean You Should

Hands clinking drinks together. (Photo via Rawpixel / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

No one likes to be constantly surrounded by those who can’t hold their liquor. Especially since most cruises are family-friendly. That’s not to say you can’t have a good time. Just be mindful that you’re sharing a space where other people also want to enjoy their vacation.

17. You Don’t Have to Stick to Just the Ship Excursions

PHOTO: A woman rides a zip line through the trees. (photo via RossHelen/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Most ships want to lead you to believe that you can only book shore excursions through them, and there are many benefits to booking through your cruise line—like a guarantee of not being left at port if your excursion is taking longer than expected. But oftentimes excursions will fill up or you may be able to find unique experiences by working with outside companies. Therefore, it’s important to weigh all your options before committing to an off-ship activity.

18. Remember to Plan How You’re Going to Get to Your Excursions

Young girl with parents hailing a taxi. (photo via michaeljung / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

19. Understanding Port Time vs. Ship Time & Knowing When to Be Back on the Boat

PHOTO: Cruise ship moored at Grand Turk island, the Caribbean. (Photo via mikolajn / iStock Editorial / Getty Images Plus)

The port time is the time that it is in the location of the port. But the ship keeps the time of where they departed from. Therefore, if you travel through multiple time zones, it’s important to know what time the ship refers to when they plan to leave the port. You don’t want to miss your ship leaving because you thought they were referring to local time.

20. Pack the Essentials

PHOTO: Travel Power Strip (Photo Courtesy of Lauren Bowman)

Knowing what to pack for your first cruise is almost as important as picking out the right cruise. I always like to make sure I have:

—Plug converter – because not all cruise ships have standard US outlets;

—Power strip – just make sure this adheres to the cruise line’s policy;

—Sickness medicine – you don’t want to be out at sea on the first day to discover you get seasick with no medicine on hand;

—Sunglasses – yep number one thing I forget on vacation;

—Outfits for shore excursions and any on-ship activities I plan to attend, and;

—An electronic copy of all confirmations/important documents.

21. Dress codes

People who are new to cruises but are otherwise veteran travelers tend to pack in such a way that makes the most of space in a suitcase. While that might be good, when it comes to cruises you have to keep in mind that they often have specific dress codes that they enforce at mealtimes.

You may be refused admittance to the dining room if you are wearing flip-flops, torn jeans, or even Nike sneakers. Pack so that you can mix and match your casual daytime clothes with your evening wear. Men can manage with long pants and a button-down shirt. Women can manage with a little black dress and nice strap sandals.

22. Consider the plan that’s “all-inclusive”

“All-inclusive” sounds a bit pricey. However, when you crunch the numbers on the cost of a drink and meals for a week or two on board, you will probably discover that “all-inclusive” is actually a good idea that will save you money. The all-inclusive option means you don’t have to worry about your budget while on the ship.

Many cruise ships today provide passengers with top-rated cuisine by celeb chef eateries such as Atul Kochhar, James Martin, and Jamie Oliver. The only time you will have to concern yourself about meals is when your cruise ship docks somewhere.

23. Higher cabin equals less queasiness

While it is not common knowledge, in general, the higher up your cruise cabin is located, the less you will feel any potential effects of seasickness. If you have ever suffered from car sickness and/or are sensitive to the motion of the ocean then you know how that feeling can negatively impact on any vacation.

If you end up in a lower level cabin, don’t despair. Pack ginger candies, ginger tea, ginger ale, or pieces of dried ginger to actively battle any nausea you may potentially feel. There are also over the counter medication as well.

24. Watch for last-minute upgrades

Upgrade to business or first at the last minute by out-bidding other passengers CREDIT: ASISEEIT/STEVE DEBENPORT

You can spend a million bucks on a cruise such as a cruise on The Silver Whisper. But you can spend a lot less and still feel like one. Just watch for any last minute upgrades. You can score free spa services, an in-room balcony, a bigger bed, or even better meal options.

If they are still available by the time your ship sets sail, they will quite often be made available to passengers at a mere fraction of the original price. If you can’t resist a good deal then keep this in mind.

25. Internet is expensive

Shut off your smartphone. Turn your data off. Roaming is expensive because signals generally bounce off the cruise ship company’s satellite. Additionally, your phone company might hit you with an additional fee too.

Check with your personal carrier about it if you insist on leaving your data turned on. Most cruise ships will provide you with Wifi so you can send emails and even Skype. The only time you might need your data
is on a dock day if you can’t keep track of your travel group. Even then it might be cheaper to locate a wifi hotspot.

26. Take your meds

If you often suffer from heartburn, indigestion, migraines or feel a cold coming on prior to boarding, pack whatever medication or vitamins you think you will need. Otherwise, purchasing these things from the ship’s pharmacy will cost you. Don’t take any chances.

Don’t forget you might very well be doing a lot more walking than usual too so be prepared for any impact that could have on you as well.

27. Take the stairs as often as possible

Cruise ship elevators might appear to be convenient but you will often lose a lot of time just waiting for them. They are slow and often crowded too. Get some exercise Work off that steak and baked potato dinner and save time too. Not interested in visiting the ship’s gym? Take the stairs.

28. Embarking from foreign ports is the norm

Don’t get so excited about scoring a great deal on a cruise that you forget to first check into what it will cost you to get yourself to the actual docking city. A number of cruise ships leave from such major ports as those in Italy, France, and Florida.

Make sure to line up your flight or other modes of transportation before you finalize your other plans since many cruise ships want you on the dock as many as two hours prior to the time your ship launches. Who needs the added stress of a last-minute foul-up?

29. The cruise ship is a wonder in and of itself

Matt Stroshane/Disney Cruise Line

Cruise ships are works of art. The most luxurious one had a price tag of 1 billion dollars to build. With an average speed of roughly 23 mph, most can travel 73,000 nautical miles in one year.

Once the most luxurious, largest cruise ship, the Titanic would take up less than half the space of a new cruise ship. Today, the largest ship in the world is the Harmony of the Seas which weighs in at 226,963 gross tons.

A majority of these vessels do more than serve vacationers, they also serve as permanent residences for some of the staff. About half of these ships are actually underwater. This is generally where the crew quarters are and where some of the kitchens are located.