10 TIPS FOR FIRST TIME CRUISERS

Hi my lovely readers!

I have been on a few cruises over the years with different cruise lines including Carnival, Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Silversea and Hurtigruten.

Luckily I have also had the pleasure of exploring several destinations by ship such as the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Japan, Norway and last year even the Arctic.

It is therefore fair to say that I know a thing or two about cruising and today I want to share 10 tips for first time cruisers with you that I wish someone would have told me about before my first cruise.

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1. CHOOSING THE RIGHT FORM OF CRUISING AND CRUISE LINE

There are so many cruise lines out there nowadays and all have something different to offer. But do not worry, there is one for everyone.

If you are new to cruising I would urge you to do some research as the cruise lines cater for different customers and cruise experiences.

For instance you can book your classic, as we cruisers call it, ocean cruise that goes to the typical cruise destinations such as the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Alaska and so on.

Or you could opt for a river cruise that takes you along some of the world’s most famous rivers such as the Danube or Mekong and into the heart of cities and the inland.

The other form of cruising that is more adventurous, educational and takes you to remote destinations including Antarctica, Northwest Passage or Greenland is expedition cruising. These are all types of cruises that differ massively from each other and all give you a different experience.

And then there are the different cruise lines themselves that are unique and cater to different needs of people. Do you prefer to sail on a big or small ship? Are you looking for ultra luxury and all-inclusive cruises? Do you like to take part in activities on board or are you looking for peace and quiet cruise time? Are you travelling with children and what is your price point?

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2. A GOOD MIX OF LAND AND SEA DAYS

When you are choosing your cruise itinerary, I would recommend to book one that has a good mix of land and sea days to give you the time to fully explore and enjoy the ship and its amenities.

Also, you would want a few see days to actually sit back and relax. Sightseeing can be exhausting and the sea days give you that time to recover a little.

3. THE DESTINATION

Back in the days, everyone thought of the Caribbean when they heard the word cruise. But today, cruise lines go to pretty much anywhere in the world. The choice is really yours.

You can cruise around the Mediterranean, travel around the Caribbean islands, explore the polar regions, enjoy the fjords of Norway, explore distant cultures in Asia and much more.

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4. PACK HEAVY

Most people will tell you to pack light. But in my opinion you should pack heavy if you are only going on a cruise.

A cruise is the perfect holiday to pack everything into your luggage without having to compromise. Normally we have to choose what we can take if we are travelling around, if we are moving from hotel to hotel and destination to destination.

But on a cruise, your hotel comes with you, it is the ship. You only have to unpack once and there is plenty of wardrobe space for you to hang all your clothes. Also, you will not want to miss the formal nights if you like making an effort, I always do.

If your holiday continues before or after your cruise, you can decide what is best for you in terms of packing, heavy or light.

5. GO TO THE POOL AND HOT TUB EARLY EVENING

The hot tubs are always full during the day, well mostly and especially during sea days. But if you are patient and go when everyone else is preparing for dinner around 6ish pm or even later, you will have an excellent chance to get a spot.

Bonus, you can also watch the beautiful sunset and the sea. Additionally, there will be no screaming or kids running around, which of course will be more relaxing.

6. PACK A NECK STRAP AND WATER BOTTLE

You will be given a key card for your room that also serves as an ID card on board. Furthermore, this card will be used when you make purchases and when you leave and come back to the ship.

You need to carry this card with you at all times. Most people, the cruisers, have a neck strap to carry their key card around their necks. You can purchase them on board or if you have one at home can pack it. This will make life so much easier for you, trust me. You might not look as fashionable, but it will be so convenient, especially for women.

Men always have pockets as they are wearing trousers and shorts, but women tend to wear a lot more dresses, skirts or just walk around in bikinis that do not have pockets. Hence, use the neck strap or pack a small purse to carry around with you if you do not want to walk around with a neck strap.

The other useful item to pack is a water bottle. It is important to drink a lot if you are in a hot destination. You can fill up the bottle and keep it with you at the pool to stay hydrated. It is also useful at night when you do not want to get up to walk to the buffet for a glass of water.

7. FOOD HEAVEN AND FOOD STRESS

You will be in food heaven when going on a cruise. This is the perfect time to try lots of different dishes and stuff yourself with all the foods that you normally do not have, do not eat that often or cannot cook yourself.

For me this is french toast and lots of yummy pastries in the morning. For dinner I like to be experimental and try out dishes that I normally do not cook at home or am normally too scared to try in case I do not like them. I tried sea bass, minute steak, pork belly, my partner had escargot and even lobster tail just to name a few.

There will be so much choice and you want to try it all. But of course there are just so many days during your cruise that you will not be able to have it all. I got super stressed during my first cruise about food and actually panicked as there was just sooo much that I wanted to taste.

Back then I also did not have that much money so all those food choices where just incredible for me and a bit overwhelming.

You need to remember that you can always try certain dishes at home or even better, book your next cruise and look forward to having it the next time.

For instance, Carnival has Guy’s Burger Joint on some ships now, but I was only able to try one burger during my last cruise with them. Lucky for me, Carnival is introducing this food venue to most of its ships now that I can try the other burgers during my next cruise.

8. THE DAILY CRUISE PROGRAM IS YOUR BEST FRIEND

Every cruise line will give you a daily cruise program every single day of the cruise. Normally you get this the night before so you know what is going on around the ship the following day.

This program has all the activities and events listed throughout the day and when and where they take place. You can find out about shopping deals, sport tournaments, quizzes, bingo, pool dance offs, comedy nights and much more.

It will also have information about the different venues on board including their opening times and where they are located.

The cruise program will help you to plan your day ahead if you like to participate in activities and help you to figure out how to get to venues during the first days when you do not know the ship that well yet.

9. GET ON BOARD ASAP

On my first and second cruise, my partner and I got to the cruise port pretty late. Well, late in the sense of, we could have gotten on board much earlier and not two hours before the ship was departing if we would have known.

You see, people are not aware at first that they can get on board several hours before the ship actually sets sail. First time cruiser think they should get to the cruise port let’s say around 4.30 pm when the ship leaves 6 pm. But cruise lines allow you to get on board around lunchtime already.

Normally cruise lines start priority boarding, people that pay extra to get onboard much earlier or have a disability, around noonish already, followed by the rest. Some cruise lines allocate an embarkation time to you and others allow you to pick your slot yourself. You need to check with the cruise line to see what embarkation policies they have in place. Still, if the lines are not busy they will to 99% let you get onboard if you are there a bit earlier.

This way you can already make use of the ship. You can have some lunch, unpack your things if you carry your own luggage on board, have your first holiday drink and make use of the drinks package if you booked one and have peace of mind that you are on board and are not going to miss your cruise.

This almost happened to me once and it was the second most stressful holiday experience I ever had. If you are curious what happened, you can read all about it here.

Related Post: Tips For A Smooth Embarkation

10. BOOK YOUR DINING PREFERENCE EARLY

There is my time dining, also called anytime dining and fixed time dining that you can book for the dinner to be able to dine in the main restaurants.

Anytime dining always gets booked out quickly as the majority of people like to go for dinner whenever they want to and whenever they get hungry. So make sure to confirm your choice of dinner time when you confirm your booking.

Moreover, the ship might be docked in a port until 9 pm at night and you want to stay ashore a bit longer and come back just before the ship departs and then go for dinner. If you have fixed time dining for 7 pm, just as an example, you will either have to go back to the ship early and not be able to spend more time ashore or you will miss your seated dinner slot and as a result will have to go for the buffet option or room service.

Some people do not mind this, some people want to have dinner every single day around the same time. In my opinion fixed time dining restricts your experience a little though and that is why I always go for anytime dining.


Have you cruised before? If yes, please share your tips and advice with first time cruisers here. And if you have any questions for me about cruises, fire away and I will do my best to answer 🙂

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